Mark Doty |
This salt-stain spot
marks the place where men
lay down their heads,
back to the bench,
and hoist nothing
that need be lifted
but some burden they've chosen
this time: more reps,
more weight, the upward shove
of it leaving, collectively,
this sign of where we've been:
flashed onto the vinyl
where we push something
gaining some power
at least over flesh,
which goads with desire,
and terrifies with frailty.
Who could say who's
added his heat to the nimbus
of our intent, here where
we make ourselves:
lifted, pressed or curled,
Power over beauty,
power over power!
Though there's something more
tender, beneath our vanity,
our will to become objects
of desire: we sweat the mark
of our presence onto the cloth.
Here is some halo
the living made together.
Mark Doty |
"I've been having these
awful dreams, each a little different,
though the core's the same-
we're walking in a field,
Wally and Arden and I, a stretch of grass
with a highway running beside it,
or a path in the woods that opens
onto a road.
then the dog sprints ahead of us,
exicted; we're calling but
he's racing down a scent and doesn't hear us,
and that's when he goes
onto the highway.
I don't want to describe it.
Sometimes it's brutal and over,
and others he's struck and takes off
so we don't know where he is
or how bad.
This wakes me
every night, and I stay awake;
I'm afraid if I sleep I'll go back
into the dream.
It's been six months,
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote
not even a real word
but an acronym, a vacant
that draws meanings into itself,
reconstitutes the world.
We tried to say it was just
a word; we tried to admit
it had power and thus to nullify it
by means of our acknowledgement.
I know the current wisdom:
bright hope, the power of wishing you're well.
He's just so tired, though nothing
shows in any tests, Nothing,
the doctor says, detectable:
the doctor doesn't hear what I de,
that trickling, steadily rising nothing
that makes him sleep all say,
vanish into fever's tranced afternoons,
and I swear sometimes
when I put my head to his chest
I can hear the virus humming
like a refrigerator.
Which is what makes me think
you can take your positive attitude
and go straight to hell.
We don't have a future,
we have a dog.
Who is he?
Soul without speech,
sheer, tireless faith,
he is that -which-goes-forward,
black muzzle, black paws
scouting what's ahead;
he is where we'll be hit first,
he's the part of us
that's going to get it.
I'm hardly awake on our mourning walk
-always just me and Arden now-
and sometimes I am still
in the thrall if the dream,
which is why, when he took a step onto Commercial
before I'd looked both ways,
I screamed his mane and grabbed his collar.
And there I was on my knees,
both arms around his nieck
and nothing coming,
and when I looken into that bewildered face
I realized I didn't know what it was
I was shouting at,
I didn't know who I was trying to protect.
Mark Doty |
at century's end,
compounded metallic lusters
to natural sheens (dragonfly
and beetle wings,
marbled light on kerosene)
and invented names
as coolly lustrous
as their products'
respectively, the glaze
that sun-shot fog
of which halos
and -- what?
What to make of Favrile,
for his coppery-rose
flushed with gold
like the alchemized
atmosphere of sunbeams
in a Flemish room?
his lamps illumine
wisteria or trout scales;
like a tidal stream
on which an excitation
of minnows boils
and blooms, artifice
made to show us
the lavish wardrobe
of things, the world's
glaze of appearances
worked into the thin
and gleaming stuff
at the puppet opera
--where one man animated
the entire cast
while another ghosted
the voices, basso
to coloratura -- Jimmy wept
at the world of tiny gestures,
forgot, he said,
these were puppets,
forgot these wire
and plaster fabrications
were actors at all,
since their pretense
allowed the passions
released to be--
It's too much,
to be expected to believe;
art's a mercuried sheen
in which we may discern,
because it is surface,
clear or vague
suggestions of our depths,
Don't we need a word
for the luster
of things which insist
on the fact they're made,
their maker's bravura?
Favrile, I'd propose,
for the perfect lamp,
too dim and strange
to help us read.
For the kimono woven,
dipped in dyes, unraveled
and loomed again
that the pattern might take on
a subtler shading
For the sonnet's
for bel canto,
which begins in limit
(where else might our work
begin?) and ends in grace,
or at least extravagance.
For the silk sleeves
of the puppet queen,
held at a ravishing angle
over her puppet lover slain,
for her lush vowels
mouthed by the plain man
hunched behind the stage.
Mark Doty |
Over the terminal,
the arms and chest
of the god
brightened by snow.
by atmospheric sulphurs
and now the shining
these clouded windows
show a few faces
or some empty car's
filmstrip of lit flames
how they were supposed
to teach us something?--
waxy light hurrying
inches away from the phantom
smudge of us, vague
in spattered glass.
daylight's soft charcoal
lusters stone walls
and we ascend to what
passes for brightness,
above graduated zones
around empty space,
a few chipboard polemics
nailed over the gaps,
speeches too long
and obsessive for anyone
on this train to read,
sealing the hollowed interiors
--some of them grand once,
you can tell by
the fillips of decoration,
stone leaves, the frieze
Desolate fields--open spaces,
in a city where you
can hardly turn around!--
seem to center
on little flames,
something always burning
in a barrel or can
As if to represent
Though whether what burns
is will or rage or
I couldn't say.
But I can tell you this,
what I've seen that
won my allegiance most,
though it was also
the hallmark of our ruin,
and quick as anything
seen in transit:
where Manhattan ends
in the narrowing
of a sigh (asphalt,
arc of trestle, dull-witted
and scaffoldings, ancient now,
visited by no one)
on the concrete
above the river,
a sudden density
of trash, so much
I couldn't pick out
any one thing
from our rising track
as it arced onto the bridge
over the fantastic
accumulation of jetsam
vault of heaven.
An unbelievable mess,
so heaped and scattered
it seemed the core
of chaos itself--
but no, the junk was arranged
in rough aisles,
clutter and collection,
no walls but still
a kind of apartment
and a fire ribboned out
of a ruined stove,
and white plates
were laid out
on the table beside it.
White china! Something
was moving, and
it takes longer to tell this
than to see it, only
a train window's worth
I knew what moved
was an arm,
the arm of the (man
or woman?) in the center
of that hapless welter
in layer upon layer
of coats blankets scarves
until the form
constituted one more
was lifting a hammer,
and bringing it down
again, tapping at
I couldn't say;
the great exhausted dome
of winter light,
which the steep
and steel surfaces of the city
made both more soft
and more severe,
was making something,
was in the act
(sheer stubborn nerve of it)
of putting together.
Who knows what.
(And there was more,
more I'd take all spring
I'd pick my seat
and set my paper down
to study him again
--he, yes, some days not
at home though usually
by the smoldering,
and when my eye wandered
of apprehension--I saw
he had a dog!
Who lay half in
half out his doghouse
in the rain, golden head
resting on splayed paws.
He had a ruined car,
and heaps of clothes,
and things to read--
was no emblem,
in other words,
but a citizen,
who'd built a citizen's
on the literal edge,
while I watched
from my quick,
high place, hurtling
over his encampment
by the waters of Babylon.
Then we were gone,
in the heat and draft
of our silver, rattling
over the river
into the South Bronx,
against whose greasy
skyline rose that neoned
billboard for cigarettes
my attention, always,
as it is meant to do,
its motto ruby
in the dark morning:
ALIVE WITH PLEASURE.
Mark Doty |
Long Pont's apparitional
this warm spring morning,
the strand a blur of sandy light,
and the square white
of the lighthouse-separated from us
by the bay's ultramarine
as if it were nowhere
we could ever go-gleams
like a tower's ghost, hazing
into the rinsed blue of March,
our last outpost in the huge
indetermination of sea.
It seems cheerful enough,
in the strengthening sunlight,
fixed point accompanying our walk
along the shore.
Sometimes I think
it's the where-we-will be,
only not yet, like some visible outcropping
of the afterlife.
In the dark
its deeper invitations emerge:
green witness at night's end,
flickering margin of horizon,
marker of safety and limit.
but limitless, the way it calls us,
and where it seems to want us
to come, And so I invite it
into the poem, to speak,
and the lighthouse says:
Here is the world you asked for,
gorgeous and opportune,
here is nine o'clock, harbor-wide,
and a glinting code: promise and warning.
The morning's the size of heaven.
What will you do with it?
Mark Doty |
When I heard he had entered the harbor,
and circled the wharf for days,
I expected the worst: shallow water,
confusion, some accident to bring
the young humpback to grief.
Don't they depend on a compass
lodged in the salt-flooded folds
of the brain, some delicate
musical mechanism to navigate
their true course? How many ways,
in our century's late iron hours,
might we have led him to disaster?
That, in those days, was how
I'd come to see the world:
dark upon dark, any sense
of spirit an embattled flame
sparked against wind-driven rain
till pain snuffed it out.
This is what experience gives us ,
and I moved carefully through my life
while I waited.
it wasn't that way at all.
—exuberant, proud maybe, playful,
like the early music of Beethoven—
cruised the footings for smelts
clustered near the pylons
in mercury flocks.
(do I have the gender right?)
would negotiate the rusty hulls
of the Portuguese fishing boats
—Holy Infant, Little Marie—
with what could only be read
as pleasure, coming close
then diving, trailing on the surface
big spreading circles
until he'd breach, thrilling us
with the release of pressured breath,
and the bulk of his sleek young head
—a wet black leather sofa
already barnacled with ghostly lice—
and his elegant and unlikely mouth,
and the marvelous afterthought of the flukes,
and the way his broad flippers
resembled a pair of clownish gloves
or puppet hands, looming greenish white
beneath the bay's clouded sheen.
When he had consumed his pleasure
of the shimmering swarm, his pleasure, perhaps,
in his own admired performance,
he swam out the harbor mouth,
into the Atlantic.
And though grief
has seemed to me itself a dim,
salt suspension in which I've moved,
blind thing, day by day,
through the wreckage, barely aware
of what I stumbled toward, even I
couldn't help but look
at the way this immense figure
graces the dark medium,
and shines so: heaviness
which is no burden to itself.
What did you think, that joy
was some slight thing?
Mark Doty |
Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly
know what his fantastic
legs were like--
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws'
gesture of menace
gobbled the center,
leaving this chamber
--size of a demitasse--
open to reveal
a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,
this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
the brilliant rinse
of summer's firmament.
What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,
if we could be opened
if the smallest chambers
revealed some sky.
Mark Doty |
Under Grand Central's tattered vault
--maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit--
one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim
billowed over some minor constellation
Then, on Broadway, red wings
in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws
preening, beaks opening and closing
like those animated knives that unfold all night
in jewelers' windows.
glass eyes turned outward toward the rain,
the birds lined up like the endless flowers
and cheap gems, the makeshift tables
of secondhand magazines
and shoes the hawkers eye
while they shelter in the doorways of banks.
So many pockets and paper cups
and hands reeled over the weight
of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd
a woman reached to me across the wet roof
of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta,
She was only asking for change,
so I don't know why I took her hand.
The rooftops were glowing above us,
enormous, crystalline, a second city
lit from within.
a man on the downtown local stood up
and said, My name is Ezekiel,
I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called
He stood up straight
to recite, a child reminded of his posture
by the gravity of his text, his hands
hidden in the pockets of his coat.
Love is protected, he said,
the way leaves are packed in snow,
the rubies of fall.
God is protecting
the jewel of love for us.
He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him
all the change left in my pocket,
and the man beside me, impulsive, moved,
gave Ezekiel his watch.
It wasn't an expensive watch,
I don't even know if it worked,
but the poet started, then walked away
as if so much good fortune
must be hurried away from,
before anyone realizes it's a mistake.
Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed
like feathers in the rain,
under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts,
must have wondered at my impulse to touch her,
which was like touching myself,
the way your own hand feels when you hold it
because you want to feel contained.
She said, You get home safe now, you hear?
In the same way Ezekiel turned back
to the benevolent stranger.
I will write a poem for you tomorrow,
The poem I will write will go like this:
Our ancestors are replenishing
the jewel of love for us.
Mark Doty |
Today the Masons are auctioning
their discarded pomp: a trunk of turbans,
gemmed and ostrich-plumed, and operetta costumes
labeled inside the collar "Potentate"
" Here their chairs, blazoned
with the Masons' sign, huddled
like convalescents, lean against one another
on the grass.
In a casket are rhinestoned poles
the hierophants carried in parades;
here's a splendid golden staff some ranking officer waved,
topped with a golden pyramid and a tiny,
No one's worn this stuff
for years, and it doesn't seem worth buying;
where would we put it? Still,
I want that staff.
I used to love
to go to the library -- the smalltown brick refuge
of those with nothing to do, really,
'Carnegie' chiseled on the pediment
above columns that dwarfed an inconsequential street.
Embarrassed to carry the same book past
the water fountain's plaster centaurs
up to the desk again, I'd take
The Wonders of the World to the Reading Room
where Art and Industry met in the mural
on the dome.
The room smelled like two decades
before I was born, when the name
carved over the door meant something.
I never read the second section,
"Wonders of the Modern World";
I loved the promise of my father's blueprints,
the unfulfilled turquoise schemes,
but in the real structures
you could hardly imagine a future.
I wanted the density of history,
which I confused with the smell of the book:
Babylon's ziggurat tropical with ferns,
engraved watercourses rippling;
the Colossus of Rhodes balanced
over the harbormouth on his immense ankles.
Athena filled one end of the Parthenon,
in an "artist's reconstruction",
like an adult in a dollhouse.
At Halicarnassus, Mausolus remembered himself
immensely, though in the book
there wasn't even a sketch,
only a picture of huge fragments.
In the pyramid's deep clockworks,
did the narrow tunnels mount toward
the eye of God? That was the year
photos were beamed back from space;
falling asleep I used to repeat a new word
to myself, telemetry, liking the way
it seemed to allude to something storied.
The earth was whorled marble,
at that distance.
Even the stuck-on porticoes
and collonades downtown were narrative,
somehow, but the buildings my father engineered
were without stories.
All I wanted
was something larger than our ordinary sadness --
greater not in scale but in context,
memorable, true to a proportioned,
Last year I knew a student,
a half mad boy who finally opened his arms
with a razor, not because he wanted to die
but because he wanted to design something grand
on his own body.
Once he said, When a child
realizes his parents aren't enough,
he turns to architecture.
I think I know what he meant.
Imagine the Masons parading,
one of them, in his splendid get-up,
striding forward with the golden staff,
above his head Cheops' beautiful shape --
a form we cannot separate
from the stories about the form,
even if we hardly know them,
even if it no longer signifies, if it only shines.
Mark Doty |
The intact facade's now almost black
in the rain; all day they've torn at the back
of the building, "the oldest concrete structure
in New England," the newspaper said.
when the backhoe claw appears above
three stories of columns and cornices,
the crowd beneath their massed umbrellas cheer.
Suddenly the stairs seem to climb down themselves,
atomized plaster billowing: dust of 1907's
rooming house, this year's bake shop and florist's,
the ghosts of their signs faint above the windows
lined, last week, with loaves and blooms.
We love disasters that have nothing to do
with us: the metal scoop seems shy, tentative,
a Japanese monster tilting its yellow head
and considering what to topple next.
It's a weekday,
and those of us with the leisure to watch
are out of work, unemployable or academics,
joined by a thirst for watching something fall.
All summer, at loose ends, I've read biographies,
Wilde and Robert Lowell, and fallen asleep
over a fallen hero lurching down a Paris boulevard,
talking his way to dinner or a drink,
unable to forget the vain and stupid boy
he allowed to ruin him.
And I dreamed
I was Lowell, in a manic flight of failing
and ruthless energy, and understood
how wrong I was with a passionate exactitude
which had to be like his.
A month ago,
at Saint-Gauden's house, we ran from a startling downpour
into coincidence: under a loggia built
for performances on the lawn
hulked Shaw's monument, splendid
in its plaster maquette, the ramrod-straight colonel
high above his black troops.
We crouched on wet gravel
and waited out the squall; the hieratic woman
-- a wingless angel? -- floating horizontally
above the soldiers, her robe billowing like plaster dust,
seemed so far above us, another century's
allegorical decor, an afterthought
who'd never descend to the purely physical
soldiers, the nearly breathing bronze ranks crushed
into a terrible compression of perspective,
as if the world hurried them into the ditch.
"The unreadable," Wilde said, "is what occurs.
And when the brutish metal rears
above the wall of unglazed windows --
where, in a week, the kids will skateboard
in their lovely loops and spray
their indecipherable ideograms
across the parking lot -- the single standing wall
seems Roman, momentarily, an aqueduct,
all that's left of something difficult
to understand now, something Oscar
and Bosie might have posed before, for a photograph.
Aqueducts and angels, here on Main,
seem merely souvenirs; the gaps
where the windows opened once
into transients' rooms are pure sky.
It's strange how much more beautiful
the sky is to us when it's framed
by these columned openings someone meant us
to take for stone.
The enormous, articulate shovel
nudges the highest row of moldings
and the whole thing wavers as though we'd dreamed it,
our black classic, and it topples all at once.