At the park, they gather
on Sundays to be washed

in a river of sound: bevy
of tongues, unloosed after

fortnights of quiet bowing,
slippers only in the house,

saying only Yes or Okay Madam
or Here is the change. Every girl

has a story, words that branch
into new distances from the tree.

Fountains splash their chain
of quilted echoes.

Every unrimmed space unlocks
a few hours, every morsel

they exchange both vestige
and confiscated passport.

Called up to the office and much against my will I rose, my head aching mightily, and to the office, where I did argue to good purpose for the King, which I have been fitting myself for the last night against Mr. Wood about his masts, but brought it to no issue. Very full of business till noon, and then with Mr. Coventry to the African House, and there fell to my Lord Peterborough’s accounts, and by and by to dinner, where excellent discourse, Sir G. Carteret and others of the African Company with us, and then up to the accounts again, which were by and by done, and then I straight home, my head in great pain, and drowsy, so after doing a little business at the office I wrote to my father about sending him the mastiff was given me yesterday. I home and by daylight to bed about 6 o’clock and fell to sleep, wakened about 12 when my wife came to bed, and then to sleep again and so till morning, and then:

the night wood
is as full of business
as a clock when I am asleep


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 18 February 1663/64.

Up, and with my wife, setting her down by her father’s in Long Acre, in so ill looked a place, among all the whore houses, that I was troubled at it, to see her go thither. Thence I to White Hall and there walked up and down talking with Mr. Pierce, who tells me of the King’s giving of my Lord Fitz-Harding two leases which belong indeed to the Queene, worth 20,000l. to him; and how people do talk of it, and other things of that nature which I am sorry to hear. He and I walked round the Park with great pleasure, and back again, and finding no time to speak with my Lord of Albemarle, I walked to the ‘Change and there met my wife at our pretty Doll’s, and so took her home, and Creed also whom I met there, and sent her hose, while Creed and I staid on the ‘Change, and by and by home and dined, where I found an excellent mastiffe, his name Towser, sent me by a chyrurgeon. After dinner I took my wife again by coach (leaving Creed by the way going to Gresham College, of which he is now become one of the virtuosos) and to White Hall, where I delivered a paper about Tangier to my Lord Duke of Albemarle in the council chamber, and so to Mrs. Hunt’s to call my wife, and so by coach straight home, and at my office till 3 o’clock in the morning, having spent much time this evening in discourse with Mr. Cutler, who tells me how the Dutch deal with us abroad and do not value us any where, and how he and Sir W. Rider have found reason to lay aside Captain Cocke in their company, he having played some indiscreet and unfair tricks with them, and has lost himself every where by his imposing upon all the world with the conceit he has of his own wit, and so has, he tells me, Sir R. Ford also, both of whom are very witty men.
He being gone Sir W. Rider came and staid with me till about 12 at night, having found ourselves work till that time, about understanding the measuring of Mr. Wood’s masts, which though I did so well before as to be thought to deal very hardly against Wood, yet I am ashamed I understand it no better, and do hope yet, whatever be thought of me, to save the King some more money, and out of an impatience to breake up with my head full of confused confounded notions, but nothing brought to a clear comprehension, I was resolved to sit up and did till now it is ready to strike 4 o’clock, all alone, cold, and my candle not enough left to light me to my owne house, and so, with my business however brought to some good understanding, and set it down pretty clear, I went home to bed with my mind at good quiet, and the girl sitting up for me (the rest all a-bed). I eat and drank a little, and to bed, weary, sleepy, cold, and my head akeing.

my own acre
among the whorehouses of the Lord

I walk ’round it
finding no time to speak

walk my mastiff on by the virtuosos
with their discreet tricks

who are witty till 12 at night
and I am ashamed to sit alone

my candle not enough to light
my own ache


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 17 February 1663/64.

Once she asked her father (born
in 1913) what he remembered

about that place before the Americans came,
before the streets changed from names

of creeks, mountain gorges, and orange groves
to names of dead presidents or men in uniform.

He told her soldiers came with threats to shoot
their animals if people refused to move

their homes farther away from what would be
the center of town: no warm entrails

festooned on the trees, no bones
bleaching on the hedges. Blueprint for

lawn-mowering the grass in that
wilderness of hills. From that time,

there’s a photograph of the Governor
General, all 360 lbs. of him: dark suit,

straw hat, carrying a riding crop; sweaty
in the tropics, astride the broad plank

of a water buffalo. Not a beast
for riding, but someone took

care to fit it out with blanket, stirrups,
bit. Taft cabled back to D.C. that he’d

enjoyed a horse ride, prompting
the Secretary of War to inquire:

“How’s the horse?” In the canopy, chatter
of the indescribable; birds of unidentifiable

color. She and her kind, among the new
taxonomies of empire: little and brown.

Note: “Little Brown Brother” was a term used by Americans to refer to Filipinos. The term was coined by William Howard Taft, the first American Governor-General of the Philippines (1901-1904) and later the 27th President of the United States.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Grave goods.

Up and to the office, where very busy all the morning, and most with Mr. Wood, I vexing him about his masts. At noon to the ‘Change a little and thence brought Mr. Barrow to dinner with me, where I had a haunch of venison roasted, given me yesterday, and so had a pretty dinner, full of discourse of his business, wherein the poor man is mightily troubled, and I pity him in it, but hope to get him some ease. He being gone I to the office, where very busy till night, that my uncle Wight and Mr. Maes came to me, and after discourse about Maes’ business to supper very merry, but my mind upon my business, and so they being gone I to my Vyall a little, which I have not done some months, I think, before, and then a little to my office, at 11 at night, and so home and to bed.

a mast to hang venison
as mightily bled
as the night in a viol


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 16 February 1663/64.

every bird on a wire is a message,
every rusted stain bleeding through
porous wallpaper a letter from
the dead, who can’t believe

the life he’s exchanged for this:
every tree watching over the junkyard,
every coil sprung loose from each busted
vinyl seat therefore a summons from

the netherworld. So he keeps his eyes
cast down as he passes, turns his face
to the shadows. Better that they don’t
see the doubts that flicker there,

the twitch at any thin stroke of scent
wisping over a wall: sea foam, gardenia,
smoke; some gauzy longing he must
refute, tamp down— lest it flare into
an aura visible from miles away.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Dream journal: the vulture.

Up, and carrying my wife to my Lord’s lodgings left her, and I to White Hall, to the Duke; where he first put on a periwigg to-day; but methought his hair cut short in order thereto did look very prettily of itself, before he put on his periwigg. Thence to his closet and there did our business, and thence Mr. Coventry and I down to his chamber and spent a little time, and so parted, and I took my wife homeward, I stopping at the Coffee-house, and thence a while to the ‘Change, where great newes of the arrivall of two rich ships, the Greyhound and another, which they were mightily afeard of, and great insurance given, and so home to dinner, and after an houre with my wife at her globes, I to the office, where very busy till 11 at night, and so home to supper and to bed.
This afternoon Sir Thomas Chamberlin came to the office to me, and showed me several letters from the East Indys, showing the height that the Dutch are come to there, showing scorn to all the English, even in our only Factory there of Surat, beating several men, and hanging the English Standard St. George under the Dutch flagg in scorn; saying, that whatever their masters do or say at home, they will do what they list, and will be masters of all the world there; and have so proclaimed themselves Soveraigne of all the South Seas; which certainly our King cannot endure, if the Parliament will give him money. But I doubt and yet do hope they will not yet, till we are more ready for it.

my hair cut short
I am a globe where night
cannot endure


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 15 February 1663/64.

in her mind the words for custom
and care. She needs to tell the surly

landlord about the ill-fitting windows
that let in too much winter air, the hook
and eye fasteners that are loose, her fear

that roof rats have made their way
into the dark back hallway. It is
her custom to choose words with care,

but now she must find her way
more slowly. There are words in this
new tongue that continue to surprise her

as she walks to the train station
and back, that catch like little banners
on the wind, or sharper— before flying

away from what mouthed them. Some
are translucent as milk she pours
into the cracked blue ceramic dish

of the soft gray cat belonging to
the wheelchair-bound woman she
works for. Some are dark and reek

of blood or sour piss and peppers,
which her employer confirms are the same
peppers which go into pepper spray,

a small canister of which she presses
into her hand one afternoon saying You aim
this nozzle right in the face of anyone

who ever bothers you in the street. You run
like crazy, you shout Help and Fire but you
also make sure that there are witnesses.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Slight difference.

I’m carrying a sick vulture in a box. It weighs almost nothing. I’m worried it might vomit — what unspeakable things might come up? — but I tell myself that vomiting is something turkey vultures only do when they’re well, to cool down their legs in the summer. I stroke its black feathers, tell it everything’s all right, even though we both know that isn’t true.

I carry it into a natural history museum and it comes alive, half-opening its wings and trying to climb out of the box at the sight of so many dead stuffed animals. But the PA system comes on to announce they’re closing soon and I push the vulture back down, folding its wings like an origami crane.

Outside, we run into a two-headed mob shouting at itself. The only thing they all seem to agree on is that Trump is due to make an appearance at any moment. But he doesn’t. I sit down on the steps, unable to join the protestors in their hey-hoing at the supporters because of the vulture, who looks bored at this demonstration of health and vitality in the body politic. We hunker down.

Hours pass, and the crowd’s chanting comes and goes like surf. The vulture closes its eyes in two stages: first the nictitating membranes like fogged-up windows, then the eyelids proper like shutters. I try not to think of the lice that co-evolved with its species, its body their whole planet. Parasites! The only creatures more ignoble than eaters of carrion. If only we hadn’t evolved as scavengers ourselves. If only we could have a true predator’s implacable heart.

(Lord’s day). Up and to church alone, where a lazy sermon of Mr. Mills, upon a text to introduce catechizing in his parish, which I perceive he intends to begin. So home and very pleasant with my wife at dinner. All the afternoon at my office alone doing business, and then in the evening after a walk with my wife in the garden, she and I to my uncle Wight’s to supper, where Mr. Norbury, but my uncle out of tune, and after supper he seemed displeased mightily at my aunt’s desiring [to] put off a copper kettle, which it seems with great study he had provided to boil meat in, and now she is put in the head that it is not wholesome, which vexed him, but we were very merry about it, and by and by home, and after prayers to bed.

on ice one evening
after a walk in the garden

bury my out-of-tune kettle
with me in the hole


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 14 February 1663/64.