The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Poem for Thursday


Stepping Backward
By Adrienne Rich


Good-by to you whom I shall see tomorrow,
Next year and when I'm fifty; still good-by.
This is the leave we never really take.
If you were dead or gone to live in China
The event might draw your stature in my mind.
I should be forced to look upon you whole
The way we look upon the things we lose.
We see each other daily and in segments;
Parting might make us meet anew, entire.
You asked me once, and I could give no answer,
How far dare we throw off the daily ruse,
Official treacheries of face and name,
Have out our true identity? I could hazard
An answer now, if you are asking still.
We are a small and lonely human race
Showing no sign of mastering solitude
Out on this stony planet that we farm.
The most that we can do for one another
Is let our blunders and our blind mischances
Argue a certain brusque abrupt compassion.
We might as well be truthful. I should say
They're luckiest who know they're not unique;
But only art or common interchange
Can teach that kindest truth. And even art
Can only hint at what disturbed a Melville
Or calmed a Mahler's frenzy; you and I
Still look from separate windows every morning
Upon the same white daylight in the square.

And when we come into each other's rooms
Once in awhile, encumbered and self-conscious,
We hover awkwardly about the threshold
And usually regret the visit later.
Perhaps the harshest fact is, only lovers--
And once in a while two with the grace of lovers--
Unlearn that clumsiness of rare intrusion
And let each other freely come and go.
Most of us shut too quickly into cupboards
The margin-scribbled books, the dried geranium,
The penny horoscope, letters never mailed.
The door may open, but the room is altered;
Not the same room we look from night and day.

It takes a late and slowly blooming wisdom
To learn that those we marked infallible
Are tragi-comic stumblers like ourselves.
The knowledge breeds reserve. We walk on tiptoe,
Demanding more than we know how to render.
Two-edged discovery hunts us finally down;
The human act will make us real again,
And then perhaps we come to know each other.

Let us return to imperfection's school.
No longer wandering after Plato's ghost,
Seeking the garden where all fruit is flawless,
We must at last renounce that ultimate blue
And take a walk in other kinds of weather.
The sourest apple makes its wry announcement
That imperfection has a certain tang.
Maybe we shouldn't turn our pockets out
To the last crumb or lingering bit of fluff,
But all we can confess of what we are
Has in it the defeat of isolation--
If not our own, then someone's, anyway.

So I come back to saying this good-by,
A sort of ceremony of my own,
This stepping backward for another glance.
Perhaps you'll say we need no ceremony,
Because we know each other, crack and flaw,
Like two irregular stones that fit together.
Yet still good-by, because we live by inches
And only sometimes see the full dimension.
Your stature's one I want to memorize--
Your whole level of being, to impose
On any other comers, man or woman.
I'd ask them that they carry what they are
With your particular bearing, as you wear
The flaws that make you both yourself and human.

--------

Poem by request for faramir_boromir, to whom I owe thanks for reminding me of it; I think "Diving Into the Wreck" is the only Rich poem I've ever posted here. At one point Rich's critical essays put me off her poetry; the extent to which she chooses to distance herself not only from patriarchy but from individual men, and the way she defines gender itself, has really bothered me at times, especially since like me she is the mother of sons.

boxer_ferret linked to this Cal Poly BlackBoard online course on Patrick O'Brian being taught this summer! I will be traveling too many weeks to have any real hope of making a go of it, but I know a lot of people who might be interested.

The Mid-Atlantic Cicada Database Project is requesting that you report your bugs! We went and told them about the white-eyed cicada and stuck around to read about which broods are in greatest evidence where. I know all you other buggy people will be fascinated. *g* Today I walked my younger son to school alone since the older one is on a field trip; it was a very long walk due to the number of cicada rescue missions he initiated. I know some of you all think I am a total weirdo over this, but if I have managed to instill in my kids the idea that even every insect life is precious, despite the fact that they play violent video games, I am really ridiculously pleased about it.

Am going to a lunchtime concert with apaulled, perkypaduan and hopefully vertigo66 and her little one; if you work near Gaithersburg and can get to the stage at noon, come say hi to us and hear a really wonderful local folk singer!
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