From An Atlas of the Difficult World, Adrienne Rich
One night in Monterey Bay the death-freeze of the century:
a precise, detached calliper-grip holds the stars and the quarter-moon
in arrest: the hardiest plants crouch shrunken, a "killing frost"
on bougainvillea, Pride of Madeira, roseate black-purple succulents bowed
juices sucked awry in one orgy of freezing
slumped on their stems like old faces evicted from cheap hotels
--into the streets of the universe, now!
Earthquake and drought followed by freezing followed by war.
Flags are blossoming now where little else is blossoming
and I am bent on fathoming what it means to love my country.
The history of this earth and the bones within it?
Soils and cities, promises made and mocked, plowed contours of shame and of hope?
Loyalties, symbols, murmurs extinguished and echoing?
Grids of states stretching westward, underground waters?
Minerals, traces, rumors I am made from, morsel, miniscule fibre, one woman
like and unlike so many, fooled as to her destiny, the scope of her task?
One citizen like and unlike so many, touched and untouched in passing
--each of us now a driven grain, a nucleus, a city in crisis
some busy constructing enclosures, bunkers, to escape the common fate
some trying to revive dead statues to lead us, breathing their breath against marble lips
some who try to teach the moment, some who preach the moment
some who aggrandize, some who diminish themselves in the face of half-grasped events
--power and powerlessness run amuck, a tape reeling backward in jeering, screeching syllables--
some for whom war is new, others for whom it merely continues the paroxysms of time
some marching for peace who for twenty years did not march for justice
some for whom peace is a white man's word and a white man's privilege
some who have learned to handle and contemplate the shapes of powerlessness and power
as the nurse learns hip and thigh and weight of the body he has to lift and sponge, day upon day
as she blows with her every skill on the spirit's embers still burning by their own laws in the bed of death.
A patriot is not a weapon. A patriot is one who wrestles for the soul of her country
as she wrestles for her own being, for the soul of his country
(gazing through the great circle at Window Rock into the sheen of the Viet Nam Wall)
as he wrestles for his own being. A patriot is a citizen trying to wake
from the burnt-out dream of innocence, the nightmare
of the white general and the Black general posed in their camouflage,
to remember her true country, remember his suffering land: remember
that blessing and cursing are born as twins and separated at birth to meet again in mourning
that the internal emigrant is the most homesick of all women and of all men
that every flag that flies today is a cry of pain.
Where are we moored?
What are the bindings?
What behooves us?
I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains' enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.