Edward Doty arrived in Provincetown in 1620, signed the Compact and then was off with the rest of the Mayflower complement to Plymouth. Three hundred and seventy years later, his descendant, the poet Mark Doty (b 1953), arrived in Provincetown with his partner, Wally Roberts (1951-1994), a year after Roberts had tested positive for H.I.V. They were then living in Vermont, but it did not take them long to decide to move here. “Weary of the deep snow of Vermont, as well as its icy emotional weather, we found ourselves smitten with the coastal clutter of boarded shops and clapboard houses along the curve of the bay,” Doty wrote in Heaven’s Coast (1996). The next year, they bought this house; the first one they saw, though they looked at many others before visiting this on their own — without the real-estate broker — when they discovered a forgotten fireplace, papered over and hidden by a bureau, in an upstairs bedroom. “It was then that we fell in love,” Doty wrote, “and the making of home again began to be a project and a refuge.”
Neighborhood lore had it that the house was built in Truro and floated down the bay to Provincetown. Roberts and Doty devoted themselves to fixing the front yard, planting roses and cutting every picket of a new picket fence. “There were plenty of things in the house that could have used our attention — the kitchen remained a funky zone of 1960s knotty pine, the bathroom a grim extravaganza of blue Formica — but there was something essential about getting that garden right,” Doty wrote.
In an interview for Provincetown Arts, not long after Roberts had died and shortly before Atlantis was published, the poet Michael Klein asked Doty whether Provincetown was like any other place in his life. “One thing that it does,” Doty answered, “is take me back to some of my growing up in southern Arizona, which is a very elemental landscape, like this one, both very austere and very alive simultaneously. I feel at home. In the marsh or in the dunes there is so little, yet so very much that is intensely itself and available. And those huge, wide-open horiontals, the endlessly shifting light. My Vermont experience left me wildly hungry for light and this place offers one centuries of light.”
Doty stayed in Provincetown a dozen years after Roberts died and after telling Klein:
Coming to Provincetown was a way of giving ourselves a gift and I haven’t regretted that decision for a minute. It was exactly the right thing to do. We could set down some burdens and have a world around Wally during the last years of his life that felt safe and welcoming and loving to him. It helped us both a great deal. Of course, we could also put on wigs in Provincetown. I believe you saw me at the Halloween party doing my Stevie Nicks look-alike act?