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Risk & Language | William Doreski

Still at Risk

Downtown the panic subsides.

The river slips back into place.

The graveyard swallows its ghosts.

Amelia smooths her apron.

Heidi returns to baking scones.

The brickwork of the town house

relaxes its jagged expression.

The Unitarian steeple exults.

What happened? We arrived late.

Icy sidewalks grimace. Parked

cars look louche and troubled.

We’re all still at risk, aren’t we?

A daylight moon, frog-belly pale,

presides over a tragedy

that hasn’t occurred. Mary Jo

recounts the moment of crisis

but with words that exfoliate 

even as she speaks. The sky

reneged. The winter sun dropped

into a slot in a mountain slope

on the east edge of the village.

Amelia and Heidi ran outside

and waved, shouted, and persuaded

the landscape to reboot itself.

The mailman dropped his mail bag

in the street, junk mail spilling 

as traffic stuttered to a halt.

The sun had already resumed

its usual poise. The river, 

shuddering like a half-dead snake,

coughed up a carcass we thought

we’d mourned and buried years ago.

That’s all. Then you and I arrive

and everyone looks smug although

the reveries of morning remain

ambiguous and glassy-eyed

and the withered moon looks sorry

for imposing all that myth.


A Common Language

All the guitars are asleep

but the houseplants murmur

in a green soprano chorus.

New Year’s Eve. We slip under

the bedclothes to watch TV,

a murder mystery unfolding

in gestures we’ve seen before.

Everyone knows who murders

whom and why. It happens over

and over, dispersing police

over rural English countryside

we envy for its musculature,

toned by centuries of farm life

so that the pigs and cows smile

with resigned and earthy humor.

After the crime has solved itself

 I’ll stay up late reading about

Wittgenstein teasing the dons

of Cambridge with his assertions

about the single common language

and how it might learn to suffice.

That notion of a common language

haunted the women’s movement

of the Seventies when we entered

graduate school with the rain

dripping from our cheap dark clothes.

We haven’t played the guitars

for years, so they sleep soundly.

Their strings have slackened but

there’s no point in tormenting them

into tunings of imperfect pitch.

Maybe tomorrow, the new year,

with a refreshed atmosphere 

will render us musical again.

Let’s listen hard for that hum

of celestial pitch pipe, an e-flat

even police detectives hear

when they cross-examine silence

with their faun-like pointed ears.


William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. His most recent book of poetry is Stirring the Soup (2020). His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals.