Runes

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
What is forever, when we live 
near the water? Sand-shifting dunes,

cords of seagrass. More inland, the soil
beneath is latticed with roots. Dampness

and heat give way to spores. When was it
that planets aligned like beads on a chain?

At the hinge of the year, we're eager again
to look for portents. A decades-old ban on

psychic readings has just been repealed in Norfolk.
Now I can look for someone who will run her finger

along the lines of my palm and tell me something
I don't already know. She'll turn my hand sideways

to count the ripples along its edge. She'll pull an oracle
card and light candles that smell of salt and driftwood.

Indigent

Sam Pepys and me

My father came and drank his morning draft with me, and sat with me till I was ready, and so he and I about the business of the cloth. By and by I left him and went and dined with my Lady, who, now my Lord is gone, is come to her poor housekeeping again. Then to my father’s, who tells me what he has done, and we resolved upon two pieces of scarlet, two of purple, and two of black, and 50l. in linen.
I home, taking 300l. with me home from Alderman Backwell’s. After writing to my Lord to let him know what I had done I was going to bed, but there coming the purser of the King’s yacht for victualls presently, for the Duke of York is to go down to-morrow, I got him to promise stowage for these things there, and so I went to bed, bidding Will go and fetch the things from the carrier’s hither, which about 12 o’clock were brought to my house and laid there all night.

in the poorhouse
who tells what he has

one scar of purple
and two of black

a line in writing
a promise to go


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 15 June 1661.

Desecration

This entry is part 22 of 22 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Page 22 of Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté

A cat with a bone does not
mindlessly gnaw; he masticates.
A bone can be a mastiff,

a mascot, a masquerade. A bone
outside the body might be lonelier
than God, that gelded erection.

If so, salute! In the life of a soldier
there are many companions, but
no one so intimate

as the enemy. Your heart has
a special way it catches
just for him. Bulldozing

his burial ground shows
your undying passion.
Whose bone is it now?

Homing

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
How lucky that they grow despite our seeming lack of effort:
the lush fig tree in the yard, a stand of hydrangea pushing out
planet after planet of deepest blue. Beside the front steps,
gardenia—rosal—unfurl and perfume our recent comings and
goings. Children are like that too, though we try to be more
faithful to their care. I remember how, before he was two,
my grandson didn’t know what sugar was—the kind you spoon
out of a jar and sprinkle on cereal or toast, though fruit
was fine. In their own childhoods, I watched out for my daughters’
every elbow scrape, every tumble; tended their fevers with cool
cloths. Isn’t a certain steadfastness asked of mothers? That we make
of ourselves a home to always return to. That we keep
our hands on the rudder, bear them through the narrow channels
so at the end, they might open up to embrace the sky.

Sand castle

Sam Pepys and me

To Whitehall to my Lord’s, where I found Mr. Edward Montagu and his family come to lie during my Lord’s absence. I sent to my house by my Lord’s order his shipp and triangle virginall. So to my father’sand did give him order about the buying of this cloth to send to my Lord. But I could not stay with him myself, for having got a great cold by my playing the fool in the water yesterday I was in great pain, and so went home by coach to bed, and went not to the office at all, and by keeping myself warm, I broke wind and so came to some ease. Rose and eat some supper, and so to bed again.

o white lie
my house is virginal
the sand could not stay

cold water went home to ice
warm wind to a rose bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 14 June 1661.

Exile

This entry is part 21 of 22 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Page 21 of Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté

Whatever got slipped in my drink, it isn’t working. My pen has come to life just to tell me this, all wild-eyed and red. Its feather still won’t fly. I am a prisoner of time, as are we all, and a citizen of France, as every deposed despot must eventually become. My interpreter balks at the mystery undressing itself in my head: so much untying and unlacing! It’s enervating. No wonder he prefers straight talk. As if the dancers he follows so avidly aren’t also speaking with every twist and sway. They are saying hell yes to some heaven that barely exists, shiny as a soap bubble in the sun. I have never seen more clearly than in artificial light.

Hereafter

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
On the radio, the man waiting to die 
explains what he is doing to feed
the stories of his life into a computer
program. The more stories he can tell
before his cancer claims him, the more
information the program will have
to search through, so any family member
who has a question can hear an answer
in his own voice, resembling one
he might give, were he still alive.

Perhaps it is better to spend the time
left to you, like this. Perhaps the sorrow
is too much, staring at a hospital wall or
out a window at lake water crisscrossed
with shadows of ghosts. Some people
don't wish to be burned when they pass;
some want to go into the earth simply, without
wrappers, so they can grow back as a tree. None
of us know what it really means to be immortal.
You only know you want something of you to go on.

Conscripted

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

I went up and down to Alderman Backwell’s, but his servants not being up, I went home and put on my gray cloth suit and faced white coat, made of one of my wife’s pettycoates, the first time I have had it on, and so in a riding garb back again and spoke with Mr. Shaw at the Alderman’s, who offers me 300l. if my Lord pleases to buy this cloth with, which pleased me well. So to the Wardrobe and got my Lord to order Mr. Creed to imprest so much upon me to be paid by Alderman Backwell.
So with my Lord to Whitehall by water, and he having taken leave of the King, comes to us at his lodgings and from thence goes to the garden stairs and there takes barge, and at the stairs was met by Sir R. Slingsby, who there took his leave of my Lord, and I heard my Lord thank him for his kindness to me, which Sir Robert answered much to my advantage.
I went down with my Lord in the barge to Deptford, and there went on board the Dutch yacht and staid there a good while, W. Howe not being come with my Lord’s things, which made my Lord very angry. By and by he comes and so we set sayle, and anon went to dinner, my Lord and we very merry; and after dinner I went down below and there sang, and took leave of W. Howe, Captain Rolt, and the rest of my friends, then went up and took leave of my Lord, who give me his hand and parted with great respect.
So went and Captain Ferrers with me into our wherry, and my Lord did give five guns, all they had charged, which was the greatest respect my Lord could do me, and of which I was not a little proud. So with a sad and merry heart I left them sailing pleasantly from Erith, hoping to be in the Downs tomorrow early.
We toward London in our boat. Pulled off our stockings and bathed our legs a great while in the river, which I had not done some years before.
By and by we come to Greenwich, and thinking to have gone on the King’s yacht, the King was in her, so we passed by, and at Woolwich went on shore, in the company of Captain Poole of Jamaica and young Mr. Kennersley, and many others, and so to the tavern where we drank a great deal both wine and beer. So we parted hence and went home with Mr. Falconer, who did give us cherrys and good wine. So to boat, and young Poole took us on board the Charity and gave us wine there, with which I had full enough, and so to our wherry again, and there fell asleep till I came almost to the Tower, and there the Captain and I parted, and I home and with wine enough in my head, went to bed.

in a white coat
the war comes

and takes me
for a gun

off on some green shore
others part with

who give us
no sleep


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 13 June 1661.

Homestretch

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
All these years, I've looked for a pattern:
on painted ceramic plates, blue spatter of a willow,
deft foliage reflected in blue waves of water on which

a single boatman is traveling. I've seen
that footbridge leading to a house in the mountains,
a wall of stones shoring up an edge of earth—

And then, every detail in miniature, as if
a careful hand laid them there against the moss
for someone to marvel at. I can see

a figure in an upstairs window, but I don't know
if it is me or you. I don't know if there is a bed in that
room; or if we are old or older, since we can be

only those things now. Spring or fall, different
colors enter the world and bind themselves
to the books we're making. Summer

or winter, we decant clouds of light and dark.
I think I know how the story ends, how it always ends;
but the woman singing in the hills has other ideas.

What Does the Shadow Know?

This entry is part 20 of 22 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

 

Page 20 of Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté

I have held back my shadow
long enough, like a sheepdog
too long among the sheep.
It has learned only how to obey,
not how to bay for blood. I will stop
hiding it in the folds of my costume
like a chained watch.
                                               But what
is this conspiracy of a mirrored floor
to unmoor us and flood our secret
parts with light? What other
oppressive heaven has sent
this self-on-a-shelf?