(A poem from a different time and different circumstances — but like all good prophecies, it has broken the bounds of whatever impulses first brought it into being.)
THE WAY IT ISImage: Jasper Johns. Mark Strand can be heard reading the poem here.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad
I lie in bed.
I toss all night
in the cold unruffled deep
of my sheets and cannot sleep.
My neighbor marches in his room,
wearing the sleek
mask of a hawk with a large beak.
He stands by the window. A violet plume
rises from his helmet's dome.
The moon's light
spills over him like milk and the wind rinses the white
glass bowls of his eyes.
His helmet in a shopping bag,
he sits in the park, waving a small American flag.
He cannot be heard as he moves
behind trees and hedges,
always at the frayed edges
of town, pulling a gun on someone like me. I crouch
under the kitchen table, telling myself
I am a dog, who would kill a dog?
My neighbor's wife comes home.
She walks into the living room,
takes off her clothes, her hair falls down her back.
She seems to wade
through long flat rivers of shade.
The soles of her feet are black.
She kisses her husband's neck
and puts her hands inside his pants.
My neighbors dance.
They roll on the floor, his tongue
is in her ear, his lungs
reek with the swill and weather of hell.
Out on the street people are lying down
with their knees in the air, tears
fill their eyes, ashes
enter their ears.
Their clothes are torn
from their backs. Their faces are worn.
Horsemen are riding around them, telling them why
they should die.
My neighbor's wife calls to me, her mouth is pressed
against the wall behind my bed.
She says, "My husband's dead."
I turn over on my side,
hoping she has not lied.
The walls and ceiling of my room are gray —
the moon's color through the windows of a laundromat.
I close my eyes.
I see myself float
on the dead sea of my bed, falling away,
calling for help, but the vague scream
sticks in my throat.
I see myself in the park
on horseback, surrounded by dark,
leading the armies of peace.
The iron legs of the horse do not bend.
I drop the reins. Where will the turmoil end?
Fleets of taxis stall
in the fog, passengers fall
asleep. Gas pours
from a tricolored stack.
Locking their doors,
people from offices huddle together,
telling the same story over and over.
Everyone who has sold himself wants to buy himself back.
Nothing is done. The night
eats into their limbs
like a blight.
The future is not what it used to be.
The graves are ready. The dead
shall inherit the dead.