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Rough Music

Rough Music

by Deborah Digges

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Deborah Digges's third and best book of poems has been hailed by The New Yorker as "an outstanding collection, " and by Mark Doty as "so exhilarating that even its darkest notes shine with a strange joy." Her subjects range from the graffiti with which a street gang mourns a dead comrade to aples"three red, one golden, like a flower."


Deborah Digges's third and best book of poems has been hailed by The New Yorker as "an outstanding collection, " and by Mark Doty as "so exhilarating that even its darkest notes shine with a strange joy." Her subjects range from the graffiti with which a street gang mourns a dead comrade to aples"three red, one golden, like a flower."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Digges (Late in the Millennium) entwines ancient ritual with contemporary life in beautifully complex poems characterized by intricacy of syntax and richness of theme and idea. In ``In-House Harvest,'' a poem about organ transplant, she envisions ``...the arc of the stone tool/ thrown through history,/ delivered, shining, in the surgeon's hand.'' The masterful "Rock Scissors Paper," a sprung sestina, juxtaposes the thoughts and words of Freud, Marx and Darwin, along with words from the Bible, lyrics from children's songs and other sources. Digges writes a learned, often densely allusive verse, but her first-person voice gathers emotion when she turns to the intimate terrain of her loves, her memories and her own body. The poems near the end of the volume approach autobiography. Seven of the poems are illuminated by notes at the back of the book; helpful and absorbing in their own right, these references and explanations may help readers approach the other, unannotated works. All of the poems deserve-and amply reward-the reader's careful attention. (Aug.)

Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.32(d)

Read an Excerpt


More than my sixteen rented houses and their eighty or so rooms
held up by stone or cinderbiock foundations,
most facing north, with useless basements,
wrought iron fences to the curb,
beat-up black mailboxes--
eagles impaled through breasts to edifice--
or set like lighthouses
some distance from the stoop a thousand miles inland,

or close enough to sea the sea gulls
settled mornings in the playing fields I passed
on this continent and others
as I walked my sons to school or to the train--

more than the kitchen door frames where is carved the progress
of their growth, one then the other on his birthday
backed against a wall, almost on tiptoe--

and more than the ruler
I have laid across their skulls
where the older's brown hair like my own,
or the younger's blond like his father's, covered abundantly
what was once only a swatch of scalp
I'd touch as they slept to know their hearts beat--

more than the height at which, and in this house,
the markings stopped like stairs leading to ground level,
and they walked out into the world,
dogged, no doubt, by the ghost of the man, their father,
and the men who tried to be their fathers,
father their wildness--

and more, even, than the high sashed windows
and windows sliding sideways
through which I watched for them, sometimes squinting,
sometimes through my hands cupped on cold glass

trying to see in the dark my men approaching,
my breath blinding me,
the first born surely the man I would have married,
the second, me in his man's body--

more than the locks left open and the creaking steps,
thebooks left open like mirrors on the floor
and the sinks where we washed our faces
and the beds above which our threefold dreams collided,

I have loved the broom I took into my hands
and crossed the threshold to begin again,
whose straw I wore to nothing,
whose shaft I could use to straighten a tree, or break
across my knee to kindle the first winter fire,
or use to stir the fire,

broom whose stave is pine or hickory,
and whose skirt of birch-spray and heather
offers itself up as nest matter,
arcs like the equator
in the corner, could we see far enough,
or is parted one way like my hair.

Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn't struggle?
And it came to me, an image
of myself in a doorway, a broom in my hand,
sweeping out beach sand, salt, soot,
pollen and pine needles, the last December leaves,
and mud wasps, moths, flies crushed to wafers,
and spring's first seed husks,
and then the final tufts like down, and red bud petals
like autumn leaves--so many petals--

sweeping out the soil the boys tracked in
from burying in the new yard another animal--

broom leaving in tact the spiders' webs,
careful of those,
and careful when I danced with the broom,
that no one was watching,
and when I hacked at the floor
with the broom like an axe, jammed handle through glass
as if the house were burning and I must abandon ship
as I wept over a man s faithlessness, or wept over my own--

and so the broom became
an oar that parted waters, raft-keel and mast, or twirled
around and around on the back lawn,
a sort of compass through whose blurred counter-motion
the woods became a gathering of brooms,
onlooking or ancestral.

I thought I could grow old here,
safe among the ghosts, each welcomed,
yes, welcomed back for once, into this house, these rooms

in which I have got down on hands and knees and swept my hair across my two sons' broad tan backs,
and swept my hair across you, swinging my head,
lost in the motion,
lost swaying up and down the whole length of your body,
my hair tangling in your hair,
our hair matted with sweat and my own cum, and semen,
lost swaying, smelling you,
smelling you humming,
gone in the motion, back and forth, sweeping.


Meet the Author

Deborah Digge's first book of poems, Vesper Sparrows, has recently been reissued by Carnegie-Mellon Press in the Classic Contemporary Series. Her second collection, Late in the Millennium, was published in 1989. A memoir, Fugitive Spring, was published in 1992 and in paperback a year later. She has received fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She has taught in the graduate writing divisions of New York, Boston, Iowa, and Columbia universities, and the Vermont College Program. She currently lives in Massachusetts and is Associate Professor of English at Tufts University.

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