Adrienne Rich

Midnight Salvage

Up skyward through a glazed triangle I
sought the light of a so-called heavenly body
: : a planet or our moon in some event and caught

nothing nothing but a late wind
pushing around some Monterey pines
themselves in trouble and rust-limbed

Nine o’clock : : July : the light
undrained : : that blotted blue
that lets has let will let

thought’s blood ebb between life- and death-time
darkred behind darkblue
bad news pulsing back and forth of “us” and “them”

And all I wanted was to find an old
friend an old figure an old trigonometry
still true to our story in orbits flaming or cold

Under the conditions of my hiring
I could profess or declare anything at all
since in that place nothing would change
So many fountains, such guitars at sunset

Did not want any more to sit under such a window’s
deep embrasure, wisteria bulging on spring air
in that borrowed chair
with its collegiate shield at a borrowed desk

under photographs of the spanish steps, Keats’ death mask
and the English cemetery all so under control and so eternal 
in burnished frames : : or occupy that office
of the marxist-on-sabbatical

with Gramschi’s fast-fading eyes
thumbtacked on one wall opposite a fading print
of the same cemetery : : had memories
and death masks of my own : : could not any more

peruse young faces already straining for
the production of slender testaments
to swift reading and current thinking : : would not wait
for the stroke of noon to declare all passions obsolete

Could not play by the rules
in that palmy place : : nor stand at lectern professing
anything at all
                           in their hire

Had never expected hope would form itself
completely in my time : : was never so sanguine
as to believe old injuries could transmute easily
through any singular event or idea : : never
so feckless as to ignore the managed contagion
of ignorance the contrived discontinuities
the felling of leaders and future leaders
the pathetic erections of soothsayers

But though I was conspiring, breathing-along
with history’s systole-diastole
twenty thousand leagues under the sea a mammal heartbeat
sheltering another heartbeat
plunging from the Farallons all the way to Baja
sending up here or there a blowhole signal
and sometimes beached making for warmer waters
where the new would be delivered : : though I would not see it

But neither was expecting in my time
to witness this : : wasn’t deep
lucid or mindful you might say enough
to look through history’s bloodshot eyes
into the commerce this dreadnought wreck cut loose
from all vows, oaths, patents, compacts, promises : :
                                                                                 To see
not O my Captain
fallen cold & dead by the assassin’s hand

but cold alive & cringing : : drinking with the assassins
in suit of noir Hong Kong silk
pushing his daughter in her famine-
waisted flamingo gown
out on the dance floor with the traffickers
in nerve gas saying to them Go for it
and to the girl Get with it

When I ate and drank liberation once I walked
arm-in-arm with someone who said she had something to teach me
It was the avenue and the dwellers
free of home : roofless : : women
without pots to scour or beds to make
or combs to run through hair
or hot water for lifting grease or cans
to open or soap to slip in that way
under arms then beneath breasts then downward to thighs

Oil-drums were alight under the freeway
and bottles reached from pallets of cardboard corrugate
and piles of lost and found to be traded back and forth
and figures arranging themselves from the wind 
Through all this she walked me : : And said
My name is Liberation and I come from here
Of what are you so afraid?

We’ve hung late in the bars like bats
kissed goodnight at the stoplights
did you think I wore this city without pain?
did you think I had no family?

Past the curve where the old craftsman was run down
there’s a yard called Midnight Salvage
He was walking in the road which was always safe
The young driver did not know that road
its curves or that people walked there
or that you could speed yet hold the curve
watching for those who walked there
such skills he did not have being in life unpracticed

but I have driven that road in madness and driving rain
thirty years in love and pleasure and grief-blind
on ice I have driven it and in the vague haze of summer
between clumps of daisies and sting of fresh cow flop odors
lucky I am I hit nobody old or young
killed nobody left no trace
practiced in life as I am

This horrible patience which is part of the work
This patience which waits for language for meaning for 
                      the least sign
This encumbered plodding state doggedly dragging
the IV up and down the corridor
with the plastic sack of bloodstained urine

Only so can you start living again
waking to take the temperature of the soul
when the black irises lean at dawn
from the mouth of the bedside pitcher
This condition in which you swear I will
submit to whatever poetry is
I accept no limits   Horrible patience

You cannot eat an egg   You don’t know where it’s been
The ordinary body of the hen
vouchsafes no safety   The countryside refuses to supply
Milk is powdered   meat’s in both senses high

Old walls the pride of architects   collapsing
find us in crazed niches   sleeping like foxes
we wanters we unwanted we
wanted for the crime of being ourselves

Fame slides on its belly like any other animal after food
Ruins are disruptions of system leaking in
weeds and light    redrawing
the City of Expectations

You cannot eat an egg   Unstupefied not unhappy
we braise wild greens and garlic   feed the feral cats
and when the fog’s irregular documents break open
scan its fissures for young stars
                      in the belt of Orion

spoken = Karen Marek