Manhattan: Luminism

Mark Doty

The sign said immunology
but I read
illuminology: and look,

heaven is a platinum latitude
over Fifth, fogged result
of sun-brushed

steel, pearl
dimensions. Cézanne:
‘We are an iridescent chaos.’

*

Balcony over Lexington, May evening,

fog wreath’d towers,
gothic dome lit from within,
monument of our aspirations

turned hollow, abandoned

somehow. And later, in the florist’s window
on Second Avenue, a queen’s display
of orchid and fern, lush heap

of dried sheaves, bounty of grasses ...

What’s that? Mice
far from any field
but feasting.

*

The sign said
K YS MADE,
but what will op n,

if the locksmith’s
lost his vowel
– his entrance,

edge, his means
of egress –
which held together

the four letters
of his trade?
City of consonants,

city of locks,
and he’s lost
the E.

*

(A Mirror in the Chelsea Hotel)

Here, where odd old things have come to rest
– a lamp which never meant
to keep on going, a chest
whose tropical veneers
are battered and submissive –

this glass gives the old hotel room
back to itself in a warmer atmosphere,
as if its silver were thickening,
a gathering opacity held here,
just barely giving back ...

This mirror resists what it can,
too weary for generosity.
As if each coming and going,
each visitor turned, one night
or weeks, to check a collar

or the angle of a hat left some residue,
a bit of leavetaking preserved in mercury.
And now, filled up with all that regard,
there is hardly any room for regarding,
and a silvered fog fills nearly all

the space, like rain: the city’s lovely,
crowded dream, which closes you
into itself like a folding screen.

*

Almost nightfall, West 82nd,
and a child falls to her knees
on the cement, and presses

herself against the glass
of the video store,
because she wants to hold her face

against the approaching face,
huge, open, on the poster
hung low in the window,

down near the sidewalk:
an elephant walking toward
the viewer, ears wide to the world.

She cries out in delight,
at first, and her mother
acknowledges her pleasure,

but then she’s still there,
kneeling, in silence, and no matter
what the mother does or says

that girl’s not moving,
won’t budge, though her name’s
called again and again.

Could you even name it,
that longing – which suddenly seems
not just to belong to the child,

but to rule these streets,
as if the underlying principle
of the city had been drawn up,

from beneath the pavement,
by a girl who doesn’t know
any better than to insist

on the force of her wish
to face the immense openness
of the inhuman, to look into

the gaze which seems to go on
steadily coming toward her,
though of course it isn’t moving at all.

*

I woke in the old hotel.
The shutters were open
in the high, single window,
the light gone delicate,
platinum. What had I been dreaming,

what would become of me now?
There were doves calling,
their three-note tremolo
climbing the airshaft
(something about the depth

of that sound) (where it reaches in you)
(what it touches). You’ve been abraded,
something exchanged or given away
with every encounter, on the street,
the train, something of you lost

to the bodies which unnerved you,
this morning, in the station, streaming ahead,
everyone going somewhere certain
in the randomly intersecting flow
of our hurry, until you could be anyone,

in the furious commingling –
But now you’re more awake,
aren’t you, and of course these aren’t doves,
not in the middle of Manhattan;
they’re pigeons, a little harsher,

more driven, though recognisable
still in the pulse of their throats
the threnody of their kind, rising
up to you or to that interior ear
with which you are always listening,

in the great city, where things are said
to no one, and everyone, and still
it’s the same ... And though your task
is to learn the blur of everything,
the edgeless flux and collision of it,

you were afraid you were no one,
that was it, one bit of light’s transaction
in the indifferent streaming, and you are.
But in a way you also are singled out:
what you are is, in the old sense, a soul,

because you have heard the thrilling,
deep-entering call of me birds,
the rustle and sussurus of them,
and now a little cadence of sunlight
in motion on the windowsill’s bricked edge,

where did it come from? Moving
with the same dapple as the cry
of the doves, slowly, a ripple ...
As if, audible suddenly in the rhythm
of the birds, visible in this

tentative assertion of sun on the lip
of a window in Chelsea,
is the flake of that long waving
long ago lodged in you: how unlikely,
all these aeons later, all this light

travelled so far to become 23rd Street,
and a hotel room in the late afternoon,
the singular neon outside already on,
warm and quavering –
and you in it, sure now, because

of the song being delivered to you,
dealt to you like an outcome,
that mere is something stubborn in us
– does it matter how small it is? –
which does not dissolve.

What is it? An ear, a wave?
Not our histories or who we love or certainly
our faces, which dissolve even
as we’re living. Not a bud
or a cinder, not a seed

or a spark: something else:
obdurate, specific, insoluble.
Something in us does not erode.