Thoughts While Reading The Power of Adrienne Rich by Hilary Holladay

by Jen Rouse

When you died, I left
a house that could not
contain my grief or
desire to break open
everywhere. You were Adrienne
Rich. A poet I carved into
the tree of me when I
was 16. I loved a girl then,
of course—a painter who spread
blankets on barren beaches
in South Dakota winters
and taught me to trace
Orion with my tongue.
But she did not think
I knew joy or how to find it.
It’s a common mistake
to assume my sadness doesn’t
arrive in the folds of beauty. That ice
doesn’t hold fire in its soul.

Twenty-four rings grew
around us. And I believed in you
like I would a cult leader,
“The Floating Poem,” a soft
true scripture. Something
to kneel into when the women
I loved swore allegiance to
God and cock, giving themselves
away as brides to the patriarchy,
to pulled pork sandwiches in
church basements and Jello-salad
picnics on the 4th of July.

I pretended a graciousness
that I do not possess for our
country’s garish marriages.
We do no favors now by
exploring endless wreckage.
I imagine your mouth, fierce
in battle. I force your knife into
the open wound of us and twist.

Jen Rouse directs the Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Her work has appeared in SWWIM, Pithead Chapel, Cleaver, Always Crashing, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. Her books with Headmistress Press include: Acid and Tender, CAKE, and Riding with Anne Sexton. Find her on Twitter @jrouse.


Photography by: Timon Studler