The Brink of Extinction (Plan For The House)

William Doreski

Framing a space instead of a thing is a good idea. You can affix something complex, a view, an attitude, simply with hammer and nails. Use galvanized hardware and two-by-six clear pine. Knotholes would weaken the space and admit more distance than the fresh air can withstand. I’m especially eager to frame a lake scene, complete with dead fish bobbing in the chop and a loon laughing from the brink of extinction. Here you are with your tool belt, your expensive molybdenum framing hammer, your T-square to keep every joint honest, no crooked houses in your future. No house at all: only this carefully framed space grinning like a kid at the prom.

The lake sighs. Maybe it’s in love. Maybe in love with the loon or the rotting carp or the canoe adrift in the shallows with no one aboard. Can you catch this entire scene? Can you, like Walt Whitman, frame it so precisely that the rest of us can trace foreground, middle distance, and skyline, exact like some grisly Old Master obsessed with perfection? I know you can do it because you believe the lake’s silver-gray love could spread widely enough to drown us all in the medium we deserve.


You are digging in the garden. You are digging up weeds, unearthing bulbs to embarrass them, finding bronze and silver Roman coins. When you show them to me, I say that I hadn’t realized that New Hampshire had been part of the Roman Empire. Further sifting the soil, you expose doubloons buried by inland pirates. I admire their crude tattoos, their scars and tricorn hats, their carcasses swinging from gallows on the Thames or at the mouth of the Seine.

You dig and dig and discover one corner of a buried auto, a Studebaker from the late Forties. I recognize that blunt fender, the hood ornament, the grill. You suspect someone buried murder victims in this car, so shouldn’t I report the crime? No, I can see there’s no one inside, no skeleton seated at the wheel. You expose the whole thing with your favorite garden spade, and I climb inside the decaying corpse. The key shines in the ignition. I turn it, press the starter button, and the engine roars. A gust of blue exhaust, a couple of backfires, and I drive the thing out of its grave.

Sure, the paint is scabby and the upholstery reeks of mice and moles, but let’s drive to town and see if the cops notice how unregistered we are. They could arrest us, but maybe instead they’ll cheer and wave their pistols. Maybe hearing the commotion, the priest will scurry into the street to bless us. Maybe then we can inspire the whole village to resurrect itself according to familiar laws of physics, laws that we all can endorse.

William Doreski teaches writing and literature at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His work has appeared in various e- and print journals and in several collections, most recently The Suburbs of Atlantis (AA Press, 2013).

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