02-22-2010

Mark Strand

The Delirium Waltz


I cannot remember when it began. The lights were low. We were walking across the floor, over the polished wood, the inlaid marble, through shallow water, through a dusting of snow, over the shapeless figures of fallen light. I cannot remember, but I think you were there — whoever you were — sometimes with me, sometimes watching. Shapes assembled themselves and dissolved. The hall to the ballroom seemed endless, and a voice, perhaps it was yours, was saying we'd never arrive. Now we were gliding over the floor, our clothes were heavy, and the music was slow. I thought we might die all over again. And I think we were happy. Large constellations of sound were leading us on. We moved in the drift of innumerable notes, abstractions and histories and as we passed over the ground it formed for us the shape of the earth. We moved toward the future, or was it the past? Anxiety has its inflections — wasteful, sad, and sometimes tragic — but here it had none; in its harmless, cloudlike hovering it was merely fantastic, the sweet result of a musical will. We kept on dancing. And I was with you. Why else would I practice those near calamitous dips? I think it was clear that we'd always been dancing, always been eager to enter the rhythms and transports of light. The attractions of motion were forever asserting themselves — from the beguiling fluff of clouds to the wink of an eye. Rooms became larger and finally dimensionless, and we kept turning, arriving and turning.

      And then came Bob and Sonia
      And the dance was slow
      And joining them now were Chip and Molly
      And Joseph dear Joseph was dancing and smoking

      And the dance was slow
      And into the hall years later came Tom and Em
      And Joseph dear Joseph was dancing and smoking
      And off to the side were Mark and Jean leaning together

      And into the hall years later came Tom and Em
      Holding each other and turning and turning
      And off to the side were Mark and Jean leaning together
      And Bill and Sandy and Jorie and Jim

      Holding each other and turning and turning
      Then came Jules tall and thin
      And Bill and Sandy and Jorie and Jim
      Everyone moving everyone dancing

      Then came Jules tall and thin
      Across the wide floor
      Everyone moving everyone dancing
      Harry was there and so was Kathleen

      Across the wide floor
      Looking better than ever came Jessie and Steve
      Harry was there and so was Kathleen
      And Peter and Barbara had just gotten back

      Looking better than ever came Jessie and Steve
      Leon and Judith Muffie and Jim
      And Peter and Barbara had just gotten back
      And others were there

      Leon and Judith Muffie and Jim
      And Charlie and Helen were eating and dancing
      And others were there
      Wearing their best

      And Charlie and Helen were eating and dancing
      And Glenn and Angela Wally and Deb
      Wearing their best
      Around and around dancing and dancing

And our shadows floated away beneath us towards sunset and darkened the backs of birds, and blackened the sea whose breath smelled slightly of fish, of almonds, and of rotting fruit. A blizzard of coastal aromas had come to collect our attention, and we drifted through all it tried to impart, not knowing where we were going. And soon the air was soiled with dust and iris-colored clouds. We were standing, watching everyone else afloat on the floor, on the sea of the floor, like a raft of voices. "Hi there," they said, as they sailed by, "may we have this dance?" And off they vanished into another room with pale blue walls and birds.

      And one room led to another
      And birds flew back and forth
      People roamed the veranda
      Under the limbs of trees

      And birds flew back and forth
      A golden haze was everywhere
      Under the limbs of trees
      And Howie was there with Francine

      A golden haze was everywhere
      And Jeannette and Buddy were dancing
      And Howie was there with Francine
      Angels must always be pale they said

      And Jeannette and Buddy were dancing
      And Roz and Denis were talking
      Angels must always be pale they said
      But pale turns round to white

      And Roz and Denis were talking
      Saying that blue slides into black
      But pale turns round to white
      And Jules was there in heels

      Saying that blue slides into black
      Rosanna was there and Maria
      And Jules was there in heels
      And day and night were one

      Rosanna was there and Maria
      And Rusty and Carol were there
      And the day and the night were one
      And the sea's green body was near

      And Rusty and Carol were there
      And Charles and Holly were dancing
      And the sea's green body was near
      Hello out there hello

      And Charles and Holly were dancing
      So thin they were and light
      Hello out there hello
      Can anyone hear out there

And the rush of water was suddenly loud as if a flood were loosed upon the ballroom floor. I seemed to be dancing alone into the absence of all that I knew and was bound by, the sight of the sea coming close, the spread of solvency, the smear, the blurred erasure of differences, the end of self, the end of whatever surrounds the self. All that I saw was a vast celebration of transparence, a clear dream of nothing. And I kept on going. The breakers flashed and fell under the moon's vacant gaze; scattered petals of foam shone briefly, then sank in the sand. It was cold, and I found myself suddenly back with the others. The sea, that vast ungraspable body, that huge and meaningless empire of water, was left on its own.

      They drifted over the floor
      And the silver sparkled a little
      Oh how they moved together
      The crystals shook in the draft

      And the silver sparkled a little
      So many doors were open
      The crystals shook in the draft
      Nobody knew what would happen

      So many doors were open
      And there was Eleanor dancing
      Nobody knew what would happen
      Now Red waltzed into the room

      And there was Eleanor dancing
      And Don and Jean were waiting
      And Red waltzed into the room
      The years would come and go

 

      And Don and Jean were waiting
      Hours and hours would pass
      The years would come and go
      The palms in the hallway rustled

      Hours and hours would pass
      Now enter the children of Em
      The palms in the hallway rustled
      And here were the children of Tom

      Now enter the children of Em
      There was nothing to do but dance
      And here were the children of Tom 
      And Nolan was telling them something

      There was nothing to do but dance
      They would never sit down together
      And Nolan was telling them something
      And many who wished they could

      Would never sit down together
      The season of dancing was endless
      And many who wished they could
      Would never be able to stop

I cannot remember when it began. The lights were low. We were walking across the floor, over the polished wood, the inlaid marble, through shallow water, through a dusting of snow, over the shapeless figures of fallen light. I cannot remember, but I think you were there, whoever you were. 

-from The Delirium Walt

BIO: Mark Strand was born on Canada's Prince Edward Island on April 11, 1934. He received a B.A. degree from Antioch College in Ohio in 1957 and attended Yale University, where he was awarded the Cook prize and the Bergin prize. After receiving his B.F.A. degree in 1959, Strand spent a year studying at the University of Florence on a Fulbright fellowship. In 1962 he received his M.A. degree from the University of Iowa.

He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Man and Camel (Knopf, 2006); Blizzard of One(1998), which won the Pulitzer Prize; Dark Harbor (1993); The Continuous Life (1990); Selected Poems (1980);The Story of Our Lives (1973); and Reasons for Moving (1968).

He has also published two books of prose, several volumes of translation (of works by Rafael Alberti and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, among others), several monographs on contemporary artists, and three books for children. He has edited a number of volumes, including 100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century (W. W. Norton, 2005), The Golden Ecco Anthology (1994), The Best American Poetry 1991, and Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (with Charles Simic, 1976).

His honors include the Bollingen Prize, three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the 1974 Edgar Allen Poe Prize from The Academy of American Poets, and a Rockefeller Foundation award, as well as fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation.

He has served as Poet Laureate of the United States and is a former Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. He currently teaches English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.