Poem-a-Day Friday: Mark Strand


This is how it happens: You grieve the news that you will leave your home. You grieve it from afar and then you speak it. You speak it to the people in your world. You speak it with care and with sincerity. You say it over and over and you start to believe: This is true. This is really going to be true.

And you organize your kids' clothes. You organize the baby clothes your little boy was wearing 6 months ago. (Six months ago and he was that little? And now that brain of his taking it all in, repeating words, trying to sit on the potty like his brother.) You put the 0-6 month clothes in one bin and the 6-12 month clothes in another. You save them because someday there may be another boy you need to clothe. You mark it and when the movers come, they take it away.

What happens is, you pick your four-year-old up from school and he's talking to Jude and Jude says, "I want you to come to my house and see my cool shooter rockets." And your boy says, "Okay. Cause I really like those things." And you realize they made a playdate that you can never give them. You realize the days left are too short, too full. And you ponder how one day they will understand days and time and friendship, place and distance and what it is to move a life.

This is what you do: You run to the store at 7 pm and grab a few things: lemonade, diet coke, veggies, some concoction called "7 layer dip" and you lay them out on the temporary coffee table, in the temporary living room. And 16 girls arrive, so fresh and young and just as you remember them one year ago when you first met them. They were afraid, 18 years old and walking into college unsure of what they held, what they could hold.

How to chart a soul's growth freshman year of college? The change runs deep and thick. They eat chips and tell stories. They say what they came to say. It's the ending: a picture, a book of "love letters" they set before me, their offering. Prayers. And then the hugs, one after another. And when they leave it's clear that this is happening. It has begun, this saying goodbye. The tears and the uncertainties. How to hold a life for a moment and then send it off into a world you can never control?

How to send your own life spinning into that orbit?

I wanted a to read a poem about moving. I imagined a poem marked with cardboard boxes and sad sentiments. Instead I found this and knew: This is the poem about moving I was looking for all along.


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.


Mark Strand, "Keeping Things Whole" from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., a division of Random House, Inc.
Source: Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)

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