Mark Doty |
You weren't well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.
I didn't for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You'd been out—at work maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.
We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we'd lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of narrative
by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?
So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you—warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.
You came back so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.
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 |
They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail,
each a foot of luminosity
barred with black bands,
which divide the scales'
like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
prismatics: think abalone,
the wildly rainbowed
mirror of a soap-bubble sphere,
think sun on gasoline.
Splendor, and splendor,
and not a one in any way
distinguished from the other
--nothing about them
they're all exact expressions
of the one soul,
each a perfect fulfillment
of heaven's template,
after a lifetime arriving
at this enameling, the jeweler's
made uncountable examples
each as intricate
in its oily fabulation
as the one before;
a cosmos of champleve.
Suppose we could iridesce,
like these, and lose ourselves
entirely in the universe
of shimmer--would you want
to be yourself only,
to be lost? They'd prefer,
plainly, to be flashing participants,
Even on ice
they seem to be bolting
forward, heedless of stasis.
They don't care they're dead
and nearly frozen,
just as, presumably,
they didn't care that they were living:
all, all for all,
the rainbowed school
and its acres of brilliant classrooms,
in which no verb is singular,
or every one is.
How happy they seem,
even on ice, to be together, selfless,
which is the price of gleaming.
More great poems below...
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 |
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.
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 |
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 |
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 |
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 |
Because she could find no one else to paint a picture of the old family place where she and her sisters lived.
she attended an adult education class in Montpelier.
In one evening Bessie Drennan learned everything she would need to accomplish her goals.
The Vermont Folklife Center Newsletter
Bessie, you've made space dizzy
with your perfected technique for snow:
white spatters and a dry brush
feathering everything in the world
seem to make the firmament fly.
Four roads converge on the heart of town,
this knot of white and yellow houses
angling off kilter, their astigmatic windows
almost all in rows.
Lucky the skater
threading the yellow tavern's quilt-sized pond,
the yellow dogs who punctuate the village
where our occupations are chasing
and being chaste, sleighing and sledding
and snowshoeing from house to house
in our conical, flamelike hats.
Even the barns are sliding in snow,
though the birches are all golden
and one maple blazes without being consumed.
Is it from a hill nearby we're watching,
or somewhere in the sky? Could we be flying
on slick runners down into the village?
Is that mare with the elegant legs
truly the size of a house,
and is this the store where everyone bought
those pointed hats, the snowshoes that angle
in contradictory directions?
Isn't that Rin Tin Tin, bigtongued
and bounding and in two places at once?
Down there in the world's corner two children
steal away onto the frozen pond,
carrying their toboggan.
Even the weathervanes
--bounding fish, a sailing stag--look happy.
The houses are swaying, Bessie,
and nothing is grounded in shadow,
set loose by weather and art
from gravity's constraints.
And though I think this man is falling,
is it anything but joyous,
the arc his red scarf
transcribes in the air?
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 |
My salt marsh
-mine, I call it, because
these day-hammered fields
of dazzled horizontals
inside me and out-
how can I say what it is?
Sea lavender shivers
over the tidewater steel.
A million minnows ally
with their million shadows
(lucky we'll never need
to know whose is whose).
The bud of storm loosens:
watered paint poured
dark blue onto the edge
of the page.
gilt shadow-edged body of dune…
I could go on like this.
I love the language
of the day's ten thousand aspects,
the creases and flecks
in the map, these
Mark Doty |
The priest never used blueprints, but worked all
the many designs out of his head.
this plain Wisconsin
a coral-reef en-
the brochure says,
to glorify America
and heaven simul-
Mary and Columbus
and the Sacred Heart
in a fantasia of quartz
and seashells, broken
and stick-shift knobs--
of nature and art
for Father Wilerus!
He's built fabulous blooms
--bristling mosaic tiles
bunched into chipped,
and more glisteny
stuff than I can catalogue,
which seems to he the point:
a spectacle, saints
and Stars and Stripes
billowing in hillocks
insistence on rendering
more frankly actual
than cement? Surfaced,
here, in pure decor:
even the railings
curlicued with rows
of identical whelks,
even the lampposts
and big encrusted urns
wagging with lunar flowers!
A little dizzy,
the world he's made,
on a hill in Dickeyville
so the wind whips
around like crazy.
A bit pigheaded,
yet full of love
for glitter qua glitter,
a bit foolhardy
and yet -- sly sparkle --
he's made matter giddy.
Exactly what he wanted,
I'd guess: the very stones
gone lacy and beaded,
an airy intricacy
of froth and glimmer.
For God? Country?
his purpose pales
beside the fizzy,
weightless fact of rock.