Mark Doty

(10 August 1953 / Maryville, Tennessee)

A Display Of Mackerel


They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail,
each a foot of luminosity
barred with black bands,
which divide the scales'
radiant sections

like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
Iridescent, watery

prismatics: think abalone,
the wildly rainbowed
mirror of a soap-bubble sphere,

think sun on gasoline.
Splendor, and splendor,
and not a one in any way

distinguished from the other
- nothing about them
of individuality. Instead

they're all exact expressions
of the one soul,
each a perfect fulfillment

of heaven's template,
mackerel essence. As if,
after a lifetime arriving

at this enameling, the jeweler's
made uncountable examples
each as intricate

in its oily fabulation
as the one before;
a cosmos of champleve.

Suppose we could iridesce,
like these, and lose ourselves
entirely in the universe

of shimmer- would you want
to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed

to be lost? They'd prefer,
plainly, to be flashing participants,
multitudinous. Even on ice

they seem to be bolting
forward, heedless of stasis.
They don't care they're dead

and nearly frozen,
just as, presumably,
they didn't care that they were living:

all, all for all,
the rainbowed school
and its acres of brilliant classrooms,

in which no verb is singular,
or every one is. How happy they seem,
even on ice, to be together, selfless,

which is the price of gleaming.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
Edited: Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Topic of this poem: life


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Comments about this poem (A Display Of Mackerel by Mark Doty )

  • Bronze Star - 5,558 Points Lorraine Margueritte Gasrel Black (9/6/2014 10:31:00 AM)

    nothing like a row of clones and look alikes... no individuality no differences... i never realized how each different species of fish looked exactly the same as each other..a flounder looks like another flounder etc..great detail in the writing with a wonderful philosophical view..it begs me to say Holy Mackeral! ! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 5 Points Charles Boyer (1/31/2012 6:13:00 PM)

    I think Mark Doty's great. An heir to Marianne Moore in his precise use of language and eye for the visual detail. Never bombastic or tedious or pretentious. And no postmodern gibberish. He'll last. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 5 Points Charles Boyer (1/31/2012 6:09:00 PM)

    I think Mark Doty's great. An heir to Marianne Moore in his precise use of language and eye for the visual detail. Never bombastic or tedious or pretentious. And no postmodern gibberish. He'll last. (Report) Reply

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