Dead children inhabit
the islands in the river.
Their appetites grumble
like chipped-tooth gears.
Their faces wrestle
like plates of worms.
As I leap from island to island
they trail me in packs,
eager to play. What
if I dodge to firmer ground
and they follow,
trespassing in the village
where your diner thrives
and men leave you five-dollar tips?
You'd never forgive the haunting
these children would inflict.
They'd spin the stools
till the walls shook,
snatch the 'burgers live
from the grill, pour coffee
over each other to baste
the peeling flesh
and expose the flexible bones.
I'd better lose them
in this maze of brambly islands.
Bigger, faster than they,
I've outdistanced all
but a nine-year-old girl
whose actual body
sprawls raped and murdered
on a gravel beach
a hundred miles from here.
Who wouldn't pause to weep
for her? I leap
to the far bank and ascend
to the highway where
a police car idles
on the shoulder, two cops
dead of carbon monoxide.
Only the little girl
She climbs into the cruiser
and curls up happy and naked
in the back seat,
revenged at last.
When I arrive at the diner
I'll try to describe
her dead face lit
like a crystal in sunlight;
but you'll shake your head
and complain because I took
the shortcut across
those mean little islands,
agitating the restless dead
for whom we're not responsible.
The Dead Man's Things
As I sift through the dead man's things--
drawers of medals, rosaries, coins
in plastic envelopes--the dark
rises in my throat and I share
for a moment his grave with him.
What does he think of the boxed games
for his grandchildren, the half dozen
crossword puzzle dictionaries
on the shelf by his favorite armchair?
What does he think of the brass trophy
won sixty years ago at tennis?
My friend, whose father this was,
remains indifferent to the stoking
of ghostly fires in the woodstove,
the heat of which now blisters me.
Nor does he fear the fact that someone
flips the dictionary pages
in search of a euphonious curse.
The dark chokes me with a gust
of silt so I step outside
and inhale the flaming sundown.
Not my father who died. Why suffer
these symptoms? Even out here
I detect the old man's shadow
cast by lamplight onto the lawn.
He looks concerned. Village life,
a musty affair of beer and sex,
continues through the computer age,
its youthful casualties scarred
head to toe like napalm victims.
Traffic on Main Street's so quick
some elderly citizens
haven't crossed in years. I breathe
more of the dying sunlight and taste
the effervescence of after-shave
splashed for the last time on a dead man
the day he shaves for his own funeral
and with a certain dry gratitude
feels the safety razor penetrate
straight into the vacuum beyond.
A Carnival Mood
Trapped naked at my girlfriend's house
as her husband crunches up the walk,
I dash out the back door to the woods.
Crouched in the ticklish ferns I feel
the naked sunlight tan me,
the cry of a meadowlark brittle
against my suddenly brittle flesh.
From the house a cry, a gunshot,
and the husband emerges, his face
a blister, his right hand smoking
with the deadweight of a pistol.
I run. Naked and unashamed,
I run till the distance cracks open
and exposes its nuclear core.
Panting, I lie in the weeds and wait
for the moon to rise and scorch me.
All my naked parts whisper
to each other, plotting against me,
against the grain. Why have I lost
the shame that in a better world
would sustain me against the dark?
Another gunshot. In a clearing
I find the husband a suicide,
so I claim his clothes and walk home
slowly the long way through the woods
disguised as my former enemy,
the sundown quivering about me
in a feverish carnival mood.
William Doreski, Professor of English, Keene State College (New
Hampshire), teaches creative writing, literary theory, and modern poetry.