Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Draft 42: Epistle, Studios
You can read Patrick Pritchett’s review of Drafts 1-38, Toll in Jacket 22.
Somewhere between jouer and jouir is this pleasure
forage language, form letters
of writing parallel
lurches, vocabularies that come across, or don’t.
We are writing — to the other?
but bent, a band of odd light refracts back.
Flat mist view, you tell me bits of your past and project
a socked-in sky, a bottle corked you said “bouché” your grey
La Rochelle weather and then we got it,
sea fret over Italy — the shaking dew.
We hardly know each other.
So when you write me what you
think I am seeing
from my stone studio window
“projecting future memory,”
it’s your unwritten memoir of Italy
to conjure what has
not yet happened one full day and site —
and you’re partly right!
The hot gold & thick green
felix (quondam) pecus, platters of plenty —
these findings fuse to
proleptic nostalgias —
making one nostalgic for another person’s present
(also presence) —
so (as you said) you are working
to compose beforehand,
the folded fields and hills
the misty afa green, the wheaten rise
the clarity of little occasions and choices
solidified in the act of the built —
of the Bilt —
sandstone mortared with silt
brightened chips of brick someone once,
bricolaging, reached for
that you imagine you will find
here (somewhere else, away),
whenever you and Kathy
(and maybe Yves) do visit.
Donor panels are folded
across the hidden scene.
Every day a digging out or in, each day a change.
Every night a speckled time engulfed.
Yet we will meet again, we both swear it
and we will drink, never sending the wine back,
will tempera the full
“moon afloat in the carp pond” —
allusive praedella of Cathay.
What I see from the stone is time’s
one’s hand shakes to write.
Every word teeming and bereft
within its unremarked extent, its ebb and eddy.
Yet we both remember that multi-lingual renga!
Tomlinson, Roubaud, Paz, and Sanguineti
each in his language langue or lingua
loom working weights and filaments, words
as lingo — the shuttle patterning, the treadle clattering —
co-workers in the expert turns of torque and tension.
So when you said, half a translation, about my “Renga”
“Mémoire, Mnemosyne, souvenir d’avance d’un temps
irrésolu avançant vers
I didn’t know
who or whom wrote what.
What’s the historical status
of future memory?
Such riffs on “resolution”
and on forms of “avance”
the question of whether the “temps”
(weather and time and even, therefore, mood)
or maybe the “advancing” is —
not to speak of the triple meaning of vers —
I can worm it out
with specific engorgements of words
and my inventions do rupture
the inestimable purities of gallic syntax
but I am filled with oddities and tensions
even things one cannot even note
motes and mites in your letter
that barely can be organized “in” anything
much less in writing.
“Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
this lime-tree bower, my prison!”
awkwardly waving (over 5 ft. tall), green V-stalks,
yellow green fruiting out seeds,
and marking where hills make
an ever-variable line of valley dark
civil, nautical, astronomical twilights
whose triple incipience brings the mountain
motivic (its name is Acute)
closer at certain times
of day, and certain lights.
For all the clouds and enrapturing light and blue
all the white and grey luminosities, the translations streaming upward
are changing and reconstructing ceaselessly.
Eclipses of cloud-shadow cross the hills
buoyed by the prevailing winds.
Is this writing or memory? Projection or repetition?
Real or unreal? The memoir of me, or anti-memoir
against my real life? Which is
a georgic. As yours, too, seems to be
work work work like 7 dwarves.
You, in fact, translated me.
And your poems by me are so rich and dense
I cannot always understand them in the French.
Where I am it’s another self, patches of anti-me
with bits rooted and others floating free.
Which are the words and which are the shadows?
clouds pile and repile, frame and barrows,
hunger of incipience perpetual.
Are we friends? do we miss
each other’s implications?
in an old terraced field.
But still “on dialogue avec les pierres” you say
“On dort dans les pierres, en fait.
Et elles parlent
énormément de langues qui s’oublient
Spectra of tongues inside the very stones
a forgetting, a pronouncing
from shimmers of the molecular
they and us each others’ interlocutors.
Thus when I opened Essais: Quatre Poèmes
I wanted to translate the poems into English
as if French were their original,
and you had written them.
My impulse was to make
an entirely new work, one
not myself, but blown
to the side and then opening
simultaneous conflictual overloaded presences
a changeable pulse of mist, a
doubled poem, the verso of verso
a locus of difference, anyway,
by virtue of “translation” —
a cloud secret in another system of clouds.
Had I written everything you say?
invented hours that may as well
once have existed?
Had I written anything you say? Well —
not to go sentimental.
“Of course” “I” “had.”
But couldn’t really read me.
For what I had originally set, in this language,
and what I couldn’t get
of what you had done in your language
stood in my way.
There was the past of the past,
the paths of the past and their anti-paths,
there were complex sorrows and antipathies
that come from talking to stones
there was silence inside the chrysalis desire
there were words
no longer speakable
folded with us
in our proleptic ashes and tombs.
I think of Armand Schwerner, dead.
This is the Umbrian Canto
under a wide and starry sky
his taking the heaviest stones of that place
for a pillow.
To write the other side of
something that really happened
or something that didn’t, the anti-memoir
call it metaphor,
what would it contain
of the life I didn’t lead
pebbles dropped onto the paths
that lead to other lives,
the rocks on which
one tries, troubled, to sleep
and then, still fighting stillness,
wrestles rough-edged angels.
For if any point can act like a center
there is plenty of room
to study pressure
whenever it chooses to grapple with you
unto shock and separated bone,
to limp away into the depths of dawn,
and to improvise an oeuvre from overlays of
twilight, perplexed with being exilic
in all the places called
and in all the places never
visited, or never stayed.
For I write in three studios:
a saffron colored room of sky-blue far
buried map in front of I am R
a yellow room next
to it, and, barely translatable text,
a stone room in Italy
somewhere else, away.
Writing deictic in this here, wherever space,
whatever am I, writing now:
inside and broken on all errant, wandering place.
In the light yellow room adjacent,
(the guest room where you could,
if you came to the U.S., stay)
there’s a photo of Lady-dog moribund
black and white, leaking and weakening on newspapers
a day or two before we carried her weeping to the vet
and under this, its mysterious counterpart,
your New Year postcard, Mt. Huong Shan:
stark-rock precipices, clustered
the peaks almost totally effaced
by floods of opalescent mist
by never-ceasing cloud cascades
enfolding the stones
of what we claim
in shaping reckless living chains.