Rose Drachler: Three poems with numbers and letters

[Originally published in Burrowing In, Digging Out (1974) and The Choice (1977), both from David Meltzer’s Tree Books. See also the note at bottom of this posting & the essay on Drachler’s work by Christine Meilicke, which appeared as the posting on Poems and Poetics for April 19, 2017.]




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



a scorner
a watcher
a screecher
a warner
a crested commander
a blue demander
a four colored blue
a jay

a tree top caller
a fire
a green dusted fire
a crier
a crested sayer
a ten time prayer
a two a pair
bright fallers
quiet hoppers
a fair pair

a touhee
a touhee
a four color bird
a three color bird
a one eye a one eye
a stare on the stair
an imp
ertinent hopper
a stopper a stayer
a one eye a touhee

a thrasher
a scraper
a searcher a lurcher
a red brown thrasher
a focus in motion
a leaf mold searcher
a brown leaf thrasher
a ground watcher
a searcher for motion
a brown searcher

a pair
a true crew
a nodder a prodder
a weaver
a figure eight dancer
a crew of two
a true trait
a constant mourner
two mourning doves


NOTE & AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE. Drachler’s poems are in 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, among other alphabetic works), 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.