into the wreck

I have always loved this poem since I first stumbled upon in my senior poetry seminar as an undergraduate. As I get older, it means something different each time I read it. I'm struggling with my pedagogy chapter right now, trying to revise what I've written, to articulate more clearly how I do what I do in the classroom and why. But I always struggle with the why. I am a doer, one who acts. Have a problem, I will troubleshoot it for you. Ask me why that's how I would approach a situation and I falter. I see a big picture but explaining why it is important to look at something that way, leaves me in self-doubt. Maybe that's why I like this poem. It's about doing, looking for yourself for the thing, not the story or the myth but the thing itself. It describes how I approach research because at the end of the day aren't I always only looking for myself, trying to make my presence known? To say: world, I am here and I have something to say and I am saying it. It's why I loved poetry so much; it gave me a voice, a way to say something important to me, to share it with others. I loved the feeling on stage, screaming into a microphone things like: revolution is revolution is revolution but the revolution is dead and I am dying slowly without anything to fuel my fire.... I loved the looks on the faces of the girls in the front row who hung on my every word when I spoke about laurel, candace, the girls who smelled like strawberries and tasted like peaches. I loved the shock of my raspy voice in a crowded bar when I began to say, "the boys I fuck..." and the "girls I love..." It was heady stuff and it got to me. I'd gone to poetry to find myself and ended up buying the myth. The one that says you can capture it again, that beatnik spirit, and you can live on vodka and gas station sandwiches and run your checking account down to eleven cents because the world is large and something will come along tomorrow to rescue you like a 300 dollar paycheck you forgot about, which means you can go to Florida with the cash and spend every last cent chasing some version of yourself that is actually less than your potential. I fell easily those days, easily in love with the idea of myself as that girl, the rock star girl who throws up in her hands and in the bar and outside and tries to make out with a girl she likes later in the night only to have her say, "You're too dark and intense for me." I wore that statement like a badge, like a definition and I warned the piano players and the doe eyed bartenders and waitresses who wanted to feel, for a moment, the way that my poems felt: all passion and fire, sparking like firecrackers only to fade more quickly than imagined. Because when it was over and I was off stage, sitting in the dark drinking cold vodka, I was simply another drunk poet who found nothing at the end of the bottle. And no matter who was in my bed that night, I was alone. I dove into the wreck and found the wreck and it was me.

Diving into the Wreck
by Adrienne Rich

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.
Otherwise
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.