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Mark Doty

04-11-08

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.
 

 

Fog

 

The crested iris by the front gate waves
its blue flags three days, exactly,

then they vanish. The peony buds'
tight wrappings are edged crimson;

when they open, a little blood-color
will ruffle at the heart of the flounced,

unbelievable white. Three weeks after the test,
the vial filled from the crook

of my elbow, I'm seeing blood everywhere:
a casual nick from the garden shears,

a shaving cut and I feel the physical rush
of the welling up, the wine-fountain

dark as Siberian iris. The thin green porcelain
teacup, our homemade Ouija's planchette,

rocks and wobbles every night, spins
and spells. It seems a cloud of spirits

numerous as lilac panicles vie for occupancy --
children grabbing for the telephone,

happy to talk to someone who isn't dead yet?
Everyone wants to speak at once, or at least

these random words appear, incongruous
and exactly spelled: energy, immunity, kiss.

Then: M. has immunity. W. has.
And that was all. One character, Frank,

distinguishes himself: a boy who lived
in our house in the thirties, loved dogs

and gangster movies, longs for a body,
says he can watch us through the television,

asks us to stand before the screen
and kiss. God in garden, he says.

Sitting out on the back porch at twilight,
I'm almost convinced. In this geometry

of paths and raised beds, the green shadows
of delphinium, there's an unseen rustling:

some secret amplitude
seems to open in this orderly space.

Maybe because it contains so much dying,
all these tulip petals thinning

at the base until any wind takes them.
I doubt anyone else would see that, looking in,

and then I realize my garden has no outside, only is
subjectively. As blood is utterly without

an outside, can't be seen except out of context,
the wrong color in alien air, no longer itself.

Though it submits to test, two,
to be exact, each done three times,

though not for me, since at their first entry
into my disembodied blood

there was nothing at home there.
For you they entered the blood garden over

and over, like knocking at a door
because you know someone's home. Three times

the Elisa Test, three the Western Blot,
and then the incoherent message. We're

the public health care worker's
nine o'clock appointment,

she is a phantom hand who forms
the letters of your name, and the word

that begins with P. I'd lie out
and wait for the god if it weren't

so cold, the blue moon huge
and disruptive above the flowering crab's

foaming collapse. The spirits say Fog
when they can't speak clearly

and the letters collide; sometimes
for them there's nothing outside the mist

of their dying. Planchette,
peony, I would think of anything

not to say the word. Maybe the blood
in the flower is a god's. Kiss me,

in front of the screen, please,
the dead are watching.

They haven't had enough yet.
Every new bloom is falling apart.

I would say anything else
in the world, any other word.

          -from My Alexandria