Deep Lane

I started this morning reading poetry, and couldn’t have found a better book of contemporary American poems than Mark Doty’s Deep Lane. He writes about memory, love, and human connections. Masterfully, he encases most of these themes in strikingly beautiful nature poems.

How gifted Doty is describing things as ordinary as a deer in a backyard, when he writes ”a buck in velvet at the garden rim, / bronze lightly shagged, split thumbs / of antlers budding.”

He also celebrates humanity in everyday New York City: the three barbers he visited for ten years who suddenly disappeared, the one-armed man at the gym, his old friend, Dugan, who appears suddenly on 15th Street, “—why shouldn’t the dead / sport a little style?”

In “Spent” he recalls a day he locked himself out of his house twice and had to break in through the dining room window, “this time it’s simpler: the window-frame, // the radiator, my descent. Born twice / in one day!”

A rich sense of joy in life permeates these poems. In one he describes an interaction with a neighbor’s goat; the ungulate came up to the fence and gave the speaker a kiss. The poet describe the goat as “the field’s small envoy, and / the splayed hoof, / fragrant with soil, has rested on the fence-board beside my hand.”

Doty also shows his own vulnerability and occasional failings. He writes about taking drugs, or at least the speaker of one poem does. In another, he describe an AA meeting.

The memory of his many friends and loved ones who died in the AIDS epidemic hovers over several of these poems. Also, his dead parents speak to him in a couple--even his father, who refused to converse with Doty for the last half-decade of his life.

The gardening poems, and there are quite a few of them here, best evoke the human connectedness to nature. Here is Doty’s take on the gardener’s art: “Spade-plunge / and trowel, sweet turned-down gas flame / Slow charring carbon, out of which sprouts // the wild unsayable.”

As Doty says in this poem, “Beauty’s the least of it: you get ready.”