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Mark Strand

02-22-2010

The Delirium Waltz


I cannot remember when it began. The lights were low. We were walking across the floor, over the polished wood, the inlaid marble, through shallow water, through a dusting of snow, over the shapeless figures of fallen light. I cannot remember, but I think you were there — whoever you were — sometimes with me, sometimes watching. Shapes assembled themselves and dissolved. The hall to the ballroom seemed endless, and a voice, perhaps it was yours, was saying we'd never arrive. Now we were gliding over the floor, our clothes were heavy, and the music was slow. I thought we might die all over again. And I think we were happy. Large constellations of sound were leading us on. We moved in the drift of innumerable notes, abstractions and histories and as we passed over the ground it formed for us the shape of the earth. We moved toward the future, or was it the past? Anxiety has its inflections — wasteful, sad, and sometimes tragic — but here it had none; in its harmless, cloudlike hovering it was merely fantastic, the sweet result of a musical will. We kept on dancing. And I was with you. Why else would I practice those near calamitous dips? I think it was clear that we'd always been dancing, always been eager to enter the rhythms and transports of light. The attractions of motion were forever asserting themselves — from the beguiling fluff of clouds to the wink of an eye. Rooms became larger and finally dimensionless, and we kept turning, arriving and turning.

And then came Bob and Sonia
And the dance was slow
And joining them now were Chip and Molly
And Joseph dear Joseph was dancing and smoking

And the dance was slow
And into the hall years later came Tom and Em
And Joseph dear Joseph was dancing and smoking
And off to the side were Mark and Jean leaning together

And into the hall years later came Tom and Em
Holding each other and turning and turning
And off to the side were Mark and Jean leaning together
And Bill and Sandy and Jorie and Jim

Holding each other and turning and turning
Then came Jules tall and thin
And Bill and Sandy and Jorie and Jim
Everyone moving everyone dancing

Then came Jules tall and thin
Across the wide floor
Everyone moving everyone dancing
Harry was there and so was Kathleen

Across the wide floor
Looking better than ever came Jessie and Steve
Harry was there and so was Kathleen
And Peter and Barbara had just gotten back

Looking better than ever came Jessie and Steve
Leon and Judith Muffie and Jim
And Peter and Barbara had just gotten back
And others were there

Leon and Judith Muffie and Jim
And Charlie and Helen were eating and dancing
And others were there
Wearing their best

And Charlie and Helen were eating and dancing
And Glenn and Angela Wally and Deb
Wearing their best
Around and around dancing and dancing

And our shadows floated away beneath us towards sunset and darkened the backs of birds, and blackened the sea whose breath smelled slightly of fish, of almonds, and of rotting fruit. A blizzard of coastal aromas had come to collect our attention, and we drifted through all it tried to impart, not knowing where we were going. And soon the air was soiled with dust and iris-colored clouds. We were standing, watching everyone else afloat on the floor, on the sea of the floor, like a raft of voices. "Hi there," they said, as they sailed by, "may we have this dance?" And off they vanished into another room with pale blue walls and birds.

And one room led to another
And birds flew back and forth
People roamed the veranda
Under the limbs of trees

And birds flew back and forth
A golden haze was everywhere
Under the limbs of trees
And Howie was there with Francine

A golden haze was everywhere
And Jeannette and Buddy were dancing
And Howie was there with Francine
Angels must always be pale they said

And Jeannette and Buddy were dancing
And Roz and Denis were talking
Angels must always be pale they said
But pale turns round to white

And Roz and Denis were talking
Saying that blue slides into black
But pale turns round to white
And Jules was there in heels

Saying that blue slides into black
Rosanna was there and Maria
And Jules was there in heels
And day and night were one

Rosanna was there and Maria
And Rusty and Carol were there
And the day and the night were one
And the sea's green body was near

And Rusty and Carol were there
And Charles and Holly were dancing
And the sea's green body was near
Hello out there hello

And Charles and Holly were dancing
So thin they were and light
Hello out there hello
Can anyone hear out there

And the rush of water was suddenly loud as if a flood were loosed upon the ballroom floor. I seemed to be dancing alone into the absence of all that I knew and was bound by, the sight of the sea coming close, the spread of solvency, the smear, the blurred erasure of differences, the end of self, the end of whatever surrounds the self. All that I saw was a vast celebration of transparence, a clear dream of nothing. And I kept on going. The breakers flashed and fell under the moon's vacant gaze; scattered petals of foam shone briefly, then sank in the sand. It was cold, and I found myself suddenly back with the others. The sea, that vast ungraspable body, that huge and meaningless empire of water, was left on its own.

They drifted over the floor
And the silver sparkled a little
Oh how they moved together
The crystals shook in the draft

And the silver sparkled a little
So many doors were open
The crystals shook in the draft
Nobody knew what would happen

So many doors were open
And there was Eleanor dancing
Nobody knew what would happen
Now Red waltzed into the room

And there was Eleanor dancing
And Don and Jean were waiting
And Red waltzed into the room
The years would come and go

And Don and Jean were waiting
Hours and hours would pass
The years would come and go
The palms in the hallway rustled

Hours and hours would pass
Now enter the children of Em
The palms in the hallway rustled
And here were the children of Tom

Now enter the children of Em
There was nothing to do but dance
And here were the children of Tom
And Nolan was telling them something

There was nothing to do but dance
They would never sit down together
And Nolan was telling them something
And many who wished they could

Would never sit down together
The season of dancing was endless
And many who wished they could
Would never be able to stop

I cannot remember when it began. The lights were low. We were walking across the floor, over the polished wood, the inlaid marble, through shallow water, through a dusting of snow, over the shapeless figures of fallen light. I cannot remember, but I think you were there, whoever you were. 

                                               -from The Delirium Walt