ADRIENNE RICH

POEM IV

From the collection “Twenty-One Love Poems” (1978)

by Adrienne Rich

IV
I come home from you through the early light of Spring
flashing off ordinary walls, the Pez Dorado,
the Discount Wares, the shoe-store…I’m lugging my sack
of groceries, I dash for the elevator
where a man, taut, elderly, carefully composed
lets the door almost close on me. – For god’s sake hold it!
I croak at him – Hysterical, – he breathes my way.
I let myself into the kitchen, unload my bundles,
make coffee, open the window, put on Nina Simone
singing Here Comes the Sun…I open the mail,
drinking delicious coffee, delicious music,
my body still both light and heavy with you. The mail,
lets fall a Xerox of something written by a man
aged 27, a hostage, tortured in prison:
My genitals have been the object of such a sadistic display
they keep me constantly awake with the pain…
Do whatever you can to survive.
You know, I think men love wars…
And my incurable anger, my unmendable wounds
break open further with tears, I am crying helplessly,
and they still control the world, and you are not in my arms.


About Adrienne Rich from VirgoText:

About Rich’s work, the poet W.S. Merwin has said, “All her life she has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful.”

Rich has received the Bollingen Prize, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the National Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship; she is also a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

In 1997, she refused the National Medal of Arts, stating that “I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.” She went on to say: “[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”

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2 Responses to ADRIENNE RICH

  1. Beautifully moving me to tears, too. And Adrienne Rich is not a poet only — she lives her truths. She reaches out toward the needy and encourages women striving to be creative collectively. And so much more.

  2. michael mcavoy says:

    Matt,
    A favorite of mine.
    Michael

    “Dreams Before Waking”
    by Adrienne Rich

    Despair is the question.
    — Elie Wiesel

    Hasta tu país cambió. Lo has
    cambiado tú mismo.
    — Nancy Morejón

    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 the 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
    though the flower shops set out
    once again on the pavement
    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 to 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 difference?
    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 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
    if 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 changing? —
    You yourself must change it. —
    Though your life felt arduous
    new and unmapped and strange
    what would it means to stand on the first
    page of the end of despair?

    1983

    Reprinted from Your Native Land, Your Life: Poems by Adrienne Rich (c) 1986 by Adrienne Rich. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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