Answers

November 29, 2014 § 3 Comments

Mark Strand has died.

His was among the first American poetry I read as a teenage girl (apart from the obligatory Robert Frost of my childhood schooling). I was looking for Answers and Alternatives and poetry often pointed the way into and out of myself.

In true teenage fashion, I especially sought those words I could appropriate for my own emotionally exaggerated ends. My seventeen year old self got some good melancholy mileage out of poems like Keeping Things Whole: 

KEEPING THINGS WHOLE 

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

 

I remember Strand’s Elegy For My Father was particularly impactful too, especially this second section of the long poem. It rendered the complexities and contradictions of truth—the truth of truth—which my sixteen year old self intuited but could not yet articulate (still often can’t).

ANSWERS

Why did you travel?
Because the house was cold.
Why did you travel?
Because it is what I have always done between sunset and sunrise.
What did you wear?
I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks.
What did you wear?
I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept with a different woman each night.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept alone. I have always slept alone.
Why did you lie to me?
I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you lie to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.
Why are you going?
Because nothing means much to me anymore.
Why are you going?
I don’t know. I have never known.
How long shall I wait for you?
Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.
Are you tired and do you want to lie down?
Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.

 

Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down. Wherever I am I am what is missing.

Who was that teenage girl? I can barely remember. But I know those words were my truth, that I found a mirror and comfort in them. I needed them then in a way that I can barely feel or fathom anymore. And perhaps they are the reason I no longer need them with such intensity, if that makes sense. They got me to a different place, a place where they wouldn’t be needed so much, or needed for other reasons. Those lines mean something different to me now and their meaning will change again and again, though they remain the same.

Thanks be to poetry. Thanks be to words and the writers who write them, knowing we might yet still need them long after they are gone. Thank you Mr. Strand.

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.

 

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