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Mark Doty: a poem

Little George

...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…

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 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.

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