Monday, April 2, 2012

Day Two: Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich died last week at the age of 82.

(It's hard to write something to follow that sentence.)

A couple years out of college, I decided to go back and get a BA in English. I had no real plan with what to do with it; I just wanted to. Because I had so recently graduated, all my gen ed classes transferred, which meant I took nothing but English and art classes (I quickly added in an art minor) for two years (summers too). This was bliss. For my Contemporary American Poetry class, I immersed myself in Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck" for one of my papers, and this is the poem I'm sharing with you today. It's not an easy poem, but let the words wash over you. See what resonates. Think about what it means to carry "a book of myths/in which/our names do not appear."

Diving into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972 by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 1973 by Adrienne Rich.


Bells said...

A sad passing, very sad. She was a strong presence in various courses at uni and I read her and admired her without necessarily getting her. As you say, let the words wash over you.

Even just her name is evocative to me though, even after all these years. The connection is personal and hard to explain but that's poetry for you.

Donna Lee said...

"a book of myths in which our names do not appear" brings a lump to my throat and almosttears.

I had never heard of Adrienne Rich. In all the poetry classes I had as an English Major (you know those words have to be capitalized!), I don't remember running across anything by her. Or maybe I did but was too young at the time to appreciate her words.

amy said...

Me too, Donna Lee.

Sally said...

Oh wow. That is powerful. Thanks so much for sharing Amy.