Three Poems by William Doreski

Barefoot in the City


Going barefoot in the city

saves money because bars

and restaurants won’t admit me.

It’s good for my ministry, too.

If I cut my feet on broken glass

I heal instantly, and my followers

applaud. But a more authentic

mockery of Jesus has appeared.

His crystal gaze affixes women

from the shelter. Drunk men cower

as he speaks in such modest tones

they have to learn forward to hear.


Filthy, trash-studded snow banks

upholster the avenues. Junk cars

slump in the alleys, burned hulks

stolen from better neighborhoods

and torched after raucous joyrides.

This fake Jesus and I should join

hands and sing hymns together,

baritone and tenor. Can he work

the humbler sort of miracles?

Can he turn wine into water

as adroitly as I can? Split meals

at the shelter into a hundred

greasy servings? Heal himself

of his daily cuts and bruises?


His lank blond rug becomes him

better than my gray old bramble.

His muscles rumple like roasts.

His smile melts the ice in the street.

But he’s unwilling to go barefoot

in the long yellow winter light.

When the police tote his carcass

to the morgue he may or may not

arise to honor his commitments;

but unlike me he’ll fail to leave

that one bloody footprint in snow

by which for a day or two

his many disciples will know him.




Scouring the dictionary for sipe,

I learn it’s a tread element

in a tire. You’re so elated


by this definition that your hair

flusters straight up from your forehead

and you scrawl a note so forcefully


the pencil point breaks. A sipe

is merely an incision, a small

local effect. Like the ice jam


on the river near the motel:

one element in a landscape

fraught with seasonal tremors.


And, like you, an incision deep

enough yet shallow enough

to function without damaging


the structure of which it is part.

In what structure do you function?

Your radical hair is a clue,


and so is your Audrey Hepburn

expression, in which larger worlds

than the one I inhabit collide.


You claim to have discovered the word

sipe in an unknown work by Melville,

and now your scholarly article


shimmers like a famous sermon

although you’ve written only one word.

I slam shut the dictionary


and rest my head on my desk while

your hair bursts into flames and your laugh

shimmers down the corridor to shock


dust in electrostatic waves

from the carpet, a ghost dance

of finely civilized debris.


A Sea of Silk Neckties


When I open the haunted closet

a sea of silk neckties floods

the room, surges through the windows,


surfs into the street. Red and green,

gold and blue and pink and yellow,

brown with lightning stripes, paisley,


old-school, regimental, and patterned

with golf clubs, dogs, squash rackets,

shields with tiny Latin mottoes.


The tidal uproar congeals. Traffic

halts in wonder at this vast collage.

Buried in strata of woven silk,


I struggle to emerge and close

the door to the haunted closet,

but the roar of ties has concluded.


Now it’s an art installation,

and curators gather to claim

the massive display for museums


with gallery space great enough

to house such arrogant colors.

I don’t know who or what haunts


that closet, but freed from the heap,

I explore the interior. Mist

as tough as cigar smoke blurs


a distance no actual closet

would contain. I can see as far

as Rome before the mist closes—


one glimpse of the Colosseum

more than enough to convince me.

Working as a team, the curators


are folding up the frozen mass

of ties in the street. They agree

that as the artist I should decide


who gets to show this masterpiece.

But I refuse to give my consent

because the overlapping colors


of this weird haunting are keen

to devour the whole spectrum

and condemn us to the dark.


William Doreski


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