Hagfish

No backbone, but three extra hearts.
two brains—more a slug than a fish.
Jaws move horizontally—
teeth not teeth but keratin,
like rhino horns or fingernails.
No eyes, but slimy enough
to clog a predator’s gills.
They knot themselves over whales,
dead whales rotting on the bottom,
but actually prefer worms.
An eyeless hermaphrodite
unchanged for three million years,
the hagfish seems as kinky
as a slur of garden hose.

***

The Dream of the Toads

Although it’s midwinter, the dream
of the toads sings through the chill,

seething and simmering and filling
the day, conjuring riper seasons.

Walking by the half-frozen marsh,
I let that dream enhance me

with those primal russet passions
Thoreau enjoyed but resisted

in light of the Enlightenment.
The collective dream smokes from

holes where those creatures hibernate.
It congeals and becomes audible

like the flight of an arrow
the instant before it strikes you.

Thoreau thought all nature spoke
through this dream. But no one else

seemed to hear it. I wouldn’t,
either, if I weren’t walking alone

with my head empty as a shell
on a beach. The toads don’t care

who overhears or shares their dream.
The tattered look of January

after a couple of days of thaw
conducts the electric shudder

of the dream of the toads as surely
as a glance conducts illicit desire.

I’m tempted to slog across the marsh
and approach the source, but the ground

looks mucky enough to absorb me;
and the ice on the shallows, despite

a glint of sun, looks sad and gray.
The dream of toads keeps fluttering

inside me. But when I get home
it dissipates like a vision

of a richly upholstered future,
divinely sparked, soon forgotten.

***

William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many print and online journals. He has taught at Emerson College, Goddard College, Boston University, and Keene State College. His most recent books are Water Music and Train to Providence, a collaboration with photographer Rodger Kingston.