CURRENT MOON

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Make Of Our Lives A Study


This August evening I’ve been driving
over backroads fringed with queen anne’s lace
my car startling young deer in meadows—one
gave a hoarse intake of her breath and all
four fawns sprang after her
into the dark maples.
Three months from today they’ll be fair game
for the hit-and-run hunters, glorying
in a weekend’s destructive power,
triggers fingered by drunken gunmen, sometimes
so inept as to leave the shattered animal
stunned in her blood. But then evening deep in summer
the deer are still alive and free,
nibbling apples from early-laden boughs
so weighed, so englobed
with already yellowing fruit
they seem eternal, Hesperidean
in the clear-tuned, cricket-throbbing air.

Later I stood in the dooryard
my nerves singing the immense
fragility of all this sweetness,
this green world already sentimentalized, photographed,
advertised to death. Yet, it persists
stubbornly beyond the fake Vermont
of antique barnboards glazed into discotheques,
artificial snow, the sick Vermont of children
conceived in apathy grown to winters
of rotgut violence,
poverty gnashing its teeth like a blind cat at their lives.
Still, it persists. Turning off into a dirt road
from the raw cuts bulldozed through a quiet village
for the tourist run to Canada,
I’ve sat on a stone fence above a great-soft, sloping field
of musing helfers, a farmstead
slanting its planes calmly in the calm light,
a dead elm raising bleached arms
above a green so dense with life,
minute, momentary life—slugs, moles, pheasants, gnats,
spiders, moths, hummingbirds, groundhogs, butterflies
a lifetime is too narrow
to understand it all, beginning with the huge
rockshelves that underlie all life.

No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.

At most we’re allowed a few months
of simply listening to the simple
line of a woman’s voice singing a child
against her heart. Everything else is too soon,
too sudden, the wrenching-apart, that woman’s heartbeat
heard ever after from a distance
the loss of that ground-note echoing
whenever we are happy, or in despair.

Everything else seems beyond us,
we aren’t ready for it, nothing that was said
is true for us, caught naked in the argument,
the counterpoint, trying to sightread
what our fingers can’t keep up with, learn by heart
what we can’t even read. And yet
it is this we were born to. We aren’t virtuosi
or child prdigies, there are no prodigies
in this realm, only a half-blind, stubborn
cleaving to the timbre, the tones of what we are,
even when all the texts describe it differently.

And we’re not performers, like Liszt, competing
against the world for speed and brilliance
(the 79-year-old pianist said, when I asked her
What makes a virtuoso?—Competitiveness.)
The longer I live the more I mistrust
theatricality, the false glamour cast
by performance, the more I know its poverty beside
the truths we are salvaging from
the splitting-open of our lives
The woman who sits watching, listening,
eyes moving in the darkness
is reheasing in her body, hearing-out in her blood
a score touched off in her perhaps
by some words, a few chords, from the stage,
a tale only she can tell.

But there come times—perhaps this is one of them
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
we when have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowning the wires. We cut the wires,
find ourselves in free-fall, as if
our true home were the undimensional
solitudes, the rift
in the Great Nebula.
No one who survives to speak
new language, has avoided this:
the cutting-away of an old force that held her
rooted to an old ground
the pitch of utter loneliness
where she herself and all creation
seem equally dispersed, weightless, her being a cry
to which no echo comes or can ever come.

But in fact we were always like this,
rootless, dismembered: knowing it makes the difference.
Birth stripped our birthright from us,
tore us from a woman, from women, from ourselves
so early on
and the whole chorus throbbing at our ears
like midges, told us nothing, nothing
of origins, nothing we needed
to know, nothing that could re-member us.

Only: that it is unnatural,
the homesickness for a woman, for ourselves,
for that acute joy at the shadow her head and arms
cast on a wall, her heavy or slender
thighs on which we lay, flesh against flesh,
eyes steady on the face of love; smell of her milk, her sweat,
terror of her disappearance, all fused in this hunger
for the element they have called most dangerous, to be
lifted breathtaken on her breast, to rock within her—even if beaten back, stranded again, to apprehend
in a sudden brine-clear though
trembling like the tiny, orbed, endangered
egg-sac of a new world:
This is what she was to me, and this
is how I can love myself
as only a woman can love me.

Homesick for myself, for her—as, later the heatwave
breaks, the clear tones of the world
manifest: cloud, bough, wall, insect, the very soul of light,
homesick as the fluted vault of desire
articulates itself: I am the lover and the loved,
home and wanderer, she who splits
firewood and she who knocks, a strange
in the storm, two women, eye to eye
measuring each other’s spirits each others’
limitless desire,

a whole new poetry beginning here.

Vision begins to happen in such a life
as if a woman quietly walked away
from the argument and jargon in a room
and sitting down in the kitchen, began turning in her lap
bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps,
laying them out absently on the scrubbed boards
in the lamplight, with small rainbow- colored shells
sent in cotton-wool from somewhere far away
and skeins of milkweed from the nearest meadow
original domestic silk, the finest findings
and the darkblue petal of the petunia,
and the dry darkbrown face of seaweed;
not forgotten either, the shed silver
whisker of the cat,
the spiral of paper-wasp-nest curling
beside the finch’s yellow feather.
Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity,
the striving for greatness, brilliance
only with the musing of a mind
one with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing
dark against bright; silk against roughness,
putting the tenets of a life together
with no mere will to mastery,
only care for the many-lived, unending
forms in which she finds herself,
becoming now the sherd of broken glass
slicing light in a corner, dangerous
to flesh, now the plentiful, soft leaf
that wrapped round the throbbing finger, soothes the wound;
and now the stone foundation, rockshelf further
forming underneath everything that grows.

(1977) by Adrienne Rich

1 comment:

r@d@r said...

and that is why, after nearly 3 decades of reading and writing poetry, adrienne rich continues to be my favorite. as in, number 1 in my top 5 including rainer rilke, alan ginsberg, kenneth patchen, and wallace stevens.

she is it. she is why i write.

thanks for this.

[i'mf flashing back to a time when i was fortunate enough to get to see her do a reading at black oak books - back when they could fit all the people who wanted to see her read into a small independent bookstore. my oh my.....]