A Poem For Saturday

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

100914strand14LSMark Strand was (even for a poet) exceptionally captivated by a cat-and-mouse game – whimsical and profound – with the subject of death. He left this realm on Saturday, November 29th, to the great sorrow of his many, many dear friends and admirers. He was, I reckon, mostly cat in this fluidly shifting contest, empowered by the strength of his indelible and charming artistic wiles.

His poem “2002” from the collection Man and Camel, begins:

I am not thinking of Death, but Death is thinking of me.
He leans back in his chair, rubs his hands, strokes
his beard, and says, “I’m thinking of Strand, I’m thinking
that one of these days I’ll be out back, swinging my scythe
or holding my hourglass up to the moon, and Strand will appear
in a jacket and tie, and together under the boulevards’
leafless trees we’ll stroll into the city of souls. . . .”

The above photograph of Mark Strand with Charles Wright, our current U.S. Poet Laureate, was taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald on Thursday, October 9th, when nineteen poets—lifelong friends like so many in the audience—joined his daughter Jessica on stage at the New School’s Auditorium at 66 West 12th Street to celebrate his 80th birthday and his new Collected Poems, just published by Alfred A. Knopf. No one present will ever forget his wit, sweetness, and radiance that night.

“My Death” by Mark Strand:

Sadness, of course, and confusion.
The relatives gathered at the graveside,
talking about the waste, and the weather mounting,
the rain moving in vague pillars offshore.

This is Prince Edward Island.
I came back to my birthplace to announce my death.
I said I would ride full gallop into the sea
and not look back. People were furious.

I told them about attempts I had made in the past,
how I starved in order to be the size of Lucille,
whom I loved, to inhabit the cold space
her body had taken. They were shocked.

I went on about the time
I dove in a perfect arc that filled
with the sunshine of farewell and I fell
head over shoulders into the river’s thigh.

And about the time
I stood naked in the snow, pointing a pistol
between my eyes, and how when I fired my head bloomed
into health. Soon I was alone.

Now I lie in the box
of my making while the weather
builds and the mourners shake their heads as if
to write or to die, I did not have to do either.

(From Selected Poems by Mark Strand © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.Random House, LLC. Photo of Strand and Charles Wright courtesy of Lawrence Schwartzwald.)