Mark Doty's poem "Atlantis," which appears in a collection of the same name, primarily concerns Doty's partner, Wally, who is stricken with AIDS. At first, death seems like an oppressive inevitability. The first section, "Faith," concerns the speaker's recurring dream of walking with his partner and their dog, which always runs into traffic and is killed. In this section, the dog's death is juxtaposed with the news of Wally's illness:
It's been six months,
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote
not even a real word
but an acronym, a vacant
that draws meanings into itself,
reconstitutes the world.
There is no light or hope to be found at this point in the poem. There is only the disease, which nullifies everything.
The piece takes a turn in the fourth section, "Atlantis." Here we see an extended description of a marsh, and this landscape becomes a key metaphor. The tide goes out, but it comes back again: "and our dependable marsh reappears / —emptied of that starched and angular grace // that spirited the ether, lessened, / but here." Observing that natural process of diminishment and rejuvenation provides the speaker some solace. Even when death is so close, life and hope still remain.
Doty underscores this renewal of hope in the final two sections of the poem. The fifth section, "Coastal," concerns a young girl who has carried a sick loon away from the beach with the intention of saving it. It is likely that the loon will die, but girl wants to help it anyway. The speaker calls her a "stubborn girl" at the end of the section, though it is hard not to hear a little admiration there. That stubbornness, that assertion of life in the face of death, that the girl shows also appears in Wally in the final section, "New Dog." Despite his frailty, Wally wants the speaker to get another dog. When the speaker returns home with the energetic Beau, there is an instant connection between the dog and the dying man. Even though the tide goes out, it always returns. Even when death is just around the corner, life will always be close by, too.