When I’m down on my knees pulling up wild mustard
by the roots before it sets seed, hauling the old ferns
further into the shade, I’m talking to the anvil of darkness [.]
It’s a tricky collection to review, only because nine of the poems scattered through it are entitled “Deep Lane”, a road near Doty’s home which he clearly loves to walk. He writes about the lane and its bordering landscape and also about the contemplations and memories which arise on his strolls there. Reading these “Deep Lane” poems is to accompany Doty on his reflective walks or working in his garden – observing nature, remembering his relationship with his mother, walking the dog.
There’s a beautiful sensuality to Doty’s writing, whether he is writing about sexual desire or gardening:
When the shovel slips into white root-flesh,
into the meat coursing with cool water,
when I’m grubbing on my knees, what is the hammer?
(“Deep Lane (When I’m down on my knees…)”)
From all of this “sprouts/the wild unsayable”, the strangeness and sacredness experienced in everyday life. One of the most beautiful “Deep Lane” poems concerns picking radishes which Doty so aptly and precisely describes as “impossible bundles of thunder”. Nothing is too tiny or mundane for Doty to write about. The fourth “Deep Lane” poem opens:
Into Eden came the ticks,
princes of this world,
heat-seeking, tiny, multitudinous
– Lord, why have you given them
a heart, a nervous system, a lit microchip
of a – brain, is it? – if not to invite Manicheanism [.]
Doty draws his readers in with the very accuracy and astuteness of his observations about relationships, particularly those aspects so fleeting or so messy that we tend to bury them. Sometimes, he engages us more directly. In the fifth “Deep Lane” poem, for example, he asks himself and us, caustically:
…Don’t you wish the road of excess
led to the palace of wisdom, wouldn’t that be nice?
One of my favourite poems in the collection is “Pescadero” in which Doty comes across a little goat in a field who:
Pushes her mouth forward to my mouth,
so that I can see the smallish squared seeds of her teeth,
She loves me,
she likes me a lot, she takes interest in me, she doesn’t know
me at all.
In this beautifully tender poem, Doty both describes so accurately the nature and presence of the goat but also our human tendency to anthropomorphise in order to relate to the natural world.
In the poem, “Crystal”, about taking methamphetamine with another man, Doty captures a tiny yet transformative moment:
He said, You’ll probably cough, that’s normal.
Then began the finding of the vein, no reason
in the world you’d understand the eros of this
unless you’d also..Then he entered me, so to speak,
though I knew I was the one walking
without hesitation through the door he held open,
and in a moment I want to write I did cough
but that is suddenly the crux of it:
moment, what is that?
Doty’s metaphysical interventions are almost shocking, like a short circuit in amongst his sensuously descriptive words. In the long poem, “King of Fire Island”, he describes a stag, a regular visitor,
his antlers turned in oddly,
each mirroring the other
– wouldn’t they collide?
What grows in toward itself,
how can it find company among
I love this collection – there’s passion, wit, tenderness, grace and, above all, depth.