poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 8, 2017.
About this Poem 

“I spend about half my time in the city, in a built landscape where one knows the name of just about everything; in this way it’s a city of language, a world mediated by words. The rest of the time I live in a place where sky and weather, plants and animals are as present as sidewalks and vehicles are in town. My inner process of narrating experience in words slows down there, even vanishes for moments at a time; then I’m just raking, or weeding, or looking at the sky not supplying words for what I see. Thus it’s startling, at twilight, or deep in the night, when the dark itself seems to say a word: who. It seems the right question, the one the owl asks; as Stevens said of the harbor lights in Key West, that sound arranges, deepens, and enchants the night.”
—Mark Doty

The Owner of the Night

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?
 

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Doty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Doty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Mark Doty

Mark Doty

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. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2011 to 2016.

by this poet

poem
Surface the action of the day,

a means of tracing the dynamic,
so that a jitter of blue's
sparked by little coals, 

sun a glimmer 
of the day's intent. He knows
to trace an alphabet written on water 

is to surface the action of the day,

a way of proceeding,
entering into the never-
to-be repeated,
 
a way of
poem

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

2
poem
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