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Diving into the Wreck -- Adrienne Rich

Guest poem submitted by Janice:
(Poem #1787) Diving into the Wreck
 First having read the book of myths,
 and loaded the camera,
 and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
 I put on
 the body-armor of black rubber
 the absurd flippers
 the grave and awkward mask.
 I am having to do this
 not like Cousteau with his
 assiduous team
 aboard the sun-flooded schooner
 but here alone.

 There is a ladder.
 The ladder is always there
 hanging innocently
 close to the side of the schooner.
 We know what it is for,
 we who have used it.
 it is a piece of maritime floss
 some sundry equipment.

 I go down.
 Rung after rung and still
 the oxygen immerses me
 the blue light
 the clear atoms
 of our human air.
 I go down.
 My flippers cripple me,
 I crawl like an insect down the ladder
 and there is no one
 to tell me when the ocean
 will begin.

 First the air is blue and then
 it is bluer and then green and then
 black I am blacking out and yet
 my mask is powerful
 it pumps my blood with power
 the sea is another story
 the sea is not a question of power
 I have to learn alone
 to turn my body without force
 in the deep element.

 And now: it is easy to forget
 what I came for
 among so many who have always
 lived here
 swaying their crenellated fans
 between the reefs
 and besides
 you breathe differently down here.

 I came to explore the wreck.
 The words are purposes.
 The words are maps.
 I came to see the damage that was done
 and the treasures that prevail.
 I stroke the beam of my lamp
 slowly along the flank
 of something more permanent
 than fish or weed

 the thing I came for:
 the wreck and not the story of the wreck
 the thing itself and not the myth
 the drowned face always staring
 toward the sun
 the evidence of damage
 worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
 the ribs of the disaster
 curving their assertion
 among the tentative haunters.

 This is the place.
 And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
 streams black, the merman in his armored body.
 We circle silently
 about the wreck
 we dive into the hold.
 I am she: I am he

 whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
 whose breasts still bear the stress
 whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
 obscurely inside barrels
 half-wedged and left to rot
 we are the half-destroyed instruments
 that once held to a course
 the water-eaten log
 the fouled compass

 We are, I am, you are
 by cowardice or courage
 the one who find our way
 back to this scene
 carrying a knife, a camera
 a book of myths
 in which
 our names do not appear.
-- Adrienne Rich
I remember studying this in college and loving the way the poem draws the
reader in... just as the poet is diving so are you. There have been many
interpretaions of what the diver is looking for; the wreck has been called
the bulk of sexual definitions of the past, the treasure has been seen to be
knowledge, the book of myths patriarchy itself.

But I like to see the peom as one of transformation: the diver almost
'becomes' an androgyne, land is transformed into ocean, even breathing is
different there... the ocean changes from blue, green to black and the
shipwreck takes on mythical connotations. It is a journey of self-discovery
in more ways than one. There is a quest, a treasure and the journey she/he
makes is into the past, to look beyond myths and discover the truth behind
the wreckage.

Hope you enjoy the poem.


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