A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
I was born the same year Rukeyser gave birth
to her son William & my mother’s frequent threat
was to disinherit me:
for registering Peace & Freedom, leaving home
before I married, doing anti-war work in L.A.
then moving up to Berkeley. Always my mother
would relent, after the requisite tears.
What got Muriel disinherited by her father?
Editing that leftist journal at Vassar? Arrested
while covering the Scottsboro trial in Alabama?
Raising her son alone, as an outlaw-unwed mother?
That she was a gadfly, a bisexual, a Marxist, a poet?
In 1978, Muriel hoped to give a talk on “Lesbians
in Literature,” but was too ill. By 1980, she was dead
of a stroke.
It’s a wintry 100th birthday party in Manhattan
with Rukeyser’s favorite rum raisin ice cream,
Dunhill cigarettes & whiskey. Everyone’s there:
her son William, biographers, poets, editors,
I study the squint lines
behind Alicia Ostriker’s gold-rimmed glasses,
Gerald Stern’s stooped gait & steady voice
& whisper Rukeyser’s words:
What would happen if one woman told the truth—
Copyright 2016 Joan E. Bauer.
First published in Voices from the Attic (Carlow University). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)