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Stepping Backward Analysis

Author: poem of Adrienne Rich Type: poem Views: 20

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Good-by to you whom I shall see tomorrow,

Next year and when I'm fifty; still good-by.

This is the leave we never really take.

If you were dead or gone to live in China

The event might draw your stature in my mind.

I should be forced to look upon you whole

The way we look upon the things we lose.

We see each other daily and in segments;

Parting might make us meet anew, entire.

You asked me once, and I could give no answer,

How far dare we throw off the daily ruse,

Official treacheries of face and name,

Have out our true identity? I could hazard

An answer now, if you are asking still.

We are a small and lonely human race

Showing no sign of mastering solitude

Out on this stony planet that we farm.

The most that we can do for one another

Is let our blunders and our blind mischances

Argue a certain brusque abrupt compassion.

We might as well be truthful.  I should say

They're luckiest who know they're not unique;

But only art or common interchange

Can teach that kindest truth.  And even art

Can only hint at what disturbed a Melville

Or calmed a Mahler's frenzy; you and I

Still look from separate windows every morning

Upon the same white daylight in the square.

And when we come into each other's rooms

Once in awhile, encumbered and self-conscious,

We hover awkwardly about the threshold

And usually regret the visit later.

Perhaps the harshest fact is, only lovers--

And once in a while two with the grace of lovers--

Unlearn that clumsiness of rare intrusion

And let each other freely come and go.

Most of us shut too quickly into cupboards

The margin-scribbled books, the dried geranium,

The penny horoscope, letters never mailed.

The door may open, but the room is altered;

Not the same room we look from night and day.

It takes a late and slowly blooming wisdom

To learn that those we marked infallible

Are tragi-comic stumblers like ourselves.

The knowledge breeds reserve.  We walk on tiptoe,

Demanding more than we know how to render.

Two-edged discovery hunts us finally down;

The human act will make us real again,

And then perhaps we come to know each other.

Let us return to imperfection's school.

No longer wandering after Plato's ghost,

Seeking the garden where all fruit is flawless,

We must at last renounce that ultimate blue

And take a walk in other kinds of weather.

The sourest apple makes its wry announcement

That imperfection has a certain tang.

Maybe we shouldn't turn our pockets out

To the last crumb or lingering bit of fluff,

But all we can confess of what we are

Has in it the defeat of isolation--

If not our own, then someone's, anyway.

So I come back to saying this good-by,

A sort of ceremony of my own,

This stepping backward for another glance.

Perhaps you'll say we need no ceremony,

Because we know each other, crack and flaw,

Like two irregular stones that fit together.

Yet still good-by, because we live by inches

And only sometimes see the full dimension.

Your stature's one I want to memorize--

Your whole level of being, to impose

On any other comers, man or woman.

I'd ask them that they carry what they are

With your particular bearing, as you wear

The flaws that make you both yourself and human.


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