In honor of the life of such an important poet, here’s my favorite of Adrienne Rich’s many poems. Those last lines are a good mantra for any single lady (or gentleman, for that matter!), I think.


My body opens over San Francisco like the day-
light raining down          each pore crying the change of light
I am not with her          I have been waking off and on
all night to that pain          not simply absence but
the presence of the past          destructive
to living here and now                      Yet if I could instruct
myself, if we could learn to learn from pain
even as it grasps us          if the mind, the mind that lives
in this body could refuse          to let itself be crushed
in that grasp          it would loosen          Pain would have to stand
off from me and listen          its dark breath still on me
but the mind could begin to speak to pain
and pain would have to answer:
We are older now
we have met before          these are my hands before your eyes
my figure blotting out          all that is not mine
I am the pain of division          creator of divisions
it is I who blot your lover from you
and not the time-zones or the miles
It is not separation calls me forth          but I
who am separation          And remember
I have no existence          apart from you

I believe I am choosing something now
not to suffer uselessly          yet still to feel
Does the infant memorize the body of the mother
and create her in absence?          or simply cry
primordial loneliness?          does the bed of the stream
once diverted          mourning          remember the wetness?
But we, we live so much in these
configurations of the past          I choose
to separate her          from my past we have not shared
I choose not to suffer uselessly
to detect primordial pain as it stalks toward me
flashing its bleak torch in my eyes          blotting out
her particular being          the details of her love
I will not be divided          from her or from myself
by myths of separation
while her mind and body in Manhattan are more with me
than the smell of eucalyptus coolly burning          on these hills

The world tells me I am its creature
I am raked by eyes          brushed by hands
I want to crawl into her for refuge          lay my head
in the space          between her breast and shoulder
abnegating power for love
as women have done          or hiding
from power in her love          like a man
I refuse these givens          the splitting
between love and action          I am choosing
not to suffer uselessly          and not to use her
I choose to love          this time          for once
with all my intelligence.

—Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language


One thought on “Splittings

  1. L says:

    Love this one!

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