Sunday, November 06, 2005

Brilliance by Mark Doty

Maggie's taking care of a man
who's dying; he's attended to everything,
said goodbye to his parents,

paid off his credit card.
She says Why don't you just
run it up to the limit?


but he wants everything
squared away, no balance owed,
though he misses the pets

he's already found a home for
-he can't be around dogs or cats,
too much risk. He says,

I can't have anything.
She says, A bowl of goldfish?
He says he doesn't want to start

with anything and then describes
the kind he'd maybe like,
how their tails would fan

to a gold flaring. They talk
about hot jewel tones,
gold lacquer, say maybe

they'll go pick some out
though he can't go much of anywhere and then
abruptly he says I can't love

anything I can't finish.

He says it like he's had enough
of the whole scintillant world,

though what he means is
he'll never be satisfied and therefore
has established this discipline,

a kind of sever rehearsal.
That's where they leave it,
him looking out the window,

her knitting as she does because
she needs to do something.
Later he leaves a message:

Yes to the bowl of goldfish.
Meaning: let me go, if I have to,
in brilliance. In a story I read,

a Zen master who'd perfeted
his detachment from the things of the world
remembered, at the moment of dying,

a deer he used to feed in the park
and wondered who might care for it,
and at that instant was reborn

in the stunned flesh of a fawn.
So, Maggie's friend-
is he going out

into the last loved object
of his attention?
Fanning the veined translucence

of an opulent tail,
undulant in some uncapturable curve,
is he bronze chrysanthemums,

copper leaf, hurried darting,
doubloons, icon-colored fins
troubling the water?

I feel like what makes this poem interesting is that it has themes of big things like death, rebirth, and the afterlife, but the story is told through the smallest details like the moving of a goldfish's tail. This poem spoke to me because I felt it was very innocent and sad- there's something very pure about a dying man appreciating keeping a goldfish, and describing what type of goldfish he wants, during his very last days. I feel like even though the poem talks about death, it is still optimistic especially in the last paragraphs of entertaining the possibility that this dying man who cares so much about a small goldfish could somehow enter that life after his current one. The images are wonderful and colorful and really place a lot of importance on the small things in life.

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