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The Embrace | 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 the 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.
mercifulserpent: (Default)
Mark Doty

Charlie Howard's Descent



Between the bridge and the river

he falls through

a huge portion of night;

it is not as if falling



is something new. Over and over

he slipped into the gulf

between what he knew and how

he was known. What others wanted



opened like an abyss: the laughing

stock-clerks at the grocery, women

at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.

What could he do, live



with one hand tied

behind his back? So he began to fall

into the star-faced section

of night between the trestle



and the water because he could not meet

a little town's demands,

and his earrings shone and his wrists

were as limp as they were.



I imagine he took the insults in

and made of them a place to live;

we learn to use the names

because they are there,



familiar furniture: faggot

was the bed he slept in, hard

and white, but simple somehow,

queer something sharp



but finally useful, a tool,

all the jokes a chair,

stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,

a table, a lamp. And because



he's fallen for twenty-three years,

despite whatever awkwardness

his flailing arms and legs assume

he is beautiful



and like any good diver

has only an edge of fear

he transforms into grace.

Or else he is not afraid,



and in this way climbs back

up the ladder of his fall,

out of the river into the arms

of the three teenage boys



who hurled him from the edge -

really boys now, afraid,

their fathers' cars shivering behind them,

headlights on - and tells them



it's all right, that he knows

they didn't believe him

when he said he couldn't swim,

and blesses his killers



in the way that only the dead

can afford to forgive.





- Mark Doty



Used by permission.



Mark Doty's FIRE TO FIRE: New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award for poetry. He teaches at Rutgers University, and lives in New York City.



Doty was featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2008, when he read "Charlie Howard's Descent." You can watch video of that reading here.


Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock
www.splitthisrock.org
info@splitthisrock.org
202-787-5210
mercifulserpent: (Default)
 
Bill's Story

When my sister came back from Africa,
we didn't know at first how everything
had changed. After a while Annie
bought men's and boy's clothes in all sizes,
and filled her closets with little
of huge things she could never wear.

Then she took to buying out
theatrical shops, rental places on the skids,
sweeping in and saying, I'll take everything.
Dementia was the first sign of something
we didn't even have a name for,
in 1978. She was just becoming stranger

—all those clothes, the way she'd dress me up
when I came to visit. It was like we could go back
to playing together again, and get it right.
She was a performance artist, and she did
her best work then, taking the clothes to clubs,
talking, putting them all on, talking.

It was years before she was in the hospital,
and my mother needed something
to hold onto, some way to be helpful,
so she read a book called Deathing
(a cheap, ugly verb if ever I heard one)
and took its advice to heart;

she'd sit by the bed and say, Annie,
look for the light, look for the light.

It was plain that Anne did not wish
to be distracted by these instructions;
she came to, though she was nearly gone then,
and looked at our mother with what was almost certainly

annoyance. It's a white light,
Mom said, and this struck me
as incredibly presumptuous, as if the light
we'd all go into would be the same.
Maybe she wanted to give herself up
to indigo, or red. If we can barely even speak

to each other, living so separately,
how can we all die the same?
I used to take the train to the hospital,
and sometimes the only empty seats
would be the ones that face backwards.
I'd sit there and watch where I'd been

waver and blur out, and finally
I liked it, seeing what you've left
get more beautiful, less specific.
Maybe her light was all that gabardine
and flannel, khaki and navy
and silks and stripes. If you take everything,

you've got to let everything go. Dying
must take more attention than I ever imagined.
Just when she'd compose herself
and seem fixed on the work before her,
Mother would fret, trying to help her
just one more time: Look for the light,

until I took her arm
and told her wherever I was in the world
I would come back, no matter how difficult
it was to reach her, if I heard her calling.
Shut up, mother, I said, and Annie died.
mercifulserpent: (Default)
the last line ALWAYS gets me. <3

Mark Doty
Tiara

Peter died in a paper tiara
cut from a book of princess paper dolls;
he loved royalty, sashes

and jewels.  I don't know,
he said, when he woke in the hospice,
I was watching the Bette Davis film festival

on Channel 57 and then--

At the wake, the tension broke
when someone guessed

the casket closed because
he was in there in a big wig
and heels,
and someone said,

You know he's always late,
he probably isn't here yet--
he's still fixing his makeup.


And someone said he asked for it.
Asked for it--
when all he did was go down

into the salt tide
of wanting as much as he wanted,
giving himself over so drunk

or stoned it almost didn't matter who,
though they were beautiful,
stampeding into him in the simple,

ravishing music of their hurry.
I think heaven is perfect stasis
poised over the realms of desire,

where dreaming and waking men lie
on the grass while wet horses
roam among them, huge fragments

of the music we die into
in the body's paradise.
Sometimes we wake not knowing

how we came to lie here,
or who has crowned us with these temporary,
precious stones.  And given

the world's perfectly turned shoulders,
the deep hollows blued by longing,
given the irreplaceable silk

of horses rippling in orchards,
fruit thundering and chiming down,
given the ordinary marvels of form

and gravity, what could he do,
what could any of us ever do
but ask for it?

mercifulserpent: (Default)

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.

 

mercifulserpent: (Default)
Heaven for Paul | Mark Doty
The flight attendant said,

We have a mechanical problem with the plane,

and we have contacted the FAA for advice,



and then, We will be making an emergency landing in Detroit,



and then, We will be landing at an air force base in Dayton,

because there is a long runway there, and because

there will be a lot of help on the ground.



Her voice broke slightly on the word help,

and she switched off the microphone, hung it back on its hook,

turned to face those of us seated near her,

and began to weep.



Could the message have been more clear?

Around us people began to cry themselves,

or to pray quietly, or to speak to those with whom

they were traveling, saying the things that people

would choose to say to one another before

an impending accident of uncertain proportion.



It was impossible to hear, really, the details

of their conversations--it would have been wrong to try--

but one understood the import of the tones of voice

everywhere around us, and we turned to each other,



as if there should have been some profound things to be imparted,

but what was to be said seemed so obvious and clear:

that we'd had a fine few years, that we were terrified

for the fate of our own bodies and each other's,

and didn't want to suffer, and could not imagine



the half-hour ahead of us. We were crying a little

and holding each other's hands, on the armrest;

I was vaguely aware of a woman behinds us, on the aisle,

who was startled at the sight of two men holding hands,



and I wondered how it could matter to her, now,

on the verge of this life--and then I wondered how it could

    matter to me,

that she was startled, when I flared on that same margin.



The flight attendant instructed us in how to brace

for a crash landing--to remove our glasses and shoes

and put our heads down, as we did long ago, in school,

in the old days of civil defense. We sat together, quietly.

And this is what amazed me: Paul,



who of the two of us is the more nervous,

the less steadily grounded in his own body,

became completely calm. Later he told me



how he visualized his own spirit

stepping from the flames, and visited,

in his picturing, each person he loved,

and made his contact and peace with each one,



and then imagined himself turning toward

what came next, an unseeable ahead.

                                          For me,

it wasn't like that at all. I had no internal composure,



and any ideas I'd ever entertained about dying

seemed merely that, speculations flown now

while my mind spiraled in a hopeless sorrowful motion,



sure I'd merely be that undulant fuel haze

in the air over the runway, hot chemical exhaust,

atomized, no idea what had happened to me,



what to do next, and how much of the next life

would I spend (as I have how much of this one?)

hanging around an airport. I thought of my dog,



and who'd care for him. No heaven for me,

only the unimaginable shape of not-myself--

and in the chaos of that expectation,



without compassion, unwilling,

I couldn't think beyond my own dissolution.

What was the world without me to see it?



And while Paul grew increasingly radiant,



the flight attendant told us it was time to crouch

into the positions we had rehearsed,

the plane began to descend, wobbling,



and the tires screeched against the runway,

burning down all but a few feet of five miles of asphalt

before it rolled its way to a halt.



We looked around us, we let go

the long held breath, the sighs and exhalations,

Paul exhausted from the effort of transcendence,



myself too pleased to be breathing to be vexed

with my own failure, and we were still sitting and beginning to laugh

when the doors of the plane burst open,



and large uniformed firemen came rushing down the aisles,

shouting Everybody off the plane, now, bring nothing with you,

leave the plane immediately



--because, as we'd learn in the basement

of the hangar where they'd brought us,

a line of tornadoes was scouring western Ohio,

approaching the runway we'd fled.



At this point it seemed plain: if God intervenes

in history, it's either to torment us

or to make us laugh, or both, which is how



we faced the imminence of our deaths the second time.

I didn't think once about my soul, as we waited in line,

filing into the hangar, down into the shelter



--where, after a long while, the National Guard would bring us

boxes and boxes of pizza, and much later, transport us, in buses,

to complimentary hotel rooms in Cincinnati.

mercifulserpent: (Default)
Tiara

Peter died in a paper tiara
cut from a book of princess paper dolls;
he loved royalty, sashes

and jewels. I don't know,
he said, when he woke in the hospice,
I was watching the Bette Davis film festival

on Channel 57 and then--

At the wake, the tension broke
when someone guessed

the casket closed because
he was in there in a big wig
and heels,
and someone said,

You know he's always late,
he probably isn't here yet--
he's still fixing his makeup.

And someone said he asked for it.
Asked for it--
when all he did was go down

into the salt tide
of wanting as much as he wanted,
giving himself over so drunk

or stoned it almost didn't matter who,
though they were beautiful,
stampeding into him in the simple,

ravishing music of their hurry.
I think heaven is perfect stasis
poised over the realms of desire,

where dreaming and waking men lie
on the grass while wet horses
roam among them, huge fragments

of the music we die into
in the body's paradise.
Sometimes we wake not knowing

how we came to lie here,
or who has crowned us with these temporary,
precious stones. And given

the world's perfectly turned shoulders,
the deep hollows blued by longing,
given the irreplaceable silk

of horses rippling in orchards,
fruit thundering and chiming down,
given the ordinary marvels of form

and gravity, what could he do,
what could any of us ever do
but ask for it?

--Mark Doty.

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