Mark Doty

May 8, 2007


Married early, but divorced and met his partner Wally Roberts, who died from AIDS in 1994
Work displays something of the drag queen’s pleasure in ravishing texture and spectacle, but also employs something of the mortician’s cold  grim inevitabilities of loss and death
Works in the tradition of Americanautobiographicalpoetry that extends from Whitman to Bishop and Lowell
Believes that a poem should be

“a verbal earthly paradise, a timeless world of pure play, which gives us delight precisely because of its contrast to our historical existence with all its insolvable problems and inescapable suffering.”


Downtown anywhere and between the roil/ of bathhouse steam- up there the linens of joy/ and shame must be laundered again and again,

where desire’s unpoliced, or nearly so)/ someone’s posted a xeroxedheadshot/ of Jesus: permed, blonde, blurred at the eges
as though photographedthrough a greasy lens,/ and inked beside him, in marker strokes:/ HOMO WILL NO INHERIT, Repent & be saved.
I’ll tell you what I’ll inherit: the margins/ which have always been mine, downtown after hours/ when there’s nothing left to buy,
the dreaming shops turnedin on themselves,/ seamless, intent on the perfection  of display,/ the bodegas and offices lined up, impenetrable:
edges no one wants, no one’s watching. Though/ the borders of this  shadow-zone  (mirror and dream/ of the shattered streets around it) are chartered
by the police, and they are required,/ some nights, to redefine them. But not now, at twilight,/ permission’s descending hour, early winter darkness
pillared by smoldering plumes. The public city’s/ ledgered and locked, but the secret city’s boundless;/ from which do these tumbling tours arise?
I’ll tell you what I’ll inherit: steam,/ and the blinding symmetry of some towering man,/ fifteen minutes of forgetfulness incarnate.

the flesh and the word. And I’ll tell you,/ you who can’t wait to abandon your body,/ what you want me to, maybe something
like you’ve imagined, a dirty story:/ Years ago, in the baths,/ a man walked into the steam,
the gorgeous deep indigo of him gleaming,/ solid tight flanks, the intricately ridged abdomen-/ and after he invited me to his room,
nudging his key toward me,/ as if perhaps I spoke another tongue/ and required the plainest  of gestures,
after we’d been, you understand,/ worshipping a while in his church,/ he said to me, I’m going to punish your mough.
I can’t tell you what that did to me./ My shame was redeemed then;/ I won’t need to burn in the afterlife.
It wasn’t that he hurt me,/ more than that: the spirit’s transactions/ are enacted now, here- no one needs
your eternity. This failing city’s/ radiant as any we’ll ever know,/ paved with oily rainbow, charred gates
jeweled with tags, swoops of letters/ over letters, indecipherable as anything/ written by desire. I’m not ashamed
to love Babylon’s scrawl. How could I be?/ It’s written on my face as much as on/ these walls. This city’s inescapable,
gorgeous, and on fire. I have my kingdom.

-Homo Will Not Inherit

Charged repudiation of homophobia, echoing Whitman

Cold April and the neighbor girl/ -our plumber’s daughter-/ comes up the west street
from the harbor carrying,/ in a nest she’s made/ of her pink parka,
a loon. It’s so sick,/ she says when I ask./ Foolish kid,
does she think she can keep/ this emissary of air?/ Is it trust or illness
that allows the head/ -sleek tulip- to bow/ on its bent stem
across her arm?/ Look at the steady,/ quiet eye. She is carrying
the bird back from indifference,/ from the coast/ of whatever rearrangement
the elements intend,/ and the loon allows her./ She is going to call
the Center for Coastal Studies,/ and will swaddle the bird/ in her petal-bright coat
until they come./ She cradles the wild form./ Stubborn girl.

-Coastal (in whole)


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