Burrowing In,
Digging Out


Rose Drachler

For Jacob
Whose sheep were Messengers
Whose children, precepts
Framed by the rungs of the ladder




I. Tsunami  




The little waters listen quietly:
There is a hum far away
They gather, they go.
They meet:
Now quiet and listening.
They run together,
They point and scent.

There is a wave of waters
It runs quietly, fast,
It is joined, it grows
From Japan to Peru - the surface is calm.
When it breaks,
When it meets the land,
The sound fills.
The diatoms at the sea bottom quiver.

The wave stands up
Opens its jaws
And pauses,
Leaps over the sand
To the cities,
Slavers and growls:
It eats.

Now the waters go back,
They go home:
First the big wave
With Valparaiso in its belly,
Hawaii, Anchorage,
Back to Japan, to New Zealand,
back sated
It will return.

The little waters tumble back,
They gather again and return,
They listen and remember.


When I pushed you away weeping
why did you go?
You lie bloody.
Unformed elbows over your no eyes,
wrapped in yourself
instead of me.

Oh inhabitants return.
Return. Inhabit me.

Who shall fill the emptiness
of this howling house?

When you floated in my sea
and the surf pounded
so it shook your sheltered flesh
what frightened you?


Swimming alone
out where the boats go
naked and warm
gently remolded
by my mother, the sea
I die to be drowned.

Swimming together
where the water is air
cradled and gentled
held by our breathing
rising and swelling
we drown to be born.


Odd-colored weed, sceptre
attended by monarchs
cluster of apricots
brassy cauliflower
bloom for me.

Buck with seven antlers
lifted in air
reluctant arriver
gold-eyed dreamer
grow for me.

When I dug you out
where you hid
in dark leaves glowing with spite
you left your cloak in my hand
it poisoned my nights.
Pleurisy root
bloom now for me.


The armory is dark
built of thick stone
It has no windows
but dimly from inside
I hear a band
and marching feet.

The gull shrieks
and drops
to scissor a sick fish
twisting like a heart.

The mallard lies limp
in a butcher shop.
It has lead pellets inside
and a bloody neck
where a dark blue rainbow gleams.

The small river is full,
it tears between its banks
and rolls big rocks against each other.

The tree hides
a cosmopolis of sparrows
making arrangements.
The leaves tremble.


Longing for the sheltering wing of the big umbrella
has made you thin.
Longing for the horse hair fly whisk
has made you ill.
You walk high and insulted
like a camel.
Come out from under the bed.
Here are many-colored flies like stars
which do not sting.
Here is an umbrella under which you are chief.


Altho the wren
whispers songs
to her nestlings
and the cat simmers
under a covering of kittens
I hum in a thin voice
to my
sister's new son
and try to do well


It's because of the yearning of cats in her head
The swallows in the barn of her eyes
The smell as of roses or health
Above the weeping of wounds

It is because of the squeaking of counterfeit hearts
The teeth of ice smiling, immune
The howling of dogs at the take cover sign
The tired flies buzzing the glass

It is because though she's here she's not here at all
That she rocks on the waves and the chimes
When the wind or the waves bend her all the way over
The weight of her past sets her right


Bearing pins, magnets, rounded garments
floating threads of blue.
Buoy in the night
Bell of unknown guests

Periodic burden of us all
Neaptide and springtide
Low and full
Calendar of women

Their feet bound and hobbled
Thighs tangled, interlaced
Blood pulled, shackled
by moonlight.


II. The Other  



The dog-shark floats belly up
spoil of surfeit
hits reticent curves
dented lightly
by virtuoso thumbs
thunder's pup speeding neat to havoc
stony dark, shaped tight for ravening
unstrung by plenty.

Piked and thorny
his hide rasps our palms
as air stings and revives him
to beat the bilge with rage
tooth tooth all tooth
and hurt.

The sea our sewer his Cockaigne
spicy with blood and detritus
buttered his gills
mellowed the trap in his jaw
so he lies in the boat belly up
smiling slightly
weanling assassin


My cat died
who floated airy
over fences
ran lightly on surmises
mocked architecture
and gravity

whose stare
deeply yellow
probed silence
tasting warmth
hummed rounds
of quiet
to the Place

studied salt air
milkweed blossom, roses
lofted tiptoe
crossed his eyes
and squirted musk
of honeysuckle

focused inward
burned an exit
through the center


Although dead two years
And taken away by the trash man
In a large brown bag
My old familiar hums like a top
Warm near my feet by the sink.

No hunger or cold brings him
Waxing like the moon
But the place, the still spot
Where the top spins around
Which I fix for him
And offer like fish.


The llama is not unwilling
It will carry great burdens
But if over loaded will sit down
Or spit

Is curious
So interested in phenomena
It will stay to be shot
Rather than miss the opportunity
To observe

Prefers to die with others of its kind
Its bones being found in great heaps
Although the llama is never ridden
It is not insolent, but other

It does not crowd the space of its herders
Mountain dwellers
Valuing their privacy
Decorate the llama with bright woolen

It looks far along its nose but sees best
Does not appreciate companionship other
Than llamas


How shall I suffer the sunlight
And the fierce penetration of berries
Shaped as I am to the comfort
Of musty cages around me?
I go with my eyes looking backward
Out of fear of leaves moving freely.

Tie me.

How can I sleep in the open
Owned by the click of the beetles
Working on corpses beneath me?

Watch how I stand on my head and I balance.

Watch me.

Having lost my accustomed companions
Cozy around me in trouble
I stand in a clearing and dance
My old waltz --

Watch me waltz in the unfamiliar air of the forest.

Feed me.


he leaps
falls flat
and slides on his chin
turns over
and yawns
but misses the itch
hits instead his
surprised nose
bites the foot
finds it's his own
licks his stomach
for comfort and
washes well
at the bottom
slides over unbalanced
and sleeps
one hind foot still
up in the air.


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


III. Pearly Everlasting  




The sign says East
      Eden, 14 miles
      Yet the arrow points up
To a pale blue sky

Pearly Everlasting
      Cool water on the rock
Live water coming down

Points up pearly ever
      Lasting laughter
      Of the completely owned
All pearly traveling up

Pearly everlasting , Skyflower
      Cool water on the rock
      Live water melting down
Point up Pearly Ever

Lasting laughter of the
Thoroughly loved
All pearly pointing up
14 miles to the pale blue sky


Cymbals or a violin,
there was a noise before I woke.
Now it shakes the air.
Only the sound
is gone.

It glows here.
It dances.

Someone has been here.
My mouth tastes sweet.

Someone has been here
and is gone.

How good.


In the tunnel
Light is haloed
Sound dissolved
The skin of separation
Is softened

Thought approaches
Airy and bright
Soft but pervasive
It penetrates rock

Where no edges are right
The despairing hornet
Can fly through
Stained glass

Frightened sparrows
Can soar through clouds
Painted on the ceiling

The striped wasp
Confused by the Book
Can thrive on
The dark scent of prayer



Tipping down from above the clouds at Athens
we saw the roots of the islands growing out
of the old Greek soil. The sea is separate
layers of frothy white, winedark and pale
cerulean blue around the immodest roots
of the old-tooth islands. The air here was
good as in Jerusalem, dry smelling of
grey rosemary and thyme, but it did not tremble.
The gold light was quiet and calmly sill.
The girls were Greek, from Greece a long time and dressed
reasonably in the reasonable, measured
light of the old, culpable gods. "No one is
coming. We are here. We wear plain woolens to
keep warm as we did two thousand years ago.
We are not waiting for anyone. They were here.
But it is not that important. We are here
in the light and the dry, clear air of our past,
of our daily past and our daily future."


Well if the waters rise up
to the east and the west here
on this street where the bus runs
and the gaudy copies of
Persian rugs hang over the
balconies to sun and where
the pudding-breasted houris
from Marakesh lean over
the window sills, Jews, what will
the Messiah look like on
that Day? here in the light that
is much more than light, in the
singing sweetness of golden
motes, in the honeyed breath of
the Schechina, the Messiah
will wear an Italian silk
suit cut in the latest mode
and drive a fine, white sports car.
Its roar and take-off will bring
all the curly wives out of
the recesses of their
one room flats to lean their full
breasts on the sills with garish
machine made pillows to OH
at the Man as beautiful
as the latest movie star
in a white car the like of
which has not until this Day
been seen in Jerusalem


The air is dry and smells healing.
The night is quiet.
There is a whiteness through the dark.
Here the beaten and chastened meat of young Jews
swells and pounds with blood.
The night is rest,
The children call like sirens,
Sweet birds call "abba, abba."

The young men stand in a circle.
They toss a boy child from hand to hand.
The heavy wives,
Their eyes deep waters of giving,
go slowly home,
one by the hand and one in the belly.
The fathers laugh and frighten the boy babies
into calm warriors.

A sparrow is dying in the dust behind the kitchen,
Where greasy cans rust.

I fill a can with water
and hold the tiny no-bones in my hand
to make it drink.
I only speed the dry death with terror.


Who comes to us in our dark
Smelling of innocence?

The tent being full of dream sheep
We need no increase of real flocks.

Is there a dream we can give the child
Plain as hunger?

We hear him weeping, helpless
Against eyes that cut through the sky

For the customary ram
Familiar to our darkness.


He asked for water. I gave him milk.
Sleep! Child of my milk and couch.
Bronze sword crusted with blood
Unsheathed on the floor
Fingers and feet dreaming
Motions of battle.

The pin of the tent
And the mallet strong in my hand
In! Warm at his temple like milk.
His mother waits.


There was a hyssop in bunches
and scarlet wherever you looked
but we never could follow instructions

Fire. We should have used fire
as we were advised and
waited twice seven days

The mattresses took sick in there
It did no good to cart them away
time after time

We killed one of the birds
mixed its blood with water
scoured and sprinkled

but the stones
even the stones
had veins of green rot

It was starting out wrong
and the small changes
in the order of cleansing
prevented a cure
In fact we still haven't
set the second bird free


He readied himself
He stayed awake to be ready
He washed. He changed his clothes.
As it was ordered he did it.
He washed again.
Seven times he washed and changed.
Went in and out, from here to there

His face shown
Like the evening sun on the brass shovels
Like the sun on the water
Like the heart of the sun itself

More rays
More rays how can
More rays than can

He followed the special order of touching
He washed and changed

To think of it makes us sad
Now we are nothing
We cannot see his clothes
We can never see his face
His ordered motions
From wall to curtain
In and out
We cannot see that wall
Those curtains, that time.


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
Fingers 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


Down     Bow     Rustle                Sway
Point straight up     Bow Rustle
Point over left shoulder     Bow     Rustle
Point over right shoulder Bow Rustle

Sight out hear myrtle         Rustle
Smell light citron
Taste air Bow
Touch woven leaves                      Sway

Grasp     Bow     Rustle                 Sway
Forwards Sideways Sideways Up
Eyes shut see darkness
Eyes half-open see darkness
Eyes open see darkness
Smell light Citron
Clear the eyes Drink the water alive
Put out the smoke with fire
Smell it beginning


Stacte, galbanum, onycha
spices with frankincense
of each an equal weight
a perfume a confection
                                   Thin, beat it, well
                                   Small, small, talk to it
                                   The voice is good for the tempering
According to the days around the sun
so many manehs
and three over by handful
for atonement

Balm, onycha, galbanum and frankincense
seventy manehs
Myrrh, cassia, spikenard, saffron
sixteen manehs
Costus, twelve
                                   Make pleasant the offering
                                   as in days of old
                                   as in ancient years.
The rind of an odiferous tree
cinnamon, nine
soap of Carsina
nine kabs
wine of cyprus (or capers)
three seahs and three kabs
and if Cyprus wine could not be found
a strong white wine

Salt of Sodom
one quarter kab
Ma'aleh'ashan, a herb, a pinch
amber of Jordan, a little

Honey makes it profane.
If honey were added
no man could stand
because of the odor.
If prepared with any omission
one incurs the penalty of death

The balm of an incision in
the trunk of the balsam tree
Why soap of Carsina?
To refine the onycha or cloves
to make it hansome
Why wine of Cyprus?
To harden the cloves by soaking.

To prepare a half is right
but a quarter or a third
we have not heard it to be right.
                                   Thin, thin, beat it small.
                                   Talk to it
                                   The voice is good for the tempering.
                                   Surround me with songs.
                                   Be a hiding place to me.
                                   Answer in the day when we call.


He was hungry
There was no food
The land was dry
They hunted him
He hid and fasted

When the wind blew
When it thundered
When the sky cracked
He could not hear it

When he sat quiet
He was still
He breathed quietness
He heard it

He poured water
He wet the wood
He asked it to be fire
It was a fire

He will come back soon
Will come to my family
He will bring Someone
We keep the door open

We keep a room for him
For when he comes, a small room


The ivory handled knife is square in his hand
It feels at home
He keeps a bluestone in his closet
In a velvet case with the footlong knife
The whetting of it is his art

Stands deep in blood in rubber boots
On a concrete floor gridded for drainage
Smiles at children
Is not bloodthirsty

The slaughterer is necessary
Bears no ill will
Sees the elegance of the animal for its purpose

He laughs at stunting years spent hungry
His trade has left him full
The days ate him. He eats them.

He laughs as if lizards crawled on him
Half a shudder

Copyright © 1974 by Rose Drachler.
Reproduced by permission of Jacob Drachler, Conservator.

First published by Tree Books, Berkeley.

This is a cooperative presentation by Tree Books
and Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry.

Return to Light and Dust Poets