No one promised there would be signposts.
So I found my way best, closing my eyes

and trying to recall what stood there
the last time— a pair of ancient magnolias

crowding the scrap of yard, machine shop
on the street corner. Rows of apartments

painted ghastly pink next to the yellow
shingled hotel. When I sat down to dinner

in the Japanese restaurant, before tea
was poured I recognized the paneling,

the wide fireplace studded with river stones;
stands of ancient bamboo on the periphery—

how did it come to pass that price lists
for hibachi and all-you-can-eat lunch

were pinned beside the stately double doors?
Someone, something else lived there before,

wanting a quieter life. In the taxi,
the radio was on: a voice speaking of how

fakery abounds— unless you have
an expert eye, it’s hard to tell

if a deep red carpet scrolled with vines
and curling branches was woven in Iran

or China. Bounty of fruit spread out
at every stall in the crowded streets—

muskmelons, sapodillas, masaflora;
and always, in the middle of them all,

one cheek cut open under a plastic film
as though to swear: surface matches surface.


In response to Via Negativa: Cezanne's Doubt.

Cézanne's painting Mont Sainte Victoire

He comes here daily,
endlessly repeats the same motif,
his whole existence focused
on the mountain, on the struggle
to relate the scene before him
to the one appearing on his canvas,
stays until the light fades,
packs his things and,
unappeased, tramps home,
begins again tomorrow.

Cézanne’s agony, the doubt
he feels about the value of his work,
stems just from this: he starts
not with a given image, ready-made,
but seeks instead to make anew
each time the sense we have
of looking at and living in the world –
and thus creating it.

After Gabriel Josipovici,
Whatever Happened to Modernism? Chapter 8: “A Universe for the First Time Bereft of All Signposts.”

Writer and book blogger Victoria Best recently conducted a long and wonderful interview with the novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici that makes you want to rush off and read/re-read his books – I did, and found the cadences of his critical writing so lovely they were almost a poem.

Dear shadow slipping its soft
hood over our shoulders at dusk,

the insects begin once again
to speak: is it wearying to hear

their same recitals, to finger
those sharp edges of cold

whose only purpose seems to be
our unbodying? Everything wants

to be accounted for, to be told
somehow it is remembered

if not loved— even the two
pieces of fruit that darken

in the bowl are only teetering
from one kind of sugar to another.


In response to Via Negativa: Owls and rabbits.

(Lord’s day). Up, and after the barber had done, and I had spoke with Mr. Smith (whom I sent for on purpose to speak of Field’s business, who stands upon 250l. before he will release us, which do trouble me highly), and also Major Allen of the Victualling Office about his ship to be hired for Tangier, I went to church, and thence home to dinner alone with my wife, very pleasant, and after dinner to church again, and heard a dull, drowsy sermon, and so home and to my office, perfecting my vows again for the next year, which I have now done, and sworn to in the presence of Almighty God to observe upon the respective penalties thereto annexed, and then to Sir W. Pen’s (though much against my will, for I cannot bear him, but only to keep him from complaint to others that I do not see him) to see how he do, and find him pretty well, and ready to go abroad again.

the peak stands
alone as a drowsy god

against my plain
and ready road

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 18 January 1662/63.

Waked early with my mind troubled about our law matters, but it came into my mind that ἐκ ἡμῖν καὶ οὐκ &c. of Epictetus, which did put me to a great deal of ease, it being a saying of great reason.
Up to the office, and there sat Mr. Coventry, Mr. Pett, new come to town, and I. I was sorry for signing a bill and guiding Mr. Coventry to sign a bill to Mr. Creed for his pay as Deputy Treasurer to this day, though the service ended 5 or 6 months ago, which he perceiving did blot out his name afterwards, but I will clear myself to him from design in it. Sat till two o’clock and then home to dinner, and Creed with me, and after dinner, to put off my mind’s trouble, I took Creed by coach and to the Duke’s playhouse, where we did see “The Five Hours” entertainment again, which indeed is a very fine play, though, through my being out of order, it did not seem so good as at first; but I could discern it was not any fault in the play. Thence with him to the China alehouse, and there drank a bottle or two, and so home, where I found my wife and her brother discoursing about Mr. Ashwell’s daughter, whom we are like to have for my wife’s woman, and I hope it may do very well, seeing there is a necessity of having one. So to the office to write letters, and then home to supper and to bed.

I came to town
to blot out the hours

though it did not seem so good
as at first

the bottle is a woman
I hope may let me be

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 17 January 1662/63.

Such a wet, grey day
in January, just a few weeks

before the year of the monkey.
So why not give in to the whim?

The monkey is spontaneous;
the monkey would understand

the notion of the swerve,
the vivid pull of bright

yellow. It’s only a basket
of primroses on the store shelf.

Kept at room temperatures,
yet they are short-lived.

At most, six months
indoors. The plants fade

with the last of the blossoms,
then shrivel back into the sod.

Yes? No? Yes? Sometimes
it comes down to how close

that spongy bed feels, how
moist or dry its gaping heart.


In response to Via Negativa: Miners.

Seething Lane

Though there’s a short street in London named after him, the actual spot where Samuel Pepys lived and worked on Seething Lane has been converted into a garden—or had been. It’s now part of a massive construction site. The above poster appears on the hoarding. (more…)

Lay long talking in bed with my wife. Up, and Mr. Battersby, the apothecary, coming to see me, I called for the cold chine of beef and made him eat, and drink wine, and talked, there being with us Captain Brewer, the paynter, who tells me how highly the Presbyters do talk in the coffeehouses still, which I wonder at. They being gone I walked two or three hours with my brother Tom, telling him my mind how it is troubled about my father’s concernments, and how things would be with them all if it should please God that I should die, and therefore desire him to be a good husband and follow his business, which I hope he do. At noon to dinner, and after dinner my wife began to talk of a woman again, which I have a mind to have, and would be glad Pall might please us, but she is quite against having her, nor have I any great mind to it, but only for her good and to save money flung away upon a stranger. So to my office till 9 o’clock about my navy manuscripts, and there troubled in my mind more and more about my uncle’s business from a letter come this day from my father that tells me that all his tenants are sued by my uncle, which will cost me some new trouble, I went home to supper and so to bed.

cold coffee
I wonder how things would be
if I should die

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 16 January 1662/63.

Up and to my office preparing things, by and by we met and sat Mr. Coventry and I till noon, and then I took him to dine with me, I having a wild goose roasted, and a cold chine of beef and a barrel of oysters. We dined alone in my chamber, and then he and I to fit ourselves for horseback, he having brought me a horse; and so to Deptford, the ways being very dirty. There we walked up and down the Yard and Wett Dock, and did our main business, which was to examine the proof of our new way of the call-books, which we think will be of great use. And so to horse again, and I home with his horse, leaving him to go over the fields to Lambeth, his boy at my house taking home his horse.
I vexed, having left my keys in my other pocket in my chamber, and my door is shut, so that I was forced to set my boy in at the window, which done I shifted myself, and so to my office till late, and then home to supper, my mind being troubled about Field’s business and my uncle’s, which the term coming on I must think to follow again. So to prayers and to bed, and much troubled in mind this night in my dreams about my uncle Thomas and his son going to law with us.

we fit ourselves to the dirt
walk down the mine

having left my keys to the field
in a dream

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 15 January 1662/63.