by Adrienne Rich

Page 2

Strangers are an endangered species

In Emily Dickinson's house in Amherst
cocktails are served     the scholars
gather in celebration
their pious or clinical legends
festoon the walls like imitations
of period patterns

(...and, as I feared, my "life" was made a "victim")
The remnants pawed     the relics
the cult assembled in the bedroom
and you     whose teeth were set on edge by churches
resist your shrine
               are found
          unless in words
               (your own)

     All we are strangers--dear--The world is not
     acquainted with us, because we are not acquainted
     with her. And Pilgrims!--Do you hesitate? and
     Soldiers oft--some of us victors, but those I do
     not see tonight owing to the smoke.--We are hungry,
     and thirsty, sometimes--We are barefoot--and cold--

This place is large enough for both of us
the river-fog will do for privacy
this is my third and last address to you

with the hands of a daughter I would cover you
from all intrusion     even my own
saying     rest to your ghost

with the hands of a sister I would leave your hands
open or closed as they prefer to lie
and ask no more of who or why or wherefore

with the hands of a mother I would close the door
on the rooms you've left behind
and silently pick up my fallen work

The river-fog will do for privacy
on the low road a breath
here, there, a cloudiness floating on the black top

sunflower heads turned black and bowed
the seas of corn a stubble
the old routes flowing north, if not to freedom

no human figure now in sight
(with whom do you believe your lot is cast?)
only the functional figure of the scarecrow

the cut corn, ground to shreds, heaped in a shape
like an Indian burial mound
a haunted-looking, ordinary thing

The work of winter starts fermenting in my head
how with the hands of a lover or a midwife
to hold back till the time is right

force nothing, be unforced
accept no giant miracles of growth
by counterfeit light

trust roots, allow the days to shrink
give credence to these slender means
wait without sadness and with grave impatience

here in the north where winter has a meaning
where the heaped colors suddenly go ashen
where nothing is promised

learn what an underground journey
has been, might have to be; speak in a winter code
let fog, sleet, translate; wind, carry them.

Orion plunges like a drunken hunter
over the Mohawk Trail     a parallelogram
slashed with two cuts of steel

A night so clear that every constellation
stands out from an undifferentiated cloud
of stars, a kind of aura

All the figures up there look violent to me
as a pogrom on Christmas Eve in some old country
I want our own earth     not the satellites, our

world as it is     if not as it might be
then as it is: male dominion,gangrape,lynching,pogrom
the Mohawk wraiths in their tracts of leafless birch

watching: will we do better?
The tests I need to pass are prescribed by the spirits
of place     who understand travel but not amnesia

The world as it is: not as her users boast
damaged beyond reclamation by their using
Ourselves as we are     in these painful motions

of staying cognizant: some part of us always
out beyond ourselves
knowing     knowing     knowing

Are we all in training for something we don't name?
to exact reparation for things
done long ago to us and to those who did not

survive what was done to them     whom we ought to honor
with grief     with fury     with action
On a pure night     on a night when pollution

seems absurdity when the undamaged planet seems to turn
like a bowl of crystal in black ether
they are the piece of us that lies out there
knowing     knowing     knowing

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Last updated on March 10, 2008
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