03 March 2016

Poetry Thursday - Rauschenberg's Bed by Adrienne Rich


Rauschenberg's Bed
by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

How a bed once dressed with a kindly quilt becomes
unsleepable site of anarchy What body-holes expressed
their exaltation loathing exhaustion
what horse of night has pawed those sheets
what talk under the blanket ravelled
what clitoris lain very still in her own subversion
what traveller homeward reached for familiar bedding
and felt stiff tatters under his fingers
How a bed is horizontal yet this is vertical
inarticulate liquids spent from a spectral pillow

How on a summer night someone drives out on the roads
while another one lies ice-packed in dreams of freezing

Sometimes this bed has eyes, sometimes breasts
sometimes eking forth from its laden springs
pity compassion pity again for all they have worn and borne
Sometimes it howls for penis sometimes vagina sometimes
for the nether hole the everywhere

How the children sleep and wake
the children sleep awake upstairs

How on a single night the driver of roads comes back
into the sweat-cold bed of the dreamer

leans toward what's there for warmth
human limbs human crust

Read more about the painting and the poem, the painter and the poet, in an essay by Rick Barot (here), and of their different lives:

"The image of Rauschenberg in his New York studio, the image of Rich as a young mother in Cambridge – these have a dissonance that is stark and poignant. Seen from the near end of celebrated careers, Rauschenberg and Rich in 1955 now seem like figures caught in the placidity of amber, caught in a moment of impending flux in their lives. Rauschenberg will turn out to be our painter of earnest pranksterism, while Rich will turn out to be our poet of social agon. But in 1955 they were artists of metamorphosing visions. Their subsequent stories are, in many ways, metaphoric narratives for what has come to pass in America’s cultural life in the past fifty years. Rauschenberg’s odes to the images and items of everyday perceptions and historical events, re-envisioned in ever-inventive technical ploys; Rich’s transformation from a writer of deft lyrics to a writer of expressively open forms dealing with her identities as a feminist, a lesbian, and a social activist – their stories are particular idiosyncrasies in a half-century of wild change. "

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