Downtown Shadows & Other Poems

Henry Miller’s Typewriter

How did you know that I dreamt
about Henry Miller’s typewriter
last night? Stolid gray Remington,
with a bloodshot aura, green
plastic keys, all-black ribbon,
and the faintest odor of Paris.

Miller suggested I type a poem.
His bald dome caught the light
and blinded me to myself so
I sat at his desk and typed out
a poem in which the gargoyles
of Notre Dame descended

and caged Euros from the tourists.
Their wrinkled grins impressed
no one, but their stony touch
incited the same lust the abbes
have deplored and yet practiced
for many happy centuries.

The crowd simmered. Ice cream melted
on the sidewalk. To cool off
before committing natural acts,
some people jumped into the Seine
and dogpaddled back to sanity,
Gendarmes arrived. The gargoyles

pleaded historical precedent,
and the cathedral’s rose window
smiled that beatific smile
that presages some grave miracle.
The poem ended with a sigh
of exhausted ribbon. Miller

shook my hand and counseled me
to never tell anyone my dreams,
and I haven’t. You’re too busy
feeding the cats to have heard me,
the brackish current of the Seine
swallowing everything I’ve said.




Downtown Shadows

Downtown shadows cast enigmas
too dark to observe directly.
People walking through them

disappear for a moment then
reappear with atoms deranged.
Dogs sniff them and conclude

that unnatural acts have occurred
to spite the animal kingdom.
I pause on the rim of the deepest

of these shadows and wonder
if exorcism would dissipate
the muddle this represents.

I detour around it and climb
the granite post office steps
where old people like me clump

in chatty little knots of meat,
our uprooted veins bulging.
Has anyone else noticed how

aggressive the shadows are
this spring? Everyone nods,
even a couple of leashed dogs.

I toss the day’s mail in the trash
and ramble into the little park
to bench myself for an hour

of dozing over a novel.
While I nod a shadow crawls
from the south to enshroud me.

I awaken in its gloom and feel
a tickle of dispersing organs,
as if puberty were reversing,

after all these years of failure.
I’d cry for help but no one
would enter this dark to pull me

to safety. But bored with its prey,
the shadow moves on to wrinkle
the faces of children playing

nearby, the smallest one already
looking as ancient and eroded
as the Sphinx, and almost as wise.





Ashbery’s Hot Cross Buns

Fellow houseguests cast shadows
too dense for me to challenge.
Chairs creak as they conform
to powerful lisping buttocks.
With no place to sit I take notes
in my notebook while standing
in the room’s most obtuse corner.

John enters with a tray of hot
cross buns fresh from the oven.
He spots me cringing and serves
me first. The bun’s soft as air,
soft as the breath of an infant.
The icing melts on my tongue-tip,
encrusting against angry words.

John works the room. Everyone
gets one, but we have to march
to the dining room to pour our own
coffee from the Buddha-like urn.
First in line, I balance coffee cup,
bun and notebook, and return
to the living room, claim a chair

an abstract expressionist warmed
in memory of Jackson Pollock.
John smiles into the seascape
just beyond the picture window.
He admires certain shades of blue
found in Fairfield Porter paintings
but only occasionally in life.

I glance toward the sea I drove
two hundred miles to admire,
but retain my seat while slurping
my coffee to wash down the bun.
When I finish I flip my notebook
open to a blank page and write,
as neatly as arthritis allows,

a description of a seascape
in shades of blue squeezed from tubes
and applied to vicarious worlds
that include both the sea and John
caught in a serious moment
with the aroma of hot cross buns
clinging visibly to his clothes.


Projected Letters is a literary magazine dedicated to publishing the best new and established writing from around the world.


William's work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (2018).