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Five O’clock, January 2003

Tonight as cargoes of my young
fellow countrymen and women are being hauled
into positions aimed at death, positions
they who did not will it suddenly
have to assume
I am thinking of Ed Azevedo
half-awake in recovery
if he has his arm whole
and how much pain he must bear
under the drugs
On cliffs above a beach
luxuriant in low tide after storms
littered with driftwood hurled and piled and
humanly arranged in fantastic
installations and beyond
silk-blue and onion-silver-skinned
Jeffers’ “most glorious creature on earth”
we passed, greeting, I saw his arm
bandaged to the elbow
asked and he told me: It was just
a small cut, nothing, on the hand he’d
washed in peroxide thinking
that was it until the pain began
traveling up his arm
and then the antibiotics the splint the
numbing drugs the sick sensation
and this evening at five o’clock the emergency
surgery and last summer
the train from Czechoslovakia to Spain
with his girl, cheap wine, bread and cheese
room with a balcony, ocean like this
nobody asking for pay in advance
kindness of foreigners
in that country, sick sensation now
needing to sit in his brother’s truck again
even the accident on the motorcycle
was nothing like this
I’ll be thinking of you at five
this evening I said
afterward you’ll feel better, your body
will be clean of this poison
I didn’t say Your war is here
but could you have believed
that from a small thing infection
would crawl through the blood
and the enormous ruffled shine
of an ocean wouldn’t tell you.

—2003

Adrienne Rich is the author of more than sixteen volumes of poetry and four nonfiction prose books. She is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including a MacArthur Fellowship and the 1999 Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
This poem is reprinted from her newest book, The School Among the Ruins, with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright 2004 by Adrienne Rich.

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