The Pink Palace serves many functions —a place to collect and care for objects related to the MidSouth, an educational facility, a venue to get married and a motivation for creative works. Mark Doty is one person whose visit to the museum inspired a personal interpretation. Doty is a well-respected contemporary poet who currently teaches at Rochester University in addition to writing. His poems and prose works won the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry, a T.S. Eliot Prize in the United Kingdom and many other commendations. He included the poem “The Pink Palace” in his first published book titled Turtle. Swan.
The Pink Palace
My father would take me, Saturdays,
to an unfinished mansion: a rich eccentric
had built a few rooms and a facade
of pink granite before the money ran out
and the fragments became property of the state,
a museum for children. Of what
I’m not sure—I remember only one room,
a wall of tiny doors, some at floor level,
others all the way up to the ceiling.
I would open the lowest; he would hoist me
to others so I could stare inside until
he grew tired of holding me. Behind the doors,
behind glass, a tree, huge in memory,
hung with all the glory of taxidermy: robin
and jay, squirrels racing or paused, sitting upright,
everything that lived overhead.
Many windows: each would yield
a little. I thought if I could see it all
the tree would spread like a Sunday school story
of paradise, bearing up on its branches
all the finished houses of heaven. And these
were the citizens: openmouthed blackbird
fixed in the position of cry, eggs
arranged in the nest, incapable of change.
I know I magnified the tree.
Maybe if I’d see it all at once
it could never have held so many—
the visible, the mostly hidden,
glowing feathers behind the leaves.
Were there leaves at all?
That summer the outings with my father ended.
The Pink Palace, and then nothing.
Whatever he intended, what he showed me
seemed a lesson—that no single view will hold.
As if he knew I’d need to tell myself
A story—one strong enough to carry me,
and not in his favor—and whatever I told myself
would be incomplete, that nothing will ever
be finished except the past, which is too large
to apprehend at once. All that changes
is the frame we choose. And so he said
as he clutched my waist between his two big hands, See,
look at this one, and held me higher.
From Turtle. Swan by Mark Doty
Reprinted with permission of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.
Copyright © 1987