“The Dreadful Has Already Happened”

By Mark Strand 1934–2014 Mark Strand
The relatives are leaning over, staring expectantly.   
They moisten their lips with their tongues. I can feel   
them urging me on. I hold the baby in the air.   
Heaps of broken bottles glitter in the sun.

A small band is playing old fashioned marches.   
My mother is keeping time by stamping her foot.   
My father is kissing a woman who keeps waving   
to somebody else. There are palm trees.

The hills are spotted with orange flamboyants and tall   
billowy clouds move behind them. “Go on, Boy,”   
I hear somebody say, “Go on.”
I keep wondering if it will rain.

The sky darkens. There is thunder.   
“Break his legs,” says one of my aunts,   
“Now give him a kiss.” I do what I’m told.   
The trees bend in the bleak tropical wind.

The baby did not scream, but I remember that sigh   
when I reached inside for his tiny lungs and shook them   
out in the air for the flies. The relatives cheered.   
It was about that time I gave up.

Now, when I answer the phone, his lips
are in the receiver; when I sleep, his hair is gathered   
around a familiar face on the pillow; wherever I search   
I find his feet. He is what is left of my life.

Mark Strand, “ ‘The Dreadful Has Already Happened’ ” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990)

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Poet Mark Strand 1934–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Time & Brevity, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living

 Mark  Strand


Mark Strand was recognized as one of the premier American poets of his generation as well as an accomplished editor, translator, and prose writer. The hallmarks of his style are precise language, surreal imagery, and the recurring theme of absence and negation; later collections investigate ideas of the self with pointed, often urbane wit. Named the U.S. Poet Laureate in 1990, Strand’s career spanned five decades, and he won . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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