Canoeing in the Arctic frightens
and thrills me. Big floes nod past
within reach of my paddle.
Polar bears squat like ottomans.
Their breath stinks of fish and rotten
explorer meat. I want to claim
some plot of bare earth and name it
for the collective noun for lovers,
but the fragrance of the neon chop
distracts so I forget the word.
Impoverished by living too long
past my emotional sell-by date,
I took to the canoe to settle
debts I’ll surely incur later,
when I’ve accounted for my sunsets.
Delirious with strain of paddling
from Greenland to Baffin Island
before turning north, I envision
shades of green too delicate
to survive a climate of gristle.
If I could land on that bare earth
and bend and touch my toes I’d blame
no president, congress, or monarch
for the dereliction of duty
imposed by the cadaverous view.
Floe after floe, seal-capped, grinning.
The map doesn’t pertain. I yawn
widely enough to swallow a berg,
but if I slept I’d topple and drown
in my bulky goose-down parka.
I hope someone reads this postcard
and realizes I’ve gone north
for everyone’s sake, my wake
rippling through the thickest water
like a shark-fin through a dream.
Hot Water Return
After serving a long sentence
in the Concord Women’s Prison
you rejoin me in the clawfoot
painted iron bathtub you love.
You lower your pansy-pink self
into the heat and steam and sizzle
as we entwine. Almost as if
thirty years ago you hadn’t killed
your saucy black-clad lover
by shoving him in front of a bus.
So many grizzled witnesses
sobbing like so much bacon fat.
Why didn’t you plead a sudden
attack of sanity? Prison bars
enameled the hue of your blush
braced you against the religion
your family impressed on you one
book of the bible at a time.
The place reeked like a stone bouquet.
The guards cowered like turnips.
The intonation of voices caught
in that steel and concrete maze
suggested that the human race
had disinherited everyone.
Although you were proud of yourself
and the mess you’d made of your boyfriend
your hack lawyer failed you in shades
of gloom no mere pornographer
could assay. Now the hot water
absorbs us, resolves the gap
between body and soul, and seals
our mutual text with kisses.
Now the vapor rises around us
to eradicate those sordid years
and burnish the flesh we’ve bared
with a slippery athletic sheen.
A Politician’s Daylight Ghost
In a roadhouse in midsummer
a politician’s daylight ghost
arrives to intimidate me
with exaggerated height and depth.
He demands I carry his trunk
of state papers to his grave
and leave them to suppurate,
then meet him at the girder bridge
where he hanged himself a year ago
rather than fight corruption charges.
Outside in the glare the ghost
becomes so transparent I doubt
that he could wrestle me underground,
as he threatens. But I heft
the trunk, stash it in my car,
drive to the graveyard. I place
the trunk on his grave and both
trunk and gravestone disappear
in a blush of fog. A phoebe squawks
its two-note objection to the world.
The sun casts huge corrugations
I can’t cross without cutting off
my feet at the ankle. My car,
like the trunk and grave, has gone
in fog. Without thinking about it,
I’m standing on the bridge where
the shadow of a hanged man
has burned into the pressed steel deck.
The politician’s ghost regards
this shadow with dramatic gloom.
I’m to look and look and look;
and when I’ve looked myself away
the fog will lift, the shadow fade,
and the crimes that made him famous
will have become my deepest secrets.
William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His
most recent books of poetry are City of Palms and June Snow Dance, both
2012. 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, Worcester
Review, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural