Tunnel of Hope
A rainy day in Belmont.
Main Street’s granite underpass
forms a short and noisy tunnel
with commuter trains roaring
overhead. Some bold optimist
has mounted a sign reading HOPE
in white letters plaintive on red,
right above the traffic lanes.
I’m stricken with detachment.
Wise men hope nothing, of course.
The wet asphalt fails to mirror
this corrugated sentiment. Trees
overlap the scene with mitts
full of leaves. I used to walk
from Arlington to Belmont
along the tracks, bluff dark trains
pouring as heavily as lava
but a hundred times as fast.
I had to look over my shoulder
and keep ten feet from the tracks
so the hustle of machinery
wouldn’t vaporize me in its rush.
One cloudy Sunday I bought
Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems
in the Belmont bookshop and read,
step by step, all the way home.
She knew better words than “hope.”
She knew how graphic the failure
of cheap sentiment could be.
The rain helps, though. It flatters
the atmosphere by stifling,
however slightly, the stink
of exhaust, and shellacking
textures to further perfect them.
Good thing I brought a raincoat
to half-conceal my identity—
the insistence of HOPE applying
especially to anyone caught
sheltering naked in this scene.
Scalpel and Lase
Hired to replace surgeons felled
by plague, we page through books
of vivid anatomy but plan
to learn our trade on the job.
Hired because we’re among
the last few literate citizens—
nearly everyone else deceased
of virus or disgust. Meanwhile
fungi are felling larch and maple,
insects are killing hemlock and ash.
On our treeless planet every
last creature will suffocate,
leaving husks for archeologists
from other galaxies to ponder.
This general extinction still lies
a month or year in the future.
We still have to scalpel or lase
tumors and otherwise faulty
organs from suffering patients
and from the body politic.
We mask up and don baggy gowns
and hope that our victims go
to that legendary land of Oz
where everything tastes like butter.
The last of the government flickers
like a moth dancing into a flame.
We mustn’t expect a paycheck
no matter how grisly our work,
no matter how sincerely we hew
the flesh so eagerly presented.
We knew it would come to this—
the blood and leftover parts
we don’t know how to replace.
Yet our first few patients survive,
and look healthy enough to last
through another, better millennium.
Or maybe they’re all just ghosts
of a long-forgotten culture,
their flesh and blood an illusion
that helps keep all parties sane.
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 College, Goddard College, Boston University, and Keene State College. His most recent book is Stirring the Soup. williamdoreski.blogspot.com