Tag Archives: Adrienne Rich


Tiger, 1997-2013

Tiger, 1997-2013

Sometime soon I will tell you about our family trip to France, courtesy of PW’s sabbatical. I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all, except that for weeks ever since we came back, we often pepper our goodbyes with cheery repetitions of “Merci! Au revoir!” Actually, it sounds more like one word: “Merciaurevoir!” when the shopkeepers in France say it. So that’s how we say it, because we’re so continental and whatnot.

Our family said a “Merciaurevoir!” this afternoon that has been a long time coming. Our last cat standing, the beautiful and sweet Tiger, lost his soul mate in January, when we had to put down our 10-year-old golden retriever, Lucy. Ever since then, he’s had a steadily dwindling interest in food. For the last two months, he’s eaten only in plain yogurt. He stopped eating anything three days ago.

Tiger and Lucy were inseparable.

Tiger and Lucy were inseparable.

Our amazing and sweet veterinarian, Jake, came to our house. Tiger hated going to the vet’s office. Jake made us laugh with stories of an old black lab he had who, in her last weeks, would eat only Cheez-its. Jake gently wiped Tiger’s eyes and face, saying, “Let’s get you cleaned up, mister.” Then Jake conducted an incredibly compassionate euthanasia, which was as deeply comforting as it was shatteringly heartbreaking. When Jake left the house, he told PW, “You made the right decision. It was time.” This was a great thing to hear, considering that for the past couple of weeks we have spent time every day asking ourselves if today is the day.

Sweet Tiger feet, at peace.

Sweet Tiger feet, at peace.

We buried Tiger in the back yard, next to where we buried his litter mate Zoe, after she died suddenly two winters ago. We eased Tiger’s emaciated body into the hole and then we took turns reading verses of this poem:

Let Evening Come, by Jane Kenyon
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. [Love] does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Then GForce tore open a hole in the plastic bag that has held Lucy’s ashes since January. Then PW, Lulu, GForce and I each took turns sprinkling fistfuls of Lucy’s ashes onto Tiger’s body. Then while I shoveled dirt over our beloved cat and dog, PW read this poem while we all cried:

Final Notations, by Adrienne Rich

it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple

it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heart
it will not be long, it will occupy your thought
as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple

You are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives

it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will

Merciaurevoir, Tiger.

Merciaurevoir, Tiger. Merci. Merci. Au revoir.


Correcting my scorecard

In an earlier post today, I likened what happened in North Carolina yesterday to a baseball player moving the runner over while making an out.

I’d like to correct my scorecard. Based on today’s news out of the White House this afternoon, I think we did more than that. I think we scored a run on that play.

The Internet has been aflutter all afternoon with people complaining about President Obama’s statement today in support of same-sex marriage. It’s too calculated, it’s too late, it’s distracting to the “real” issues that are plaguing our nation, it’s not enough, it’s a ploy to invigorate his base, it’s cynical.

Whatever. Some folks, when given the opportunity to see a glass half-full or half-empty, will maintain that we’re all out of glasses.

One small step, one giant leap

For me, watching the sitting president of the United States, who is a biracial man with an unusual name, come out in support of my equal rights — well, this is as riveting as the moon landing. I’ve watched the clips several times, with that same  combination of awe and disbelief that I had when I watched Neil Armstrong make his way down that ladder.

I still can’t believe I have lived long enough to see the kind of progress on queer civil rights that have happened in the past 15 years. I wish Maurice Sendak, who never came out to his parents, and who made a home with the same man for 50 years, had lived to see this day. I wish Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde and Matthew Shepard and Harvey Milk had lived to see this day.

My hope, my prayer, is that those of us who have the good fortune to live and love in these times will continue to live and love in ways that honor the mighty ones who came before us.

Thank you, President Obama.

Update at 9:56 pm Eastern Time: feel free to use the comments to add the names of friends or family of yours who you wish had lived to see this day. Thanks for the idea, Miss L.

“The skies are full of them”

Adrienne Rich

The news of Adrienne Rich’s death yesterday leaves me simultaneously heavy-hearted, unfathomably grateful, and with an incrementally widening grin on my face.

Before Dan Savage created “It Gets Better,” Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde were two word warriors whose prose and poetry gave queer people like me a hand out of the hell of  compulsory heterosexuality. Rich and Lorde didn’t write about how it gets better. Their work implored, argued, persuaded, comforted, rallied, and railed in messages that conveyed that to be queer and to live out loud was not only possible, it was essential.

Audre Lorde

The grin that ambles across my face today is the result of contemplating the reunion of these two mighty women in whatever comes after this life (Lorde died of cancer in 1992). No longer weighed down and contained by their human bodies, what sort of poetry might they unleash? What new language will emerge from the unknown that they now inhabit? What constellations are bursting forth from their unfettered and now collaborative energies? The possibilities make a girl downright giddy and tearful all at once.

As Rich wrote in one of her essays:

“…Sisyphus is not, finally, a useful image. You don’t roll some unitary boulder of language or justice uphill; you try with others to assist in cutting and laying many stones, designing a foundation…My work is for people who want to imagine and claim wider horizons and carry on about them into the night, rather than rehearse the landlocked details of personal quandaries or the price for which the house next door just sold.”

You may not know it, but if you have spent any part of your life rolling the boulder of justice uphill, you have been in the company of Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde — master builders and stone cutters.

Look up. The skies are full of them.


By Adrienne Rich

Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848)
astronomer, sister of William; and others.

A woman in the shape of a monster
a monster in the shape of a woman
the skies are full of them

a woman ‘in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments
or measuring the ground with poles’

in her 98 years to discover
8 comets

she whom the moon ruled
like us
levitating into the night sky
riding the polished lenses

Galaxies of women, there
doing penance for impetuousness
ribs chilled
in those spaces of the mind

An eye,

                           ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
                             from the mad webs of Uranusborg

                                                        encountering the NOVA

every impulse of light exploding

from the core
as life flies out of us

                  Tycho whispering at last
                 ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

What we see, we see
and seeing is changing

the light that shrivels a mountain
and leaves a man alive

Heartbeat of the pulsar
heart sweating through my body

The radio impulse
pouring in from Taurus

            I am bombarded yet                I stand

I have been standing all my life in the
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep        so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15
years to travel through me        And has
taken     I am an instrument in the shape
of a woman trying to translate pulsations
into images        for the relief of the body
and the reconstruction of the mind.

From The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002)


A Litany for Survival

By Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

From The Black Unicorn (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1978)