Rachel DeuPlessis

Rachel Blau DuPlessis


from Drafts

Draft 43: Gap

Draft 44: Stretto


from Drafts

Draft 43: Gap

1. “On tap, for micro-brews
            it’s Cock or Moose.”

“What else?” reconstitutes
            their list “O we have Edge.

“Edge is frail like a Witte.”
            “I’ll take an Edge.”

Sallow white bitters
            narrow flute

is the pledge 
            you’ve just ordered

eyes closing, gummy eyes.
            Dream of a woman’s

dream of a work.
            Whose rage is this?

Whose child is this?
            “answer the dawn will you”

webbing its gaps
            with ambiguous light

who tried on another plane
            to write one fragment

starting that, starting out
            “a woman’s voice is nakedness.”

2.     Feed that mother cream
                                    for loss of flesh
                        for loss of all her
                                    emblems and trials,
                        since her scrolls once
            (upon a former time)
                                    unwound unwinding over dell and dale
                        and all the white roads 
                                                thick and thirst
             with crust and dust were saying
                                                (so we heard and felt)
                                    “rosy cress, rock cress, scabious all pink,
                        o fennel and thyme”
                                    (that, wanderers, we wanted to be so) for
            who could have predicted
                        the end would be total erasure—
            except for smallest ratios of mark.

                                                If songbits could be found                    
                        a classicist would risk her heart
                                    undressing (for instance) some leathery mummy
                                                to unroll brindled linen strips
                        the body-swaddling bandage upon which
                                    there might once have been writ
                                                kol isha
                                    one syntack of her honey-clove litotes.

3. (scabious)
(it cured scabies)
a pink flower
small among the teasels
that fuzz grey
a path is any day, “rough
             brown stones cracked and edgy lying
in broken scrubby fields sometimes”
            with unreadable stain. But
there’s every position to take—we’re
            nicks in the surface—once walled and girled—
“say to myself Frances look at the world.”

Pick another little nothing weed
and fix its mixed details
matched to pictures and accounts:
not corn spurrey
not dovesfoot cranebill
not herb robert (“often the whole plant is suffused in red”)
maybe ivy-leaved speedwell (has a red stem only)—

too small even to care about
yet stubborn for its kenning-solid name

            with its particular fronds, features, swirls, counts
that flatten inside out
clasping mists of loss so close
and hid so deep
in the broken spine
that pressed down place where flowers fold:
between the pock-marked pages of a folio.

4. Trailing our fueled-up smog
out to the horizon upon take-off

unpressurized noise
and thin metal sheeting

encircle whistling stories from the ground
pearly up, pearly down

the here: why am I up here
the there: why am I anywhere

any statement,
any microsleight,

regular tone or
so-called foreign

is “an oversimplification of the situation
we actually are in.”

5. Hunger for the next letter
                                    makes the letters
                                    difficult. Edge

of silk
red box


                        unfinished elements

                        guttering words

                                                losses of small “its”
                                                of possessiveness

loss of the it in it’s

only the yod-ish apostrophe left and
            a small hiss how she left like that

stripped, flattened, averse

flayed down

all in all
            how incredibly simple her bad news was
                        so that was it.
            It couldn’t have been worse.

6. Any corner of any thing
is bread
in the eye and mouth
of desire
but it’s also stone;
not some mosaic’s
dainty pretty, glistering golden on the dome
            flat green where sheep are done
            white, but small hard die-hard bones
            and bread’s lack-
            ravenous slices
                        squeezed. Pellets. Gritty pebbles,
                        scatter her.
Scatter her,
and then gather her back.

7. Un mir zaynen alle shvester
ai ai alle shvester
twists of business 
half their breasts once had
who could list them
from the vestige
azoy vi Rokhl, Rus, un Ester
names like Rachel, Ruth, and Esther.

8. All oily and garlic nasturtium’s pepper orange alizarin
golden needles
            buds of coral, claspt close and amber
            strewn on the greens

                        studied nonchalance
                        a salad day.

What did it amount to?
being there or not there
a pile of ashes orphaned
or bare feet sloshing through the shallow part near shore,
and the teeming nakedness inside, with its
fervent designs on the word
            head of one, dead bug 3 parts, 6 legs

things destroyed gapping eyes, while
“the sacred eye is depicted with wings”
and “thought can make a sound in the ear”
for these offerings touch a nerve,
            touch the backwash
                        of longing,
                                    so sing in me
you tricksy manytepid and troping troops of song.

We wanted poetry known for lavishness and brightness
                        fierce streaky brightness—
plus minimize dreck
and the too-pretty by far

we wanted access
open places out of solid praxis
ate our joy and joyous anger     held our, gripped our laser hunger
we wanted women
                                    back channel me

9. She couldn’t attach
            the tags, she strained over valises

strange, it was a check-in as
            arranged, but this was a different kind of

Tag as day;


A ticket a thicket
she said she was flying
a tisket a tasket
no way could you ask it
she couldn’t move
back, couldn’t put her name
tags to the valises
of “days”—
task for task—
from tags what’s to know?

The youngest child said
ma nishtena
how was it different
from other airports
bags heavier
ore intractable
airport call letters
and transfer interline code
crossed over, snarled, tracking strips sticking
tag to bag and bag to tag,
then a very isolated runway

and the roaring thrust countdown seconds
before take-off.

10. rranged
ne of anguage
nger, mean


gns, sighs

o stop
consider step,

orm of me.

11. There was

a phone call one day after


for the newly-stark

by name


identifying herself by the exact same

“I want to talk

to her” the phone said

of the dead woman

because she had

to track


between—crossed medical

records, mixed-up  

reports, wrong

information relayed


to doctors, some tedious-impt thread,

because they had the exact same name, so

“Can I talk to her?

I have questions”

the voice said.

12. Only later (one of those
            wake-up calls called retrospect)
did the receiver ask
            who was making that call
            After all, she had always wanted 
to be organized,
            she had wanted, a point of pride,
not to leave
            things in a mess—
she had labelled everything with messages,
            she had set folders stacked,
she had tacked observations
            ‘old camera—possibly valuable
but lets in too much light’—
            onto a lot of wrack:
why had I—in my disbelief—
            hung up so abruptly?
The call came in under the radar,
But then I realized what had happened
            and wanted—but had gotten no number—
to return the call,
            to call her back.

13. Go on a long enough trip
down the time line

tickets used
itineraries shot

and you’re left with these sheafs—
ghost travel folders, empty.

Now what?
Now exactly what?

                                                                        April 1999-July 2000
                                                                        for Frances Jaffer and others 
                                                                        whose “absence is/ Absence”

Notes to Draft 43: Gap. “Answer the dawn will you” is from Frances Jaffer, “Sixty Frances,” Alternate Endings (1985). “A woman’s voice is nakedness” (not, in context, a positive remark) from Talmud, forbidding kol isha, women’s voices singing liturgy in Orthodox Judaism. “Say to myself Frances...” is Jaffer, “Yale Bowl” from She talks to herself in the language of an educated woman (1981); “rough brown stones,” from Jaffer, “She says try...” Alternate Endings (1985). ”An oversimplification of the situation....” from John Cage, “45’00”;  “eye” from Richard Wilkinson, Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture; “ear” from Kim Vaeth on Jaffer in H.D. and Poets After, ed. Donna Hollenberg. “Absence” in the dedication, from Jaffer, “Dictation,” Alternate Endings (1985). Donor drafts are the two “Gaps”—Draft 5 and Draft 24.

Draft 44: Stretto

                        a gold and sooty city
                                                purple powder on unopened pine nuts
                        in which flaneuses
                                                cross a piazza on market day
                        spurt and overlap
                                    dawnsong to dawnsong
                                                red clay, green glaze slapdash
                                    subject and answer.

            Similars that materialize
            one maybe a little behind
            the other
            thick inkings over silver lunges
            communicating at an unknown speed.

One in best bright blue, a turquoise fold
            One spotted or checked with best blood-thick maroon
                                                the two, the we or us, in flare, the rushing
                                    vocalized crimson and azure
                                                narrow and swifter array
                                    cardinal, coral, cobalt, cerulean, we say,
                                                fiori di zucca of gold 
                                                           trace elements.

                        We’d made a minyan,  a mutual minyan;
                        as if to reassess mignonne,
                                     to see “si la rose…”
                                                            had finished with us yet:

                        Dot and petal, dot det det
                                    messages to Erato
                                    transmuted to
                                    fiori di loto
                                    as carmen and libations, inc. apple
                                                pear, peach, grape and melon.

                                                Words in divination
                                    fine sticks, to throw the writing twig
                         so fast and yon
                        to place with thorns and twisted backwards E’s
             the intricacy of is, that goes
                        far further than “the rose”
                            but grips the rose as tight as it grasps anything.

And hence the propositions of the smallest mark or chuck
dilate vision. The pupil grows as large as the eye.
The ear opens tunnels
             behind itself.
                        Thought is frightened
for it can’t think anywhere near the size of what has happened
to bring is forth and set it rolling out:
besides, we’re called to run a time behind, upon, within, inside
plus of that scroll.
tangled in the long veil of the page
for the glinting world, for cumulus congestus
the sky,
Which fear is a gift,
a kind of dowry
settled on us.

Thick ribbons waterfalling from a 3rd storey window
in prepositions and loose gathers
that breeze down
so we can catch the colors, maypole manifold
draped and blowing in waves

Crimson and azure, these the conditions
Straw yellow with greenish reflections
            crimson and azure made our refraction
            polvere color di malva or prugna on sand-colored pinoli
             a hammer opens them barely
                        besides have no grammar
                                    pinoli sabbie
                                                (or color di sabbia?)
thick on the ground in the nested masts of pine-needles
the enormous periphrastic effort of making foreign small talk.

Nasal klezmer taps that
            Second Avenue Fraylachs
            sound that could be bagpipes
                        modal shim with Semitic halftone
                        melos from a golden miele sugar gritty
all smallish stakes within the endless
            while blue demons hammer
the dead down at the corners
with unnecessary nails.

Odd piece of luck, the universe and stars
a home we hardly know one wire or premise of
one projection of colored gases by number
one answer to what
or how
allows us
to name its flowers feathers and flares
            its urns collecting bones and ash
            with the frank heads of folks we know by sight
            corking dwarfish canopic bottles.
            Fugue, quick jumps, and resonance
                        warbling jumble of the flight song
                                    refined, flowery and complex
                                                scents of broom, stretto entrances
                                                            full, velvety and well-balanced
                                                its typical aftertaste a bitter almond
                                                its songleaf bright and burnished orange.

                                                            The clarities and folds of bright cloths
                                                come spotted with calligraphies
                                    All smallish stakes within the endless
                                                                        pinecone tombs in pineta
                                                            polvere purple on pinoli
                                                                        cannot open them
                                                hard as rocks
                                                but the dead are

                                                                        crushed and buzzing
                                                                        and these old tombs have doors.
Endlessness is connoted two ways                               
            the variations on sangue di bue
                                    and ochre so pink and blue-red
                        blood sweetened with sex sugars.
Skirt full on a plinth of light    the men are rust the women white
acrid gendered colors with their pristine flair
.                                               Open the lock:.                                                                                                        Does all this
           both setting sun and rising moon allure?
                        double flute
                                    plangent matching of half tones
                                    next a grand medley of warbles and intensities.
                                              bubbling trills and other notes
                        Does all this give
                                    the puddled days intent, clear
                                                narrowed places made with color words

                                    Yes, blue leopard, there is absolute stalking.

                        Fleeting conjugations hardly mastered
            how they enter fast, faster, fascinate
            the return, in fugue, flight and resonance
                                    enter the narrow access duck the
dark,  door beyond a door
for the silence is cold and saturated.
                                    It is a
            straight maze space, made up of symbolical stone dankness
                        of passageways ending in
            tight fits of plexiglass
            panels for a paradox of light
                         on which one lies, could climb, fall, or struggle
                                    thru one’s own reflection
                                    into their tombs.
                                    It is a
            luminescent dark
 irradiated intermittently
                                    by spritzes of fire
                                                sometimes orange ochre, sometimes rose
                                                where arc-handed dancers twist their wrists back
                        and, firm on one leg, twirl the other.
            Here are the celebrants, here are the dead people
endlessness connoted two ways coral-cardinal
or cobalt black-blue dark and tepid-sweet
                        like more, vines with terrible thorns.      

                        They made these smallish stakes within the endless
                                     a bent kind of journey 
                        a stuttering ramble of high pitched notes            
the sense of loss folds on themselves in gathers  
                        that does not resemble a normal song
                                    but is brighter louder and more intense
                                                            ruby-red with garnet reflections
                                                            scents of cherries, wild berries, violets and
                                                            light spicy notes.

                        To enter that dark light
                                    like foreground and background held
                                    pressures of a foreign light in one plane and one intensity
                        to carry the shimmering 
                                                deep as the dream

            holding it not to spill its
                        oenomel, the honey wine
                                                in any world, above, below
                                                or on the line of dirt that separates the two
                                                but duetting between dark and the part we must call light
                                    to play by the rules of kottabos
                                    wet and rosy, staining the place
                                    what’s direction?
                                    living or dead?
                                    make it dripping
                                    balance the krater up on the forearm
                                    joy jest it forward jet
                                    arcs toward the target splashes coral, garnet, cobalt
                                    blood-twisted straw-twirléd flings
                                    through the closed and unnecessary air.
                                    See how far
                                    beyond the rose
                                    to arc the wine
toward the intricacy of is.
When they are dead
when we are dead                               
split in the road—it’s
                        a pile of dirt, and the mirror realm.                    
                        Allure? here’s allure
this deep, as the dream
under earth, throwing,
dancing, balancing—
all the games of poesis
                                                with the same tenacity of under and above
                                                from the same clarity whether foreground or background
                                                for the same jesting world but underneath everything.

                                                                                    August 1999-August 2000
                                                                                    to Kathleen Fraser

Notes to Draft 44: Stretto. Many images from responding to the paintings in the Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia which I first saw in August 1999; the poem was also thereby making a deliberate connection to Kathleen Fraser’s “Etruscan Pages.” I wanted to register the impact of the fiore di loto ceilings, and especially of the Tomba dei Giocolieri (the dancer balancing a giant candlestick and the red-dotted dancer), Tomba Cardarelli (with the game called “kottabos,” played by men, of throwing wine against the wall), Tomba delle Leonesse (male and female dancers, lactating lionesses), Tomba de Caronti (blue hammer-carrying Charun), Tomba dei Leopardi (with the banquet, the white and red-bronze bodies of women and men, and the double-flute player), and Tomba del Triclinio (with the male dancer in blue). “Mignonne, allons voire si la rose” is the beginning of a carpe diem poem by Ronsard. Wine language from Fattoria il Palagio (Castel San Gimignano), regarding a Vernaccia di San Gimignano and a Chianti. Skirts on plinths and the waterfalling ribbon as described by artist Sarah Bradpiece. Descriptions of birdsongs by Lang Elliott, Music of the Birds: A Celebration of Birdsong. The “sense of loss folds on themselves in gathers” is modified from Peter Sacks on the elegy. Lurking always—D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places. Donor drafts are Draft 6: Midrush and Draft 25: Segno.

Bio: Rachel Blau DuPlessis is Professor of English at Temple University. In 2001 she published two books, Drafts 1-38, Toll from University Press of New England, and Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry from Cambridge University Press. She is the author of H.D.: The Career of That Struggle (Indiana University Press, 1986) and co-edited Signets: Reading H.D. (University of Wisconsin Press, 1990) with Susan Stanford Friedman. Her other books include Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers (Indiana University Press, 1985), and The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (1990).

NOTE: See also the roundtable discussion on Rachel Blau du Plessis’s DRAFTS 1-38, Toll featured in Issue 8 of HOW2 magazine at:


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