Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I Would Call My Friends on Other Devices, or: Born 102 Years Ago Today


Muriel Rukeyser

Murmurs from the earth of this land, from the caves and craters,
      from the bowl of darkness. Down watercourses of our
      dragon childhood, where we ran barefoot.
We stand as growing women and men. Murmurs come down
      where water has not run for sixty years.
Murmurs from the tulip tree and the catalpa, from the ax of
      the stars, from the house on fire, ringing of glass; from
      the abandoned iron-black mill.
Stars with voices crying like mountain lions over forgotten
Blue directions and a horizon, milky around the cities where the
      murmurs are deep enough to penetrate deep rock.
Trapping the lightning-bird, trapping the red central roots.
You know the murmurs. They come from your own throat.
You are the bridges to the city and the blazing food-plant green;
The sun of plants speaks in your voice, and the infinite shells of
A beach of dream before the smoking mirror.
You are close to that surf, and the leaves heated by noon, and
      the star-ax, the miner’s glitter walls. The crests of the sea
Are the same strength you wake with, the darkness is the eyes
      of children forming for a blaze of sight and soon, soon,
Everywhere, you own silence, who drink from the crater, the
      nebula, one another, the changes of the soul.

The traditional Rukeyser birthday paragraph:

I took an Intro to Poetry course at Montgomery College when I was 20 or so when I was first learning I dig poetry (and trying to impress two women). The professor, who insisted we call her Tessa (so I don't remember her last name), prescribed beats and radicals, among them Rukeyser for her feminist and social protest themes. I liked her poetry then and for a few years after, but somewhere, by some erroneous aesthetic reasoning, I came to think overt political declarations in poems boring and, frankly, embarrassing no matter how well crafted the poem, so I stopped reading Rukeyser except when I'd come upon a poem in a magazine or somewhere. What a fucking dope. To be honest, my poetry, when I look up from the page to see what I've written, is often too full of overt political declarations, it's what I'm best at rhythmically, propulsively, embarrassingly, I'm so much better at that than I am the object><subject><subject><object-ology of poetry I somehow came to believe was superior, poetry's aim and goal. In any case, two years or so ago someone returned to the library Rukeyser's collected and I've been reading it since. It's a second chance at education.


Muriel Rukeyser


For that you never acknowledged me, I acknowledge
the spring’s yellow detail, the every drop of rain,
the anonymous unacknowledged men and women.
The shine as it glitters in our child’s wild eyes,
one o’clock at night.       This river, this city,
the years of the shadow on the delicate skin
of my hand, moving in time.
Disinherited, annulled, finally disacknowledged
and all of my own asking.        I keep that wild dimension
of life and making and the spasm
upon my mouth as I say this word of acknowledge
to you forever.        Ewig.        Two o’clock at night.


While this my day and my people are a country not yet born
it has become an earth I can
acknowledge.       I must.        I know what the
disacknowledgment does.        Then I do take you,
but far under consciousness, knowing
that under under flows a river wanting
the other :  to go open-handed in Asia,
to cleanse the tributaries and the air, to make for making,
to stop selling death and its trash, pour plastic down men’s throats,
to let this child find, to let men and women find,
knowing the seeds in us all.        They do say Find.
I cannot acknowledge it entire.        But I will.
A beginning, this moment, perhaps, and you.


Death flowing down past me, past me, death
marvelous, filthy, gold,
in my spine in my sex upon my broken mouth
and the whole beautiful mouth of the child;
shedding power over me
if I acknowledge him.
Leading me
in my own body
at last in the dance.


Muriel Rukeyser

:  Speak to me.          Take my hand.            What are you now?
   I will tell you all.          I will conceal nothing.
   When I was three, a little child read a story about a rabbit
   who died, in the story, and I crawled under a chair    :
   a pink rabbit    :    it was my birthday, and a candle
   burnt a sore spot on my finger, and I was told to be happy.

:  Oh, grow to know me.        I am not happy.        I will be open:
   Now I am thinking of white sails against a sky like music,
   like glad horns blowing, and birds tilting, and an arm about me.
   There was one I loved, who wanted to live, sailing.

:  Speak to me.        Take my hand.        What are you now?
   When I was nine, I was fruitily sentimental,
   fluid    :    and my widowed aunt played Chopin,
   and I bent my head on the painted woodwork, and wept.
   I want now to be close to you.        I would
   link the minutes of my days close, somehow, to your days.

:  I am not happy.          I will be open.
   I have liked lamps in evening corners, and quiet poems.
   There has been fear in my life.          Sometimes I speculate
   On what a tragedy his life was, really.

:  Take my hand.          Fist my mind in your hand.          What are you now?
   When I was fourteen, I had dreams of suicide,
   and I stood at a steep window, at sunset, hoping toward death   :
   if the light had not melted coulds and plains to beauty,
   if light had not transformed that day, I would have leapt.
   I am unhappy.          I am lonely.          Speak to me.

:  I will be open.          I think he never loved me:
   He loved the bright beaches, the little lips of foam
   that ride small waves, he loved the veer of gulls:
   he said with a gay mouth: I love you.          Grow to know me.

:  What are you now?          If we could touch one another,
   if these our separate entities could come to grips,
   clenched like a Chinese puzzle . . . yesterday
   I stood in a crowded street that was live with people,
   and no one spoke a word, and the morning shone.
   Everyone silent, moving. . . . Take my hand.          Speak to me.


Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.


Muriel Rukeyser

Whether it is a speaker, taut on a platform,
who battles a crowd with the hammers of his words,
whether it is the crash of lips on lips
after absence and wanting : we must close
the circuits of ideas, now generate,
that leap in the body's action or the mind's repose.

Over us is a striking on the walls of the sky,
here are the dynamos, steel-black, harboring flame,
here is the man night-walking who derives
tomorrow's manifestos from this midnight's meeting ;
here we require the proof in solidarity,
iron on iron, body on body, and the large single beating.

And behind us in time are the men who second us
as we continue. And near us is our love :
no forced contempt, no refusal in dogma, the close
of the circuit in a fierce dazzle of purity.
And over us is night a field of pansies unfolding,
charging with heat its softness in a symbol
to weld and prepare for action our minds' intensity.


Muriel Rukeyser

The night is covered with signs. The body and face of man,
with signs, and his journeys.     Where the rock is split
and speaks to the water;     the flame speaks to the cloud;
the red splatter, abstraction, on the door
speaks to the angel and the constellations.
The grains of sand on the sea-floor speak at last to the noon.
And the loud hammering of the land behind
speaks ringing up the bones of our thighs, the hoofs,
we hear the hoofs over the seethe of the sea.
All night down the centuries, have heard, music of passage.
Music of one child carried into the desert;
firstborn forbidden by law of the pyramid.
Drawn through the water with the water-drawn people
led by the water-drawn man to the smoke mountain.
The voice of the world speaking, the world covered by signs,
the burning, the loving, the speaking, the opening.
Strong throat of sound from the smoking mountain.
Still flame, the spoken singing of a young child.
The meaning beginning to move, which is the song.
Music of those who have walked out of slavery.
Into that journey where all things speak to all things
refusing to accept the curse, and taking
for signs the signs of all things, the world, the body
which is part of the soul, and speaks to the world,
all creation being created in one image, creation.
This is not the past walking into the future,
the walk is painful, into the present, the dance
not visible as dance until much later.
These dancers are discoverers of God.
We knew we had all crossed over when we heard the song.
Out of a life of building lack on lack:
the slaves refusing slavery, escaping into faith:
an army who came to the ocean: the walkers
who walked through the opposites, from I to opened Thou,
city and cleave of the sea. Those at flaming Nauvoo,
the ice on the great river: the escaping Negroes,
swamp and wild city: the shivering children of Paris
and the glass black hearses; those on the Long March:
all those who together are the frontier, forehead of man.
Where the wilderness enters, the world, the song of the world.
Akiba rescued, secretly, in the clothes of death
by his disciples carried from Jerusalem
in blackness journeying to find his journey
to whatever he was loving with his life.
The wilderness journey through which we move
under the whirlwind truth into the new,
the only accurate. A cluster of lights at night:
faces before the pillar of fire. A child watching
while the sea breaks open. This night. The way in.
Barbarian music, a new song.
Acknowledging opened water, possibility:
open like a woman to this meaning.
In a time of building statues of the stars,
valuing certain partial ferocious skills
while past us the chill and immense wilderness
spreads its one-color wings until we know
rock, water, flame, cloud, or the floor of the sea,
the world is a sign, a way of speaking. To find.
What shall we find? Energies, rhythms, journey.
Ways to discover. The song of the way in.


  1. rukeyser wrote

    the world is a sign, a way of speaking

    i was reminded that a week ago our friend mongo, at the moment, posted at his blog the following by james tate

    Behind The Green Door

    Thaddeus had said he wanted to get together, but,
    then, when we met in town, he didn’t seem to have anything
    on his mind. “I’d like to get myself one of those remote-
    controlled airplanes, and chase pigeons in the park,” he
    said. “That will show them who’s boss,” I said. “Of course,
    some people might think I’m a little old for that,” he said.
    “For terrorizing innocent birds? You’re never too old for
    that, Thad,” I said. We sipped at our beers. It was still
    before noon, and Mary’s was almost empty, except for an elderly
    couple at the bar drinking martinis. “They’re pretty expensive,”
    Thad said. “Martinis?” I said. “No, stupid, remote-controlled
    airplanes,” he said. “Think of it as an investment in your
    lost childhood,” I said. He thought that over for a while.
    The couple at the bar toasted one another, and laughed. The
    bartender brought us another round. It was a Saturday, and
    I had many errands and chores on my list. “You know all about
    my ‘lost childhood,’ so I don’t need to remind you,” he said.
    “I can recite what you got and what you didn’t get for all
    your birthdays,” I said. “Then, why do you put up with me?”
    he said. “I need to suffer, Thaddeus. It makes me a better
    person. So, you see, indulging you is completely selfish
    on my part. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s how the
    world is, and that’s why some great good may come out of
    making those birds suffer. I don’t know what it is, but something
    tells me it’s so,” I said. The woman at the bar was tickling
    the man’s ribs, and he was about to fall off his stool. “Then,
    you think there really is a plan?” Thad said. “Absolutely,
    right down to the last drop of beer spilled on this floor
    every night, to the ant you killed walking out your door,
    and the plane crash in the Andes,” I said. Thaddeus seemed
    stunned, while I was saying anything that came into my
    head. I took it as my jobjust to give him something to think
    about. The couple at the bar ordered another round. Then,
    Thaddeus said, “If that’s true, then I’ve never really done
    anything wrong. I had no choice, I’m off the hook.” I looked
    at my watch. We were right on schedule for that conclusion.
    “And soon the earth will open up, and a ten-thousand-year-old
    giant squid will strangle us all,” I said. “I’m hungry,” Thaddeus
    said, “do you want to get some lunch? There’s a new place
    across the street.” “That’s not new. They just painted the
    door a different color. The owner, Herb, had a midlife crisis
    or something,” I said. “Well, then, it’s sort of new, I mean,
    you don’t know what you’re going to get after something like
    that,” he said. “I see your point. I suppose it could get
    kind of ugly. Or maybe not. It could be better than ever.
    Still, I have these errands,” I said. “You’re afraid to lose
    even an hour, George, afraid what you might find in its place,
    something truly unknown, without a name, no visible shape.
    There’s nothing wrong with that, George. You know I’ve always
    admired you, so go on your way, get your dishwashing detergent
    or whatever it is. I’m going to find out what’s behind that green
    door,” Thaddeus said. “No doubt there will be an ambrosia burger,”
    I said, “and you’ll order one.” “I will have no choice,” he
    said. When we stepped outside, the sunlight blinded me. “Good-bye, Thaddeus,” I said, “wherever you are.” A dog barked, and, then, a siren sped by. I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face.

    -- From "Ghost Soldiers" (2008)

  2. Been many years since I'd read her work. Thanks for this.