The poem of my life

A poem by Adrienne Rich from the sequence “Twenty-One Love Poems”. This is poem #2

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 carried the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.


Still more work to do: RIP Adrienne Rich

Since I learned that the great poet Adrienne Rich died yesterday, I’ve been mulling over a response, but I don’t think I’m capable of putting my grief over this loss into words, nor am I likely qualified. A year ago I posted a poem that seems strangely fitting. But what I would do is point to her remarkable essay on Elizabeth Bishop, and especially to a passage near its end, because it always appeared to sum up the force driving Rich’s magnificent work through all these past decades, and it’s the first thing I thought of when the terrible news of her death reached me:

It is important to me to know that, through most of her life, Bishop was critically and consciously trying to explore marginality, power and powerlessness, often in poetry of great beauty and sensuous power. That not all these poems are fully realized or satisfying simply means that the living who care that art should embody these questions have still more work to do.

Read Rich. There are many editions of her work out there and you really can’t go wrong.

The experience of repetition as death

Adrienne Rich: A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

My swirling wants. Your frozen lips.
The grammar turned and attacked me.
Themes, written under duress.
Emptiness of the notations.

They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds.

I want you to see this before I leave:
the experience of repetition as death
the failure of criticism to locate the pain
the poster in the bus that said:
my bleeding is under control

A red plant in a cemetary of plastic wreaths.

A last attempt: the language is a dialect called metaphor.
These images go unglossed: hair, glacier, flashlight.
When I think of a landscape I am thinking of a time.
When I talk of taking a trip I mean forever.
I could say: those mountains have a meaning
but further than that I could not say.

To do something very common, in my own way.

I read this poem in the delicious volume of selected poems The Fact of a Doorframe. The poem was originally published in The Will to Change (1971). Both books are highly recommended.