William Doreski

Home | The Last Issue | Submissions | Achieve: 2004-2009 | Essays

William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent

collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). He has published three

critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors.  His essays,

poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including

Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New

England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and 

Natural Bridge. 




Russula Emetica



Disguised as a russula

in your red yarn cap you smile


as if you’ve never heard the term

emetica. The autumn gloom


sickens the lamplit avenue

by muffling shadows till they choke.


In front of the one good restaurant

in this cringing valley town


you confess you fear poisoning

more than drowning; whereas I,


with my Fifties imagination,

dread being buried alive,


which Vincent Price promoted

in a movie that made me cry.


This glum talk derives from your pose

as a toxic mushroom. Maybe


you didn’t plan to resemble

a sickener; but that smile


looks like gills, and beneath the red

of your cap your pale stem descends,


concealed by expensive woolens,

till it roots in a bed of moss.






Winter Beach, Dennisport



Behind the winter beach, the blank

windows of summer cottages

look too ignorant to threaten me.

The only restaurant still open

begrudges me coffee and shrimp

in plastic basket with plastic fork

to spear the deep-fried creatures.


The wind off the sound feels desperate,

lacking sailboats to luff and tip.

It expects to exceed sixty knots,

snuffing the power in its wake.

I slurp the coffee as I hike,

and when I’ve finished nibbling shrimp

I crush the plastic basket

and pocket the mess to avoid

the terrible sin of litter.


Not that the beach cares. Debris

from sewage plants soils the gravel

at tide-line. Strops of seaweed

lounge in gloomy olive drab. Shells

busted by irresistible force

clatter underfoot. Walking this far

I let the curve of shoreline arc

right through me, prolonging

an agony that hasn’t rooted

in any particular landscape.


The wind seems too impersonal

to mean everything it says,

and the cottages look too easy

to burglarize. I need more coffee

to fuel this hike, but the distance

pouring from the sky discourages

hope of another open café,

and the lone police car nosing

up and down the dead-end streets

keeps one bright eye on my progress.





Something About a Lamia



Crowded into the library

elbow to elbow with a woman

charting the genome project,

I attempt to unroll a blueprint

of the George Washington Bridge

but fail to make enough space.

My abutter’s furry little glance

lards sympathy on my discomfort.


She doesn’t know that I’m pleased

to escape an apartment creeping

with roaches and clanging with high

tech music pipelined two floors

from an endless party below.

A thick December night fills

the tall arched windows. Gloomy

overhead, a mural by Sargent

depicts something vaguely monstrous.


I open a notebook and ponder

nonsense I wrote a week ago.

Something about St. Augustine

converting Grendel to religion

more congenial to the modern mind.

Who, then, would Beowulf kill

to maintain his gross reputation?

I crumple the page with a sigh

and my abutter starts and touches

my arm. I scrawl in my notebook

something about a lamia.


Unable to read my writing,                             ,         

she returns to her sprawling chart,

which crowds both me and the small man

to her right. The hot room simpers

with the pursing of intellects.

With grave kinetic force the murals

enact their dramas, and the night

thrusts forth its cold wet muzzle

as if desperate for a kiss.





The Organic Flower Show



At the organic flower show

everyone has to go naked

because the flowers do. Women

who empathize with flowers

look comfortable inside their skins


but everyone else is writhing

like beef in a walk-in freezer.

I avoid the orchids, whose glance

lavishes corruption, and dote

on lilies, roses, and zinnias,


none of which seem too obsessed

with teaching sexual manners.

The huge auditorium throbs

with pink, beige, brown, ivory flesh.

No one recognizes anyone


in their native state, no one

catches an eye. Even hiding

in the refreshment area where huge

pale women serve sandwiches and drinks

I’m shriven like a wicked saint.


Our local garden club deserves

jail time for this concept. The cops,

wearing gun belts, look most abashed

since their weaponry betrays them

in this quiet, anonymous crowd.


Why hold a flower show this close

to Christmas? Who grew these flowers

in greenhouses while autumn fell

in glassy shards from leafless trees?

Naked with winter bearing down


on us, we pretend to admire

the perky blossoms but avert

our gaze in all directions, looking

backward into the selves we thought

almost safe to abandon.





A Requiem for Bower



In the parking lot the tears

of the woman whose old dog died

on the highway on Saturday night

glitter like quartz in granite.


I retreat into the coffee shop

where newspapers rattle and hide

the faces of people I deplore—

realtors, attorneys, artists 


whose pastels and watercolors fake

landscapes I’ve tried hard to love.

I’d cry for that fat shambly dog

whose late-life deafness tricked him


into heavy traffic. But even

in daylight the zodiac plods

across the sky to fluster me

with patterns I don’t understand.


Fate, luck, fortune: they eluded

the yellow gaze of Plato,

deluded Augustine and tickled

William Blake’s intellect until


he painted monstrous shapes no one

but he and Michelangelo

would mistake for human or divine.

Coffee acids dissolve the grief


I’d like to share with that woman.

How can I expose such pain

on a drizzly vapid morning

while great talents plot at tables


close enough to reach out and touch?

The newspapers fold. Sly old faces

lumber off to their offices

or to studios built with cash                       

from sources I can’t imagine.

If I were dead on the highway

the zodiac would prance across

the sky with the same abandon,


and the black asphalt would open

not like a grave but a mirror

of the dark, a false dimension

into which I’d gladly fall.