Helen Engelhardt: Muriel: In Memoriam

MURIEL: IN MEMORIAM

 1

You left us in February
You left us two days before Valentine’s.

In the morning I heard myself say, “No more.
Do not call me anymore.”

I listened to your lifetime.

In the afternoon I was warned: “Saturn
is slipping into Libra.  Do not alter
your alliances.  Mars is conjunct Jupiter.”

You were the teacher I never had
The poet who wrote my poems before I thought of them.

In the evening I stared at the eastern sky
and dared the two spots of light to harm me.

December wrapped children have the secret sealed in their bones:
the earth does not die – it only seems to. I suppose
you taught me that in a poem
I can not find again.

In the middle of the night I was awakened by
those unblinking eyes one orange one blue
I covered my skin
I averted my face.

The next evening I learned of your death
from a newspaper over a delegate’s shoulder.

 

 2

She said: The silence at home. The river to which I have just come back and
didn’t realize how much I needed. The Bible. Blake. Keats. Donne.

She said: The poems get into one before one has language.

She said: I find returns very romantic in all things. I love the coming back at
different times of all things, including sounds, including words.

She said: I mean recurrence in all things. What they call repetition. With a
poem, with a dream, you have to take it back into life to see what it becomes.

She said: The poem is a meeting place just as a person’s life is a
meeting place. It isn’t that one brings life together. It’s that one will not allow it to be torn apart.

She said: These are the rhythms most to be alive: writing poetry, lovemaking,
bringing to birth. There is extreme joy.

She said: It seems to me that the awful poems are written from someplace
into which the poet has not dived deep enough.

She said: I am perfectly willing to give or offer or sell them, but I don’t like to
submit, although I am willing to submit to many things.

 3

“…Past the line of memory
along the long body of your life.”

Muriel Rukeyser

Child of Akiba

born at the end of the year
before the year the first
World War ignited

traveling to witness

along U.S.1 deep into her own discovered country
into the silica mines of West Virginia
to the miners dying of the pure white dust
to the company on trial

on a voyage to the sea of war

to France from Barcelona in a small boat
evacuated with the athletes five days after
the war broke open

keeping vigil before the gates of prison

in the mud and rain of Korea
beside the poet in solitary, Kim Chi Ha
in Vietnam after the war
seeking the writers who survived

teaching us all

the vision of the poet and the scientist is one
a clear voice opening the obstacles
to fulfill Wordsworth’s prophecy: “a birth of human
understanding”. Midwife of the transfiguration

 

 4

The Recalling

Confidence murmured in my ear
when you entered the lounge,
“She wanted a child, but she didn’t marry
to have one!”
The walls were decorated with books
in Sarah Lawrence at a seminar in autumn
a fire in its place, we in ours,
the warmth of all ideas
exchanged so politely.
The windows steamed over. My ears burned.

St. Mark’s Church. 24 hour poetry marathon
reading to end the war to end our patience.
Every pew packed, hungry to be heard
mostly men lined the walls.
A space cleared around you
quiet came to take its turn.

You stood alone in Cooper Union’s Great Hall
on a Friday night in the early ‘70s.
You called up to us The Ballad of the Orange and the Grape,
The Conjugation of the Paramecium, The Speed of Darkness.
You left the microphone and walked to the edge of the stage
to talk to us.
Said the man behind me, “She stands tall.”

The women gathered in Loeb Student Center
in November 1979, poets, storytellers, anti-nuclear activists.
You were present in your absence.
Each woman read one of your poems
before she read her own.

 

 5

“Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry”
Muriel Rukeyser

One Life 1957
The Life of Poetry 1949Doors, gates, locks
shut in, she broke open.
Her silent mother taught her
‘you can’t leave home, you belong here.’
She hid under a chair. She was told to be
happy. It was her birthday. She burnt her finger.

The Theory of Flight 1935 Her mother lived in fear. Her father poured concrete.
The rest of the family was all about money.
She was disobedient. She wrote poetry. She was disinherited.

A Turning Wind 1939She dreamt of suicide. She stood at a window at
sunset.
The light held her back. The dream recurred
throughout her life. Somehow each time she found
out how to get to the next step.

The Beast in View 1944 She drove south to Scottsboro and Spain
core of all our lives
“to carry and spread and daily justify”
The gypsy in her the anarchist united in her then.

Body of Waking 1958 She chose to have a child. They were almost lost
to the whirlpool. The doctors rescued them to each
other.

The Orgy 1966 She sought the “wild good”. “Almost every day
for a moment there was happiness.”

The Speed of Darkness She didn’t turn her back. She wished to make music
out of her violence, out of her contradictions.
1968“so much is possible for everybody.”

Breaking Open 1973Sienna and blinding white light…a dead woman was
lying beside her..
Darkness arrives/splitting the mind open.
Something again/is beginning to be born.
Her heart. Her mouth. Her heart.

The Gates 1976 When I am dead, even then
I will still love you. I will wait in these poems.

NOTE

“Muriel: In Memoriam” is based on Rukeyser’s own tribute to Käthe Kollwitz in her sequence of Lives. Each of these five sections attempts to serve an equivalent function and to recall the rhythms of the original.

Part 1 The central image, that of two planets in conjunction, coincidentally appears as a sign in the lower left hand corner of every numbered page in The Speed of Darkness.

Part 2 All quotations are from an interview with MR in The Craft of Poetry, William Packard, Ed., Doubleday 1974. Pages 153-176.

Part 3 The epigraph is from “This Morning.”
The biographical incidents from an article by Louise Bernikow, “Muriel at 65: Still Ahead of Her Time,” MS, January 1979; a tape-recording made at a Day in Honor of Muriel Rukeyser, December 9, 1978 at Sarah Lawrence College and broadcast on WBAI; from The Speed of Darkness & U.S. 1.

Part 5 Epigraph from “Poem Out of Childhood.”
Louise Bernikow’ article; MR’s poem, “Effort at Speech Between Two People,” “Recovering,” and “Then,” American Poetry Review, vol 3, #3 (1974), page 6.

Because Rukeyser chose to describe nine self-portraits by Kollwitz, I selected nine self-portraits from Rukeyser’s life in her own words or in paraphrase. The titles of her books are in chronological order (except for the first two titles)

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