Mark Doty

I didn’t think I could get away with another day of saying “Well, I didn’t write the poem again” without taxing my readers’ patience or my own. And so today I was grateful I’d been keeping this journal, because it gave me a little bit of an extra push, helped me stay at my desk, wrestling the lines into focus. All this afternoon I worked and reworked, and though I felt as if the poem were just waiting there, right beneath the surface, waiting to be written, I was also surprised by where it moved, and a bit spun around by it—which is a good sign, that a poem takes its author aback, unsettles.

Showing you a poem at this stage in its development feels a bit like answering the door in my underwear: I don’t feel presentable or put-together. The poem may well have gaffes and repetitions, or weak lines. I’ll be fine-tuning it for a while to come, reading it aloud, listening for the weak spots.

But I can feel that it’s substantively here, its embrace achieved. Or so I think just now, anyway—I may look at it in horror tomorrow and decide a major overhaul’s in order! But today it feels right, and here it is.


I’m ushering the dogs into the back of the car,

after our morning walk in the wet woods,

herding them in—Beau who needs his generous

attention brought into focus, his gaze

pointed into the tailgate so he’ll be ready

to leap up, and Arden, arthritic in his hind legs,

who needs me to lift first his forepaws

and then, placing my hands under his haunches,

hoist the bulk of him into the wagon,

so that he growls a little before he turns around

to face me gratefully, glad to have been lifted—

and as I go to praise them, as I like to do,

the words that come from my mouth,

out of nowhere, are Time’s children,

as though that were the dearest thing

a person could say, the most loving name.

Where did that come from, why did I

call them by that name? I know

they fly along that quick parabola

faster than we do, racing the arc

as though it were some run

they’d gone for, a jaunt in the best

of woods, so inviting they continue

in their dreams, paws twitching slightly,

sometimes even releasing little stifled cries,

—as though even asleep they must hurry ahead

in the motion of time, which doesn’t go fast enough

for them already? Weeks ago

my good boy—patient, willing to endure

whatever we deem necessary for him—

lay on his side on the high table,

while the vet ran along the shaved pink

and blonde down of his belly a kind of wand,

pointing a stream of soundwaves

to translate the dark inside his ribs

onto a midnight screen, its pulse

and throb of storm systems

charcoaled, imperial black, his body

figured as a field of pinpoints

subtle as the faintest stars.

The wand slides, the unseen’s made

—not clear, exactly, nothing like anatomy

as I’d expect it, no chartable harmony

of parts. Something more like a blackboard

covered with a dust of living chalk, feeding,

hurrying, a live chaos-cloud worried

by turbulence, as the rod glides ahead

and the doctor narrates these swoons

of shadow I can’t quite force into shape:

The kidneys might … the spleen appears …

But I can’t see what he sees, and so resort

to simile: cloudbank, galaxies. That’s it,

the inside of a dog’s body resembles the far sky,

telescopic space alive with slow comings

and goings, that far away.

The doctor makes appreciative noises,

to encourage me; he praises Beau’s stillness.

I stroke the slope of face beneath

his open, abstracted eyes. I’d like to see

where a bark begins its urgent unspooling

up from the depths beneath the surface of his belly

—revealed now, blue-veined, gleaming

with an alcohol gel to allow the sound waves

to penetrate more precisely. Though they don’t locate

the quick core of him, his alert responsiveness

to the world—rabbit, stranger, cat on the lawn—

how the impulse leaps out of nowhere

then swells as it unfurls beneath the spine,

past the lungs’ sounding chamber,

propelled by the diaphragm’s push

across voicebox, tongue and the bright garden

of teeth into the light, baritone whoop

saying back to the day anything at all.

You can’t see that, nor the clockworks deep

in the wellsprings, or that fixed place

out of which the dog’s long regarding

of us rises. We didn’t see, really,

anything. It wasn’t cancer, wasn’t clear,

no diagnosis firm. He’s having trouble

keeping up his weight, and he’s lost

his old appetites, though he races the damp trails

as though there were no tomorrow,

still fire, the same golden hurry

I’ve loved these years. Imagine a sound

to read us, render us, this morning,

in the last of the April rain,

the three of us energized by duration,

bound by the firing and fueling

in our depths, penetrated

by a rhythm too swift for us to hear,

though we catch intimations

of that furious rush and ardor.

Would it be an endearment,

the sound time makes,

seeing through us,

ushering us through?