7.7.08

having read the book of myths...

ten poems for changing eye and hand

Adrienne Rich

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.
Otherwise
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 away 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.

*

Follow this link to hear Rich read the poem.

Some poems will change your life – and this is one that will if you let it inside you. This is a poem that challenges the reader, but most especially challenges the writer – urges the poet into the unmapped territories of self. It’s a poem about awareness of responsibility, of commitment to the heart. The wreck, giving direction, is source to us:

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.

What we find ... damage and treasure. Both are indispensible. This is a poem about journey, calling the writer to find all that may be found.

3 comments:

Rachel Mallino said...

"the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth"

I was especially drawn to these lines, where it seems she is searching for raw truth, one without recreations (ie - perception=interpretation=a possible false sense of self)

Collin said...

Epic and brilliant. One of my absolute favorite poems.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I think your notion of raw truth, Rachel. That's the sense I get as well.

Couldn't agree with you more, Collin. This one is on my short list.

Thanks to both of you for reading.