7

Scrutiny: n., early 15c., …from PIE root *skreu- “to cut; cutting tool” …first recorded c. 1600. Perhaps the original notion of the Latin word is “to search through trash,” via scruta (plural) “trash, rags” (“shreds”)

To catalogue the shards that make up a thing,
to rescue them from the dustbin. Why should a sliver
of laundry soap, a yellowed letter or broken rosary
chain mean anything? Damp rot that blotted those rooms
of barracks green, that gloved the small red phosphorus
heads of every matchstick. If I should learn to work
with hook and needle the patterns on window panels
and on bedspreads, before I finished I might forget
the color that rubbed against the hills at sundown.
On the sill, a row of wooden idols sits on their haunches:
not giving anything away, not altering; not withering,
not granting. I pass a dust-cloth around their carved
eyelids, their earlobes, their crossed arms; I even wipe
between the thighs where I think their sex might be.

Up and in Sir J. Minnes’s coach with him and Sir W. Batten to White Hall, where now the Duke is come again to lodge: and to Mr. Coventry’s little new chamber there. And by and by up to the Duke, who was making himself ready; and there among other discourse young Killigrew did so commend “The Villaine,” a new play made by Tom Porter; and acted only on Saturday at the Duke’s house, as if there never had been any such play come upon the stage. The same yesterday was told me by Captain Ferrers; and this morning afterwards by Dr. Clerke, who saw it. Insomuch that after I had done with the Duke, and thence gone with Commissioner Pett to Mr. Lilly’s, the great painter, who came forth to us; but believing that I come to bespeak a picture, he prevented us by telling us, that he should not be at leisure these three weeks; which methinks is a rare thing. And then to see in what pomp his table was laid for himself to go to dinner; and here, among other pictures, saw the so much desired by me picture of my Lady Castlemaine, which is a most blessed picture; and that that I must have a copy of. And having thence gone to my brother’s, where my wife lodged last night, and eat something there, I took her by coach to the Duke’s house, and there was the house full of company: but whether it was in over-expecting or what, I know not, but I was never less pleased with a play in my life. Though there was good singing and dancing, yet no fancy in the play, but something that made it less contenting was my conscience that I ought not to have gone by my vow, and, besides, my business commanded me elsewhere. But, however, as soon as I came home I did pay my crown to the poor’s box, according to my vow, and so no harm as to that is done, but only business lost and money lost, and my old habit of pleasure wakened, which I will keep down the more hereafter, for I thank God these pleasures are not sweet to me now in the very enjoying of them. So by coach home, and after a little business at my office, and seeing Sir W. Pen, who continues ill, I went to bed.
Dunkirk, I am confirmed, is absolutely sold; for which I am very sorry.

am I a villain not to see
a brother
lodged in a box

these pleasures
are not sweet to me now
for which I am sorry


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 20 October 1662.

6

Thrift is the animal whose every part
is put to use: its singed hairs for the brush,
its hide for the switch and for the wine sac.
Meat is merely the name we give to pieces
we’ve quartered and boiled, to fill the hunger
in our bellies. No blood is wasted, either—
clotted then forced back into miles of clean
membrane. Meanwhile, the glinting geodes
of liver and spleen, white-marbled, slick-
roped insides are dense with prophesy.
Did you lop off and tie with crimson a small
gift for the gods? Watch what clouds suspend
in the depths of your bowl of broth. They’re
always watching, always hungrier than we are.

(Lord’s day). Got me ready in the morning and put on my first new laceband; and so neat it is, that I am resolved my great expense shall be lacebands, and it will set off any thing else the more. So walked to my brother’s, where I met Mr. Cooke, and discoursing with him do find that he and Tom have promised a joynture of 50l. to his mistress, and say that I did give my consent that she should be joyntured in 30l. per ann. for Sturtlow, and the rest to be made up out of her portion. At which I was stark mad, and very angry the business should be carried with so much folly and against my mind and all reason. But I was willing to forbear discovering of it, and did receive Mrs. Butler, her mother, Mr. Lull and his wife, very civil people, very kindly, and without the least discontent, and Tom had a good and neat dinner for us. We had little discourse of any business, but leave it to one Mr. Smith on her part and myself on ours. So we staid till sermon was done, and I took leave, and to see Mr. Moore, who recovers well; and his doctor coming to him, one Dr. Merrit, we had some of his very good discourse of anatomy, and other things, very pleasant. By and by, I with Mr. Townsend walked in the garden, talking and advising with him about Tom’s business, and he tells me he will speak with Smith, and says I offer fair to give her 30l. joynture and no more.
Thence Tom waiting for me homewards towards my house, talking and scolding him for his folly, and telling him my mind plainly what he has to trust to if he goes this way to work, for he shall never have her upon the terms they demand of 50l..
He left me, and I to my uncle Wight, and there supped, and there was pretty Mistress Margt. Wight, whom I esteem very pretty, and love dearly to look upon her. We were very pleasant, I droning with my aunt and them, but I am sorry to hear that the news of the selling of Dunkirk is taken so generally ill, as I find it is among the merchants; and other things, as removal of officers at Court, good for worse; and all things else made much worse in their report among people than they are. And this night, I know not upon what ground, the gates of the City ordered to be kept shut, and double guards every where. So home, and after preparing things against to-morrow for the Duke, to bed.
Indeed I do find every body’s spirit very full of trouble; and the things of the Court and Council very ill taken; so as to be apt to appear in bad colours, if there should ever be a beginning of trouble, which God forbid!

her stark anatomy
in the garden

I look at the ground
a city ordered to be kept shut

the body’s a thing
of bad colors


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 19 October 1662.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

1.

This beauty’s not for everyone
blind windows like a prison
said a friend indifferent
to Soane’s genius
but I exult in it.

The honey-coloured bricks
and the harmonious outline
are earth and air.

It’s here that I come
to be grounded in a space
where sorrow and regret
can be felt but can’t annihilate
where hope can briefly soar.

The new Dulwich Picture Gallery in bright sunlight

2.

The sheer heft lovely lines
unchanging serenity
are what I love
so the old photo was a shock.

Many bombs fell on south-east London
You can see the places still
where a modern house interrupts
a Victorian terrace.

Around Dulwich small plaques
give the date the names
and ages of the dead

and in July 44 the gallery took a hit
that reduced its heart to rubble.

In this picture no sweet geometry
The honey drips
a waterfall of chaos
a radical artwork depicting
the horror of war.

Today’s fine structure
bears few traces
but once seen never forgotten
The rebuilt harmonies become a hymn
to resilience and repair.

black-and-white photo of Dulwich Picture Gallery reduced to rubble in Word War II

3.

On the corner by the pub car-park is a new mural
after van Dyck’s Venetia Lady Digby on her Deathbed.
Let me count the ways this work based on a portrait
of a dead woman fills me with paradoxical happiness.

Huge and bright and apart from the rose mostly blue,
it’s by the German artist MadC – C is for Claudia,
a woman of bold vision and talent and about the age
Venetia Digby was when she died in her sleep in 1833.

The painting was the muralist’s choice: a clever project,
these “old master murals” by street artists talking back
to their chosen works in the gallery have flashed up
on blank walls and gable ends all over Dulwich, but

none has taken my breath, none makes me stop and
smile and ponder each time I see it the way this does –
a mistressful meeting of past and present, private and
public art, death and unrestrained but not unthinking life.

MadC's Dulwich mural


Links:

Dulwich Picture Gallery
John Soane, the architect
World War 2 bombs in Dulwich
Venetia Lady Digby on her Deathbed by Anthony van Dyck
MadC (Claudia Walde), the muralist
and her Dulwich mural

5

Regarding chronology— She’s come to think of it as one
of the crew backstage: been there forever, still resourceful.
Formerly a stickler for procedure, now chill about how she wants
to shuffle through all the old props in the closet and set them out
again, this time in a different order— the kind of narrative
she wants being no longer only about what happened, where,
and when. There’s the girl in the navy blue skirt who tried to run
away from home when she was nine, with only a toothbrush
in a paper sack. There’s the ex- who flew into a rage and left
the car and everyone in it in the middle of traffic. There’s
the grandmother who put her body between him and his eldest
daughter to prevent a possibly lethal blow. The years have softened
the hard outlines of these figures. Their mouths still open as if
to sing their individual arias. Sometimes now they sing together.

This morning, having resolved of my brother’s entertaining his mistress’s mother to-morrow, I sent my wife thither to-day to lie there to-night and to direct him in the business, and I all the morning at the office, and the afternoon intent upon my workmen, especially my joyners, who will make my dining room very pretty. At night to my office to dispatch business, and then to see Sir W. Pen, who continues in great pain, and so home and alone to bed, but my head being full of my own and my brother Tom’s business I could hardly sleep, though not in much trouble, but only multitude of thoughts.

morning is a lie
night will make night

I continue alone, head full
of my own multitude


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 18 October 1662.

This morning Tom comes to me, and I advise him how to deal with his mistress’s mother about his giving her a joynture, but I intend to speak with her shortly, and tell her my mind.
Then to my Lord Sandwich by water, and told him how well things do go in the country with me, of which he was very glad, and seems to concern himself much for me. Thence with Mr. Creed to Westminster Hall, and by and by thither comes Captn. Ferrers, upon my sending for him, and we three to Creeds chamber, and there sat a good while and drank chocolate.
Here I am told how things go at Court; that the young men get uppermost, and the old serious lords are out of favour; that Sir H. Bennet, being brought into Sir Edward Nicholas’s place, Sir Charles Barkeley is made Privy Purse; a most vicious person, and one whom Mr. Pierce, the surgeon, to-day (at which I laugh to myself), did tell me that he offered his wife 300l. per annum to be his mistress. He also told me that none in Court hath more the King’s ear now than Sir Charles Barkeley, and Sir H. Bennet, and my Lady Castlemaine, whose interest is now as great as ever and that Mrs. Haslerigge, the great beauty, is got with child, and now brought to bed, and lays it to the King or the Duke of York. He tells me too that my Lord St. Albans’ is like to be Lord Treasurer: all which things do trouble me much. Here I staid talking a good while, and so by water to see Mr. Moore, who is out of bed and in a way to be well, and thence home, and with Commr. Pett by water to view Wood’s masts that he proffers to sell, which we found bad, and so to Deptford to look over some businesses, and so home and I to my office, all our talk being upon Sir J. M. and Sir W. B.’s base carriage against him at their late being at Chatham, which I am sorry to hear, but I doubt not but we shall fling Sir W. B. upon his back ere long.
At my office, I hearing Sir W. Pen was not well, I went to him to see, and sat with him, and so home and to bed.

I tell my mind
to my sandwich

how in the country of creeds and good chocolate
the young get vicious

and the king’s ear is with child
as water is with ice


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 17 October 1662.

4

Other mornings sheared the sounds of broken glass
before breakfast, fruit or silver alike dropped on
the floor. In the in-between, days as reels of silent
film— our cast of tight-lipped characters unsure
of what to do in the next scene of the drama.
Oh but we cared: the evidence being how I cannot think
of that stretch of childhood except as mostly happy.
And so when I write of these, it isn’t in the interest of
what you call confession— I take the long cloth
and lay it out with no expectation of unburdening, no
interest in catharsis. I write and rewrite, simply trying
to find the clearest shape on the table; and yes, instruction
in decoding plot but also, finally, coming to terms. Some parts
are merely accident; the rest just need to go in the trash.

3

And what of origins? I’m not the only one obsessed
with tracing lines back and back to where they might
have first unspooled; not the only one who picks at scabs,
returns to sniff at sites where shit might have unloaded
and hit the fan; where upchuck dried then crusted
on the floor. Think of the way certain animals roll
pellets of their own dung as if to ascertain
they get a chance to wring out all the nutrients
from the goop that first went down; similarly,
how a doe will eat her own afterbirth because she
simply knows no other way to clean up. What’s good?
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you strong.
A stone passes; or a spasm of bile— Language,
memory: of course these are a kind of coprophagia.