"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

I was saddened last night to read of the death of Adrienne Rich. This NYT obituary nicely outlines the role of feminism in her poetry while this one from The Washington Post focuses more on her political writing and actions.

Rich is the author of my two most favorite poems, both from her collection The Dream of a Common Language. I was looking around for the text of the poems to tweet and share with my students and found myself really frustrated. The online versions I was finding did not preserve the spacing that was so important to the works. So I decided to see if I could do better and if so, to post them here.

At first I planned to justify posting them here by arguing that honoring a feminist poet through the technological means at my disposal makes them fit into the themes of the blog. Then I realized, the content of both poems ties in. They are both about pioneering women and the complex relationship between power, gender, and collectives of women (shared histories and experiences). I have been looking forward to the day that my nieces (currently 9 and 8 years old) are old enough for me to share these with them. I’ll post them here and hope that you draw as much inspiration from them as I do.

“POWER”

Living    in the earth deposits    of our history

Today a backhoe divulged     out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle    amber   perfect    a hundred-year-old
cure for fever    or melancholy    a tonic

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered     from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years     by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin      of her finger-ends
til she could no longer hold      a test-tube or a pencil

She died      a famous woman      denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds      came      from the same source as her power

(1974)

“PHANTASIA FOR ELVIRA SHATAYEV”

(leader of a women’s climbing team, all of whom died in a storm on Lenin Peak, August 1974. Later, Shatayev’s husband found and burned the bodies.)

The cold felt cold until our blood
grew colder      then the wind
died down and we slept

If in this sleep I speak
it’s with a voice no longer personal
(I want to say      with voices)
When the wind tore      our breath from us at last
we had no need of words
For months      for years      each one of us
had felt her own yes      growing in her
slowly forming      as she stood at windows      waited
for trains      mended her rucksack      combed her hair
What we were to learn      was simply      what we had
up here      as out of all words      that yes      gathered
to meet a No of no degrees
the black hole      sucking the world in

I feel you climbing toward me
your cleated bootsoles leaving      their geometric bite
colossally embossed      on microscopic crystals
as when I trailed you in the Caucasus
Now I am further
ahead      than either of us dreamed      anyone would be
I have become
the white snow packed like asphalt by the wind
the women I love      lightly flung      against the mountain
that blue sky
our frozen eyes unribboned      through the storm
we could have stitched that blueness      together      like a quilt

You come (I know this)      with your love      your loss
strapped to your body      with your tape-recorder      camera
ice pick      against advisement
to give us burial in the snow      and in your mind
While my body lies out here
flashing like a prism      into your eyes
how could you sleep      You climbed here for yourself
we climbed for ourselves

When you have buried us      told your story
ours does not end      we stream
into the unfinished      the unbegun
the possible
Every cell’s core of heat      pulsed out of us
into the thin air      of the universe
the armature of rock beneath these snows
this mountain      which has taken     the imprint of our minds
through changes elemental and minute
as those we underwent
to bring each other here
choosing ourselves      each other      and this life
whose every breath      and grasp      and further foothold
is somewhere      still enacted      and continuing

In the diary I wrote: Now we are ready
and each of us knows it      I have never loved
like this      I have never seen
my own forces so taken up and shared
and given back
After the long training      the early sieges
we are moving almost effortlessly in our love

In the diary as the wind      began to tear
all the tents over us      I wrote:
We know now we have always been in danger
down in our separateness
and now up here together      but till now
we had not touched our strength

In the diary torn from my fingers I had written:
What does love mean
what does it mean      “to survive”
A cable blue fire ropes our bodies
burning together in the snow      We will not live
to settle for less      We have dreamed of this
all of our lives

(1974)

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