by Cynthia Hogue

Page 5

Rich, like Dickinson before her, has answered this haunting question by bearing witness to it.5 Her testimonial poetry constitutes an action, as I have argued elsewhere,6 albeit a verbal one--in the sense of a "performative speech act," as Shoshana Felman characterizes such action.7 The act of bearing witness (an at times excruciatingly solitary responsibility) forces the witness to address someone, to seek out and sometimes to be possessed by, a responsive "you."8 The final poem in Dark Fields of the Republic, "Edgelit," for example, inhabits the point of view of the Northern Irish poet, Medbh McGuckian, as well her voice, as it collages in a portion of a letter Medbh has written to Rich:
               one's poetry seems aimless
covered in the blood and lies
               oozing corrupt & artificial
but of course one will continue . . .

Through positioning herself as addressee in the poem, Rich is able not only to posit herself as listener-witness, but as speaker-respondent, pronouncing into being poetry as an alternative to, outside the concerns of, the death drive: "Medbh, poetry means refusing/ the choice to kill or die" (Dark Fields 71). If chronic physical pain has rarely allowed Rich another site from which to speak, she has tried to solve that problem of the self's absorption into it by being imaginatively "possessed" and haunted by others' pain.

Unlike Rich and Dickinson, I lost much of my cognitive capacity as well as, like them, my physical well-being at the same time as I became despairingly aware of the greater pain of others in the world, about which I could do nothing at the time. The following poem tracks that formal feeling:


For the body possibly to have gone through,
of the minutest and crucial sensations,
each having its purpose, or configuration:
In the mind everything goes, larger than sky
or God, the heft of all being in perception,

the weight of weight, of sense the same
only through feelings everyone shares: Well,
oh, very well, one might say and I suppose
one has at one time or another actually said,
I do not seem unbelievable nor events improbable.

Pain bleeds through imagination, unimaginative:
it just is. One wishes to do something, go somewhere,
but everywhere the sensation remains,
the body in pain. Its eyes still look out
on fuchsia and lilac overtaking the back fence,

one still bleeds, blows one's nose,
but I do not know this body
that cannot rise from its chair,
that never weeps,
in earth's house/hold of pain.

My mind scrolls through a list of disappeared,
decimated beings. If there is no escape,
no separation, there are also no lies.
Sun shines on the arid soil of this garden.
Pain blooms in a body, blossoming without water.

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