2017

We have willows, eucalyptus, pine
stands that shield vaults of clear

falling water. We have underground caves
where bats sleep in cocoons of jade-

green light. Refrains pour into the alley
from an all-night karaoke bar, punctuated

by rooster crow. Once, when we were in high
school, my cousin went home drunk and faced

the stinging horse-whip gripped by his father.
When I write about these things, of how

his mother cried over a poultice of pounded
leaves and egg white, of how a cupful ladled

by the hot bean curd vendor at the gate
can lift any hangover better than coffee,

it’s either they’ll gush over what
they consider exotica, or complain:

why must every other line have a house
on stilts, or families sleeping in pedicabs

under the flyover? I was only born and lived there
until my third decade. But give them a little time

in these tropics and see how rain becomes shorthand
for every nostalgia and the untranslatable. Watch

the relics start developing in the tray: dark-
haired native women rolling sheets of tobacco

on old newspaper; a grinning serviceman,
his hand loosely cupped around a breast.

“Non, je ne regrette rien,” sings Edith
in her most perfect, grainy rendition.

According to the apocryphal story,
Charles Dumont and Michel Vaucaire

have only one nervous chance to audition
the new composition for her in 1959;

but halfway through she bursts out,
“Formidable! this is the song I

have been waiting for!” How I wish
I had that supreme self-confidence,

that capacity to cleave through the moment
and let it take me whole in its arms…

And she’s right, some things will now
never change: we don’t have a choice.

The good things and the bad that were done
to me may as well be the same. I can’t spend

any more of the present wondering if I should
have gone down a different path, or what

old things will surface in the crowded
cellars of the future. Like the sparrow,

I should welcome what comes out of my throat:
tend the notes the same as crumbs on the path.

Meaning the soft tufted heads
of carpet fabric I clean on hands
and knees with a brush since the vacuum
doesn’t really take out everything.

Meaning the mountain of envelopes,
unopened from two or three years
back, with expired credit
card and refinance offers.

Meaning the stacks of papers
that teachers take home to read
and grade— sometimes you see them
carting their wheelies across campus.

Meaning the money we spent on goods
and services before the money we got
—therefore the money we now owe
and have to pay back in trickles.

Meaning the little beds of laundry
sitting in their baskets in every room,
which alternately I gather up in my arms
or toss over the railing down the stairs.

“…the night bus took me with it
and I am glad to be going” ~ D. Bonta

When we got married (a first for him,
the second time for me) it was at a time-
share in Galena— which our friends
Alex and Richard like to describe

as the only place in IL not flat as
a pancake. Guests drove in from the city
for a ceremony presided over by our
buddhist friend. My husband’s brother

and my first cousin read: first,
from the Psalms; then that poem
by Neruda which begins with the phrase
I don’t love you…, brings in salt

and dark things and earth and ends
with falling asleep. Which is to say,
nothing overly sentimental or saccharine,
but poetry— of course. Having been

through enough, we also knew
enough to plan the details
ourselves: local baker, edible
flowers on buttercream; green

dress from the racks at Marshall’s
for me; a potluck spread of ham
sandwiches and dim sum. When
my cousin and his wife (I hadn’t

seen them for more than 20 years)
prepared to take their leave
for their long drive back
to Lansing, MI, he shook

my husband’s hand then said
of me (by way of reassurance?
to say my husband had not made
a mistake?)— She’s a good woman.

It sounded almost Brechtian,
minus Szechuan. And perhaps
there is some way I can think
of myself as having had to assume

some kind of alter ego, a toughness
learned from having had so long
to fend for myself and my three
children from my first ill-fated

union. But what is good, and when
does one finally arrive at that destination?
We board the bus, even with the knowledge
that someone, something else, is driving.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Night bus.

Up and out with Captain Witham in several places again to look for oats for Tangier, and among other places to the City granarys, where it seems every company have their granary and obliged to keep such a quantity of corne always there or at a time of scarcity to issue so much at so much a bushell: and a fine thing it is to see their stores of all sorts, for piles for the bridge, and for pipes, a thing I never saw before.
Thence to the office, and there busy all the morning. At noon to my uncle Wight’s, and there dined, my wife being there all the morning. After dinner to White Hall; and there met with Mr. Pierce, and he showed me the Queene’s bed-chamber, and her closett, where she had nothing but some pretty pious pictures, and books of devotion; and her holy water at her head as she sleeps, with her clock by her bed-side, wherein a lamp burns that tells her the time of the night at any time. Thence with him to the Parke, and there met the Queene coming from Chappell, with her Mayds of Honour, all in silver-lace gowns again: which is new to me, and that which I did not think would have been brought up again.
Thence he carried me to the King’s closett: where such variety of pictures, and other things of value and rarity, that I was properly confounded and enjoyed no pleasure in the sight of them; which is the only time in my life that ever I was so at a loss for pleasure, in the greatest plenty of objects to give it me.
Thence home, calling in many places and doing abundance of errands to my great content, and at night weary home, where Mr. Creed waited for me, and he and I walked in the garden, where he told me he is now in a hurry fitting himself for sea, and that it remains that he deals as an ingenuous man with me in the business I wot of, which he will do before he goes. But I perceive he will have me do many good turns for him first, both as to his bills coming to him in this office, and also in his absence at the Committee of Tangier, which I promise, and as he acquits himself to me I will willingly do. I would I knew the worst of it, what it is he intends, that so I may either quit my hands of him or continue my kindness still to him.

among the granaries of sleep
I burn

where such variety of pictures
I enjoy no pleasure in the sight of them

the greatest plenty turns
to absence in my hands


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 24 June 1664.

Inaudible to most,
the negotiations

of their own
wanting— But who

doesn’t love those
slick pink shades

and glossy brows worthy
of an Instagram pout?

I can’t count how
many times I’ve

refurbished that
résumé; or

been told Sorry,
better luck.
The slip

says try again when
you’ve perfected

that mermaid-blue
dip-dye, that

burnished spine
tattoo that says

I’ll follow you
into the dark. NVM

the cost of the loft
with exposed rafters,

a distressed wood
wrap-around kitchen.

Up, and to the office, and there we sat all the morning. So to the ‘Change, and then home to dinner and to my office, where till 10 at night very busy, and so home to supper and to bed.
My cozen, Thomas Pepys, was with me yesterday and I took occasion to speak to him about the bond I stand bound for my Lord Sandwich to him in 1000l.. I did very plainly, obliging him to secrecy, tell him how the matter stands, yet with all duty to my Lord my resolution to be bound for whatever he desires me for him, yet that I would be glad he had any other security. I perceive by Mr. Moore today that he hath been with my Lord, and my Lord how he takes it I know not, but he is looking after other security and I am mighty glad of it.
W. Howe was with me this afternoon, to desire some things to be got ready for my Lord against his going down to his ship, which will be soon; for it seems the King and both the Queenes intend to visit him. The Lord knows how my Lord will get out of this charge; for Mr. Moore tells me to-day that he is 10,000l. in debt and this will, with many other things that daily will grow upon him (while he minds his pleasure as he do), set him further backward. But it was pretty this afternoon to hear W. Howe mince the matter, and say that he do believe that my Lord is in debt 2000l. or 3000l., and then corrected himself and said, No, not so, but I am afraid he is in debt 1000l.. I pray God gets me well rid of his Lordship as to his debt, and I care not.

the night bus took me with it
and I am glad to be going

I will grow fur and believe
in the god of debt


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 23 June 1664.

A loon on the lake: its call a shadow
that follows. And it’s rained again

—this time the light drizzle
reminds me of rice grains. Driving

through the city, delirious afternoons
at the very beginning of summer: see

islands floating above stones. Coming in
from the glare, sometimes I wish I could fold

myself into a square of cloth along with
a sprig of lavender, a leaf of mint.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Utopian.

Up and I found Mr. Creed below, who staid with me a while, and then I to business all the morning. At noon to the ‘Change and Coffee-house, where great talke of the Dutch preparing of sixty sayle of ships. The plague grows mightily among them, both at sea and land.
From the ‘Change to dinner to Trinity House with Sir W. Rider and Cutler, where a very good dinner. Here Sir G. Ascue dined also, who I perceive desires to make himself known among the seamen. Thence home, there coming to me my Lord Peterborough’s Sollicitor with a letter from him to desire present dispatch in his business of freight, and promises me 50l., which is good newes, and I hope to do his business readily for him. This much rejoiced me. All the afternoon at his business, and late at night comes the Sollicitor again, and I with him at 9 o’clock to Mr. Povy’s, and there acquainted him with the business. The money he won’t pay without warrant, but that will be got done in a few days. So home by coach and to bed.

where the plague grows
where desires make a rough freight
promise me night comes to pay
one day


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 22 June 1664.

All except three are brought in
on wheelchairs. Two have hands

that flutter like leashed doves:
trying to take off, but not

succeeding. One has a worry
doll of some sort on his lap.

Two slump slightly forward
and appear to fall asleep

for a few minutes at a time.
One asks where I am from

when I go to shake her hand
in greeting; then she tells me

I am from England— England.
One, when speaking, slurs

some of the ends of her lines.
A nurse or orderly sits discreetly

at the back of the room. All
are dressed comfortably,

as if they were about to go
play cards or sit in the garden

while having a cup of tea. I know
one of them, and that she at least

has family nearby; in her one-
bedroom flat, she is surrounded

by books and her favorite art.
Among them, on a Friday morning

in a room where a vase of white
flowers gleams on the grand piano

and leatherbound copies of National
Geographic line the shelves, I read

poems: on daughters, mothers, partners;
on phone calls from annoying insurance

agents; about the uncertain cargo
we push in front of us as we go,

telling ourselves there’s a bit of a ways
more, but how much more, we don’t know.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Old, blue.