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.
Sifting the Ruins
Sifting the ruins for clues,
I find a metal file box
of letters I sent you many years
before we met. Some in English,
some in French, German, Chinese.
The dry old pages tremble like silk.
The words look raw as their source
in that lost Indo-European
ur-language, the one you speak
to lovers as you impale them
on their bluff, old-fashioned lust.
The light fails. Distant streetlamps
cast a brassy but useless glow.
I run a hand over a typescript
and read heron, bygone, fop.
What had I told you about life
in the marshes? I’ll study
these letters when dawn sobers me
and I’ve showered away the stink
of this house you burned to the ground
to conceal forensic evidence
of your lack of human empathy.
A police car noses past. No one
can see me creeping in the shadows,
but I don’t want to be shot
for looting so I lie so flat
my expression dims with ash.
That’s how you remember me,
isn’t it? Not our long August sail
across the Black Sea to Turkey
and back, but my weeping in church
as the old superstitions failed me.
My ashen face reminded you
of war before you were born,
so you swept me into the distance
where I’ve lingered every since.
The patrol car moves on. The stink
clings and conforms to me
as I rise and clutch the letters
and feel them crumble and mingle
their languages like minerals
combing under massive pressure
to form new chemical entities
I’m unqualified to assay.