William Doreski

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From Whitman’s Notebooks

Whitman noted that “strong coarse talk
of men” fosters the “great grammar”
that empowers America.

In the diner I listen to men
talk over greasy food and deploy
the smallest words with vigor

but mostly in the service of lies.
A Kenyan won the Peace Prize today,
his vision simple as a handshake,

his name unknown here, his face,
if it should appear on TV,
an object of racist derision.

The grill hisses, splotches of egg
and leathery strops of bacon
smoking in a puddle of fat.

Coffee fumes in stainless urns
big enough to drown in. Primal
notions of digestion dominate.

Despite Whitman’s “great engrafting”
the talk gets so rough the waitress
reddens like heated metal

and one hulking fellow orders the rest
to keep it clean. I stir my coffee
and read the menu again and

again, finding at least a few words
of which no one has to be ashamed,
the kind of words we all deserve,

the grill cook wiping both hands
on his apron, absolving himself
of the unhealthy food he serves.

A Rattlesnake Bit You

You say a rattlesnake bit you,
so I suction out the venom
and inject you with a serum.

But the venom looks like mucus
and the punctures look like kisses
and you don’t seem feverish

or even disinclined to smile.
No rattlers in our neighborhood,
so where did this snake originate?

Me? You say that I dreamed that I
was a rattlesnake and bit you?
I recall no such dream, the night

laving me as gently as a birdbath,
the stars winking and trilling in tones
so low only the owls heard them.

The new day disburses itself
in ordinary hues. The bite
or buss marks on your arm have healed

already, marked by tiny puckers.
The venom that I extracted
has evaporated, leaving

no residue for chemists to test.
You claim that my dream was real
and referred to the snake always

in residence, a devilish thing
that sprouted in my childhood
when I feared and rejected the god

Methodist ministers peddled.
How do you know? You say you saw
a cartoon bubble form over me,

a pictorial drama in which
I became a rattlesnake as thick
as your thigh and eight feet long.                 

It thrust its head through the tough
membrane of the dream-bubble
and bit you out of spite. I’m sure

the bite was merely a kiss,
and I’m certain that nothing phallic
in the current discussion applies.


William Doreski’s  work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (2019). He doesn't have an MFA and doesn't want one, thank you.