Late night poetry.

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I have enough tears to bathe heartache, shine it clean, show it off to the world that still smiles at me. Adrienne Rich, a strong woman and poet.
I read this alone, every couple of years, in bed, late.

A woman dead in her forties
by Adrienne Rich.

1.
Your breasts/ —sliced-off —The scars
dimmed —as they would have to be
years later

All the women I grew up with are sitting
half-naked on rocks —in sun
we look at each other and
are not ashamed

and you too have taken off your blouse
but this was not what you wanted:

to show your scarred, deleted torso

I barely glance at you
as if my look could scald you
though I’m the one who loved you

I want to touch my fingers
to where your breasts had been
but we never did such things

You hadn’t thought everyone
would look so perfect
unmutilated

you pull on
your blouse again: —stern statement:

There are things I will not share
with everyone

2.
You send me back to share
my own scars —first of all
with myself

What did I hide from her
what have I denied her
what losses suffered

how in this ignorant body
did she hide

waiting for her release
till uncontrollable light began to pour

from every wound and suture
and all the sacred openings

3.
Wartime. —We sit on warm
weathered, softening grey boards

the ladder glimmers where you told me
the leeches swim

I smell the flame
of kerosene —the pine

boards where we sleep side by side
in narrow cots

the night-meadow exhaling
its darkness —calling

child into woman
child into woman
woman

4.
Most of our love from the age of nine
took the form of jokes and mute

loyalty: —you fought a girl
who said she’d knock me down

we did each other’s homework
wrote letters —kept in touch, untouching

lied about our lives: —I wearing
the face of the proper marriage

you the face of the independent woman
We cleaved to each other across that space

fingering webs
of love and estrangement —till the day

the gynecologist touched your breast
and found a palpable hardness

5.
You played heroic, necessary
games with death

since in your neo-protestant tribe the void
was supposed not to exist

except as a fashionable concept
you had no traffic with

I wish you were here tonight —I want
to yell at you

Don’t accept
Don’t give in

But would I be meaning your brave
irreproachable life, you dean of women, or

your unfair, unfashionable, unforgivable
woman’s death?

6.
You are every woman I ever loved
and disavowed

a bloody incandescent chord strung out
across years, tracts of space

How can I reconcile this passion
with our modesty

your calvinist heritage
my girlhood frozen into forms

how can I go on this mission
without you

you, who might have told me
everything you feel is true?

7.
Time after time in dreams you rise
reproachful

once from a wheelchair pushed by your father
across a lethal expressway

Of all my dead it’s you
who come to me unfinished

You left me amber beads
strung with turquoise from an Egyptian grave

I wear them wondering
How am I true to you?

I’m half-afraid to write poetry
for you —who never read it much

and I’m left laboring
with the secrets and the silence

In plain language: —I never told you how I loved you
we never talked at your deathbed of your death

8.
One autumn evening in a train
catching the diamond-flash of sunset

in puddles along the Hudson
I thought: —I understand

life and death now, the choices
I didn’t know your choice

or how by then you had no choice
how the body tells the truth in its rush of cells

Most of our love took the form
of mute loyalty

we never spoke at your deathbed of your death

but from here on
I want more crazy mourning, more howl, more keening

We stayed mute and disloyal
because we were afraid

I would have touched my fingers
to where your breasts had been
but we never did such things

1974-1977

from The Dream of a Common Language, Poems 1974-1977 (W. W. Norton, 1993).

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