Homo Will Not Inherit

Original Text: 
© Mark Doty, Atlantis: Poems (HarperPerennial, 1995): 76-79. PS 3554 O798A8 1995 Robarts Library
2of bathhouse steam -- up there the linens of joy
3and shame must be laundered again and again,
4all night -- downtown anywhere
5and between the column of feathering steam
6unknotting itself thirty feet above the avenue's
7shimmered azaleas of gasoline,
8between the steam and the ruin
10its own milky vacancy, broken showcases sealed,
11ticketbooth a hostage wrapped in tape
12and black plastic, captive in this zone
13of blackfronted bars and bookstores
14where there's nothing to read
15but longing's repetitive texts,
16where desire's unpoliced, or nearly so)
17someone's posted a xeroxed headshot
18of Jesus: permed, blonde, blurred at the edges
19as though photographed through a greasy lens,
20and inked beside him, in marker strokes:
22I'll tell you what I'll inherit: the margins
23which have always been mine, downtown after hours
24when there's nothing left to buy,
25the dreaming shops turned in on themselves,
26seamless, intent on the perfection of display,
27the bodegas and offices lined up, impenetrable:
28edges no one wants, no one's watching. Though
29the borders of this shadow-zone (mirror and dream
30of the shattered streets around it) are chartered
31by the police, and they are required,
32some nights, to redefine them. But not now, at twilight,
33permission's descending hour, early winter darkness
34pillared by smoldering plumes. The public city's
35ledgered and locked, but the secret city's boundless,
36from which do these tumbling towers arise?
37I'll tell you what I'll inherit: steam,
38and the blinding symmetry of some towering man,
39fifteen minutes of forgetfulness incarnate.
40I've seen flame flicker around the edges of the body,
41pentecostal, evidence of inhabitation.
42And I have been possessed of the god myself,
43I have been the temporary apparition
44salving another, I have been his visitation, I say it
45without arrogance, I have been an angel
46for minutes at a time, and I have for hours
47believed -- without judgement, without condemnation --
48that in each body, however obscured or recast,
49is the divine body -- common, habitable --
50the way in a field of sunflowers
51you can see every bloom's
52the multiple expression
53of a single shining idea,
54which is the face hammered into joy.
55I'll tell you what I'll inherit:
56stupidity, erasure, exile
57inside the chalked lines of the police,
58who must resemble what they punish,
59the exile you require of me,
60you who's posted this invitation
61to a heaven nobody wants.
62You who must be patrolled,
63who adore constraint, I'll tell you
64what I'll inherit, not your pallid temple
65but a real palace, the anticipated
66and actual memory, the moment flooded
67by skin and the knowledge of it,
68the gesture and its description
69-- do I need to say it? --
70the flesh and the word. And I'll tell you,
71you who can't wait to abandon your body,
72what you want me to, maybe something
73like you've imagined, a dirty story:
74Years ago, in the baths,
75a man walked into the steam,
76the gorgeous deep indigo of him gleaming,
77solid tight flanks, the intricately ridged abdomen --
78and after he invited me to his room,
79nudging his key toward me,
80as if perhaps I spoke another tongue
81and required the plainest of gestures,
82after we'd been, you understand,
83worshipping a while in his church,
84he said to me, I'm going to punish your mouth.
85I can't tell you what that did to me.
86My shame was redeemed then;
87I won't need to burn in the afterlife.
88It wasn't that he hurt me,
89more than that: the spirit's transactions
90are enacted now, here -- no one needs
91your eternity. This failing city's
92radiant as any we'll ever know,
93paved with oily rainbow, charred gates
94jeweled with tags, swoops of letters
95over letters, indecipherable as anything
96written by desire. I'm not ashamed
98It's written on my face as much as on
99these walls. This city's inescapable,
100gorgeous, and on fire. I have my kingdom.
Copyright 1995 Mark Doty, Atlantis: Poems HarperPerennial

Notes

1] "... for Michael Carter." [Author's note] Back to Line
9] Cinema Paree: Mark Doty notes that "The Cinema Paree was just a closed-down porn theatre in the neighborhood. It's meant to be a version of the downtown zone of any larger U.S. city, though, more than it is a specific portrait of a place" (e-mail to the Editor, Dec. 14, 2000). Back to Line
21] Cf. 1 Corinthians 9-10: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God." Back to Line
97] Babylon's scrawl: the writing that appeared on the wall before King Belshazzer of Babylon, interpreted by Daniel as condemning the king of pride. "And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5.25-28). Back to Line
Publication Notes: 
Witness
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.