Crepe de Chine

I went to a poetry workshop online, and this was one of the poems discussed, by the incomparable Mark Doty.  You have it now, even though you didn’t go to the workshop! Sorry to be late with it…but this virus seems to eat time!

Crepe de Chine

These drugstore windows
—one frame in the mile-long film
of lit-up trash and nothing

fronting the avenue, what Balzac called
“the great poem of display”—
are a tableau of huge bottles

of perfume, unbuyable gallons of scent
for women enormous as the movie screens
of my childhood. Spiritual pharmaceuticals

in their deco bottles,
wide-shouldered, flared,
arrayed in their pastel skylines,

their chrome-topped tiers:
a little Manhattan of tinted alcohols.
Only reading their names

—Mme. Rochas, White Shoulders, Crepe de Chine—
and I’m hearing the suss of immense stockings,
whispery static of chiffon stoles

on powdered shoulders,
click of compacts, lisp and soft glide
of blush. And I’m thinking of my wig,
Continue reading “Crepe de Chine”


Next week I’m heading to New York for the William Dickey Memorial Broadside Contest reading. Mark Doty will be the featured reader.  He’s a marvelous poet.  Here’s  one of my favorites of his poems.


Near evening, in Fairhaven, Massachusetts,
seventeen wild geese arrowed the ashen blue
over the Wal-Mart and the Blockbuster Video,

and I was up there, somewhere between the asphalt
and their clear dominion—not in the parking lot,
its tallowy circles just appearing,

the shopping carts shining, from above,
like little scraps of foil. Their eyes
held me there, the unfailing gaze

of those who know how to fly in formation,
wing tip to wing tip, safe, fearless.
And the convex glamour of their eyes carried

the parking lot, the wet field
troubled with muffler shops
and stoplights, the arc of highway

and its exits, one shattered farmhouse
with its failing barn… The wind
a few hundred feet above the grass

erases the mechanical noises, everything;
nothing but their breathing
and the rowing of the pinions,

and then, out of that long percussive pour
toward what they are most certain of,
comes their—question, is it? Continue reading “Migratory”

A pleasant surprise

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 8.32.27 AMI logged onto Facebook in an idle moment yesterday, and discovered that I was a finalist in a poetry contest I’d entered months before, for Split This Rock. Ok, there were nine other finalists, and three winners, nonetheless…

The contest was judged by Mark Doty, a poet I’ve mentioned here several times. I love the brilliant transcendence of his work. Here’s a copy of the winning poem–I wrote it in reaction to the epigraph I quote at the top…it made me immediately think of things I find hard to reconcile with the concept of Nirvana:

The Tenth Time

Nirvana is here, nine times out of ten
                          Hô Xuân Hu’o’ng

The disposable diaper
in the meadow

The morning at the DMV

The razor wire on top of the chainlink
around the concrete
around the school

For every black man in college
five behind bars

What happens to the eyes
as the argument flares

The blueprints for the gas chambers,
meticulously filed

The invasion

The story of the invasion

The story behind the story
of the invasion

The ones
who knew to profit from it
Meryl Natchez

I’d put a poem by Mark Doty here, but the contrast would be too great!

The exemplary sentence

Regular readers know I stole this category from Mark Doty’s blog. And now I’ve stolen an image of a diagrammed sentence from another blog I like, Jottings, by Jim to be its icon.  Does anyone under 50 even know what diagramming a sentence means?

In any case, I keep my eye out for intriguing sentences, and I’ve collected a few here. Continue reading “The exemplary sentence”

The exemplary sentence

I saw this idea on Mark Doty’s blog and immediately adopted it. I’ve been saving sentences for decades, and just now am rereading Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. This is the only one of Bellow’s books I’ve ever liked, but I really love it and it holds up wonderfully since I first read it maybe 30 years ago.

I say rereading, but this time I am listening to it as read by Joe Barrett, who manages to embody the voice of Henderson as well as the soft accents of various African characters. It’s wonderful to me how such a reading can enhance a book. But this one is so packed with exemplary sentences, it’s hard to choose, and I often need to rewind–not as easy on CD as formerly on cassette–to capture their complete sense.  Here is one (not even the whole sentence, but enough):

“Even civilized women  are not keen on geography, preferring a world of their own.”

Continue reading “The exemplary sentence”

Mark Doty

This morning I was chatting with friends about poetry over tea and muffins. We were talking about workshops, etc. I told them about my worst workshop experience, one with Mark Doty at the Walt Whitman Birthplace. Despite the awful workshop, his work is luminous. We talked about how you can’t equate the work with the person. This came home to me years ago, watching a poet I know who wrote stunning love poems to his wife and treated her like the dirt under his shoe soles.

In any case, Marcia, here’s a Mark Doty excerpt for you. Other poems of his I love include: A Green Crab’s Shell, Apparition; A New Dog; The Embrace, Migratory, A Display of Mackerel. There’s a transcendental strain in his work that he weaves in with such skill. I find it extraordinarily moving. You can find several of these at, and hear him read. He’s a good reader. Fire to Fire, his new and selected poems, is worth owning, and I even like his blog.

from “Atlantis”

I thought your illness a kind of solvent
dissolving the future a little at a time;

I didn’t understand what’s to come
was always just a glimmer

up ahead, veiled like the marsh
gone under its tidal sheet

of mildly rippled aluminum.
What these salt distances were

is also where they’re going:
from blankly silvered span

toward specificity: the curve
of certain brave islands of grass,

temporary shoulder-wide rivers
where herons ply their twin trades

of study and desire. I’ve seen
two white emissaries unfold

like heaven’s linen, untouched,
enormous, a fluid exhalation. Early spring,

too cold yet for green, too early
for the tumble and wrack of last season

to be anything but promise,
but there in the air was the triumph

of all flowering, the soul
lifted up, if we could still believe

in the soul, after so much diminishment…
Breath from the unpromising waters,

up, across the pond and the two-lane highway,
pure purpose, over the dune,

gone. Tomorrow’s unreadable
as this shining acreage;

the future’s nothing
but this moment’s gleaming rim.

Now the tide’s begun
its clockwork turn, pouring,

in the day’s hourglass,
toward the other side of the world,

and our dependable marsh reappears
—emptied of that scratched and angular grace

that spirited the ether, lessened,
but here. And our ongoingness,

what there’ll be of us? Look,
love, the lost world

rising from the waters again:
another continent, where it always was,

emerging from the half light,
drenched, unchanged.

Mark Doty