Down the Mississippi
Rafting down the Mississippi,
we’re simple enough to enjoy
starlight flexing in the current
and the grimace of sunlit bluffs.
We hope we achieve New Orleans
without tripping over a snag
or grinding up on a sandbar.
We aren’t like Huck and Jim evading
the clutch of civilization.
We aren’t like the bargemen
toting grain, cotton, soybeans,
sand, fertilizer, coal, and gravel
from this desolation to that.
We’re more like retired couples
enjoying cruises with mobs
of bridge and bocci players.
We lack the mobs, of course,
but we can mock the expressions
of the white-haired people in ads.
The river carries so much silt
we’re surprised there’s farmland left
to farm. Villages above
the high-water mark regard us
with disdain. Villages below
annual flood level look desperate.
We drift without steering, trusting
the muscular flow to shape us
to its will. The days and nights
peel like old wallpaper, exposing
landscapes too plain to inspire.
We’ll arrive somewhere, but how
to distinguish it from nowhere?
The river groans with old age
but never loses its focus,
every drop of water employed.
Some Local Archeology
In the ruins of the high school
I find, among shards and cinders,
bits of human bone. They glow
like opals, intelligent even
in their fragmentary state.
You with your metal detector
scout for coins and other trash,
your grimace focused so firmly
I wouldn’t dream of disturbing you.
I’m going to collect all the bone
to calculate the mass of life
lost when the old structure burned,
twenty years before I was born.
No one bothered to bulldoze the site.
No one cares that the town no longer
sends its adolescents to school.
For many years they’ve stayed home,
birthing from the age of thirteen,
shipping half their human crop
every year to state institutions.
The bone-bits are so weathered
they’re almost wholly mineral,
fossilized scraps of people
we might have attempted to love,
or at least tolerate. Ivy,
that ironic vine, shrouds the walls
with their gaping window holes
framing views of violet hills.
The blocks of reddish sandstone
retain a certain integrity,
the material itself much older
than the ruins of Athens or Rome.
You find an Indian head penny
and a liberty dime. Let’s quit
for now. You can buy us lunch,
and I’ll show you the bones I’ve found
and maybe you can name them.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Dogs Don’t Care (2022). His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.