Nobody sees it happening, but the architecture of our time
Is becoming the architecture of the next time. And the dazzle
Of light upon the waters is as nothing beside the changes
Wrought therein, just as our waywardness means
Nothing against the steady pull of things over the edge.
Nobody can stop the flow, but nobody can start it either.
Time slips by; our sorrows do not turn into poems,
And what is invisible stays that way. Desire has fled,
Leaving only a trace of perfume in its wake,
And so many people we loved have gone,
And no voice comes from outer space, from the folds
Of dust and carpets of wind to tell us that this
Is the way it was meant to happen, that if only we knew
How long the ruins would last we would never complain.
Perfection is out of the question for people like us,
So why plug away at the same old self when the landscape
Has opened its arms and given us marvelous shrines
To flock towards? The great motels to the west are waiting,
In somebody’s yard a pristine dog is hoping that we’ll drive by,
And on the rubber surface of a lake people bobbing up and down
Will wave. The highway comes right to the door, so let’s
Take off before the world out there burns up. Life should be more
Than the body’s weight working itself from room to room.
A turn through the forest will do us good, so will a spin
Among the farms. Just think of the chickens strutting,
The cows swinging their udders, and flicking their tails at flies.
And one can imagine prisms of summer light breaking against
The silent, haze-filled sleep of the farmer and his wife.
It could have been another story, the one that was meant
Instead of the one that happened. Living like this,
Hoping to revise what has been false or rendered unreadable
Is not what we wanted. Believing that the intended story
Would have been like a day in the west when everything
Is tirelessly present—the mountains casting their long shadow
Over the valley where the wind sings its circular tune
And trees respond with a dry clapping of leaves—was overly
Simple no doubt, and short-sighted. For soon the leaves,
Having gone black, would fall, and the annulling snow
Would pillow the walk, and we, with shovels in hand, would meet,
Bow, and scrape the sidewalk clean. What else would there be
This late in the day for us but desire to make amends
And start again, the sun’s compassion as it disappears.
Mark Strand served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1990–1991. His New Selected Poems was published by Knopf in 2009. (updated 6/2010)