The Owner of the Night

- 1953-

interrogates whoever walks
this shadow-lane, this hour
not reserved for you: who

are you to enter it?
Orion’s head over heels
above the road, jewel-belt

flinting starlight
to fuel two eyes looking
down from the air:

beacons in reverse,
since light pours in
toward her appetite

until she wings her noiseless outline
between our rooftop and the stars,
over this door and all the doors

hidden in the grass:
dreaming voles,

firefly province,

wasps in the palace
they’ve hollowed under the hill.

Mole resting his face against his splayed hands.

Perch, blink. Pose
the evening’s question
to the sleepless

while the moon if there is one
scatters islands
on a field of ink. Who


maps this? The owner
of the night looks down
to mirror and admit the hours

before the upper vaults
begin to lighten and recede.
Did you hear what I said,

a face looks down from the night?
Did who hear me? Who
reads this page, who writes it?
 

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

The Night Ship

Roll back the stone from the sepulchre's mouth!
I sense disturbance deep within, as if some sorcery

had shocked the occupant's hand alive again, back
to compose a document in calligraphy so dragonish

that a single misstep made it necessary to stop
right then and there and tear the botched draft up,

begin again and stop, tear up again and scatter
a squall of paper lozenges atop the architecture

that the mind designs around it, assembling a city
somewhat resembling the seaport of your birth,

that blinking arrangement of towers and signage
you now wander underneath, drawn forward by the spell

of the sea's one scent, by the bell of the night ship
that cleaves through the mist on its path to the pier.

Surrender to that vision and the labor apprehensible
as you take to the streets from the refuge of a chair

so emphatically comfortable even Lazarus himself
would have chosen to remain unrisen from its velvet,

baffling the messiah, His many onlookers muttering
awkwardly to themselves, downcast till a sudden

dust devil spirals in from the dunes—a perfect excuse 
to duck back indoors. (The sand spangles their eyes,

the little airborne stones impinge upon such faces
as only Sorrow's pencil would ever dare to sketch,

and even then, it wouldn't be a cakewalk, you realize.
A dust devil at sea would be called a waterspout.)

You fear that you have been demanded into being
only to be dropped on the wintry streets of this 

imagination rashly, left easy prey for the dockside
phantoms, unwatched and unawaited, and I know 

what you mean, almost exactly. This cardboard city
collapses around us; another beautiful document

disassembles into anguish—a cymbal-clap—and we can't
prevent it. At one the wind rises, and the night ship

trembles, drowsing back into its silver cloud. At two it embarks
upon a fiercer derangement. We are in this together.

And we will find protection only on the night ship.