One Poem by Mark Doty

from Leaning Toward Light

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Deep Lane

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:

break-table, slab no blow could dent
rung with the making, and out of that chop and rot
comes the fresh surf of the lupines.

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?

Dusky skin of the tuber, naked worms
who write on the soil every letter,
my companion blind, all day we go digging,

harrowing, rooting deep. Spade-plunge
and trowel, sweet turned-down gas flame
slow-charring carbon, out of which sprouts

the wild unsayable.
Beauty’s the least of it:
you get ready,

like Deborah, who used to garden in the dark,
hauling out candles and a tall glass of what she said was tea,
and digging and reading and studying in the dirt.

She’d bring a dictionary. If study is prayer, she said, I’m praying.
If you’ve already gone down to the anvil, if you’ve rested your face
on that adamant, maybe you’re already changed.



Leaning Toward Light: Poems for Gardens and the Hands That Tend Them, edited by Tess TaylorThis poem is excerpted from Leaning Toward Light: Poems for Gardens and the Hands That Tend Them (Storey Publishing, 2023), edited by Tess Taylor, a beautiful poetry anthology offering a warm, inviting selection of poems from a wide range of voices that speak to the collective urge to grow, tend, and heal—an evocative celebration of our connection to the green world.

This is the third of five poems from the anthology reprinted in over the first week of September 2023. As an introduction to the poems, read Tess Taylor’s “Poems and Gardens as Kind Companions”.

This poem is reprinted by permission of the editor and publisher.


Mark DotyMark Doty is the author of nine books of poetry, including Deep Lane (2015); Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, which won the 2008 National Book Award; and My Alexandria, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He is also the author of four memoirs: the New York Times bestseller Dog Years, What Is the Grass, Firebird, and Heaven’s Coast, as well as a book about craft and criticism, The Art of Description: World Into Word. Doty has received two NEA Fellowships, Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships,  a Lisa Wallace/Readers Digest Award, and the Witter Byner Prize.

Header image by Melissa Castrillón, from Leaning Toward Light. Photo of Mark Doty by Dimitris Yeros. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.