August 2017

Two days and nights, while rain fell and floods

broke over levees, the bakers sifted sugar and flour

for hundreds of loaves of bread. There is consequence

to this simple act and its defiance of logic—

that they chose to stay and feed their labor to the fire,

that they tore off knobs of their hearts to silence

their own sadness and fear. The yeast foamed and rose

as if to make way for a watery idol waking from sleep.

And when, from capsized houses, the newly untethered

waded into the night, the mattress merchant opened

his shops and children quickly climbed into armchairs

and beds preparing to be borne away, anyway,

by a cruel tide. One could call that bread sweet,

which fills the mouth and the belly with softness

and warmth. After a few days, if it hardens,

one could break off a piece to soften in a cup

of coffee the color of silt, the color of mud.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Corporeal.

Up betimes, intending to do business at my office, by 5 o’clock, but going out met at my door Mr. Hughes come to speak with me about office business, and told me that as he came this morning from Deptford he left the King’s yarde a-fire. So I presently took a boat and down, and there found, by God’s providence, the fire out; but if there had been any wind it must have burned all our stores, which is a most dreadfull consideration.
But leaving all things well I home, and out abroad doing many errands, Mr. Creed also out, and my wife to her mother’s, and Creed and I met at my Lady Sandwich’s and there dined; but my Lady is become as handsome, I think, as ever she was; and so good and discreet a woman I know not in the world.
After dinner I to Westminster to Jervas’s a while, and so doing many errands by the way, and necessary ones, I home, and thither came the woman with her mother which our Will recommends to my wife. I like her well, and I think will please us. My wife and they agreed, and she is to come the next week. At which I am very well contented, for then I hope we shall be settled, but I must remember that, never since I was housekeeper, I ever lived so quietly, without any noise or one angry word almost, as I have done since my present mayds Besse, Jane, and Susan came and were together. Now I have taken a boy and am taking a woman, I pray God we may not be worse, but I will observe it. After being at my office a while, home to supper and to bed.

speak fire to fire
it must have many hands

like a housekeeper
with one angry god


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 29 August 1664.

(Lord’s day). Up and with my boy alone to church, the first time I have had anybody to attend me to church a great while. Home to dinner, and there met Creed, who dined, and we merry together, as his learning is such and judgment that I cannot but be pleased with it. After dinner I took him to church, into our gallery, with me, but slept the best part of the sermon, which was a most silly one. So he and I to walk to the ‘Change a while, talking from one pleasant discourse to another, and so home, and thither came my uncle Wight and aunt, and supped with us mighty merry. And Creed lay with us all night, and so to bed, very merry to think how Mr. Holliard (who came in this evening to see me) makes nothing, but proving as a most clear thing that Rome is Antichrist.

O church I have
a body to attend to

who am I but
a thin Antichrist


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 28 August 1664.

Up and to the office, where all the morning. At noon to the ‘Change, and there almost made my bargain about a ship for Tangier, which will bring me in a little profit with Captain Taylor. Off the ‘Change with Mr. Cutler and Sir W. Rider to Cutler’s house, and there had a very good dinner, and two or three pretty young ladies of their relations there. Thence to my case-maker for my stone case, and had it to my mind, and cost me 24s., which is a great deale of money, but it is well done and pleases me. So doing some other small errands I home, and there find my boy, Tom Edwards, come, sent me by Captain Cooke, having been bred in the King’s Chappell these four years. I propose to make a clerke of him, and if he deserves well, to do well by him. Spent much of the afternoon to set his chamber in order, and then to the office leaving him at home, and late at night after all business was done I called Will and told him my reason of taking a boy, and that it is of necessity, not out of any unkindness to him, nor should be to his injury, and then talked about his landlord’s daughter to come to my wife, and I think it will be. So home and find my boy a very schoole boy, that talks innocently and impertinently, but at present it is a sport to us, and in a little time he will leave it. So sent him to bed, he saying that he used to go to bed at eight o’clock, and then all of us to bed, myself pretty well pleased with my choice of a boy. All the newes this day is, that the Dutch are, with twenty-two sayle of ships of warr, crewsing up and down about Ostend; at which we are alarmed. My Lord Sandwich is come back into the Downes with only eight sayle, which is or may be a prey to the Dutch, if they knew our weakness and inability to set out any more speedily.

my stone is well-bred
serves well in any
injury or sport
and will go to bed
pretty as all the news
of war and sand


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 27 August 1664.

We sat on the grass as the moon finished
its operatic passage across the sun.
We’d clapped our hands in delight;

then we went home, put away the dark
glasses, folded the cereal boxes
with pinholes into recycling bins.

The leaves of the willow finished
filtering hundreds of trembly, crescent-
shaped lights on the ground. That night,

did you wake as I did from dreams
of bridges falling into the sea, waves
building up, temples deliriously burning?

Did sweat pool in the small of your back?
I too have an old ache that doesn’t quite
go away. I stand at the kitchen window

looking up at the emptying branches. If I
could brighten whatever is tinted blue
with sadness in the world tonight,

I’d give up the cool side of my pillow.
I’d wade through streets filled with water
to bear away who I could in my arms.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Carnival.

Up by 5 o’clock, which I have not been many a day, and down by water to Deptford, and there took in Mr. Pumpfield the rope-maker, and down with him to Woolwich to view Clothier’s cordage, which I found bad and stopped the receipt of it. Thence to the ropeyard, and there among other things discoursed with Mrs. Falconer, who tells me that she has found the writing, and Sir W. Pen’s daughter is not put into the lease for her life as he expected, and I am glad of it. Thence to the Dockyarde, and there saw the new ship in very great forwardness, and so by water to Deptford a little, and so home and shifting myself, to the ‘Change, and there did business, and thence down by water to White Hall, by the way, at the Three Cranes, putting into an alehouse and eat a bit of bread and cheese. There I could not get into the Parke, and so was fain to stay in the gallery over the gate to look to the passage into the Parke, into which the King hath forbid of late anybody’s coming, to watch his coming that had appointed me to come, which he did by and by with his lady and went to Guardener’s Lane, and there instead of meeting with one that was handsome and could play well, as they told me, she is the ugliest beast and plays so basely as I never heard anybody, so that I should loathe her being in my house. However, she took us by and by and showed us indeed some pictures at one Hiseman’s, a picture drawer, a Dutchman, which is said to exceed Lilly, and indeed there is both of the Queenes and Mayds of Honour (particularly Mrs. Stewart’s in a buff doublet like a soldier) as good pictures, I think, as ever I saw. The Queene is drawn in one like a shepherdess, in the other like St. Katharin, most like and most admirably. I was mightily pleased with this sight indeed, and so back again to their lodgings, where I left them, but before I went this mare that carried me, whose name I know not but that they call him Sir John, a pitiful fellow, whose face I have long known but upon what score I know not, but he could have the confidence to ask me to lay down money for him to renew the lease of his house, which I did give eare to there because I was there receiving a civility from him, but shall not part with my money.
There I left them, and I by water home, where at my office busy late, then home to supper, and so to bed.
This day my wife tells me Mr. Pen, Sir William’s son, is come back from France, and come to visit her. A most modish person, grown, she says, a fine gentleman.

a field for cranes
instead of that ugliest beast
the soldier-like herd
whose face I have


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 26 August 1664.

A quick, silent videopoem made with text-on-screen from the latest erasure poem. I’m indebted to a friend, Rachel Shaw, for commenting on the footage I’ve used here — a shot of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, which I posted to Facebook last night — that it was “weirdly beautiful with the sound off. Like anemones and seaweeds waving in the current.”

This comment was much in my mind as I selected lines for the erasure poem, which lo and behold turned out to be just the right length for a half-minute video. Enjoy.

Up and to the office after I had spoke to my taylor, Langford (who came to me about some work), desiring to know whether he knew of any debts that my father did owe of his own in the City. He tells me, “No, not any.” I did on purpose try him because of what words he and his wife have said of him (as Herbert told me the other day), and further did desire him, that if he knew of any or could hear of any that he should bid them come to me, and I would pay them, for I would not that because he do not pay my brother’s debts that therefore he should be thought to deny the payment of his owne.
All the morning at the office busy. At noon to the ‘Change, among other things busy to get a little by the hire of a ship for Tangier. So home to dinner, and after dinner comes Mr. Cooke to see me; it is true he was kind to me at sea in carrying messages to and fro to my wife from sea, but I did do him kindnesses too, and therefore I matter not much to compliment or make any regard of his thinking me to slight him as I do for his folly about my brother Tom’s mistress.
After dinner and some talk with him, I to my office; there busy, till by and by Jacke Noble came to me to tell me that he had Cave in prison, and that he would give me and my father good security that neither we nor any of our family should be troubled with the child; for he could prove that he was fully satisfied for him; and that if the worst came to the worst, the parish must keep it; that Cave did bring the child to his house, but they got it carried back again, and that thereupon he put him in prison. When he saw that I would not pay him the money, nor made anything of being secured against the child, he then said that then he must go to law, not himself, but come in as a witness for Cave against us. I could have told him that he could bear witness that Cave is satisfied, or else there is no money due to himself; but I let alone any such discourse, only getting as much out of him as I could. I perceive he is a rogue, and hath inquired into everything and consulted with Dr. Pepys, and that he thinks as Dr. Pepys told him that my father if he could would not pay a farthing of the debts, and yet I made him confess that in all his lifetime he never knew my father to be asked for money twice, nay, not once, all the time he lived with him, and that for his own debts he believed he would do so still, but he meant only for those of Tom.
He said now that Randall and his wife and the midwife could prove from my brother’s own mouth that the child was his, and that Tom had told them the circumstances of time, upon November 5th at night, that he got it on her.
I offered him if he would secure my father against being forced to pay the money again I would pay him, which at first he would do, give his own security, and when I asked more than his own he told me yes he would, and those able men, subsidy men, but when we came by and by to discourse of it again he would not then do it, but said he would take his course, and joyne with Cave and release him, and so we parted.
However, this vexed me so as I could not be quiet, but took coach to go speak with Mr. Cole, but met him not within, so back, buying a table by the way, and at my office late, and then home to supper and to bed, my mind disordered about this roguish business — in every thing else, I thank God, well at ease.

if I could
I would pay the sea

carrying messages from
my other life

my other mouth told me
to take joy
and not be quiet


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 25 August 1664.

~ after Paula Rego’s painting with the same title (1987)

Stretched in the doorway half in and half out
of shadow, the cat knows something evil can take

the shapeshifting color of indigo, the color
of dusk falling on rusted metal roofs, glinting

on filthy streets now newly washed by rain.
The girl knows, too; though she keeps her eyes

lowered, as she concentrates on her task. By now
she has read in the papers about the 17 year old boy

dragged through the alley and past the basketball
court; of witnesses who heard him plead for his life,

heard the voices of policemen goading him to take one
of their guns, then run. One after the other, the shuttered

houses doused their lamps: this too, become modus operandi.
Then a sharp volley of shots from the vicinity of the bridge.

What do the red clay-like stains on her father’s boot
have to do with the color of these nights? If she looked

in the mirror as she worked, she might think a man
was struggling to climb, one leg at a time, out of a hole

where her shoulder socket should be. She takes a wet rag
and scrubs, observes how she can barely feel the circular

motions made by her hand. The taut, stretched skin
from some dead animal sheathes the arm that she puts

inside the shaft. This must almost be how it feels: to be
holstered, to be fixed, to be held, to be strapped.