Saturday Poet: Mark Strand
Our Masterpiece Is the Private Life
Is there something down by the water keeping itself from us,
Some shy event, some secret of the light that falls upon the deep,
Some source of sorrow that does not wish to be discovered yet?
Why should we care? Doesn’t desire cast its
rainbows over the coarse porcelain
Of the world’s skin and with its measures fill the
air? Why look for more?
And now, while the advocates of awfulness and sorrow
Push their dripping barge up and down the beach, let’s eat
Our brill, and sip this beautiful white Beaune.
True, the light is artificial, and we are not well-dressed.
So what. We like it here. We like the bullocks in the field next door,
We like the sound of wind passing over grass. The way you speak,
In that low voice, our late night disclosures . . . why live
For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.
Standing on the quay between the Roving Swan and the Star Immaculate,
Breathing the night air as the moment of pleasure taken
In pleasure vanishing seems to grow, its self-soiling
Beauty, which can only be what it was, sustaining itself
A little longer in its going, I think of our own smooth passage
Through the graded partitions, the crises that bleed
Into the ordinary, leaving us a little more tired each time,
A little more distant from the experiences, which, in the old days,
Held us captive for hours. The drive along the winding road
Back to the house, the sea pounding against the cliffs,
The glass of whiskey on the table, the open book, the questions,
All the day’s rewards waiting at the doors of sleep . . .
Coming to This
We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.
And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.
Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.
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.