Archive for April 26th, 2009

Sunday Poetry: Keeping Things Whole, by Mark Strand

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

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.

– by Mark Strand

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This poem is short, but it is a considerable speck of writing. Short poems are often the sneakiest – allowing you to think you “get it” upon the first reading, but then if you read it again as a victory lap to confirm your mastery, you start to see that there’s more there than you thought. This fragile, tiny poem contains a frustrating mountain of thought.

The first stanza opens with a brilliant statement of alienation. When I first read this poem in college, it summed up a feeling of not-belonging and fear of being a disruption to my corner of the world. So much fear and unworthiness seems to run through that stanza that it stuck in my mind for 30 years, and drew me back to it this morning. The fact that we displace the world simply by being disturbed me and rang with truth.

It still rings true, of course, but I see more now. The second stanza seems a bit of a repeat of the first, but it introduces movement. His disruptive influence is like writing on water – as he moves on, the void he creates is filled with the air he parted. He has moved from alienation to insignificance.

The third stanza, though, rings false to me. It’s a gigantic statement of god-like ego. HE is responsible for keeping things whole. HE, having explained his sense of alienation and claimed his insignificance, now claims to be acting on some self-imposed mission to keep the world whole.

Papa was a rolling stone, indeed. As a college student, I saw the allure of life as a picaresque adventure of movement, mixed with a stoic indifference to consequence. This poem was written in 1964 – I can’t help but wonder how often it showed up on the nightstands of pregnant women waking up suddenly alone. “Sorry, babe, I got to keep moving” is a convenient escape route for any man whose passage through the world necessarily causes more disruption than air can repair.