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Mark Doty: Online Poems


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
. 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

From My Alexandria, published by University of Illinois Press. Copyright © 1993 by Mark Doty. All rights
reserved. Used with permission. Online Source


I'd been traveling all day, driving north
—smaller and smaller roads, clapboard houses
startled awake by the new green around them—

when I saw three horses in a fenced field
by the narrow highway's edge: white horses,

two uniformly snowy, the other speckled
as though he'd been rolling in flakes of rust.
They were of graduated sizes—small, medium,

large—and two stood to watch while the smallest
waded up to his knees in a shallow pond,

tossing his head and taking
—it seemed unmistakable—
delight in the cool water

around his hooves and ankles.
I kept on driving, I went into town

to visit the bookstores and the coffee bar
and looked at the new novels
and the volumes of poetry, but all the time

it was horses I was thinking of,
and when I drove back to find them,

the three companions left off
whatever it was they were playing at
and came nearer the wire fence—

I'd pulled over onto the grassy shoulder
of the highway—to see what I'd brought them.

Experience is an intact fruit,
core and flesh and rind of it; once cut open,
entered, it can't be the same, can it?

Though that is the dream of the poem:
as if we could look out

through that moment's blushed skin.
They wandered toward the fence.
The tallest turned toward me;

I was moved by the verticality of her face,
elongated reach from the tips of her ears

down to white eyelids and lashes,
the pink articulation
of nostrils, wind stirring the strands

of her mane a little to frame the gaze
in which she fixed me. She was the bold one;

the others stood at a slight distance
while she held me in her attention.
Put your tongue to the green-flecked peel

of it, reader, and taste it
from the inside: would you believe me
if I said that beneath them a clear channel

ran from the three horses to the place
they'd come from, the cool womb

of nothing, cave at the heart
of the world, deep and resilient and firmly set
at the core of things? Not emptiness,

not negation, but a generous, cold nothing:
the breathing space out of which new shoots

are propelled to the grazing mouths,
out of which the horses themselves are tendered
into the new light. The poem wants the impossible;

the poem wants a name for the kind nothing
at the core of time, out of which the foals

come tumbling: curled, fetal, dreaming,
and into which the old crumple, fetlock
and skull breaking like waves of foaming milk....

Cold, bracing nothing that mothers forth
mud and mint, hoof and clover, root hair

and horsehair and the accordion bones
of the rust-spotted little one unfolding itself
into the afternoon. You too: you flare

and fall back into the necessary
open space. What could be better than that?

It was the beginning of May,
the black earth nearly steaming,
and a scatter of petals decked the mud

like pearls, everything warm with setting out,
and you could see beneath their hooves
the path they'd traveled up, the horse road

on which they trot into the world, eager for pleasure
and sunlight, and down which they descend,

in good time, into the source of spring.

Originally published in The Gettysburg Review 13.3 (Autumn 2000). Copyright © 2000 by The Gettysburg Review. All rights reserved. Online Source

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