...barks at whatever
is not the world as he prefers to know it:
trash sacks, hand trucks, black hats, canes
and hoods, bicycles, snow shovels, someone
smoking a joint beneath the overhang
of the Haitian Evangelicals, 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 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 ripple of trouble on W 16th,
or if, right out on the pavement,
he might lay down the clanking armor
of his bluster…
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 unreadable
might turn out to hold – the April-green sphere
of an unsullied tennis ball? Dear one,
surely the future's not entirely out to get us,
or you, and if it is, barking
won't help much.
But no such luck,
at least 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!
Since the publication of his first volume of verse, Turtle, Swan, in 1987, Mark Doty has been recognised as one of the most accomplished poets in America. His books include My Alexandria, Sweet Machine, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (2008) and What is the Grass: Walt Whitman in my Life. A long-time resident of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Doty teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey. This poem first appeared in the 2017 print edition of One Hand Clapping.