The Photograph of the Unmade Bed

Cruelty is rarely conscious
One slip of the tongue

one exposure among so many

a thrust in the dark
to see if there’s pain there

I never asked you to explain
that act of violence

what dazed me was our ignorance
of our will to hurt each other

In a flash I understand
how poems are unlike photographs

(the one saying This could be
the other This was

The image
isn’t responsible

for our uses of it
It is intentionless

A long strand of dark hair
in the washbasin

is innocent and yet
such things have done harm

These snapshots taken by ghetto children
given for Christmas

Objects blurring into perceptions
No ‘art,’ only the faults

of the film, the faults of the time
Did mere indifference blister

these panes, eat these walls,
shrivel and scrub these trees —

mere indifference? I tell you
cruelty is rarely conscious

the done and the undone blur
into one photograph of failure

This crust of bread we try to share
this name traced on a window

this word I paste together
like a child fumbling

with paste and scissors
this writing in the sky with smoke

this silence

this lettering chalked on the ruins
this alphabet of the dumb

this feather held to lips
that still breathe and are warm

1969, Adrienne Rich, from _The Will to Change_