When it’s time, that flotilla
of sound in the trees— a great

rushing echo at their hems. After long
silence, they emerge into their gold-

outlined awakening. Our ears fill
with the tumult of wings opening,

of being opened, singed, tiled:
desire’s radio signals pinging.

Once, a woman I barely knew
confided to me that after a long
illness, she almost died— except

the way she put it was I nearly
went to heaven.
I looked at her
and marveled at the guilelessness

of her confession, the implication
that she’d passed every test, never had
the slightest blemish on her driving

record— nor ever swore, sneaked a cig,
lied to parents, teachers, lovers, friends;
touched herself in the dark, felt

the hot and sour ping of envy
at the girls who were golden
no matter what— how they ate

whatever they liked, never seeming
to gain a pound; kissed whoever
they liked and never lost

their social standing; and also
at the ones who had no qualms
about mouthing off at anyone

who crossed them, whose very
shadow in the hallways cleared
a path through rows of dented

lockers. From childhood catechism,
I still remember the definitions of
the venial and the mortal, those two

varieties of sin and the difference
between what could deprive the soul
of divine grace. And though I have

sometimes been so angry or frustrated
that I’ve come close to thinking I might
like to strangle someone with my bare hands,

of course I’d never do such a thing. But even
for my innumerable small transgressions and selfish
appetites, no matter how generous I was toward myself,

when all things end I don’t think I could feel
so confident of winding up sandaled, clad in an airy
white tunic, in a green garden garlanded with fruit.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Microcosmic.

I lay in my drawers and stockings and wastecoate till five of the clock, and so up; and being well pleased with our frolique, walked to Knightsbridge, and there eat a messe of creame, and so to St. James’s, and there walked a little, and so I to White Hall, and took coach, and found my wife well got home last night, and now in bed. So I to the office, where all the morning, and at noon to the ‘Change, so home and to my office, where Mr. Ackworth came to me (though he knows himself and I know him to be a very knave), yet he came to me to discover the knavery of other people like the most honest man in the world. However, good use I shall make of his discourse, for in this he is much in the right. He being gone I to the ‘Change, Mr. Creed with me, after we had been by water to see a vessell we have hired to carry more soldiers to Tangier, and also visited a rope ground, wherein I learnt several useful things. The talk upon the ‘Change is, that De Ruyter is dead, with fifty men of his own ship, of the plague, at Cales: that the Holland Embassador here do endeavour to sweeten us with fair words; and things likely to be peaceable. Home after I had spoke with my cozen Richard Pepys upon the ‘Change, about supplying us with bewpers from Norwich, which I should be glad of, if cheap. So home to supper and bed.

my stockings
walk to white noon

cover the world
with a hired ground

useful things to air
like a cheap bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 16 June 1664.

The water singing to the bridge
is past all fear, as are the fruits

that even in their greenness weigh
the branch nearly to the sodden ground—

As for the source of such increase,
I try to make an effort to remember:

before the bankruptcy and the homes lost
to one calamity after another, before

the deaths of those I’ve loved and
missed; before the growing frequency

of bulletins from this aching, aging body.
I scan the skies and there they are again:

the bilious clouds poised to release
a new and generous cache of rain.

 

In response to Via Negativa: The long view.

Up and by appointment with Captain Witham (the Captain that brought the newes of the disaster at Tangier, where my Lord Tiviott was slain) and Mr. Tooker to Beares Quay, and there saw and more afterward at the several grannarys several parcels of oates, and strange it is to hear how it will heat itself if laid up green and not often turned. We came not to any agreement, but did cheapen several parcels, and thence away, promising to send again to them.
So to the Victualling office, and then home. And in our garden I got Captain Witham to tell me the whole story of my Lord Tiviott’s misfortune; for he was upon the guard with his horse neare the towne, when at a distance he saw the enemy appear upon a hill, a mile and a half off, and made up to them, and with much ado escaped himself; but what became of my Lord he neither knows nor thinks that any body but the enemy can tell. Our losse was about four hundred. But he tells me that the greater wonder is that my Lord Tiviott met no sooner with such a disaster; for every day he did commit himself to more probable danger than this, for now he had the assurance of all his scouts that there was no enemy thereabouts; whereas he used every day to go out with two or three with him, to make his discoveries, in greater danger, and yet the man that could not endure to have anybody else to go a step out of order to endanger himself. He concludes him to be the man of the hardest fate to lose so much honour at one blow that ever was. His relation being done he parted; and so I home to look after things for dinner. And anon at noon comes Mr. Creed by chance, and by and by the three young ladies: and very merry we were with our pasty, very well baked; and a good dish of roasted chickens; pease, lobsters, strawberries. And after dinner to cards: and about five o’clock, by water down to Greenwich; and up to the top of the hill, and there played upon the ground at cards. And so to the Cherry Garden, and then by water singing finely to the Bridge, and there landed; and so took boat again, and to Somersett House. And by this time, the tide being against us, it was past ten of the clock; and such a troublesome passage, in regard of my Lady Paulina’s fearfullness, that in all my life I never did see any poor wretch in that condition. Being come hither, there waited for them their coach; but it being so late, I doubted what to do how to get them home. After half an hour’s stay in the street, I sent my wife home by coach with Mr. Creed’s boy; and myself and Creed in the coach home with them. But, Lord! the fear that my Lady Paulina was in every step of the way; and indeed at this time of the night it was no safe thing to go that road; so that I was even afeard myself, though I appeared otherwise. — We came safe, however, to their house, where all were abed; we knocked them up, my Lady and all the family being in bed. So put them into doors; and leaving them with the mayds, bade them good night, and then into the towne, Creed and I, it being about twelve o’clock and past; and to several houses, inns, but could get no lodging, all being in bed. At the last house, at last, we found some people drinking and roaring; and there got in, and after drinking, got an ill bed, where…

when at a distance the enemy appear on a hill
it is no disaster for the hill

the water singing to the bridge
is past all fear

the night itself is safe
however we roar


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 15 June 1664.

the white flowers that open at the approach
of summer, their musky scent spilling,

finally, out of petals they cupped
so tightly to their hearts until

they could no longer; is magnolia and
gardenia, snowbell and japonica, the swill

of their breath nearly unbearable
in the rising heat, bringing you

to the point of nausea. And isn’t that
the way it is, when grief’s flask finally

unstoppers: how, before any cleansing flood
of tears, you reel toward the nearest bush

and open, you heave until you are dry, until
your insides are completely emptied. And then

it will not matter what the cause, nor what time
of day it is: high noon, dusk, or whatever season;

for what they’ve brought is the gift of a knowing
that will never leave you, now or at the end.

~ after Sean Thomas Dougherty

“[Dr. Edward] Wilson …didn’t make it back from the 1910-13 Terra Nova Expedition. …The curious 1899 date on the painting may indicate that Wilson painted it years before, when he was recovering from tuberculosis in Europe, although the mystery of why he brought it to the isolated hut remains.”

Hooked bill narrower than the nose
of a boat, stiffened claw held

as if over the keys of an invisible
piano— I can understand why

he might have taken such a thing
with him to that icy wilderness,

this likeness of a dun bird
that once crept to forage along

the bark of trees. What did he hear
when the wind lashed across the open

face of those desolate plains?
The bird, being dead, could grip

no more than air that rendered all
dust, all trace of feathers, to clear

fossil. The bird, being dead, could not
have modeled the spasm of surrender,

that moment of the soul’s passing from one
spiraling end of the helix to the last.

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and had great conflict about the flags again, and am vexed methought to see my Lord Berkely not satisfied with what I said, but however I stop the King’s being abused by the flag makers for the present. I do not know how it may end, but I will do my best to preserve it.
So home to dinner, and after dinner by coach to Kensington. In the way overtaking Mr. Laxton, the apothecary, with his wife and daughters, very fine young lasses, in a coach; and so both of us to my Lady Sandwich, who hath lain this fortnight here at Deane Hodges’s.
Much company came hither to-day, my Lady Carteret, &c., Sir William Wheeler and his lady, and, above all, Mr. Becke, of Chelsy, and wife and daughter, my Lord’s mistress, and one that hath not one good feature in her face, and yet is a fine lady, of a fine taille, and very well carriaged, and mighty discreet. I took all the occasion I could to discourse with the young ladies in her company to give occasion to her to talk, which now and then she did, and that mighty finely, and is, I perceive, a woman of such an ayre, as I wonder the less at my Lord’s favour to her, and I dare warrant him she hath brains enough to entangle him. Two or three houres we were in her company, going into Sir H. Finches garden, and seeing the fountayne, and singing there with the ladies, and a mighty fine cool place it is, with a great laver of water in the middle and the bravest place for musique I ever heard.
After much mirthe, discoursing to the ladies in defence of the city against the country or court, and giving them occasion to invite themselves to-morrow to me to dinner, to my venison pasty, I got their mother’s leave, and so good night, very well pleased with my day’s work, and, above all, that I have seen my Lord’s mistresse.
So home to supper, and a little at my office, and to bed.

overtaking you in a coach
the wheel of her face

you talk enough to entangle
two or three hours

finches singing
in the middle of the night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 14 June 1664.

So up at 5 o’clock, and with Captain Taylor on board her at Deptford, and found all out of order, only the soldiers civil, and Sir Arthur Bassett a civil person. I rated at Captain Taylor, whom, contrary to my expectation, I found a lying and a very stupid blundering fellow, good for nothing, and yet we talk of him in the Navy as if he had been an excellent officer, but I find him a lying knave, and of no judgment or dispatch at all.
After finding the condition of the ship, no master, not above four men, and many ship’s provisions, sayls, and other things wanting, I went back and called upon Fudge, whom I found like a lying rogue unready to go on board, but I did so jeer him that I made him get every thing ready, and left Taylor and H. Russell to quicken him, and so away and I by water on to White Hall, where I met his Royal Highnesse at a Tangier Committee about this very thing, and did there satisfy him how things are, at which all was pacified without any trouble, and I hope may end well, but I confess I am at a real trouble for fear the rogue should not do his work, and I come to shame and losse of the money I did hope justly to have got by it.
Thence walked with Mr. Coventry to St. James’s, and there spent by his desire the whole morning reading of some old Navy books given him of old Sir John Cooke’s by the Archbishop of Canterbury that now is; wherein the order that was observed in the Navy then, above what it is now, is very observable, and fine things we did observe in our reading. Anon to dinner, after dinner to discourse of the business of the Dutch warr, wherein he tells me the Dutch do in every particular, which are but few and small things that we can demand of them, whatever cry we unjustly make, do seem to offer at an accommodation, for they do owne that it is not for their profit to have warr with England. We did also talk of a History of the Navy of England, how fit it were to be writ; and he did say that it hath been in his mind to propose to me the writing of the History of the late Dutch warr, which I am glad to hear, it being a thing I much desire, and sorts mightily with my genius; and, if well done, may recommend me much. So he says he will get me an order for making of searches to all records, &c., in order thereto, and I shall take great delight in doing of it. Thence by water down to the Tower, and thither sent for Mr. Creed to my house, where he promised to be, and he and I down to the ship, and find all things in pretty good order, and I hope will end to my mind. Thence having a gally down to Greenwich, and there saw the King’s works, which are great, a-doing there, and so to the Cherry Garden, and so carried some cherries home, and after supper to bed, my wife lying with me, which from my not being thoroughly well, nor she, we have not done above once these two or three weeks.

visions like whole books
a history of land
a history of light

where all things end in a green garden
and some cherries
my wife lying with me


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 13 June 1664.

On the drive home, the road narrows
to a point that ends at the water. Mine
is the last turn before the shingled house,
the one whose blue never got completely

painted. At dusk: sometimes the twin
dark-circled eyes of raccoons, caught
in the headlights. The bellows of frogs
by the river, where students dangle

their feet from the rocks and pass
smokes, their tips glowing in the dark.
It is the summer of sad gardenias,
funereal intoxication of rosemary

grown in rows in place of a fence.
It is a summer barely begun,
yet already full of news: fire
and death, people leaping

from burning buildings, men
holding their slashed throats
on trains, still blubbering
love. At night the solar

lights come on, a blue
string of them that we wound
around and around slats of wood,
against whose backs we rest

on the deck. And here
is that kingdom of clover
and crabgrass, their endless
conjugations standing up

to the tyranny of the blade.
If only I knew their secret for increase,
if only I had their confidence for filling
every boundary with riot. What is wealth?

I call to the birds that come and drop
their surplus of wrong answers on the leaves’
broad ledgers. And still I am only one,
blessed and unblessed, quarried with ink.