Difference

By Mark Doty b. 1953 Mark Doty
The jellyfish
float in the bay shallows
like schools of clouds,

a dozen identical — is it right
to call them creatures,
these elaborate sacks

of nothing? All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop

of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave's span,

every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open on both ends

but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower.

This one a rolled condom,
or a plastic purse swallowing itself,
that one a Tiffany shade,

this a troubled parasol.
This submarine opera's
all subterfuge and disguise,

its plot a fabulous tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope,

nothing but something
forming itself into figures
then refiguring,

sheer ectoplasm
recognizable only as the stuff
of metaphor. What can words do

but link what we know
to what we don't,
and so form a shape?

Which shrinks or swells,
configures or collapses, blooms
even as it is described

into some unlikely
marine chiffon:
a gown for Isadora?

Nothing but style.
What binds
one shape to another

also sets them apart
— but what's lovelier
than the shapeshifting

transparence of like and as:
clear, undulant words?
We look at alien grace,

unfettered
by any determined form,
and we say: balloon, flower,

heart, condom, opera,
lampshade, parasol, ballet.
Hear how the mouth,

so full
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?

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Poet Mark Doty b. 1953

Subjects Nature, Animals, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Simile, Metaphor, Ars Poetica

 Mark  Doty

Biography

Since the publication of his first volume of verse, Turtle, Swan, in 1987, Mark Doty has been recognized as one of the most accomplished poets in America. Hailed for his elegant, intelligent verse, Doty has often been compared to James Merrill, Walt Whitman and C.P. Cavafy. His syntactically complex and aesthetically profound free verse poems, odes to urban gay life, and quietly brutal elegies to his lover, Wally Roberts, have . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Animals, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Simile, Metaphor, Ars Poetica

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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