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Incomplete Enlightenment 

The knife was raised
before there was an after.
He cried out, “Stop, stop!
“My name means laughter.”

“But, darling boy,
no one said that laughter
comes only from joy.

“It could be
bitter, sardonic, dry,
a snort of knowing irony
before the drop,”

was the reply.


The man in red
ripped pages from a heretical book.
This was the way
(some said)
intellectual life was meant
to be conducted,
standing firm in a baroque wind,
waging wars of absolute rightness
over a phoneme.
Burning the words
on every ripped-out page
until nothing was left
and that nothing
was also burned.


If it were to be found,
                        some scrap of that very paper

escaped, blown swirling
                                    in whirlwind heat
                                                with the notation

                                    “man ripping book,”
                        it would be precious, yes,

only if people remain who
           know how to interpret it, or mourn it, or both,

                                    some readers

                                                whose empathetic poise
                                                and humane understan-

(here the scrap breaks off)


Although perhaps
all this will show
is that someone had read Tristram Shandy.
And that someone else had understood

But perhaps what it shows is
sometimes one must
speak out.


Sites were discovered accidentally
            by civic workmen,
                        digging a foundation by the side of a hill.

Strata were disturbed once they found
            a few ancient objects, and rooted around
                        for more, and then went quickly to sell them.

Soon after, contexts
            were no longer visible, levels were
                        unidentifiable, and

the lack of excavation records,
            the general absence of care
                        made it impossible

to define or to re-find the trace of this site,
            or the exact location
                        where these artifacts emerged.

There might be
            other zones which this group had cultivated
                        and where had they flourished.

There was a spring here,
            a crossroads there
                        and hints of a parallel shrine.

These survive mainly
             as toponyms—local place names—
                        in very odd dialects.

These uncanny phonemes are,
            until further excavation,
                        the only record of this people's existence.


Not accumulation, but a chain—
no, not even a chain,
but a random sequence of traces.

“Form is a process of forming
leaving a trace of its eventhood,”   
a situation of self un-selving.

Weird little pivots
that's your volta
talk to women.


chucking, buzzing, lapping, chirping
all the charmed clichés of being
crossed with all the textured seeing

                                                 become marginalia

                                                 small hawk call

                                                 bugs streak by
                                                 not flying
                                                 but propelled by the sirocco.

Will you take all languages as sacred
all texts as sacred

                                                 How will you process
                                                 what you have taken?


After the war
that was The War
there was a fierce post-war desire
(according to commentary from that time)
for a more "horizontal culture."

Now it’s true we are living
after this war or that,
after exported wars, proxy wars,
quick wars, snotty wars, costly wars,

fly-over wars,
brain-crunching wars,
ring-around the rosy wars,
the wars of all-fall-down
in mud and crazy blood.

But nothing of this now is actually
post war. One war is streaming
into another. 

Quick-clock pulses
of agitated passage
are such
that a person suddenly

sees time, wasted
across the acreage (space)
where some part of any week—of any day!—is built
on devastation, year upon year.

What kind of culture do we desire
given that there is no let-up
to war?  No post war.
Do we know
what we are looking for?


There were always fashions, this and that.
                                    But enlightenment follows
                                                                        a far different path—
                                    it's one that branches off.

Not courtly, not modish, a breath path
                                   a penetration of the dark, in dark.
                                                            Pushing stubbornly,

                                                            more than


And one of those days
there were created atheists,
thank God, blessed be His Name,
as should be said.

So I peck around the universe
one of the garden varieties of godless
Aufklarung chickens
tumbling over pebbles and grit.

                                   Chucking and clucking
                                   wonder ← despair
                                   wonder → despair

the things that began so pert and insouciant
quick brushstrokes
and touches of light,
turn somewhat elegiac,
even en plein air.

                                   What can one little chicken do?
                                   We all gawk,
                                   squawk, fluff and crispen.
                                   Look out


Hello, little ball of dust in the mirror!

Trace is not something else, it’s you and here.

You know you are an item in an interlock of items

but like ecologies of your ignorance, you are

unseen on two planes: the socio-political, here,

and there from a space without a parallel consciousness, but one

that’s not as intentional,

nor even malicious, when it destroys.  This is one problem

of consciousness. Now.



Incomplete Enlightenment is the title of a miniature of a man standing (and perhaps meditating), by the contemporary Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi.

“Form is a process of forming leaving a trace of its eventhood,” Derek Attridge, apparently in chapter 1 of Moving Words: Forms of English Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), but I was not able to find it.

Selected Poems,1980-2020 by Rachel Blau DuPlessis was published by CHAX Press in 2022. A Long Essay on the Long Poem (University of Alabama Press) and the collage-poem book Life in Handkerchiefs (Materialist Press) both appeared in 2023. Expected soon is Daykeeping from Selva Oscura.