Colors Passing Through Us


Piercy’s poems seem so natural and right, as perfectly formed as an egg or a daffodil. But these are made things, as cleverly constructed as handcrafted, rainbow-hued quilts and sweetly tart pies made with wild fruit that tastes of sun, rain, and soil. These are the arts primarily of women, and womanliness is the body and soul of Piercy’s strong and fecund poems. In her magnificent sixteenth collection, this major American writer is as subversive in her wit as she is cosmic in her perceptions and political in her convictions. Although she longs for a less poisoned and massively armed planet, she is not at all nostalgic for the “good old days” when confronting domestic violence was taboo and women like her mother performed endless, laborious, and thankless household chores day in and day out. Piercy is funny and trenchant in her parsing of our obsession with women’s appearance, lambent in her poems about prayer and Jewish ritual, ravishing in her descriptions of nature’s beauty, and lusciously sensual in her praise songs of sexual passion and love. Vital, bold, and visionary, Piercy is grateful for every hour of life and every drop of wisdom gleaned therefrom.
–Booklist (Starred Review)

 

Now in Paperback
from Alfred A. Knopf, Publishers

 

In Colors Passing Through Us, Marge Piercy is at the height of her powers, writing about what matters to her most: the lives of women, nature, Jewish ritual, love between men and women, and politics, sexual and otherwise.

 

Feisty and funny as always, she turns a sharp eye on the world around her, bidding an exhausted farewell to the twentieth century and singing an “electronic breakdown blues” for the twenty-first. She memorializes movingly those who, like los desaparecidos and the victims of 9/11, disappear suddenly and without a trace.

 

She writes an elegy for her mother, a woman who struggled with a deadening round of housework, washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, and so on, “until stroke broke / her open.” She remembers the scraps of lace, the touch of velvet, that were part of her maternal inheritance and first aroused her senusal curiosity.

 

Here are paeans to the pleasures of the natural world (rosy ripe tomatoes, a mating dance of hawks) as the poet confronts her own mortality in the cycle of seasons and the eternity of the cosmos: “I am hurrying, I am running hard / toward I don’t know what, / but I mean to arrive before dark.” Other poems, about her grandmother’s passage from Russia to the New World, or the interrupting of a Passover seder to watch a comet pass – expand on Piercy’s appreciation of Jewish life that won her so much acclaim in The Art of Blessing the Day.

 

Colors Passing Through Us is a moving celebration of the endurance of love and of the phenomenon of life itself – a book to treasure.

 

Here is the often-requested poem about 9/11, from Colors Passing Through Us:

 

No one came home

 

1.
Max was in bed that morning, pressed
against my feet, walking to my pillow
to kiss my nose, long and lean with aqua-
marine eyes, my sun prince who thought

 

himself my lover. He was cream and golden
orange, strong willed, lord of the other
cats and his domain. He lay on my chest
staring into my eyes. He went out at noon.

 

He never came back. A smear of blood
on the grass at the side of the road
where we saw a huge coyote the next
evening. We knew he had been eaten

 

yet we could not know. We kept looking
for him, calling him, searching. He
vanished from our lives in an hour, My cats
have always died in old age, slowly

 

with abundant warning. Not Max.
He left a hole in my waking.

 

2.
A woman leaves her children in day care,
goes off to her secretarial job
on the 100th floor, conscientious always
to arrive early, because she needs the money

 

for her children, for health insurance,
for rent and food and clothing and fees
for all the things kids need, whose father
has two new children and a great lawyer.

 

They are going to eat chicken that night
she has promised, and the kids talk of that
together, fried chicken with adobo, rice
and black beans, food rich as her love.

 

The day is bright as a clean mirror.

 

3.
His wife has morning sickness so does
not rise for breakfast. He stops for coffee,
a yogurt, rushing for the 808 train.
Ignoring the window, he writes his five

 

pages, the novel that is going to make
him famous, cut him loose from the desk
where he is chained to the phone
eight to ten hours, making cold calls.

 

In his head, naval battles rage. He
has been studying Midway, the Coral
Sea, Guadalcanal. He can recite
tonnage, tides, the problems with torpedoes.

 

For five years, he has prepared.
His makeshift office in the basement
is lined with books and maps. His book
will sing with bravery and error.

 

The day is blue and whistles like a robin.

 

4.
His father was a fireman and his brother.
He once imagined being a rock star
but by the end of high school, he knew
it was his calling, it was his family way.

 

As there are trapeze families, clans
who perform with tigers or horses,
the Irish travelers, tinkers, gypsies,
those born to work the earth of their farm,

 

and those who inherit vast fortunes
built of the bones of others, so families
inherit danger and grace, the pursuit
of the safety of others before their own.

 

The morning smelled of the river,
of doughnuts, of coffee, of leaves.

 

5.
When a man fell into the molten steel
the company would deliver an ingot
to bury. Something. Where I live
on the Cape, lost at sea means no body.

 

You can’t bury a coffin length of sea
water. There are stones in our grave
yards with lists of names, the sailors
from the ships gone down in a storm.

 

MIA means no body, no answer,
hope that is hopeless, the door
that can never be quite closed.
Lives are broken off like tree limbs

 

in a storm. Other lives simply dissolve
like salt in warm water and there is
no shadow on the pavement, no trace
They puff into nothing. We can’t believe.

 

We die still expecting an answer.

 

6.
Los desparecidos. Did we notice?
Did we care? in Chile, funded,
assisted by the CIA, a democratic
government was torn down and thousands

 

brought into a stadium and never seen
again. Reports of torture, reports of graves
in the mountains, bodies dumped at sea
reports of your wife, your son, your

 

father arrested and then vanished
like cigarette smoke, gone like
a whisper you aren’t quite sure you
heard, a living person who must, who

 

must be somewhere, anywhere, lost,
wounded, boxed in a cell, in exile,
under a stone, somewhere, bones,
a skull, a button, a wisp of cloth.

 

In Argentina, the women marched
for those who had disappeared.
Did we notice? That happened
in those places, those other places

 

where people didn’t speak English,
ate strange spicy foods, had dictators
or Communists or sambas or goas.
They didn’t count. We didn’t count

 

them or those they said had been
there alive and now who knew?
Not us. The terror has come home.
Will it make us better or worse?

 

7.
When will we understand what terrorists
never believe, that we are all
precious in our loving, all tender
in our flesh and webbed together?

 

That no one should be torn
out of the fabric of friends and family,
the sweet and sour work of loving,
burnt anonymously, carelessly

 

because of nothing they ever did
because of hatred they never knew
because of nobody they ever touched
or left untouched, turned suddenly

 

to dust on a perfect September
morning bright as a new apple
when nothing they did would
ever again make any difference.

 

— From Colors Passing Through Us, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, NY, 2003.
Copyright, Marge Piercy, Middlemarsh, Incorporated, 2003.