Photographers Unknown, What Do We Want In Any Body But the World?
When the beautiful young man drowned—
accidentally, swimming at dawn
in a current too swift for him,
or obedient to some cult
of total immersion that promised
the bather would come up divine,
mortality rinsed from him—
Hadrian placed his image everywhere,
a marble Antinoüs staring across
the public squares where a few dogs
always scuffled, planted
in every squalid little crossroads
at the furthest corners of the Empire.
What do we want in any body
but the world? And if the lover’s
inimitable form was nowhere,
then he would find it everywhere,
though the boy became simply more dead
as the sculptors embodied him.
Wherever Hadrian might travel,
the beloved figure would be there
first: the turn of his shoulders,
the exact marble nipples,
the drowned face not really lost
to the Nile—which has no appetite,
merely takes in anything
without judgment or expectation—
but lost into its own multiplication,
an artifice rubbed with oils and acid
so that the skin might shine.
Which of these did I love?
Here is his hair, here his hair
again. Here the chiseled liquid waist
I hold because I cannot hold it.
If only one of you, he might have said
to any of the thousand marble boys anywhere,
would speak. Or the statues might have been enough,
the drowned boy blurred as much by memory
as by water, molded toward an essential,
remote ideal. Longing, of course,
become its own object, the way
that desire can make anything into a god.
Mark Doty, The Death of Antinoüs, Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, 1990
Born in August of 1953 in Maryville, Tennessee, Mark Doty is an American poet and memoirist who is best known for his 1993 volume “My Alexandria”, which won the T.S. Eliot Prize, Britain’s most prestigious award for a collection of poetry. Born into an army family, he spent his early life in various sun-belt cities in the western and southern sections of the United States. Unsure of his sexual identity, Doty married at age eighteen and divorced after completion of his undergraduate studies at Iowa’s Drake University.
Doty earned his Master’s Degree in creative writing from Goddard College in Vermont. While at college, he met Wally Roberts who would become his first great love and lifetime partner. They lived together in Manhattan and Provincetown for twelve years. Roberts tested positive for HIV in 1989; his illness and death in 1994 became a pivotal event in Doty’s development as a person and a poet.
Known for his intelligent and elegant verse, Mark Doty composes well-formed and aesthetic free verse poems, honest and direct elegies to Roberts and others lost, and lyrical poems that examine urban gay life. Doty’s work is molded from his individual character and from the specific experiences he has uniquely endured.
Mark Doty’s first collection of poems, entitled “Turtle, Swan”, was published in 1987. Written from a gay perspective, the volume explored themes of childhood memories and nostalgia, the fragility of life, fate, hope and survival. Doty published his second collection of poems “Bethlehem in Broad Daylight” in 1991. His poem from that collection “Tiara”, which critiqued society’s perception and treatment of homosexual AIDS sufferers, was printed earlier in the anthology “Poets for Life: Seventy-Six Poets Respond to AIDS”.
Doty’s third book of poetry “My Alexandria”, published in 1993, was written before Wally Roberts developed symptoms of the HIV virus. In contrast to poems of remembered youth in his earlier works, these poems contemplate an adult view of the prospect of mortality and the desperate attempts to try to make impending loss even momentarily bearable. This third collection was chosen for the National Poetry Series and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Doty’s winning of the T.S. Eliot Prize for this work made him the first American poet to win Britain’s annual award.
Among Mark Doty’s many poetry collections are the 1995 “Atlantis”, a mixture of his own memories and letters from friends written in response to the tragedy of Wally Roberts’s illness and death; the 2001 “Source”, a collection of lyrical works on the paradox of self-perception; and the 2008 “Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems”, a collection written over twenty years on our mortal situation, the transforming power of desire, and the ability of art to shape human lives. “Fire to Fire” received the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008. All three collections received the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Poetry in their published year.
Doty’s memoirs include the 1996 “Heaven’s Coast”, a deeply-felt, painful account of his thoughts after learning Roberts’s AIDS diagnosis; the 1999 “Firebird: A Memoir” an autobiography of his childhood from age six to sixteen in Arizona and the American South; the 2007 “Dog Years” an poignant account of his adoption of the dog Beau as a companion for Roberts during his darkest days; and the 2020 “What is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life”, an exploration of Whitman’s life and poetry and the effect Whitman’s work had on Doty’s own work and experiences. “Dog Years” was a New York Times Bestseller and won both the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir/Biography and the Stonewall Book Award.
Mark Doty has taught at Princeton University, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Iowa, Columbia University, Cornell, and the New York University. He is currently Distinguished Professor and Writer in Residence in the English Department of Rutgers University. Doty lives with his husband Alexander Hadel in New York City and in the hamlet of The Springs in East Hampton, New York. The couple married in October of 2015 in Muir Woods National Monument.
An extensive 1998 interview with Mark Doty by Dale Boyer for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs on Doty’s life and craft can be found at: https://www.awpwriter.org/magazine_media/writers_chronicle_view/1689/an_interview_with_mark_doty
A collection of fifteen poems and two prose pieces by Mark Doty can be found at the Poetry Foundation, a resource for new and contemporary poets. His biography and poems can be found at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/mark-doty