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Mark Strand

Watching Me Make a Fool of Myself

Just in case you thought that after watching too many war scenes on TV that I’d gone mushy, I’ll let you know that I’ve been reading Mark Strand Selected Poems, a healthy antidote to any sense of romanticism you might be harboring.

Strands’ poems are dark and mysterious. Like Bei Dao’s poems, they often remind me of The Surrealists, particularly in their dream-like, or nightmarish, qualities:

THE TUNNEL

A man has been standing
in front of my house
for days. I peek at him
from the living room
window and at night,
unable to sleep,
I shine my flashlight
down on the lawn.
He is always there.

After a while
I open the front door
just a crack and order
him out of my yard.
He narrows his eyes
and moans. I slam
the door and dash back
to the kitchen, then up
to the bedroom, then down.

I weep like a schoolgirl
and make obscene gestures
through the window. I
write large suicide notes
and place them so he
can read them easily.
I destroy the living
room furniture to prove
I own nothing of value.
When he seems unmoved
I decide to dig a tunnel
to a neighboring yard.
I seal the basement off
from the upstairs with
a brick wall. I dig hard
and in no time the tunnel
is done. Leaving my pick
and shovel below,

I come out in front of a house
and stand there too tired to
move or even speak, hoping
someone will help me.
I feel I’m being watched
and sometimes I hear
a man’s voice,
but nothing is done
and I have been waiting for days.

Sometimes when I write entries for this blog, I feel like there is someone “out there” waiting for me to make an inevitable mistake, someone who thinks I’m a “raging liberal.” Not that there isn’t also a part of me that sits back thinking that much of what I write is meaningless drivel. In fact, isn’t there always a part of us, a critical part, that always waits, watching the other part make a fool of itself by weeping over the casualties of war or by making obscene gestures at those who would march in parades or even at those who would kill innocent women and children trying to rid the world of evil?

Sometimes we would do almost anything to escape that “watcher,” even if it meant tunneling through the subconscious in an attempt to escape, in the end only to discover that we can never escape the “watcher” because, as Pogo used to say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Too often in moments of great despair, we discover that both parts of ourself are frozen in time, incapable of solving the problems that face us, the hysterical part raging against the injustice of the world, the watcher “too tired to move or even speak,” only able to sit there watching the other driven crazy by fear.