Friday, March 30, 2012

An Icon Gone...

March 30, 2012: Yesterday, a beloved poet, Adrienne Rich, passed away. She is and was an avatar for writers, women's rights advocates, lesbians (far earlier than Stonewall) and queerity of many many kinds, not to mention amazing talent with the written word. I can do no better today than share with you three of my favorite Adrienne Rich poems, in hopes that they will make you look at the world a little differently:

One Kind of Terror: A Love Poem


So, then as if by plan
I turn and you are lost

How have I lived knowing
that day of your laugh so alive/so nothing

even the clothes you wore then
rotted away How can I live believing

any year can be the deciding year
when I know the book of plans

how it disallows us
time for change for growing older

truthfully in our own way


I used to think you ought to be
a woman in charge in a desperate time

of whole populations
such seemed the power of your restlessness

I saw you a rescuer
amid huge events diasporas

scatterings and returnings
I needed this for us

I would have gone to help you
flinging myself into the fray

both of us treading free
of the roads we started on


In the book of plans it says no one
will speak of the book of plans

the appearance will contine
that all this is natural

It says my grief for you is natural
but my anger for us is not

that the image of a white curtain trembling
across a stormy pane

is acceptable but not
the image I make of you

arm raised hurling signalling
the squatters the refugees

storming the food supply
the book of plans says only that you must die

that we all, very soon, must die


Well, I am studying a difvferent book
taking notes wherever I go

the movement of the wrist does not change
but the pen plows deeper

my handwriting flows into words
I have not yet spoken

I'm the sole author of nothing
the book moves from field to field

of testimony recording
how the wounded teach each other the old

refuse to be organized
by fools how the women say

in more than one language You have struck a rock --
prepare to meet the unplanned

the ignored the unforeseen that which breaks
despair which has always travelled

underground or in the spaces
between the fixed stars

gazing full-faced wild
and calm on the Revolution


Love: I am studying a different book
and yes, a book is a finite thing

In it your death will never be reversed
the deaths I have witnessed since never undone

The light drained from the living eyes
can never flash again from those same eyes

I make you no promises
but something's breaking open here

there were certain extremes we had to know
before we could continue

Call it a book, or not
call it a map of constant travel

Call it a book, or not
call it a song a ray

of images thrown on a screen
in open lots in cellars

and among those images
one woman's meaning to another woman

long after death
in a different world.


North American Time


When my dreams showed signs
of becoming
politically correct
no unruly images
escaping beyond borders
when walking in the street I found my
themes cut out for me
knew what I would not report
for fear of enemies' usage
then I began to wonder


Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.
One line typed twenty years ago
can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint
to glorify art as detachment
or torture of those we
did not love but also
did not want to kill.

We move but our words stand
become responsibly
for more than we intended

and this is verbal privilege


I am thinking this in a country
where words are stolen out of mouths
as bread is stolen out of mouths
where poets don't go to jail
for being poets, but for being
dark-skinned, female, poor.
I am writing this in a time
when anything we write
can be used against those we love
where the context is never given
though we try to explain, over and over
For the sake of poetry at least
I need to know these things.


Dreams before Waking

Despair is the question
- Elie Wiesel

Hasta tu pais cambio. Lo has cambiado tu mismo.
- Nancy Morejon

Despair falls:
the shadow of a building
they are raising in the direct path
of your slender ray of sunlight
Slowly the steel girders grow
the skeletal framework rises
yet teh western light still filters
through it all
still glances off the plastic sheeting
they wrap around it
for dead of winter.

At the end of winter something changes
a faint subtraction
from consolations you expected
an innocent brilliance that does not come
through the flower shops set out
once again on teh pagement
their pots of tight-budded sprays
the bunches of jonquils stiff with cold
and at such a price
though someone must buy them
you study those hues as if with hunger

Despair falls
like the day you come home
from work, a summer evening
transparent with rose-blue light
and see they are filling in
the framework
the girders are rising
beyond your window
that seriously you live
in a different place
though you have never moved

and will not move, not yet
but will give away
your potted plants ot a friend
on the other side of town
along with the cut crystal
flashing in the window-frame
will forget the evenings
of watching the street, the sky
the planes in the feathered afterglow:
will learn to feel grateful simply for this foothold

where still you can manage
to go on paying rent
where still you can believe
it's the old neighborhood:
even the woman who sleeps at night
in the barred doorway -- wasn't she always there?
and the man glancing, darting
for food in the supermarket trash --
when did his hunger come to this?
what made the diffence?
what will make it for you?

What will make it for you?
you don't want to know the stages
and those who go through them don't want to tell
You have your four locks on the door
your savings, your respectable past
your strangely querulous body, suffering
sicknesses of the city no one can name
You have your pride, your bitterness
your memories of sunset
you think you can make it straight through
you don't speak of despair.

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other's despair into hope? --
You yourself must change it. --
what would it feel like to know
your country was canging? --
You yourself must change it. --
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page to the end of despair?

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