Adrienne Rich

Letters to a Young Poet

Your photograph won’t do you justice
those wetted anthill mounds won’t let you focus
that lens on the wetlands

five swans chanting overhead
distract your thirst for closure
and quick escape

Let me turn you around in your frozen nightgown and say
one word to you: Ineluctable

—meaning, you won’t get quit
of this: the worst of the new news

history running back and forth
panic in the labyrinth

—I will not touch you further:
your choice to freeze or not

to say, you and I are caught in
a laboratory without a science

Would it gladden you to think
poetry could purely

take its place beneath lightning sheets
or fogdrip    live its own life

screamed at, howled down
by a torn bowel of dripping names

—composers visit Terezin, film-makers Sarajevo
Cabrini-Green or Edenwald Houses


if a woman as vivid as any artist
can fling any day herself from the 14th floor

would it relieve you to decide     Poetry
doesn’t make this happen?

From the edges of your own distraction turn 
the cloth-weave up, its undersea-fold venous

with sorrow’s wash and suck, pull and release,
             annihilating rush

to and fro, fabric of caves, the onset of your fear
kicking away their lush and slippery fauna nurseried
            in liquid glass

trying to stand fast in rootsuck, in distraction,
            trying to wade this
undertow of utter repetition

Look: with all my fear I’m here with you, trying what it
             means, to stand fast; what it means to move

Beneaped. Rowboat, pirogue, caught between the lowest
and highest tides of spring. Beneaped. Befallen,
becalmed, benighted, yes, begotten.
—Be—infernal prefix of the actionless.
—Be—as in Sit, Stand, Lie, Obey.
The dog’s awful desire that takes his brain
and lays it at the boot-heel.

You can be like this forever—Be
as without movement.

But this is how
I come, anyway, pushing up from below
my head wrapped in a chequered scarf  a lanterned helmet on this
pushing up out of the ore
this sheeted face this lanterned head facing the seep of death
my lips having swum through silt
        clearly pronouncing
Hello and farewell

Who, anyway, wants to know
this pale mouth, this stick
of crimson lipsalve Who my
dragqueen’s vocal chords my bitter beat
my overshoulder backglance flung
at the great strophes and antistrophes
my chant my ululation my sacred parings
nails, hair my dysentery my hilarious throat

my penal colony’s birdstarved ledge my face downtown
in films by Sappho and Artaud?

Everyone.    For a moment.

It’s not the déjà vu that kills
it’s the foreseeing
the head that speaks from the crater

I wanted to go somewhere
the brain had not yet gone
I wanted not to be
there so alone.