Sunday, November 30, 2014

In Memoriam: Mark Strand, 1934–2014


The Remains

I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road.
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.
What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.
My parents rise out of their thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds.
How can I sing? Time tells me what I am.
I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.

-from Darker (1970):
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/nyregion/mark-strand-80-dies-pulitzer-winning-poet-laureate.html


I

I am writing from a place you have never been,
Where the trains don’t run, and planes
Don’t land, a place to the west,

Where heavy hedges of snow surround each house,
Where the wind screams at the moon’s blank face,
Where the people are plain, and fashions,

If they come, come late and are seen
As forms of oppression, sources of sorrow.
This is a place that sparkles a bit at 7 P.M.,

Then goes out, and slides into the funeral home
Of the stars, and everyone dreams of floating
Like angels in sweet-smelling habits,

Of being released from sundry services
Into the round of pleasures there for the asking—
Days like pages torn from a family album,

Endless reunions, the heavenly choir at the barbecue
Adjusting its tone to serve the occasion,
And everyone staring, stunned into magnitude.

-from "After Our Planet" (1992):
http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/11/29/mark-strand-1934-2014


Coming to This

We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

-from Selected Poems (1990):
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179131


In Celebration

You sit in a chair, touched by nothing, feeling
the old self become the older self, imagining
only the patience of water, the boredom of stone.
You think that silence is the extra page,
you think that nothing is good or bad, not even
the darkness that fills the house while you sit watching
it happen. You’ve seen it happen before. Your friends
move past the window, their faces soiled with regret.
You want to wave but cannot raise your hand.
You sit in a chair. You turn to the nightshade spreading
a poisonous net around the house. You taste
the honey of absence. It is the same wherever
you are, the same if the voice rots before
the body, or the body rots before the voice.
You know that desire leads only to sorrow, that sorrow
leads to achievement which leads to emptiness.
You know that this is different, that this
is the celebration, the only celebration,
that by giving yourself over to nothing,
you shall be healed. You know there is joy in feeling
your lungs prepare themselves for an ashen future,
so you wait, you stare and you wait, and the dust settles
and the miraculous hours of childhood wander in darkness.

-from Selected Poems (1990):
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179137


Lines for Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

-from New Selected Poems (2007):
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/181380


My Life

The huge doll of my body
refuses to rise.
I am the toy of women.
My mother

would prop me up for her friends.
“Talk, talk,” she would beg.
I moved my mouth
but words did not come.

My wife took me down from the shelf.
I lay in her arms. “We suffer
the sickness of self,” she would whisper.
And I lay there dumb.

Now my daughter
gives me a plastic nurser
filled with water.
“You are my real baby,” she says.

Poor child!
I look into the brown
mirrors of her eyes
and see myself

diminishing, sinking down
to a depth she does not know is there.
Out of breath,
I will not rise again.

I grow into my death.
My life is small
and getting smaller. The world is green.
Nothing is all.

-from Selected Poems (1990):
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179136


The End

Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.

-from The Continuous Life (1990):
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182871

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dark

Here, in this dark little space before sleep,
I take a look back at the day, limp with apathy,
and the days before it, the wide
yawning expanse of them...
I glimpse behind the purpose I made for it,
ill-fitting like an older sibling's,
and tenuous like hesitant sunlight...
What else are we to do, with this drudgery
of time making a mockery of us all?
What idols are we left with, now that
family and friends are only two more f-words?
The dark isn't dark enough, I can feel it in me.
It's not still enough, the scratch of my breath keeps it awake...
As if the gray creeping up my temples
wasn't sufficient a delusion of adulthood--
just because I look it doesn't mean I'm ready.
But it's not like anyone is... We all turn away,
drop our gaze, pretend we're going somewhere...
You don't have to believe when you can forget. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

"The Story" by Joe Bolton

If it rained tonight
I’d lie down
For a thousand years.

—As if nothing had happened;
As if the story
Wouldn’t tell itself forever:

No more mother, no remembered loves, and my pulse
Purified, the only sound
As I lowered myself into the depths…

But the bells are ringing up the hill,
Punishing bells,
Recounting all the arguments against me.

If I’ve created the story of my life,
Why not the story
Of not having ever lived at all?

Maybe then there wouldn’t be this burden
Of what was lost
Almost before it had arrived.

Maybe then there wouldn’t be this weight
Of what is
And what I can feel myself already losing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Death Will Come" by Cesare Pavese

Death will come and will have your eyes—
this death that accompanies us
from morning till evening, unsleeping,
deaf, like an old remorse
or an absurd vice. Your eyes
will be a useless word,
a suppressed cry, a silence.
That’s what you see each morning
when alone with yourself you lean
toward the mirror. O precious hope,
that day we too will know
that you are life and you are nothingness. 
Death has a look for everyone.
Death will come and will have your eyes.
It will be like renouncing a vice,
like seeing a dead face reappear in the mirror,
like listening to a lip that’s shut.
We’ll go down into the maelstrom mute.

Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), a poet, novelist and critic, was a major Italian author of the 20th Century. "Death Will Come and Will Have Your Eyes" was among the poems found in his desk after his suicide. Considering the circumstances, it's strikingly haunting.

(Translated by Geoffrey Brock; reposted from Poem of the Week. You can find the original Italian text, "Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi," here.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Hard Country" by Joe Bolton

"It is, even now, a hard country to live in.

Full summer is invisible fire under cypresses
Dying of thirst,
And you think of the dog days it got too hot
To do much else but sit and sweat
And watch the ground bake till it cracked.

Or, wintering, it could be the New World:
The empty duskward distances
And killing promise of mow.
You still remember the night it fell to fifteen below.
You were sitting at the kitchen table,
Ten years old,
A blanket on your lap and a bowl
Of snow cream in front of you.
Your mother was stoking the stove.
You saw, through the window, the west field
Silvered with snow and starlight. Saw
The figure of your father crossing the field,
And the load he carried curled in his arms:
A calf that had picked a bad night for being born.
He brought it in to warm by the stove,
Red ice of afterbirth melting into pools
And the poor thing’s ears already frozen off.

Now, in autumn, walking the long mile
Back from the empty mailbox,
You can see the place, what’s left of it:
Two Plymouths and a ‘34 Ford
Squat rusting, wheelless, home
To broken tools and rotten clothes, mice.
Gray barns and outbuildings lean graying.
And the white house is white
Only in memory,
For the photographs, too, have faded.
Back of the smokehouse, from limp fur, the skull
Of an eaten raccoon grins skyward.
You wonder if there was ever any glory to be had here,
And if not, then why, for two hundred years,
Anybody has bothered....

A hard country to live in, yes,
But not a hard country in which to find
A place to drown oneself.
You think of water, of the names
Of water: Sinking River. Rough River Lake,
South Fork of the Panther.
And all of it flowing Ohioward, Gulfward.

For water everywhere rages to be with other water;
Or, held isolate in ponds, in the hoofprint
Of the thousand-pound heifer after rain,
Reflects the utter emptiness of sky.

And water is as empty as sky, only
Easier to fall into,
Heavier to breathe."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Naked on the Inside

It’s on nights like this
that the wall of smiles crumbles,
dimple by sparkling squint,
with a only a faint sigh to be heard
as it crashes.
How is it that things so labored
falter so quietly?

As the roads spread ahead of us,
vast and dim,
lit half-heartedly and glistening
with the sheen of a promised storm,
the night, worn out of shopping
late at resoundingly vacant stores,
hung lifeless and limp,
an expanse of exhaustion,
over our worn out being.

Nothing was left for us,
not the effort of pretense,
not the thrill of acquisition,
not even the recurrent name of a friend.
There we were, naked on the inside,
bereft of even the comfort of joy.
We had only for company,
on that unforgiving night,
the loneliness of each other.

(Originally posted on June 10, 2007)

Monday, September 01, 2014

"The Story" by Joe Bolton

After the life is lived
And the world is what it is,
There is only the story:

At Stevensport, the Sinking, River
Empties into the Ohio,
And the Ohio widens.

Or does the story perhaps precede
The living of it, as the new day
Seems to depend on the cock’s cry?

And do the dead and the unborn occupy
The same dimensionless dimension,
Or are they simply where they seem to be?

It would be easy enough to say
What happened, could you only
Bring yourself to:
______________A girl—
No, a young woman—who has lived her life
With old-time parents on a farm
On what the Indians once called the Dark
And Bloody Ground, and who
Has a perhaps somewhat imprudent appetite
For things sensual, falls in love.
His speech and dress and manner
Are slightly strange to her at first, but she

Is taken with the simultaneous
Inward frailty and successful outward gesture
With which he lives in the world, of which
He seems already to have seen much.

In the summer of your first and one great love,
Stars flared nightly in the architecture of sky,
And the world opened up beneath that sky.
The scenes flash and fade now like summer starfall:
Parked in his white car down some dark road;
Driving to Owensboro and Bowling Green; dancing
In a little dive in Tell City, Indiana...
You see yourself—that self—like the portraits
Of those who, no longer living, live
In the flash and fade of a moment torn from time.

*

Once, the city lured her.
Once, watching the lights
Of Louisville come slowly on in summer dusk,
She thought ... what?
That this would last forever? —Or even
Outlast forever?
______________Later,
Going there to undo
What the two of you had done,
You saw how dirty-gray the city was,
As morning began and the poorer people rose
To the day’s indecencies,
And you saw you were suddenly one of them . . .
When it was over, you had to have him
Stop the car so you could throw up,
Then hugged yourself all the way home.

And she never caught sight of him again.

And so are left to remember the summer nights
When, half-drunk in your daddy’s truck or his white car,
You’d take the hills and turns on Rough River Road
At seventy, just to feel your insides rise.
And laugh for surviving it, and look for shooting stars.

The white car was all that was left of him.
No body, or note, was ever discovered.
—Only the white car, shining in September dawn,
Beside the Sinking River at Stevensport . . .
And which circumstances have, of course,
Led to speculation:
______________that he got you
Into trouble and couldn’t stand himself for it;
That you, never good, drove him. to it;
That he only wanted to make it look
As if he were dead, and is living it up
In Chicago or Indianapolis or some such place.

The rumors, unverified, multiply,
While the people you grew up with
Marry, buy farms, go bankrupt, get divorced,
And move off to the city, looking for work.

The night is starless, utterly still.

You are careful not to let these pieces
Of a narrative cohere
Into anything that might explain too much.

For you, who live in the world,
Must let the world
Remain ambiguous.

And it just wouldn’t be right
To blame a drowned boy
For not floating up bloated,

Or not leaving a note,
Or perhaps not even
Drowning himself at all.

-from "Breckinridge County Suite"

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tomorrow

Tomorrow
I shall pack my bags and leave.
I don’t know where.
I don’t know why.
But I know that I shall not be here any longer.
Tomorrow
I pile new absences atop my old ones;
I shall sniff them one more time, and disappear.
The terrazzo shall feel cold beneath my feet,
and the stale smell of the peeling blue walls shall
part ahead of my sadness. The flaps of the doorway
shall embrace me one last time.
And you, you shall not be there.

Tomorrow,
I tear myself out of my life,
and seek myself anew.
Tomorrow,
I shall renounce myself.
Tomorrow
I shall hone my solitude.

(originally posted on October 11, 2003)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Interruptus

There was honking outside,
rare, but reminiscent
of other more vocal towns.

There was an image inside
of what you could see
in such a place.

There were footsteps and barking,
the sounds of my silence;
there was me nodding and moving,
if only for the sake of motion.

There is this never-ending floor
and you somewhere dying -
- are you breathing still?

There is this scar, refusing to heal,
itching like an absence...
If I hold my breath, would you feel it?
If I hold still, would anybody notice?

Somewhere else, something else,
another...
If I leave this unfinished,
would -

(Originally posted on November 21, 2011)

Friday, August 08, 2014

Tragic

No compromise.

When the final curtain falls,
I will come down in flames.
No half exits,
No hesitant escapes.

When the call comes around,
I’ll stay rooted in my place.
No hasty excuses,
No clinging to the earth.

I will take it as I find it,
I will gulp it as it is.
No syrup for me, thanks;
No god with a sweet face.

Tomorrow when I falter,
I will shatter with despair.
I will tell you where I have been,
I will leave without a face.

Tomorrow in the gallows,
When the sirens lose their voices,
When they tell you it will linger,
I will—enough!

Someday there will be none,
When tomorrow doesn’t come.

(Originally posted on January 24, 2006)