Sketch one line.
Then another.
Then a third.

Include a hinge somewhere
(it may appear
not just in the middle).

Stop, or go on.

Write a question.
Then write an answer.

Write another one,
and go on.

Write a memory,
then write a taste.

Write a dream,
then write the waking.

Write another one,
and go on.

Write an answer.
Then write what you don’t know.

Write another.
And go on.

On this holiday, the living
visit the cities of the dead…
Remembering the dead by Luisa A. Igloria

The dead do not want
your candles or your picnics,
all your attempts to stay connected.
The dead scoff
at your sugar skulls
and all the ways you try
to sweeten the truth.

You will join them soon
enough, so leave the dead
to their own devices. Conduct
your business in the land
of the living. Wear your baubles
because they are beautiful,
not because you hope
that they can protect
you from the malevolent spirits,
the ones your grandmother warned
you of, thousands of them,
keeping watch over every hour.

Lay long in bed, then up, called by Captain Cocke about business of a contract of his for some Tarre, and so to the office, and then to Sir W. Pen and there talked, and he being gone came Sir W. Warren and discoursed about our business with Field, and at noon by agreement to the Miter to dinner upon T. Trice’s 40s., to be spent upon our late agreement. Here was a very poor dinner and great company. All our lawyers on both sides, and several friends of his and some of mine brought by him, viz., Mr. Moore, uncle Wight, Dr. Williams, and my cozen Angier, that lives here in town, who after dinner carried me aside and showed me a letter from his poor brother at Cambridge to me of the same contents with that yesterday to me desiring help from me.
Here I was among a sorry company without any content or pleasure, and at the last the reckoning coming to above 40s. by 15s., he would have me pay the 10s. and he would pay the 5s., which was so poor that I was ashamed of it, and did it only to save contending with him. There, after agreeing a day for him and I to meet and seal our agreement, I parted and home, and at the office by agreement came Mr. Shales, and there he and I discourse till late the business of his helping me in the discovery of some arrears of provisions and stores due to the stores at Portsmouth, out of which I may chance to get some money, and save the King some too, and therefore I shall endeavour to do the fellow some right in other things here to his advantage between Mr. Gauden and him.
He gone my wife and I to her arithmetique, in which she pleases me well, and so to the office, there set down my Journall, and so home to supper and to bed. A little troubled to see how my family is out of order by Will’s being there, and also to hear that Jane do not please my wife as I expected and would have wished.

in the contract for a field
all that lives here is without any reckoning

poor as the shale
and the business of visions


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 5 November 1663.

Stepping out
into the hallway
at the end
of my class,
and a student
stops me to ask
could she have
a word, for next
week it is
registration
for spring;
and am I going
to be teaching other
classes in poetry—
And she is disappointed
when I tell her yes
but not at the under-
graduate level.
She was hoping
to take more poetry
having really
connected
this semester.
When I tell her
I am really glad,
she says she wants
to write her story,
then without
transition
or preamble
she is talking
about her only son
and how she
loves him very much,
and I know it must
be so because
her eyes light up
and her voice
changes; then,
okay, she
has to confess
she had him
when she was 12
and that’s why
she wants so much
to write this story
and all the amazing
things she has learned.
I don’t remember
much anymore what I
might have been
thinking about
or doing at that age
—probably picking
secretly at the scabs
on my legs from being
prone to every
imaginable food
allergy; or self-
conscious
about the way
I thought everyone
in my school must be
looking at me
in disgust; 12,
probably wishing
I had normal parents
who would let me bathe
or wash my hair
more than once
a week when I
had my period,
because they
were of a generation
that believed it
unhealthy for a girl
soiling the water
with her blood.
As if blood and water
couldn’t mix, or as if
hygiene was less
an issue than a taboo.
I wound up
marrying young, too;
though not as young
as 12. I blame this
in part on our lack
of communication
about anything
resembling
the intimate— how
instead of candid talk
about questions and
anxieties, I got a book
called On Becoming
a Woman
thrust
into my hands when I
was 10, the age when
I began menstruating.
It had a cover
depicting a smiling
bride dressed in white,
surrounded by a bevy
of bridesmaids,
in front of a cottage
and a garden with masses
of flowers; and any
mention of sex
and where babies come
from was written,
it seems, almost entirely
in euphemisms. Far cry
from something like
Our Bodies, Ourselves,
which my daughters
got to read in their
own time. I don’t
get a chance to say
any of this to my student,
who is rushing off to her
next class; and I
as well have to get
to a meeting. But I do
reiterate my encouragement
of her desire to do
something more
with her writing—
even manage to tell her
of a contest run by a journal
looking for narratives
of profound changes
in a woman’s life.
Then we are off,
and the week is soon
over. I say See you
in class next week
,
and Don’t forget
to vote.

Late afternoon in a forest in autumn. A boy is standing with his head thrown back, looking up into the trees. He spots a large leaf spiralling down and runs forward to catch it. He holds the leaf in both hands and gazes at it thoughtfully. The next scene shows him carrying the leaf to a child’s school desk in the middle of the forest. He sits down, sweeps a layer of fallen leaves off the desk with one arm and smoothes out the leaf he caught. He finds a felt-tipped pen in the desk and begins to write on the leaf:

Dear
ground,
thank you for
always being there
for us. In my dreams,
sometimes you aren’t and
I go on falling until I wake.
Thank you for letting us sleep.
Thank you for your enormous
reserves of darkness, which
we have been burning to
keep the darkness at
bay, ashes to ashes.
Thank you for
letting us
all fall
down.

The voiceover is in a child’s voice at first, but after the word “sleep” it switches to the voice of an adult, and the boy turns into a white-haired old man at a full-sized desk, still writing on the same leaf in the same forest. The man takes the letter, folds it carefully along the seam, then again cross-wise, and keeps folding until it is an inch wide. He places it in his mouth, chews and swallows. He stands up, walks to a spot between the trees, lies down in a fetal position and closes his eyes. A time-lapse sequence shows his body being buried first by fallen leaves and then by snow, till he is little more than a bump. Cut to the final scene, in which the boy has just caught the leaf and is still gazing down at it. There’s an adult voice off-screen calling his name and saying that the park is about to close. He squats down and slides the leaf carefully under some other leaves, gives it a couple of pats, then stands up and runs off-screen toward the voice. Fade out as leaves continue to fall.

Up and to my office, shewing myself to Sir W. Batten, and Sir J. Minnes, and no great matter made of my periwigg, as I was afeard there would be. Among other things there came to me Shales of Portsmouth, by my order, and I began to discourse with him about the arrears of stores belonging to the Victualling Office there, and by his discourse I am in some hopes that if I can get a grant from the King of such a part of all I discover I may chance to find a way to get something by the by, which do greatly please me the very thoughts of. Home to dinner, and very pleasant with my wife, who is this day also herself making of marmalett of quince, which she now do very well herself. I left her at it and by coach I to the New Exchange and several places to buy and bring home things, among others a case I bought of the trunk maker’s for my periwigg, and so home and to my office late, and among other things wrote a letter to Will’s uncle to hasten his removal from me, and so home to supper and to bed. This morning Captain Cocke did give me a good account of the Guinny trade. The Queene is in a great way to recovery. This noon came John Angier to me in a pickle, I was sad to see him, desiring my good word for him to go a trooper to Tangier, but I did schoole him and sent him away with good advice, but no present encouragement. Presently after I had a letter from his poor father at Cambridge, who is broke, it seems, and desires me to get him a protection, or a place of employment; but, poor man, I doubt I can helpe him, but will endeavour it.

a thin mouth is a part
of all I discover
who is making it

thin as the letter i
as the word poor
who desires it


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 4 November 1663.

“The present is a word for only those words which I am now saying.” ~ Srikanth Reddy

Of course no one
remembers except
on their own terms.

In childhood, sick, the present
was a cell in which I lay
on a bed piled high

with mattresses. Someone came
to change the sheets, pour water.
Hands washed my face and neck.

When the fevers rose and spiked,
crushed garlic cloves were smeared
behind my knees and in my underarms.

From inside the burning screens
of incoherent dreams, I watched
as women fed rice grains

into a water bowl and waited
to read what spirits wrote.
I did not know

what letters they left,
or what instructions.
In the morning, a dry

biscuit dipped in milk
was my reward for coming
back, for staying.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Chemistry.

One of my favorite poetry-film makers, Australian artist Marie Craven, just released this delightful video adaptation of one of my recent Pepys erasure poems. She says on Vimeo that the images are by Elisa Schorn circa 1900 (via Double-M at Flickr) and the music is by Adi Carter.

To my mind, this is one of the best things that can happen to a poet — way more fun than merely placing a poem in a magazine somewhere. It’s such an honor to have another artist incorporate one’s work into their own composition (and it’s why I license my poems under a permissive Creative Commons license, so they’ll feel encouraged to just go ahead and remix). Thanks, Marie!

Up and to the office, where busy all the morning, and at noon to the Coffee-house, and there heard a long and most passionate discourse between two doctors of physique, of which one was Dr. Allen, whom I knew at Cambridge, and a couple of apothecarys; these maintaining chymistry against them Galenicall physique; and the truth is, one of the apothecarys whom they charged most, did speak very prettily, that is, his language and sense good, though perhaps he might not be so knowing a physician as to offer to contest with them. At last they came to some cooler terms, and broke up. I home, and there Mr. Moore coming by my appointment dined with me, and after dinner came Mr. Goldsborough, and we discoursed about the business of his mother, but could come to no agreement in it but parted dissatisfied. By and by comes Chapman, the periwigg-maker, and upon my liking it, without more ado I went up, and there he cut off my haire, which went a little to my heart at present to part with it; but, it being over, and my periwigg on, I paid him 3l. for it; and away went he with my owne haire to make up another of, and I by and by, after I had caused all my mayds to look upon it; and they conclude it do become me; though Jane was mightily troubled for my parting of my own haire, and so was Besse, I went abroad to the Coffeehouse, and coming back went to Sir W. Pen and there sat with him and Captain Cocke till late at night, Cocke talking of some of the Roman history very well, he having a good memory. Sir W. Pen observed mightily, and discoursed much upon my cutting off my haire, as he do of every thing that concerns me, but it is over, and so I perceive after a day or two it will be no great matter.

between two apothecaries
the chemistry is charged

language might not be a physician
at some appointment

we come to no agreement on the heart
to part with it or not

I cut off my hair
as everything that is over


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 3 November 1663.

When I sit in the armchair
beneath the lamp’s small shade,
sometimes I feel how it might be

to almost float away— I listen
with half an ear to the talk
at the dining table,

the scrape of chairs in the TV
room above, the slam of a car door
in a neighboring driveway.

Outside, the night grows darker
and the moon prepares to rise.
What kind of sleep

does the body crave in winter?
We’ll all put on our heaviest
coats that fall

past our knees. We’ll wrap
our heads in scarves and cover
our ears. The banks

of the river are darker too
than plum, and all the boats
have come to rest at its hem.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Preparations.