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Midnight Salvage: Poems, 1995-1998

Midnight Salvage: Poems, 1995-1998

by Adrienne Rich, Rich

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"An impressive new volume. . . . Rich's admirers will recognize the complex symbiosis between the activist and the maker of new language, each propelling, describing, provoking the other's words."—Publishers Weekly
"Look: with all my fear I'm here with you, trying what it means, to stand fast; what it means to move." In these astonishing new poems,


"An impressive new volume. . . . Rich's admirers will recognize the complex symbiosis between the activist and the maker of new language, each propelling, describing, provoking the other's words."—Publishers Weekly
"Look: with all my fear I'm here with you, trying what it means, to stand fast; what it means to move." In these astonishing new poems, Adrienne Rich dares to look and to extend her poetic language as witness to the treasures—the midnight salvage—we rescue from fear and fragmentation. Rich's work has long challenged social plausibilities built on violence and demoralizing power. In Midnight Salvage, she continues her explorations at the end of the century, trying, as she has said, "to face the terrible with hope, in language as complex as necessary, as communicative as possible—a poetics which can work as antidote to complacency, self-involvement, and despair. I have wanted to assume a theater of voices rather than the restricted I. To write for both readers I know exist and those I can only imagine, finding their own salvaged beauty as I have found mine." "In her vision of warning and her celebration of life, Adrienne Rich is the Blake of American letters."—Nadine Gordimer

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Her incarnations as activist and maker of new language continue to propel, describe, provoke the poet's words. (A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1999, 1 November 1999)
Benjamin Ivry
Rich is as feisty as ever in these poems, which strive to define their historical moment and prove that a poet can be committed to political and social subjects. -- Time Out New York
Rafael Campo
Her own poetry is stunning in its originality, yet she is capable of inhabiting the imaginations of other writers and artists....Rich's poetry is an awe-inspiring work in progress, unafraid of the kind of conflict that engenders truth. —The Progressive
Library Journal
Rich's latest collection cuts another notch in the tree of 20th-century history and marks its place on the path toward a poetics of social responsibility. A montage of wordplay and direct historical reference (with endnotes) conveys the necessity for patience--"horrible patience which is part of the work...which waits for language, for meaning" and freedom of expression. The book amplifies the message we have seen in Rich's work for nearly 50 years. She masterfully presents "all kinds of language" in tone and in content, incorporating the ideas of Blake, Mandelstam, Marx, and Nixon (among others) into a medley setting forth the imperative that historical events be synthesized and expressed in poetry. What she describes as "a theater of voices rather than the restrictive I" is a movement of perspective within the poems and throughout the book. The result is a musical text that is liberating in content and in form.--Ann K. van Buren, New York University
David St. John
In this country, Adrienne Rich has no peer. -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
Tom Clark
Rich's poems beckon readers to engage in the kind of intimate, subversive, beautifully constructed conversation only [she] can initiate. -- San Francisco Chronicle
The Advocate
Age hasn't mellowed the remarkable Rich. In her 43-year career she's won bassically every poetry award on the planet. Still, her anger at social wrongs creates a blaze you can see for miles around.
Kirkus Reviews
Ever since her first volume of poetry in 1951, A Change of World, was selected by Auden for the Yale Younger Poets, Rich has enjoyed a wide and mostly laudatory readership, though it has changed over the years, from admirers of her modest, formal pleasures to believers in her often strident, anti-male rhetoric. Age seems to find her more mellow in these poems from the last three years, though her sociopolitical concerns remain the same, as they have for many of her 19 or so books: a committed radical, Rich engages her readers directly, anticipating objections to her sense of art as intervention and witness. "A Long Conversation" is just that: a lengthy dialogue, performed for her public, with no lesser figures than Marx, Wittgenstein, Enzensberger, and Guevera-all duly and dully quoted in service of Rich's self-aggrandizing bits of comradely memory. Having long abandoned the jaded views of Auden for the democratic vistas of Whitman, Rich the prophet struggles with Rich the proselytizer: she strolls an urban dreamscape in "'The Night Has a Thousand Eyes'," and summons the ghosts of Hart Crane, Muriel Rukeyser, and Paul Goodman, among others. Other poems celebrate-despite her admitted tendency to "iconize"-activists and artists, Rene Char and Tina Modotti. Everywhere Rich bleeds history, whether imagining those hiding from Nazis, or sorting out her own dead mother's personal effects. Best when plaintive and sensitive to the modest pleasures of her sounds, Rich's "I"-less lines, with their pretentious denial of ego, sound more like the breathless phrases of George Bush. .

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



To have seen you exactly, once:
red hair over cold cheeks fresh from the freeway
your lingo, your daunting and dauntless
eyes. But then to lift toward home, mile upon mile
back where they'd barely heard your name
--neither as terrorist nor as genius would they detain you--

to wing it back to my country bearing
your war-flecked protocols--

that was a mission, surely: my art's pouch
crammed with your bristling juices
sweet dark drops of your spirit
that streaked the pouch, the shirt I wore
and the bench on which I leaned.


It's only a branch like any other

green with the flare of life in it

and if I hold this end, you the other

that means it's broken

broken between us, broken despite us
broken and therefore dying
broken by force, broken by lying
green, with the flare of life in it


But say we're crouching on the ground like children
over a mess of marbles, soda caps, foil, old foreign coins
--the first truly precious objects. Rusty hooks, glass.

Say I saw the earring first but you wanted it.
Then you wanted the words I'd found. I'd give you
the earring, crushed lapis if it were,

I would look long at the beach glass and the sharded self
of the lightbulb. Long I'd look into your hand
at the obsolete copper profile, the cat's-eye, the lapis.

Like a thief I would deny the words, deny they ever
existed, were spoken, or could be spoken,
like a thief I'd bury them and remember where.


The trade names follow trade
the translators stopped at passport control:
Occupation: no such designation--
Journalist, maybe spy

That the books are for personal use
only--could I swear it?
That not a word of them
is contraband--how could I prove it?



The wing of the osprey lifted
over the nest on Tomales Bay
into fog and difficult gust
raking treetops from Inverness Ridge on over
The left wing shouldered into protective
gesture the left wing we thought broken

and the young beneath in the windy nest
creaking there in their hunger
and the tides beseeching, besieging
the bay in its ruined languor




Up skyward through a glazed rectangle I
sought the light of a so-called heavenly body
:: a planet or our moon in some event and caught

nothing nothing but a late wind
pushing around some Monterey pines
themselves in trouble and rust-limbed

Nine o'clock :: July : the light
undrained :: that blotted blue
that lets has let will let

thought's blood ebb between life- and death-time
darkred behind darkblue
bad news pulsing back and forth of "us" and "them"

And all I wanted was to find an old
friend an old figure an old trigonometry
still true to our story in orbits flaming or cold


Under the conditions of my hiring
I could profess or declare anything at all
since in that place nothing would change
So many fountains, such guitars at sunset

Did not want any more to sit under such a window's
deep embrasure, wisteria bulging on spring air
in that borrowed chair
with its collegiate shield at a borrowed desk

under photographs of the spanish steps, Keats' death mask
and the english cemetery all so under control and so eternal
in burnished frames :: or occupy the office
of the marxist-on-sabbatical

with Gramsci's fast-fading eyes
thumbtacked on one wall opposite a fading print
of the same cemetery :: had memories
and death masks of my own :: could not any more

peruse young faces already straining for
the production of slender testaments
to swift reading and current thinking :: would not wait
for the stroke of noon to declare all passions obsolete

Could not play by the rules
in that palmy place :: nor stand at lectern professing
anything at all
                   in their hire


Had never expected hope would form itself
completely in my time :: was never so sanguine
as to believe old injuries could transmute easily
through any singular event or idea :: never
so feckless as to ignore the managed contagion
of ignorance the contrived discontinuities
the felling of leaders and future leaders
the pathetic erections of soothsayers

But thought I was conspiring, breathing-along
with history's systole-diastole
twenty thousand leagues under the sea a mammal heartbeat
sheltering another heartbeat
plunging from the Farallons all the way to Baja
sending up here or there a blowhole signal
and sometimes beached
making for warmer waters
where the new would be delivered :: though I would not see it


But neither was expecting in my time
to witness this :: wasn't deep
lucid or mindful you might say enough
to look through history's bloodshot eyes
into this commerce this dreadnought wreck cut loose
from all vows, oaths, patents, compacts, promises ::
                                                                            To see

not O my Captain
fallen cold & dead by the assassin's hand

but cold alive & cringing :: drinking with the assassins
in suit of noir Hong Kong silk
pushing his daughter in her famine-waisted
flamingo gown
out on the dance floor with the traffickers
in nerve gas saying to them Go for it
and to the girl Get with it


When I ate and drank liberation once I walked
arm-in-arm with someone who said she had something to teach me
It was the avenue and the dwellers
free of home : roofless :: women
without pots to scour or beds to make
or combs to run through hair
or hot water for lifting grease or cans
to open or soap to slip in that way
under arms then beneath breasts then downward to thighs

Oil-drums were alight under the freeway
and bottles reached from pallets of cardboard corrugate
and piles of lost and found to be traded back and forth
and figures arranging themselves from the wind
Through all this she walked me :: And said
My name is Liberation and I come from here
Of what are you so afraid?

We've hung late in the bars like bats
kissed goodnight at the stoplights
--did you think I wore this city without pain?
did you think I had no family?


Past the curve where the old craftsman was run down
there's a yard called Midnight Salvage
He was walking in the road which was always safe
The young driver did not know that road
its curves or that people walked there
or that you could speed yet hold the curve
watching for those who walked there
such skills he did not have being in life unpracticed

but I have driven that road in madness and driving rain
thirty years in love and pleasure and grief-blind
on ice I have driven it and in the vague haze of summer
between clumps of daisies and sting of fresh cowflop odors
lucky I am I hit nobody old or young
killed nobody left no trace
practiced in life as I am


This horrible patience which is part of the work
This patience which waits for language for meaning for the
             least sign
This encumbered plodding state doggedly dragging
the IV up and down the corridor
with the plastic sack of bloodstained urine

Only so can you start living again
waking to take the temperature of the soul
when the black irises lean at dawn
from the mouth of the bedside pitcher
This condition in which you swear I will
submit to whatever poetry is
I accept no limits
    Horrible patience


You cannot eat an egg    You don't know where it's been
The ordinary body of the hen
vouchsafes no safety    The countryside refuses to supply
Milk is powdered    meat's in both senses high

Old walls the pride of architects    collapsing
find us in crazed niches    sleeping like foxes
we wanters we unwanted we
wanted for the crime of being ourselves

Fame slides on its belly like any other animal after food
Ruins are disruptions of system leaking in
weeds and light    redrawing
the City of Expectations

You cannot eat an egg    Unstupefied not unhappy
we braise wild greens and garlic    feed the feral cats
and when the fog's irregular document's break open
scan its fissures for young stars
                   in the belt of Orion




There is bracken there is the dark mulberry
there is the village where no villager survived
there are the hitlerians there are the foresters
feeding the partisans from frugal larders

there is the moon ablaze in every quarter
there is the moon "of tin and sage" and unseen pilots dropping
explosive gifts into meadows of fog and crickets
there is the cuckoo and the tiny snake

there is the table set at every meal
for freedom whose chair stays vacant
the young men in their newfound passions
(Love along with them the ones they love)

Obscurity, code, the invisible existence
of a thrush in the reeds, the poet watching
as the blood washes off the revolver in the bucket
Redbreast, your song shakes loose a ruin of memories

A horrible day ... Perhaps he knew, at that final instant?
The village had to be spared at any price ...
How can you hear me? I speak from so far ...
The flowering broom hid us in a blazing yellow mist


This war will prolong itself beyond any platonic armistice. The implanting
of political concepts will go on amid upheavals and under cover of self-confident
hypocrisy. Don't smile. Thrust aside both skepticism and resignation
and prepare your soul to face an intramural confrontation with demons as
cold-blooded as microbes

The poet in wartime, the Surrealistes' younger brother
turned realist (the village had to be spared at any price)
all eyes on him in the woods crammed with maquisards expecting
him to signal to fire and save their comrade
shook his head and watched Bernard's execution
knowing that the random shooting of a revolver
may be the simplest surreal act but never
changes the balance of power and that real acts are not simple
The poet, prone to exaggerate, thinks clearly under torture

knowing the end of the war
would mean no end to the microbes frozen in each soul
the young freedom fighters
in love with the Resistance
fed by a thrill for violence
familiar as his own jaw under the razor


Insoluble riverrain conscience echo of the future
I keep vigil for you here by the reeds of Elkhorn Slough
and the brown mouth of the Salinas River going green
where the white egret fishes the fragile margins
Hermetic guide in resistance I've found you and lost you
several times in my life You were never just
the poet appalled and transfixed by war you were the maker
of terrible delicate decisions and that did not smudge
your sense of limits You saw squirrels crashing
from the tops of burning pines when the canister exploded
and worse and worse and you were in charge of every risk
the incendiary motives of others were in your charge
and the need for a courage wrapped in absolute tact
and you decided and lived like that and you
held poetry at your lips a piece of wild thyme ripped
from a burning meadow a mimosa twig
from still unravaged country You kept your senses
about you like that and like this I keep vigil for you.



Your footprints of light on sensitive paper
that typewriter you made famous
my footsteps following you up stairwells
of scarred oak and shredded newsprint
these windowpanes smeared with stifled breaths
corridors of tile and jaundiced plaster
if this is where I must look for you
then this is where I'll find you

From a streetlamp's wet lozenge bent
on a curb plastered with newsprint
the headlines aiming straight at your eyes
to a room's dark breath-smeared light
these footsteps I'm following you with
down tiles of a red corridor
if this is a way to find you
of course this is how I'll find you

Your negatives pegged to dry in a darkroom
rigged up over a bathtub's lozenge
your footprints of light on sensitive paper
stacked curling under blackened panes
the always upstairs of your hideout
the stern exposure of your brows
--these footsteps I'm following you with
aren't to arrest you

The bristling hairs of your eyeflash
that typewriter you made famous
your enormous will to arrest and frame
what was, what is, still liquid, flowing
your exposure of manifestos, your
lightbulb in a scarred ceiling
well if this is how I find you
Modotti so I find you

In the red wash of your darkroom
from your neighborhood of volcanoes
to the geranium nailed in a can
on the wall of your upstairs hideout
in the rush of breath a window
of revolution allowed you
on this jaundiced stair in this huge lashed eye
footsteps I'm following you with


Meet the Author

Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed, and widely taught, Adrienne Rich (1929–2012) was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose. Her constellation of honors includes a National Book Award for poetry for Tonight, No Poetry Will Serve, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994, and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck. That volume, published in 1973, is considered her masterwork. Ms. Rich’s other volumes of poetry include The Dream of a Common Language, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, An Atlas of the Difficult World, The School Among the Ruins, and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth. Her prose includes the essay collections On Lies, Secrets, and Silence; Blood, Bread, and Poetry; an influential essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” and the nonfiction book Of Woman Born, which examines the institution of motherhood as a socio-historic construct. In 2006, Rich was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation. In 2010, she was honored with The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry's Lifetime Recognition Award.

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