When the Dunes Become Nudes
My drawing instructor complains
my seascapes lack perspective.
The swells rear like shingled roofs.
I’ve lent them the weight and texture
of a roar of molten bedrock
but haven’t rendered them supple
enough to surf against the beach,
which looks surprisingly like flesh.
Have I drawn a nude and concealed
its tender parts under sand dunes?
Have I impressed a winsome smile
into a pure bravura sky
left white and untouched on the page?
My vicious charcoal strokes depend
too much on the energy
I supply, and lack the finesse
of a master. Of course I agree,
but insist the sea does rear up
sometimes on lonely afternoons
at the end of autumn, cottages
shut for the season, the beaches
spackled with wrack and debris.
That’s when surf drops to its knees
and considers other shades of green,
and that’s when the dunes become nudes,
when no one’s here to notice,
and that’s when perspective fails us,
when we’re unavailable to see.
Before dawn I find you rigid
at the kitchen table, your face
a ceramic mask. Papers smut
the oak surface. Illegible
runic handwriting proves nothing,
as the police will later admit.
You’re not really here because
you returned to Ireland years ago,
leaving a faint trill of speech
in the streets of Jamaica Plain
where every shopkeeper knew you.
I hadn’t spoken your name
for a decade, yet here you sit
with expressionless expression
and a cat crying at your feet.
Can you explain the runes scrawled
page after page in red ink?
You’ve spoiled my best fountain pen,
a Waterman, by clogging its point
with ink the police will describe
as blood. Your long hair has grayed
like a shadow. Your posture insists
on boarding-school poise you kept
until an accident bent your spine.
I touch your shoulder and you crumble
or fade, leaving me a handful
of irreducible yellow salts.
Certain a crime has committed
itself, I call the police
to consider the evidence;
but when they arrive in a fluster
of blue lights, radios, and gun belts
of black patent leather they shake
their bullet heads and persuade me
nothing can be done. The day ends
as it began, naked and mewling,
with a sheaf of red-inked runes
and a handful of chemical dust
to scatter over my garden
in the faceless autumn dusk.
Little Autumn Disasters
The fossilized autumn dusk
flatters you but highlights the dents
in your car. Some fool rammed you
at a stoplight. Eager to douse
his crummy workday with beer
at a roadhouse some miles distant
he tried crushing three dimensions
into two. No great damage,
but in your plaintive white dress
you’re wry as Emily Dickinson
while your car looks too literal
to safely drive. Such a week:
the dean rolling his pickup truck
into a field of stripped cornstalks,
cancer returning to haunt
a colleague’s daughter in Paris,
a student struck at a crosswalk
but escaping with a broken leg.
The dusk has fossilized in layers
of shale gray almost too dense
to breathe. Watching you exit
in your broken Toyota sedan
I feel the air part as if combed
by godly forces. Time to drive
to my tiny suburban house
and feed the cats and anticipate
another night of competing dreams.
As I weave through the roundabout
behind a bulky trailer truck
I hope you’ve already passed through
that accursed traffic light
without another rear-ender
and I hope you arrive wherever
you arrive with your white dress
still innocent enough to hang
in your closet without regret.
Filming Pornography on Sacred Ground
The squawk of the neighbor’s chickens
rouses me from dreams of filming
pornography on sacred ground
dappled with ancient petroglyphs.
depicting hunts and feasts and battles
and sex acts comparable to those
our crew, led by Ingmar Bergman,
filmed with professional fervor.
Yet even in the dream I knew
Bergman was dead, our performers
only shadows whose elongated
pseudo sex organs resembled
the fronds of equatorial plants.
So I looked for a favorite café
where waiters serving espresso
spoke literate Vietnamese
and textbook French. The film crew
followed through the humming streets.
We had tired of pornography
and hoped to meet some actual people
but the scene funneled down a hole
and the dark of that hole censored us
not in English, Swedish, Vietnam-
ese, but some language so cruel
it ripped the tongue from the mouth
if one was fool enough to try it.
The chickens sound panicked but
probably are only hungry.
The cloudy dawn already
has perfected its stance, refusing
to cast any shadows at all.
Bergman remains decently dead;
and wherever that desert lies,
whatever ghosts prowl the streets
of Saigon, the New Hampshire morning
leans on its elbows and peers at me
with that benign expression
all the great artists despise.
The Messiah Conceals His Face
This time the messiah conceals
his face. Shy as a mushroom,
he glides through the coffee shop.
When I greet him, he averts
his veiled gaze from the unchosen.
“Veiled” isn’t right. A flannel hood
patterned red and yellow drapes
his head. How can he see the world
he came to save from realtors,
attorneys, statisticians, and cops?
Maybe he fears the low-cut
teenage girls will unravel him
if he peers too deeply. Maybe
the shine of cars in the parking lot
would blind him to the vapors
rising from decayed human spirits.
I offer to buy him coffee
but he brushes past, sure-footed,
and presses his hand to his forehead
as if focusing on a distance
too rococo for the rest of us
to appreciate without scripture
to guide us. He preached and preached
but the flannel muffled his voice
so no one understood. Now
he passes wordless among us,
dragging his robes on the carpet
with a sad little whispering
almost as nubile as speech.
Since he won’t respond I place
a latte on the table where
he squats like a mountain of rags.
He peers into the cup, somehow
seeing through the garish flannel,
and at last raises it, raises
the hood to reveal a tiny mouth
and I realize he’s a woman.
She sips the latte and smiles
to indicate how surely
I’m damned, and as the flannel drops
I catch a sneer of Greek or Hebrew
glinting like a sliver of metal
and dooming me to write her gospel
in a language I can’t understand,
one that will kill me for trying.
© William Doreski