Twenty One Love Poems
by Adrienne Rich
I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.
Knowing there is no one measure of compatibility in human relationships, I still offer this: in my experience it is the quality of sleep that I achieve next to a partner that cements the bond between us as strongly as anything in the waking realm. Sleep can be messy; drooling, bad breath, restless legs, periods of wakefulness and brief conversations in the middle of the night in which one or the other partner has no waking memory. It is an anti-dote and mirror to our wakefulness and when it is gentle and accepting it makes the messiness of consciousness more accepting.
It is Pride Week. Pride festivities are likely to be a bit more subdued this year, social distancing and all, but I hope the momentum towards social justice keeps marching on, seeping into all the cracks that need to be filled in our social fabric, still allowing it to stretch into a bigger and bigger tent. Adrienne Rich is an important voice in LBGQT poetry and politics. Her poetic genius was not so much political it was an expression of love. I have several of her books from the 1970’s, relatively early in her career, her voice is one of confidence, one of courage, one of power; the power of love.
What are you doing to mark Pride this year? Marching? Dancing? Calling old friends? Doing something that celebrates we are all wonderful shades of the rainbow?
What kind of beast would turn its life into words?
What atonement is this all about?
—and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living.
Is all this close to the wolverines’ howled signals,
that modulated cantata of the wild?
or, when away from you I try to create you in words,
am I simply using you, like a river or a war?
And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
to escape writing of the worst thing of all—
not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
but the failure to want our own freedom passionately enough
so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?