Deadstillness over droughtlands.
Parched, the heart of the matter.
Panic among smaller animals used to licking water from cool stones.
Over the great farms, a burning-glass
one-eyed and wild as a jack,
the com snatched in a single afternoon
of the one-eyed jack’s impassive stare.
And in that other country
of choices made by others
that country I never chose
that country of terrible leavings and returnings
in that country whose map I carry on my palm
the forests are on fire: history is on fire.
My foot drags in the foothills of two lands;
At the turn the spirit pauses
and faces the high passes:
bloodred granite, sandstone steeped in blood.
At the turn the spirit turns,
looks back — if any follow —
squints ahead — if any lead —
What would you bring along on a trek like this?
What is bringing you along?
In a time of broken hands
in a broken-promised land
something happens to the right hand
Remembering a city, it forgets
flexion, gestures that danced like flames
the lifeline buried in the fist
forgets the pedlar’s trinket, fine to finger and lay forth,
the scalpel’s path, the tracing of the pulse
the sprinkle of salt and rip of chicken feather’s
forgets the wrist’s light swivel breaking bread
the matzoh crumb
fingered to secret lips in stinking fog
forgets its own ache, lying
on the day most like Paradise
Becomes the handle of a club
an enemy of hands
emptied of all memories but one
When the right hand forgets its cunning what of the other?
Shall we invent its story?
Has it simply lain in trance
disowned, written-off unemployed?
does it twitch now, finger and thumb,
does the prickle of memory race through?
When the right hand becomes the enemy of hands
what does the left hand make of their old collaboration?
Pick up the book, the pinch of salt, the matzoh-crumb,
hand and begin to teach.
Finally, we will make change. This eyeflash,
this touch, handing the drenched flyers,
these glances back at history —
riverside where harps hang from the trees,
cracked riverbed with grounded hulks,
unhealed water to cross—
leaving superstition behind—
first our own, then others’—
that barrier, that stream
where swimming against the current will become
no metaphor, this is how you land, unpurified,
winded, shivering on the further shore
where there are only new kinds of tasks, and old:
writing with others that open letter or brief
that might — if only — we know it happens
no sudden revelation but the slow
turn of consciousness, while every day
climbs on the back of the days before:
no new day, only a list of days,
no task you expect to see finished, but
you can’t hold back from the task.
A public meeting. I glance at a woman’s face:
strong lines and soft, listening a little on guard:
we have come separately, are sitting apart,
know each other in the room, have slept twelve years
in the same bed, attend now to the speaker.
Her subject is occupation, a promised land,
displacement, deracination, two peoples called Semites,
humiliation, force, women trying to speak with women,
the subject is how to break a mold of discourse,
how little by little minds change
but that they do change. We two have fought
our own battles side by side, at dawn, over supper,
our changes of mind have come
with the stir of hairs, the sound of a cracked phrase:
we have depended on something.
What then? Sex isn’t enough, merely to trust
each other’s inarticulate sounds,
— what then? call it mutual recognition.
Whatever you are that has tracked us this far,
I never thought you were on our side,
I only thought you did not judge us.
Yet as a cell might hallucinate
the eye — intent, impassioned —
behind the lens of the microscope
so I have thought of you,
whatever you are — a mindfulness —
whatever you are: the place beyond all places,
beyond boundaries, green lines,
the place beyond documents.
Unnameable by choice.
So why am I out here, trying
to read your name in the illegible air?
— vowel washed from a stone,
solitude of no absence,
— trying to hang these wraiths
of syllables, breath
without echo, why?
Adrienne Rich is active in New Jewish Agenda, she lives in California. Her new book, Time’s Power, will be published by WW Norton & Co. in the spring.