Sweet Machine

Poems

by Mark Doty

Sweet Machine

Paperback, 117 pages, Harpercollins, List Price: $12 | purchase

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Title
Sweet Machine
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Poems
Author
Mark Doty

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Book Summary

A collection of lyrical and joyful poems from the award-winning writer of Heaven's Coast, Atlantis, and My Alexandria explores the "sweet machine" of the body as a vibrant, sensual, living thing. Simultaneous.

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Excerpt: Sweet Machine

Sweet Machine

Sweet Machine

Poems


Perennial

Copyright © 2004 Mark Doty
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060952563

in reference
to natural sheens (dragonfly
and beetle wings,

marbled light on kerosene)
and invented names
as coolly lustrous

as their products'
scarab-gleam: Quetzal,
Aurene, Favrile.

Suggesting,
respectively, the glaze
of feathers,

that sun-shot fog
of which halos
are composed,

and—what?
What to make of Favrile,
Tiffany's term

for his coppery-rose
flushed with gold
like the alchemized

atmosphere of sunbeams
in a Flemish room?
Faux Moorish,

fake Japanese,
his lamps illumine
chiefly themselves,

copying waterlilies'
bronzy stems,
wisteria or trout scales;

surfaces burnished
like a tidal stream
on which an excitation

of minnows boils
and blooms, artifice
made to show us

the lavish wardrobe
of things, the world's
glaze of appearances

worked into the thin
and gleaming stuff
of craft. A story:

at the puppet opera
—where one man animated
the entire cast

while another ghosted
the voices, basso
to coloratura—Jimmy wept

at the world of tiny gestures,
forgot, he said,
these were puppets,

forgot these wire
and plaster fabrications
were actors at all,

since their pretense
allowed the passions
released to be—

well, operatic.
It's too much,
to be expected to believe;

art's a mercuried sheen
in which we may discern,
because it is surface,

clear or vague
suggestions of our depths.
Don't we need a word

for the luster
of things which insist
on the fact they're made,

which announce
their maker's bravura?
Favrile, I'd propose,

for the perfect lamp,
too dim and strange
to help us read.

For the kimono woven,
dipped in dyes, unraveled
and loomed again

that the pattern might take on
a subtler shading.
For the sonnet's

blown-glass sateen,
for bel canto,
for Faberge.

For everything
which begins in limit
(where else might our work

begin?) and ends in grace,
or at least extravagance.
For the silk sleeves

of the puppet queen,
held at a ravishing angle
over her puppet lover slain,

for her lush vowels
mouthed by the plain man
hunched behind the stage.

White Kimono
Sleeves of oyster, smoke and pearl,
linings patterned with chrysanthemum flurries,
rippled fields: the import store's

received a shipment of old robes,
cleaned but neither pressed nor sorted,
and the owner's cut the bindings

so the bales of crumpled silks
swell and breathe. It's raining out, off-season,
nearly everything closed,

so Lynda and I spend an hour
overcome by wrinkly luxuries we'd never wear,
even if we could: clouds of—

are they plum blossoms?—
billowing on mauve, thunderheads
of pine mounting a stony slope,

tousled fields of embroidery
in twenty shades of jade:
costumes for some Japanese

midsummer's eve. And there,
against the back wall, a garment
which seems itself an artifact

of dream: tiny gossamer sleeves
like moth wings worrying a midnight lamp,
translucent silk so delicate

it might shatter at the weight
of a breath or glance.
The mere idea of a robe,

a slip of a thing
(even a small shoulder
might rip it apart)

which seems to tremble a little,
in the humid air. The owner—
enjoying our pleasure, this slow afternoon,

in the lush tumble of his wares—
gives us a deal. A struggle, to narrow it
to three: deep blue for Lynda,

lined with a secretive orange splendor
of flowers; a long scholarly gray for me,
severe, slightly pearly, meditative;

a rough raw silk for Wally,
its slubbed green the color of day-old grass
wet against lawn-mower blades. Home,

we iron till the kitchen steams,
revealing drape and luster.
Wally comes out and sits with us, too,

though he's already tired all the time,
and the three of us fog up the rainy windows,
talking, ironing, imagining mulberry acres

spun to this unlikely filament
—nearly animate stuff—and the endless
labor of unwinding the cocoons.

What strength and subtlety in these hues.
Doesn't rain make a memory more intimate?
We're pleased with our own calm privacy,

our part in the work of restoration,
that kitchen's achieved, common warmth,
the time-out-of-time sheen

of happiness to it, unmistakable
as the surface of those silks. And
all the while that fluttering spirit

of a kimono hung in the shop
like a lunar token, something
the ghost of a moth might have worn,

stirring on its hanger whenever
the door was opened—petal, phantom,
little milky flame lifting

like a curtain in the wind
—which even Lynda, slight as she was,
did not dare to try on.
Continues...



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