“Gloss on ‘Fosse, Draft XXX’”

Chris Tysh


For disappearance is the subject of whatever I do  

— “Draft 19”

Let’s lean on the text, magic sesame, threshold, cavern, just as likely to shelter as to cut us off, strangers at the gate, reading inky signs in the sky.

                        Imagine a book, a little book,
                                    whose words are covered
                                                one by one
                        with the smallest pebbles —
                                                fossils imprinted, shale splinters,
                        slag and gnarls from fossick,
                                                cheap sweepings arrayed,
                        a road of morse lines
                                    step by step
                                                down the page.(187)

The odd thing is that though the book exists — created by conceptual artist Ann Hamilton — we have no need to know that or see the “original,” because the stone book doesn’t function so much as cultural code as auto-representational, self-reflexive, meta mapping of DuPlessis’ own writing.  Dispersal, palimpsest, the arduous travail from word to line and line to page, the whole caboose of meaning production through difference and paradigmatic extension, are here, evoking both writing and decipherment, road and atlas, fragment to be read “step by step.”

The rich coloratura of negativity,








                        … … …

                                                       running trills up and down the bony staff, irregular yet shapely measure of utterance, has the reader rapt (←raptus, lifted, ravished, transported with emotion), little cries of recognition, tender buttons guiding our approach.  But where to?  “Fosse” ’s privileged topoi are








                                                            shaping hollows, contouring something that was and is no longer. “The easy exit does not exist.” “The dirty light / of poetry” is no consolation and we won’t be able to save Hansel and Gretel from the woody text.(192)  Effaced and abandoned, the trail can only sing its trace, the stone its flat edge.

We are always already at the beginning of the end in the long night of implacable absence.  Neither subject matter nor dramaturgy, it is simply a condition of writing; the ontological ground we lean on.  “There is a space, a ditch” between word and thing.(189)  What will we pour into this shallow grave? 

The apprehension of this contingency, to begin with gaps, “to clasp the mists of loss,” falls to the poet, her task in the strictest sense.(189)  The larger tasks that “Draft XXX” delineates are to be read along the lyric’s debt:

is it prophecy?
is it instruction?
is it mourning? (192)

And she knows that no matter how solid and material her “Merzhouse” [1]  may be, “the random recovery/of unresolved tidbits/can never be assimilated”(190).  In other words, even here, in the process of filling the fosse, a gap intervenes


all along the shifting {


between abandonment and renewal.

And the book/of photographs no
longer/fits here.(190)

It is perhaps on this impossible ledge that we read the double bind underscoring the whole poetic enterprise:

                        Hence “She started naming things, places
                                    as she filled them up”

                        What a work!

                        And in a parallel way
                                    as she emptied them

                                                                       “Draft 35: Verso” (248)

Stripped of “the rhetorics of pity”(191), unencumbered by “the ‘gifts’ of shame, fantasy, and memory”(190), the poem digs its own grave by performing the unceasing movement of burying and exhuming, “pass[ing] thru its own answerlessness”(192).

Like Wallace Stevens’ recommendation that the poem almost resist intelligibility, “Fosse” ’s wordless words, steeped in otherness, “blocked out words” solicit “a reader who would resist/and not resist”; “resist/and still articulate the gloss,/the implacable sweetness/of the stone”(189).

The lyric’s admission of pleasure, “the charm that licks your ear,” is bound up with the pecking and tearing of life by the flesh-eating bull of Minos, here rendered as Bos, “bull of gold and lapis,” “caught in bosky lute tress/caught for song, for song”(191).  In the poem’s labyrinth, the beast “plays within himself,” not yet aware that Theseus is on its way while we are hearing “the trenchant call across the fosse,” already seeing the small parade of ghosts behind the drenched wreaths, beyond the faint “wraithe”(191-92).  What plucks the lyre, ivory, metal, wood, horn or quill plectrum, takes its place with the other shards, bone and splinters—“a road of morse lines”(187)—that we “[s]tep across”(192), only to begin again and again:

                        The flowering pear that
                                    went its route, a ruddy green, then full, then red, then gold
                        then gold, then golden-brown, its planet balls of rust that
                        starlings eat?
                                                Ghosts.  Ghosts of ghosts at the open fosse.

                                                                        “Draft 27: Athwart” (173)


[1] The reference here is to the Heidelberg Street Project, whose history can be viewed on http://www.heidelberg.org/

Bio: Chris Tysh teaches creative writing and women’s studies at Wayne State University in Detroit.  Her latest book of poems is Continuity Girl (United Artists, 2000).  Her poems, reviews and essays have recently appeared in Chicago Review, Jacket, Lipstick, Eleven, Chain, Metro Times, Poetry Flash and How², among others.  She edits mark(s), an online quarterly.(http://www.markszine.com )


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