A Word I Can’t Pronounce
At dawn a word I can’t utter
stalks from the mist and sneers aloud.
A ruined city wheezes. Wild dogs
hunt the last human infants.
Vultures soar in a yellow sky.
You worried about the new war
between Russian and Georgia, worried
that the shrinking Caspian Sea
would become a mudflat wrinkled
by tank treads. You were right—
and words that don’t function
burden the tongues of survivors
like me, who slept through the shelling
of your family’s Black Sea resort,
where at the age of five you dreamt
an open-mouthed word that functions
so poorly in Russian you needed
twenty years of education
to learn to pronounce it correctly.
I hadn’t realized you also
had suffered strange words until war
broke out when and a rebel province
tried to refasten itself
to Mother Russia. Such alien
political biology numbs me
to the casualties; but reeking
of dead fish, the Caspian Sea
would like to mate with the Black Sea
and refresh itself with a draught
from the world’s contiguous oceans.
I understand this passion but
how does that strange word describe
your dread of war? I also fear
the big guns that wrecked the city
into which I’ve stumbled this morning
with my swollen head and hands.
The wheezing and cries of vultures
harmonize, and the smell of the mist
warms me enough to greet you
across a psychic geography
split by mountains bright with snow
The old house no longer loves me.
The rooms sigh like paper bags.
The boiler crouched in the dark
hisses, warning me away.
The furniture reproaches me
with a certain indignation
the woodworkers who built it
would find difficult to explain.
Even antique glassware regrets
having met me. Swirly orange
carnival glass repels me
with the lilt of an evil eye.
A pair of Austrian pitchers
shaped like moose-heads disdain me
with nineteenth-century arrogance
I’d rather not acknowledge.
Even the bathroom sneers, the toilet
choking with disgust. Too late
to brew a final cup of tea
and sit on the long veranda
and read a Stephen King novel
while admiring the thunder banked
above the Methodist spire.
But I do it anyway, the cup
warming my hands. A few cars
whisk up and down the street but
the storm’s so dark it hushes
even the creak of timbers
as the house tries to expel me
like a splinter under its skin.
I’ll leave when the storm expires,
and won’t look back. The elm,
the last great American elm
in town, holds its ground against me,
blaming me for abandoning
the house of my childhood, and far
overhead a nesting robin
sings away the insolent rain.
About the author
William Doreski's most recent trip of any significance was a drive from Athens up through Macedonia and the various Balkan nations to visit a…Read the full bio
Issue 02 · December 2008
Table of contents
- From the editors
- Postcard Prose
- Travel Notes