February 2017

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.

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon to the ‘Change with Mr. Coventry and thence home to dinner, after dinner by a gaily down to Woolwich, where with Mr. Falconer, and then at the other yard doing some business to my content, and so walked to Greenwich, it being a very fine evening and brought right home with me by water, and so to my office, where late doing business, and then home to supper and to bed.

morning and noon
change into green evening
I water my bed


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 20 February 1663/64.

Up in good order in my head again and shaved myself, and then to the office, whither Mr. Cutler came, and walked and talked with me a great while; and then to the ‘Change together; and it being early, did tell me several excellent examples of men raised upon the ‘Change by their great diligence and saving; as also his owne fortune, and how credit grew upon him; that when he was not really worth 1100l., he had credit for 100,000l. of Sir W. Rider how he rose; and others. By and by joyned with us Sir John Bankes; who told us several passages of the East India Company; and how in his very case, when there was due to him and Alderman Mico 64,000l. from the Dutch for injury done to them in the East Indys, Oliver presently after the peace, they delaying to pay them the money, sent them word, that if they did not pay them by such a day, he would grant letters of mark to those merchants against them; by which they were so fearful of him, they did presently pay the money every farthing.
By and by, the ‘Change filling, I did many businesses, and about 2 o’clock went off with my uncle Wight to his house, thence by appointment we took our wives (they by coach with Mr. Mawes) and we on foot to Mr. Jaggard, a salter, in Thames Street, for whom I did a courtesy among the poor victuallers, his wife, whom long ago I had seen, being daughter to old Day, my uncle Wight’s master, is a very plain woman, but pretty children they have. They live methought at first in but a plain way, but afterward I saw their dinner, all fish, brought in very neatly, but the company being but bad I had no great pleasure in it. After dinner I to the office, where we should have met upon business extraordinary, but business not coming we broke up, and I thither again and took my wife; and taking a coach, went to visit my Ladys Jemimah and Paulina Montagu, and Mrs. Elizabeth Pickering, whom we find at their father’s new house in Lincolne’s Inn Fields; but the house all in dirt. They received us well enough; but I did not endeavour to carry myself over familiarly with them; and so after a little stay, there coming in presently after us my Lady Aberguenny and other ladies, we back again by coach, and visited, my wife did, my she cozen Scott, who is very ill still, and thence to Jaggard’s again, where a very good supper and great store of plate; and above all after supper Mrs. Jaggard did at my entreaty play on the Vyall, but so well as I did not think any woman in England could and but few Maisters, I must confess it did mightily surprise me, though I knew heretofore that she could play, but little thought so well. After her I set Maes to singing, but he did it so like a coxcomb that I was sick of him.
About 11 at night I carried my aunt home by coach, and then home myself, having set my wife down at home by the way. My aunt tells me they are counted very rich people, worth at least 10 or 12,000l., and their country house all the yeare long and all things liveable, which mightily surprises me to think for how poore a man I took him when I did him the courtesy at our office.
So after prayers to bed, pleased at nothing all the day but Mrs. Jaggard playing on the Vyall, and that was enough to make me bear with all the rest that did not content me.

to raise a rose
is to grant salt to a fish
I had no great pleasure in it

but I find the fields
all in dirt
like livable prayers


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 19 February 1663/64.

Some Friday evenings after work, father had a staff
member help him carry it home from the City Hall,
from the fourth branch of the City Court where he

presided— we lived but a ten minute walk from there,
and a cab while helpful would be extravagant. I was
a high school junior and had just finished a course

in typing and stenography, and was to help him
whenever he worked on court decisions. We started
after supper, the typewriter in its blue-gray metal

case sitting heavy like some relic from the last
World War at one end of the table. He composed
on lined yellow legal pad, scrupulous about

the format I was to transfer, stroke by stroke,
to paper. The hammers of the keys I pressed
cut through carbon paper layers to spell out

headings, case or docket numbers, dispositions,
summaries, before coming to the all-important
opinion— the part where he was to craft a ruling

based on analysis of the law as applied to the facts.
As fill-in clerk with no legal training or experience,
I could not discuss the intricacies of these undertakings.

But as I watched and read and copied, the import was not lost
on me: before the machine, there is the fact of language.
And before that, the processes of well-considered thought.