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The first poem in Diving into the Wreck, "Trying To Talk with a Man," offers an important qualification to the epic extension between inner and outer life in "When We Dead Awaken." This opening poem can be read as Rich's farewell to marriage, a theme echoed later in "From a Survivor" and in "When We Dead Awaken" as the female companion gives up "keeping track of anniversaries" and begins to write in her "diaries / more honestly than ever." Again, in "Trying to Talk with a Man" the landscape of modern civilization, "this condemned scenery" of a bomb-testing site, provides an epic extension of the inner affliction, which is a feminist consciousness that is accompanied by a loss of faith in the honesty of daily culture: "whole LP collections, films we starred in / ... the language of love-letters, of suicide notes, / afternoons on the riverbank/ pretending to be children." The "condemned scenery," which is "surrounded by a silence / that sounds like the silence of the place / except that it came with us / and is familiar," is a landscape of consciousness, yet it possesses the physical, ethical dangers of a bomb-testing site. Here the poet feels "more helpless / with you than without you" because the other person misconstrues the risks and responsibilities of being in the place, and so fails to recognize the poet's way of being there:

You mention the danger and list the equipment  we talk of people caring for each other  in emergencies--laceration, thirst-- but you look at me like an emergency

Your dry heat feels like power your eyes are stars of a different magnitude  they reflect lights that spell out: EXIT  when you get up and pace the floor

talking of the danger as if it were not ourselves as if we were testing anything else.

The poem opens the volume acknowledging what the epic projection is not: it is not simply an external "fault" that must be guarded against; it is also an internal affliction for which the poet is responsible and to which she must be responsive.


From The Dream and the Dialogue: Adrienne Rich’s Feminist poetics. Copyright © 1994 by The University of Tennessee Press.