I am glad for the door
with its deadbolt and chain

and for the sleeve of paper
that filters coffee in the machine.

I am glad for the little ties
in the duvet’s four inside corners

and for each window’s double pane of glass
that keeps more of the cold outside.

I am glad for the discs of rubber
that stick to the feet of chairs

and keep them from scratching
too deeply the heart of the wood.

And when I first arrived in this country
I was perplexed by how most living

room ceilings were smooth and plain,
without any visible light fixtures

though lamps flanked each armchair
or sat beneath shades on side tables—

By which I gradually came to understand
that for all that prides itself on being

forthright, we still like to keep a little
space between ourselves and the thing in question:

like the vinyl lining that takes the spray and not
the actual shower curtain; or the rubber mute, slipped

onto the instrument’s bridge, that dampens sound
and makes it possible to practice late into the night.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

She tells me
about the hive of bees in her ears.

Their dialect of drone and fuzz
drowns out everyday sounds—

water from the tap
overflowing the bathroom pail,

kettle straddling the blue
stove flame on its highest setting.

I knock and knock on the metal gate,
hoping the radio network

of nerves translates the signals.
She tells me she’s sold

or pawned off most of her jewelry.
But she puts in my hands a box

in whose tissue folds twin
silver peacocks dangle

from French wire hoops,
their tail feathers trembling.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

(Lord’s day). Up and walked to White Hall, to the Chappell, where preached one Dr. Lewes, said heretofore to have been a great witt; but he read his sermon every word, and that so brokenly and so low, that nobody could hear at any distance, nor I anything worth hearing that sat near. But, which was strange, he forgot to make any prayer before sermon, which all wonder at, but they impute it to his forgetfulness.
After sermon a very fine anthem.
So I up into the house among the courtiers, seeing the fine ladies, and, above all, my Lady Castlemaine, who is above all, that only she I can observe for true beauty. The King and Queen being set to dinner I went to Mr. Fox’s, and there dined with him. Much genteel company, and, among other things, I hear for certain that peace is concluded between the King of France and the Pope; and also I heard the reasons given by our Parliament yesterday to the King why they dissent from him in matter of Indulgence, which are very good quite through, and which I was glad to hear.
Thence to my Lord Sandwich, who continues with a great cold, locked up; and, being alone, we fell into discourse of my uncle the Captain’s death and estate, and I took the opportunity of telling my Lord how matters stand, and read his will, and told him all, what a poor estate he hath left, at all which he wonders strangely, which he may well do.
Thence after singing some new tunes with W. Howe I walked home, whither came Will. Joyce, whom I have not seen here a great while, nor desire it a great while again, he is so impertinent a coxcomb, and yet good natured, and mightily concerned for my brother’s late folly in his late wooing at the charge to no purpose, nor could in any probability a it.
He gone, we all to bed, without prayers, it being washing day to-morrow.

every word broken
among the fine ladies
old coxcomb


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 1 March 1662/63.

Waked with great pain in my right ear (which I find myself much subject to) having taken cold. Up and to my office, where we sat all the morning, and I dined with Sir W. Batten by chance, being in business together about a bargain of New England masts.
Then to the Temple to meet my uncle Thomas, who I found there, but my cozen Roger not being come home I took boat and to Westminster, where I found him in Parliament this afternoon. The House have this noon been with the King to give him their reasons for refusing to grant any indulgence to Presbyters or Papists; which he, with great content and seeming pleasure, took, saying, that he doubted not but he and they should agree in all things, though there may seem a difference in judgement, he having writ and declared for an indulgence: and that he did believe never prince was happier in a House of Commons, than he was in them.
Thence he and I to my Lord Sandwich, who continues troubled with his cold. Our discourse most upon the outing of Sir R. Bernard, and my Lord’s being made Recorder of Huntingdon in his stead, which he seems well contented with, saying, that it may be for his convenience to have the chief officer of the town dependent upon him, which is very true.
Thence he and I to the Temple, but my uncle being gone we parted, and I walked home, and to my office, and at nine o’clock had a good supper of an oxe’s cheek, of my wife’s dressing and baking, and so to my office again till past eleven at night, making up my month’s account, and find that I am at a stay with what I was last, that is 640l. So home and to bed.
Coming by, I put in at White Hall, and at the Privy Seal I did see the docquet by which Sir W. Pen is made the Comptroller’s assistant, as Sir J. Minnes told me last night, which I must endeavour to prevent.

I take great pleasure in doubt

never prince was happier than I
who bled out of my own temple

an ox making my home by the sea


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 28 February 1662/63.

At the edges of the yard, some grass
and early daffodils coming back.

The stenciled arms of the maple
pushing out rounded points.

Even the river’s dark
surface made choppy by wind—

like skin a hand passing over
has recently roused.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Earful.

for my mum, with lines from the traditional song “Loch Lomond”

If we swim to shore,
escape the frame,
we shall not meet again.
Jean Morris, “Sea Dream

When Scottish blood gives up its ghost, that ghost goes home first, mother,
before it journeys beyond — the Highland Gate’s at Perth, mother.

Potato blight caused famine, there were only oatmeal rations.
Did Scots become thrifty gleaning history of dearth, mother?

Wool roving (sheep shucking) dyed and woven into clan tartans.
For identity, check the kilt strapped about the girth, mother.

Ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, / And I’ll be in
Scotland afore ye…
but Loch Lomond is not Tay’s Firth, mother.

Baa black sheep, dark rumor, our ancestor immigrated to
this continent from prison, came in a convict’s berth, mother.

Scots have the reputation of pinching every penny twice.
For haggis and bagpipes, sheep belly’s pennyworthy, mother.

Grandfather was fond of puns, lowest form of humor. Double
entendre is a frugal fun, it’s not spendthrift mirth, mother.

Below Perth the River Tay is tidal. If Perth is Heaven’s
Gate, do all Scots reincarnate, come back in re-birth, mother?

When I was small you read me poems and taught me to recite them.
I wrote this to thank you for teaching me a Word’s worth, mother.

~ for Dave Bonta

Does a seed anthologize
the customs of trees?
I’ve read books but sometimes
the sea’s voice is more insistent.

When I peer through shop
windows, I’m startled by my image
warping around the dusty hip
of a teapot.

There is never a prescribed
time for a foot to blurt
its confessions in the narrow
toe box of a second-hand shoe.

When I bend to investigate
a dead bird on the walk,
I remember a gate of feathers
and behind it, a face made of milk.

In the dark room,
something brushes against
my bare hand. The moon fluoresces
before I can pull on the cord.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Capital punishment.

Up and to my office, whither several persons came to me about office business. About 11 o’clock, Commissioner Pett and I walked to Chyrurgeon’s Hall (we being all invited thither, and promised to dine there); where we were led into the Theatre; and by and by comes the reader, Dr. Tearne, with the Master and Company, in a very handsome manner: and all being settled, he begun his lecture, this being the second upon the kidneys, ureters, and yard, which was very fine; and his discourse being ended, we walked into the Hall, and there being great store of company, we had a fine dinner and good learned company, many Doctors of Phisique, and we used with extraordinary great respect.
Among other observables we drank the King’s health out of a gilt cup given by King Henry VIII. to this Company, with bells hanging at it, which every man is to ring by shaking after he hath drunk up the whole cup. There is also a very excellent piece of the King, done by Holbein, stands up in the Hall, with the officers of the Company kneeling to him to receive their Charter.
After dinner Dr. Scarborough took some of his friends, and I went along with them, to see the body alone, which we did, which was a lusty fellow, a seaman, that was hanged for a robbery. I did touch the dead body with my bare hand: it felt cold, but methought it was a very unpleasant sight.
It seems one Dillon, of a great family, was, after much endeavours to have saved him, hanged with a silken halter this Sessions (of his own preparing), not for honour only, but it seems, it being soft and sleek, it do slip close and kills, that is, strangles presently: whereas, a stiff one do not come so close together, and so the party may live the longer before killed. But all the Doctors at table conclude, that there is no pain at all in hanging, for that it do stop the circulation of the blood; and so stops all sense and motion in an instant.
Thence we went into a private room, where I perceive they prepare the bodies, and there were the kidneys, ureters, yard, stone and semenary vessels upon which he read to-day, and Dr. Scarborough upon my desire and the company’s did show very clearly the manner of the disease of the stone and the cutting and all other questions that I could think of, and the manner of that seed, how it comes into the yard, and how the water into the bladder through the three skins or coats just as poor Dr. Jolly has heretofore told me.
Thence with great satisfaction to me back to the Company, where I heard good discourse, and so to the afternoon Lecture upon the heart and lungs, &c., and that being done we broke up, took leave, and back to the office, we two, Sir W. Batten, who dined here also, being gone before.
Here late, and to Sir W. Batten’s to speak upon some business, where I found Sir J. Minnes pretty well fuddled I thought: he took me aside to tell me how being at my Lord Chancellor’s to-day, my Lord told him that there was a Great Seal passing for Sir W. Pen, through the impossibility of the Comptroller’s duty to be performed by one man; to be as it were joynt-comptroller with him, at which he is stark mad; and swears he will give up his place, and do rail at Sir W. Pen the cruellest; he I made shift to encourage as much as I could, but it pleased me heartily to hear him rail against him, so that I do see thoroughly that they are not like to be great friends, for he cries out against him for his house and yard and God knows what. For my part, I do hope, when all is done, that my following my business will keep me secure against all their envys. But to see how the old man do strut, and swear that he understands all his duty as easily as crack a nut, and easier, he told my Lord Chancellor, for his teeth are gone; and that he understands it as well as any man in England; and that he will never leave to record that he should be said to be unable to do his duty alone; though, God knows, he cannot do it more than a child. All this I am glad to see fall out between them and myself safe, and yet I hope the King’s service will done for all this, for I would not that should be hindered by any of our private differences.
So to my office, and then home to supper and to bed.

we go to see a man
hanged for robbery

I touch the dead body
with my bare hand

cold as silk
sleek as a seed

and I hear the fuddled
impossibility of a heart

the teeth that will never now
fall out


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 February 1662/63.

When I was small, my friends and I would sit
beneath the mango tree and learn to comb
hair until it stood up loose and fluffy, then plow

a straight line down to the scalp and separate
the field into even sections, slowly plait each
into a close, straight braid. My own thin blonde

hair was a frustration — how I secretly envied
my friends their gleaming ebony that could,
at our young age, be plaited into elegance!

My own hair could be brushed and braided,
and it was, but it would not stay neat through
washing, the plaits would loosen, tangle, grow

into a mess fit to nest a chicken. But envy is
even uglier than unruly, steals from the eyes
and smile whatever beauty might otherwise

reside there. I resolved in tight silence, to let
it go, to instead celebrate each time we sat
to braid and found Jumma’a’s hair grown

longer during its most recent time in narrow
rows, found it each time closer to a length
that would permit a woman’s style, a wrap

and sculpting with black thread into a form
and beauty that would be uniquely hers.
We were young girls, then. We took comfort

in the patient, loving touch of one another’s
hands, this ritual that would carry us through
as bodies changed and destinies diverged.


After Robbi Nester’s poem “The Long and Short of It.”

3

Confetti and streamers, jubilant change
proclaimed from windows in the business districts.

In far-flung provinces, a more tempered watch—
change comes slower where people live

in the shadowy in-between. Rebels still populate
the hills, come out to collect their tithe. Put

a gun in the hands of anyone with a grievance
and take a gamble on the outcome. Who lost

their land, their titles, in the takeover?
Such business goes back and farther back

to feudal times. I know of a wealthy clan
that once laid claim in northern territories.

What underwrote their vow to side with the people?
Their own fall from grace, their dispossession.