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.