The daily crossword puzzle
dulls me with words like door,
lassitude, gloom, and dismay.
The many little squares accept
ordinary Latin characters,
but grimace with pain when
I’ve finished filling them in.
I know I shouldn’t invest
puzzles with godless intent.
The people who plot these teasers
aren’t ruled by malevolence,
only by dusky wits employed
in harmless public diversions.
But why are today’s answers
so glum and gray against
a background of black and white?
The effect suggests the blizzard
I suffered on Mount Washington—
a blast of erasure so absolute
I forgot myself for hours
and became a different creature,
instinctive and free of thought.
The crossword isn’t so dramatic,
but it suggests how subtly one
can lose one’s self in moments
of disembodied language deployed
merely for amusement’s sake.
I shouldn’t take small words so lightly
that the pain they inflict seems
too impersonal to enjoy.
My doctor says I’m healthy enough
to slaughter and feed to the poor.
Her crisp lab coat whispers
as she leans into my heartbeat,
her face professionally puckered.
At the exam room window, the rain
censors my offhand reply,
so I pretend that she’s joking,
as if inhabiting Tristram Shanty
or some other reckless novel
no one can read anymore.
Such a dark morning, so many claims
on one’s attention. My doctor
burbles like a coffee pot,
measures my girth to estimate
my yield in chops, loins, roasts.
She assures me that animals
don’t suffer as humans do
when the silver hammer comes down.
Maybe I exaggerate the glint
in her eye. Maybe her lab coat
is just too fresh from the laundry.
The stock market has crashed because
a virus from China is creeping
over the slick of the planet to claim
victims who work in factories
or global shipping facilities.
Referring to that disaster,
my doctor notes that health matters,
and not just for livestock. The rain
sizzles on the clinic’s tarred roof,
expressing itself much as we do,
mingling, mangling vanity and wit.
The Secret History of Slavery in America
In the blue blush of the wind,
the pines look surly enough
to kill without much conscience.
We must avoid their shadows,
where long-forgotten voices pool.
To avoid perpetuating
this latest and greatest harangue,
we mustn’t speak of distance
rooted creations can’t achieve.
Today the projected longueurs
will languish like last year’s nudes.
Talking heads hysterical over
the latest virus from China
will clog the digital airwaves
and render intellects supine.
Don’t mistake all that blather
for the same dull austerity
that claims that wi-fi causes
autism in the vegetable world.
Don’t allow yourself to numb
in the clash of competing texts.
Let’s discuss this over coffee
the color of privileged flesh.
We agree on political shades
of glory, on the afflatus
of our favorite language-acts.
Let’s maintain our regard for
the Founding Fathers although
they fostered the one great sin.
The wind bruises everything
black-and-blue: its insistence
ripe with glamor, yet snooping
into our dearest little shame.
The Household God Died
The enameled winter light
perfects itself without regard
for the weeping in the kitchen,
the suicide in the attic,
the child hiding in the crawl space
between this dimension and that.
I remember the very moment
that the household god died
of dust, boredom, and neglect.
Even on a bright afternoon,
dark congealed in the corners
of every room. My mother
looked up from her book to greet
something from her own childhood,
while next door my grandfather
sighed his last tobacco sigh
and consigned himself to vapor.
At the funeral my father shook
his fist at the Catholic ghost
smoking from the big brass censer.
He already knew that the priest
had an evil way with children.
He had sent me to the other church,
where no superstition burdened
the sleek rectors of disbelief.
Now the season has parsed itself
down to the final dismay.
Filthy roadside snow heaps
fester. Last year’s ambitions
collapse as the stock market falls
in fear of virus from China.
After many years, the household
god has yet to resurrect.
I hesitate to assign a gender
to a gust of chill, a shadow,
but if he should return, he’ll find
the same world of freeze and thaw
confusing form with content.
Willian Doreski's work has appeared in various online and print journals and in several collections, most recently in Train to Providence, a collaboration with photographer Rodger Kingston.