The plane whumps down through rainclouds, streaks
of creamy light through cumulus, and, below,
a ruffled scattering, a mattress’ innards ripped—
friendship is always travel. How to measure
the distance eye to eye, or hand to hand—as our hands age—
or shoulder to shoulder as we stand at the sink
washing grit from beet greens, our palms magenta,
our voices low, steady, exchanging
gossip and palaver while
water rollicks to a boil
in the large, old, dented pot and aromas sharpen
(thyme, onion, oregano), children’s voices rise and fall,
at the fireplace the fathers argue about the fire,
and two families will eddy in rising hunger around the oval table
with its blue-checked cloth—
the plane tears through the lowest cloud bank
and again I am making my way toward you
from the far country of my provisional health,
toward you in your new estate of illness, your suddenly acquired,
costly, irradiated expertise.
You have outdistanced me.
—Rosanna Warren, from Ghost in a Red Hat
IN TRIBUTE TO ADRIENNE RICH (1929 - 2012): ROSANNA WARREN
“They’ve supplied us with pills / for bleeding, pills for panic. / Wash them down the sink,” wrote Rich in “5:30 A.M.” in Leaflets: Poems 1965–1968. “No one tells the truth about truth,” that poem continued. For most of her life as a poet, citizen, activist, and lover—and those roles were interconnected for Rich—she tried to resist moral anesthesia and to tell the truth as she perceived it. She made a weapon of the literal declarative sentence: “I am thinking how we can use what we have / to invent what we need,” states “Leaflets,” another early poem. The tone and method do not differ much in her later work: “We want to show ordinary life / We are dying to show it” (“Ritual Acts” in The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000–2004). However tamped down, the literal never stays literal, certainly not in a poem by Rich: the bluntest statements rise into allegory.
Rich rhymed “rage” and “page” in “Contradictions: Tracking Poems,” 1986. That figure gives a clue to both her power and her weakness. If her poems are sometimes sapped by an unreckoning self-righteousness, they are also blueprints for determined, often scathing ethical inquiry, insistence on justice, and celebration of same-sex love, and at their best they fight “the temptation to make a career of pain” (“Twenty-One Love Poems,” 1976). She is also, at odd moments, a poet of mystery and delicate recognitions who can see the equinox as “Time split like a fruit between dark and light” (“Equinox,” 2004). Her poems reflected the battles of her time but also led them, and helped to reinvent the language of protest.
ROSANNA WARREN, the author of four collections of poetry, has received awards from the Academy of Arts and Letters and has won the Lamont Poetry Prize. She teaches at Boston University and lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.