The Ancient World

Original Text: 
© Bethlehem in Broad Daylight: Poems by Mark Doty (Boston: David R. Godine, 1991): 9-11. PS 3554 O798B48 1991 Robarts Library
2their discarded pomp: a trunk of turbans,
3gemmed and ostrich-plumed, and operetta costumes
4labeled inside the collar "Potentate"
5and "Vizier." Here their chairs, blazoned
6with the Masons' sign, huddled
7like convalescents, lean against one another
8on the grass. In a casket are rhinestoned poles
10here's a splendid golden staff some ranking officer waved,
11topped with a golden pyramid and a tiny,
12inquisitive sphinx. No one's worn this stuff
13for years, and it doesn't seem worth buying;
14where would we put it? Still,
15I want that staff. I used to love
16to go to the library -- the smalltown brick refuge
17of those with nothing to do, really,
19above columns that dwarfed an inconsequential street.
20Embarrassed to carry the same book past
21the water fountain's plaster centaurs
22up to the desk again, I'd take
24where Art and Industry met in the mural
25on the dome. The room smelled like two decades
26before I was born, when the name
27carved over the door meant something.
28I never read the second section,
29"Wonders of the Modern World";
31the unfulfilled turquoise schemes,
32but in the real structures
33you could hardly imagine a future.
34I wanted the density of history,
35which I confused with the smell of the book:
37engraved watercourses rippling;
39over the harbormouth on his immense ankles.
41in an "artist's reconstruction",
42like an adult in a dollhouse.
44immensely, though in the book
45there wasn't even a sketch,
46only a picture of huge fragments.
47In the pyramid's deep clockworks,
48did the narrow tunnels mount toward
49the eye of God? That was the year
50photos were beamed back from space;
51falling asleep I used to repeat a new word
53it seemed to allude to something storied.
54The earth was whorled marble,
55at that distance. Even the stuck-on porticoes
56and collonades downtown were narrative,
57somehow, but the buildings my father engineered
58were without stories. All I wanted
59was something larger than our ordinary sadness --
60greater not in scale but in context,
61memorable, true to a proportioned,
62subtle form. Last year I knew a student,
63a half mad boy who finally opened his arms
64with a razor, not because he wanted to die
65but because he wanted to design something grand
66on his own body. Once he said, When a child
67realizes his parents aren't enough,
68he turns to architecture.
69I think I know what he meant.
70Imagine the Masons parading,
71one of them, in his splendid get-up,
72striding forward with the golden staff,
74a form we cannot separate
75from the stories about the form,
76even if we hardly know them,
77even if it no longer signifies, if it only shines.
Copyright 1991 Bethlehem in Broad Daylight: Poems by Mark Doty David R. Godine.
Digital Facsimile of Original Pages

Notes

1] The ranks of the Freemasons, a fraternity, include Turkish titles like `Potentate' and `Vizier.' Its symbols are stonemasons' tools, the crossed compass and the square. Back to Line
9] hierophants: ancient Greek priests. Back to Line
18] Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), a US philantropist by whose generosity many American public libraries were founded. Back to Line
23] A book like John Loraine Abbott's The Wonders of the World (Hartford: Case, 1856). See Alaa K. Ashmawy's "The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World": the great pyramid of Giza, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the temple of Zeus at Olympia, the temple of Artemis at Epheseus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the lighthouse of Alexandria. Back to Line
30] The poet's father was an army engineer. Back to Line
36] Babylon's ziggurat: a square pyramidal temple-tower, where each ascending level was smaller than those below, so that a terrace formed at each floor that held trees and gardens. Babylon was an ancient Assyrian city, south of present-day Baghdad, Iraq, near the Euphrates River. Back to Line
38] the Colossus of Rhodes: a Greek island in the Aegean Sea whose port was dominated by a huge (now lost) statue. Back to Line
40] the Parthenon: an ancient Greek temple on the acropolis of Athens that is dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Back to Line
43] Halicarnassus: now Bodrum, on the Aegean Sea in south-west Turkey, where the mausoleum of King Mausollos was built about 350 B.C. Back to Line
52] telemetry: transmitting measurements from afar. On October 4, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite. The year "photos were beamed back from space" was evidently 1959, when Vanguard II transmitted the first photograph from space of earth's cloud cover. Back to Line
73] Cheops: otherwise known as Khufu, king of Egypt, whose Great Pyramid (built about 2560 B.C.) stands in Giza, a necropolis of ancient Memphis, now part of Cairo. Back to Line
Publication Notes: 
Dog Pond Review
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2000.
Rhyme: 
Form: 
Special Copyright: 

This poem cannot be published anywhere without the written consent of Mark Doty.