diving into the wreck

A post of re-entry: the task of moving while doing the newsblog for Women’s Voices and finishing up my responsibilities at Chelsea Now was pretty punishing, and pushed me almost entirely away from the book. Now I sit on the back porch of my in-laws’ house in northeast Philadelphia, birds chatting away about the unexpected cool weather, the occasional visiting bunny rabbit not yet making his confused appearance. (Think of it as Bread Loaf w/o the fellow writers, or the alcohol.)

And after some necessary re-immersion, I may be finally ready to commence my necessary 20-week writing marathon, treating this place as an enforced writers’ colony. At least mostly. (I do still want to see if I can find someone to hire me to write about   IVAW at one of the political conventions at the end of this month.)

When I thought of writing this post, I knew the title, and found the Adrienne Rich poem a bigger gift than I’d thought. Though her quarry was patriarchy, the psychological/creative task feels the same:

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….

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.

“The wreck and not the story of the wreck.” Multiple meanings in my project, since so many of my characters are also storytellers. Not to get distracted even by Ambrose Bierce’s powerful description of Shiloh, or Fred Marchant’s incredible Vietnam poems — though all are useful, even essential in undercutting the predominant story of gung-ho, mindless soldiering.

My task here is that weird combination of journalist, historian (not one but try, like my role model Adam Hochschild, to play one on TV) and novelist. To look closely at my characters, at where their lives fit into the shape of their wars (the ones they fought in, the ones they dissented about, not always the same). And now, the trickiest part: to be Dante’s Virgil. To tell their stories, and the overall story, smoothly enough so that it goes down now like hard medicine but like whipped cream. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.

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.

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3 responses to “diving into the wreck

  1. Oh, sweet Jeebus, that was deep ‘n good — and you KNOW I will have “recylcle” that on blogga mia 😉 but with attribution. Wow. Thank you. That is the quintessential “voyage of discovery” all these vets are on. So providential that we met…just love it. Thank you.

  2. The brilliance is all Rich’s, of course. I went back and added a link to the whole poem above – it’s worth reading if you’re gonna use it, too.

    Either way, I’m honored to be mentioned in the mighty Healing Combat Trauma.

  3. elizabethwillse

    Wow- As you know, I’d never liked Adrienne Rich. If I could read more like that, though, I’d have to rethink.

    Maybe my mistake was reading her prose, and not enough of her poetry. I’ll grab poems and blog the reading process.

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