To the Gendered Distance
Crossing the Kennebec at Bath
I grip the steering wheel so hard
my knuckles pop and my arms ache.
The narrow bridge swoops and soars
and the railings clatter in the eye
like bones chandeliered in the wind.
If you saw how fear focuses me
you would laugh that ivory laugh
that’s tinged with threat of extinction.
You might express a mortality
I’d rather not consider right now
with the river brimming far below
and navy cruisers docked for repair
at the boatyard where a massive crane
skyscrapes the blank autumn blue.
It would be a joke, the kind of joke
the muses played on little men
who attempted to fondle their breasts.
But the way the tidal river responds
to the sea is humorless, silvery
but fraught with bottomless whirlpools.
Sometimes you’re also bottomless,
poised against the slanted daylight
as if a landslide were imminent.
Somewhere the earth is uneasy
because of your tiny footfall,
even when you stalk the avenues
of Manhattan, Paris, or Milan.
If you crossed this bridge on foot
you’d shame it into collapsing
in your wake. That’s why I’m nervous.
The cruisers with missiles pointed
at the harmless ether don’t threaten
the way the past three thousand years
of your slack moods do. The crane scrapes
at the sky but leaves no scratches
in that polished surface. I’ve crossed
the bridge alive. The highway widens
Alone with the radio blazing,
I sing along with neon notes
that if I dared to let you hear them
would dishearten you with joy.
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.