for Muriel Rukeyser
Sweat glides on the forehead of the gasping runner Who runs of necessity, who runs possibly for love, For truth, for death, and her feet are sweltering. Behind the runner lies a battlefield. There, the dust falls. Ahead, the narrow road Eats a plateau, leads into streets and buildings, A beach, and the excavation of motherly ocean, Everything under the arch of an innocent sky. Sweat trickles between her breasts, evaporates, And the runner, seeing bright bone under brown landscape Where one of us would see rocks, bushes, houses, Begins to feel how fire invades a body From within, first the splinters And crumpled paper, then the middle wood And the great damp logs splendidly catching. Ah, but some moments! It is so like fireworks, Hissing, exploding, flaring in darkness, Or like a long kiss that she cannot stop, And it is heavy for her, every stride Like pulling an iron railing [End Page 415] Uphill, ah Christ—we would have to imagine Jerusalem, Dresden, a hurt this hard, like a screen of fire Rising, continuous and intolerable Until solid things melt. Then the runner is floating, She becomes herself a torch, she is writing in fire, Rejoice, we have triumphed, rejoice, We have triumphed, Although words, although language Must be useless To the runner.
Alicia Ostriker is a poet and critic, twice a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent collections of poems are The Book of Seventy, which received the National Jewish Book Award in 2010, The Book of Life (2012), and the forthcoming The Old Woman, the Tulip and the Dog. As a critic, she is the author of Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America and other books on poetry and the Bible. Ostriker teaches in the low-residency MFA Program in Poetry and Poetry in Translation at Drew University.
1. From A Woman under the Surface © 1982 by Princeton UP. [End Page 416]