On Edges

When the ice starts to shiver
all across the reflecting basin
or water-lily leaves
dissect a simple surface
the word 'drowning' flows through me.
You built a glassy floor
that held me
as I leaned to fish for old
hooks and toothed tin cans,
stems lashing out like ties of
silk dressing-gowns
archangels of lake-light
gripped in mud.

Now you hand me a torn letter.
On my knees, in the ashes, I could never
fit these ripped-up flakes together.
In the taxi I am still piecing
what syllables I can
translating at top speed like a thinking machine
that types out 'useless' as 'monster'
and 'history' as 'lampshade'.
Crossing the bridge I need all my nerve
to trust to the man-made cables.

The blades on that machine
could cut you to ribbons
but its function is humane.
Is this all I can say of these
delicate books, scythe-curved intentions
you and I handle? I'd rather
taste blood, yours or mine, flowing
from a sudden slash, than cut all day
with blunt scissors on dotted lines
like the teacher told.


from Leaflets (W. W. Norton & Company, 1969), copyright © Adrienne Rich 2003, used by permission of the author

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1Antinous: The Diaries

2The Roofwalker

3Night-Pieces: For A Child

4"I Am in Danger - Sir - "

5Spring Thunder

6Face to Face


8In the Evening

9For a Russian Poet


11On Edges

12I Dream I'm The Death of Orpheus

13Letters: March 1969

14Diving into the Wreck


16Blue Rock



19Final Notations

20What Kind Of Times Are These

21In Those Years

22To The Days

23Miracle Ice Cream


25The Art of Translation


27Letters to a Young Poet

28For This


30Terza Rima