the continuous life

1990 back cover photo by Denise Eagleson

1990 back cover photo by Denise Eagleson

One of my all-time-favorite poems is “The Continuous Life” by Mark Strand from his book of poems, The Continuous Life.  Here’s the beginning:

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,

The poem in its entirety can be found on The Writer’s Almanac.

I was rereading the poem again yesterday and was surprised–although by now I guess I shouldn’t be–that the things I liked about the poem had changed since my husband gave me this book in 1990.

What I loved this time:

Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;

That one thing leads to another. I guess that phrase is like anything you notice and then begin to see everywhere. It was there all along; it’s just that I wasn’t paying attention or it had no meaning for me before or I wasn’t ready for it. Now, sometimes, I’m able not to impose order but to let myself be led here and there.

that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed.

I’m trying to catch days, to make sure they stick. Sometimes a week goes by in a blur anyway. And I’m writing, writing, writing. Still, some days it does feel as if nothing is completed. I think of my novels–do they have to be published to be completed?

learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave,

To be still enough to hear the sound of the earth. To pause long enough. To wait. In Mari Strachan’s novel,  The Earth Hums in B Flat, which I mentioned a few posts ago, little Gwenni at 12 1/2 already knows to lean down close to listen for this hum. To recenter.

Enjoy a poetry moment today. See what catches you–or what you can catch.

14 thoughts on “the continuous life

  1. So beautiful! And so true that we fear “slipping away with nothing completed, nothing / To prove you existed.” It is at the root of why I write, which is good, I believe.

    I am thrilled to have found your blog Cynthia. Your writing is beautiful and inspires my attempts to do the same. “That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;” reading sublime poetry and prose leads to good writing and on and on.

    Thank you 🙂


  2. “That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;” made me think of blogging and how many connections I’ve made through doing it.

    My poetry moment yesterday was spent reading “Diving Into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich.


  3. Oh, I love re-encountering a favorite piece of art after a time and finding in it yet more things to treasure! Or even revisiting something that didn’t speak to me in the past, and finding that now I’m ready for it and it’s a new friend. Lovely entry.


  4. “…despite the occasional fear You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing To prove you existed”

    That line represents a thought that haunts me almost everyday. It’s the same thought that drives me forward.


  5. Darrelyn, I appreciate your words about the blog. One of the most rewarding aspects of blogging is the opportunity to hear from readers. Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post. I hope you’ll be back.


  6. I agree, Linda. Blogging and twitter and just being on the internet contribute to the sensation of one thing always leading to another. For example, in the middle of this comment I got up to go find the Adrienne Rich poem you mentioned. I love that poem and have not read it in so long. Thank you!


  7. Thanks, Emily. It is fun to rediscover something I loved in the past and find new treasures. Plus with underlining (!) in books, I get to look back at who I was then too and see if what I liked then is still important to me.


  8. Stephen, haunts is such an evocative word. I can almost see that tiger breathing down your neck. And then with your next sentence, you catch the tiger and reshape it into an energy source.

    I appreciate your comment.


  9. There are some books that I re-read every few years, and I find it wonderful to see what is is that grabs me each time. It is at moments like that were I can see I clear comparison of myself ‘then and now’ and can indeed see I am growing up. Perhaps one day I will actually feel like an adult 🙂

    By the way, I love your sentiment of trying to catch days, and yet sometimes they escape you anyhow. We are not all Buddhist monks capturing each moment (unfortunately)


  10. This kind of post is what keeps me coming back to the interwebs. A clear and thoughtful meditation on how Mark Strand’s poetry has been woven into your own life and work. Plus… now I have a new poet to go explore. Thanks!


  11. Walt, you busted out of Twitter!

    Thank you for your nice comment about this post. You might also enjoy Mark Strand’s book of essays on the paintings of Edward Hopper, Hopper.

    I hope you’ll be back.


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