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Dear Friends and readers,

I celebrated her in a foremother poet blog this morning. This evening NPR has an audio for us to listen to. And I've been reading her poems on and off all day as people post them onto Wompo. These two I couldn't resist sharing here separately: they are about the US gov't action outside the US and then outside and inside

The School Among the Ruins

Beirut.Baghdad.Sarajevo.Bethlehem.Kabul.  Not of course here.
 
1
 
Teaching the first lesson and the last
  - great falling light of summer will you last
longer than a schooltime?
When children flow
in columns at the doors
BOYS GIRLS and the busy teachers
 
open or close high windows
with hooked polesdrawing   darkgreen shades
 
closets unlocked, locked
questions unasked, asked, when
 
love of the fresh impeccable
sharp-pencilled  yes
order without cruelty
 
a street on earth  neither heaven nor hell
busy with commerce and worship
young teachers walking to school
 
fresh bread and early-open foodstalls
 
2
 
When the offensive rocks the sky when nightglare
misconstrues day and night when lived-in
 
rooms from the upper city
tumble cratering lower streets
 
cornices of olden ornament  ;human debris
when fear vacuums out the streets
 
When the whole town flinches
blood on the undersole thickening to glass
 
Whoever crosses  knees bent  ;a contested zone
knows why she does this suicidal thing
 
School's now in session day and night
children sleep
in the classroom  teachers rolled close
 
3
 
How the good teacher loved
his school  the students
the lunchroom with fresh sandwiches
 
lemonade and milk
the classroom  glass cages
of moss and turtles
teaching responsibility
 
A morning breaks without bread or fresh-poured milk
parents or lesson plans
 
diarrhea first question of the day
children shivering   it's September
Second question:  where is my mother?
 
4
 
One:  I don't know where your mother
is  Two:  I don't know
why they are trying to hurt us
Three:  or the latitude and longitude
of their hatred   Four:  I don't know if we
hate them as much  I think there's more toilet paper
in the supply closet  I'm going to break it open
 
Today this is your lesson:
write as clearly as you can
your name   and number
down on this page
No you can't go home yet
but you aren't lost
this is our school
 
I'm not sure what we'll eat
we'll look for healthy roots and greens
searching for water though the pipes are broken
 
5
 
There's a young cat sticking
her head through window bars
she's hungry like us
but can feed on mice
her bronze erupting fur
speaks of a life already wild
 
her golden eyes
don't give quarter  ;Let's call her
Sister
when we get milk we'll give her some
 
6
 
I've told you, let's try to sleep in this funny camp
All night pitiless pilotless things go shrieking
above us somewhere
 
Don't let your faces turn to stone
Don't stop asking me why
Let's pay attention to our cat  she needs us
 
Maybe tomorrow the bakers can fix their overs
 
7
 
"We sang them to naps  made
shadow-animals with our hands
 
wiped human debris off boots and coats
sat learning by heart the names
some were too young to write
some had forgotten how"
 
2001
 
from The School Among the Ruins, Adrienne Rich


Ian facing forward, our nervous elusive cat

This is also appropriate to our time. We won't see another like Rich in our generation, only muddle and compromise. She was white, lived a respectable married life until very much later in her career. Her husband committed suicide several months after she divorced him. That's not much spoken of (as did Joan Rivers's husband kill himself after she left him because he couldn't take the heat of what they were enduring and her fighting back after Carson attacked her repeatedly
and openly on TV).
North American Time

I
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

II
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

III
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

IV
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

V
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

VI
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

VII
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

VIII
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.

IX
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
nineteen-eighty-three.
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.


Honestly I think it useless from a practical standpoint. But Rich knows and acnkowledges that. She does not pretend.
See my addendum to this blog: free-for all.


Sylvia

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