Mark Doty Poetry

All by Mark Doty, 2002 Featured Poet

Golden Retrievals

Fetch? Balls and sticks capture my attention
seconds at a time. Catch? I don’t think so.
Bunny, tumbling leaf, a squirrel who’s–oh
Joy– actually scared. Sniff the wind, then

I’m off again: muck, pond, ditch, residue
of any thrilling dead thing. And you?
Either you’re sunk in the past, half our walk,
thinking of what you never can bring back,

or else you’re off in some fog concerning
–tomorrow, is that what you call it? My work:
to unsnare time’s warp (and woof!), retrieving,
my haze-headed friend, you. This shining bark,

a Zen master’s bronzy gong, calls you here,
entirely, now: bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow.

A Green Crab’s 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’

gestures of menace
and power. A gull’s
gobbled the center,

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,
revealed some sky.

New Dog

Jimi and Tony
can’t keep Dino,
their cocker spaniel;
Tony’s too sick,
the daily walks
more pressure
than pleasure,
one more obligation
that can’t be met.

And though we already
have a dog, Wally
wants to adopt,
wants something small
and golden to keep
next to him and
lick his face.
He’s paralyzed now
from the waist down,

whatever’s ruining him
moving upward, and
we don’t know
how much longer
he’ll be able to pet
a dog. How many men
want another attachment,
just as they’re
leaving the world?

Wally sits up nights
and says, I’d like
some lizards, a talking bird,
some fish. A little rat.

So after I drive
to Jimi and Tony’s
in the Village and they
meet me at the door and say,
We can’t go through with it,

we can’t give up our dog,
I drive to the shelter
–just to look– and there
is Beau: bounding and
practically boundless,
one brass concatenation
of tongue and tail,
unmediated energy,
too big, wild,

perfect. He not only
licks Wally’s face
but bathes every
irreplaceable inch
of his head, and though
Wally can no longer
feed himself he can lift
his hand, and bring it
to rest on the rough gilt

flanks when they are,
for a moment, still.
I have never seen a touch
so deliberate.
It isn’t about grasping;
the hand itself seems
almost blurred now,
softened, though
tentative only

because so much will
must be summoned,
such attention brought
to the work– which is all
he is now, this gesture
toward the restless splendor,
the unruly, the golden,
the animal, the new.

My Tattoo

I thought I wanted to wear
the Sacred Heart, to represent
education through suffering,

how we’re pierced to flame.
But when I cruised
the inkshop’s dragons,

cobalt tigers and eagles
in billowy smokes,
my allegiance wavered.

Butch lexicons,
anchors and arrows,
a sailor’s iconic charms—

tempting, but none
of them me. What noun
would you want

spoken on your skin
your whole life through?
I tried to picture what

I’d never want erased
and saw a fire-ring corona
of spiked rays,

flaring tongues
surrounding—an emptiness,
an open space?

I made my mind up.
I sat in the waiting room chair.
Then something (my nerve?

faith in the guy
with biker boots
and indigo hands?)

wavered. It wasn’t fear;
nothing hurts like grief,
and I’m used to that.

His dreaming needle
was beside the point;
don’t I already bear

the etched and flaring marks
of an inky trade?
What once was skin

Has turned to something
made; written and revised
beneath these sleeves:

hearts and banners,
daggers and flowers and names.
I fled. Then I came back again;

Isn’t there always
a little more room
on the skin? It’s too late

to be unwritten,
and I’m much too scrawled
to ever be erased.

go ahead: prick and stipple
and ink me in:
I’ll never be naked again.

From here on out,
I wear the sun,
albeit blue.