Friday poem: 'Atlantis'

02 December 2016

By Mark Doty

'I’ve been having these 
awful dreams, each a little different, 
though the core’s the same — 
 
we’re walking in a field, 
Wally and Arden and I, a stretch of grass 
with a highway running beside it, 
 
or a path in the woods that opens 
onto a road. Everything’s fine, 
then the dog sprints ahead of us, 
 
excited; we’re calling but 
he’s racing down a scent and doesn’t hear us, 
and that’s when he goes 
 
onto the highway. I don’t want to describe it. 
Sometimes it’s brutal and over, 
and others he’s struck and takes off 
 
so we don’t know where he is 
or how bad. This wakes me 
every night now, and I stay awake; 
 
I’m afraid if I sleep I’ll go back 
into the dream. It’s been six months, 
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote 
 
not even a real word 
but an acronym, a vacant 
four-letter cipher 
 
that draws meanings into itself, 
reconstitutes the world. 
We tried to say it was just 
 
a word; we tried to admit 
it had power and thus to nullify it 
by means of our acknowledgement. 
 
I know the current wisdom: 
bright hope, the power of wishing you’re well. 
He’s just so tired, though nothing 
 
shows in any tests, Nothing, 
the doctor says, detectable; 
the doctor doesn’t hear what I do, 
 
that trickling, steadily rising nothing 
that makes him sleep all day, 
vanish into fever’s tranced afternoons, 
 
and I swear sometimes 
when I put my head to his chest 
I can hear the virus humming 
 
like a refrigerator. 
Which is what makes me think 
you can take your positive attitude 
 
and go straight to hell. 
We don’t have a future, 
we have a dog. 
      Who is he? 
 
Soul without speech, 
sheer, tireless faith, 
he is that-which-goes-forward, 
 
black muzzle, black paws 
scouting what’s ahead; 
he is where we’ll be hit first, 
 
he’s the part of us 
that’s going to get it. 
I’m hardly awake on our morning walk 
 
—always just me and Arden now— 
and sometimes I am still 
in the thrall of the dream, 
 
which is why, when he took a step onto Commercial 
before I’d looked both ways, 
I screamed his name and grabbed his collar. 
 
And there I was on my knees, 
both arms around his neck 
and nothing coming, 
 
and when I looked into that bewildered face 
I realized I didn’t know what it was 
I was shouting at, 
 
I didn’t know who I was trying to protect.'

 

An extract from Mark Doty's 'Atlantis', featured in Colm Tóibín's Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar.

>>>Read the full poem here

Yesterday, on World AIDS Day, we published David France's How To Survive A Plague, a powerful and profoundly moving story of the AIDS epidemic and the grass-roots movement of activists, many of them facing their own life-or-death struggles, who grabbed the reins of scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Around the globe, the 15.8 million people taking anti-AIDS drugs today are alive thanks to their efforts. 

'That anyone with HIV had a chance for an ordinary life was thanks to the work they did.'
 

>>>Start reading How To Survive A Plague

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