TABULA RASA

Coptic, cryptic, styptic rune:
Winter’s dark arithmetic.
Clouds close in at noon
On blackened twig and stick,
On snow grown in the underbrush.

Wheat pokes out of page-white plains,
Tundra muffled in the hush.
No detail of the day remains,
Just the wind and sleeping slush.

Erasure is at last complete:
Nothing here but fog and sleet.


Cathy says this is like the Rosetta Stone, or like Zork,
where you can’t see where your decisions take you, where
you are plunged into a new language like Stoppard’s
“plank,” which you learn quickly, although you don’t
know it.

Instead of the blank slate, the empty blackboard, the
tabula rasa which the poet starts with, this is the blank page
we end with. Rasa is expanded to mean erased, rather than
just blank, so that human action is included in the view.

It begins and ends with a blank page, and, in the middle,
there are weeds. No doubt a metaphor.

From the weeds come reeds, whence come pen nibs,
whence come poems. So from the menial comes meaning.
But beyond meaning is the simple evocation of mood,
of the hush of a dark northern snowstorm, as we had been
having in Colorado around February 3rd. Colorado isn’t
the far north, as Gould or Nabokov or Glinka thought of
it, but it is our mild-mannered equivalent.

There is a sadness to its observations, as we had the
ranch for sale, and would one day no longer enjoy its pristine
isolation, with untouched mountain views for thirty
miles. No doubt we would find something as beautiful,
but the very act of agreeing to sell eliminated our former
serenity, and introduced a note of homeless, gypsy anxiety.
See the note on the poem, “House for Sale.” (We ended up
not selling the ranch.)

It was written as an explanation of the poems, “Acrostic,”
and “Another Acrostic,” on page 73 in this book. It was
composed out of leftover words, 11:09–11:32 a.m., February
3, 2001 at Tippet Alley during a snowstorm. This is
draft 3 written 11:41–11:47. Here is the first draft:

Coptic, cryptic, styptic rune:
Winter’s dark arithmetic.
Clouds close in at noon
On darkened twig and stick,
On snow mounds in the underbrush.
Wheat pokes out of page white plains,
Muffled in the hush.
No detail of the day remains,
Erasure now complete:
Nothing here but fog and sleet.