and monuments, especially those erected

by leaders with a somehow smaller than normal
sense of self worth, that they must compensate

for what they couldn’t sustain in their tenure
—the love of the people, undoctored praise

in history books, acknowledgment without
coercion of the great, magnanimous vision

that allegedly brought their nations forward,
out of the pitiful darkness of the past

before they came along? Before its destruction
two winters ago, Mao’s gold-brushed statue,

36 meters high, sat on the desolate bit of farm
country hardest hit by the great famines of the ’50s

and ’60s. And what of the thousands of stone
or marble likenesses of Stalin and Lenin

that used to dominate parks and squares all
over the former Soviet empire, periodically

toppled by angry citizens and revolutionaries?
Like the one pulled down in Budapest in ’56:

after the fall of Communism, over two hundred
thousand workers dismantled Lenin’s bronze

statue, leaving only his boots, in which
they planted their flag. His stone head

rolled upon the boulevard, where it was marked
with insults. Along a windy stretch of highway

in Tuba, Benguet, a 98 foot bust of the late
Ferdinand Marcos was built. The Ibaloi who were

displaced from their homes and land smeared
the blood of sacrificial animals on the dictator’s

stony visage. Who knows if these are connected?
but in 1989, rebels blew open his sculpted face.

In 2002, treasure hunters chipped away at what
was left, and birds flew in and out of the hollows

that once were cheeks. This weekend on the news,
people pulled down the Confederate Soldier’s

Monument in Durham then surrounded it, some
spitting and cursing as if it were alive—

and in a way it’s true: so lifelike, carved stones
entomb almost mystically whatever part of our

human nature we’ve relegated. Like cult objects,
they bristle in the glow of headlights;

they glimmer darkly in the sun, holding flags
that should have been rent to pieces years ago.

(Lord’s day). After long lying discoursing with my wife, I up, and comes Mr. Holliard to see me, who concurs with me that my pain is nothing but cold in my legs breeding wind, and got only by my using to wear a gowne, and that I am not at all troubled with any ulcer, but my thickness of water comes from my overheat in my back. He gone, comes Mr. Herbert, Mr. Honiwood’s man, and dined with me, a very honest, plain, well-meaning man, I think him to be; and by his discourse and manner of life, the true embleme of an old ordinary serving-man.
After dinner up to my chamber and made an end of Dr. Power’s booke of the Microscope, very fine and to my content, and then my wife and I with great pleasure, but with great difficulty before we could come to find the manner of seeing any thing by my microscope. At last did with good content, though not so much as I expect when I come to understand it better. By and by comes W. Joyce, in his silke suit, and cloake lined with velvett: staid talking with me, and I very merry at it. He supped with me; but a cunning, crafty fellow he is, and dangerous to displease, for his tongue spares nobody.
After supper I up to read a little, and then to bed.

I see nothing on my own
no plain meaning

think of the power
of the microscope

to find a thing not as I expect
but dangerous as a body


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 14 August 1664.

Up, and before I went to the office comes my Taylor with a coate I have made to wear within doors, purposely to come no lower than my knees, for by my wearing a gowne within doors comes all my tenderness about my legs. There comes also Mr. Reeve, with a microscope and scotoscope. For the first I did give him 5l. 10s., a great price, but a most curious bauble it is, and he says, as good, nay, the best he knows in England, and he makes the best in the world. The other he gives me, and is of value; and a curious curiosity it is to look objects in a darke room with. Mightly pleased with this I to the office, where all the morning. There offered by Sir W. Pen his coach to go to Epsum and carry my wife, I stept out and bade my wife make her ready, but being not very well and other things advising me to the contrary, I did forbear going, and so Mr. Creed dining with me I got him to give my wife and me a play this afternoon, lending him money to do it, which is a fallacy that I have found now once, to avoyde my vowe with, but never to be more practised I swear, and to the new play, at the Duke’s house, of “Henry the Fifth;” a most noble play, writ by my Lord Orrery; wherein Betterton, Harris, and Ianthe’s parts are most incomparably wrote and done, and the whole play the most full of height and raptures of wit and sense, that ever I heard; having but one incongruity, or what did, not please me in it, that is, that King Harry promises to plead for Tudor to their Mistresse, Princesse Katherine of France, more than when it comes to it he seems to do; and Tudor refused by her with some kind of indignity, not with a difficulty and honour that it ought to have been done in to him.
Thence home and to my office, wrote by the post, and then to read a little in Dr. Power’s book of discovery by the Microscope to enable me a little how to use and what to expect from my glasse.
So to supper and to bed.

doors within doors
make the world dark

but this is a fallacy
I have found no void

but a new writ
full as a book of glass


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 13 August 1664.

“…how many possess a cry
and never a body” ~ D. Bonta

You can usually tell what kind
of person you’re dealing with from the way,
for instance, they treat the people cleaning up for

or waiting on them. This observation, from my youngest
daughter who started working summers as a hostess
in a Japanese restaurant— though she wound up

being made to fill bento boxes with salad
greens and cherry tomatoes, and the pitchers
with ice cold water; roll the silverware

in napkins, and often, help wipe down tables
with a wet cloth at the end of the day. Oh yeah,
I know what she means; I’ve seen and heard it myself—

The demeanor and voice changing to one of peremptory
command, the not even looking into the eyes of those
whose hands bring you soup, refill your water

or tea; take the bowl back to the kitchen
just because the angry customer didn’t listen
or realize the item marked with four out of five

bird chillies on the menu means really spicy.
And the racist insult scrawled on the guest check
instead of a gratuity: “Ching Chong, if you can’t

speak English, maybe you should go back
to your country.” And whoever tells you
it’s about borders or soil or territory

doesn’t know or has willfully chosen to forget
our common and shameful histories. One apartment
we used to rent in the Ghent neighborhood

had some kind of electrical outlet
right in the middle of the dining room floor.
I couldn’t figure out what it was, until someone

explained it was likely from the old days,
when servants or slaves lived on the lower floor,
and could be summoned by the master or mistress

of the house to bring more iced tea, more mint
julep and deviled eggs, or take away the dirty dishes,
simply by pressing a buzzer with their foot. This week,

I read that a husband and wife in Quezon City
have just been convicted to 40 years in jail
for having repeatedly punched their maid, slammed

her body against doors; even pressing a hot iron
against her face, which caused her to go blind.
In Hong Kong, there are maids who press their bodies

into the space between the stove and the refrigerator
at night: these are their sleeping quarters. In Colorado,
a couple are now in jail for having starved and abused

their own blind, autistic son for over a decade. So much
anguish and pain, but we must recognize it by name—
Look it straight in the eye and not away, not pretend.

What animals are these, and how are they related to us?
What are those cries they emit out in the streets,
in the square, their fists raised in terrible salute?

 

In response to Via Negativa: Casualty.

It’s surprising how often I’ll dream of poop— hallways
littered with it, or me looking in vain for a bathroom.

My mother used to say: a dream of teeth fallen out of your
mouth is a bad omen, but poop’s okay. Detained in the bathroom,

my father liked to take his time reading the paper or Sports
Illustrated
. From his stash, I might have seen in the bathroom

that picture of Bo Derek rising out of the water, her hair in tiny
braids; everyone’s fantasy goddess and fevered dream. In the bathroom,

he put aside his magazine for five minutes so I could rehearse my school
elocution piece. With the door open a crack, he listened in the bathroom,

correcting pronunciation. The piece dramatized Satan’s temptation of Christ:
the final “Begone!” perfectly timed with toilet flush in the bathroom.

Up, and all the morning busy at the office with Sir W. Warren about a great contract for New England masts, where I was very hard with him, even to the making him angry, but I thought it fit to do it as well as just for my owne [and] the King’s behalf. At noon to the ‘Change a little, and so to dinner and then out by coach, setting my wife and mayde down, going to Stevens the silversmith to change some old silver lace and to go buy new silke lace for a petticoat.
I to White Hall and did much business at a Tangier Committee; where, among other things, speaking about propriety of the houses there, and how we ought to let the Portugeses I have right done them, as many of them as continue, or did sell the houses while they were in possession, and something further in their favour, the Duke in an anger I never observed in him before, did cry, says he, “All the world rides us, and I think we shall never ride anybody.”
Thence home, and, though late, yet Pedro being there, he sang a song and parted. I did give him 5s., but find it burdensome and so will break up the meeting. At night is brought home our poor Fancy, which to my great grief continues lame still, so that I wish she had not been brought ever home again, for it troubles me to see her.

the war was hard to fit
into a silk coat

how many possess a cry
and never a body

and find it burdensome
to continue to see


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 12 August 1664.

wondering about the life we’ve forgotten—
how we could get up each day and walk
to work or take our children to school
even before dark had lifted, knowing
no fear other than from strays that slunk
in the alleys, occasionally baring their fangs.
And the blackbirds that roosted in the trees
and power lines did not yet look
like a congregation of undertakers,
waiting for our bodies to fall in order
to take them away. Some say that to look
at the past is to cultivate a purposeless
nostalgia. Some say it was foolish of us
to believe we could leave the side doors
unlocked, the lamp shining, for the one
with the late night shift; while we climbed
the stairs and went to bed. Outside, on the curb
near pools formed by rainwater, geese hunker down
amid the green fern. In a neighborhood near the beach,
we heard hundreds of them were carted away in trucks
to be euthanized, because they populated the roads
and vehicles could not pass. This is what I mean
when I ask about where we were before this
moment. Maybe only twice in the last decade
have I experienced falling short of what I owed
at the till, and having the cashier fish out a few
coins from the tip jar to make up the difference.

Up, and through pain, to my great grief forced to wear my gowne to keep my legs warm. At the office all the morning, and there a high dispute against Sir W. Batten and Sir W. Pen about the breadth of canvas again, they being for the making of it narrower, I and Mr. Coventry and Sir J. Minnes for the keeping it broader. So home to dinner, and by and by comes Mr. Creed, lately come from the Downes, and dined with me. I show him a good countenance, but love him not for his base ingratitude to me. However, abroad, carried my wife to buy things at the New Exchange, and so to my Lady Sandwich’s, and there merry, talking with her a great while, and so home, whither comes Cocker with my rule, which he hath engraved to admiration, for goodness and smallness of work: it cost me 14s. the doing, and mightily pleased I am with it. By and by, he gone, comes Mr. Moore and staid talking with me a great while about my Lord’s businesses, which I fear will be in a bad condition for his family if my Lord should miscarry at sea. He gone, I late to my office, and cannot forbear admiring and consulting my new rule, and so home to supper and to bed.
This day, for a wager before the King, my Lords of Castlehaven and Arran (a son of my Lord of Ormond’s), they two alone did run down and kill a stoute bucke in St. James’s parke.

through great grief is a narrow road
to gratitude for goodness
work and family

I miscarry a sea and cannot bear
my new day alone


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 11 August 1664.

Who knows what kindness is anymore,
what is compassion? The streets fill

with those who have forgotten who
they are. They’ll burn torches

at midnight and high noon, plant them
on lawns; tear down doors, break dinnerware

on the counters, shred clothes in the drawers
and on the line. In the pitcher, there is still

water cool as the wells from where
it was drawn. On the board, enough bread

without need for asking. The owl shreds a small,
quivering thing in its talons; the vulture skulks

among the rocks— we call this blind nature,
but this is not the same. The water is cobalt

with sadness, but nowhere like the terrible sadness
boiling in the streets with incoherent fire.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Day of the dead.

Up, and, being ready, abroad to do several small businesses, among others to find out one to engrave my tables upon my new sliding rule with silver plates, it being so small that Browne that made it cannot get one to do it. So I find out Cocker, the famous writing-master, and get him to do it, and I set an hour by him to see him design it all; and strange it is to see him with his natural eyes to cut so small at his first designing it, and read it all over, without any missing, when for my life I could not, with my best skill, read one word or letter of it; but it is use. But he says that the best light for his life to do a very small thing by (contrary to Chaucer’s words to the Sun, “that he should lend his light to them that small seals grave”), it should be by an artificial light of a candle, set to advantage, as he could do it. I find the fellow, by his discourse, very ingenuous; and among other things, a great admirer and well read in all our English poets, and undertakes to judge of them all, and that not impertinently. Well pleased with his company and better with his judgement upon my Rule, I left him and home, whither Mr. Deane by agreement came to me and dined with me, and by chance Gunner Batters’s wife.
After dinner Deane and I [had] great discourse again about my Lord Chancellor’s timber, out of which I wish I may get well. Thence I to Cocker’s again, and sat by him with good discourse again for an hour or two, and then left him, and by agreement with Captain Silas Taylor (my old acquaintance at the Exchequer) to the Post Officer to hear some instrument musique of Mr. Berchenshaw’s before my Lord Brunkard and Sir Robert Murray. I must confess, whether it be that I hear it but seldom, or that really voice is better, but so it is that I found no pleasure at all in it, and methought two voyces were worth twenty of it.
So home to my office a while, and then to supper and to bed.

my new writing
is without any word or letter

but the best sun
is an artificial light

a poet takes great
discourse for music

and I must confess
I hear voices


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 10 August 1664.