Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Trying to Wake

Trying to Wake

I don't know what you've been doing, but I've been scouring Adrienne Rich's Atlas of the Difficult World for these lines, which I finally found in Section XI:

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.

I have always appreciated Rich, but reading this book, this poem in particular, has given me newfound respect for her. I find these words powerful and challenging as well as beautiful. Can I wrestle for the soul of my country? I find myself asking myself: Do I have the heart? I still don't feel like it is mine to wrestle for. Do I want my country's soul? To take responsibility for it? At its origin is robbery and deceit. How can it be fixed? I end up realizing that I'm walking around feeling that it is a lost cause. But I can't afford to feel that, can I? People are dying in my name, whether I'm for it or not. Don't I have to wrestle over that? I'm listening, Adrienne Rich. I'm trying to wake.

Or what about these lines, from "Eastern War Time", in the same book:

. . . Memory speaks:
You cannot live on me alone
you cannot live without me
I'm nothing if I'm just a roll of film
stills from a vanished world . . . I can't be restored or framed
I can't be still I'm here
in your mirror pressed leg to leg beside you
intrusive inappropriate bitter flashing
with what makes me unkillable though killed . . .


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