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Best Famous Mark Doty Poems

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Written by Mark Doty | |

Demolition

 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.
By afternoon, 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.


Written by Mark Doty | |

Broadway

 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
under repair.
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.
For sale, 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, I'm hungry.
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.
That night 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 fall.
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, he said.
The poem I will write will go like this: Our ancestors are replenishing the jewel of love for us.


Written 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

muscular.
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.


More great poems below...

Written by Mark Doty | |

Visitation

 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.
I thought, This is what experience gives us , and I moved carefully through my life while I waited.
.
.
Enough, it wasn't that way at all.
The whale —exuberant, proud maybe, playful, like the early music of Beethoven— cruised the footings for smelts clustered near the pylons in mercury flocks.
He (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?


Written 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?


Written by Mark Doty | |

Favrile

 Glassmakers,
at century's end,
compounded metallic lusters

in reference
to natural sheens (dragonfly
and beetle wings,

marbled light on kerosene)
and invented names
as coolly lustrous

as their products'
scarab-gleam: Quetzal,
Aurene, Favrile.
Suggesting, respectively, the glaze of feathers, that sun-shot fog of which halos are composed, and -- what? What to make of Favrile, Tiffany's term for his coppery-rose flushed with gold like the alchemized atmosphere of sunbeams in a Flemish room? Faux Moorish, fake Japanese, his lamps illumine chiefly themselves, copying waterlilies' bronzy stems, wisteria or trout scales; surfaces burnished 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 of craft.
A story: 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-- well, operatic.
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, which announce 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 blown-glass sateen, for bel canto, for Faberge For everything 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.


Written by Mark Doty | |

1. Faith

 "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.
Everything's fine, 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 four-letter cipher 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.
"


Written 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.


Written 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.


Written by Mark Doty | |

Description

 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.


Written 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.


Written 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?


Written 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.