The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday

From "Dark Harbor"
By Mark Strand


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.


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.


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.


Rosh Hashanah is always a weird day for me. It is my least favorite day bar none, all year, in synagogue; there are multiple family services on Yom Kippur, so one never gets the same sense of the congregation as so overwhelmingly big and impersonal as one does waiting in a lobby with several hundred other people for the First Annual Services and Fall Fashion Show to file out from the morning so the families can enter. There are a lot of reasons this huge Reform congregation is a good place for kids, particularly for a family like mine where 1) my husband was not raised Jewish, 2) my mother has been a Hebrew school teacher for years and 3) lots of people from our neighborhood and the kids' schools attend (our kids went to nursery school there too), but on Rosh Hashanah it comes home to me how badly *I* want a different kind of spiritual and religious environment for *me* even if this one works out well for the rest of the family. We always start the day by going out for pancakes with my parents, then wandering around the area between the pancake house and the synagogue, where every year we go into this one party store that has Halloween decorations (and this is the only time all year I am ever in there), so there are some traditions that I am used to at this point along with the ones that, every year, make me say I am never going back!

Really, that was my day, in a nutshell...ran into agentirish which was a delightful surprise, ran into all sorts of people I have known for many years since our kids have been in school together, some nice to see, some I realize I don't particularly care about. I saw my friend with whom I was having breakfast on 9/11 when the world changed and our friendship never made it back on track after that morning; I think we are almost superstitious about seeing one another now. My mother greeted every child she had ever had in a class, which was nice for her but meant lots of waiting around for the rest of us, and my kids feel somewhat distanced from it all which I probably should work to resist but don't as I don't really want them to buy into a lot of the values that dominate a lot of the people there. I am never nearly this conflicted on Yom Kippur, when the fall fashion show aspect at least is toned down out of respect for the somberness of the holiday. Ah well, any service in which we get to sing "L'chi Lach" is not a total loss.

Would I be better off not giving my kids mixed messages and taking them to a synagogue that likely has less involvement in youth affairs, community projects, etc.? The places I feel most spiritually at home are not practical for me to commute to every Saturday for services even if I was likely to become an every-Saturday attendee, and don't have Hebrew schools like this one where they are really receiving a wonderful education in Jewish history, culture and the rest. Where they have always lost me is the faith piece, which I seem to have been born with so I have never felt a deep lack of it, but I wonder what they are getting between me, their agnostic father, their deeply Christian (Lutheran) grandparents, their less spiritually oriented Jewish grandparents, their best friends (none of whom have ever been Jewish)...they know exactly what I believe, but I don't know how their own beliefs are forming and I don't want them at the mercy of fundamentalists of any stripe when they get to college and are subjected as I was to the Lubavitchers as well as Jews for Jesus.

This is the courtyard outside the pancake house where we have brunch every year before Rosh Hashanah services, since the family services are in the afternoon. Ever since the kids outgrew the early morning preschool service, these are the ones we've attended (big service in main sanctuary which thankfully did not include appeal to building fund this year, then tashlich outside by the creek afterward). Depending on when Rosh Hashanah falls, sometimes this fountain is turned off for the season and the kids can walk on the rocks in it. However, this year there was still water and a new warning sign...not that that stopped some dangerous wandering around the edge.

So I was thinking that this week's Commander in Chief wasn't really all that great, and then the press secretary announced "the President of the United States" and Mackenzie Allen walked in and I had a total "she's the captain" moment (Voyager fans, I know you know exactly what I mean). I don't care if the scripts aren't tight and there are some real idiocies, I am totally into this show. Left the TV on for Boston Legal (they are so right that everyone wants Heather Locklear to have done it), concluded I have issues with the way women are written on every show I watch...CiC gets a lot more right than it gets wrong, at least so far. And Geena Davis is finally old enough for me to have a total raging crush on her, so there.

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