Demolition

Original Text: 
© My Alexandria: Poems by Mark Doty (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993): 1-3. PS 3554 O798M9 1993 Robarts Library
2in the rain; all day they've torn at the back
3of the building, "the oldest concrete structure
4in New England," the newspaper said. By afternoon,
5when the backhoe claw appears above
6three stories of columns and cornices,
7the crowd beneath their massed umbrellas cheer.
8Suddenly the stairs seem to climb down themselves,
9atomized plaster billowing: dust of 1907's
10rooming house, this year's bake shop and florist's,
11the ghosts of their signs faint above the windows
12lined, last week, with loaves and blooms.
13We love disasters that have nothing to do
14with us: the metal scoop seems shy, tentative,
15a Japanese monster tilting its yellow head
16and considering what to topple next. It's a weekday,
17and those of us with the leisure to watch
18are out of work, unemployable or academics,
19joined by a thirst for watching something fall.
20All summer, at loose ends, I've read biographies,
22over a fallen hero lurching down a Paris boulevard,
23talking his way to dinner or a drink,
24unable to forget the vain and stupid boy
25he allowed to ruin him. And I dreamed
26I was Lowell, in a manic flight of failing
27and ruthless energy, and understood
28how wrong I was with a passionate exactitude
29which had to be like his. A month ago,
30at Saint-Gauden's house, we ran from a startling downpour
31into coincidence: under a loggia built
32for performances on the lawn
33hulked Shaw's monument, splendid
34in its plaster maquette, the ramrod-straight colonel
35high above his black troops. We crouched on wet gravel
37-- a wingless angel? -- floating horizontally
38above the soldiers, her robe billowing like plaster dust,
39seemed so far above us, another century's
40allegorical decor, an afterthought
41who'd never descend to the purely physical
42soldiers, the nearly breathing bronze ranks crushed
43into a terrible compression of perspective,
44as if the world hurried them into the ditch.
46And when the brutish metal rears
47above the wall of unglazed windows --
48where, in a week, the kids will skateboard
49in their lovely loops and spray
50their indecipherable ideograms
51across the parking lot -- the single standing wall
52seems Roman, momentarily, an aqueduct,
53all that's left of something difficult
54to understand now, something Oscar
56Aqueducts and angels, here on Main,
57seem merely souvenirs; the gaps
58where the windows opened once
59into transients' rooms are pure sky.
60It's strange how much more beautiful
61the sky is to us when it's framed
62by these columned openings someone meant us
63to take for stone. The enormous, articulate shovel
64nudges the highest row of moldings
65and the whole thing wavers as though we'd dreamed it,
66our black classic, and it topples all at once.
Copyright 1993 My Alexandria: Poems by Mark Doty University of Illinois Press

Notes

1] "`Demolition' is for David Wojahn. The poem is set, in part, at the home of August Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, New Hampshire, where models of the sculptor's works are displayed, including the maquette for the monument to Colonel Shaw in the Boston Common." [Author's note] Doty also writes that "The poem takes place in Montpelier, Vermont" (e-mail to the Editor, Dec. 14, 2000). Back to Line
21] Wilde: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), a British poet imprisoned for homosexuality. One biography of him is by Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (New York: Knopf, 1988).
Robert Lowell: American poet (1917-77). One biography of him is by Jeffrey Meyers, Manic power: Robert Lowell and his circle (New York: Arbor House, 1987). Back to Line
36] hieratic: heiratic in original; Egyptian priestess. Back to Line
45] From Wilde's dialogue "The Decay of Lying" in Intentions (1905): "In spite of their endeavours, the truth will out. Newspapers, even, have degenerated. They may now be absolutely relied upon. One feels it as one wades through their columns. It is always the unreadable that occurs. I am afraid that there is not much to be said in favour of either the lawyer or the journalist. Besides what I am pleading for is Lying in art ..." Back to Line
55] Bosie: Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1991
Publication Notes: 
Poetry 158.4 (July 1991): 208-09. PS 301 P6 Robarts Library
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.