Wood, with a gift for burning

Monday night and again I am sleepless. I have sung the songs, done the dishes, folded the laundry. I have chatted and texted and messaged. I have prepped and stretched and even – just for tonight – taken the pill, so that I can get the sleep I need.

Instead, my brain is awash with Adrienne Rich. She has come out of nowhere, her words interrupting my reading, her lines repeating ceaselessly in my head. She will not be ignored.

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
O.K., then, yes I’m lonely

I am not lonely, I think back to her – or at least to her poem. What are you doing here?

Another stanza arises, unbidden. This is what comes of memorising verse, I grumble in my head.

If I’m lonely
it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning

My God, how I love this image. If I remember the words it is because the image is burned into my brain. If I could paint, I would paint this. I would take a photograph that would be this stanza. I would write it again as a book, as a hymn, as a prayer. 

No, I would leave it exactly as it is.

When she died, The New York Times called Adrienne Rich “one of the great poets of rage.” I was astonished. Rage? Really? Then again, I only know a few of her poems, and only one stanza of one poem has burned its way into my brain. So really, I know nothing. Tonight, with her words haunting me, I check the article again – I’ve only just remembered this characterization, and I feel a sudden intense need to understand because this poem, this is not anger. I see this: 

Ms. Rich is one of the great poets of rage, which in her hands becomes a complex, fluctuating power that encompasses the roots of the word “anger” in the Old Norse term for “anguish.”

Anguish. Of course. Not anger – so hard for me to understand, to express, to feel – but anguish… I can understand anguish. I imagine what it means to be the poet of anguish, the goddess of anguish, the writer of anguish.

I don’t feel anguish or anger tonight; instead I am starting to feel sleepy. Rich’s image persists as my eyes close. Am I ice-fast this cold December night? Perhaps the words arose because of the last red light of the year? No, I know the truth. Oh, Adrienne. Tonight your rowboat rocks me to sleep; tonight I will dream knowing that I, too, am wood, with a gift for burning

(Read the whole poem – Song by Adrienne Rich – here.)


12 thoughts on “Wood, with a gift for burning

  1. I can relate to your post. That longing for the words again and again. To want to know more about the person who wrote them. However, this author is new to me, so you are sending me down the rabbit hole this morning. Here I go…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, the richness of this writing is so moving! I love conversation in your head with the poem, the poet and the wrestling with the words to describe the lived emotion.

    What is the difference between rage and anguish, I wonder. One is expelled and the other festers inside?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are such a soulful writer!! I have snippets of poetry and songs that wander through my brain too. It’s why I spend time every week in a new poem in my classroom (except this week…so busy!) My daughter and I love reciting “Something Told the Wild Geese” by Rachel Field.


    1. I had never read that poem before – it is lovely! I really need to find ways to bring poetry back into my classroom. (I read this one to the Grade 10s today and they didn’t hate it…)


  4. Thank you for this. Rich is often simultaneously my warm cup of tea, my bold bourbon, and my fueled coffee. I see here in your writing and in this comment thread that I am not alone.


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