“An Art Deco Version of the Panama Canal” by William Doreski

2021 Pushcart Prize Nominee
2020 Best of the Net Nominee

Your neighborhood grew hilly
in my absence, the houses
clinging to unruly slopes.

You redecorated to suggest
an Art Deco version
of the Panama Canal but

that drippy neighbor squatting
at your dining room table quotes
Coleridge and George Herbert to prove

how culturally advantaged she is.
I should have stayed home but
wanted to watch the workers

resurrecting the old railroad
that before the latest earthquake
trundled through your back yard

with container-loads from China.
Piecing together their language
of grunts and groans I learn that

a coppery autumn discontent
has settled over this city,
wrenching men from needed sleep

and drying up the mother’s milk
that fuels your future leaders.
After resetting and polishing

miles of rail, the workers burn
their favorite tools with ritual
prayers to invoke the moon.

In response it rises, a full moon
veiled by pumpkin-colored mist.
You’ve said nothing about the cries

of blackbirds parsing funerals,
of delinquents breaking into
storage sheds where militias

store their nuclear weapons.
You neighbor quotes her last quotation
and gusts through the back door

with a gesture of sweeping disdain.
I claim the chair she warmed,
and pretend to admire the carpet

you laid, Panama gray
with a fringe of jungle. Your smile
is ravenous. The day declines

toward a stainless climax no one
who hasn’t savored your small talk
can fully perceive or admire.

William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many print and online journals. He has taught at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His most recent book is Train to Providence, a collaboration with photographer Rodger Kingston.

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