Brooklyn Ferry, a Ghost Story
After taking my daily pills
I fall from the ferry and drown.
The Brooklyn Ferry, Whitman’s beard
plowing the river in sparkles
of sun. The engine smuts
the yellow sky with coal smoke.
The passengers in smelly woolens
clump like clots of moss on rock.
Manhattan without skyscrapers
exudes a rattle of carts, drays,
and wagons. Whitman tosses
a life preserver to save me,
but I’m so old and stony I sink
with pitiless glee to the bottom.
The mud engorges me. I’m fish
food before I’ve finished drowning.
This isn’t funny, but the crowd
on the ferry laughs a huge gray
nineteenth century laugh designed
to drive its victims insane.
I can hear it while the fish nose
and nibble and my lungs pump
like sump pumps and the fresh
but oily water mingles with salt
to brew my future in the stars.
The Brooklyn Ferry hasn’t run
since John and Washington Roebling
completed their gothic bridge
with diagonal harp-strung cables
and walkway down the center.
I’m walking that walkway right now.
I wave at the crowd of ghosts
on the ghost ferry steaming across
the East River with coal smoke
the color of Whitman’s beard
and a school of grim suicides
paddling in its wake, every one
determined to reach Manhattan
before it finally drifts away.
Like Many Giant Footprints
You claim that despair stalks friends,
poaching in their teacups and slurring
their favorite words. The cold wind
tastes of stone. The post office
slumps on its foundations. Mail
from the last century still awaits
delivery, gummed flaps muttering.
Meanwhile the wind plunges and plunges
with the angst of dolphins hunted
to extinction. Shoppers toting bags
of primary goods recall
their childhoods in other nations,
even if born here in a welter
of sticky limbs. You want to warn them
that when the snowdrifts melt
certain clues will emerge. Maybe
diamond tiaras stolen too late
to catch the evening news. Maybe
cigar butts that crawled from Cuba
to subvert fat-headed old men
who always vote Republican.
The newly kindled sunlight fails
to deter the wind from prying
into our open pores and scalding
tears we’ve saved for our funerals.
But you laugh your rhinestone laugh
and note that wherever volcanoes
burst the earth new opportunities
follow, like many giant footprints
leading to the planet’s far edge.
The Lobotomizing Angel
My journals shredded overnight,
refuting every hard-earned word.
The computer’s cyclops eye self
blinded, erasing the only
locally competitive intellect.
Shelves of books have toppled.
When I paw through their pages
each is blank. War and politics
flashed and thundered after midnight.
Yet the scribbles in my journals
and the text painfully typed
into my computer said nothing
about healing the rasp of bone
on bone, metal on bedrock.
I didn’t name names except those
Adam refused to whisper to Eve.
But the lobotomizing angel
has flitted through my house
to deny my lifetime of work
a hearing. I sweep up the scraps
of journal and toss the junk
computer into a trash bag
for a trip to the landfill. Maybe
after a while the text will return
to those formerly printed books.
Snowdrifts thaw slowly in weak
March sun. The longest month
of the year. Or so I scrawled
in one of those vandalized journals,
or maybe typed on the laptop
that no longer possesses a mind.
Self-rebuttal’s out of fashion—
nuclear war glooms the horizon,
and the chat of birds at the feeders
effects a grammar too vivid
for any journal to contain.
From Bartlett’s Quotations
Reading from Bartlett’s Quotations
aloud in the coffee shop
you smother all conversations
and frustrate people on cell phones
chatting about private matters
they wish to expose to the world.
“A stitch in time saves nothing,”
you read. “A fool and his bladder
are soon parted.” “Early to bed,
better off dead.” “Red sky at dusk,
your sailboat will rust.” Which edition
of Bartlett’s are you quoting?
Your expression clouds. Customers
shrug into their coats and depart.
The coffee smells of formaldehyde.
Far beneath us a volcano
is brewing, its evil temper
a dream of molten crystals.
Long after we’re gone it will surge
like a boil and pop. The lava
will erase this civilization
and cool into layers of basalt
too black to let warmth or light escape
to encourage new evolutions.
Only your ghost will linger,
mouthing new crops of quotations
but no longer sounding them.
At last you close your book and stare
into your coffee cup, exhausted
by scholarly exertion. I snatch
the book and flip through it.
Every page is blank. Outside,
a snow shower blinds the parking lot
with a dense gray scrim, and silence
maps its heavy old footfall
from here to there and back again.
Miranda steals shiny trinkets
from the elderly and pawns them.
When I reach into her bosom
and extract my Timex watch
her innocence recedes like a tide.
A crowd gathers. Miranda
in a pique of fury undresses
completely, shedding jewelry,
pill boxes, lighters, money clips,
and enough watches to daunt
every time zone on the planet.
Naked, she glowers with fission.
Her jaws creak as if a great scream
has fossilized deep inside her.
The crowd murmurs with pity
and glowers at me, so I leave
with my watch ticking on my wrist
and a vision of Miranda’s
clay-colored body brimming.
The rest of the day discolors
like an old bruise. The post office
coughs up bills and circulars.
The coffee shop’s too busy
to prepare my mocha latte
with the right shade of chocolate.
The market offers weird cuts of beef
crudely torn from celestial cows.
Miranda will probably stalk
and knife me in my sleep;
and when police find my watch
ticking in her bosom she’ll feign
such guilt they’ll feel ashamed,
and neglect to arrest her.
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. More can be found about him and his work at williamdoreski.blogspot.com.