Dreams that Govern the World
On my mother’s birthday a crow
grates in the pale August dawn.
Five thousand miles to the east
after wreaking general havoc
Russia withdraws troops and armor
from Georgia. I ought to visit
my mother, but I’d rather see
the Caucasus this morning, peaks
snow-tipped, the gray rock stoic
against a sky faintly soiled
by the stink of burning villages.
My mother is ninety-four. Nurses
prowl around her like cubs. Breakfast
will elevate her blood sugar
so an insulin shot will follow.
Then a morning group discussion
will engage her. She forgets me
between visits. Her mind is good,
better than mine, but even
in my childhood she forgot me,
leaving me wandering in stores,
letting me run away without
bothering to call the police.
The crow reiterates. I’ve never
learned to speak crow properly
or I’d respond by pursing
a cry into the treetops where
everything worth saying has long
ago been said. Russia’s quarrel
with Georgia won’t go away.
So often empires have collapsed
over trivia. My mother
will ride out the next war in ease,
sitting in front of her TV
and dozing so gently no ripples
will escape to trouble her own dreams
or those that govern the world.
Your Frilly White Frock
In your frilly white frock you look
as dainty as a showroom full
of Cadillacs. You’ve brought along
your latest boyfriend—curly, pale,
pleased with himself, but longing
for a single glimpse of you naked.
Not in this public place, you say,
but even after he departs
in tears you prefer to remain
in the museum, in this gallery
where van Gogh’s Starry Night rages
against the browsers pouting
from painting to painting in search
of the image that will solve them.
Van Gogh solves nothing. Your frock
solves nothing. A showroom full
of Cadillacs solves nothing.
The boyfriend returns with a fifth
of Scotch in a brown paper bag,
a peace offering. We occupy
one of those long upholstered benches
placed before a massive Rothko
in various shades of orange
and share the fifth back and forth
and coo, all three of us, and smirk
as though we liked each other.
If only you hadn’t worn that
silly frock like Veronica
in Le Petit Soldat. No wonder
fear of torture overtakes me
and I rise and leave the gallery,
leave your frock for your boyfriend
to fondle, leave you inside it
to suffer the indignities
that properly belong to it,
and find myself on my knees
before a famous Picasso,
a crowd of school kids milling past,
their innocence only slightly
more alert to art than mine
No Such Thing as Vampires
You ask if I carry a gun.
Three: one with silver bullets,
one with blanks, one unloaded
to wave when I’m drunk. You laugh
because you don’t believe vampires
a greater threat than muggers.
But on steamy August evenings
the soft ground yields, and lovers
naked among the flowers learn
how easily they bleed. Shadows
that only vaguely resemble men
drape over the vulnerable parts
of the body, and the smell of blood
astonishes vacationers crouched
in lakeside cottages where pine logs
crackle on the fieldstone hearths.
You’ve heard these stores before:
the one-armed man who attacks
teenagers parked in the woods;
fiends who knife elderly couples
and scrawl messages in their blood;
dead gangsters who reappear
in the rearview mirrors of cars
in which they took their fatal rides.
Yet you don’t believe that vampires
lurch through moonlit scenery
with a living, insatiable thirst.
OK, I don’t carry guns.
I refuse to arm myself
against belief or disbelief
and never get drunk anymore.
No such thing as vampires, of course.
But if we get close in the night
and a shadow falls over us,
will you accept the bloodletting
or will you blame me for entering
the dark so frankly disarmed?
William Doreski’s work has appeared in numerous journals and several collections, most recently Another Ice Age (AA Publications, 2007) His critical essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many academic and literary journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, Yale Review, African American Review, and Natural Bridge. Bill Doreski is professor of English at Keene College, New Hampshire.