Mark Strand “Keeping Things Whole”

Mark Strand “Keeping Things Whole” January 20, 2014

oxford book of poetryIn a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.                 5
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always                         10
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.                         15
I move
To keep things whole.

This is a sad poem. I think we all know the feeling of being somewhere but not really being there. We may be there bodily while not being fully present for one reason or another. This poem captures that feeling of being somewhere but not being fully there. As a matter of fact, the poem’s much more extreme. Strand seems to never be wherever he is. His presence is actually an absence: “Wherever I am//I am what is missing.” It’s as if he’s a hollow but he still displaces the air.

The text does what is says: line 2 divides lines 1 and 3 just as his presence (which is really his absence) divides the field or parts the air (line 9).

The poem captures what it feels like to always feel out of place in the world: he’s always disrupting, always interfering, always in the way – even if it’s just in the way of air. His being in a place disrupts its peace. The poem ends with the explanation of the why behind his wandering: every place is better off without him. This is a sad poem.

Poem: Mark Strand, “Keeping Things Whole,” The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006)


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