Three Short Prose Pieces, by William Doreski
1. Leonardo’s Galactic Exercise
“First describe the eye; then show how the twinkling of a star is really in the eye and why one star should twinkle more than another, and how the rays from the stars originate in the eye.” The eye is a shelled, uncooked egg in a bowl of bone. It slops and sighs and rues its lack of development. Even in its most sanguine moments it lacks the verve of a muscle. Still, a skein of nerve links it to worlds large enough to flatter it; and caught in its field of vision, a shuffle of panoramas rackets past with ocular gibberish intact. The twinkle of the star is a private joke made public by enormous distance. The star singles out a particular eye and alights in it like a fly in a wound. The star festers in the jelly of the eye, spangling and splotching it. We rationalize this muddle with ideals of geometry we call rays, but which are actually the geometric musings of our nether regions, where shame settles for a long dry nap. To say that rays “originate” lends them a dignity that a mere concept shouldn’t enjoy. The notion of origin is pernicious. Nothing originates, everything has always been, always existed in the twinkle of conspiracy between star and eye: even before the eye evolved, even before the big bang generated the shower of sparks that illuminate without informing.
2. Smoke Bush
The death of my smoke bush deepens my regard for Herman Melville. His Cotinus still thrives beside his house in Pittsfield. Whenever I visit, I crouch beneath its tangle of smoke and wish I could meet the ghost of Melville prowling Battery Park, looking wistfully out through the harbor mouth to the Atlantic ranting and raw beyond. I wouldn’t want to meet him here in Pittsfield, though. His beard might tangle in the foliage, and his focus on his great novel would shame me. His suffering wife would call him to lunch, leaving me in the yard looking toward Greylock with its canted slopes bristling. I don’t know if he planted this smoke bush, but I’d like to believe it’s a hundred and fifty years old, combed and pruned by all those winters yet healthy as a beefsteak. My own smoke bush lasted only about ten years before wilt wilted it, snuffed its buds and stifled its smoke. Cutting it down I felt crude and Neanderthal, insufficiently developed to read and appreciate Moby-Dick, Pierre, or Billy Budd. Maybe I’ll drive to Pittsfield next week and try to atone for this failure of will. Maybe Melville’s ghostly beard, freeing itself from the branches, will droop from his smoke bush to comfort me.
3. Funnel Web Spiders
Descriptions of the funnel web spiders of Australia terrify me. Big fangs, painful bite, and then you die. How often I’ve felt that scenario work through me, cringe by cringe. Meeting you when I was fourteen and joining the chess club, I felt a pang that would prove fatal many years later. Such a pallid outlook, as if even before your teens you had married into a family of mannequins. Such a careless touch, your mandibles pronging my hazy pubescence.
Now you’ve ripened into the imago I fear most. So many kills to your credit. The funnel shape of your web is actually the open yawn of the boredom that I can’t help but inflict on you. A yawn, and then the bite. Blood pressure rockets, shivers husk my frame, my brain swells to burst its fossil environment. You admire this the way the funnel web spider enjoys pricking the creatures that threaten it. I’m no threat, but it hurts anyway, distempered by my innocence.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.