Mark Doty

October 9, 2014 Mark Doty



They give us a white cube, a paper box,

the kind that might hold a small gift,

and ask us to write or draw on its surface

our image of the divinity, whatever

that might be.

We’re here, we have,

in principal, already agreed.

Daniel’s octopus is a Buddha,

Glenn’s highest self a blazing star,

though no marker’s adequately golden.

In my future blue one hand blooms

from the next in a rush of wind

from another life.

Step two: Write

on an index card what you most want

to be released from, fold it,

place it inside, close the lid. That’s it,

that’s the end of the exercise.


Walking home on Sixth,  thinking

Its intention not artifact that matters,

I’m inclined to toss the thing away,

but I wind up walking blocks

holding this coffer only a little bigger

than my hand.  Steam blurs

a bank’s bright windows;

glassy slab of winter twilight

over the stairs to the subway,

then I’m down in the station, restless,

walking the long platform,

and here’s

the unnameable of music too far

to name. Keep walking, a violin,

sonorous,  emotive. Closer: resolute travelers

facing the tracks but the rest of us

turn toward the man whose powers

concentrate on his instrument,

from which pours

– how is it possible? –

an aching distillate so exact

I don’t need to go anywhere.

CD for sale in the velvet cavity


beside his shoes, two dollar bills,

gleaming change.

Odd bit of movement

across the tracks, so I can’t help but look

toward the platform:a tall black man

– why does his darkness

seem to matter? — cradling a violin

that isn’t there, invisible chin-rest

beneath his jaw, immaterial body resting

on the shoulder of his coat, and the bow

that isn’t there lifted and lowered


Not mimicry; he knows the music.

On my side of the double tracks

the tunnel fills with an embodied grief,

too poised to be an outcry, contained,

larger than any single suffering,

and the man on the other side

makes nothing, no sound at all,

but answers adequately.

What did I write on that card?

One blue hand folding out of another,

one golden octopus,

one embattled star,

this box in these hands,

that have done so much

to harm myself,

this box.

Mark Doty is the author of several collections of poetry, including Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, which received the 2008 National Book Award.