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Haunted Books

Roomfuls of haunted books.
When you open one, a puff
of gray spirit flirts like smog.
I admire thick scholarly tomes,

many in blue Oxford bindings
that always look so official,
their contents beyond dispute.
Other books in white buckram

would melt like vanilla ice cream
if a crude fellow like me
tried to read them. You choose
Tristram Shandy in blue linen,

but when you open it actual
laughter gusts and chills you,
so you drop it on the carpet
and stand back as the ghost

of a twenty-foot python slumps
from the pages and dissipates,
exuding a lengthy trail of smoke.
I scan a page or two of Wordsworth,

but the paper squirms like flesh
and gives me intolerable creeps.
The owner of this apartment
offers whiskey to appease us

along with his apologies.
He’d hoped the ghosts would respect
intellects like ours and refrain
from showing their toothy grins.

But as we sip the lavish malt
the ghosts whisper to themselves
like a choir of crickets. Unnerved,
we prepare to leave our host

to the mercy of this haunting.
The bookshelves grumble, though,
with the weight of too much knowledge;
and without my touching a volume,

a gasp of Shakespeare tragedy
fumes into the atmosphere
and smokes us both like bacon,
numbing our grip on the world.

Music Too Alien

Cancer claims the man next door.
His parked car doesn’t understand.
His favorite chair, a lumpy blotch
of beer stains, doesn’t understand.
His cat doesn’t understand but notes
that when the wax image leaves
in a plastic bag its scent lingers
like a final trembling caress.

I didn’t know him. His radio
cackled nightly with music
too alien for me to process.
I never asked him to shut it off
but turned my deaf ear his way
to avoid a petty quarrel.
One summer he barbecued a hog
over a charcoal pit aggressive
enough to engulf a buffalo.
The stink troubled the neighborhood
all summer, and one family moved.

That winter, a cancerous smile
hid behind drawn shades. He lived
three more years, his wife growing
as gaunt as him. The music
got louder, and his children
banged a basketball against
the side of the house until
they broke a dozen shingles.

Then the landlord swore at them
under his breath: a curse
that finished off their father
in a slur of yellow debris.

William Doreski’s 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.