dimarts, 27 de maig del 2014


You, once a belle in Shreveport, 
with henna-colored hair, skin like a peachbud, 
still have your dresses copied from that time, 
and play a Chopin prelude 
called by Cortot: "Delicious recollections 
float like perfume through the memory."

Your mind now, moldering like wedding-cake, 
heavy with useless experience, rich 
with suspicion, rumor, fantasy, 
crumbling to pieces under the knife-edge 
of mere fact. In the prime of your life.

Nervy, glowering, your daughter
wipes the teaspoons, grows another way.


Banging the coffee-pot into the sink 
she hears the angels chiding, and looks out 
past the raked gardens to the sloppy sky.
Only a week since They said: Have no patience.

The next time it was: Be insatiable.
Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.
Sometimes she's let the tapstream scald her arm, 
a match burn to her thumbnail,

or held her hand above the kettle's snout 
right in the woolly steam. They are probably angels, 
since nothing hurts her anymore, except 
each morning's grit blowing into her eyes.


A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
The beak that grips her, she becomes. And nature, 
that sprung-lidded, still commodious 
steamer-trunk of tempora and mores 
gets stuffed with it all:  the mildewed orange-flowers, 
the female pills, the terrible breasts 
of Boadicea beneath flat foxes' heads and orchids.

Two handsome women, gripped in argument, 
each proud, acute, subtle, I hear scream 
across the cut glass and majolica 
like Furies cornered from their prey:
The argument ad feminam, all the old knives 
that have rusted in my back, I drive in yours, 
ma semblable, ma soeur!


Knowing themselves too well in one another: 
their gifts no pure fruition, but a thorn, 
the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn. . .
Reading while waiting 
for the iron to heat, 
writing, My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun—
in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum, 
or, more often, 
iron-eyed and beaked and purposed as a bird, 
dusting everything on the whatnot every day of life.


Dulce ridens, dulce loquens, 
she shaves her legs until they gleam 
like petrified mammoth-tusk.


When to her lute Corinna sings 
neither words nor music are her own;
only the long hair dipping 
over her cheek, only the song 
of silk against her knees 
and these 
adjusted in reflections of an eye.

Poised, trembling and unsatisfied, before 
an unlocked door, that cage of cages, 
tell us, you bird, you tragical machine—
is this fertilisante douleur? Pinned down 
by love, for you the only natural action, 
are you edged more keen 
to prise the secrets of the vault? has Nature shown 
her household books to you, daughter-in-law, 
that her sons never saw?


"To have in this uncertain world some stay 
which cannot be undermined, is 
of the utmost consequence."
                                         Thus wrote 
a woman, partly brave and partly good, 
who fought with what she partly understood.
Few men about her would or could do more, 
hence she was labeled harpy, shrew, and whore.


"You all die at fifteen," said Diderot, 
and turn part legend, part convention.
Still, eyes inaccurately dream
behind closed windows blankening with steam.
Deliciously, all that we might have been, 
all that we were—fire, tears, 
wit, taste, martyred ambition—
stirs like the memory of refused adultery 
the drained and flagging bosom of our middle years.


Not that it is done well, but 
that it is done at all? Yes, think 
of the odds! or shrug them off forever.
This luxury of the precocious child, 
Time's precious chronic invalid,—
would we, darlings, resign it if we could?
Our blight has been our sinecure:
mere talent was enough for us—
glitter in fragments and rough drafts.

Sigh no more, ladies.
                               Time is male 
and in his cups drinks to the fair.
Bemused by gallantry, we hear 
our mediocrities over-praised, 
indolence read as abnegation, 
slattern thought styled intuition, 
every lapse forgiven, our crime 
only to cast too bold a shadow 
or smash the mold straight off.

For that, solitary confinement, 
tear gas, attrition shelling.
Few applicants for that honor.


she's long about her coming, who must be 
more merciless to herself than history.
Her mind full to the wind, I see her plunge 
breasted and glancing through the currents, 
taking the light upon her 
at least as beautiful as any boy 
or helicopter, 
                     poised, still coming, 
her fine blades making the air wince

but her cargo
no promise then:

 There is an "I" in the poem: it is the narrator's voice possessed of and providing all those allusions, angry, disabused, exigent, only hopeful, and not entirely convincingly so, at the conclusion.

The "you," an older woman whose mind is "moldering like wedding-cake" addressed in the opening section, is not the mother-in-law of a daughter-in-law but the mother of an impatient daughter. In many patrilocal cultures, the role of daughter-in-law is, across social classes, difficult and arduous: a young woman leaves her family home to be installed as dogsbody and scapegoat to her husband's extended family, often, in particular, to her mother-in-law, escaped by virtue of having borne and married off a son from the same thankless position: rarely are examples given of mothers-in-law who in empathy refuse to put their daughters-in-law through the trials they themselves suffered. Rich might not (yet) have been thinking of Indian or Indonesian daughters-in-law as she composed the poem (the only "mother-in-law" specifically mentioned is "Nature," from whom, the poem posits, a woman paradoxically stands at far greater remove than "her sons," like Aphrodite in the myth of Eros and Psyche), but the enforced generational or sisterly enmity between (powerless) women is much more focal to the poem than any relationship with men, who are largely present as sources of misogynistic quotations and damning faint praise. The only direct human confrontation in the poem is in the (14 line) third section's second septet—although putatively verbal, it is almost erotic:

    Two handsome women gripped in argument
    each proud, acute, subtle, I hear scream
    across the cut glass and majolica
    like Furies cornered from their prey:
    The arguments ad feminam, all the old knives
    that have rusted in my back, I drive into yours,
    ma semblable, ma soeur!

—terminating with the transformed last line of Baudelaire's poem "Au Lecteur" from the book he first wished (coincidentally) to call Lesbiennes.
the text moves through ten measured glimpses, each challenging the truth of preconceptions about the female individualist. The focus, a Shreveport belle, enters stanza 1 with studied grace. Well-schooled in womanliness, she performs a musicale, one of Chopin’s piano confections. By the end of the poem, the persona has achieved a transformation “long about her coming.” No longer the precious, static model of femininity, she accepts the challenge to “be more merciless to herself than history.”

The poem’s inner structure is a self-willed passage over a treacherous mindscape. From a psyche “moldering like wedding-cake,” the daughter-in-law departs from self-abuse and from becoming masculinized, like “the beak that grips her.” Jettisoning the trappings of fashion and custom, she battles “ma semblable, ma soeur!”—”my double, my sister!” The doppelganger motif places the speaker in merged roles—challenger and challenged—as she sheds constraint and uselessness, typified as “the whatnot every day of life.”

Crucial to Rich’s re-creation of woman is the rejecion of stereotypes—the sweetly laughing girl of Horace’s odes, the externally programmed lute player of Thomas Campion’s ditty. At the climax, the point beyond which life can never return to its old structures, Rich questions whether sorrow itself is a revitalizing force. Stanza 7 answers the question. For the first time, the poet cites a bold woman writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer who suffered multiple criticisms for declaring that each must find “some stay,” the unshakeable anchor that steadies the rebel against convention. Unwilling to be a mere oddity, the one woman gifted with rare talents, the poet epitomizes change. Like the helicopter freighted with goods, she exults in a cargo

Her selection of a vertical delivery suggests that, for the motivated feminist, a satisfying arrival is a straight shot to earth, guided by gravity.
This poem too she says refers to the persona as ‘she’ and not ‘I’. Rich felt the constraint of the family honour and her children before she could let herself go with her imagination and with whatever she wanted to write. She could not write about pain, victimization or her own body because she was expected to be leading a normal life with a happy family, with absolutely no cause for depression.

Rich talks of a dream where she saw herself beginning to read a poem at a convention and slowly the words of a blues song emerge out of her lips. She realizes that the writings of women were indeed like a blues song. They were a cry of pain, of victimization or were lyrics of seduction. She feels that this feeling of anger and victimization was necessary for every woman to pass through because they were real. They helped the woman write better, be in touch with her own inner self better and to counter the oppressive male writers with her own soulful writings.

Rich feels that an alternate model of re-visioning history and old texts, accompanied by renaming with a fresh eye, would chalk out new territories for women to explore in their writings. While male writers are engrossed in conforming to their own constructions and patterns, to analyze political problems, socio-economic disturbances or acts of violence from a rational male perspective, women could clearly understand them from gendered humanitarian grounds.

Though Rich identifies herself as being a “special woman” who had been given privileges to read and to express, she feels that the model of re-visioning and renaming would only be justified if it brought out the women who were still trapped within the patriarchal confines of the society, morality and language.