“Breath” by Mark Strand

When you see them
tell them I am still here,
that I stand on one leg while the other one dreams,
that this is the only way,

that the lies I tell them are different
from the lies I tell myself,
that by being both here and beyond
I am becoming a horizon,

that as the sun rises and sets I know my place,
that breath is what saves me,
that even the forced syllables of decline are breath,
that if the body is a coffin it is also a closet of breath,

that breath is a mirror clouded by words,
that breath is all that survives the cry for help
as it enters the stranger’s ear
and stays long after the world is gone,

that breath is the beginning again, that from it
all resistance falls away, as meaning falls
away from life, or darkness fall from light,
that breath is what I give them when I send my love.

“Breath” by Mark Strand from New Selected Poems


Mark Strand, April 11, 1934 – November 29, 2014.

The New York Times obituary for Mr. Strand states:

Mark Strand, whose spare, deceptively simple investigations of rootlessness, alienation and the ineffable strangeness of life made him one of America’s most hauntingly meditative poets, died on Saturday at his daughter’s home in Brooklyn. He was 80.

His daughter, Jessica Strand, said the cause was liposarcoma, a rare cancer of the fat cells.

Mr. Strand, who was named poet laureate of the United States in 1990 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1999 for his collection “Blizzard of One,” made an early impression with short, often surreal lyric poems that imparted an unsettling sense of personal dislocation — what the poet and critic Richard Howard called “the working of the divided self.” (continue reading)

See also articles at The Paris Review and Huffington Post. Read more of Strand’s poetry at Poetry Foundation and at Poem Hunter.

2 thoughts on ““Breath” by Mark Strand

    1. I heard the news last night and I was terribly saddened. Sorry I carried sad news to you. I have a feeling Strand was prepared though, probably more than most of us, as he wrote so eloquently on mortality.

      One of my favorite pieces though is a bit happier, Eating Poetry. Now Strand lives forever in his words and poems. What a legacy.

      Eating Poetry


      Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
      There is no happiness like mine.
      I have been eating poetry.

      The librarian does not believe what she sees.
      Her eyes are sad
      and she walks with her hands in her dress.

      The poems are gone.
      The light is dim.
      The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

      Their eyeballs roll,
      their blond legs burn like brush.
      The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

      She does not understand.
      When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
      she screams.

      I am a new man.
      I snarl at her and bark.
      I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

      Mark Strand, “Eating Poetry” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand.

      Liked by 1 person

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