Winter for a Moment Takes the Mind
{An Umbrella Special Feature}

William Doreski,

is Professor of English, Keene State College (New Hampshire), teaching creative writing, literary theory, and modern poetry. Born in Connecticut, he lived in Boston, Cambridge, and Arlington (MA) for many years, attended various colleges, and after a certain amount of angst received a Ph.D. from Boston University. After teaching at Goddard, Harvard, and Emerson colleges, he came to Keene State in 1982.

He has published several collections of poetry, most recently Sacra Via (Tatlock Publications, 2005) and Another Ice Age (AA Books, 2007), and three critical studies—The Years of Our Friendship: Robert Lowell and Allen Tate (University Press of Mississippi, 1990), and The Modern Voice in American Poetry (University Press of Florida, 1995), Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors (Ohio University Press, 1999)—and a textbook entitled How to Read and Interpret Poetry (Prentice-Hall).

His critical essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many academic and literary journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, and Natural Bridge.

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Midwinter Entity

Slogging through snow-deep woods,
I feel the weight of my feet increase
exponentially, numbing like bread.
Deer tracks pierce so deeply I wonder

the creatures don’t falter and crack
their flimsy legs. I should stay home
and study Tennyson or Coleridge
rather than strain my heart by wading

through secretive forest; but something
lures me further and further, something
grim and dusky that lingers
on the far side of the beaver pond

or near the half-constructed log house
erected where the brook plunges
into a spooky ravine. There
in summer I found a pistol,

a Smith and Wesson so rusty
no gunsmith could salvage it.
Convinced it belonged to a crime,
I tossed it in the beaver pond,

then found it again that autumn
when the dam broke and the pond drained.
I buried it in the mud and there
it lies, the dam repaired, the pond

refilled and iced over. Something
crueler, more desolate, is groping
through the underbrush, something
that doesn’t need a weapon

because it is a weapon. I hope
to see and name it before it
sees and names me. The power rests
in the spoken word, and creatures

like that can barely converse,
so I’m confident of taming it
as long as I speak first, and clearly.
Not today, though. The sun’s a pale

little scar in the west. I slog
toward home. I’m almost certain
the entity is following me,
but no matter how quickly I whirl

in my tracks I catch no glimpse of it,
only a shimmer of golden air
and the stern purple trunks of pine
closing their ranks behind me.


Want to Split Wood?

Want to split wood? You need an edge.
Place your axe in your lap
with the heel toward you. Handle
this large mill file with care:
it cost me twenty dollars. Angle
against the cutting surface and file
away from you. Remember
you have to plane a wedge-shape.
Now turn the axe and file again,
shifting the tool along the surface
so you grind a clean, even blade.
Now test it gently with your finger.
Wipe with this oily rag. No burrs,
no filings? Place a chunk of wood
on the rotten pine block. Brace yourself
with legs apart, left hand gripping
the end of the handle, right hand near
the head. Swing good and hard,
sliding your right hand down the handle,
keeping your eye on the wood.
Look at those halves of red oak,
how fresh and flammable they look.
We’ve a long dull winter ahead—
elections, Christmas, New Year’s Day,
snowfall creeping over us
like age. You need to split and stack
at least eight cords of oak and birch.
By then you’ll feel too exhausted
to think of using the axe on me,
the edge dulled and resharpened
at least as often as our wits.