The afternoon my four-year-old took a purple crayon to pages 32 through 37 in my first edition of Mark Strand’s Dark Harbor, all I could do was prop a lawn chair in the yard and watch the traffic pass, watch the neighborhood sparrows enter and exit the neighborhood trees, and stare up at the sky wandering between clouds
until something at first unurgent and almost weightless, then heavy and irrepressibly sad crashed along a coast inside—not for the ruined book, personalized the year before Strand fell ill, but for “the tedious enactment of duration” and the “ultimate stillness”
that awaits us all. My chest swelled with gloom as I thought of the black eddies inside the lungs of the drowned, of the orphaned moon, summer escaping over arid hills. I wanted to break into sobs but couldn’t, out there on the centipede grass, in full public view, wanted to blubber for the stricken and constitutionally glum
who will never sprawl naked under stars, imagining the masts and sternlights of vessels anchored in night’s dark harbor, who never stop feeling trapped, like lakes in winter, under foot-thick glass. From the porch, my daughter cried Daddy, and before I knew it her head lay buried in my chest, and she kept whimpering sorry, sorry
until it turned to sorrow—for the silences between people that sweep on and on down empty tunnels, and the seeds of hope that blossom backward, opening in blackness, and the everyday lives reaching for a little sweetness, as if for a jar of preserves on a topmost pantry shelf.
I held my daughter and told her not to worry, the book could be replaced, though it could not. People, I said, are more important than books. But I didn’t talk about that precious, obscure haven everyone strains to find, or bring up “the great nought and deep night without stars.” Nor say that books outlive their authors, or that one of her father’s favorites had set off, not long before—never, child, to return.