To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rose Drachler: Two Poems with Numbers & Letters

[Originally published in Burrowing In, Digging Out (1974) and The Choice (1977), both from David Meltzer’s Tree Books]


The counting made
The corners
Of the building

One and one
Two and one

Four horns
One and seven he counted
One and six

The goat stayed fluid
It steamed
Yellow eyes, square pupils
Fringes of flesh at its throat

They beat him with sticks
They threw stones at him
They sent him away
The goats were a gift
Both goats
One to die and one to drive away

One and one
Two and one

The counting was washing
It was clean
It was for the building


Aleph the cow with wide horns
Her milk in the night sky
Walks slowly on clouds
Aleph to the tenth power
She leads with symbolic logic
To the throne of milky pearl
Aleph the sky-cow with lovely eyes
Wide-horned giver she gives mankind
Her sign of is-ness. The cow

Bayz the house snug
Under the heat of the sun
Out of the rain and the snow
We curl up in a corner
Under the roof of Bayz
Out of the daily sorrow
Bayz the comforter
Inhabited by humanity
Cat-like and childlike
Inside of his Bayz

Ghimel the camel
Carries man into the book
The leaves and waves
Of the forest the sea of the book
Boat of the desert the camel
Long traveler drinking the task
Ghimel drinks the dry road of daily observance
It slakes the thirst for communion

Daled the door like a wall
No hinges no handle
Daled the mysterious opener
Into a place with a road
The six hundred and thirteen small roads

I have swallowed Vav the hook
It had something tasty and nourishing on it
A Promise of plenty and friendship
With someone more than myself
I’ve got Vav the hook in my gut shift to rearrange the discomfort
Like a sharp minnow inside
When he draws up the line
Attached to the hook
When he rips the Vav out
There will be strange air around me Burning my gills

Yod the hand
And Koff the palm
Rested gently
On Raish the head
Of Abraham our father
Who crossed over
Burning the idols
Behind him in Ur
He looked upward
At stars sun and moon
Then looked further
For a pat on the head
From Yod and Koff
The unseen hand and palm

In the crook
Of the Lammed leaning forward
I put my neck when I pray
My shepherd makes me meek
He makes my knees bend
H guides me I follow
With the loop of the Lammed
On my throat
I go

Mem is the water
Sweetly obeying
The red-raging water
Which parted
Mem came together
And drowned the pursuers
Stubborn refusers of freedom
The enslavers Mem drowned them
Mem was the water
Brackish tormenting
Sweetened with leaves
By our Moses
The waters of trust
Which he struck from the rock
Mem mayim water

The jelly-glowing eye full of love
Sees past the eye the Ayin
Like a dog it perceives the hidden
It turns and stares at its master
It pleads with him to come home
the longing for certainty
Fills him too full
Return, my master, he says
Your eye to my eye

Peh the mouth speaking hastily
Praying easily fast without reverence
Full of gossip causing estrangement
Let my soul be as dust to Peh
The loud quarreler the prattler
The carrier of tales to and fro
The beguiler the mouth Peh better still

Shin is the tooth
It chews on the word
(With the dot on the left
It is Sin)
So much sharper than Shin the tooth
Is learning in the study
Together by dimlight
Chuckling together at the tooth
The horn that was known to gore
The tooth for a tooth in our story
The sharp-toothed father
Of our fathers
Who was wont to gore in the past

NOTE & AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE. Drachler’s poems are in a line with other works of the 1970s & 1980s that reflected an early fascination with the powers of the Hebrew alphabet (or any other system of writing, by extension), both as letters & as numbers. Their kinship, before we ever knew of her, was to my own Gematria & to aspects of the poetry and poetics of practitioners such as David Meltzer, Nathaniel Tarn, Jackson Mac Low (his magnificent Presidents of the United States of America), or the letter-based collages of Wallace Berman. Her self-effacing & precise “Biographical Note” from her notes to The Choice is clearly worth reprinting here; viz: I am truly a non-person. I have been mistaken for the janitor’s wife, a nurse for dogs, an aunt, a good witch, a poet, a distinguished (dead) actress, a mother. I suffer from the spiteful machinations of my grand piano. I am compelled to continue a needlepoint rug the size of a ballroom by the lust of the eye of the needle for friction with wool. Strangers tell me the most intimate story of their lives and drunken Ukrainians propose marriage to me on the subway on Friday afternoons. I am old and ugly. I was born old but interested. Water loves me. I have been married to it for more than half a century. I know the language of fish and birds. Also squirrels and toads. I am a convert to Orthodox Jewry, also I have tried riding a broomstick. I had a vision of the double Shekhina on Amsterdam Avenue and 110th Street. I have taught cooking and sewing to beautiful Cantonese girls and the affectionate daughters of Mafiosi. I am married to an irascible but loving artist. A nay-sayer. My parents drove each other crazy. Me too. Which turned me to books and poetry and I thank them for it.

See also the essay on Drachler’s work by Christine Meilicke, which appeared as the posting on Poems and Poetics for February 1, 2010. A complete version of Burrowing In, Digging Out can be found on Karl Young's Light and Dust web site by clicking here.


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taiji heartwork said...

Strange she made nothing of zayin.