Two Poems

by William Doreski

Alpha and Beta Particles

Prowling with a Geiger counter,
I detect radiation oozing
from the granite foundations
of every house in the village.
Children trail after me, giggling
with swear words I didn’t learn
until ten years older than them.
The brook behind the Baptist church
shivers with a thousand drowned souls.

A little dog explores the green.
He offers neither bark nor bite,
but avoids the child-gang surging
in my wake. The Geiger counter
rackets in my hand. Transfixed
by the high alpha-beta count,
I fail to notice the children
undergoing puberty within
a few yards of me, fail to note

that they’re already adults
savaging each other right here
in public. No wonder cancer
has ravaged and depopulated
this quarry town. No wonder
the Civil War statue has drooped
to touch its toes. No wonder
the flag before the post office
features a skull and crossbones.

I’ll report to the selectmen
that the measurable radiation
exceeds all safety guidelines.
But when I turn to face town hall,
the mob of post-public children
surges and leaves me naked
and cringing in the twilight—
my instruments smashed, my notes
shredded, and a thousand wounds
healed almost before they’ve bled.

 

Borneo Neighbors England

The world has remapped itself
so Borneo neighbors England.
We borrow a sailboat in Dover
and point the bow southeast

where Calais used to cower
around its geometric harbor.
The Chunnel goes nowhere now.
France has moved south of Africa,

and Africa has displaced Brazil.
A hundred miles to Bintulu.
Although neither of us can sail,
we voyage there without incident.

We hike from there to the heart
of Borneo, where two hundred
species of bats descend
and tangle in our hair. You scream

that scream made famous on film
and I faint in a dozen shades
of cerulean blue. Langurs,
slow lorises, gibbons inspect us

as we lie on the jungle floor
and become encrusted with ants
as long and thick as fountain pens.
We rise abruptly and scatter

pangolins and flying squirrels
as dawn light flushes the bats.
Civets and bearcats nose about
and avoid us. After three weeks

of slogging through our own sweat
we emerge in Paris and agree
that the world hasn’t shifted
its continents after all, that

Borneo was a state of mind
we embraced for reasons too shy
to expose to each other. Lazing
in a Montparnasse café we blame

ourselves in shadowy tones,
and agree that the orangutans
that have followed us to the city
aren’t ancestors but only friends.

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.

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