256: Afterwords

256: Afterwords

256: Afterwords

by Mark Strand


Packs of wild dogs roamed the streets of the very rich,
looking for scraps that might have been thrown their way
by a caring cook or merciful maid. Birds flew in
from everywhere, going up and down and side to side.
In the distance, beyond the stucco mansions
with their patios and pools, beyond the cemetery
with its marble angels, barely visible to the naked eye,
a man was scaling a cliff, then stopped and turned, and
opened his mouth to scream, but when the screams arrived
they were faint and cold, no different from the snow
that kept on falling through the windless night.


They rushed from their houses to welcome the spring,
then ran to the piers to gaze at the backs of fish,
long and glistening, then to the stables to see
the sleek, cloud-breathing horses. Nothing could keep them
from their joy, neither the storm gathering strength
in the west nor the bombs going off in the east;
theirs was the bliss of another age. Suddenly,
a woman appeared on the beach and said that soon
she would sing. “Soon she will sing,” murmured
the gathering crowd. “Soon she will sing,” I said
to myself as I woke. Then I went to the window
and a river of old people with canes and flashlights
were inching their way down through the dark to the sea.


Twenty crows sat on the limbs of an elm.
The air was so clear that one could see up
the broad valley of patchwork fields to the next town
where a train releasing a ribbon of steam
pulled out of a small wood station. Minutes later,
a man stepped onto the platform, waited, then lifted
his suitcase over his head and hurled it onto the tracks.
“That’s that,” he said, and turned and walked away.
The crows had taken off, it was cold, and up ahead
long, windblown shadows lashed the passive ground.

"Afterwords" by Mark Strand, from MAN AND CAMEL by Mark Strand, copyright © 2006 Knopf. Used by permission of the estate of Mark Knopf.