In another poem, Soft Green, we see Scalapino using the virgule again for character clarification, but this time as a way to layer the character as an image or phenomena:
—and the woman as it—the butterfly blood-reef (Chrysanthemum
dyslogia), wrath deity/Chrysanthemum does not see that she is
separate from the butterfly blood-reef—ever, at any time. (12)
This poem speaks about a disturbing dream Chrysanthemum (the flower of the plant) has in the colour green reflecting an image of what she is, or will, become: a wrath deity. The virgule here comes near the end of the poem and is a dreadful mark that immediately asserts that Chrysanthemum is the wrath deity. If we look closer to the earlier lines of Soft Green, we can see Scalapino’s build up to this powerful mark:
…are in blackness as crowd and not evening or light while she
there undulant fever all the cattle passing as by line-of-sight
looking at each other but not contagium other than their being alive
there pass contagious abortion between them and begin to
spontaneously abort the slick forms… a woman reading as
luminous green words appear—so the reader has to consider to be
a woman fetuses of the cattle floating before their eyes part of
them…permanently as disseminating in the wind in blades of grass
the fetuses snagged beside them. The reader who’d had the dream
in green…had not run retreated from combat or been in it yet is
now permanently bound to the cabbagy fetuses of cattle as kites oar
machine drones in a sort of dielectric at once a dielectric loss similar
to—and the woman as it—the butterfly blood-reef
(Chrysanthemum dyslogia), wrath deity/Chrysanthemum does not
see that she is separate from the butterfly blood-reef—ever, at any
In my reading of this poem, there is a chaotic scene of abortion and blame and responsibility. The character here, Chrysanthemum, is caught in a fever of anxiety and terror, a fever she can’t escape. By using the virgule at the end of this deep dream space, Scalapino makes this uncontrollable dyslogia the root makeup of Chrysanthemum adding to the already aggressive content and final clause. This virgule clarifies the main character by giving the reader a new and solid metaphor for comparison. Chrysanthemum is (is like) the “wrath deity.”
Another way Scalapino uses the virgule is compounding action. With compound verbs, via virgule, Scalapino maximizes the density of her content. By allowing two actions to occur simultaneously she can open the image further, for interpretation. A woman “walking/running” —vs.—is running and is walking, allows the reader three simultaneous actions to exist: running, walking, and both at the same time. Along with this immediate representation, the virgule here causes tension first within the physical image on the page and next with the idea of two things happening (and almost always more) at the same time. The reader cannot escape this type of new verb visually or contextually. They will automatically have to interact with how, as DeVere Brody writes, “punctuation simultaneously comprises, composes, and compromises thought through its gestures” (6).
This first compound verb virgule example comes from the poem Destool:
the deb at the age of 4 seen by an outsider visitor who by chance
views the child being led/counteracted/reversed/bullied a
thousand acts ‘then’ done by her ma who talks at once as if
speaking for/before the child can speak so there is no one ‘then.’
In this section of the poem we are given the whole of the deb’s tension-filled childhood in only three and a half lines. By compounding four verbs in the past tense, Scalapino floods the reader with simultaneous abuse, and with the details of her age and mother, the reader is given and shown a missing link in the deb’s character: a neglected and impacting childhood—a.k.a the ground for most psychological study. It is with this brief section that the reader begins to gain a further understanding of the deb who up to this point had only represented a young woman (with control issues) making her debut into society. From this point further, the reader understands why it is so crucial for her to always make a good impression.
If Scalapino had chose to construct these verbs into sentences the impact on the reader would have been watered down. Long sentences would allow the reader to breathe through each abusive action like a soft warm shower: Ineffective. Instead, she goes for the ice-cold water bucket.
The next example does not play as significant a role as the previous, but does show the potential use of compound verbs. In the poem Cheliform, when we are first introduced to the girls, Scalapino writes “the girls who lifting off flew/disperse pink frocks in the hyperbaric weight” (6). Within this union of two actions, one past and one present, she gives the reader a completed view of the occurrence. By adding “disperse” (aside from its use to more logically complete the sentence), Scalapino gives the reader a layered image—the first being a take-off of girls (maybe on brooms maybe only three maybe without brooms) and the next image of a chaotic separation which bade the chance there are more than a few but several, and the scene is made complex by their separation. Finally, and most important, this compounding opens the space for more movements to be imagined—to complicate the event, not to confuse, but to provide a more logical order of things for the space she is writing into and from, a space that demands new angles of perception and new readings of such angles.
The next and easiest to notice virgule, is its use to compound time. In most situations Scalapino uses this tool to let the reader know this is not a first time, but at least a second. This does two things: first it saves a few useless lines discussing how an action has also happened before, and secondly, it furthers her argument “The transfection [in reality] is echopraxia as uncontrollable repeating of actions as people are speaking or silent seeing that action a space transforms” (122).
In her poem the Meadow of Dissociative Disorder Scalapino writes, “is then? red Chrysanthemum was/is smiling mouth with teeth barely visible in its red middle petals” (8). With this one mark Scalapino tells the reader this is happening in two time periods and has happened as such. What this also does is reveal a very small blip of a character’s history. For example, this one line informs the reader that Chrysanthemum, at this early stage in the book, represents youth and positivity. The reader knows this because of her name and, following this virgule, her history of a smiling mouth. This poem continues further to paint a picture of a tyrannical world at war around her. Whether this foreshadows danger to come or the strength of her positivity is left up to the reader.