Time, I do not understand
these forms you’ve recently chosen—

a white van swerving into crowds
on the promenade, the sounds of gunfire

some mistook for Bastille Day
fireworks. I used to know the aftermath

of your ordinary passing: dark shadows of wings
dragging across the fields, then the brief

struggle of a vole torn away from its burrow.
Or the signature you’d leave on crops— one

half of the fruit unblemished, the other
pulped to a bloody ruin. You slink

through airports and train stations,
a black dog indifferent to turnstiles.

No almanac or guidebook in the corner
newsstands can predict the tremors

of your next ambition. Afterwards,
always, the rain falls and falls.

Or the sun beats down without mercy
as we walk, counting the rows of the dead.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Black Dog.

So, it being high day, I put in to shore and to bed for two hours just, and so up again, and with the Storekeeper and Clerk of the Rope-yard up and down the Dock and Rope-house, and by and by mustered the Yard, and instructed the Clerks of the Cheque in my new way of Callbook, and that and other things done, to the Hill-house, and there we eat something, and so by barge to Rochester, and there took coach hired for our passage to London, and Mrs. Allen, the clerk of the Rope-yard’s wife with us, desiring her passage, and it being a most pleasant and warm day, we got by four o’clock home. In our way she telling us in what condition Becky Allen is married against all expectation a fellow that proves to be a coxcomb and worth little if any thing at all, and yet are entered into a way of living above their condition that will ruin them presently, for which, for the lady’s sake, I am much troubled.
Home I found all well there, and after dressing myself, I walked to the Temple; and there, from my cozen Roger, hear that the judges have this day brought in their answer to the Lords, That the articles against my Lord Chancellor are not Treason; and to-morrow they are to bring in their arguments to the House for the same.
This day also the King did send by my Lord Chamberlain to the Lords, to tell them from him, that the most of the articles against my Lord Chancellor he himself knows to be false. Thence by water to Whitehall, and so walked to St. James’s, but missed Mr. Coventry.
I met the Queen-Mother walking in the Pell Mell, led by my Lord St. Alban’s. And finding many coaches at the Gate, I found upon enquiry that the Duchess is brought to bed of a boy.
And hearing that the King and Queen are rode abroad with the Ladies of Honour to the Park, and seeing a great crowd of gallants staying here to see their return, I also staid walking up and down, and among others spying a man like Mr. Pembleton (though I have little reason to think it should be he, speaking and discoursing long with my Lord D’Aubigne), yet how my blood did rise in my face, and I fell into a sweat from my old jealousy and hate, which I pray God remove from me.
By and by the King and Queen, who looked in this dress (a white laced waistcoat and a crimson short pettycoat, and her hair dressed ci la negligence) mighty pretty; and the King rode hand in hand with her. Here was also my Lady Castlemaine rode among the rest of the ladies; but the King took, methought, no notice of her; nor when they ‘light did any body press (as she seemed to expect, and staid for it) to take her down, but was taken down by her own gentleman. She looked mighty out of humour, and had a yellow plume in her hat (which all took notice of), and yet is very handsome, but very melancholy: nor did any body speak to her, or she so much as smile or speak to any body. I followed them up into White Hall, and into the Queen’s presence, where all the ladies walked, talking and fiddling with their hats and feathers, and changing and trying one another’s by one another’s heads, and laughing. But it was the finest sight to me, considering their great beautys and dress, that ever I did see in all my life. But, above all, Mrs. Stewart in this dress, with her hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille, is now the greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life; and, if ever woman can, do exceed my Lady Castlemaine, at least in this dress nor do I wonder if the King changes, which I verily believe is the reason of his coldness to my Lady Castlemaine.
Here late, with much ado I left to look upon them, and went away, and by water, in a boat with other strange company, there being no other to be had, and out of him into a sculler half to the bridge, and so home and to Sir W. Batten, where I staid telling him and Sir J. Minnes and Mrs. Turner, with great mirth, my being frighted at Chatham by young Edgeborough, and so home to supper and to bed, before I sleep fancying myself to sport with Mrs. Stewart with great pleasure.

a pleasant day is worth little
to the lords of chance

that great crowd
like lousy hair dressed in feathers

hanging one another’s heads
and laughing to see a wart a red eye

no beauty left to look upon
and no other mirth


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 13 July 1663.

(Lord’s day). Up, and meeting Tom Willson he asked my pardon again, which I easily did give him, telling him only that it was well I was not a woman with child, for it might have made me miscarry.
With Sir J. Minnes to church, where an indifferent good sermon. Here I saw Mrs. Becky Allen, who hath been married, and is this day churched, after her bearing a child. She is grown tall, but looks very white and thin, and I can find no occasion while I am here to come to have her company, which I desire and expected in my coming, but only coming out of the church I kissed her and her sister and mother-in-law.
So to dinner, Sir J. Minnes, Commissioner Pett, and I, &c., and after dinner walked in the garden, it being a very fine day, the best we have had this great while, if not this whole summer.
To church again, and after that walked through the Rope-ground to the Dock, and there over and over the Dock and grounds about it, and storehouses, &c., with the officers of the Yard, and then to Commissioner Pett’s and had a good sullybub and other good things, and merry. Commissioner Pett showed me alone his bodys as a secrett, which I found afterwards by discourse with Sir J. Minnes that he had shown them him, wherein he seems to suppose great mystery in the nature of Lynes to be hid, but I do not understand it at all.
Thence walked to the Hill-house, being myself much dissatisfied, and more than I thought I should have been with Commissioner Pett, being, by what I saw since I came hither, convinced that he is not able to exercise the command in the Yard over the officers that he ought to do, or somebody else, if ever the service be well looked after there.
Sat up and with Sir J. Minnes talking, and he speaking his mind in slighting of the Commissioner, for which I wish there was not so much reason. For I do see he is but a man of words, though indeed he is the ablest man that we have to do service if he would or durst. Sir J. Minnes being gone to bed, I took Mr. Whitfield, one of the clerks, and walked to the Dock about eleven at night, and there got a boat and a crew, and rowed down to the guard-ships, it being a most pleasant moonshine evening that ever I saw almost. The guard-ships were very ready to hail us, being no doubt commanded thereto by their Captain, who remembers how I surprised them the last time I was here. However, I found him ashore, but the ship in pretty good order, and the arms well fixed, charged, and primed. Thence to the Soveraign, where I found no officers aboard, no arms fixed, nor any powder to prime their few guns, which were charged, without bullet though.
So to the London, where neither officers nor any body awake; I boarded her, and might have done what I would, and at last could find but three little boys.
And so spent the whole night in visiting all the ships, in which I found, for the most part, neither an officer aboard, nor any men so much as awake, which I was grieved to find, specially so soon after a great Larum, as Commissioner Pett brought us word that he [had] provided against, and put all in a posture of defence but a week ago, all which I am resolved to represent to the Duke.

we might have grown
white and thin as rope

over and over the ground
and had other bodies

a secret to be hid
but not under the house

not in the light of
a would-be moon

ships of ice
guns without bullet to grieve


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 12 July 1663.

I am troubled by news
especially if I’ve not heard.
So what if returning travelers say

the food is even better, the toilets
now have running water? Every picture
I’ve seen is posed against a restaurant

or beach setting. But what does the Plaza
look like near midnight? Does the woman
with flowers wound through her matted hair

still thrust her purple-streaked face at shop
windows? How many pigeons converge on the square?
I’m troubled no one seems to know the answers.

And yet, every time a new body is fished out
of a ditch, the newspapers are so certain.
Druggie or drug dealer. Prostitute or pimp.

The hand that carved the polished handle,
or the hand that severed the lungs from the throat?

Up early and to the Dock, and with the Storekeeper and other officers all the morning from one office to another. At noon to the Hill-house in Commissioner Pett’s coach, and after seeing the guard-ships, to dinner, and after dining done to the Dock by coach, it raining hard, to see “The Prince” launched, which hath lain in the Dock in repairing these three years. I went into her and was launched in her. Thence by boat ashore, it raining, and I went to Mr. Barrow’s, where Sir J. Minnes and Commissioner Pett; we staid long eating sweetmeats and drinking, and looking over some antiquities of Mr. Barrow’s, among others an old manuscript Almanac, that I believe was made for some monastery, in parchment, which I could spend much time upon to understand. Here was a pretty young lady, a niece of Barrow’s, which I took much pleasure to look on.
Thence by barge to St. Mary Creek; where Commissioner Pett (doubtful of the growing greatness of Portsmouth by the finding of those creeks there), do design a wett dock at no great charge, and yet no little one; he thinks towards 10,000l. And the place, indeed, is likely to be a very fit place, when the King hath money to do it with.
Thence, it raining as hard as it could pour down, home to the Hillhouse, and anon to supper, and after supper, Sir J. Minnes and I had great discourse with Captain Cox and Mr. Hempson about business of the yard, and particularly of pursers’ accounts with Hempson, who is a cunning knave in that point.
So late to bed and, Mr. Wayth being gone, I lay above in the Treasurer’s bed and slept well.
About one or two in the morning the curtains of my bed being drawn waked me, and I saw a man stand there by the inside of my bed calling me French dogg 20 times, one after another, and I starting, as if I would get out of the bed, he fell a-laughing as hard as he could drive, still calling me French dogg, and laid his hand on my shoulder. At last, whether I said anything or no I cannot tell, but I perceived the man, after he had looked wistly upon me, and found that I did not answer him to the names that he called me by, which was Salmon, Sir Carteret’s clerk, and Robt. Maddox, another of the clerks, he put off his hat on a suddaine, and forebore laughing, and asked who I was, saying, “Are you Mr. Pepys?” I told him yes, and now being come a little better to myself, I found him to be Tom Willson, Sir W. Batten’s clerk, and fearing he might be in some melancholy fit, I was at a loss what to do or say. At last I asked him what he meant. He desired my pardon for that he was mistaken, for he thought verily, not knowing of my coming to lie there, that it had been Salmon, the Frenchman, with whom he intended to have made some sport. So I made nothing of it, but bade him good night, and I, after a little pause, to sleep again, being well pleased that it ended no worse, and being a little the better pleased with it, because it was the Surveyor’s clerk, which will make sport when I come to tell Sir W. Batten of it, it being a report that old Edgeborough, the former Surveyor, who died here, do now and then walk.

rain on the almanac
which I understand as a doubtful sign

wet ink
like a rain-drawn dog

a dog that did not answer
to the name melancholy


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 11 July 1663.

In Europe that summer, tourist
shops awash with midriff-baring
Britney Spears tops, painted

scandal matryoshkas of Bill
and Monica, Paula and Gennifer
and Hillary, ending with a cigar.

But at the grocery store,
no one made eye contact or bagged
my few purchases: three bananas,

two cups of yogurt, a small carton
of juice. Later, someone explained:
They must have thought you

were Chechnyan. It hadn’t
occurred to me. I mused on this
passing through streets lettered

in Cyrillic, emerging from the shadow
of a cathedral. Even the grandmothers
shuffling along, clutching their string

bags with arthritic fingers— they
didn’t see me. How could they not
know about my kind of dark?

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

certain tasks get done
only with constant

repetition: the same
movement spread out

or applied over
different parts.

the tedium produced
is not convenient

to anything except
perhaps some kinds

of thinking. as the arm
swings back and forth

plying the long handle
of a roller brush, the mind

detaches from its usual
counters. all the little

birds that used to flit
distractedly from limb

to limb in the tree have become
one bronze timbre, somewhere

in the background: here and
everywhere at the same time.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Convenience.

Up late and by water to Westminster Hall, where I met Pierce the chirurgeon, who tells me that for certain the King is grown colder to my Lady Castlemaine than ordinary, and that he believes he begins to love the Queen, and do make much of her, more than he used to do. Up to the Lobby, and there sent out for Mr. Coventry and Sir W. Batten, and told them if they thought convenient I would go to Chatham today, Sir John Minnes being already there at a Pay, and I would do such and such business there, which they thought well of, and so I went home and prepared myself to go after, dinner with Sir W. Batten.
Sir W. Batten and Mr. Coventry tell me that my Lord Bristoll hath this day impeached my Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords of High Treason. The chief of the articles are these:
1. That he should be the occasion of the peace made with Holland lately upon such disadvantageous terms, and that he was bribed to it.
2. That Dunkirke was also sold by his advice chiefly, so much to the damage of England.
3. That he had 6000l. given him for the drawing-up or promoting of the Irish declaration lately, concerning the division of the lands there.
4. He did carry on the design of the Portugall match, so much to the prejudice of the Crown of England, notwithstanding that he knew the Queen is not capable of bearing children.
5. That the Duke’s marrying of his daughter was a practice of his, thereby to raise his family; and that it was done by indirect courses.
6. That the breaking-off of the match with Parma, in which he was employed at the very time when the match with Portugall was made up here, which he took as a great slur to him, and so it was; and that, indeed, is the chief occasion of all this fewde.
7. That he hath endeavoured to bring in Popery, and wrote to the Pope for a cap for a subject of the King of England’s (my Lord Aubigny ); and some say that he lays it to the Chancellor, that a good Protestant Secretary (Sir Edward Nicholas) was laid aside, and a Papist, Sir H. Bennet, put in his room: which is very strange, when the last of these two is his own creature, and such an enemy accounted to the Chancellor, that they never did nor do agree; and all the world did judge the Chancellor to be falling from the time that Sir H. Bennet was brought in. Besides my Lord Bristoll being a Catholique himself, all this is very strange.
These are the main of the Articles. Upon which my Lord Chancellor desired that the noble Lord that brought in these Articles, would sign to them with his hand; which my Lord Bristoll did presently. Then the House did order that the judges should, against Monday next, bring in their opinion, Whether these articles are treason, or no? and next, they would know, Whether they were brought in regularly or no, without leave of the Lords’ House?
After dinner I took boat (H. Russell) and down to Gravesend in good time, and thence with a guide post to Chatham, where I found Sir J. Minnes and Mr. Wayth walking in the garden, whom I told all this day’s news, which I left the town full of, and it is great news, and will certainly be in the consequence of it.
By and by to supper, and after long discourse, Sir J. Minnes and I, he saw me to my chamber, which not pleasing me, I sent word so to Mrs. Bradford, that I should be crowded into such a hole, while the clerks and boarders of her own take up the best rooms. However I lay there and slept well.

love if convenient
would be high treason

a peace made on disadvantageous terms
with break-up and feud

a room is the last
enemy to all the world

falling from time
into desire

no hand or pinion
full of consequence

should crowd into
such a hole


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 10 July 1663.

What place
in the world is left

where it won’t be a crime
to cool our feet

in the dirt
to let words ripen

in the jar
of deepest night

How many are left
of our kind

Can children play
in the soft dusk

without fear that every
feeling released

doesn’t change
into a foreign country

to which they’ve been
denied access

 

In response to Via Negativa: Swidden.

Here’s a new videopoem I’ve been working on this week, incorporating text from two recent Pepys erasures. Both were written under the influence of heavy metal, so it seemed necessary to find a metal-ish soundtrack. Fortunately, there are some good bands still using Soundcloud and releasing content under permissive Creative Commons licences, and the Dublin-based industrial metal band Voxillary is one of them. For the images, I used a combination of some recent, off-the-cuff videos of my own and clips from a marvelous old home movie in the Prelinger Archives, brought to my attention by a link several weeks ago on Twitter from author and Twitter humorist Steve Huff.

I thought about recording a reading to combine with the music, but in the end went with text-on-screen, which has been my choice more and more of late, I’m not sure why. But if you want to hear a version of the song with lyrics, it already exists. And good lyrics they are.