The Untelling

Original Text: 
Mark Strand, New Selected Poems (New York: Knopf, 2007): 86-95. PS 3569. T69A6 2007X Robarts Library
1He leaned forward over the paper
2and for a long time saw nothing.
3Then, slowly, the lake opened
4like a white eye
5and he was a child
6playing with his cousins,
7and there was a lawn
8and a row of trees
9that went to the water.
10It was a warm afternoon in August
11and there was a party
12about to begin.
13He leaned forward over the paper
14and he wrote:
15I waited with my cousins across the lake,
16watching the grown-ups walking on the far side
17along the bank shaded by elms. It was hot.
18The sky was clear. My cousins and I stood
19for hours among the heavy branches, watching
20out parents, and it seemed as if nothing would enter
21their lives to make them change, not even the man
22running over the lawn, waving a sheet
23of paper and shouting. They moved beyond the claims
24of weather, beyond whatever news there was,
25and did not see the dark begin to deepen
26in the trees and bushes, and rise in the folds
27of their own dresses and in the stiff white
28of their own shirts. Waves of laughter carried
29over the water where we, the children, were watching.
30It was a scene that was not ours. We were
31too far away, and soon we would leave.
32He leaned back.
33How could he know
34the scene was not his?
35The summer was with him,
36the voices had returned, and he saw the faces.
37The day had started before the party;
38it had rained in the morning
39and suddenly cleared in time.
40The hems of the dresses were wet.
41The men's shoes glistened.
42There was a cloud shaped like a hand
43which kept lowering.
44There was no way to know
45why there were times that afternoon
46the lawn seemed empty, or why even then
47the voices of the grown-ups lingered there.
48He took what he had written
49and put it aside.
50He sat down and began again:
51We all went down to the lake, over the lawn,
52walking, not saying a word. All the way
53from the house, along the shade cast by the elms.
54And the sun bore down, lifting the dampness, allowing
55the lake to shine like a clear plate surrounded
56by mist. We sat and stared at the water and then
57lay down on the grass and slept. The air turned colder.
58The wind shook the trees. We lay so long we imagined
59a hand brushing the fallen leaves from our faces.
60But it was not autumn, and some of us, the youngest,
61got up and went to the other side of the lake
62and stared at the men and women asleep; the men
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Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
The Story of Our Lives, 1973
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: