By: William Doreski

If You Want to Get Along

A black police officer finds
the gun in his locker sabotaged
by a nail jammed in the barrel.
If he fired it on the range
it would burst and kill or maim him.
When he reports it, the chief
chides him for lacking humor,
assigns him to traffic detail
until he “learns to get along.”

If you want to get along, go along,
Sam Rayburn told Lyndon Johnson
in the forties when men were men
and women were appendages
and black men didn’t exist.
Reading about this attempted
murder diffuses my thinking,
and I return to my childhood
on my great uncles’ plantation.

Field hands picking tobacco
told me ghost stories fresh from
Jamaica, where spirits blossomed
in primary colors, and death
didn’t always stay dead enough
to satisfy honest mourning.
They taught me how to smoke
raw green tobacco leaf
and tie trick knots that later
would puzzle my fellow Boy Scouts.

Now the pale New Hampshire
July afternoons pass with mute,
middle-class decorum. Police
walk the streets, chalking the tires
of cars parked in two-hour spaces.
No one jams their guns with nails,
no one accuses them of failing
to get or go along. I miss
the fragrance of green tobacco
flexing through red Valley soil.                     

Does anyone bother flying
from Jamaica to pick the crop?
Or do immigration officials
deport them with their machetes
and flasks of high-octane rum?
The hills angle into mutual
embrace, the hot light flailing
at the edge of my vision where
dark figures mingle voices
accented just for emphasis
and to make the story true.


Trapped in the Matrix

You lure me outdoors to watch
fireflies dandle in sultry dark.
No stars or moon to compete
with the sparks that puncture
the gloom with mating displays.

Why do you need my witness
to confirm that fireflies ignite
themselves in honor of fireflies
all over the world? We lean
against the night instead of
each other, crickets counting
the hours to dawn, the snort
of a browsing deer a comical
exclamation to alert us
to layers of fear and contentment.

If I reached toward the grumble
of forest I’d first encounter
a phalanx of daylilies planted
when I still almost loved this place,
before the great impoverishment.
Daylight hurts like the memory
of more flexible structures, but night
inserts its stainless prongs and feels
for the organs most at risk.

I should have studied harder
and become the pianist my mother
envisioned striding onstage
to play music she didn’t begin
to comprehend. You should have gone
to medical school and practiced
the healing that would assuage
the cold that crawls over you
even in the steamiest moments.

But this level of destruction
has educated us so finely
we can feel the heat of fireflies
enlarging our pores, opening us
to the rumpling of continents
begun when the world was fresh.

One Too Many Incidents

In a daze, I fling myself
on the bad guy and crush him,
voiding an exoskeleton
toughened by years of felony.
Police stand by, applauding.
I leave the scene by driving
up a narrow road littered
with car parts gleaming and sharp
in the lowering yellow sun.
A drawbridge across a gully
not even canoes could navigate.
As I cross, it opens, dunking me
into the hold of a sunken ship.
I designed this ship in honor
of Leonardo, whose drawings
of fanciful contraptions inspired
the idea of a self-healing ship
that struck by bombs or torpedoes
would apply first aid and continue
its world cruise unimpeded.
It sank because it tipped over,
because of too much superstructure
for too little hull. I’m here
with the ghosts of the mimes I knew
when everyone was young enough
to find mimes funny enough
to imitate. They died of luck:
car crash, cancer, drowning,
boredom, angst, and suicide.
I escape the hold and climb the bank
and find a man reading Gibran’s
Prophet right there by the gully,
his face clenched with the agony
of bombast. That man is also me,
the ghost of me that arose
when I thought I had drowned,
The pain of reading that gibberish
salts through me like a serum,
and I toss the book in the gully
and walk away from as much
of myself as I can spare.

William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.