For Example

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For Example

By Adrienne Rich
November 23, 1963

Sometimes you meet an old man
whose fist isn’t clenched blue-white.
Someone like that old poet

whose grained palm once travelled
the bodies of sick children.
Back in the typed line

was room for everything: the blue
grape hyacinth patch,
the voluntary touch

of cheek on breast, the ear
alert for a changed heartbeat
and for other sounds too

that live in a typed line:
the breath of animals, stopping
and starting up of busses,

trashfires in empty lots.
Attention once given
returned again as power.

An old man’s last few evenings
might be inhabited
not by a public—

fountains of applause off
auditorium benches,
tributes read at hotel banquets—

but by reverberations
the ear had long desired,
accepted and absorbed.

The late poem might be written
in a night suddenly awake
with quiet new sounds

as when a searchlight plays 
against the dark bush-tangle
and birds speak in reply.