15 December 2006

To let go the means, to wake

Happy birthday to Muriel Rukeyser! In her honor, three of her beautiful poems. Not coincidentally, I think, these three happen to be titled as if they are a showcase of the form, the bones exposed, iconic and austere. They employ their own poem-ness in attempting to connect.

The last one, I read at a benefit poetry reading for tsunami victims two Christmases ago. It seems to capture so precisely the distances in our world of wars and machines, and our desire for connection, both affirming the possibility of connection and calling us to "reach beyond ourselves."


My thoughts through yours refracted into speech
transmute this room musically tonight,
the notes of contact flowing, rhythmic, bright
with an informal art beyond my single reach.

Outside, dark birds fly in a greening time :
wings of our sistered wishes beat these walls :
and words afflict our minds in near footfalls
approaching with a latening hour's chime.

And if an essential thing has flown between us,
rare intellectual bird of communication,
let us seize it quickly : let our preference
choose it instead of softer things to screen us
each from the other's self : muteness or hesitation,
nor petrify live miracle by our indifference.


The world if full of loss; bring, wind, my love,
My home is where we make our meeting-place,
And love whatever I shall touch and read
Within that face.

Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
Peace to look, life to listen and confess,
Freedom to find to find to find
That nakedness.


I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other.
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

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