Adrienne Rich
Five: voices, from "Inscriptions"

That year I began to understand the words burden of proof

—how the free market of ideas depended 

on certain lives laboring under that burden.

I started feeling in my body

how that burden was bound to our backs

keeping us cramped in old repetitive motions

crouched in the same mineshaft year on year

or like children in school striving to prove

proofs already proven over and over

to get into the next grade

but there is no next grade no movement onward only this

and the talk goes on, the laws, the jokes, the deaths,

                  the way of life goes on

as if you had proven nothing as if this burden

were what you are.”




(Knotted crowns of asparagus lowered by human hands

into long silver trenches fogblanched mornings

the human spine translated into fog’s

almost unbearable rheumatic beauty flattering pain

into a daze a mystic text of white and white’s

absolute faceless romance  :  :  the photographer’s

darkroom thrill discerning two phantoms caught

trenchside deep in the delicate power

of fog  :  :  phantoms who nonetheless have to know

the length of silvery trenches how many plants how long

this bending can go on and for what wage and what

that wage will buy in the Great Central Valley 1983.)




“Desire disconnected          meetings and marches

for justice and peace           the sex of the woman

the bleached green-and-gold        of the cotton print bedspread

in the distance the sound        of the week’s demonstration

July sun louvered shutters        off Riverside Drive

shattered glass in the courtyard    the sex of the woman

her body entire aroused to the hair

the sex of the women our bodies entire

molten in purpose each body a tongue

each body a river and over and over


and after to walk    in the streets still unchanging

a stormy light, evening    tattered emblems, horse-droppings

DO NOT CROSS POLICE BARRIER    yellow boards kicked awry

the scattering crowds        at the mouth of the subway


A thumbprint on a glass of icy water

memory that scours and fogs


nights when I threw my face 

on a sheet of lithic scatter

wrapped myself in a sack of tears”




“My thief    my counsellor

    tell me how it was then under the bridge

    in the long cashmere scarf

    the opera-lover left

silken length rough flesh violet light meandering

the splash that trickled down the wall

O tell me what you hissed to him and how he groaned to you

tell me the opera-lover’s body limb by limb and touch by touch

how his long arms arched dazzling under the abutment

    as he played himself to the hilt

    cloak flocked with light

My thief    my counsellor

tell me was it good or bad, was it good and bad, in the

    unbefriended archway of your first ardor?

was it an oilstain’s thumbprint on moving water?

the final drench and fizzle on the wall?

was it freedom from names from rank from color?

Thieving the leather trenchcoat of the night, my counsellor?

Breathing the sex of night of water never having to guess its

                    source, my thief?


O thief

I stand at your bedside    feed you segments of orange

O counsellor

you have too many vanishing children to attend

There were things I was meant to learn from you    they wail out

    like a train leaving the city

Desire the locomotive       death the tracks   under the bridge

the silken roughness drench of freedom and abruptly floodlit


LOVE CONQUERS ALL spelled out in flickering graffiti

—my counsellor, my thief”




“In the heart of the capital of Capital

against banked radiations of azalea

I found a faux-marble sarcophagus inscribed


I had been wondering why for so long so little

had been heard from that quarter.

I found myself there by deepest accident

wandering among white monuments

looking for the Museum of Lost Causes.


A strangely focused many-lumened glare

was swallowing alive the noon.

I saw the reviewing stand the podium draped and swagged

the huge screen all-enhancing and all-heightening

I heard the martial bands the choirs and the speeches

amplified in the vacant plaza

swearing to the satellites it had been a natural death.”


Found In Volume , No. 03
Read Issue
  • Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich
About the Author

Adrienne Rich authored numerous books of poems, including School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000 — 2004 (W.W. Norton, 2004), which won the Book Critics Circle Award. She died in 2012 at the age of 82.