ISSUE 17: MAY 2012

Ann Lauterbach
Stacy Doris : A Little Memoir

I met Stacy in the mid-1980s, when I taught for a semester at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She was my student, as was her future husband, Chet Weiner. The three of us formed a kind of molecule, moving across the snowy Iowa City landscape and into the scented, radiant spring. My sister Jennifer had died the year before, and I was still adrift with her loss; in their company I seemed to find an ameliorating blessing.

Stacy was alert, inquisitive, and had a knack for appreciation and effortless kindness; she was beautiful, too, with an uncanny, subtly muted and musical, voice; the intensity of her physical presence created an aura of exotic mystery. Her poems then were all phenomenology and oblique shift. She seemed to want to write the wind. We watched Breathless. We were in thrall to the poems of Michael Palmer. From Connecticut, but already traveled, already on a quest, she seemed to be in the process of self-invention. This took will, and wit, and love, and a kind of radical intransigence, all of which she had in quantity. And something else was already in place: an essential joyful appetite, free from acquisitiveness. I think objects did not move her; they got in the way of her particular form of responsive embrace and her need for transition. Her intelligence was embedded in a sensuous connection to the living world: taste, touch, sight; the birds, the sky, the sea.

Once, in New York, she showed me how to eat sushi: with your fingers.

Their wedding was in the oldest American synagogue, surprisingly to be found in Newport, Rhode Island. I have a picture of the newlywed couple: Stacy, her hair demurely upswept, in a white gown with bows at her shoulders, holding a white and green bouquet. Chet, in a white tuxedo jacket, stands slightly behind her, his hand around the elbow of her bare arm. At her shower at my loft on Duane Street I had given her a black silk robe from Barneys. They were always in each other’s sights, always ignited in an amorous duet.

I have another photo, taken in Paris at a café; she’s got a fork in one hand and a bit of salad in the other; her face a study in amused pleasure.

They moved to New York where Chet got his PhD in French Studies at Columbia; they went to France, where they became part of a lively group of French poets; she translated and got her friends to translate; she co-edited a journal of younger French poets, with Violence of the White Page with Emmanuel Hocquard (Tyuonyi, 1992). She was interested in transitions, thresholds, the way sound especially travels through and across the boundaries of things. This is always of interest to poets, but for her it was at the center of her poetic concerns.

Her work I now think was the result of a distinct poetics, in which constraint, a function of will, is in an embattled dialectic with desire. This mythic agon gives her work its wild but stringent power. In the poems collected in her final book, Fledge: A Phenomenology of Spirit, we experience this classic adversity at a fever pitch. Constructed from the duality of what she termed “miracle” and “disaster” the tightly wound six-syllable lines nearly explode the confines of a furious enjambment:

So before asking which
is want or want so vast
it licks my horse myself
shine my horse a goldfinch
in footfalls as useless
to fill you yourself burst

tufts seed no not a real
one a horse my myself
in reorder as tight
wipes through the grass now of
this my hammering my

She was not interested in dictums of poetic fashion, the ugly ruptures of engagement they caused in the various poetic communities in which she moved and for which she cared. She was generously loyal toward others and self-effacing about her own work in about equal measure. This did not add up to pathos. She adopted a demeanor of reassurance. At one point, we walked along on a sunny summer day. This was well into, but still at the beginning of, her aggressive medical inquisition of the grimly insidious disease. She wanted to tell me details and I wanted to know them, but somewhere along the line she told me she was not courageous: this my hammering my

Wherever they went, they swam, for miles and miles. They added Morocco and Greece and Sand Lake, New York to their peregrinations.

Docked one as both fledged move
the sole of its kind. Cough
notices, it co-airs
refreshment, I splash from
you again, each end clocks
its own seams, mere train wound
and full skip to the wrought
push-off a layering
azalea and spread
if one half coin and this.
No. One half coin and this

Leaving one evening eleven years ago, the lights of their car caught on a cat. This became Oliver. Oliver died last October; he was preparing the way.

There are many such episodes, and I mention them because it seems to me now that Stacy was part of the syntax of my life. I am not sure how or why this happens with some people and not with others. Something about timing and attention. Whenever I saw her, there was a sense that we needed to lean toward each other, into the pause, into listening. Not long after she was first diagnosed, she came to visit, and we made a trek across the Hudson to the Zen Mountain Monastery. The road up the mountain was covered in ice. Inside, an exhalation of color.

Stacy wrote a number of intricately conceived books. One of them, Paramour, carries, in part, this self-description: “It was written between 1995 and 2000 in the South of France and in North America by a willful female author who, nagged and baffled by questions of poetic form’s future, set out, as if she had all the time in the world on her hands, to catalogue, through strategies of parody and vivisection, an eclectic variety of Western prosodic models. For subject-matter the theme of love, certainly the most prevalent topic of poetic tradition, was readily selected.”

Love was always her subject.

I’ve been thinking about my sister and about Stacy. They both died in their forties, leaving behind two children. What is this ruse, this fate? I am thinking that Hegel was right, that desire in humans is consciousness of being a desiring subject, the unmerciful “I”, and the desiring subject wants life above all. I am walking around in this hot cold spring thinking about this with outrage, and sorrow, and terror. I am thinking about how a voice curls up inside one’s psyche and says please leave a message.

I spoke to Stacy two weeks or so before she died, after another of a long series of surgeries. She had undergone rounds of chemo and lost her luxurious auburn hair. Her voice was as vibrant as ever, but she sounded weary. I told her about a dream I had had about dying. In the dream, just after dying, I had become a spray of illuminated atoms, or motes, each of which was somehow aware of having been me; they were falling through a huge arc of space. It was understood that, over time, they would, like a candle, go out, and the consciousness of having been me would leave them. But, I added, there was a sense that the atoms would eventually reattach, recombine into new things: a cat, a chair. This story seemed to soothe her.

half why we built this we’re
gone now to our shell game
on our boat that runs fixed
They’re rumbling the strings
of my house is your house
see you said that so long
if true then I don’t have
a house somebody pounced
on the gateway through weeds
days which is my house if
I leave now you know since
I’m the milk of all cats
which time one and still me

Fly well, dearest of spirits.

February-March 2012