Sunday, December 9, 2007

integrity

"the quality of being complete; unbroken condition; entirety"
-webster

"a wild patience has taken me this far

as if i had to bring to shore
a boat with a spasmodic outboard motor
old sweaters, nets, spray-mottled books
tossed in the prow
some kind of sun burning my shoulder-blades.
splashing the oarlocks. burning through.
your fore-arms can get scalded, licked with pain
in a sun blotted like unspoken anger
behind a casual mist.

the length of daylight
this far north, in this
forty-ninth year of my life
is critical.

the light is critical: of me, of this
long-dreamed, involuntary landing
on the arm of an inland sea.
the glitter of the shoal
depleting into shadow
i recognize: the stand of pines
violet-black really, green in the old postcard
but really i have nothing but myself
to go by; nothing
stands in the realm of pure necessity
except what my hands can hold.

nothing but myself?....my selves.
after so long, this answer.
as if I had always known
i steer the boat in, simply.
the motor dying on the pebbles
cicadas taking up the hum
dropped in the silence.

anger and tenderness: my selves.
and now i can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
anger and tenderness: the spider's genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere --
even from a broken web.

the cabin in the stand of pines
is still for sale. i know this. know the print
of the last foot, the hand that slammed and locked the door,
then stopped to wreathe the rain-smashed clematis
back on the trellis
for no one's sake except its own.
i know the chart nailed to the wallboards
the icy kettle squatting on the burner.
the hands that hammered in those nails
emptied that kettle one last time
are these two hands
and they have caught the baby leaping
from between trembling legs
and they have worked the vacuum aspirator
and stroked the sweated temples
and steered the boat here through this hot
misblotted sunlight, critical light
imperceptibly scalding
the skin these hands will also salve."


-adrienne rich

thank you so much for this poem, desi.

2 comments:

Lisa said...

Jessa - do you know which of Adrienne's collections this comes from? I can't believe this poem and how timely it is for me today and all that I'm wrestling with. I struggle with Rich. I have been greatly inspired by her non-fiction work. Yet I go back and forth with her poetry. Something about a lack of a sense of humor; she's so intense and the poems difficult, and sometimes, because I often possess a bleak outlook, her poems are too much of that energy for me. But I'd like to know where to find this poem in a book - it is remarkable.

jessa walters said...

lisa....i received this poem as a gift in a card from a friend....i looked online to see about a source for it - as far as i can tell, it comes from her book "integrity" published in 1978. i am with you when it comes to the intensity and lack of joy in so much of rich's poetry. i can only take her in small doses it seems. sylvia plath (what i've read of her) is another! but somehow this particular poem, indeed intense, also had a heart-opening quality....i'm so glad it touched you.