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William Doreski


Once There Were Passenger Pigeons

Standup Calculus

E Flat Major

Once There Were Passenger Pigeons

Why should Queen Elizabeth,
after sixty years of reign,
be clutching her purse in my dream?
Why should her blue pastel suit
lend her such authenticity?
She reminds me that my mother
now appears in a green light
in a mélange of antique music.
She explains that apologies
for my mother’s hasty funeral
and lack of public elegy
aren’t required. I wake in a chill.
The Queen’s modest demeanor
left no aura of threat, but one
blue pastel cloth button
rests on my pillow.

Snow light
emblazons the bedroom windows.
The monotony of early winter
defines landscapes in strokes too broad
for the mental brush to apply.
No wonder I turned to royalty
to enhance an otherwise turgid
drama set in a discount store,
shabby and grieving after Christmas.
I should spread corn for the turkeys
or maybe to lure the passenger
pigeon back from extinction.
Think of flocks dimming the sun,
roosting to crush whole forests.
Perhaps in a previous life
I flew with the other pigeons
until someone shot me for food.

The Queen will explain all this
after I die, her calm expression
larger than both world wars, her purse
crammed with as many state secrets
as once there were passenger pigeons
occluding the humbled gray sky.

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Standup Calculus

Terrified of teaching math,
I daydream in my office
and miss the opening class.

The campus seethes. I crouch
in the pub and confess my sins
in sympathetic pastel tones.

My colleague nods but ignores
the cobwebs spangling my hair,
the breath that could slay a dragon.

With blunt rusty thumbtacks the dean
would nail me to a  bulletin board
if he knew I’d skipped an hour

of standup calculus for nerds.
I can’t remember the process
although I get correct results.

The pub reeks of sweat and fear.
The beer, filtered through gym clothes,
tastes ripe enough to topple

the largest California redwood,
if poured on its roots. My colleague
smiles a smile developed

in a lab just east of the Urals.
I dangle from its prongs and die
a martyr’s death from which

I rouse myself and go on sighing.
The beer in my glass shivers
as a mob of student fresh from class

shudders through the door and slops
into booths, filling every seat.
My colleague pities but regrets

knowing me. The gap between us
widens like a fault line. I slam
my calculus textbook on the bar                                

and spill enough beer for shore birds
to wade in. A few people stare,
but my colleague expands her smile

to erase my presence, and the stool
where I sat looks monumental,
now that I’m no longer there.

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E Flat Major

In the concert hall the heat
of five hundred bodies dulls me.
As a string quartet saws Mozart
into many small pieces I doze.

A rain of paper rouses me.
Thousands of scrawled pages torn
from notebooks, lined paper,
shower from the space above the lights.

My grammar and high school essays,
resurrected to tickle the crowd.
Most people will mistake these pages
for discarded programs. They’ll leave,

after applause, without reading
a word of my childhood scribbles.
Here’s a scrap of my argument
for hanging old Silas Marner

and the author who stunted my growth.
And here’s a leaf endorsing
the abolishing of school prayer
and the return of junior football.

My holograph resembles the fright
wig Andy Warhol sported
after a hard day faking art.
Only a few people even glance

at the paper sprinkling over them.
The rest shrug the mess to the floor
for the janitor to sweep up
and burn in the huge hot-air furnace

moaning below. I thought I tossed
this effluvia decades ago;
but this mangling of the Mozart
E flat major string quartet,                                                 

the third of the Hayden quartets,
precipitated paper from air
to impose, instead of grace notes,
the ignorance of my scrawl.


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William Doreski’s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently The Suburbs of Atlantis (AA Press, 2013).

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