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Best Famous Mark Doty Poems

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by Mark Doty | |

A Green Crabs Shell

 Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

We cannot know what his fantastic legs were like-- though evidence suggests eight complexly folded scuttling works of armament, crowned by the foreclaws' gesture of menace and power.
A gull's 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! Imagine breathing surrounded by the brilliant rinse of summer's firmament.
What color is the underside of skin? Not so bad, to die, if we could be opened into this-- if the smallest chambers of ourselves, similarly, revealed some sky.

by Mark Doty | |

Long Point Light

 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?

by Mark Doty | |

At the Gym

 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:
shroud-stain, negative

flashed onto the vinyl
where we push something
unyielding skyward,
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: something difficult 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.

More great poems below...

by Mark Doty | |

Dickeyville Grotto

 The priest never used blueprints, but worked all
the many designs out of his head.
Father Wilerus, transplanted Alsatian, built around this plain Wisconsin redbrick church a coral-reef en- crustation--meant, the brochure says, to glorify America and heaven simul- taneously.
Thus: Mary and Columbus and the Sacred Heart equally enthroned in a fantasia of quartz and seashells, broken dishes, stalactites and stick-shift knobs-- no separation of nature and art for Father Wilerus! He's built fabulous blooms --bristling mosaic tiles bunched into chipped, permanent roses--- and more glisteny stuff than I can catalogue, which seems to he the point: a spectacle, saints and Stars and Stripes billowing in hillocks of concrete.
Stubborn insistence on rendering invisibles solid.
What's more frankly actual than cement? Surfaced, here, in pure decor: even the railings curlicued with rows of identical whelks, even the lampposts and birdhouses, and big encrusted urns wagging with lunar flowers! A little dizzy, the world he's made, and completely unapologetic, high on a hill in Dickeyville so the wind whips around like crazy.
A bit pigheaded, yet full of love for glitter qua glitter, sheer materiality; 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? Lucky man: his purpose pales beside the fizzy, weightless fact of rock.

by Mark Doty | |


 My salt marsh
-mine, I call it, because
these day-hammered fields

of dazzled horizontals
undulate, summers,
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.
Haloed grasses, 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 brillant gouaches.

by Mark Doty | |

The Embrace

 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.
Bless you.
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.

by Mark Doty | |

To Bessie Drennan

 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?

by Mark Doty | |

A Display Of Mackeral

 They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail, 
each a foot of luminosity 
barred with black bands,
which divide the scales'
radiant sections 

like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
Iridescent, watery 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 of individuality.
Instead they're all exact expressions of the one soul, each a perfect fulfillment of heaven's template, mackerel essence.
As if, 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, unduplicatable, doomed to be lost? They'd prefer, plainly, to be flashing participants, multitudinous.
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.