Rachel Blau DuPlessis
It’s A Strange Angel!
A NEW & improved angel!
Chicken-footed claws and finger feathers,
a perfect poultry type.
Raglan sleeve-y wings
with a sigh-nage, hmmmm.
Him. Her. It. They.
Ange or angel-us.
An angular build,
spikes poke half-wise as its puzzle parts —
triangles, churches, knife blades
Tri-ages. A wire-line’s the shadow
of its doubled halftone self.
It stands in clarity. It stands in blur.
Its face is a scroll, or maybe a lion
with intelligent snout.
You’d think, given strength and virtue,
things might just work out.
But its animal eyes fly to the side,
slid to where
the remnants brew.
This is your body on fear.
This is your body on dread.
Eyes pop out of its head.
Eyelids widen and pupils dilate
hair rises, muscles vibrate.
Though it shudders, it is fixed.
at the wrong ends
of pick-up sticks.
There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.
To ask which way
the wind is blowing
is not a 60s joke.
This says it’s from a “Paradise”
generating wreckage, but
suctioning backward to the future.
To ask in what way
its wings will ever close
is not another joke.
The wreckage lies
in the same quarter
(in front of it) as Paradise.
What dreck is coming from the blast?
Will the future be the same
as this wrecked past?
4. Some questions, some answers
What does have the power? A storm.
A Power Surge. From whence? From
Paradise! And where is Paradise? Yes — ask!
is it coming in the future, or lurking in the past?
Is “Paradise” the goal before us
or the theological back?
The messianic Will says “Paradise” (glimmer)
is coming forth, full monty futurial.
While Paradise was (cue glittery shimmer)
once angels’ home, this Paradise
is modern and gives rise to storms.
It’s not a place of peace, but turbulence.
How can this be? Is every image wrong?
Is Paradise Malign? Is Angel Powerless?
Are these names obsolete, flat, functionless?
We seize up, freeze up: thesis, antithesis,
5. Almost the same
Why does this angel have fewer powers than us?
We perceive a “chain of events.” It perceives “debris.”
We project a narrative linkage.
It perceives “catastrophe.”
Why is the wreckage apparently invisible?
I mean: not rendered in this scene.
Did everything shift in the twisting swirl
of a funhouse twirl called “history”?
In the realm of angels, is there no logic, no cause
and effect, nothing syllogistic? Is the answer “yes, not”?
How to imagine the motives of any angels;
then how do these get thwarted? And by what?
The angel would like to stay, its mission
to institute justice by heavenly fission.
Nonetheless, it is doomed to hover
paralyzed inside this ever-darkening loss:
which is — Whatever Comes when winds
from so-called Paradise double their Force.
This thing is not a picture exactly,
It is one monoprint, unrepeatable.
Mainly not to illustrate
but to parallel us and travel together.
These glyphs are flat as forms of fate.
accounts of daze
barely having time to leave
their ugly detritus
before more arrives.
The stakes that high.
Were always so.
Almost unrepresentable is everything.
That’s why you might say
that Benjamin’s glyph — taken from Klee —
is “illogical.” If you can’t represent this,
you just can’t. But there’s the joke.
It is what it is, like IAM/IAM
stuck in the throat.
So what’s to say in face of all this?
Let them eat cake.
Let them choke.
Consider cinders, consider the badger
not enough, never enough
but enough after all,
enough to be unbearable.
Already “ruins.” The line
tightens. Can the “right”
words get gasped out?
Get grasped? Shards
on the shard pile testify.
My vocabulary didn’t do anything
in the way of killing me.
It was the findings.
I have seen an incandescent lightbulb that had angel wings wired on it — and it was “Style” — pretty pricey — a designer fixture. Cute. A plain old lightbulb, and some white feathers. Almost a cartoon. But it was true.
Do angels have money? Hold it; that wasn’t the question. But I couldn’t read my scribble. This was it: “Do angels have memory?” Just a note, straight out of Dante. The desire for brightness and luminosity, compared with our diurnality. They don’t go into our darkness? Except when given a mission. And then they never stay.
But who really cares about “angels” except you’ve just spent a few hours in yet another museum. Although it is nice to see them wander around the world in the imagination of various cultures —those pretty and elegant androgynes whose feathery wings are sometimes covered with eyes. If they had that many eyes — and all those rainbow stripes, they probably don’t need either memory or money.
They simply give the message they have been given. Someone tweeted: Don’t bomb Syria; glitter-bomb Russia. Do you remember this? It was a specific moment.
Plus I just learned about mica. It’s mined almost exclusively by children twelve and under. In India. And often mined illegally. Where does this leave us? Or actually, in our part of this, our collective world: where does it leave anyone?
We live amid documents
a new batch every day, vital
to document something
of what we are seeing.
Hence a poetry not solely
“poetry” — do I have to spell
We are on energy alert,
but on a short fuse for qwik illumination
so then the poles
swerve to depression with disgust,
swerve back, practically electrocuted with despair
and reanimated, jolts of force, more power
plus unsought powerlessness.
Our angel was once rooted in its clarity of purpose
and grew in light
but that brand of angel declined,
was withdrawn from the market,
ripped from its root,
of shifting soil and in straining winds.
Thus the angel found itself
deep flung across the place once home.
Splayed, and played
It got worn, raggedy and frightened,
and so it looked
A project is a desire, altering
itself as it goes, shadowing
the names it thought it had, tracing
the words behind the words
which are the only ways to know.
To live among quotations makes
everything exegesis, which ennobles solemnity and
One pitches down the incline of the scroll.
Interpretation is a mode of clarity,
and maybe (very loosely)
We live in nomadic
Therefore I am the philologist of the trace
and I am not I
To read trace is violation;
not to read disvalidates whatever the mark might give.
We stare at the plethora of texts.
The trace is a smudge of flattened historical time.
A sullying — hedged spaces
the hard-to-clean grease of endlessly
bad politics. Ecologies fucked.
Or “challenged” to breaking.
Persons like numbers but
picking at shards
thrown off by cataclysm
lying among those broken parts
and speaking in the voices of the dead
so? so? so? Speak?
Nothing. Again nothing?
What is beyond that sublime?
Something. For which there is no
genre, but swiveling pressures on words
blowing and blasted at every turn
The time of now is palpable; it is the source.
Tense and restless, twisted lot and cowed,
is it possible to vow?
To gather up our nothingness as force,
to enter the dark tunnel of our time once more.
2013–2016, July 2018
[N.B. As a master of the multivolume long poem, one of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s motifs, she tells us, is “making a commentary in a poem that glosses key modernist texts in suspicion and homage.” In her recent book Late Work (Black Square Editions, 2020), the poem “Angelus Novus” examines, “with contemporary panache,” the Walter Benjamin/Paul Klee image (above) of the “angel of history.” Elsewhere, in “Draft 52: Midrash” (in one of the books of her earlier Drafts), the text under question is by Theodor Adorno about the pitfalls of writing poetry after Auschwitz. “This project,” she writes further, “is the work of the prodigal daughter in internal exile pursuing incomplete enlightenment in poetry.”]
Poems and poetics