Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Olga Broumas’s work is tangled in my memory with my first heady months in San Francisco – the community of women, of possibility, of power and connections and endless beauty. She is one of our defining poets. Every time I read this poem, I find another new level in it, and I always weep.


First night.
with pleasure as I came.
Into your arms, salt
crusting the aureoles.
Our white breasts. Tears
and tears. You
I don't know
if I'm hurting or loving
you. I
didn't either.
We went on
trusting. Your will to care
for me intense
as a laser. Slowly
my body's cellblocks
beneath its beam.

i have to write of these things. We were grown
women, well
traveled in our time.

Did anyone
ever encourage you, you ask
me, casual
in afternoon light. You blaze
fierce with protective anger as I shake
my head, puzzled, remembering, no
no. You blaze

a beauty you won't claim. To name
yourself beautiful makes you as vulnerable
as feeling
pleasure and claiming it
makes me. I call you lovely. Over

and over, cradling
your ugly memories as they burst
their banks, tears and tears, I call
you lovely. Your face
will come to trust that judgment, to bask
in its own clarity like sun. Grown women. Turning

heliotropes to our own, to our lovers' eyes.

Laughter. New in my lungs still, awkward
on my face. Fingernails
growing back
over decades of scar and habit, bottles
of bitter quinine rubbed into them, and chewed
on just the same. We are not the same. Two
women, laughing
in the streets, loose-limbed
with other women. Such things are dangerous.

millions have burned for less.

How to describe
what we didn't know
exists: a mutant organ, its function to feel
intensely, to heal by immersion, a fluid
element, crucial
as amnion, sweet milk
in the suckling months.

The words we need are extinct.

Or if not extinct
badly damaged: the proud Columbia
her bound up feet on her dammed
up bed. Helpless with excrement. Daily

by accident, against
what has become our will through years
of deprivation, we spawn the fluid
that cradles us, grown
as we are, and at a loss
for words. Against all currents, upstream
we spawn
in each other's blood.

sleepwalking in caves. Pink shells. Sturdy
diggers. Archeologists of the right
the speechless zones
of the brain.

Awake, we lie
if we try to use them, to salvage some part
of the loamy dig. It's like
forgiving each other, you said
borrowing from your childhood priest.
Sister, to wipe clean

with a musty cloth
what is clean already
is not forgiveness, the clumsy housework
of a bachelor god. We both know, well
in our prime, which is cleaner: the cave-
dwelling womb, or the colonized

the tongue.

© Olga Broumas, from "Beginning With O", from Yale University Press, 1977

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm reading Rave, the collected edition of all her poetry at the moment, and she astounds me with her perception and beauty. Thanks for posting this poem, it's one of my favorites too.