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By Mark Doty

Grateful for their tour
of the pharmacy,
the first-grade class
has drawn these pictures,
each self-portrait taped
to the window-glass,
faces wide to the street,
round and available,
with parallel lines for hair.


I like this one best: Brian,
whose attenuated name
fills a quarter of the frame,
stretched beside impossible
legs descending from the ball
of his torso, two long arms
springing from that same
central sphere. He breathes here,


on his page. It isn’t craft
that makes this figure come alive;
Brian draws just balls and lines,
in wobbly crayon strokes.
Why do some marks
seem to thrill with life,
possess a portion
of the nervous energy
in their maker’s hand?


That big curve of a smile
reaches nearly to the rim
of his face; he holds
a towering ice cream,
brown spheres teetering
on their cone,
a soda fountain gift
half the length of him
—as if it were the flag


of his own country held high
by the unadorned black line
of his arm. Such naked support
for so much delight! Artless boy,
he’s found a system of beauty:
he shows us pleasure
and what pleasure resists.
The ice cream is delicious.
He’s frail beside his relentless standard.


“Brian Age Seven” from Source by Mark Doty. Copyright © 2001 by Mark Doty. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Source (HarperCollins, 2001)

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Poet Bio

Mark Doty
Mark Doty was born in Tennessee but grew up in the American Southwest—an upbringing vividly rendered in his extraordinary 1999 autobiography Firebird. His first book of poems appeared in 1987, but it was his third, My Alexandria (1993), which brought him wide acclaim, showcasing a brilliant style and elegiac sensibility similar to those of Elizabeth Bishop. His meticulous descriptions poignantly convey the transitory beauty of life and love. See More By This Poet

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