~ After Louise Bourgeois (1999)

There is an outline in chalk on the pavement.

At the intersection, a car with its engine still running.

A pool of red matches the red of an overturned plastic chair.

There is a cardboard sign crudely lettered.

The hands of the freshly dead are silver with tape.

Two holes in the spine, two through the forehead, one through the heart.

Mangy dogs sniffing through mangled grass.

Nothing but the smell of darkness and dying.

Wakes held beneath the street lights’ yellow flares.

Sorrow and dread pick through a wreck of roadways.

Rain falling through a rusted basketball hoop.

The silence of thousands on thousands of graves.

And death not yet done riding through the countryside.

~ after Louise Bourgeois, “What is the shape of this problem” (1999)

Anything can be a thread: fossil

of a seahorse entombed in an earring
box, safety pin festooned
with four wrinkled cords.

A friend tells me
her daughter once confided:
I want a life
different from yours.

I’ve been there,
and also been that wish.

What could one do
with the moon’s floodlights
burning a hole in the sky?

I wanted to stand
in the aperture and be

and what I’ve wanted
may have come true
or not. I lay down
and let a body

press into mine, undo
the chaste buttons of red silk.
Afterwards, even the rain

could feel oracular. But what if
it’s part of our nature
to want to leave
more than a trace?

Even the moon doesn’t want to return
the comb stuck in its cheek.

The metal teeth bend
toward the river swells. Small
white wings paper the sides of a lamp—
Beautiful and unerring, whatever fate
singes with fire.

Out of the cold current I lift
and stack stones. I rub sticks together.
There are some things I can do.
There are some things I can’t take back.

Up and, it being rainy, in Sir W. Pen’s coach to St. James’s, and there did our usual business with the Duke, and more and more preparations every day appear against the Dutch, and (which I must confess do a little move my envy) Sir W. Pen do grow every day more and more regarded by the Duke, because of his service heretofore in the Dutch warr which I am confident is by some strong obligations he hath laid upon Mr. Coventry; for Mr. Coventry must needs know that he is a man of very mean parts, but only a bred seaman.
Going home in coach with Sir W. Batten he told me how Sir J. Minnes by the means of Sir R. Ford was the last night brought to his house and did discover the reason of his so long discontent with him, and now they are friends again, which I am sorry for, but he told it me so plainly that I see there is no thorough understanding between them, nor love, and so I hope there will be no great combination in any thing, nor do I see Sir J. Minnes very fond as he used to be. But: Sir W. Batten do raffle still against Mr. Turner and his wife, telling me he is a false fellow, and his wife a false woman, and has rotten teeth and false, set in with wire, and as I know they are so, so I am glad he finds it so.
To the Coffee-house, and thence to the ‘Change, and therewith Sir W. Warren to the Coffee-house behind the ‘Change, and sat alone with him till 4 o’clock talking of his businesses first and then of business in general, and discourse how I might get money and how to carry myself to advantage to contract no envy and yet make the world see my pains; which was with great content to me, and a good friend and helpe I am like to find him, for which God be thanked!
So home to dinner at 4 o’clock, and then to the office, and there late, and so home to supper and to bed, having sat up till past twelve at night to look over the account of the collections for the Fishery, and the loose and base manner that monies so collected are disposed of in, would make a man never part with a penny in that manner, and, above all, the inconvenience of having a great man, though never so seeming pious as my Lord Pembroke is. He is too great to be called to an account, and is abused by his servants, and yet obliged to defend them for his owne sake. This day, by the blessing of God, my wife and I have been married nine years: but my head being full of business, I did not think of it to keep it in any extraordinary manner. But bless God for our long lives and loves and health together, which the same God long continue, I wish, from my very heart!

rain to grow the sea
told me the reason for love

false teeth
are so alone in the world

I like to go at night
to count the fish

O the inconvenience
of a great blessing

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 10 October 1664.

(Lord’s day). Lay pretty long, but however up time enough with my wife to go to church. Then home to dinner, and Mr. Fuller, my Cambridge acquaintance, coming to me about what he was with me lately, to release a waterman, he told me he was to preach at Barking Church; and so I to heare him, and he preached well and neatly. Thence, it being time enough, to our owne church, and there staid wholly privately at the great doore to gaze upon a pretty lady, and from church dogged her home, whither she went to a house near Tower hill, and I think her to be one of the prettiest women I ever saw. So home, and at my office a while busy, then to my uncle Wight’s, whither it seems my wife went after sermon and there supped, but my aunt and uncle in a very ill humour one with another, but I made shift with much ado to keep them from scolding, and so after supper home and to bed without prayers, it being cold, and to-morrow washing day.

barking dog
one of the prettiest women
scolding it

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 9 October 1664.

Who brings you news of your father’s death?
I don’t know, but it’s the first time I see you
really crumple: your legs buckle, then splay
open. Then you bend from the waist
as if broken. I don’t understand where
the unearthly howl comes from— a grief
guttering through the body’s entire architecture,
then loosed through the open mouth. What syllable
is this, pure name burned by fire to one
dark smudge? And how will I know, when it is time,
what sound I will be expected to make?

All the morning at the office, and after dinner abroad, and among other things contracted with one Mr. Bridges, at the White Bear on Cornhill, for 100 pieces of Callico to make flaggs; and as I know I shall save the King money, so I hope to get a little for my pains and venture of my own money myself.
Late in the evening doing business, and then comes Captain Tayler, and he and I till 12 o’clock at night arguing about the freight of his ship Eagle, hired formerly by me to Tangier, and at last we made an end, and I hope to get a little money, some small matter by it.
So home to bed, being weary and cold, but contented that I have made an end of that business.

white bear
in the evening
we get small

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 8 October 1664.

Lay pretty while with some discontent abed, even to the having bad words with my wife, and blows too, about the ill-serving up of our victuals yesterday; but all ended in love, and so I rose and to my office busy all the morning. At noon dined at home, and then to my office again, and then abroad to look after callicos for flags, and hope to get a small matter by my pains therein and yet save the King a great deal of money, and so home to my office, and there came Mr. Cocker, and brought me a globe of glasse, and a frame of oyled paper, as I desired, to show me the manner of his gaining light to grave by, and to lessen the glaringnesse of it at pleasure by an oyled paper. This I bought of him, giving him a crowne for it; and so, well satisfied, he went away, and I to my business again, and so home to supper, prayers, and to bed.

words blow out and in
flags on a globe of glass

oiled light to lessen the glaringness
of oiled prayers

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 7 October 1664.

“The flower may die, but not the flowerness.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Midlife, says this article on menopause,
is when we need to take care of everyone else

while we are our most tired, to trust ourselves
when we’re most filled with doubt.
That must explain

the palpitations every time I hear the weatherman
on the late night news talk about new hurricane

warnings. And my own exhaustion: winded or weepy
before noon, then by 2 pm wanting to crawl into bed.

But I can’t because I still have a bajillion things
to do: pick up the kid from school, rush home to pull

something out of the freezer for dinner; then rush
back to campus to prep for my evening class.

Near midnight, I crave chocolate, or a thick slab
of buttered bread. Meanwhile, dustballs thicken

and rise like new islands under the beds, crisscrossed
with grids of hair. I suspect the Saint of Doing it All

has retired. Or has she moved in with my older daughter
who’s just had a baby? When she asks me Is it really

this hard all the time? I try not to say occupational hazard
too quickly. I try to remember what I was like when I was

her age: young mother myself, lost in the chaos of diapers, rash
cream, talcum powder, and debt; wondering on a quick conference

trip away if I was delusional or if, as I slipped into the rest
room to relieve the pressure from milk-turgid breasts, I heard

the motor of the portable breast pump wheeze metaphor,
metaphor, metaphor.
My doctor listens sympathetically

and writes a script for Wellbutrin. To take off a little
of the edge
, she says. And, Tell me how you feel in two weeks.

When I don’t forget, I try to remember if I still feel like I’m
sitting in the second to the last car before the whole train goes

over the cliff. I try that new yoga move we learned in class
called Mermaid— where you lie on your side with knees bent,

then trail one arm over in a half-circle across to the other side,
while touching the tips of outstretched fingers to the floor.


In response to Via Negativa: Bestselling poet.

Sure sign of the season departing: one last gift
of summer, lone fruit purpling, still clinging

to the tree. On the ground, leathered skins
of leaves that could not keep from shedding.

It’s hard enough to be a body among other
bodies, to walk the streets, descend

the stairs; to ride in trains, swaying, hanging on
to straps. The world accelerates past flickering

windows. Life is that indifferent engine humming,
hurrying us toward the next thing and the next.

I close my eyes and think— should the wheels
disengage from the tracks, being one among

so many other bodies, how would I manage
the certain panicked rush toward the exit

signs, a stairwell leading back to safety?
In the city, my body moving among other bodies

barely reflects the light that glints
like fire from rows of perforated windows.

How we must look from up high: dark, grainy
forms, indistinguishable to some cold eye.

Up and to the office, where busy all the morning, among other things about this of the flags and my bringing in of callicos to oppose Young and Whistler. At noon by promise Mr. Pierce and his wife and Madam Clerke and her niece came and dined with me to a rare chine of beefe and spent the afternoon very pleasantly all the afternoon, and then to my office in the evening, they being gone, and late at business, and then home to supper and to bed, my mind coming to itself in following of my business.

all out of promise
a rare bee spent
the afternoon being
my mind coming to itself

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 6 October 1664.