How to build a poem after the death of Adrienne Rich
is the most necessary impossibility of my life.
First I cannot even choose or find the right pen
or is that dumb or wrong or phallic
She would shoot me a glance -- don't be stupid
I hear her and then I hear another, my biological mother interrupting
Adrienne might put her hand on my cheek, say munchkin or liebkind,
some gentle forgiving words the way she did in my dreams.
Adrienne looked like my mother if my mother had lived in black and white
never full color full blown and unbearable both short Jewish women
with arms that might run combines, harvest wheat in Russia, pull beets from the earth
with rough hands making borscht with onions and sour cream.
I wanted Adrienne alone or even in a room full of one thousand
other pairs of ears while she spoke into the microphone bent beside her mouth
on a box behind a podium I wanted my eyes to trace
the outlines of her shoulders, jawline, breasts and now
she's dead I refuse to let this mean that I am lost
I am not lost.
I can find her in the empty parts she left inside her words.
I remember first stealing those big gaps, considering the Holocaust
a subject to assume, new words including oven, grasp and skin
women as in two women, something else to write about
Oh, how I tried to become a lesbian for this tiny angry poet
who wrote my life to me before I lived it tried so hard to show everyone
what real was, felt and tasted like She breathed into me
the desire to work so hard to get good at it until I could be
denigrated by famous men in Iowa for liking her, loving her,
for putting her on my short list, and it was years after she had become
her own pillar the fortress of words in the shape of a woman
ten times the size of those penis-people who tried to put her down
It is hard to be a mother of small boys and feel true to her,
the mother of small boys, how did she do it? Surviving to write it all down
living eighty-two years, honest, responding, highly definitively real how
dare she leave us all to grieve and grope at the hole she imparts
a hole no one can fill only play Nina Simone
reread all she wrote and cry another mother dead!
And a voice, and a heart til now beating through a life
that stood up to every insult, poet in this world that spins too fast
for words to heal Adrienne, finder of the ways to pen
a balm for wounds without softening or trying to hide the scabs
resultant scars and hobbled parts we can be proud of
and through these tears I'm smiling even though I never got to thank her.