Reading Mark Strand
Since Mark Strand died last weekend I’ve been re-reading his poems. Years ago I wondered to myself what his passing would be like. Death seemed to be a constant muse for him. I was spooked by his ability to stare at it in such a sustained, unflinching way. And I admired it. In my youth I couldn’t imagine a more difficult subject. Perhaps that’s still true. Strand seemed to stalk Death as much as it did him. What would the consummation of such a courtship be like? Now he is there.
These days I feel the pull of writing strongly. Yet I am unclear what my subject is. There is only the steady traction of the words. Strand’s death reminds me of his subjects, and my conviction that they are crucial.
The strangeness of being here in this life and this body. The disorientation of it. The curiosity and confusion that it constantly gives rise to. And underneath all of this, always, a wintry loss that haunts us. The fading and emptying and eroding of everything. Experiences inexorably slip through the fingers. Dissolve.
Watching snow cover the ground, cover itself
cover everything that is not you, you see
it is the downward drift of light
upon the sound of air sweeping away the air,
it is the fall of moments into moments, the burial
of sleep, the down of winter, the negative of night.
There are certain ideas that sometimes I think I should write about. But when I start to poke at them they mostly bore me with their cleverness and crisp corners. Mark Strand’s poems snap me to attention. I look through his lens and focus. I remember.
How is it done? This conjuring of syllables that break the spell of the superficial. This speaking out of time to the timeless in ourselves. We are able to do this. Call and be summoned. I don’t know how it happens. But this must be what words are for.
Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.