31 March 2012

In Memoriam - Adrienne Rich, May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012

 North American Time, by Adrienne Rich


 When my dreams showed signs
 of becoming
 politically correct
 no unruly images
 escaping beyond border
 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
 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 responsible
 and this is verbal privilege


 Try sitting at a typewriter
 one calm summer evening
 at a table by a window
 in the country, try pretending
 your time does not exist
 that you are simply you
 that the imagination simply strays
 like a great moth, unintentional
 try telling yourself
 you are not accountable
 to the life of your tribe
 the breath of your planet


 It doesn't matter what you think.
 Words are found responsible
 all you can do is choose them
 or choose
 to remain silent. Or, you never had a choice,
 which is why the words that do stand
 are responsible
 and this is verbal privilege


 Suppose you want to write
 of a woman braiding
 another woman's hair--
 staightdown, or with beads and shells
 in three-strand plaits or corn-rows--
 you had better know the thickness
 the length     the pattern
 why she decides to braid her hair
 how it is done to her
 what country it happens in
 what else happens in that country
 You have to know these things


 Poet, sister: words--
 whether we like it or not--
 stand in a time of their own.
 no use protesting     I wrote that
 before Kollontai was exiled
 Rosa Luxembourg, Malcolm,
 Anna Mae Aquash, murdered,
 before Treblinka, Birkenau,
 Hiroshima, before Sharpeville,
 Biafra, Bangla Desh, Boston,
 Atlanta, Soweto, Beirut, Assam
 --those faces, names of places
 sheared from the almanac
 of North American time


 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


 Sometimes, gliding at night
 in a plane over New York City
 I have felt like some messenger
 called to enter, called to engage
 this field of light and darkness.
 A grandiose idea, born of flying.
 But underneath the grandiose idea
 is the thought that what I must engage
 after the plane has rage onto the tarmac
 after climbing my old stair, sitting down
 at my old window
 is meant to break my heart and reduce me to silence.


 In North America time stumbles on
 without moving, only releasing
 a certain North American pain.
 Julia de Burgos wrote:
 That my grandfather was a slave
 is my grief; had he been a master
 that would have been my shame.
 A poet's words, hung over a door
 in North America, in the year
 The almost-full moon rises
 timeless speaking of change
 out of the Bronx, the Harlem River
 the drowned towns of the Quabbin
 the pilfered burial mounds
 the toxic swamps, the testing-grounds
 and I start to speak again.