Toward the Solstice, 1977

The thirtieth of November.
Snow is starting to fall.
A peculiar silence is spreading
Over the fields, the maple grove.
It is the thirtieth of May,
Rain pours on ancient bushes, runs
Down the youngest blade of grass.
I am trying to hold in one steady glance
All the parts of my life.
A spring torrent races
On this old slanting roof,
The slanted field below
Thickens with winter’s first whiteness.
Thistles dried to sticks in last year’s wind
Stand nakedly in the green,
Stand sullenly in the slowly whitening,
My brain glows
More violently, more avidly
The quieter, the thicker
The quilt of crystals settles,
The louder, more relentlessly
The torrent beats itself out
On the old boards and shingles.
It is the thirtieth of May,
The thirtieth of November,
A beginning or an end.
We are moving towards the solstice
And there is so much here
I still do not understand.
If I could make sense of how
My life is tangled
With dead weeds, thistles,
Enormous burdocks, burdens
Slowly shifting under
This first fall of snow,
Beaten by this early, racking rain
Calling all new life to declare itself strong
Or die,
If I could know
In what language to address
The spirits that claim a place
Beneath these low and simple ceilings,
Tenants that neither speak nor stir
Yet dwell in mute insistence
Till I can feel utterly ghosted in this house.
If history is a spider-thread
Spun over and over though brushed away
It seems I might some twilight
Or dawn in the hushed country light
Discern its greyness stretching
From molding or doorframe, out
Into the empty dooryard
And following it climb
The path into the pinewoods,
Tracing from tree to tree
In the falling light, in the slowly
Lucidifying day
Its constant, purposive trail,
Till I reach whatever cellar hole
Filling with snowflakes or lichen,
Whatever fallen shack
Or unremembered clearing
I am meant to have found
And there, under the first or last
Star, trusting to instinct
The words would come to mind
I have failed or forgotten to say
Year after year, winter
After summer, the right rune
To ease the hold of the past
Upon the rest of my life
And ease my hold on the past.
If some rite of separation
Is still unaccomplished,
Between myself and the long-gone
Tenants of this house,
Between myself and my childhood,
Between the childhood of my children,
It is I who have neglected
To perform the needed acts,
Set water in corners, light and eucalyptus
In front of mirrors,
Or merely pause and listen
To my own pulse vibrating
Lightly as falling snow,
Relentless as the rainstorm,
And hear what it has been saying.
It seems I am still waiting
For them to make some clear demand
Some articulate sound or gesture,
For release to come from anywhere
But from inside myself.
A decade of cutting away
Dead flesh, cauterizing
Old scars ripped open over and over
And still it is not enough.
A decade of performing
The loving humdrum acts
Of attention to this house
Transplanting lilac suckers,
Washing panes, scrubbing
Wood-smoke from splitting paint,
Sweeping stairs, brushing the thread
Of the spider aside,
And so much yet undone,
A woman’s work, the solstice nearing,
And my hand still suspended
As if above a letter
I long and dread to close.

(Adrienne Rich)

This is my annual (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) marking of the solstice, a holiday that means more to me than any other, particularly this one, today, the winter solstice.  It marks the turning back to the light.  And yet there is so much here I still do not understand.

5 thoughts on “Solstice”

  1. I’m reading a great book – that you would love – called “Finding Your Inner Mama,” and no matter how diverse the essays, nearly every author refers to Rich, who I’d never been introduced to before but now love.

  2. I love Adrienne Rich. And I love this poem–such an intense texture to it, and such an intense sense of place along with everything else. And speaking of sense of place, my very favorite bit of Rich is an excerpt from her poem “The Spirit of Place.” It’s more about the descent into winter, actually, than moving toward the light, which is probably why *I* love it. 😉 But for all its darkness, there’s something so hopeful and comforting about it. Something about the fact that we *need* seasonal/emotional rotation, that the darkness is okay precisely because it’s meant to be, because it’s part of the whole.

    “The work of winter starts fermenting in my head
    how with the hands of a lover or a midwife
    to hold back till the time is right

    force nothing, be unforced
    accept no giant miracles of growth
    by counterfeit light

    trust roots, allow the days to shrink
    give credence to these slender means
    wait without sadness and with grave impatience

    here in the north where winter has a meaning
    where the heaped colors suddenly go ashen
    where nothing is promised

    learn what an underground journey
    has been, might have to be; speak in a winter code
    let fog, sleet, translate; wind, carry them.

  3. What an incredibly stunning poem!

    And as for not understanding, do you think we are really meant to?
    You really got me thinking about that one, Lindsey. My post tonight is partly in answer to this….

    Thank you, as always.

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