POETRY: The Insomniacs by Adrienne Rich


The mystic finishes in time,
The actor finds himself in space;
And each, wherever he has been,
Must know his hand before his face,
Must crawl back into his own skin
As in the darkness after crime
The thief can hear his breath again,
Resume the knowledge of his limbs
And how the spasm goes and comes
Under the bones that cage his heart.

So: we are fairly met, grave friend—
The meeting of two wounds in man.
I, gesturing with practiced hand,
I, in my great brocaded gown,
And you, the fixed and patient one,
Enduring all the world can do.
I, with my shifting masks, the gold,
The awful scarlet, laughing blue,
Maker of many worlds; and you,
Worldless, the pure receptacle.

And yet your floating eyes reveal
What saint or mummer groans to feel:
That finite creatures finally know
The damp of stone beneath the knees,
The stiffness in the folded hands
A duller ache than holy wounds,
The draught that never stirs the sleeve
Of glazed evangelists above,
But drives men out from sacred calm
Into the violent, wayward sun.

My voice commands the formal stage;
A jungle thrives beyond the wings—
All formless and benighted things
That rhetoric cannot assuage.
I speak a dream and turn to see
The sleepless night outstaring me.
My pillow sweats; I wake in space.
This is my hand before my face.
This is the headboard of my bed
Whose splinters stuff my nightmare mouth;

This is the unconquerable drouth
I carry in my burning head.
Not my words nor your visions mend
Such infamous knowledge. We are split,
Done into bits, undone, pale friend,
As ecstasy begets its end;
As we are spun of rawest thread—
The flaw is in us; we will break.
O dare you of this fracture make
Hosannas plain and tragical,

Or dare I let each cadence fall
Awkward as learning newly learned,
Simple as children’s cradle songs,
As untranslatable and true,
We someday might conceive a way
To do the thing we long to do—
To do what men have always done—
To live in time, to act in space
Yet find a ritual to embrace
Raw towns of man, the pockmarked sun.


2 Comments on POETRY: The Insomniacs by Adrienne Rich

  1. Thanks, Value of Sparrows. I’d never read this poem before. (Early Riche, I think?). I like “Of this fracture make/ hosannas plain and tragical.” Thanks for posting.


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  1. Beyond the Wings: February 2019 – Kevin McGeary

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