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Rusted Legacy Poem By Adrienne Rich

Rusted Legacy Poem By Adrienne Rich

Imagine a city where nothing’s
forgiven your deed adheres
to you like a scar, a tattoo but almost everything’s
forgotten deer flattened leaping a highway for food
the precise reason for the shaving of the confused girl’s head
the small boys’ punishing of the frogs
—a city memory-starved but intent on retributions
Imagine the architecture the governance
the men and the women in power
—tell me if it is not true you still
live in that city.

Imagine a city partitioned divorced from its hills
where temples and telescopes used to probe the stormy codices
a city brailling through fog
thicket and twisted wire
into dark’s velvet dialectic
sewers which are also rivers
art’s unchartered aquifers the springhead
sprung open in civic gardens left unlocked at night
I finger the glass beads I strung and wore
under the pines while the arrests were going on
(transfixed from neck to groin I wanted to save what I could)
They brought trays with little glasses of cold water
into the dark park a final village gesture
before the villages were gutted.

They were trying to save what they could
—tell me if this is not the same city.

I have forced myself to come back like a daughter
required to put her mother’s house in order
whose hands need terrible gloves to handle
the medicinals the disease packed in those linens
Accomplished criminal I’ve been but
can I accomplish justice here? Tear the old wedding sheet
into cleaning rags? Faithless daughter
like stone but with water pleating across
Let water be water let stone be stone
Tell me is this the same city.

This I—must she, must she lie scabbed with rust,
crammed with memory in a place,
of little anecdotes no one left
to go around gathering the full dissident story?
Rusting her hands and shoulders stone her lips
yet leaching down from her eyesockets tears
—for one self only? each encysts a city.

Adrienne Rich
from Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995–1998

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