Friday, September 14, 2007

just a few leagues under

Some journalist somewhere (The Atlantic?) wrote that we've lost our appreciation of noble melancholy. That was years back and I bit hard and deep into that truth like a starved sea lion come upon the perfect, available prey.

Melancholy gets brighter, more useful as time paints in broader backdrops for me. Today's a day off. I never take them. It's all mine and I'm in my PJs at noon, drinking coffee, reading poetry.

I don't read Adrienne Rich enough.

I think it's because I nearly always experience a kind of coitus interruptus with her. She builds it with precision, word by turn by wait wait go
and every fiber sharpens its form, gets tautonly to fold back in together too soon, relaxation of quicksand resolution. Frustration. We should take longer to get there. That's the point.

See the end of this poem. It rounds back to its beginning, much too much of an echo, especially for something underwater. The whole long metaphor demands muffling and tenacious, difficult movement toward exact discovery, a revelation beyond the expected identification of being wreckage and diver at once. We're with her underwater, all the pressure on our ears, streams of bubbles disrupting upward from the Regulator, the crippling, slowing flippers
. I need not just to see something down there, to glimpse it, butwell, maybe my expectation is unrealistic hereto startle when something murky in this wreckage reaches out to grab me by the hair. Increasingly, I demand the shock of the true.

And I have to work hard to understand the punctuation choices in here. Especially since we're talking about words as maps, I'd like more direction along my short lines. Boss me around with a comma now and then. It's not too much to ask.

All that said, I love the embedded mots justes
: maritime floss, ribs of disaster, vermeil cargo. These wordsI have no idea whyremind me of Bishop's rosettes of lime, her isinglass, the oarlocks on their strings. And then this line, it brought up Gilbert: "we are the half-destroyed instruments / that once held to a course," more the first half than the second. All in all, it makes me consider jumping overboard the next time I visit the otters at Elkhorn Slough. Just to feel the nervy risk and reality of my long hair floating loose down under the planet's deep dark.

Diving into the Wreck

by Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.