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Mark Doty - 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. 

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Poet: Mark Doty
Poem: Demolition
Poem of the Day: Mar 10 2012
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