Originally published in Breaking Open (1973)
Responsibility is to use the power to respond.
after Robert Duncan
What kind of woman goes searching and searching?
Among the furrows of dark April, along the sea-beach,
in the faces of children, in what they could not tell;
in the pages of centuries—
for what man? for what magic?
In corridors under the earth, in castles of the North,
among the blackened minders, among the old
I have gone searching.
The island-woman told me, against the glitter of sun
on the stalks and leaves of a London hospital.
I searched for that Elizabethan man,
the lost discoverer, the servant of time;
and that man forgotten for belief, in Spain,
and among the faces of students, at Coventry,
finding and finding in glimpses. And at home.
Among the dead I too have gone searching,
a blue light in the brain.
Suddenly I come to these living eyes,
I a live woman look up at you this day
I see all the colors in your look.
2 MIRIAM : THE RED SEA
High above shores and times,
I on the shore
forever and ever.
Moses my brother
has crossed over
to milk, honey,
that holy land.
I sing forever
on the seashore.
I do remember
horseman and horses,
waves of passage
poured into war,
all poured into journey.
My unseen brothers
have gone over;
deep seas under.
I alone stand here
and I sing, I sing,
until the lands
sing to each other.
3 FOR DOLCI
Angel of declaring, you opened before us walls,
the lives of children, water as power.
To control the water is to control our days,
to build a dam is to face the enemy.
We will form a new person who will step forward,
he it is, she it is, assumes full life,
fully responsible. We will bring all the children,
they will decide together.
We will ask these children : what is before you?
They will say what they see.
They will say what they don’t see.
Once again we breathe in discovery.
A man, a woman,
we are each other’s sources.
They are pouring the city:
they tear down the towers,
grind their lives,
laughing tainted, the river
flows down to tomorrow.
They are setting the forms,
pouring the new buildings.
Our days pour down.
I am pouring my poems.
5 BRECHT’S GALILEO
Brecht saying : Galileo talking astronomy
Stripped to the torso, the intellectual life
Pouring from this gross man in his nakedness.
Galileo, his physical contentment
Is having his back rubbed by his student; the boy mauls;
The man sighs and transforms it; intellectual product!
Galileo spins a toy of the earth around
The spinning sun; he looks at the student boy.
Learning is teaching, teaching is learning.
Demonstrates how horrible is betrayal,
Particularly on the shore of a new era.
6 READING THE KIEU
There was always a murder within another murder.
Red leaves and rosy threads bind them together.
The hero of Vietnam’s epic is a woman
and she has sold herself to save her father.
Odor of massacres spread on the sky.
Loneliness, the windy, dusty world.
The roads are crowded with armor and betrayal.
Mirror of the sun and moon, this land,
in which being handed to soldiers is the journey.
Shame, disgrace, change of seas into burnt fields.
Banners, loudspeakers, violation of each day,
everything being unjust. But she does save him,
and we find everything in another way.
7 THE FLOOR OF OCEAN
Climbing the air, prophet beyond prophet
leaning upon creation backward to the first
creation the great spark of night
breathing sun energy a gap between finger-tips
across all of space or nothing, infinity.
But beyond this, with this, these
arms raising reaching wavering
as from the floor of ocean
wavering showing swaying like sea-plants
pointing straight up closing the gap between
continual creation and the daily touch.
From you I learned the dark potential
theatres of the acts of man holding
on a rehearsal stage people and lights.
You in your red hair ran down the darkened
aisle, making documents and poems
in their people form the play.
Hallie it was from you I learned this:
you told the company in dress-rehearsal
in that ultimate equipped building what they lacked:
among the lighting, the sight lines, the acoustics,
the perfect revolving stage, they lacked only one thing
the most important thing. It would come tonight:
The audience the response
Hallie I learned from you this summer, this
Hallie I saw you lying all gone to bone
the tremor of bone I stroked the head all sculpture
I held the hands of birds I spoke to the sealed eyes
the soft live red mouth of a red-headed woman.
I knew Hallie then I could move without answer,
like the veterans for peace, hurling back their medals
and not expecting an answer from the grass.
You taught me this in your dying, for poems and theatre
and love and peace-making that living and my love
are where response and no-response
meet at last, Hallie, in infinity.
9 THE ARTIST AS SOCIAL CRITIC
They have asked me to speak in public
and set me a subject.
I hate anything that begins : the artist as . . .
and as for “social critic”
at the last quarter of the twentieth century
I know what that is:
late at night, among radio music
the voice of my son speaking half-world away
coming clear on the radio into my room
out of blazing Belfast.
Long enough for me to walk around
in that strong voice.
10 THE PRESIDENT AND THE LASER BOMB
He speaks in a big voice through all the air
saying : we have made strength,
we have made a beginning,
we will have lasting peace.
Something shouts on the river.
All night long the acts speak:
the new laser bomb falls impeccably
along the beam of a strict light
finding inevitably a narrow footbridge
11 NOT SEARCHING
What did I miss as I went searching?
What did I not see?
I renounce all this regret.
Now I will make another try.
One step and I am free.
When it happens to us again and again,
sometimes we know it for we are prepared
but to discover, to live at the edge of things,
to fall out of routine into invention
and recognize at the other edge of ocean
a new kind of man a new kind of woman
walking toward me into the little surf.
This is the next me and the next child
daybreak in continual creation.
Dayray we see, we say,
we sing what we don’t see.
Picasso saying : I don’t search, I find!
And in us our need, the traces of the future,
the egg and its becoming.
I come to you searching and searching.
12 THE QUESTION
After this crisis,
nothing being conquered,
the theme is set:
to move with the forces,
how to go on
from the moment that
changed our life,
the moment of revelation,
proceeding from the crisis,
from the dream,
and not from the moment
of sleep before it?
Searching/not searching. To make closeness.
For if this communication was the truth,
then it was this communication itself
which was the value to be supported.
And for this communication to endure,
men and women must move freely. And to make
this communication renew itself always
we must renew justice.
And to make this communication
lasting, we must live to eliminate
violence and the lie.
Yes, we set the communication
we have achieved
against the world of murder.
after Camus, 1946
What did I see? What did I not see?
The river flowing past my window.
The night-lit city. My white pointed light.
Pieces of world away
within my room.
Unseen and seen, the bodies within my life.
Voices under the leaves of Asia,
and America, in sex, in possibility.
We are trying to make, to let our closeness be made,
not torn apart tonight by our dead skills.
The shadow of my hand.
The shadow of my pen.
Morning of the day we reach or do not reach.
In our bodies, we find each other.
On our mouths, inner greet,
in our eyes.
© Muriel Rukeyser