Sunday, July 09, 2006

Reading Muriel Rukeyser

Rukeyser's first book, Theory of Flight, won the Yale Younger Poets Award when she was twenty-one. "Sand Quarry with Moving Figures" turns her father's construction business, which made the family rich, into an evocative account of the distance between speaker and father. Landscape, narrative details and dialogue are skilfully deployed to set up the stumbling descent into hell:

Father and I drove to the sand-quarry across the ruined marshlands,
miles of black grass, burned for next summer's green.
I reached my hand to his beneath the lap-robe,
we looked at the stripe of fire, the blasted scene.

"It's all right," he said, "they can control the flames,
on one side men are standing, and on the other the sea;"
but I was terrified of stubble and waste of black
and his ugly villages he built and was showing me.

The countryside turned right and left about the car,
straight through October we drove to the pit's heart;
sand, and its yellow canyon and standing pools
and the wealth of the split country set us farther apart.

"Look," he said, "this quarry means rows of little houses,
stucco and a new bracelet for you are buried there;"
but I remembered the ruined patches, and I saw the land ruined,
exploded, burned away, and the fiery marshes bare.

"We'll own the countryside, you'll see how soon I will,
you'll have acres to play in" : I saw the written name
painted on stone in the face of the steep hill:
"That's your name, Father! "And yours!" he shouted, laughing.

"No, Father, no!" He caught my hand as I cried,
and smiling, entered the pit, ran laughing down its side.

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