While you’re driving cattle north
to the railhead at Kansas City,
I’m manning a barricade
in Paris during the Franco-
Prussian War. With mutual sighs
we lower our books and assume
the grim expression of incumbents.
Easier to read about the past
(with its shovel-shaped beards and crisp
fabrics stretched over hoop skirts,
battles and deposed emperors,
beheadings, coronations, hangings,
shuffling of national boundaries)
than to confess the cruel and petty
moments we live as if swimming
through a sea of spilled molasses.
In the age of Rimbaud the streets
bristled with rifles and pikes.
Slogans wrinkled daily discourse
while Rimbaud sampled women
as only a selfish boy could.
In your book, the muddy crossing
of the Red River marks a moment
of laughter and pride. In mine,
the commune poses a threat
crushed with thousands of futile deaths.
We should break for lunch and face,
if not the onrush of history,
our rapid aging, our crumpled hides
almost dry enough to nail
to the side of our neighbor’s barn.
We’re twice as old as Rimbaud
dying of gangrene. Instead
of trading in coffee and weapons,
he should have been a cowpoke
sporting the dust of the old West,
adorning the pages of your book.
Then he could have died a man’s death
brawling in a ten-cent saloon,
his poems blowing down the street,
defiantly scrawled in blood.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Dogs Don’t Care (2022). His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.
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