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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

                                   barks at whatever’s
not the world as he prefers to know it:
trash sacks, hand trucks, black hats, canes
and hoods, shovels, someone smoking a joint
beneath the Haitian Evangelicals’ overhang,
anyone—how dare they—walking a dog.
George barks, the tense

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A month at least before the bloom
and already five bare-limbed cherries
by the highway ringed in a haze
of incipient fire
                      —middle of the afternoon,
a faint pink-bronze glow. Some things
wear their becoming:
                                the night we walked

poem

For years I went to the Peruvian barbers on 18th Street
—comforting, welcome: the full coatrack,
three chairs held by three barbers,

oldest by the window, the middle one
a slight fellow who spoke an oddly feminine Spanish,
the youngest last, red-haired, self-consciously masculine,

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