Refinishing the Round Oak Table
by William Doreski
Refinishing the round oak table
refinished twenty years ago
I stroke the grain so gently
the pattern gets under my skin.
Once inside me it elaborates
in shades only painters delicate
as Vermeer can catch. Others
might render it as crudely
as Freud’s sexual fantasies,
crosscutting feathery chevrons
and roughing minutely the surface.
I plaster chemical stripper
onto lathe-turned legs and wait
while it loosens finish I applied
when young enough to taste and smell
these chemicals with a pleasure
only reckless young men enjoy.
Now they alienate mucus membranes
and pucker the backs of my hands.
While the slather works I wash
and rub lotion into my wounds.
How sad. I yank on latex gloves
and return to work. With paper towels
I remove the stripper and expose
raw oak as the acorn made it.
Repeat and repeat till the table
gleams naked as adolescence.
Now a matte natural finish
brushed on so neatly not one
drip troubles even the complex
turning of the legs. If I live
another twenty years I’ll redo
this table again, resolving
all the sexual metaphors
that have lingered beyond their use.
William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent books of poetry are City of Palms and June Snow Dance, both 2012. He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Worcester Review, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge.