Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thinking About Adrienne Rich

An Atlas for Our Time (M.A. Reilly, 3.28.12)
I am so inspired each and every time I hear or read work by Adrienne Rich.  Once, years ago, Rob and a friend of ours, Michael listened to Adrienne read. It was autumn and night and I have not forgotten. The bright light in the tent, the surrounding darkness, and how transformed I felt listening to her read.  It was the closest thing I know to grace.

So when word came of her death, I began to reread and to work on the image that tops this post.

A few words from Adrienne Rich....

from Penn Sound (audio)

from An Atlas of the Difficult World

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains' enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


  1. tonight has been for me, a rather beautiful deluge of her words via Twitter and FB. sad as i am to see her gone, i am grateful to have been reminded again of her graceful and wise stance in and on the world.

    1. Yes. yes yes.

      More of her words:

      Here is a map of our country:
      here is the Sea of Indifference, glazed with salt
      This is the haunted river flowing from brow to groin
      we dare not taste its water
      This is the desert where missiles are planted like *corms
      This is the breadbasket of foreclosed farms
      This is the birthplace of the rockabilly boy
      This is the cemetery of the poor
      who died for democracy This is a battlefield
      from a nineteenth century war the shrine is famous
      This is a sea-town of myth and story when the fishing fleets
      went bankrupt here is where the jobs were on the pier
      processing frozen fishsticks hourly wages and no shares
      These are other battlefields Centralia Detroit
      here are the forests primeval the copper the silver lodes
      These are the suburbs of acquiescence silence rising fumelike
      from the streets
      This is the capital of money and *dolor whose spires
      flare up through air inversions whose bridges are crumbling
      whose children are drifting blind alleys pent
      between coiled rolls of razor wire
      I promised to show you a map you say but this is a mural
      then yes let it be these are small distinctions
      where do we see it from is the question

  2. Tonight was a rather mournful night for me. As mentioned by Bon, while I'm sad to know she's gone, it's been lovely to see her beautiful words embraced and shared throughout the internet world tonight. She really is such an inspiration for so many people. Thank you for your wonderful post.

    1. I too have felt solace in the words exchanged online tonight. Such a hole in the universe, though.

  3. "Such a hole in the universe..." How true. I remember that night (and the afternoon before it) very well, out at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, NJ. You, Rob, me, Joanne... We sat for a few minutes and listened to Ginsberg that day, too--another icon gone.

    Only they're never really gone; we have their words.

    1. It's like the end to that Shakespearean sonnet: So long lives this/And this gives life to thee.

  4. I was so deeply saddened to hear of her passing. I loved her work and below I'm sharing my favorite of her words. The first time I read them, they became a part of me.

    I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
    Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
    you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
    our friend the poet comes into my room
    where I’ve been writing for days,
    drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
    and I want to show her one poem
    which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
    and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
    to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
    I say, a poem I wanted to show someone…
    and I laugh and fall dreaming again
    of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
    to move openly together
    in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
    which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

    1. Oh my, how wonderful: how life affirming. Thank you Amy for sharing this. It made my evening.