Poetry Month Pick: “Brilliance” by Mark Doty

I fell in love with poet and author Mark Doty when I read his memoir “Heaven’s Coast,” about the relationship and illness of then mark-dotypartner Wally, who succumbed to AIDS related complications.  Through his memoir and poetry, Doty offers a universal view on romantic relationships that transcends sex, gender, economic status, race and sexual orientation.  His observations express emotions inherit to struggle and love, and he has the amazing ability to put feelings of the gut into words, which reach out from the pages into us as readers.

I chose Doty in honor of not only National Poetry Month, but also to recognize that gay rights are human rights and in hope of a day where there will be a level playing field for all.

Brilliance by Mark Doty

Maggie’s taking care of a man
who’s dying; he’s attended to everything,
said goodbye to his parents,

paid off his credit card.
She says Why don’t you just
run it up to the limit?

but he wants everything
squared away, no balance owed,
though he misses the pets

he’s already found a home for
-he can’t be around dogs or cats,
too much risk. He says,

I can’t have anything.
She says, A bowl of goldfish?
He says he doesn’t want to start

with anything and then describes
the kind he’d maybe like,
how their tails would fan

to a gold flaring. They talk
about hot jewel tones,
gold lacquer, say maybe

they’ll go pick some out
though he can’t go much of anywhere and then
abruptly he says I can’t love

anything I can’t finish.
He says it like he’s had enough
of the whole scintillant world,

though what he means is
he’ll never be satisfied and therefore
has established this discipline,

a kind of sever rehearsal.
That’s where they leave it,
him looking out the window,

her knitting as she does because
she needs to do something.
Later he leaves a message:

Yes to the bowl of goldfish.
Meaning: let me go, if I have to,
in brilliance. In a story I read,

a Zen master who’d perfected
his detachment from the things of the world
remembered, at the moment of dying,

a deer he used to feed in the park
and wondered who might care for it,
and at that instant was reborn

in the stunned flesh of a fawn.
So, Maggie’s friend-
is he going out

into the last loved object
of his attention?
Fanning the veined translucence

of an opulent tail,
undulant in some uncapturable curve,
is he bronze chrysanthemums,

copper leaf, hurried darting,
doubloons, icon-colored fins
troubling the water?


Happy National Poetry Month!

Though it may seem a bit controversial to choose Charles Bukowski for my third selection of the National Poetry Month series, I feel that his commentary on poverty, race, corporate injustice, the environment, et al, earn him a spot.

Charles Bukowski-Born into This

(Select the above link for the video of Bukowski reading his poem)

by Charles Bukowski

Born like this
Into this
As the chalk faces smile
As Mrs. Death laughs
As the elevators break
As political landscapes dissolve
As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
As the oily fish spit out their oily prey
As the sun is masked
We are
Born like this
Into this
Into these carefully mad wars
Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
Born into this
Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
Born into this
Walking and living through this
Dying because of this
Muted because of this
Because of this
Fooled by this
Used by this
Pissed on by this
Made crazy and sick by this
Made violent
Made inhuman
By this
The heart is blackened
The fingers reach for the throat
The gun
The knife
The bomb
The fingers reach toward an unresponsive god
The fingers reach for the bottle
The pill
The powder
We are born into this sorrowful deadliness
We are born into a government 60 years in debt
That soon will be unable to even pay the interest on that debt
And the banks will burn
Money will be useless
There will be open and unpunished murder in the streets
It will be guns and roving mobs
Land will be useless
Food will become a diminishing return
Nuclear power will be taken over by the many
Explosions will continually shake the earth
Radiated robot men will stalk each other
The rich and the chosen will watch from space platforms
Dante’s Inferno will be made to look like a children’s playground
The sun will not be seen and it will always be night
Trees will die
All vegetation will die
Radiated men will eat the flesh of radiated men
The sea will be poisoned
The lakes and rivers will vanish
Rain will be the new gold
The rotting bodies of men and animals will stink in the dark wind
The last few survivors will be overtaken by new and hideous diseases
And the space platforms will be destroyed by attrition
The petering out of supplies
The natural effect of general decay
And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard
Born out of that.
The sun still hidden there
Awaiting the next chapter.

Happy Poetry Month, you crusty old crab.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Poem numero dos in honor of National Poetry Month celebrates Dorothy Parker!

I have included two short, but oh so poignant of Parker’s poems.

New Items

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live. 

Happy National Poetry Month!

  Happy National Poetry Month!  It’s one of Exploring Feminisms’ favorite months!

This first poem of the April poetry month series is written by recently departed but always feminist, lesbian, activist, amazing… Adrienne Rich.


even deviant
you draw your long skirts
across the nineteenth century
Your mind
burns long after death
not like the harbor beacon
but like a pyre of driftwood
on the beach
You are spared
death by pneumonia
teeth which leave the gums
the seamstress’ clouded eyes
the mill-girl’s shortening breath
by a collection
of circumstances
soon to be known as
class privilege
The law says you can possess nothing
in a world
where property is everything
You belong first to your father
then to him who
chooses you
if you fail to marry
you are without recourse
unable to earn
a workingman’s salary
forbidden to vote
forbidden to speak
in public
if married you are legally dead
the law says
you may not bequeath property
save to your children
or male kin
that your husband
has the right
of the slaveholder
to hunt down and re-possess you
should you escape
You may inherit slaves
but have no power to free them
your skin is fair
you have been taught that light
to the Dark Continent
with white power
that the Indians
live in filth
and occult animal rites
Your mother wore corsets
to choke her spirit
which if you refuse
you are jeered for refusing
you have heard many sermons
and have carried
your own interpretations
locked in your heart
You are a woman
strong in health
through a collection
of circumstances
soon to be known
as class privilege
which if you break
the social compact
you lost outright
When you open your mouth in public
human excrement
is flung at you
you are exceptional
in personal circumstance
in indignation
you give up believing
in protection
in Scripture
in man-made laws
respectable as you look
you are an outlaw
Your mind burns
not like the harbor beacon
but like a fire
of fiercer origin
you begin speaking out
and a great gust of freedom
rushes in with your words
yet still you speak
in shattered language
of a partial vision
You draw your long skirts
across the nineteenth century
registering injustice
failing to make it whole
How can I fail to love
your clarity and fury
how can I give you
all your due
take courage from your courage
honor your exact
legacy as it is
as well
that it is not enough?

(Note: the formatting here is not how the text was originally laid out on the page.  Click here to see the actual layout of the poem, which can be read in her work, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems from 1978-1981.)


I picked the lint off your shirt as
your head, deep in my lap, lay
with breath boozy and pores permeating

the smells of my childhood.
I yearned for that cryptic mix of
sud and ash-will you carry

with you those old humiliations and
fire-start new years of insecurity, absence
and tired, overworked clothing? Will you

love me so tight that my mother’s bones will
ache with the promise of release? Tonight
we’ll sleep, and I’ll ignore the nausea in my

gut and the fizzle and crackle in my brain and
convince myself for this one flicker in time to
inhabit the moment and wish, just wish, that my

feet could forever be touching your feet-and in
the morning, when you move your thigh from
between mine, we’ll notice that we’ve been sweating.

Kenmore Street

I clicked my tongue at your last week,
pregnant woman with glass tube ablaze
in the alley below my apartment window;
belly fat with cheated life, misguided intentions,
the Christian Right and that gray fog. You scattered
like a bug when I wanted you to go away,
when I couldn’t stand to look at you anymore-
when I couldn’t stand my own inertia.
I thought of the dead pigeon last winter
whose feet were stuck in a frozen puddle,
standing erect, the walking dead. I felt the bird deep
in my stomach as I felt you last week. For a moment,
you and Chicago were one again as two breaths-
one warm, one cool, exhaled into the still summer air.

Chicago, 2005-2006

You call me and tell me to be careful,
fretting over the fact of your daughter living
alone in Chicago.  Images of me, my big purse-
sitting alone on the train.  You call to inform me
that another girl has been raped in Lincoln
Park.  Just Be Careful, as if Villa Park were
any different, or safer.  I know the threat,
the inclination of my naked body from men
of all colors and economies who eye
and yelp.  You tell me to be careful
as your 26 year old son sits
like a god, the power of his years
on his skin and between his legs.
Do you tell him to be careful, too?