Little George

- 1953-

                                   barks at whatever’s
not the world as he prefers to know it:
trash sacks, hand trucks, black hats, canes
and hoods, shovels, someone smoking a joint
beneath the Haitian Evangelicals’ overhang,
anyone—how dare they—walking a dog.
George barks, the tense white comma
of himself arced in alarm.
                                                   At home he floats
in the creaturely domestic: curled in the warm
triangle behind a sleeper’s knees,
wiggling on his back on the sofa, all jelly
and sighs, requesting/receiving a belly rub.
No worries. But outside the apartment’s
metal door, the unmanageable day assumes
its blurred and infinite disguises.
                                                                 Best to bark.
No matter that he’s slightly larger
than a toaster; he proceeds as if he rules
a rectangle two blocks deep, bounded west
and east by Seventh Avenue and Union Square.
Whatever’s there is there by his consent,
and subject to the rebuke of his refusal
—though when he asserts his will
he trembles. If only he were not solely
responsible for raising outcry
at any premonition of trouble
on West 16th Street, or if, right out
on the pavement, he might lay down
the clanking armor of his bluster.

Some evening when he’s climbed the stairs
after our late walk, and rounds
the landing’s turn and turns his way
toward his steady sleep, I wish he might
be visited by a dream of the world as kind,
how any looming unknown might turn out
to hold—the April-green of an unsullied
tennis ball? Dear one, surely the future
can’t be entirely out to get us?
And if it is, barking won’t help much.

But no such luck, not yet.
He takes umbrage, this morning,
at a stone image serene in a neighbor’s garden,
and stiffens and fixes and sounds
his wild alarm: Damn you,
Buddha, get out of here, go away!

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.