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Mark Strand

Literature Discussion Group

6:30pm to 8:30pm
Teaism at Penn Quarter
-- corner of 8th and D Streets NW

Eating Poetry    
 
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
 
The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.
 
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
 
Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
 
She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.
 
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
 
-----------------------------------
 
Man and Camel
 
On the eve of my fortieth birthday
I sat on the porch having a smoke
when out of the blue a man and a camel
happened by. Neither uttered a sound
at first, but as they drifted up the street
and out of town the two of them began to sing.
Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me—
the words were indistinct and the tune
too ornamental to recall. Into the desert
they went and as they went their voices
rose as one above the sifting sound
of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing,
its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed
an ideal image for all uncommon couples.
Was this the night that I had waited for
so long? I wanted to believe it was,
but just as they were vanishing, the man
and camel ceased to sing, and galloped
back to town. They stood before my porch,
staring up at me with beady eyes, and said:
"You ruined it. You ruined it forever."
 
---------------------------------------
 
My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer
 
1
 
When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon's ash-colored coat
on the black bay.

2
 
Soon the house, with its shades drawn closed, will send
small carpets of lampglow
into the haze and the bay
will begin its loud heaving
and the pines, frayed finials
climbing the hill, will seem to graze
the dim cinders of heaven.
And my mother will stare into the starlanes,
the endless tunnels of nothing,
and as she gazes,
under the hour's spell,
she will think how we yield each night
to the soundless storms of decay
that tear at the folding flesh,
and she will not know
why she is here
or what she is prisoner of
if not the conditions of love that brought her to this.

3
 
My mother will go indoors
and the fields, the bare stones
will drift in peace, small creatures --
the mouse and the swift -- will sleep
at opposite ends of the house.
Only the cricket will be up,
repeating its one shrill note
to the rotten boards of the porch,
to the rusted screens, to the air, to the rimless dark,
to the sea that keeps to itself.
Why should my mother awake?
The earth is not yet a garden
about to be turned. The stars
are not yet bells that ring
at night for the lost.
It is much too late.

--------------------------
 
The Marriage

The wind comes from opposite poles,  
traveling slowly.

She turns in the deep air.  
He walks in the clouds.

She readies herself,  
shakes out her hair,

makes up her eyes,  
smiles.

The sun warms her teeth,
the tip of her tongue moistens them.

He brushes the dust from his suit  
and straightens his tie.

He smokes.
Soon they will meet.

The wind carries them closer.  
They wave.

Closer, closer.  
They embrace.

She is making a bed.
He is pulling off his pants.

They marry
and have a child.

The wind carries them off  
in different directions.

The wind is strong, he thinks  
as he straightens his tie.

I like this wind, she says  
as she puts on her dress.

The wind unfolds.
The wind is everything to them.

-------------------------------

The Prediction

That night the moon drifted over the pond,  
turning the water to milk, and under  
the boughs of the trees, the blue trees,  
a young woman walked, and for an instant

the future came to her:
rain falling on her husband’s grave, rain falling  
on the lawns of her children, her own mouth
filling with cold air, strangers moving into her house,

a man in her room writing a poem, the moon drifting into it,  
a woman strolling under its trees, thinking of death,
thinking of him thinking of her, and the wind rising
and taking the moon and leaving the paper dark.

--------------------------------
 
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.

--------------------------------
 
The Garden

  for Robert Penn Warren
 
It shines in the garden,
in the white foliage of the chestnut tree,  
in the brim of my father’s hat
as he walks on the gravel.

In the garden suspended in time  
my mother sits in a redwood chair:  
light fills the sky,
the folds of her dress,
the roses tangled beside her.

And when my father bends
to whisper in her ear,
when they rise to leave
and the swallows dart
and the moon and stars
have drifted off together, it shines.

Even as you lean over this page,  
late and alone, it shines: even now  
in the moment before it disappears.

------------------------------------------------

Mirror

A white room and a party going on
and I was standing with some friends
under a large gilt-framed mirror
that tilted slightly forward
over the fireplace.
We were drinking whiskey
and some of us, feeling no pain,
were trying to decide
what precise shade of yellow
the setting sun turned our drinks.
I closed my eyes briefly,
then looked up into the mirror:
a woman in a green dress leaned
against the far wall.
She seemed distracted,
the fingers of one hand
fidgeted with her necklace,
and she was staring into the mirror,
not at me, but past me, into a space
that might be filled by someone
yet to arrive, who at that moment
could be starting the journey
which would lead eventually to her.
Then, suddenly, my friends
said it was time to move on.
This was years ago,
and though I have forgotten
where we went and who we all were,
I still recall that moment of looking up
and seeing the woman stare past me
into a place I could only imagine,
and each time it is with a pang,
as if just then I were stepping
from the depths of the mirror
into that white room, breathless and eager,
only to discover too late
that she is not there.