Friday, 26 March 2021

Five Poems by William Derge



            Practice Makes


Blindfolded so

you won’t look at the frets,

you practice

hour on hour,

four fingers, stretched

to aching

on four strings stretched

to unravelling,

knees akimbo,

like quarrelling lovers

in self-imposed quarantine,

bow hoisted,

an Iwo Jima flag

in grainy 

start and stop motion.


Lubing my own instrument,

I put the grease

to dried-out cork

and kiss the brittle reed

with my spit

to limber it

to a supple spring.

How much of all this impulse

is nested out of thought?


A harmony of

cerebrum and cerebellum

in chord and note,

the warehouse

where memory awaits

a fleet of sturdy vans

of sinew and brawn

to make their serviceable rounds

in synchronized time.


We know what

every runner knows:

the body

does the legwork

for the mind.



           Beach Read


The Egyptians knew

hot sand’s the thing for softening heads.

They pulled out the brain through the nostrils,

one jellied nugget at a time and tossed it,

trash on the Nile.

The mind, they knew, was elsewhere,

I forget where they put it.


Not in this book that soaks up

the sea water from my suit on its cowering edges

like the pink, wavy lips on a conch shell.

Here, we choose our books by what doesn’t last,

never pick one up we can’t make jetsam of.


In this shell you can hear the ocean,

but it has so little to say.


Sand’s the thing for ploughing an idle toe,

its furrows deeper than a heel.

Seeds don’t flower in sand.

Castles and mermaids.  Faces of Christ.

Frozen custard.

Number one on the best seller list.

This keeping, it’s not for us.





I. A little bit of History


After Prohibition

the demand for wine

is astronomical.

Table and raisin grapes,

cheap and plentiful,

fill the bill when fortified,

and spur a taste for “wino wines”

like Mad Dog and Thunderbird,

since spurned by every sommelier.


II. Preparations


It sits in crystal decanters

on a sacristy windowsill,

attracts a thirsty swarm of fruit flies,

who drown in agony or ecstasy;

it’s impossible to tell.

their faces being infinitesimal,


The priest suits up for Sunday mass,

alb, stole, and chasuble.

We light the altar candles and wait,

while he disappears

into a cloud of prayers.


We twist the doorknob tops

off the crystal decanters,

each with a paper cup,

take no more than a nip,

and turn the doorknob shut.

It has the flavour of raisins

and what I have been told

the taste of  myrrh,

“bitter perfume”.





One day you discover

that that hard, white spot

on your wrist

has disappeared.


How you’d scratched it

and pulled at it

and nagged it

to inaction.


But it went on

tactfully insisting

it was going to

kill you in the end.


Instead, like a god

who’s quietly

ascended into the blue,

it gently went away.


Yet on occasion,

an itch in the tomb

recalls the menace

of a self-assured promise

to return.


Mountain Retreat


After love,

a not quite dead Pieta,

he tries to recall

an order of battles—

Manassas, Antietam,

Gettysburg, Wilderness?


she doesn’t offer a penny

for his thoughts.

The place is deserted,

a season of no skiers,

no golfers, no winners,

no losers.

He thinks, Maybe

I have enough left

to fire off

another round.

After all these little deaths,

There is still that other.



William Derge’s poems have appeared in Negative Capability, The Bridge, Artful Dodge, Bellingham Review, and many other publications.  He is the winner of the $1000 2010 Knightsbridge Prize judged by Donald Hall and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is a winner of the Rainmaker Award judged by Marge Piercy.   He has received honourable mentions in contests sponsored by The Bridge, Sow’s Ear, and New Millennium, among others.  He has been awarded a grant by the Maryland State Arts Council. His work has appeared in several anthologies of Washington poets:  Hungry as We Are and Winners. 


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