13 July 2005

more of Adrienne Rich

[from An Atlas of the Difficult World]


He thought there would be a limit and that it would stop him.
                            He depended on that:
the cuts would be made by someone else, the direction
come from somewhere else, arrows flashing on the freeway.
that he’d end somewhere gazing
straight into It was what he imagined and nothing beyond.
That he’d end facing as limit a thing without limits and so he
and burned and hacked and bled himself toward that (if I
this story at all). What he found: FOR SALE: DO NOT
OCCUPANT on some cliffs; some ill-marked, ill-kept roads
ending in warnings about shellfish in Vietnamese, Spanish and
But the spray was any color he could have dreamed
—gold, ash, azure, smoke, moonstone—
and from time to time the ocean swirled up through the eye of a
                            rock and taught him
limits. Throwing itself backward, singing and sucking, no
                            teacher, only its violent
self, the Pacific, dialectical waters rearing
their wild calm constructs, momentary, ancient.

So why do I like that? The idea of youth, of going all out for everything possible, of believing that a natural limit could and would be found, that there the seeker would be forced to stop and rest, take stock of limit and infinite. The limit the seeker found—FOR SALE: DO NOT DISTURB / OCCUPANT—in a far place and seemingly not much of a limit at all, not something he need even observe, not in the face of the ocean spray, which showed him limits in its dialectical hurling.

The question the line break raises between DISTURB and OCCUPANT: Who is the occupant? The person who puts up the sign or the person present on the cliffs? After what the seeker did—burned and hacked and bled himself—in order to arrive not only at a limit but also at what he dreamed, now to arrive and find spray, any color he could have dreamed, and an ocean to teach him those limits. And then, the seeker sees that (life and) the ocean is no teacher, only its violent / self, a self like the seeker’s self, dialectical waters rearing. The momentary, ancient makes me think of Jeffers’s rock and hawk.

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