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My rose-wet cave: the great love lines of Adrienne Rich


photo of a page from Rich’s “An Atlas of a Difficult World” via Flickr

Last Wednesday, the great American poet Adrienne Rich died (1929-2012). If you ever took a “Contemporary American Poetry” class in college, then she surely holds a special place in your artistic heart. In her influential poetry and essays, she explored her identity as a political activist, a feminist and a lesbian (which was bold for the time — and still is, sadly, in some circles). Here are some of our favorite lines of Rich’s poetry about love, sex, sexuality and gender:

These are the lips, powerful rudders
pushing through groves of kelp,
the girl’s terrible, unsweetened taste
of the whole ocean, its fathoms: this is that taste

–from “That Mouth”

…I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone…
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together

–from “II” in Twenty-One Love Poems

I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

–from “III” in Twenty-One Love Poems

I’d call it love if love
didn’t take so many years
but lust too is a jewel
a sweet flower and what
pure happiness to know
all our high-toned questions
breed in a lively animal

– from “Two Songs”

Should I simplify my life for you?
Don’t ask me how I began to love men.
Don’t ask me how I began to love women.

– from “Four: History”

Your small hands, precisely equal to my own—
only the thumb is larger, longer—in these hands
I could trust the world . . .

– from “VI” in Twenty-one Love Poems

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

– from “Diving into the Wreck”

Sleeping. Turning in turn like planets
rotating in their midnight meadow:
a touch is enough to let us know
we’re not alone in the universe, even in sleep.

– from “XII” in Twenty-one Love Poems

Whatever happens with us,
your body will haunt mine…
[...]
…Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come–
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there–
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth–
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave–whatever happens, this is.

–from “The Floating Poem, Unnumbered” in Twenty-One Love Poems

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon’s eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping
elsewhere

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve

– from “Tonight No Poetry Will Serve”

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