Keeping Things Whole
by Mark Strand
Not showing up is our speaker's favorite pastime. No matter where he goes, he's not there. And not only that, but his presence interrupts the "wholeness" of wherever he happens to be. The speaker is meditating on his relationship to space and his presence in the world. He seems to be under constant threat of vanishing if he doesn't keep moving. The reoccurring image of "being not there" reinforces his fear and underlying anxiety of being both present and absent at the same time.
- Line 2: The cool thing about this line is how it does two things at once. The speaker says he is absence, or not-being-thereness, yet he has to be somewhere to say that. Doesn't make any sense, does it? How can you be the absence? The speaker will flush his idea out a bit more as we go through the poem, but he gets this in there early. All of line 2 is a presence in the poem, but it's stating the opposite, and this duality preoccupies our speaker.
- Line 7: The speaker repeats himself here, using the same "I am" paradox as line 2, but here, he is "what is missing." Why repeat that you're not there? What is he trying to get at? Basically our speaker is trying to articulate his feelings of fragmentation and dislocation. No matter where he goes, he is "what is missing." So, he can't ever really be anywhere, in a sense, or can never fully be present. Not only that, but wherever he goes, he takes away from that place's wholeness. It's like this guy is a splinter of nothingness breaking up the world. Oh joy.
- Lines 12-13: The speaker doesn't mention absence here, but does tell us about his body creating an empty space and pushing air out of the way. When he moves, "the air moves in / to fill the spaces / where my body's been." It's another cool way he gives us a physical description of being present and absent at the same time. But so what? Is he just rewriting the same thing over and over again in the poem? In a way, yes, because the idea is that every time he arrives somewhere, he vanishes. In the same way, he keeps repeating the idea that, "I'm not here," but by doing that, it keeps him present. Just like he eventually says he moves to keep things whole, his poem repeats to move from line to line.