As you look up at me with eyes
the color of Christmas I fail
from neck down, each organ clenched.
My dead parents approve. Their faces
have gone adrift, but in the rain
the flux of rubber on asphalt
invokes a dozen holiday trips
with gifts rattling in brittle wrap
and the dog so excited we stop
to let her vomit by the roadside.
They approve of your crescent smile,
your cast-iron hairdo, your love
of books too intense for pleasure.
They’re glad my organs misfunction
in your presence, glad the sidewalks
cough up earthworms in the dusk,
glad that in the restaurant the waitress
mistakes us for the famous couple
that reserved the corner table.
The distance swims in the corners
of your bottle-brown gaze. I’m sick
with envy of your clever stance
that braces the earth against you
rather than you against the earth.
But seated with white wine smirking
in fragile stemware we devolve
into that public conversation
that always spoils the local effect.
Someday we’ll brush against each other
in a scorch of displaced neutrons,
but not tonight, not with dozens
of strangers wallowing around us,
my dead parents acting fond,
and the waitress distraught because
she mistook us for celebrities.
The rain slathers on the windows.
We peer through our wineglasses
at each other and take great comfort
in distortions that distance us
like Jonah self-contemplating
at the bottom of the world.
Haunted Men’s Room
In the haunted men’s room the feet
of the dead man remain visible
to anyone who peers under
the door of the toilet stall.
This keeps half of the office staff
in a state of constipation.
You think that’s funny. Physicians
all over America agree
that the hazard of haunted toilets
is a serious health issue
the government ought to address.
Sometimes the plumbing shudders
in gray tones so depressing
computers go blank, ballpoints wilt,
and vital documents blur with tears.
Sometimes the entire staff, men
and women alike, falls asleep
at their desks and dreams that stones
intone King James rhetoric
in memory of vital fluids
we shed without remorse. You laugh
because the dead man when whole
and not merely a pair of feet
was the husband you downloaded
from an online dating site.
Tiring of him, you outsourced
his sexual function so he lost
his third dimension and died. His ghost
hasn’t completely faded
because you keep a photo beside
the bed where you freely exercise.
I’m not afraid of those feet,
but prefer to cross the road
to the Dunkin’ Donuts men’s room
where truckers and lumberjacks
combing their hair and washing their paws
frighten off with large hairy laughter
any ghost that fogs the mirror
and threatens to wrinkle their gaze.
Between Germany and Poland
The gap between Germany
and Poland is no wider
than the part in your hair. Rain sifts
fact from fiction. You linger
over coffee brewed to rival
jet fuel. You insist that Google
Maps no longer include
townships abandoned when cops
smashed down the doors to nab
anyone who voted Democrat.
You claim that the waiter who served
your bowl of mussels wore
spywear and looked sideways to catch
your profile cast in shadow.
I argue over my salad
that coefficients don’t apply
to factors based on the human.
You, with more serious math,
have cubed the effects of poverty
squared by terror. I can’t count
that high. Not enough fingers
and toes. Puddles in the street catch
glimpses of another world
and display them to pedestrians
splashing to the nearest bar.
We snuggle into our booth
and pretend the Second World War
doesn’t apply to us. The waiter
minces to our table and snatches
your credit card, presses it
to his heart. More black coffee
would cure us of the trembling
that always occurs at the border
between German and Poland—
the grumble of tanks displaced
by the angst of digestion,
the overcast of your gaze.
About the Poet
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and teaches at Keene State College. His most recent book of poetry is The Suburbs of Atlantis (2013). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals.