Adrienne Rich, 1929 — 2012

When Eric and I got married, as part of our vows he read an Adrienne Rich poem to me; I read one of Shakespeare’s love sonnets to him.  I loved that Eric was reading a lesbian love poem to me at our wedding, as if by that act we were affirming love in all its expressions and rejecting society’s rejection of love between people of the same gender.  Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck was one of my most cherished books in my early 20’s and I read it over and over, trying to master some of her poetic clarity and vision.  I got to hear her read her brilliant and brave poetry when I was at the University of Massachusetts in the 70’s and I still remember her halting walk up to the podium in a large lecture hall, already struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, but unimpeded in the power of her voice.  When I was pregnant with our first child, I asked Eric to read Rich’s Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution — I wanted Eric to enter into parenthood with me holding the same feminist analysis of how women are shaped by societal expectations of motherhood.  He read the book, and I think we were better parents because of it.  We named our daughter Adrienne.

Adrienne Rich died on Tuesday, and the NY Times has published a wonderful tribute to her, A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism.  It could be the most important thing you read today.

Brooks and Prompts

Narrows Brook runs behind my house and I see it from the upstairs bathroom window, the kitchen sink window and the back bedroom windows.   I can hear the water hum from my deck or on summer nights through the screened windows.  I take a lot of photographs of this brook because I run by it almost every day I run.  I write a lot about this brook, because I’m so often prompted into my poetry through my senses, most commonly what I see, with what I hear coming in second.

In the last several months, I’ve been in a few gatherings of poets where we work with prompts — everyone throwing out two words to use in a poem, or describing the relationship between randomly selected objects, or bouncing out of someone else’s poem to write our own take on the subject.  I’m loving this.  It’s getting me out of my own fairly self-limited point of view and helping me write poems that stretch subject, perspective, images and language.

Which brings me back to Narrows Brook.  I live near it, so it shows up a lot in my poetry, and when I see it and start thinking about a poem in response, I say to myself, “it’s the same damn brook.”  Here is that line, from a poem that’s in The Truth About Death, but this last stanza didn’t make the cut.  On the blog, not in the book.  Still the same brook.

I am dutiful, it scares me, the 3. definition of demon
is zealous, skillful, diligent. I can’t stop, one for two.
It’s a choice, the dropping of the dam in spring,
the brook is full and beautiful, it’s the same damn brook.

NaHaiWriMo

Remember NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month?  Well now it’s NaHaiWriMo, National Haiku Writing Month.  I stumbled upon NaHaiWriMo last February,  when I was already committed to writing a haiku every day for my blog, and a friend of a friend, who also writes haiku, told me about NaHaiWriMo.

As soon as we got home from Paris (well, the next morning actually) we left again, to go to Connecticut to visit Eric’s mother, Natalie, who is still quite ill, then on to New York to visit Adrienne and Matt and Emilio, then back to visit Natalie, then home.  Last night driving the last few miles of the trip, I remembered that it’s now February, NaHaiWriMo.  Unknowingly, I had started the month by tweeting a haiku on Wednesday morning.  And last night as I drove, I wrote a haiku for yesterday in my head.

Pines blacken in dusk
Clouds streak sky deep indigo
Fresh cold settles home.

Today’s haiku hasn’t happened yet, but it will.

Warm November

I went running in a short sleeve shirt this morning.  I mowed the lawn in a tank top and shorts yesterday.  As I ran, looking out across mist shrouded fields, passing my neighbor’s colonial breed of cows grazing with their bells gently ringing, I thought about another poem from The Truth About Death.  While this poem was written five years ago next month, I thought it fitting for this morning.  It was published the following year in The Sun.  If you’ve never read The Sun, I strongly suggest you check it out.  It’s a fabulous magazine, not just because they took four poems from my manuscript, but also because the writing is excellent, the politics are proudly humanistic and focused on the worth and potential of every individual, and all of us as a community of connected people, and there is a wonderful section each month full of short pieces by readers.

Warm December

Some days I don’t have enough time to cry,
and then I miss it. A beaded curtain of rain
hangs from the porch roof; the Johnsons
have Christmas lights up. This week
I’ve been seeing you in the waiting room
in a wheelchair: exhausted, willing your blood
to behave, to qualify for a clinical trial,
any guinea pig treatment. By then
you were a withered man. If you were alive
we would go kayaking this weekend,
just to say we’d done it in December.
Last November we calculated how many times
we’d made love. Now there is thunder.

Winterberries

We’re entering the season of winter bareness, as the last of the leaves turn russet and dark yellow, and just plain brown, on the oaks.  The maple leaves are long gone.  Most bushes have lost their leaves now too, including the winterberry bushes that flourish in wet spots around my house.  After dropping their glossy summer leaves, the bush is a great swath of color in an otherwise quickly-becoming-dim landscape.  We passed a bush this morning while walking, which made me think of this poem, from my manuscript The Truth About Death.    Noticing brilliance was part of how I made each day work for me, in that numbing first year of grief.  It still helps, a spark of color on a grey morning.

Now

Sunlight through the kitchen window
catches my glass of juice and fires
a moment of brilliance in my hand,
moving to my mouth, my lips. I drive
to work, I drive too fast, accelerating hard
up the hill from the traffic circle
a bright November morning, bushes
of winterberry red and red and red
against bare trees shiny with sunlight.

And the Next

The evening after I’d talked to Sharon Olds about getting together to write poetry, there was a meeting of my poetry group, the Yogurt Poets, or YoPos.  Only Nancy and I were there and so had plenty of time to chat.  I told her about the poetry gathering I was planning and asked if she could join us, as Sharon had invited me to invite someone.  Nancy couldn’t make it, but I told her I’d let her know about it.

A week ago, I sent her the link to the Poetry Play post and she used the list of words to generate her own poem, before reading my poem.

Done Waiting

when released
counterweighted
like a pumpjack
my head rocks
into place
on the back
of my neck
and my sun visor
naturally lifted
no longer blocks
my view
of one blueberry
a gibbous orb
who’s own
tenuous existence
provokes a closer
inspection
as I step from dry
cobble to cobble
through marshy land
at the low end
of this oblong field
and pick and eat
am satisfied.
— Nancy Stewart

“Isn’t it remarkable how different our use of the word-list is?” she wrote, after reading my poem, after writing hers.  Yes, indeed.

PS The blog formatting isn’t taking the indentation of every other line that Nancy did in her poem.  Sorry — it really adds something to the poem, so you’ll just have to imagine it.

Next Poem

Two weekends ago Sam, Marianna, Adrienne, Matt, Emilio, and David’s brother Doug were all here for the weekend.  When David and I got up on Saturday morning, Sam and Marianna were up with Emilio, letting Adrienne and Matt get some extra morning sleep. David and I were both still under the spell of the poetry play we’d done the day before, and asked Sam and Marianna to help us generate a list of words to serve as writing prompts for the day.  The list:  green, lush, blue, constitutional monarchy (that’s Sam), stare, oar, amble.  I was too busy cooking and playing with Emilio and being in the middle of day full of family to write a poem, but David did, and here it is.

The Laws of Nature

There are equations for the road’s convergence,
edges crossing the height of land to have
the last word before leaving the scene.
Those rules of perspective were worked out long ago
when people could still stare at things without moving.
Once there was one world,
a ruler came straight from the sun
and measurement was by the monarch’s foot.
Now lush governance has overgrown the arch.
The seen is changed by being seen.
No thing is any one thing and time has no place.
The wind sweeps oars through the grasses,
their bending reeds,
the light greening gold
then bruising the shadows blue,
darting for the bait beneath
the arc of a shallow sun.
A turkey can fly,
but tonight it falls out of the tree.

David hadn’t yet sent his poem from the morning with Sharon Olds to the others who were there, and when he did send that poem, he included this one.  Bill wrote back to David, with the following comments on this poem.

I really like The Laws of Nature. You’ve captured something essential about what feels to me like the shift from the Newtonian universe to the relativistic world that came with Einstein and Heldelberg and modern physics and art.

What I find even more intriguing is that last part, with the imagery of the grasses and the shadows, because for me it opens a door to a third possibility–the world that indigenous people knew, before abstract language, where there was one world but a much different kind of physics, much more fluid and connected. I’ve come across some work in the shamanic traditions that tries to convey what that world was like, and how to revive it in some ways for putting our broken world together again.

So your piece has invited me to look deeper in that third realm. I’ll let you know what I find there.

I love what Bill says about David’s poem and take it as confirmation of what I’ve thought about David as a poet since I met him.  He’s a natural.  He’s spent very little of his adult life writing poetry, yet he has a true ear and great sense of detail, movement and how to make surprising shifts and turns. What fun for me.

More Poetry Play

First, today has been a total 10 on a 1 – 10 scale of perfection.  The sun is clear, hot and sparkling on the water of the bay, the air is cool with a light breeze, and I’m in a waterfront house with only a tiny bit of work to do.  And there was an earthquake today! Sitting on the deck eating lunch, I felt everything start to move back and forth.  For a minute, I thought there was something wrong with me, some inner balance suddenly gone so that the world was now a shifting quiver.  I looked up at David in the kitchen and said, “Is there an earthquake going on?”  “I think so,” he answered, and then the quaking stopped.  Thankfully, it appears to have done little damage, even near the epicenter.

So, here is the poem David wrote almost two weeks ago, during our morning of poetry play.  The word prompts were the same that gave me the poem I posted two days ago: ruffle, marshy, sun visor, visible, tenuous, waiting, cobble, gibbous, orb, oblong. Tomorrow will be another poem from David, using words we had our family generate following day.  Lots of poetry in my life right now, which is a very good thing.

Sargent and the Four Daughters

There must have been a gibbous moon unmasked
the feathering of the Earth
softening the chill edge into that curtain
drawn deep across the shadows of the painting.
One is barely visible in the darker folds,
her sister more forward in the brushed light
before the bright one in ruffles
who draws the eye naturally.
I cannot see the fourth I know is there
somewhere else
searching for words in the road.