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Cat at the Door

A man has been standing
in front of my house
for days. I peek at him
from the living room
window and at night,
unable to sleep,
I shine my flashlight
down on the lawn.
He is always there.

After a while
I open the front door
just a crack and order
him out of my yard.
He narrows his eyes
and moans. I slam
the door and dash back
to the kitchen, then up
to the bedroom, then down.

I weep like a child
and make obscene gestures
through the window. I
write large suicide notes
and place them so he
can read them easily.
I destroy the living
room furniture to prove
I own nothing of value.
When he seems unmoved
I decide to dig a tunnel
to a neighboring yard.
I seal the basement off
from the upstairs with
a brick wall. I dig hard
and in no time the tunnel
is done. Leaving my pick
and shovel below,

I come out in front of a house
and stand there too tired to
move or even speak, hoping
someone will help me.
I feel I’m being watched
and sometimes I hear
a man’s voice,
but nothing is done
and I have been waiting for days.


Mark Strand’s “The Tunnel”. You’ll find it in his collection Man and Camel: Poems.

Question: from whose perspective is the final section of the poem written — the protagonist’s or the stranger’s?

The parallel phrasing of the poem suggests that the man watching, the stranger, is in fact no stranger at all; he is an element of the protagonist (the tunnel-digger) that the protagonist externalizes and is unwilling to accept. The two entities are linked by a psychological loop, as the “tunnel vision” of the tunnel-digger leaves him exactly in the place of the stranger by the end of the poem. The only dilemma is he doesn’t know it, and the man’s voice he sometimes hears is merely an echo of the orders he gave while in his self-imposed lockdown at the opening of the poem. By the conclusion, he has been waiting for days, just as the man, at the beginning, had been standing in front his house for days too.

I took the photograph in my backyard in Houston, Texas.