This morning I read a poem, “Integrity” by Adrienne Rich. I haven’t read it in ages, though I have the first line memorized:

A wild patience has taken me this far

I first read this poem when I was 19, and I understood that line in the purely intellectual way that I understand things I have no experience with, but this morning, the line popped into my head, and I pulled my beaten-up copy of The Fact of a Doorframe off the shelf, removed the rubber band that holds the pages in the book, and looked up the poem. I didn’t read it in the way it was intended to be read, meaning that I didn’t start at the beginning and read until the end, no, I read the first line, then I closed the book, then I opened it again and read the first line again, skipped through to the end and read that, then picked out some parts of the middle. An hour later, I picked up the book and read the whole poem, from beginning to end, then I closed the book, put the rubber band back around it, and left it sitting on my desk. It’s sitting next to me now. Do you want to know what the hell I’m going on about? Here’s the poem, in its entirety:


the quality of being complete; unbroken
condition; entirety


A wild patience has taken me this far

as if I had to bring to shore
a boat with a spasmodic outboard motor
old sweaters, nets, spray-mottled books
tossed in the prow
some kind of sun burning my shoulder-blades.
Splashing the oarlocks. Burning through.
Your fore-arms can get scalded, licked with pain
in a sun blotted like unspoken anger
behind a casual mist

The length of daylight
this far north, in this
forty-ninth year of my life
is critical.

The light is critical: of me, of this
long-dreamed, involuntary landing
on the arm of an inland sea.
The glitter of the shoal
depleting into shadow
I recognize: the stand of pines
violet-black really, green in the old postcard
but really I have nothing but myself
to go by; nothing
stands in the realm of pure necessity
except what my hands can hold.

Nothing but myself? . . . My selves.
After so long, this answer.
As if I had always known
I steer the boat in, simply.
The motor dying on the pebbles
cicadas taking up the hum
dropped in the silence.

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere–
even from a broken web.

The cabin in the stand of pines
is still for sale. I know this. Know the print
of the last foot, the hand that slammed and locked that door,
then stopped to wreathe the rain-smashed clematis
back on the trellis
for no one’s sake except its own.
I know the chart nailed to the wallboards
the icy kettle squatting on the burner.
The hands that hammered in those nails
emptied that kettle one last time
are these two hands
and they have caught the baby leaping
from between trembling legs
and they have worked the vacuum aspirator
and stroked the sweated temples
and steered the boat here through this hot
misblotted sunlight, critical light
imperceptibly scalding
the skin these hands will also salve.

I’m in some kind of mood today, though I’m not exactly sure what I’d call it. It’s not really a bad mood, just one of those where I get that frown line between my eyebrows while I think a lot. That mood, whatever it’s called, is the one I’m in.

It was the right poem to read today, this last day of August. What the hell has been up with this month? I don’t know. It’s been one weird thing right on the heels of the last weird thing, so much right in a row that I haven’t had time to process any of it. Maybe I won’t process any of it. Sometimes making sense of things is overrated.

Everything’s changing, though none of it is going how I thought it would. I don’t know what it is that’s taken me this far, but perhaps a wild patience is what I need to carry me through to the next pause.


6 thoughts on “patience

  1. I wish I were a writer so i could respond to this post as powerfully as it spoke to me. Instead I’ll just say, Yes. Oh yes.


  2. “Wild patience” is an incredible turn of phrase. I feel as though I’ve been looking for it my whole life. Thank you for this!


  3. Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
    to spin and weave in the same action
    from her own body, anywhere–
    even from a broken web.

    … may be one of the most beautiful lines I’ve more recently mulled over, let ferment on my tongue. It has been a strange series of happenings, this summer fading now towards fall. “Everything’s changing, though none of it is going how I thought it would” seems to be the story of my life. Or, in other words: I empathize.


  4. I love your description of reading the poem, flitting back and forth from line to line, taking out what you need. I always thought I read poems wrong because there was always only a few particular lines that really spoke to me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s