I don’t remember everything from college. I don’t remember the dates when certain novels were published, or what all the different literary criticism terms are, or how to read Middle English anymore. But today I remembered the name of a feminist poet whose writing I enjoyed—Adrienne Rich.
In briefly perusing articles published about her following her death in 2012, I found “Quarto.” It was published on June 8, 2009—exactly eight years ago today.
It came into my life exactly when I needed it, which is how all the best poems find their readers. Now, I share it with you, in case you need it today, too.
June 8, 2009
Call me Sebastian, arrows sticking all over
The map of my battlefields. Marathon.
Wounded Knee. Vicksburg. Jericho.
Battle of the Overpass.
Victories turned inside out
But no surrender
Cemeteries of remorse
The beaten champion sobbing
Ghosts move in to shield his tears
No one writes lyric on a battlefield
On a map stuck with arrows
But I think I can do it if I just lurk
In my tent pretending to
Refeather my arrows
I’ll be right there! I yell
When they come with their crossbows and white phosphorus
To recruit me
Crouching over my drafts
lest they find me out
and shoot me
Press your cheek against my medals, listen through them to my heart
Doctor, can you see me if I’m naked?
Spent longer in this place than in the war
No one comes but rarely and I don’t know what for
Went to that desert as many did before
Farewell and believing and hope not to die
Hope not to die and what was the life
Did we think was awaiting after
Lay down your stethoscope back off on your skills
Doctor can you see me when I’m naked?
I’ll tell you about the mermaid
Sheds swimmable tail Gets legs for dancing
Sings like the sea with a choked throat
Knives straight up her spine
Lancing every step
There is a price
There is a price
For every gift
And all advice