Happy National Poetry Month!

  Happy National Poetry Month!  It’s one of Exploring Feminisms’ favorite months!

This first poem of the April poetry month series is written by recently departed but always feminist, lesbian, activist, amazing… Adrienne Rich.

Heroines
(1980)

Exceptional
even deviant
you draw your long skirts
across the nineteenth century
Your mind
burns long after death
not like the harbor beacon
but like a pyre of driftwood
on the beach
You are spared
illiteracy
death by pneumonia
teeth which leave the gums
the seamstress’ clouded eyes
the mill-girl’s shortening breath
by a collection
of circumstances
soon to be known as
class privilege
The law says you can possess nothing
in a world
where property is everything
You belong first to your father
then to him who
chooses you
if you fail to marry
you are without recourse
unable to earn
a workingman’s salary
forbidden to vote
forbidden to speak
in public
if married you are legally dead
the law says
you may not bequeath property
save to your children
or male kin
that your husband
has the right
of the slaveholder
to hunt down and re-possess you
should you escape
You may inherit slaves
but have no power to free them
your skin is fair
you have been taught that light
came
to the Dark Continent
with white power
that the Indians
live in filth
and occult animal rites
Your mother wore corsets
to choke her spirit
which if you refuse
you are jeered for refusing
you have heard many sermons
and have carried
your own interpretations
locked in your heart
You are a woman
strong in health
through a collection
of circumstances
soon to be known
as class privilege
which if you break
the social compact
you lost outright
When you open your mouth in public
human excrement
is flung at you
you are exceptional
in personal circumstance
in indignation
you give up believing
in protection
in Scripture
in man-made laws
respectable as you look
you are an outlaw
Your mind burns
not like the harbor beacon
but like a fire
of fiercer origin
you begin speaking out
and a great gust of freedom
rushes in with your words
yet still you speak
in shattered language
of a partial vision
You draw your long skirts
deviant
across the nineteenth century
registering injustice
failing to make it whole
How can I fail to love
your clarity and fury
how can I give you
all your due
take courage from your courage
honor your exact
legacy as it is
recognizing
as well
that it is not enough?

(Note: the formatting here is not how the text was originally laid out on the page.  Click here to see the actual layout of the poem, which can be read in her work, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems from 1978-1981.)

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One thought on “Happy National Poetry Month!

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