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Carl Phillips reads “Effort at Speech Between Two People” by Muriel Rukeyser.

Brought to you by Complexly, The Poetry Foundation, and poet Paige Lewis. Learn more:

Carl Phillips:

"Effort at Speech Between Two People" published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. in A Muriel Rukeyser Reader © 1994 by Jan Heller Levi and William L. Rukeyser.

Copyright © 1935 by Muriel Rukeyser. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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I'm Carl Phillips and I'm reading a poem by Muriel Rukeyser called "Effort At Speech Between Two People". It's a poem that has always interested me because it actually seems to be an effort at speech between two people and about communication and how we, as much as we try, we always somehow miss connecting even at our most intimate moments.

Effort at Speech Between Two People

Speak to me.       Take my hand.    What are you now?
I will tell you all.   I will conceal nothing.
When I was three, a little child read a story about a rabbit
who died, in the story, and I crawled under a chair
a pink rabbit     it was my birthday, and a candle
burnt a sore spot on my finger, and I was told to be happy.

Oh, grow to know me.       I am not happy.   I will be open:
Now I am thinking of white sails against a sky like music,
like glad horns blowing, and birds tilting, and an arm about me.
There was one I loved, who wanted to live, sailing.  

Speak to me.      Take my hand.     What are you now?
When I was nine, I was fruitily sentimental,
fluid     :    and my widowed aura played Chopin,
and I bent my head on the painted woodwork, and wept.
I want now to be close to you.     I would
link the minutes of my days close, somehow, to your days.

I am not happy.      I will be open.     
I have liked lamps in evening corners, and quiet poems.
There has been fear in my life.      Sometimes I speculate
On what a tragedy his life was, really.

Take my hand.      Fist my mind in your hand.    What are
    you now?
When I was fourteen, I had dreams of suicide,
and I stood at a steep window, at sunset, hoping toward  
    death    :
if the light had not melted clouds and plains to beauty,
if light had not transformed that day, I would have leapt.
I am unhappy.        I am lonely.    Speak to me.  

I will be open.     I think he never loved me:
he loved the bright beaches, the little lips of foam
that ride small waves, he loved the veer of gulls:
he said with a gay mouth: I love you.    Grow to know me.

What are you ow?   If we could touch one another,
if these our separate entities could come to grips,
clenched like a Chinese puzzle...yesterday
I stood in a crowded street that was live with people,
and no one spoke a word, and the morning shone.
Everyone silent, moving...Take my hand.     Speak to me.