The Embrace

Mark Doty - 1953-

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 —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.

More by Mark Doty

Broadway

Under Grand Central's tattered vault
  —maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit—
    one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim

billowed over some minor constellation
  under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings
    in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws

preening, beaks opening and closing
  like those animated knives that unfold all night
    in jewelers' windows. For sale,

glass eyes turned outward toward the rain,
  the birds lined up like the endless flowers
    and cheap gems, the makeshift tables

of secondhand magazines
  and shoes the hawkers eye
    while they shelter in the doorways of banks.

So many pockets and paper cups
  and hands reeled over the weight
    of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd

a woman reached to me across the wet roof
  of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta,
    I'm hungry. She was only asking for change,

so I don't know why I took her hand.
  The rooftops were glowing above us,
    enormous, crystalline, a second city

lit from within. That night
  a man on the downtown local stood up
    and said, My name is Ezekiel,

I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called
  fall. He stood up straight
    to recite, a child reminded of his posture

by the gravity of his text, his hands
  hidden in the pockets of his coat.
    Love is protected, he said,

the way leaves are packed in snow,
   the rubies of fall. God is protecting
    the jewel of love for us.

He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him
  all the change left in my pocket,
    and the man beside me, impulsive, moved,

gave Ezekiel his watch.
  It wasn't an expensive watch,
    I don't even know if it worked,

but the poet started, then walked away
  as if so much good fortune
    must be hurried away from,

before anyone realizes it's a mistake.
  Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed
    like feathers in the rain,

under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts,
  must have wondered at my impulse to touch her,
    which was like touching myself,

the way your own hand feels when you hold it
  because you want to feel contained.
    She said, You get home safe now, you hear?

In the same way Ezekiel turned back
  to the benevolent stranger.
    I will write a poem for you tomorrow,

he said. The poem I will write will go like this:
  Our ancestors are replenishing
    the jewel of love for us.

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'

gesture of menace
and power. A gull's
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
—size of a demitasse—
open to reveal

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,
similarly,
revealed some sky.

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.

Related Poems

R.I.P., My Love

Let us be apart then like the panoptical chambers in IC
patient X and patient Y, our names magic markered hurriedly on cardboard
and taped pell-mell to the sliding glass doors, "Mary", "Donald", "Tory";
an indication that our presence there would prove beyond temporary, like snow flurry.
Our health might be regained if aggressive medical action were taken, or despite
these best efforts, lost like missing children in the brambles of poor fortune. 
The suffering of another's I can only envision through the mimesis of my own,
the alarming monitor next door in lieu of a heartbeat signifying cardiac arrest, 
prompts a scurry of interns and nurses, their urgent footsteps to which
I listen, inert and prostrate, as if subject to the ground tremors of 
a herd of buffalo or horses, just a blur in the parched and post-nuclear distance.
I listen, perhaps the way the wounded will listen to the continuing war, 
so different sounding than before, the assault of noise now deflected against
consciousness rather than serving as motivation for patriotism and targets. 
Like fistfuls of dirt loaded with pebbles and rocks thrown at my front door,
I knew that the footsteps would soon be running to me also.
The blood pressure cuff swaddled around my arm pumped in its diastolic state
independently like an iced organ ready for transplant
as I witnessed with one circular rove of my eyes my body now dissected
into television sets, like one of those asymmetrical structures 
that serves as a model for a molecular unity in elementary science classes.
And the plastic bags of IV fluids that hung above me, a Miró-like mobile or iconic toy 
for an infant's amusement, measured the passing of time by virtue of their depletion. 
Sometimes I could count almost five and then seven swinging vaguely above me at 4 am.
I remember the first, hand-held high above me when I arrived via ambulance at the ER,
the gurney accelerating as a voice exclaims on the color of my hands "they're blue!". 
Another voice (deeper) virtually yells out into the chaos that she can't get a pulse.
Several pairs of scissors begin simultaneously to cut off my clothes, their shears
working their way upward like army ants from pant cuff and shirt-sleeve, 
a formulaic move for the ER staff which, despite its routine, still retains
a sense of impromptu in the hurriedness of the cutting both deft and crude,
in the sound of their increased breathing, of their efforts intensified by my blood 
pressure dropping, the numbers shouted out as if into night fog and ocean.
It's not a lack of professionalism but the wager of emotional investment that I feel.
One attendant, losing her aplomb for a moment, can't contain herself from remarking 
(as if I'm already post-mortem) on what a great bra I have;
"Stretch lace demi-cup, Victoria's Secret," I respond politely in my head.
In turn, when they put the oxygen tube into my nose I thought immediately
of Ali McGraw on her death bed in Love Story and how good she looked in one.
And then the catheter where I pissed continually into a bottle like a paraplegic
let me in on the male fear of castration 
my focus centered entirely on that tube, its vulnerable rigging
which I held onto tenderly throughout the night like something dying 
against my thigh or something birthing. I held on though the IV in my forearm 
overextended with a kind of pleading, the needle hooked deep into a mainstream vein 
the way in deep sea fishing lines are cast into the darkest water,
my body thrashing about in the riverweed of its fluids.
The translucent infrastructure of IVs and oxygen tubes superimposed itself upon me
like a body double, more virulent and cold, like Leda pinned and broken by her swan, 
like the abandoned and organ-failed regarding its superior soul ascend.
So completely and successfully reconfigured within its technological construct
my body proper no longer existed, my vital signs highlighted in neon 
preceded the spiraling vortex of my interiority,
the part of me people will say later that that's what they loved
when they roam about in the cramped rare book library of their memory
for a couple of minutes and think of "Tory". 
Movement can only be accounted in shadows, Virilio informs us,
the reconciliation of oneself in one's disappearance.
An anachronistic sundial, I turn my profile
and the fluorescence falls unfractured, unmediated onto the postmodern tenebrism
of absence against absence, my quickened inhalations against my backless gown.
My love for you, my love, for my friends, untethers and floats, 
snaps apart and off me like the I.V. tubes and monitor wires
the flailed arms of an octopus unfolding without gravity,
as I reach up in a Frankensteinian effort to shut off my monitors,
the constant alarming of the human prototype my own body keeps rejecting,
while death moves closer, a benign presence.
It stands respectfully just outside the perimeters of my life
and adjusts itself the way the supervising nurse did the monitor perimeters 
to suit my declining vital signs so I could get some sleep.
I felt a relationship with death, a communication, it was more familiar
than I ever imagined, what I had always returned to as the sign of me, the self
we attribute to the mysterious and perfectly ordered Romantic notion of origin.
What I'm trying to say is that it was not foreign. It was not foreign,
but it was not a homecoming either.
There was no god, no other land, no beyond;
no amber, no amethyst, no avatar.
But there was a suspension, there was an adieu to recognition
to the shoes of those I love, like Van Gogh's, a pair but alone
the voices of loved ones, their tones, their intonations, like circulation,
closed-circuited but effective.
There was a listless but clear-thinking comfort that into my own eyes
I would go, although not "into" in the Bachelardian sense
which implies diminishment; there was none of that.
It was just the opposite: expansion but without a pioneer's vision.
What we regard as the "self" extended itself, but I wouldn't say in a winged way,
over the Bosch-like landscape of brutal interactions
and physical pain and car alarms and the eternal drilling of disappointment
the exigent descendence of everyday that everyday you peer down or up
its daunting staircase, nauseous with vertigo
gathering like straw the rudimentary characteristics of courage, gumption, innovation
and faking it to the hilt like a hilarious onslaught of sham orgasms.
Transcendence might be the term Emerson would lend it.
What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't lonely.