Sometimes you meet an old man whose fist isn't clenched blue-white. Someone like that old poet
whose grained palm once travelled the bodies of sick children. Back in the typed line
was room for everything: the blue grape hyacinth patch, the voluntary touch
of cheek on breast, the ear alert for a changed heartbeat and for other sounds too
that live in a typed line: the breath of animals, stopping and starting up of busses,
trashfires in empty lots. Attention once given returned again as power.
An old man's last few evenings might be inhabited not by a public—
fountains of applause off auditorium benches, tributes read at hotel banquets—
but by reverberations the ear had long desired, accepted and absorbed.
The late poem might be written in a night suddenly awake with quiet new sounds
as when a searchlight plays against the dark bush-tangle and birds speak in reply.
- Adrienne Rich
Isn't it stunning?
Wonderings: I wonder if the poet she's alluding to is William Carlos Williams, who was a doctor as well, and why she decided to group this poem's lines into triplet stanzas. What else do you wonder about this poem?
Why this poem, today? I just finished Cheryl Strayed's Wild, in which the one book she hauls along for her entire trek from Tehachapi, CA to Bridge of the Gods, OR along the Pacific Crest Trail is Adrienne Rich's The Dream of A Common Language. Admiring this all-too-often-gushed-over memoir more than I would like to admit, I waxed curious about Strayed's literary inspirations and took to trolling through Rich poems on the interwebs and on my bookshelves. There, I was reminded of just how astonishing her work is.