Each night we looked for a slip of milk
at the bottom of a cold stone bowl,

for signs of a widening chink in the armor
of darkness. We lay our heads on wooden

pillows; even in dreams, we went to work
in factories with no fire escapes.

Though our hunger grew, we tried
not to let it show. We peered

through the slats of the floor to see
how pigs churned up the mud from habit,

how the slop they were fed was never
ever enough. When they came for the line

order cooks and the busboys, for dishwashers
and drivers without papers, we despaired

about stories we’d heard of finding one
way in and back— we who’d kept our clean

laundry in boxes under the sink, our few
letters from home tied with string in a sock.

We who’d come to memorize by heart
the number of steps to the next landing,

how our fingers could fumble in a hallway
to find the cord to turn on the lamp.

(Ash-Wednesday). Up and by water, it being a very fine morning, to White Hall, and there to speak with Sir Ph. Warwicke, but he was gone out to chappell, so I spent much of the morning walking in the Park, and going to the Queene’s chappell, where I staid and saw their masse, till a man came and bid me go out or kneel down: so I did go out. And thence to Somerset House; and there into the chappell, where Monsieur d’Espagne used to preach. But now it is made very fine, and was ten times more crouded than the Queene’s chappell at St. James’s; which I wonder at. Thence down to the garden of Somerset House, and up and down the new building, which in every respect will be mighty magnificent and costly. I staid a great while talking with a man in the garden that was sawing of a piece of marble, and did give him 6d. to drink. He told me much of the nature and labour of the worke, how he could not saw above 4 inches of the stone in a day, and of a greater not above one or two, and after it is sawed, then it is rubbed with coarse and then with finer and finer sand till they come to putty, and so polish it as smooth as glass. Their saws have no teeth, but it is the sand only which the saw rubs up and down that do the thing.
Thence by water to the Coffee-house, and there sat with Alderman Barker talking of hempe and the trade, and thence to the ‘Change a little, and so home and dined with my wife, and then to the office till the evening, and then walked a while merrily with my wife in the garden, and so she gone, I to work again till late, and so home to supper and to bed.

the war crowd talking
smooth as glass

their saws have no teeth
but only rub and bark


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 24 February 1663/64.

Up, it being Shrove Tuesday, and at the office sat all the morning, at noon to the ‘Change and there met with Sir W. Rider, and of a sudden knowing what I had at home, brought him and Mr. Cutler and Mr. Cooke, clerk to Mr. Secretary Morrice, a sober and pleasant man, and one that I knew heretofore, when he was my Lord’s secretary at Dunkirke. I made much of them and had a pretty dinner for a sudden. We talked very pleasantly, and they many good discourses of their travels abroad. After dinner they gone, I to my office, where doing many businesses very late, but to my good content to see how I grow in estimation every day more and more, and have things given more oftener than I used to have formerly, as to have a case of very pretty knives with agate shafts by Mrs. Russell. So home and to bed.
This day, by the blessing of God, I have lived thirty-one years in the world; and, by the grace of God, I find myself not only in good health in every thing, and particularly as to the stone, but only pain upon taking cold, and also in a fair way of coming to a better esteem and estate in the world, than ever I expected. But I pray God give me a heart to fear a fall, and to prepare for it!

Shrove Tuesday rider
give me pretty knives
with agate shafts

cold world
give me a heart to pare


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 23 February 1663/64.

If I wrap this belt of bells
around my hips, each step
I take will sound the radius
of a warding-off spell. Come then,
hair of noble, bounding horses;
come, phalanx of brass hawk bells
heated in the mouth of fire.

*

At the height of summer, I stood
in front of ancient double doors
carved with a frieze of saints
and angels. But now they are our own,
all their blond curls and garments
plinthed in darkest wood— narra,
santol, acacia, yakan, almon
.

*

The sentinel led us out through cool
marble hallways, past massive curving
staircases and doorways to ornate salons.
For every stone, I counted the invisible
pulse. For every pillar, a catalog of names
erased. Beneath a tower, tongues knell
the surplus of what history costs.

Up and shaved myself, and then my wife and I by coach out, and I set her down by her father’s, being vexed in my mind and angry with her for the ill-favoured place, among or near the whore houses, that she is forced to come to him. So left her there, and I to Sir Ph. Warwick’s but did not speak with him. Thence to take a turn in St. James’s Park, and meeting with Anth. Joyce walked with him a turn in the Pell Mell and so parted, he St. James’s ward and I out to Whitehall ward, and so to a picture-sellers by the Half Moone in the street over against the Exchange, and there looked over the maps of several cities and did buy two books of cities stitched together cost me 9s. 6d., and when I came home thought of my vowe, and paid 5s. into my poor box for it, hoping in God that I shall forfeit no more in that kind.
Thence, meeting Mr. Moore, and to the Exchange and there found my wife at pretty Doll’s, and thence by coach set her at my uncle Wight’s, to go with my aunt to market once more against Lent, and I to the Coffee-house, and thence to the ‘Change, my chief business being to enquire about the manner of other countries keeping of their masts wet or dry, and got good advice about it, and so home, and alone ate a bad, cold dinner, my people being at their washing all day, and so to the office and all the afternoon upon my letter to Mr. Coventry about keeping of masts, and ended it very well at night and wrote it fair over.
This evening came Mr. Alsopp the King’s brewer, with whom I spent an houre talking and bewailing the posture of things at present; the King led away by half-a-dozen men, that none of his serious servants and friends can come at him. These are Lauderdale, Buckingham, Hamilton, Fitz-Harding (to whom he hath, it seems, given 2,000l. per annum in the best part of the King’s estate); and that that the old Duke of Buckingham could never get of the King. Progers is another, and Sir H. Bennett. He loves not the Queen at all, but is rather sullen to her; and she, by all reports, incapable of children. He is so fond of the Duke of Monmouth, that every body admires it; and he says the Duke hath said, that he would be the death of any man that says the King was not married to his mother though Alsopp says, it is well known that she was a common whore before the King lay with her. But it seems, he says, that the King is mighty kind to these his bastard children; and at this day will go at midnight to my Lady Castlemaine’s nurses, and take the child and dance it in his arms.
That he is not likely to have his tables up again in his house,1 for the crew that are about him will not have him come to common view again, but keep him obscurely among themselves.
He hath this night, it seems, ordered that the Hall (which there is a ball to be in to-night before the King) be guarded, as the Queen-Mother’s is, by his Horse Guards; whereas heretofore they were by the Lord Chamberlain or Steward, and their people. But it is feared they will reduce all to the soldiery, and all other places taken away; and what is worst of all, that he will alter the present militia, and bring all to a flying army.
That my Lord Lauderdale, being Middleton’s enemy, and one that scorns the Chancellor even to open affronts before the King, hath got the whole power of Scotland into his hand; whereas the other day he was in a fair way to have had his whole estate, and honour, and life, voted away from him.
That the King hath done himself all imaginable wrong in the business of my Lord Antrim, in Ireland; who, though he was the head of rebels, yet he by his letter owns to have acted by his father’s and mother’s, and his commissions; but it seems the truth is, he hath obliged himself, upon the clearing of his estate, to settle it upon a daughter of the Queene-Mother’s (by my Lord Germin, I suppose,) in marriage, be it to whom the Queene pleases; which is a sad story. It seems a daughter of the Duke of Lenox’s was, by force, going to be married the other day at Somerset House, to Harry Germin; but she got away and run to the King, and he says he will protect her. She is, it seems, very near akin to the King: Such mad doings there are every day among them!
The rape upon a woman at Turnstile the other day, her husband being bound in his shirt, they both being in bed together, it being night, by two Frenchmen, who did not only lye with her but abused her with a linke, is hushed up for 300l., being the Queen Mother’s servants.
There was a French book in verse, the other day, translated and presented to the Duke of Monmouth in such a high stile, that the Duke of York, he tells me, was mightily offended at it. The Duke of Monmouths mother’s brother hath a place at Court; and being a Welchman (I think he told me) will talk very broad of the King’s being married to his sister.
The King did the other day, at the Council, commit my Lord Digby’s chaplin, and steward, and another servant, who went upon the process begun there against their lord, to swear that they saw him at church, end receive the Sacrament as a Protestant, (which, the judges said, was sufficient to prove him such in the eye of the law); the King, I say, did commit them all to the Gate-house, notwithstanding their pleading their dependance upon him, and the faith they owed him as their lord, whose bread they eat. And that the King should say, that he would soon see whether he was King, or Digby.
That the Queene-Mother hath outrun herself in her expences, and is now come to pay very ill, or run in debt; the money being spent that she received for leases.
He believes there is not any money laid up in bank, as I told him some did hope; but he says, from the best informers he can assure me there is no such thing, nor any body that should look after such a thing; and that there is not now above 80,000l. of the Dunkirke money left in stock.
That Oliver in the year when he spent 1,400,000l. in the Navy, did spend in the whole expence of the kingdom 2,600,000l..
That all the Court are mad for a Dutch war; but both he and I did concur, that it was a thing rather to be dreaded than hoped for; unless by the French King’s falling upon Flanders, they and the Dutch should be divided.
That our Embassador had, it is true, an audience; but in the most dishonourable way that could be; for the Princes of the Blood (though invited by our Embassador, which was the greatest absurdity that ever Embassador committed these 400 years) were not there; and so were not said to give place to our King’s Embassador. And that our King did openly say, the other day in the Privy Chamber, that he would not be hectored out of his right and preeminencys by the King of France, as great as he was.
That the Pope is glad to yield to a peace with the French (as the newes-book says), upon the basest terms that ever was.
That the talke which these people about our King, that I named before, have, is to tell him how neither privilege of Parliament nor City is any thing; but his will is all, and ought to be so: and their discourse, it seems, when they are alone, is so base and sordid, that it makes the eares of the very gentlemen of the backstairs (I think he called them) to tingle to hear it spoke in the King’s hearing; and that must be very bad indeed. That my Lord Digby did send to Lisbon a couple of priests, to search out what they could against the Chancellor concerning the match, as to the point of his knowing before-hand that the Queene was not capable of bearing children; and that something was given her to make her so. But as private as they were, when they came thither they were clapped up prisoners. That my Lord Digby endeavours what he can to bring the business into the House of Commons, hoping there to master the Chancellor, there being many enemies of his there; but I hope the contrary. That whereas the late King did mortgage ‘Clarendon’ to somebody for 20,000l., and this to have given it to the Duke of Albemarle, and he sold it to my Lord Chancellor, whose title of Earldome is fetched from thence; the King hath this day sent his order to the Privy Seale for the payment of this 20,000l. to my Lord Chancellor, to clear the mortgage!
Ireland in a very distracted condition about the hard usage which the Protestants meet with, and the too good which the Catholiques. And from altogether, God knows my heart, I expect nothing but ruine can follow, unless things are better ordered in a little time.
He being gone my wife came and told me how kind my uncle Wight had been to her to-day, and that though she says that all his kindness comes from respect to her she discovers nothing but great civility from him, yet but what she says he otherwise will tell me, but to-day he told her plainly that had she a child it should be his heir, and that should I or she want he would be a good friend to us, and did give my wife instructions to consent to all his wife says at any time, she being a pettish woman, which argues a design I think he has of keeping us in with his wife in order to our good sure, and he declaring her jealous of him that so he dares not come to see my wife as otherwise he would do and will endeavour to do. It looks strange putting all together, but yet I am in hopes he means well. My aunt also is mighty open to my wife and tells her mighty plain how her husband did intend to double her portion to her at his death as a jointure. That he will give presently 100l. to her niece Mary and a good legacy at his death, and it seems did as much to the other sister, which vexed [me] to think that he should bestow so much upon his wife’s friends daily as he do, but it cannot be helped for the time past, and I will endeavour to remedy it for the time to come.
After all this discourse with my wife at my office alone, she home to see how the wash goes on and I to make an end of my work, and so home to supper and to bed.

a half-moon
over the maps of several
poor countries

*

that sullen bastard will go at midnight
take the child and dance it
in his arms

*

guarded by his horse
the soldier is a flying army
in his head

*

going to be married
so the rape is hushed up
mouths receive the sacrament

*

whose bread
would pay for a war
blood on the back stairs

*

not capable of bearing children
they clap for the chance
to meet death


Erasure poetry derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 22 February 1663/64.

All night she sifts torn
paper into garbage bags,

careful not to leave
a trail of names or living

places. Hard enough to be
the one passed over.

Hard to be the one whose face
becomes easily mistaken

in the bland light that pours
through early trains. So

she doesn’t want to hand over
the secrets of her middle

names, the passwords to
her childhood. Once,

when she was very ill, the elders
shouted a different name

over and over her fevered form.
They embroidered its ugly

syllables on face towels
and pressed them to her brow.

Somehow her soul knew then
to crawl into its quietest

room, the one she still
retreats into on hearing

winds shift and grasses
lengthen into shadow,

on hearing demons inspecting
for hiding places in the earth.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

(Lord’s day). Up, and having many businesses at the office to-day I spent all the morning there drawing up a letter to Mr. Coventry about preserving of masts, being collections of my own, and at noon home to dinner, whither my brother Tom comes, and after dinner I took him up and read my letter lately of discontent to my father, and he is seemingly pleased at it, and cries out of my sister’s ill nature and lazy life there.
He being gone I to my office again, and there made an end of my morning’s work, and then, after reading my vows of course, home and back again with Mr. Maes and walked with him talking of his business in the garden, and he being gone my wife and I walked a turn or two also, and then my uncle Wight fetching of us, she and I to his house to supper, and by the way calling on Sir G. Carteret to desire his consent to my bringing Maes to him, which he agreed to. So I to my uncle’s, but staid a great while vexed both of us for Maes not coming in, and soon he came, and I with him from supper to Sir G. Carteret, and there did largely discourse of the business, and I believe he may expect as much favour as he can do him, though I fear that will not be much. So back, and after sitting there a good while, we home, and going my wife told me how my uncle when he had her alone did tell her that he did love her as well as ever he did, though he did not find it convenient to show it publicly for reasons on both sides, seeming to mean as well to prevent my jealousy as his wife’s, but I am apt to think that he do mean us well, and to give us something if he should die without children.
So home to prayers and to bed.
My wife called up the people to washing by four o’clock in the morning; and our little girl Susan is a most admirable Slut and pleases us mightily, doing more service than both the others and deserves wages better.

I spent all morning preserving
a collection of cries
work and desire
greed and fear and love
to show publicly if I should die
without children


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 21 February 1663/64.

After news
of the travel ban,

I begin to knit
a garment the color

of lichen, the color
of moss steeped

in clear mountain
streams. I hope

to never finish,
to nightly unravel.

I think I know
who it is for

but as long as there
remain obstacles

to its delivery,
perhaps the pigeons

will sleep with heads
bent beneath one wing,

perhaps the spirits
will continue their

restless hovering: not
finding a ledge eager

to give up its warmth, a
shell not hardened to quartz.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Thread.

finding a pair

of bronzed shells

in the field.

And if a pair

of gunmen pump

twenty-seven bullets

into their victim‘s body

at the intersection

of Clarin and Zamora,

what will the children

in the passenger seat

remember? Dull glint,

the vehicle coasting

to a stop. The sounds

numbed vessels make

as every small gold

cell breaks and breaks.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Farmer.