Self-portrait of the soul, running out of time


Remembering our dead, we're told to fill
a plate of food, pour
a cup to set
on the sill or under an alcove light.
But years pass
until the logic
of the empty bowl with its celadon sheen
seems a more
honest gesture: the shorn
branch, the broken cistern, water
going nowhere
but back into the ground along idle chains.
Their faces are fixed in that last
darkness— as I imagine mine
will be, folded
away into the first or last
layer like an artichoke.
It takes a while
to get the hang of peeling apart
the armor: one leaf at a time
until there's nothing
left but that small mouthful of
tenderness. After that, even the voice
disappears. Nothing,
after all, is inexhaustible. What I give
now— advice, a loan, a payment;
judgment, confidence, comfort—
teeters in that traitorous
interval of too little
and too much. Little soul, if only
I knew
what it really meant to journey;
if only I could still be here
for my own
rescue, for that untrammeled taste.



Safe Passage

I didn't have to leave a country
with one suitcase haphazardly
stuffed with pictures or deeds of sale.
I didn't have to cross a bridge
whose ramparts were burning at one end.
I never jumped trains rolling through
prairie grass to see sunrise on another
coast. But whose fathers did we trail
across the sea like scrolls of smoke?
Whose child was finally born
in the shadow of a great cathedral?
In the year of curfews, we hung
dark curtains across windows and learned
not to answer the door after a certain
hour; and yet we hid women passing through
to safety, bundling their babies
in soft brown blankets. Pigeons
swooped down on stones strewn with bits
of bread; then their wings blurred a dirty
blue as they took off again.

Bibliomania

Comes betimes a letter from Sir W. Coventry, that he and Sir G. Carteret are ordered presently down to the Fleete. I up and saw Sir W. Pen gone also after them, and so I finding it a leisure day fell to making cleane my closett in my office, which I did to my content and set up my Platts again, being much taken also with Griffin’s mayde, that did cleane it, being a pretty mayde.
I left her at it, and toward Westminster myself with my wife by coach and meeting took up Mr. Lovett the varnisher with us, who is a pleasant speaking and humoured man, so my wife much taken with him, and a good deale of worke I believe I shall procure him.
I left my wife at the New Exchange and myself to the Exchequer, to looke after my Tangier tallys, and there met Sir G. Downing, who shewed me his present practise now begun this day to paste up upon the Exchequer door a note of what orders upon the new Act are paid and now in paying, and my Lord of Oxford coming by, also took him, and shewed him his whole method of keeping his books, and everything of it, which indeed is very pretty, and at this day there is assigned upon the Act 804,000l..
Thence at the New Exchange took up my wife again, and so home to dinner, and after dinner to my office again to set things in order. In the evening out with my wife and my aunt Wight, to take the ayre, and happened to have a pleasant race between our hackney-coach and a gentleman’s. At Bow we eat and drank and so back again, it being very cool in the evening. Having set home my aunt and come home, I fell to examine my wife’s kitchen book, and find 20s. mistake, which made me mighty angry and great difference between us, and so in the difference to bed.

I fell into a hole of books
and everything
even my wife
happened as in a book


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 14 May 1666.

When you sit down to write, is death ever sitting beside you?

"...the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was 
no longer any sea."
~ Revelation 21: 1




Should I say Please don't come
too close, don't breathe that way

down my neck so I smell resin and smoke
from forests burning, hear the crackle

of wings as the rainforest ceiling
begins its collapse? You seem

so curious about what I might write
next, now that the world's catalog

of images has dwindled: not yet nothing,
not yet complete extinction, but well

on the way. Your cloak is the color
of worn silk or dull knives, your hair

a sad and unconditioned tangle desperate
for a brush. I was unhappy too, going

without a shower for weeks after our city
shook like a train of dominoes clicking

down and down around every block— The first
night, hard rain made moats of mud around

each cracked plywood sheet we tossed
for bedding on the ground. And then

the taps hissed like crazed snakes
so we backed away, taking our plastic

pails instead to the empty lake. Nothing
lasts; hasn't that always been your bottom

line? But these circling moths, these
thin-winged creatures with indigo bars

and copper eyes on their backs: I want
so much to cup their shine in my hands,

pin them to my hair or breast— keepsakes
I won't surrender to the ongoing blaze.

Woke

(Lord’s day). Up, and walked to White Hall, where we all met to present a letter to the Duke of Yorke, complaining solemnly of the want of money, and that being done, I to and again up and down Westminster, thinking to have spent a little time with Sarah at the Swan, or Mrs. Martin, but was disappointed in both, so walked the greatest part of the way home, where comes Mr. Symons, my old acquaintance, to dine with me, and I made myself as good company as I could to him, but he was mighty impertinent methought too yet, and thereby I see the difference between myself now and what it was heretofore, when I reckoned him a very brave fellow.
After dinner he and I walked together as far as Cheapside, and I quite through to Westminster again, and fell by chance into St. Margett’s Church, where I heard a young man play the foole upon the doctrine of purgatory. At this church I spied Betty Howlett, who indeed is mighty pretty, and struck me mightily. After church time, standing in the Church yarde, she spied me, so I went to her, her father and mother and husband being with her. They desired and I agreed to go home with Mr. Michell, and there had the opportunity to have saluted two or three times Betty and make an acquaintance which they are pleased with, though not so much as I am or they think I am. I staid here an houre or more chatting with them in a little sorry garden of theirs by the Bowling Alley, and so left them and I by water home, and there was in great pain in mind lest Sir W. Pen, who is going down to the Fleete, should come to me or send for me to be informed in the state of things, and particularly the Victualling, that by my pains he might seem wise. So after spending an houre with my wife pleasantly in her closett, I to bed even by daylight.

my old acquaintance myself
I see the difference between now
and heretofore when I reckoned you
a purgatory

this owlet is an owl
informed in the state of things
that I might seem wise
even by daylight


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 13 May 1666.

Despite

The dough will rise, 
sweetening in the pan. I pinch
my sadness into coils
dusted with powder of cassia bark,
cane syrups spun in a centrifuge until
they are the color of our skin.
Heat completes the arrangement of desire
overlaid by everything gathered
throughout history: who saw
the first clump of pink
peppercorns, knots of lemongrass,
startled deer receding
from slabs of salt still wet
with the tracing of their tongues?
Above the ashy ground,
shorthand of fiddlehead ferns.
Beneath the water where we can't go,
the sounds made by whales
crying for the mothers they
will never see again.

Pleasantries

Up to the office very betimes to draw up a letter for the Duke of Yorke relating to him the badness of our condition in this office for want of money. That being in good time done we met at the office and there sat all the morning. At noon home, where I find my wife troubled still at my checking her last night in the coach in her long stories out of Grand Cyrus, which she would tell, though nothing to the purpose, nor in any good manner. This she took unkindly, and I think I was to blame indeed; but she do find with reason, that in the company of Pierce, Knipp, or other women that I love, I do not value her, or mind her as I ought. However very good friends by and by, and to dinner, and after dinner up to the putting our dining room in order, which will be clean again anon, but not as it is to be because of the pictures which are not come home.
To the office and did much business, in the evening to Westminster and White Hall about business and among other things met Sir G. Downing on White Hall bridge, and there walked half an hour, talking of the success of the late new Act; and indeed it is very much, that that hath stood really in the room of 800,000l. now since Christmas, being itself but 1,250,000l.. And so I do really take it to be a very considerable thing done by him; for the beginning, end, and every part of it, is to be imputed to him.
So home by water, and there hard till 12 at night at work finishing the great letter to the Duke of Yorke against to-morrow morning, and so home to bed.
This day come home again my little girle Susan, her sicknesse proving an ague, and she had a fit soon almost as she come home.
The fleete is not yet gone from the Nore. The plague encreases in many places, and is 53 this week with us.

the badness
of our good morning
her long stories out of nothing

an unkind mind
to put in order
but not because of owning it

talking in the room of being
and every part of work
proving a plague


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 12 May 1666.

Extinction

In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead 
      sheep to slaughter, while its own life 
is spared; with scent

                      of estrus, will lure 
            other goats out from behind rock and scrub
                          so a helicopter rifle shot

can pick them out, one by one
      by one— A little world
within itself, wrote Darwin:

                             with pools where blue-
                     footed boobies come to wade, and
                      tortoises old as boulders. Once,

a neighbor told me of the family dog
      they had to give away 
when they moved;

                 how her new humans said 
        she limped back to the house they used to own,
                    and curled up under the laurel tree

to die. What do the leaves say
      when they move like mouths
as the light changes, as little buds of jasmine

                            continue to give up scent    
                 even as a different color takes over  
                       their pale ghost bodies?

All our dead come back to us
      in dreams so we can make apology.
They hold out sheets of our tears, 

                       so much silver warming
        the grass neatly clipped where we lie down
             to live out the rest of our days.

                             

Investigator

Up betimes, and then away with Mr. Yeabsly to my Lord Ashly’s, whither by and by comes Sir H. Cholmly and Creed, and then to my Lord, and there entered into examination of Mr. Yeabsly’s accounts, wherein as in all other things I find him one of the most distinct men that ever I did see in my life. He raised many scruples which were to be answered another day and so parted, giving me an alarme how to provide myself against the day of my passing my accounts. Thence I to Westminster to look after the striking of my tallys, but nothing done or to be done therein. So to the ‘Change, to speake with Captain Cocke, among other things about getting of the silver plates of him, which he promises to do; but in discourse he tells me that I should beware of my fellow-officers; and by name told me that my Lord Bruncker should say in his hearing, before Sir W. Batten, of me, that he could undo the man, if he would; wherein I think he is a foole; but, however, it is requisite I be prepared against the man’s friendship. Thence home to dinner alone, my wife being abroad. After dinner to the setting some things in order in my dining-room; and by and by comes my wife home and Mrs. Pierce with her, so I lost most of this afternoon with them, and in the evening abroad with them, our long tour by coach, to Hackney, so to Kingsland, and then to Islington, there entertaining them by candlelight very well, and so home with her, set her down, and so home and to bed.

the way I find life
is any day an art

how I look at things
in my room by candlelight


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 11 May 1666.