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Darkness and water. In Diving into the Wreck she enters more deeply than ever before into female fantasy; and these are primal waters, life-giving and secretive in the special sense of not being wholly revealed. The female element. A diver may dive to plunder or to explore.

First having read the book of myths,  and loaded the camera, and checked the edge of the knife-blade, I put on the body-armor of black rubber the absurd flippers the grave and awkward mask.

Alone and crippled by her equipment, she is descending, she is "having to do this," "and there is no one / to tell me when the ocean / will begin." And even though the mask of the diver is powerful the point of the dive is not the exercise of power in self-defense.

the sea is not a question of power  I have to learn alone  to turn my body without force  in the deep element

She came "to explore the wreck." And what is the wreckage; is it of marriage, or of sex, or of the selfhood within each? Is it the female body, her own?

This is the place. And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair  streams black, the merman in his armored body  We circle silently  about the wreck  we dive into the hold. I am she: I am he

Moving in deeply private images, circling darkly and richly into the very sources of her poetry, she is, as she says, "coming-home to. . .sex, sexuality, sexual wounds, sexual identity, sexual politics":

we are the half-destroyed instruments that once held to a course the water-eaten log the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are  by cowardice or courage  the one who find our way  back to this scene  carrying a knife, a camera  a book of myths  in which our names do not appear.

Dreaming of the person within the poem: she walking toward me, naked, swaying, bending down, her dark long hair falling forward of its own weight like heavy cloth shielding my face and her own, her full breasts brushing my cheek, moving toward my mouth. The dream is the invention of the dreamer, and the content of the dream moves in symbols of sustenance and of comfort. The hands of that diving woman become our own hands, reaching out, touching, holding; not in sex but in deliverance. That is the potency of her poetry: it infuses dreams, it makes possible connections between people in the face of what seems to be irrevocable separateness, it forges an alliance between the poet and the reader. The power of her woman's voice crying out, I am: surviving, sustaining, continuing, and making whole

we move together like underwater plants

Over and over, starting to wake  I dive back to discover you  still whispering, touch me, we go on  streaming through the slow  citylight forest ocean  stirring our body hair

But this is the saying of a dream  on waking I wish there were somewhere  actual we could stand  handing the power-glasses back and forth  looking at the earth, the wildwood  where the split began

("Waking in the Dark")


Copyright © 1975 by Nancy Milford, from Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, eds. Adrienne Rich’s Poetry (W.W. Norton and Company, 1975).