Here is a Map of our Country

October 10, 2017

I just came across a poem by Adrienne Rich that struck me as a description of the present, even though it’s from a book published in 1991.  Or maybe it’s that it could be a map of our country at almost any time in our history.  It’s section II of the opening title poem of An Atlas of the Difficult World:

Here is a map of our country:
here is the Sea of Indifference, glazed with salt
This is the haunted river flowing from brow to groin
we dare not taste its water
This is the desert where missiles are planted like corms
This is the breadbasket of foreclosed farms
This is the birthplace of the rockabilly boy
This is the cemetery of the poor
who died for democracy   This is a battlefield
from a nineteenth-century war   the shrine is famous
This is the sea-town of myth and story   when the fishing fleets
went bankrupt   here is where the jobs were   on the pier
processing frozen fishsticks hourly wages and no shares
These are other battlefields   Centralia   Detroit
here are the forests primeval   the copper   the silver lodes
These are the suburbs of acquiescence   silence rising fumelike from the streets
This is the capital of money and dolor whose spires
flare up through air inversions whose bridges are crumbling
whose children are drifting blind alleys pent
between coiled rolls of razor wire
I promised to show you a map you say but this is a mural
then yes let it be these are small distinctions
where we see it from is the question

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  • Reply Alegra Loewenstein October 10, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Yes. This is still apt 2.5 decades later. Change comes slow.

    Have you read Persephone Rising? Non fiction, sort of self help, empowerment and perspective giving, slow reading, and highly recommended!!!

  • Reply Eileen cleary October 11, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Yes so many poems, unfortunately speak to today, though written long ago. I’m thinking of Langston Hughes’ ” I, too , sing America” in which he hopes”they’ll see how beautiful I am/and be ashamed” of the way people of color have been treated. Written since 1945.
    Or “let America be America Again” in 1936.”I am the young man flu of strength and hope/tangled in the ancient endless chains.” Then, in 1922 the poem ” Mother to Son” in which the speaker used the metaphor of substandard housing to describe a hard life being not a ” crystal stair” but a “bare” step, a hard step. It breaks my heart that these poems are just as relevant today as they were decades ago.

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