an Adrienne Rich poem, and reading the cards

last year, in the midst of the cheeto’s supposed “win” of the elections, a friend introduced me to the most poignant poem by Adrienne Rich. i think i read it a hundred times, between tears. and each time i read it a new line struck a chord in me.

so i decided to use it in an assignment given to me by my teacher, Camelia Elias. (as some of you may know, i’ve been learning to read cards “like the devil” for several months now.)

before i continue i have to say – Camelia rules! i’m so happy that she’s in my life. she’s a scholar, cartomancer, teacher, Transylvanian witch, Zen Master (i can hear her great boisterous laughter at such a title now)… and she is warm and incredibly generous with her wisdom. i was drawn to her for the Zen as much as i was for the cards and magic. from her, and the wonderful community surrounding her, i’ve been learning to read the Tarot de Marseille in a detached way.

the assignment was to take a line from a meaningful poem, and do a tirage-en-ligne (reading in a line) using all 22 trumps. this sort of reading is an exercise in looking at the function of the cards and how they interact with each other. according to Camelia, it is useless to pull just one card. one card doesn’t tell you anything. you’ve got to get a story going to really get an answer.


so here we are. first i’ll share the entire poem with you, then a photo of the cards i laid down, and my reading.


from her collection of poems called An Atlas of the Difficult World
by Adrienne Rich


One night on Monterey Bay the death-freeze of the century:
A precise, detached caliper-grip holds the stars and the quarter-
in arrest: the hardiest plants crouch shrunken, a “killing frost”
on bougainvillea, Pride of Maderia, roseate black-purple succu-
lents bowed
juices sucked awry in one orgy of freezing
slumped on their stems like old faces evicted from cheap hotels
–into the streets of the universe, now!

Earthquake and drought followed by freezing followed by war.
Flags are blossoming now where little else is blossoming
and I am bent on fathoming what it means to love my country.
The history of this earth and the bones within it?
Soils and cities, promises made and mocked, plowed contours of
shame and hope?
Loyalties, symbols, murmurs extinguished and echoing?
Grids of states stretching westward, underground waters?
Minerals, traces, rumors I am made from, morsel, minuscule
fibre, one woman
like and unlike so many, fooled as to her destiny, the scope of
her task?
One citizen like and unlike so many, touched and untouched in
— each of us now a driven grain, a nucleus, a city in crisis
some busy constructing enclosures, bunkers, to escape the com-
mon fate
some trying to revive dead statues to lead us, breathing their
breath against marble lips
some who try to teach the moment, some who preach the
some who aggrandize, some who diminish themselves in the face
of half-grasped events
— power and powerlessness run amuck, a tape reeling backward
in jeering, screeching syllables —
some for whom war is new, others for whom it merely continues
the old paroxysms of time
some marching for peace who for twenty years did not march for
some for whom peace is a white man’s word and a white man’s
some who have learned to handle and contemplate the shapes of
powerlessness and power
as the nurse learns hip and thigh and weight of the body he has
to lift and sponge, day upon day
as she blows with her every skill on the spirit’s embers still burn-
ing by their own lawns in the bed of death.
A patriot is not a weapon. A patriot is one who wrestles for the
soul of her country
as she wrestles for her own being, for the soul of his country
(gazing through the great circle at Window Rock into the sheen
of the Viet Nam wall)
as he wrestles for his own being. A patriot is a citizen trying to
from the burnt-out dream of innocence, the nightmare
of the white general and the Black general posed in their
to remember her true country, remember his suffering land:
that blessing and cursing are born as twins and separated at birth
to meet again in mourning
that the internal emigrant is the most homesick of all women and
of all men
that every flag that flies today is a cry of pain.
Where are we moored?
What are the bindings?
What behooves us?


the main line i used for my reading was this:
“and I am bent on fathoming what it means to love my country.”

and these lines were behind-the-scenes inspiration:
“that blessing and cursing are born as twins and separated at birth to meet again in mourning.”
“A patriot is not a weapon. A patriot is one who wrestles for the
soul of her country as she wrestles for her own being.”

tirage-en-ligne, using all 22 trumps


my reading of these cards:

measure carefully (XIIII). death comes to the wandering fool who gives away all of her wisdom (XIII, O, XVII, II, XII). fairness (VII) means sharing (XVIIII) and getting over your ambivalence. (VI, VII). wake up and realize (XX) that your struggling (XI) will only bring destruction (XVI). use your dreams (XVIII) and witchy prowess (I) to orchestrate a new way of being (III, XXI). take a chance (X). the seekers and those who believe they are in charge are bound by their own devils. (V, XV, IIII, VIIII)



i must confess, when i began learning the Tarot de Marseille the only thing i liked about the cards was that they’re in french. but now i am convert. i think i’ll write more about my experiences with them in the future [:




3 thoughts on “an Adrienne Rich poem, and reading the cards

  1. Sami, that is wonderful! Both the poem and your reading.
    So profound and deep.
    I momentarily wished I was Adrienne because she truly speaks for me. I will check out more of her work.
    Thank you, thankyou,

    Liked by 1 person

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