photo by Jean Morris described in poem

Skylight, pale light
rains softly on the red silk roses
and the complicated chandeliers,

the turquoise-blue mosaic
and the pale mural where
a pale, veiled woman sits beneath a vine.

This is pretend Morocco, theme-park
Morocco, but gentle and understated,
in the best of taste, like the food
that alludes politely to north Africa –

merguez and hummus and mint tea
on an old brass tray that glints and rocks,
harissa careful to be not
too hot.

At the Asian grocery store, curling
wreaths of paper dragons, wads of crimped
flowers, loops of good luck charms and trays
of sweets. Another year to eat in glossy
pink cellophane wrappers, in the shadow
of a beckoning cat. Why then does my eye
alight on all things weathered or fried?
Crinkled sheets of nori tempura, dried
persimmons pressed flat like rows
of leathery breasts. Dark, maternal
aureoles in their centers— Dropped
in a warm bath of water, will they
bloom again for a puckered mouth?
Nowhere can I find those delicate
orange, bud-shaped lanterns. I’d cut
a few branches and swing them ahead
of us as we walk home in the dark.
No matter. I tell myself I can be
content to lie in a loose basket
of sleep, one foot curled around
your ankle, one hand under my cheek.

Once she saw in a museum, a table wide as the lap
of a fallen tree. Each ring bore the names of generation
upon generation: imagine great-great-great-granddaughters
and -sons peering down from their balconies or standing
in a little gust of wind at the edge of the shore, waving
at a pretty figure so far away in the distance. My kin,
my kin, do you not know me? Here I am
. This is a lie of course,
a fabrication; which is not to say there aren’t some parts
that are true. Those are the places that are pitted
and notched, graved where lightning seared new words
into the wood. She takes a little silk, a little citrus
oil. Surfaces can shine, but never darker than the wound.
If you cup her head in your hand just so, if you circle
her waist with your arm, the sleeplessness is bearable.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Pretty.

(Lord’s day). Lay long talking pleasant with my wife, then up and to church, the pew being quite full with strangers come along with Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes, so after a pitifull sermon of the young Scott, home to dinner. After dinner comes a footman of my Lord Sandwich’s (my Lord being come to town last night) with a letter from my father, in which he presses me to carry on the business for Tom with his late mistress, which I am sorry to see my father do, it being so much out of our power or for his advantage, as it is clear to me it is, which I shall think of and answer in my next. So to my office all the afternoon writing orders myself to have ready against to-morrow, that I might not appear negligent to Mr. Coventry.
In the evening to Sir W. Pen’s, where Sir J. Minnes and Sir W. Batten, and afterwards came Sir G. Carteret. There talked about business, and afterwards to Sir W. Batten’s, where we staid talking and drinking Syder, and so I went away to my office a little, and so home and to bed.

day long as a sermon
or a letter in clear ink

so tomorrow might not appear
where we drink


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 11 January 1662/63.

me and the beagles

On Saturday, I was invited to join a sort of huntless hunt in the wilds of darkest England. The local beagle club assembled next to the barn on a big estate belonging to a member of the titled aristocracy who had given permission for us to ramble over hill and dale, following a well-trained pack of beagles who were in turn following a scent trail laid down the day before. This is known as beagling. Since the actual hunting of hares with beagles was banned in 2004, this is the best that the beagle clubs can do. I’ve always been wary of sports with too many rules and I like to walk, so it suited me just fine. (more…)

Up and to the office. From thence, before we sat, Sir W. Pen sent for me to his bedside to talk (indeed to reproach me with my not owning to Sir J. Minnes that he had my advice in the blocking up of the garden door the other day, which is now by him out of fear to Sir J. Minnes opened again), to which I answered him so indifferently that I think he and I shall be at a distance, at least to one another, better than ever we did and love one another less, which for my part I think I need not care for.
So to the office, and sat till noon, then rose and to dinner, and then to the office again, where Mr. Creed sat with me till late talking very good discourse, as he is full of it, though a cunning knave in his heart, at least not to be too much trusted, till Sir J. Minnes came in, which at last he did, and so beyond my expectation he was willing to sign his accounts, notwithstanding all his objections, which really were very material, and yet how like a doting coxcomb he signs the accounts without the least satisfaction, for which we both sufficiently laughed at him and Sir W. Batten after they had signed them and were gone, and so sat talking together till 11 o’clock at night, and so home and to bed.

the office is a reproach
that I block out

so different at a distance
like a laugh in the night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 10 January 1662/63.

Waking in the morning, my wife I found also awake, and begun to speak to me with great trouble and tears, and by degrees from one discourse to another at last it appears that Sarah has told somebody that has told my wife of my meeting her at my brother’s and making her sit down by me while she told me stories of my wife, about her giving her scallop to her brother, and other things, which I am much vexed at, for I am sure I never spoke any thing of it, nor could any body tell her but by Sarah’s own words. I endeavoured to excuse my silence herein hitherto by not believing any thing she told me, only that of the scallop which she herself told me of. At last we pretty good friends, and my wife begun to speak again of the necessity of her keeping somebody to bear her company; for her familiarity with her other servants is it that spoils them all, and other company she hath none, which is too true, and called for Jane to reach her out of her trunk, giving her the keys to that purpose, a bundle of papers, and pulls out a paper, a copy of what, a pretty while since, she had wrote in a discontent to me, which I would not read, but burnt. She now read it, and it was so piquant, and wrote in English, and most of it true, of the retiredness of her life, and how unpleasant it was; that being wrote in English, and so in danger of being met with and read by others, I was vexed at it, and desired her and then commanded her to tear it. When she desired to be excused it, I forced it from her, and tore it, and withal took her other bundle of papers from her, and leapt out of the bed and in my shirt clapped them into the pocket of my breeches, that she might not get them from me, and having got on my stockings and breeches and gown, I pulled them out one by one and tore them all before her face, though it went against my heart to do it, she crying and desiring me not to do it, but such was my passion and trouble to see the letters of my love to her, and my Will wherein I had given her all I have in the world, when I went to sea with my Lord Sandwich, to be joyned with a paper of so much disgrace to me and dishonour, if it should have been found by any body. Having torn them all, saving a bond of my uncle Robert’s, which she hath long had in her hands, and our marriage license, and the first letter that ever I sent her when I was her servant, I took up the pieces and carried them into my chamber, and there, after many disputes with myself whether I should burn them or no, and having picked up, the pieces of the paper she read to-day, and of my Will which I tore, I burnt all the rest, and so went out to my office troubled in mind.
Hither comes Major Tolhurst, one of my old acquaintance in Cromwell’s time, and sometimes of our clubb, to see me, and I could do no less than carry him to the Mitre, and having sent for Mr. Beane, a merchant, a neighbour of mine, we sat and talked, Tolhurst telling me the manner of their collierys in the north. We broke up, and I home to dinner.
And to see my folly, as discontented as I am, when my wife came I could not forbear smiling all dinner till she began to speak bad words again, and then I began to be angry again, and so to my office.
Mr. Bland came in the evening to me hither, and sat talking to me about many things of merchandise, and I should be very happy in his discourse, durst I confess my ignorance to him, which is not so fit for me to do.
There coming a letter to me from Mr. Pierce, the surgeon, by my desire appointing his and Dr. Clerke’s coming to dine with me next Monday, I went to my wife and agreed upon matters, and at last for my honour am forced to make her presently a new Moyre gown to be seen by Mrs. Clerke, which troubles me to part with so much money, but, however, it sets my wife and I to friends again, though I and she never were so heartily angry in our lives as to-day almost, and I doubt the heartburning will not [be] soon over, and the truth is I am sorry for the tearing of so many poor loving letters of mine from sea and elsewhere to her.
So to my office again, and there the Scrivener brought me the end of the manuscript which I am going to get together of things of the Navy, which pleases me much. So home, and mighty friends with my wife again, and so to bed.

I wake to her silence
tired of being read by others
her other face
against my heart
her body in my hands
as bland as a letter from sea


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 9 January 1662/63.

that wakes me just past midnight, are you
the foghorn pressing through milky shrouds
that keep the sailors from their course?
Are you the breathy, unpunctuated paragraphs
that coal trains write, their fugitive
dust sifting through pines to mantle
porch floors, stepping stones, and window-
sills? In the darkness, how every sound
enlarges, merges— then peters out
under the bridge, after the blast
and skittering refrain an isolated firework
makes against the metal flanges of a pipe.

More than 45,000 drones
have been registered in just
one month; and more than 400,000
were sold over the holidays.
In the meantime, homeowners debate
whether it is safer to tilt
their horizontal blinds upward
or downward; and what virtue there is
in having the roll of designer
toilet paper face outward or in.
In the meantime, no one has yet won
the $900M Powerball Lottery.
In the meantime, on some days,
winter in this part of the world
has felt more like summer.
In the meantime, someone asked
for help but when it was given
dismissed the gestures offered
with indifference. In the meantime,
tomorrow we know there may be flurries,
but not enough to cover the heads
of roses and the bramble hedges
with blankets of obliterating snow.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Testing the water.

A lake breathes under the car park
evenly rising and sinking.

Dried reed silts limp, dead fish
flush into my dilated lungs.

She sat on the grass, legs dipped
in water. Pearls of desire

beaded as his fingers ran along
her back into the throat

of lily. Lust gushes out of the tap
into the sink in my kitchen

curdling the milk. The cream
trembles orgasmically in the glass.

Water oozes out of springs like
a secret hard to keep.

Particles of clay turn molten, car
floats as the lake reclaims itself

in my veins where corpuscles in
blood are displaced by algae.


Another poem prompted by the recent flooding in Chennai. See “Flood” and “Chronicle of Drowning.”