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.