“A Display of Mackerel” by Mark Doty

They lie in parallel rows, 
on ice, head to tail, 
each a foot of luminosity

barred with black bands, 
which divide the scales’ 
radiant sections 

like seams of lead 
in a Tiffany window. 
Iridescent, watery 

prismatics: think abalone, 
the wildly rainbowed 
mirror of a soapbubble sphere, 

think sun on gasoline. 
Splendor, and splendor, 
and not a one in any way 

distinguished from the other 
—nothing about them 
of individuality. Instead 

they’re all exact expressions 
of the one soul, 
each a perfect fulfilment 

of heaven’s template, 
mackerel essence. As if, 
after a lifetime arriving 

at this enameling, the jeweler’s 
made uncountable examples, 
each as intricate 

in its oily fabulation 
as the one before 
Suppose we could iridesce, 

like these, and lose ourselves 
entirely in the universe 
of shimmer—would you want 

to be yourself only, 
unduplicatable, doomed 
to be lost? They’d prefer, 

plainly, to be flashing participants, 
multitudinous. Even now 
they seem to be bolting 

forward, heedless of stasis. 
They don’t care they’re dead 
and nearly frozen, 

just as, presumably, 
they didn’t care that they were living: 
all, all for all, 

the rainbowed school 
and its acres of brilliant classrooms, 
in which no verb is singular, 

or every one is. How happy they seem, 
even on ice, to be together, selfless, 
which is the price of gleaming.

From Atlantis, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 1995 by Mark Doty.

What images, phrases or sounds stand out to you?  What in this poem speaks to you today?


 

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