Treasure Island

Mark Doty

(10 August 1953 / Maryville, Tennessee)

Demolition


The intact facade's now almost black
in the rain; all day they've torn at the back
of the building, "the oldest concrete structure
in New England," the newspaper said. By afternoon,
when the backhoe claw appears above
three stories of columns and cornices,

the crowd beneath their massed umbrellas cheer.
Suddenly the stairs seem to climb down themselves,
atomized plaster billowing: dust of 1907's
rooming house, this year's bake shop and florist's,
the ghosts of their signs faint above the windows
lined, last week, with loaves and blooms.

We love disasters that have nothing to do
with us: the metal scoop seems shy, tentative,
a Japanese monster tilting its yellow head
and considering what to topple next. It's a weekday,
and those of us with the leisure to watch
are out of work, unemployable or academics,

joined by a thirst for watching something fall.
All summer, at loose ends, I've read biographies,
Wilde and Robert Lowell, and fallen asleep
over a fallen hero lurching down a Paris boulevard,
talking his way to dinner or a drink,
unable to forget the vain and stupid boy

he allowed to ruin him. And I dreamed
I was Lowell, in a manic flight of failing
and ruthless energy, and understood
how wrong I was with a passionate exactitude
which had to be like his. A month ago,
at Saint-Gauden's house, we ran from a startling downpour

into coincidence: under a loggia built
for performances on the lawn
hulked Shaw's monument, splendid
in its plaster maquette, the ramrod-straight colonel
high above his black troops. We crouched on wet gravel
and waited out the squall; the hieratic woman

-- a wingless angel? -- floating horizontally
above the soldiers, her robe billowing like plaster dust,
seemed so far above us, another century's
allegorical decor, an afterthought
who'd never descend to the purely physical
soldiers, the nearly breathing bronze ranks crushed

into a terrible compression of perspective,
as if the world hurried them into the ditch.
"The unreadable," Wilde said, "is what occurs."
And when the brutish metal rears
above the wall of unglazed windows --
where, in a week, the kids will skateboard

in their lovely loops and spray
their indecipherable ideograms
across the parking lot -- the single standing wall
seems Roman, momentarily, an aqueduct,
all that's left of something difficult
to understand now, something Oscar

and Bosie might have posed before, for a photograph.
Aqueducts and angels, here on Main,
seem merely souvenirs; the gaps
where the windows opened once
into transients' rooms are pure sky.
It's strange how much more beautiful

the sky is to us when it's framed
by these columned openings someone meant us
to take for stone. The enormous, articulate shovel
nudges the highest row of moldings
and the whole thing wavers as though we'd dreamed it,
our black classic, and it topples all at once.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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