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Cartographies of Silence

Written by: Adrienne Rich | Biography
 | Quotes (26) |

A conversation begins
with a lie. and each 

speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart 

as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature 

A poem can being
with a lie. And be torn up. 

A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own 

false energy, Cannot be torn
up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself. 

Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies. 


The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment 

the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone 

The syllables uttering
the old script over and over 

The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie 

twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word 


The technology of silence
The rituals, etiquette 

the blurring of terms
silence not absence 

of words or music or even
raw sounds 

Silence can be a plan
rigorously executed 

the blueprint of a life 

It is a presence
it has a history a form 

Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence 


How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me 

though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract 

without wounding myself or you
there is enough pain here 

This is why the classical of the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain? 


The silence strips bare:
In Dreyer's Passion of Joan 

Falconetti's face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera 

If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank space or as words 

stretched like skin over meaningsof a night through which two people
have talked till dawn. 


The scream
of an illegitimate voice 

It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself 

How do I exist? 

This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer 

I had answers but you could not use them
The is useless to you and perhaps to others 


It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything- 

chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums 

If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing 

a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew 

If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn 

till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare 


No. Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words 

moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child's fingers 

or the newborn infant's mouth
violent with hunger 

No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method 

whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue 

If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciation to the eye 

the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn 

like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a single ear of grain 

for the return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing 

are these words, these whispers, conversations
from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green.