In 1968, Mark Strand wrote of his own death:
“Now I lie in the box
of my making while the weather
builds and the mourners shake their heads as if
to write or to die, I did not have to do either.”
Presumably, he felt comfortable prophesying his demise because — as his melancholy and lyric poems often reminded us — it was the only thing that was truly sure to come. Though that poem, titled “My Death,” said that he would meet his end in his birthplace of Prince Edward Island, the former poet laureate died in Brooklyn early Saturday morning. He was 80.
That afternoon, I sat at a kitchen table in my mother’s apartment in Manhattan. She told me that she needed something by a living poet to read aloud at her weekly poetry workshop. I told her I had just the poet in mind. I walked over to the bookshelf and retrieved my copy of Almost Invisible, which I had purchased after attending Mark Strand’s reading at Yale earlier in the month. For the next thirty minutes or so, I flipped through the pages and read to her the poems that I thought she would most enjoy. In the end, she chose ‘The Banker in the Brothel of Blind Women,” the first poem in the book.
It wasn’t for another hour that I learned of the situation’s tragic irony. I heard about Strand’s death the same way I hear of most current events these days: social media. I was shocked at first. Like so many of his poems, the circumstances surrounding his death were truly surreal. Listening to him captivate a room with his wit and poise just over two weeks ago, there was no way I would have believed that I was hearing a man in the final days of his life. He did not let his age or his cancer stop him from being an incredibly engaging speaker.
It is a huge loss to the literary world that Mark Strand will never write again. But he leaves us with an enormous body of work, which will serve as inspiration for generations of poets to come. His legacy will live on in the images of mortality, alienation and uncertainty he created. As he wrote in his poem “In the Afterlife,” “When no one remembers, what is there? You, whose moments are gone, who drift like smoke in the afterlife, tell me something, tell me anything.” Indeed, Strand’s beautifully crafted scenes will never stop telling us about the subtle emotion behind our every encounter, and the poetry that surrounds us all the time.