Maybe it’s because I recently had an essay published about my sister (who died of complications of an eating disorder), or maybe because I spoke to my younger sister yesterday, or maybe because I’m worried about my oldest sister, but I can’t get Adrienne Rich’s Women poem out of my head, especially the last line: “Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful.”
Can there possibly be a more perfect ending to an Adrienne Rich poem?
I first read Rich in college. I was living in a small, drafty apartment with my best friend Karen. We were both on the track team and both obsessed with all things running. Late at night we’d sit in the living room on the floor (we had only one chair and the cat usually claimed it) and read. I plowed my way through the classics but Karen read bodice-busters and murder mysteries. I still remember the night I first discovered Rich. It was snowing, one of those soft, Michigan snows, and we had the heat cranked up, the lamplight low. There was music playing, though I don’t remember what, and we were eating popcorn, because popcorn was cheap and we ran so much that we were always hungry and always eating.
So there I was, in my yellow college track sweatshirt, leaning over a tattered Norton Anthology, when I came across Rich’s Like This Together. I sucked in my breath; I knew that something important was about to happen, that once I read this poem I would never be able to look back, never be able to see life in the exact same way.
The next day I went to the library (on a Sunday!) and checked out every Rich book they had, and I sat and read them all day. Later, her words swam through my head as I ran so that it was as if I were breathing out her words, her syllables, and maybe that’s why I feel so close to her even today, because I recited her words through an 18-mile run, through the pain and the anguish and the resulting triumph, and when you do that it’s as if you’re sharing your pain and vulnerabilities, and these are the things that bind us together, even those of us who will never meet.
So tonight when I found myself feeling lonesome and making blueberry muffins, I thought of Rich and her poem about sisters. And I mixed in extra blueberries and oatmeal, too, so that the muffins would be heavy and thick and lasting.
And they were, too, thick and heavy and lasting. My sister is gone and Rich is, too, but I have pieces of both of their words, and maybe in the end that is all we can ever have of anybody.
My three sisters are sitting
on rocks of black obsidian.
For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.
My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession.
She is going as the Transparent lady
and all her nerves will be visible.
My second sister is also sewing,
at the seam over her heart which has never healed entirely,
At last, she hopes, this tightness in her chest will ease.
My third sister is gazing
at a dark-red crust spreading westward far out on the sea.
Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful.
And, of course, the recipe:
Adrienne Rich Muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tblesp. vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
1 mashed banana
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup honey
1 cup almond/soy/rice milk
1 or 1.5 cups blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl and slowly add wet ingredients. Mix in blueberries last. Stir until blended and fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or longer, until nicely browned. Curl up with a cup of hot tea and eat while reading Adrienne Rich’s poetry. Read out loud to the cats. Spit tiny pieces of muffins across the carpet. Don’t worry, Adrienne won’t mind. She’ll love you regardless of your manners.