Mid-Month Meditation: “Power”: Cheryl Strayed reads Adrienne Rich

(Marie Curie, Adrienne Rich, Cheryl Strayed)

We encourage our readers to use these Mid-Month Meditations as an opportunity to take a short break from everything else. Rather than treating these posts the way you would any other post, set aside 10 minutes someplace quiet and semi-private to have an experience. Take a minute to relax first. After listening to the recording, take a few minutes to let the experience sink in. If it feels right, leave a comment.


Cheryl Strayed hiked a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail to put herself in the way of truth and beauty in a thoroughly transformative experience that became the magnificent memoir Wild that then became a major motion picture.  In this recording, Strayed recounts her brush with the life-saving power of poetry and reads the first poem from Adrienne Rich’s 1977 masterwork, The Dream of a Common Language, titled “Power.” Folded into this nuanced homage to Marie Curie — a woman who died a “martyr to science” after a lifetime of crusading for curiosity and — is an exquisite meditation on what power really means.

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POWER

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power

What Strayed observes of Rich is perhaps the single most beautiful and precise formulation of what it means to be a great artist:

“Adrienne Rich … did not die a woman who denied that her wounds came from the same source as her power. In fact, she spent her life making power from those wounds [but] Marie Curie… didn’t have that luxury — she had to deny that in order to be who she was in her time. But we don’t. And I think so much of the work I’ve done … and the work I hope I continue to do, is about writing into those wounds.”

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