In this series of videograms, poets read and discuss the poems getting them through these strange times—broadcasting straight from their couches to yours. These readings bring intimacy into our spaces of isolation, both through the affinity of poetry and through the warmth of being able to speak to each other across the distances.
by Mark Strand
Issue no. 125 (Winter 1992)
I am writing from a place you have never been,
Where the trains don’t run, and planes
Don’t land, a place to the west,
Where heavy hedges of snow surround each house,
Where the wind screams at the moon’s blank face,
Where the people are plain, and fashions,
If they come, come late and are seen
As forms of oppression, sources of sorrow.
This is a place that sparkles a bit at 7 P.M.,
Then goes out, and slides into the funeral home
Of the stars, and everyone dreams of floating
Like angels in sweet-smelling habits,
Of being released from sundry services
Into the round of pleasures there for the asking—
Days like pages torn from a family album,
Endless reunions, the heavenly choir at the barbecue
Adjusting its tone to serve the occasion,
And everyone staring, stunned into magnitude.
The soldiers are gone, and now the women are leaving.
The dogs howl at the moon, and the moon flees
Through the clouds. I wonder if I shall ever catch up.
I think of the shining cheeks, the serious palettes
Of my friends, and I am sure I am not of their
There was a time when I touched by the pallor of truth,
When the fatal steps I took seemed more like the drift
Of summer crossed at times by the scented music of
But that was before I was waved to the side
By the officer on duty, and told that henceforth
I would have to invent my pleasure, carve it out of
Subtract it from my future. And I could have no
A mysterious crape would cover my work. The roll of a
Would govern the fall of my feet in the long corridors.
“And listen,” the officer said, “on any morning look down
Into the valley. Watch the shadows, the clouds dispersing
Then look through the ice into nature’s frozen
See how perfectly everything fits in its space.”
I have just said good-bye to a friend
And am staring at fields of cornstalks.
Their stubble is being burned, and the smoke
Forms a gauze over the sun’s blank face.
Off to the side there is a line of poplars.
And beyond, someone is driving a tractor.
Does he live in that little white house?
Someone is playing a tape of birds singing.
Someone has fallen asleep on a boxcar of turnips.
I think of the seasonal possibilities.
O pretty densities of white on white!
O snowflake lost in the vestibules of April air!
Beyond the sadness—the empty restaurants,
The empty streets, the small lamps shining
Down on the town—I see only the stretches
Of ice and snow, the straight pines, the frigid moon.
“I would like to step out of my heart’s door and be
Under the great sky.” I would like to step out
And be on the other side, and be part of all
That surrounds me. I would like to be
In that solitude of soundless things, in the random
Company of the wind, to be weightless, nameless.
But not for long, for I would be downcast without
The things I keep inside my heart; and in no time
I would be back. Ah! the old heart
In which I sleep, in which my sleep increases, in which
My grief is ponderous, in which the leaves are falling,
In which the streets are long, in which the night
Is dark, in which the sky is great, the old heart
That murmurs to me of what cannot go on,
Of the dancing, of the inmost dancing.
I go out and sit on my roof, hoping
That a creature from another planet will see me
And say, “There’s life on earth, definitely life;
“See that earthling on top of his home,
His manifold possessions under him,
Let’s name him after our planet.” Whoa!
Eliza Griswold’s most recent book of poems, If Men, Then, was published earlier this year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In 2019, she received the Pulitzer Prize for her nonfiction book Amity and Prosperity.