L o v e ,  W a r   a n d   L a s t   T h i n g s
   n z e p c


Rachel Blau DuPlessis    (b. 1941)


  • Draft 86 Scarpbook



Draft 86: Scarpbook                        

            All of this is part
of all of it.
All part of the thing,
            as in “the thing I meant was…”

             The blank was drawn
in full sight,
around the dusky dome of time.

It’s the thin song of a departing traveler
            hummed as such,
                        “the thing, the thing I meant was…”
 over the macro-miles,
            upon the dapple down-draft
                        of this apparently sparky endlessness,
small showers of glisten on the visible fluffs of air.

“The thing I meant was…”
            the cottony cirque of clouds
            are following, probably,
            the line of the sea. What sea?
                        Where is this? Where are we?
Bright bits, silence of the real
            register no telling what.
A sense of loss is pleated, crumpled,
            folded into the song. Little floating glimpses
as the clouds blow in the after-flight,
and nuances of city-specific light
            excite the obvious,
            but filled with strangeness.
Thus: perpetual disequilibrium
in the enormous depths of daily
In the glitter of water,
in wrinkling motion,
            in the waves in the harbor, wobbling suspended
            while albatrosses flash their devastating wingspans.

In the now that emerged from times ago,
the time of Villa d’Este      Staten Island
of  “train journey and journey by water,”
            the moment of causeways
            as in the Rockaways
            a train track on a thin bridge
            low to the quiet water—

Yet no matter how such song is primed,
saturate with talismanic words
            “fountains, stairways, ferries,
                        and polychrome money,”
the rest is impossible to recover.

Looking down upon it, above the famous city
            from San Miniato al Monte
            from Maungawhau,
and twirling an undusted globe under one’s fingers,
Firenze, sneeze, Auckland,
the data move in vector format 
            via incoherent tunneling.
One chancy jot of scratched substance
one classic ponte,
and where did I put my notebook?

How possibly to “begin a journey” when it’s
            simultaneity all the time,
how to “write” when there is
             nothing to say but saturation.
“The thing, the thing I meant was….”

 Who knew
            that everything I saw would have proven
                        so luminous?
Who knew it would
            prove oneself vertiginous?
                        Pitched over the scarp and far away.

Wading into light from darkness, the eyes
            dare themselves to point.
Endazzled by the thing and by the feeling,
            every wall an undulation of umber,
city to city, light to shadow, shadow to light.

Tacking along the edge
in the course of things,
did I really leave
my notebook on that table,
and just walk away?

             Theory is gray, but life is green.
Or was that the opposite?
“The thing, the thing I meant was…”
this city is “a fire-bed
of 48 extinct volcanoes.”   
Rangitoto, the youngest,
            thrust itself up,
            erupting right over there in the harbor.
There is no safety!
            There’s only a kind cut, there’s a cold color,
            cadmium? electricity?
                        or rose’s tiny field,
                        humming the song
                        of the traveler who arrived
                        disoriented, but here.

Il Papiro is tucked left aside, facing
            the geometric mosaical Duomo,
its sweet notebooky smell tempting a person
            never again to write another word
because that paper in its elegant binding
            is so lush, so finished, so watermarked, so fine
that no one
            should ever touch it with a pen.
But Paper Power or a Tapa Notebook
            carried writing into other directions
provoking obverse desires—
            to pulse from every pore at once.

This debate is like the arc of sky
behind that X-center constellation
(blue giant, red giant and cross-lined buzz)
going from one side to the other

language being the desire to say
“it,” and to articulate
            the vibrations of luminosity
            that saturate darkness
            in this zone of enigma.
To see Orion,
now southbound, another shape come round,
            his misty belly sword-stars rising up, not down!
Here’s something
            makes my heart pound
and my ears roar
            worse than Sappho’s,
who could always demonstrate
            pure desire’s paragrams
caught for the moment
            in an everyday spot.

So from this scarp, you’ll have the most wonderful view
            over the wobble and far away,
                        you’ll see almost to the other end of the world.
Whereupon this student proved,
            from his wheelchair,
                        that overview poetry (“earth has not anything
to show more fair”) was inadequate.
            It was only the hardness of
                        rolling through it, of falling over it
could possibly matter.
            Ghost to mist, spark to fire, spoke to speak
                        over the scarp and into the light.
And one thing, one thing
            I meant to say was  
here is a pocket, here is a passport.
            Here is a tisket, here is a tasket.
Take this map
            been folded back and forth so much
                        that street names fuzz and monuments blur.

Exhume the name. Excavate critique. Disinter mercy
for what was lost and far.
            Now let’s talk.
            What city would you finally say we are?
                                                                                    January 2008, May 2008


Notes to Draft 86: Scarpbook. “Scarpbook” is Ray Johnson’s typo for scrapbook; see William S. Wilson, “Ray Johnson: The One and the Other,” in Donna De Salvo and Catherine Gudis, eds. Ray Johnson: Correspondences. Columbus, Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts, 1999: 165-175.This poem was written in some measure to participate in a New Zealand-Italy conjuncture instigated by Michele Leggott for the New Zealand  Studies Association conference held in Florence in summer 2008. After being written, the poem was “set” (as a piece of music uses a poem as text) in a digital and visual format by Brian Flaherty. I am grateful to Leggott and to her colleagues for the invitation to participate in this project. “Villa d’Este     Staten Island” was the title of a poem of mine from the early 1960s and is also the source of the line “fountains, stairways, ferries, and polychrome money.” “Train journey and journey by water” is the first line of another poem from the 1960s that was recuperated into my first book, Wells (1980). The line “a fire-bed of 48 extinct volcanos,” the overlook called Maungawhau (Mt. Eden), and a sense of Rangitoto as given by Michele Leggott, describing elements of Auckland about which I inquired for this poem. “Theory is gray, but life is green.” James Smethurst, in a reader’s report. “The data set in vector format” is a phrase by John Sorrentino. “Incoherent tunneling,” is a phrase by Peter Riseborough. “Earth has not anything to show more fair” is the first line of Wordsworth’s Westminster Bridge sonnet. The coordinates of the relevant cities are Firenze 43 47 N and 11 15 E; Auckland 36 52 S; and 174 46 E; Philadelphia 39 57 N and 75 10 W.  Donor drafts are on the “line of ten.”
Recorded 2008 by Rachel Blau DuPlessis.


Rachel DuPLessis

Last updated 23 June, 2008