Originally published in Breaking Open (1973)
I come into the room The room stands waiting
river books flowers you are far away
black river a language just forgotten
traveling blaze of light dreams of endurance
racing into this moment outstretched faces
and you are far away
The stars cross over
fire-flood extremes of singing
filth and corrupted promises my river
A white triangle of need
my reflected face
laced with a black triangle of need
Naked among the silent of my own time
and Zig Zag Zag that last letter
of a secret or forgotten alphabet
shaped like our own last letter but it means
Something in our experience you do not know
When will it open open opening
River-watching all night
will the river
swing open we are Asia and New York
Bombs, roaches, mutilation River-watching
Looking out at the river
the city-flow seen as river
the flow seen as a flow of possibility
and I too to that sea.
Summer repetitive. The machine screaming
Beating outside, on the corrupted
On my good days it appears digging
On others, its monstrous word
Says on one note Gone, killed, laid waste.
The whole thing—waterfront, war, city,
sons, daughters, me—
Must be re-imagined.
Sun on the orange-red roof.
Walking into the elevator at Westbeth
Yelling in the empty stainless-steel
Room like the room of this tormented year.
Like the year
The metal nor absorbs nor reflects
My pulled face looks at me
From the steel walls.
And then we go to Washington as it if were
and then we present our petition, clearly,
and then some of us walk away;
and then do others of us stay;
and some of us lie gravely down
on that cool mosaic floor,
Washington! Your bombs rain down!
I mourn, I lie down, I grieve.
Written on the plane:
The conviction that what is meant by the unconscious is the same
as what is meant by history. The collective unconscious is the living
history brought to the present in consciousness, waking or sleeping.
The personal “unconscious” is the personal history. This is an
We will now explore further ways of reaching our lives, the new
world. My own life, yours; this earth, this moon, this system, the
“space” we share, which is consciousness.
Turbulence of air now. A pause of nine minutes.
Written on the plane. After turbulence:
The movement of life : to live more fully in the present. This
movement includes the work of bringing this history to “light” and
understanding. The “unconscious” of the race, and its traces in art
and in social structure and “inventions” — these are our inheritance.
In facing history, we look at each other, and in facing our entire
personal life, we look at each other.
I want to break open. On the plane, a white cloud seen through
rainbow. The rainbow is, optically, on the glass of the window.
The jury said Guilty, Guilty, Guilty,
Guilty, Guilty. Each closed face.
I see myself in the river-window. River
Slow going to its sea.
An old, crushed, perverse, waiting,
In loss, in dread, dead tree.
Inner greet. Greenberg said it,
Even the tallest man needs inner greet.
This is the great word
brought back, in swinging seas. The new world.
End of summer.
Dark-red butterflies on the river
Dark-orange butterflies in the city.
The young men still going to war
Or away from war, to the prisons, to other countries.
To the high cold mountains, to the source of the river, I too go,
Deeper into this room.
A dream remembered only in other dreams.
The voice saying:
All you dreaded as a child
Came to pass in storms of light;
All you dreaded as a girl
Falls and falls in avalanche—
Dread and the dream of love will make
All that time and men may build,
All that women dance and make.
They become you. Your own face
Dances through the night and day,
Leading your body into this
Body-led dance, its mysteries.
Answer me. Dance my dance.
River-watching from the big Westbeth windows:
Powerful miles of Hudson, an east-blowing wind
All the way to Asia.
No. Lost in our breath,
Sobbing, lost, alone. The River darkens.
Black flow, bronze lights, white lights.
Something must answer that light, that dark.
The door opens, you walk in.
The old man said, “The introversion of war
Is the main task of our time.”
Now it makes its poems, when the sky stops killing.
I try to turn my acts inward and deeper.
Almost a poem. If it splash outside,
My teacher says, “Go deeper.”
The day when the salmon-colored flowers
I will essay. Go deeper.
Make my poem.
Going to prison. The clang of the steel door.
It is my choice. But the steel door does clang.
The introversion of this act
Past its seeming, past all thought of effect,
Until it is something like
Writing a poem in my silent room.
In prison, the thick air,
still, loaded, heat on heat.
Around your throat
for the doors are locks,
the windows are locked doors,
the hot smell locked around us,
the machine shouting at us,
trying to sell us meat and carpets.
In prison, the prisoners,
all of us, all the objects,
chairs, cots, mops, tables.
Only the young cat.
He does not know he is locked in.
In prison, the prisoners.
One black girl, 19 years.
She has killed her child
and she grieves, she grieves.
She crosses to my bed.
“What do Free mean?”
I look at her.
“You don’t understand English.”
“Yes, I understand English.”
“What do Free mean?”
In prison a
brown paper bag
I put it beside my cot.
All my things.
Comb, notebook, underwear,
letterpaper, toothbrush, book.
I am rich—
they have given me another toothbrush.
The guard saying:
“You’ll find people share here.”
Photos, more precise than any face can be.
The broken static moment, life never by
any eye seen.
My contradictions set me tasks, errands.
This I know:
What I reap, that shall I sow.
How we live:
I look into my face in the square glass.
Under it, a bright flow of cold water.
At once, a strong arrangement of presences:
I am holding a small glass
under the little flow
at Fern Spring, among the western forest.
A cool flaw among the silence.
The taste of the waterfall.
Some rare battered she-poet, old girl in the Village
racketing home past low buildings some freezing night,
come face to face with that broad roiling river.
Nothing buried in her but is lit and transformed.
BURNING THE DREAMS
on a spring morning of young wood, green wood
it will not burn, but the dreams burn.
My hands have ashes on them.
They fear it
and so they destroy the nearest things.
DEATH AND THE DANCER
Running from death
throwing his teeth at the ghost
dipping into his belly, staving off death with a throw
tearing his brains out, throwing them at Death
death-baby is being born
scythe clock and banner come
trumpet of bone and drum made of something—
the callous-handed goddess
her kiss is resurrection
The marker at Auschwitz
The scientists torturing male genitals
The learned scientists, they torture female genitals
The 3-year-old girl, what she did to her kitten
The collar made of leather for drowning a man in his chair
The scatter-bomb with the nails that drive into the brain
The thread through the young man’s splendid penis
The babies in flames. The thrust
Infected reptile dead in the live wombs of girls
We did not know we were insane.
We do not know we are insane.
We say to them : you are insane
Anything you can imagine
on punishable drugs, or calm and young
with a fever of 105, or on your knees,
with the word of Hanoi bombed
with the legless boy in Bach Mai
with the sons of man torn by man
Rational man has done.
Mercy, Lord. On every living life.
In tall whirlpools of mirrors
Unshapen body and face
middle of the depth
of a night that will not turn
the unshapen all night
trying for form
I do and I do.
Life and this under-war.
Deep under protest, make.
For we are makers more.
but touching teaching going
the young and the old
they reach they break they are moving
to make the world
something about desire
something about murder
something about my death
something about madness
something about light
something of breaking open
sing me to sleep and morning
my dreams are all a waking
In the night
wandering room to room of this world
I move by touch
and then something says
let the city pour
the sleep of the beloved
Let the night pour down
all its meanings
Let the images pour
the light is dreaming
When I stand with these three
My new brothers my new sister
These who bind themselves offering
Hostages to go at a word, hostages
to go deeper here among our own cities
When I look into your faces
Karl, Martin, Andrea.
When I look into your faces
Offered men and women, I can speak,
And I speak openly on the church steps,
At the peace center saying : We affirm
Our closeness forever with the eyes in Asia,
Those who resist the forces we resist.
One more hostage comes forward, his eyes: Joe,
With Karl, Martin, Andrea, me.
And now alone in the river-watching room,
Allen, your voice comes, the deep prophetic word.
And we are one more, Joe, Andrea, Karl, Martin,
Allen, me. The hostages. Reaching. Beginning.
That I looked at them with my living eyes.
That they looked at me with their living eyes.
That we embraced.
That we began to learn each other’s language.
It is something like the breaking open of my youth
but unlike too, leading not only to consummation
of the bed and of the edge of the sea.
Although that, surely, also.
But this music is
needing only other selving
It is defeated but a way is open:
Then came I entire to this moment
process and light
to discover the country of our waking
(c) Muriel Rukeyser