We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Poetry for Tuesday: Adrienne Rich's "Sisters" · 1 March 05

Dearest Jane,

Each Tuesday I invite the members of my small Women Writers Through the Ages list (linked to the right-hand margin as "Women Writers: Politics of Women’s Art and Lives") to put a favorite poem on the list. Not many do—but then few post. I know you liked poetry and read a good deal so thought I’d send poems on to you.

This one is peculiarly appropriate to begin with:


by Adrienne Rich

Can I easily say,
I know you of course now,
no longer the fellow-victim,
reader of my diaries, heir
to my outgrown dresses,
ear for my poems and invectives?
Do I know you better
than that blue-eyed stranger
self-absorbed as myself
raptly knitting or sleeping
through a third-class winter journey?
Face to face all night
her dreams and whimpers
tangled with mine,
sleeping but not asleep
behind the engine drilling
into dark Germany,
her eyes, mouth, head
reconstructed by dawn
as we nodded farewell.
Her I should recognize
years later, anywhere.


You have many pairs of sisters in your novels, and they are, when you are at your thinking best, fellow-victims. You allow us to look into their eyes and see ourselves. You did this in life with

But even better Rich sees that stranger-women are her sisters. So do you in your letters.

Face to face all night our dreams and cries—whimpers is too vulnerable and open for me as it would’ve been for you. I love sleeping but not asleep—alive in our minds. Drilling into dark Germany remembers the barbarities of World War Two. Light reconstructs us.

For me too strangers are more sisters than people chance threw me close to, especially physically close. You are my sister. I recognize you.

Life as a third-class winter journey. Yes. This past fall I read Isabel Colegate’s Winter Journey.

One thing this does lack which you do, Jane: seeing the ironic happy closes of novels as a final bitterness. This poem doesn’t go far enough either.


Posted by: Ellen

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