Fall 1992, Volume 9.3
Poetry

MARK STRAND

From Dark Harbor

I

When after a long silence one picks up the pen
And leans over the paper and says to himself:
Today I shall consider Marsyas
Whose body was flayed to an excess
Of nakedness, who made no crime that would square
With what he was made to suffer.
Today I shall consider the shredded remains of Marsyas
What do they mean as they gather the sunlight
That falls in small pieces through the trees,
As in Titian's late painting. Poor Marsyas,
A body, a body of work as it turns and falls
Into suffering, becoming the flesh of light,
Which is fed to onlookers centuries later.
Can this be the cost of encompassing pain?
After a long silence, would I, whose body
Is whole, sheltered, kept in the dark by a mind
That prefers it that way, know what I'd done
And what its worth was? Or is a body scraped
From the bone of experience, the chart of suffering
To be read in such ways that all flesh might be redeemed,
At least for the moment, the moment it passes into song.
 
II

Our friends who lumbered from room to room
Now move like songs or meditations winding down,
Or lie about, waiting for the next good thing
Some news of what is going on above,
A visitor to tell them who's writing well,
Who's falling in or out of love.
Not that it matters anymore. Just look around.
There's Marsyas, noted for his marvelous asides
On Athena's ancient oboe, asleep for centuries.
And Arion, whose gaudy music drove the Phrygians wild,
Hasn't spoken in a hundred years. The truth is
Soon the song deserts its maker,
The airy demon dies, and others come along.
A different kind of dark invades the autumn woods,
A different sound sends lovers packing into sleep.
The air is full of anguish. The measures of nothingness
Are few. The Beyond is merely beyond,
A melancholy place of failed and fallen stars.
 
III
 
I am sure you would find it misty here,
With lots of stone cottages badly needing repair.
Groups of souls, wrapped in cloaks, sit in the fields
Or stroll the winding unpaved roads. They are polite,
And oblivious to their bodies, which the wind passes through,
Making a shushing sound. Not long ago,
I stopped to rest in a place where an especially
Thick mist swirled up from the river. Someone,
Who claimed to have known me years before,
Approached, saying there were many poets
Wandering around who wished to be alive again.
They were ready to say the words they had been unable to say
Words whose absence had been the silence of love,
Of pain, and even of pleasure. Then he joined a small group,
Gathered beside a fire. I believe I recognized
Some of the faces, but as I approached they tucked
Their heads under their wings. I looked away to the hills
Above the river, where the golden lights of sunset
And sunrise are one and the same, and saw something flying
Back and forth, fluttering its wings. Then it stopped in mid-air.
It was an angel, one of the good ones, about to sing.