When they teach us of our history,
they always begin with dates: never
before 1521, which is when the Portuguese
sailor reaches our shores, takes one look,
and freaks. Out come the flags and christening
oils, the cross with which to subdue the natives
showing too much inked skin, optic weaves,
dark elements, ores. Little does he know
he’ll be dead in under a month and a half:
spear finding quick the flaw in the armor.
Months later, Tenochtitlan falls and Cuauhtémoc
surrenders, also to the Spanish. Even then,
there are prophets predicting apocalypse:
the end of days is always coming soon
to a theatre near you. War, marauding,
hand to hand combat. Going rogue, biding
time in the forests: all of which
our forebears were always good at.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Civics.

Up, and after all business done, though late, I to Deptford, but before I went out of the office saw there young Bagwell’s wife returned, but could not stay to speak to her, though I had a great mind to it, and also another great lady, as to fine clothes, did attend there to have a ticket signed; which I did do, taking her through the garden to my office, where I signed it and had a salute of her, and so I away by boat to Redriffe, and thence walked, and after dinner, at Sir G. Carteret’s, where they stayed till almost three o’clock for me, and anon took boat, Mr. Carteret and I to the ferry-place at Greenwich, and there staid an hour crossing the water to and again to get our coach and horses over; and by and by set out, and so toward Dagenhams. But, Lord! what silly discourse we had by the way as to love-matters, he being the most awkerd man I ever met with in my life as to that business. Thither we come, by that time it begun to be dark, and were kindly received by Lady Wright and my Lord Crew. And to discourse they went, my Lord discoursing with him, asking of him questions of travell, which he answered well enough in a few words; but nothing to the lady from him at all. To supper, and after supper to talk again, he yet taking no notice of the lady. My Lord would have had me have consented to leaving the young people together to-night, to begin their amours, his staying being but to be little. But I advised against it, lest the lady might be too much surprised. So they led him up to his chamber, where I staid a little, to know how he liked the lady, which he told me he did mightily; but, Lord! in the dullest insipid manner that ever lover did. So I bid him good night, and down to prayers with my Lord Crew’s family, and after prayers, my Lord, and Lady Wright, and I, to consult what to do; and it was agreed at last to have them go to church together, as the family used to do, though his lameness was a great objection against it. But at last my Lady Jem. sent me word by my Lady Wright that it would be better to do just as they used to do before his coming; and therefore she desired to go to church, which was yielded then to.

business done you turn
into the garden

green and dark
asking questions of travel

answered in words of night
like a lover or a church


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 15 July 1665.

Up, and all the morning at the Exchequer endeavouring to strike tallys for money for Tangier, and mightily vexed to see how people attend there, some out of towne, and others drowsy, and to others it was late, so that the King’s business suffers ten times more than all their service is worth. So I am put off to to-morrow. Thence to the Old Exchange, by water, and there bespoke two fine shirts of my pretty seamstress, who, she tells me, serves Jacke Fenn. Upon the ‘Change all the news is that guns have been heard and that news is come by a Dane that my Lord was in view of De Ruyter, and that since his parting from my Lord of Sandwich he hath heard guns, but little of it do I think true. So home to dinner, where Povy by agreement, and after dinner we to talk of our Tangier matters, about keeping our profit at the pay and victualling of the garrison, if the present undertakers should leave it, wherein I did nor will do any thing unworthy me and any just man, but they being resolved to quit it, it is fit I should suffer Mr. Povy to do what he can with Mr. Gauden about it to our profit. Thence to the discoursing of putting some sums of money in order and tallys, which we did pretty well. So he in the evening gone, I by water to Sir G. Carteret’s, and there find my Lady Sandwich and her buying things for my Lady Jem.’s wedding; and my Lady Jem. is beyond expectation come to Dagenhams, where Mr. Carteret is to go to visit her to-morrow; and my proposal of waiting on him, he being to go alone to all persons strangers to him, was well accepted, and so I go with him. But, Lord! to see how kind my Lady Carteret is to her! Sends her most rich jewells, and provides bedding and things of all sorts most richly for her, which makes my Lady and me out of our wits almost to see the kindnesse she treats us all with, as if they would buy the young lady.
Thence away home and, foreseeing my being abroad two days, did sit up late making of letters ready against tomorrow, and other things, and so to bed, to be up betimes by the helpe of a larum watch, which by chance I borrowed of my watchmaker to-day, while my owne is mending.

see how people other others
as the news guns gun for our kindness

as if they would buy time
by the help of a watchmaker


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 14 July 1665.

Lay long, being sleepy, and then up to the office, my Lord Brunker (after his sickness) being come to the office, and did what business there was, and so I by water, at night late, to Sir G. Carteret’s, but there being no oars to carry me, I was fain to call a skuller that had a gentleman already in it, and he proved a man of love to musique, and he and I sung together the way down with great pleasure, and an incident extraordinary to be met with. There come to dinner, they haveing dined, but my Lady caused something to be brought for me, and I dined well and mighty merry, especially my Lady Slaning and I about eating of creame and brown bread, which she loves as much as I. Thence after long discourse with them and my Lady alone, I and wife, who by agreement met here, took leave, and I saw my wife a little way down (it troubling me that this absence makes us a little strange instead of more fond), and so parted, and I home to some letters, and then home to bed. Above 700 died of the plague this week.

in sleep I was the skull within me
a thing of my own

troubling that this absence makes it
strange to die


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 13 July 1665.

old fashioned words unapologetic for the crispness of close consonants

and the first click in the finger joint after the needle’s steroid deposit

the slow breaths you coax as counterpoint to anxious thoughts at night

and the spinning echo of clothes tumbling in the dryer

the woody smell of rosemary next to sparse fringes of lavender

and felted caterwauling calls of barred owls

the pale clean stump where a camellia bush used to stand

and the underpattern of roots beneath the grass

a letter that wounds whenever it’s read

and a ransom that won’t ever be paid

the feeling you get looking up into fruiting branches

and the electric hum from cicadas’ tymbals as their torsos contort

peaches that drowned a brown sugar taste in the beer

and your fear of the season’s first slow-moving storms

the fat on the back of a slab of brisket

and the jar of bird chillies in a drawer

the clock on the mantel that never keeps the time

and the piles of small change you keep finding through the house

~ after “Flower Woman with Soft Piano,” Salvador Dali (1969)

If I could roll up my soul, bolt
of blue cloth under an arm; fallen

drape that crumples up then ends
in music— perhaps finally I’d

understand what it means to say
And time stood still. I can’t

remember when last my head erupted
in flowers, when a dream of ice

descended from the skies in foliate
shapes before melting and warming

into streams. Every day, it’s work
to try and widen the ledge on which

I stand. Every day, it’s work
to couple one hook to its eye, one

car to another, then send it off
in the right direction. I would like

to be unshackled from here, to lope
like a thing with young, supple legs

into a field without grids, even
without the accompaniment of music.

After doing what business I could in the morning, it being a solemn fast-day for the plague growing upon us, I took boat and down to Deptford, where I stood with great pleasure an houre or two by my Lady Sandwich’s bedside, talking to her (she lying prettily in bed) of my Lady Jemimah’s being from my Lady Pickering’s when our letters come to that place; she being at my Lord Montagu’s, at Boughton. The truth is, I had received letters of it two days ago, but had dropped them, and was in a very extraordinary straite what to do for them, or what account to give my Lady, but sent to every place; I sent to Moreclacke, where I had been the night before, and there they were found, which with mighty joy come safe to me; but all ending with satisfaction to my Lady and me, though I find my Lady Carteret not much pleased with this delay, and principally because of the plague, which renders it unsafe to stay long at Deptford. I eat a bit (my Lady Carteret being the most kind lady in the world), and so took boat, and a fresh boat at the Tower, and so up the river, against tide all the way, I having lost it by staying prating to and with my Lady, and, from before one, made it seven ere we got to Hampton Court; and when I come there all business was over, saving my finding Mr. Coventry at his chamber, and with him a good while about several businesses at his chamber, and so took leave, and away to my boat, and all night upon the water, staying a while with Nan at Moreclacke, very much pleased and merry with her, and so on homeward, and come home by two o’clock, shooting the bridge at that time of night, and so to bed, where I find Will is not, he staying at Woolwich to come with my wife to dinner tomorrow to my Lady Carteret’s. Heard Mr. Williamson repeat at Hampton Court to-day how the King of France hath lately set out a most high arrest against the Pope, which is reckoned very lofty and high.

a solemn day for lying
when the truth dropped

what do they shoot
at that time of day
how high is high


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 12 July 1665.

And so all night down by water, a most pleasant passage, and come thither by two o’clock, and so walked from the Old Swan home, and there to bed to my Will, being very weary, and he lodging at my desire in my house.
At 6 o’clock up and to Westminster (where and all the towne besides, I hear, the plague encreases), and, it being too soon to go to the Duke of Albemarle, I to the Harp and Ball, and there made a bargain with Mary to go forth with me in the afternoon, which she with much ado consented to. So I to the Duke of Albemarle’s, and there with much ado did get his consent in part to my having the money promised for Tangier, and the other part did not concur. So being displeased with this, I back to the office and there sat alone a while doing business, and then by a solemn invitation to the Trinity House, where a great dinner and company, Captain Dobbin’s feast for Elder Brother. But I broke up before the dinner half over and by water to the Harp and Ball, and thence had Mary meet me at the New Exchange, and there took coach and I with great pleasure took the ayre to Highgate, and thence to Hampstead, much pleased with her company, pretty and innocent, and had what pleasure almost I would with her, and so at night, weary and sweaty, it being very hot beyond bearing, we back again, and I set her down in St. Martin’s Lane, and so I to the evening ‘Change, and there hear all the towne full that Ostend is delivered to us, and that Alderman Backewell did go with 50,000l. to that purpose. But the truth of it I do not know, but something I believe there is extraordinary in his going. So to the office, where I did what I could as to letters, and so away to bed, shifting myself, and taking some Venice treakle, feeling myself out of order, and thence to bed to sleep.

swan lodging in my clock
elder brother to the air
the night being hot beyond bearing
deliver us some treacle of sleep


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 11 July 1665.

Up, and with great pleasure looking over a nest of puppies of Mr. Shelden’s, with which my wife is most extraordinary pleased, and one of them is promised her. Anon I took my leave, and away by water to the Duke of Albemarle’s, where he tells me that I must be at Hampton Court anon. So I home to look over my Tangier papers, and having a coach of Mr. Povy’s attending me, by appointment, in order to my coming to dine at his country house at Brainford, where he and his family is, I went and Mr. Tasbrough with me therein, it being a pretty chariot, but most inconvenient as to the horses throwing dust and dirt into one’s eyes and upon one’s clothes. There I staid a quarter of an houre, Creed being there, and being able to do little business (but the less the better). Creed rode before, and Mr. Povy and I after him in the chariot; and I was set down by him at the Parke pale, where one of his saddle horses was ready for me, he himself not daring to come into the house or be seen, because that a servant of his, out of his horse, happened to be sicke, but is not yet dead, but was never suffered to come into his house after he was ill. But this opportunity was taken to injure Povy, and most horribly he is abused by some persons hereupon, and his fortune, I believe, quite broke; but that he hath a good heart to bear, or a cunning one to conceal his evil. There I met with Sir W. Coventry, and by and by was heard by my Lord Chancellor and Treasurer about our Tangier money, and my Lord Treasurer had ordered me to forbear meddling with the 15,000l. he offered me the other day, but, upon opening the case to them, they did offer it again, and so I think I shall have it, but my Lord General must give his consent in it, this money having been promised to him, and he very angry at the proposal.
Here though I have not been in many years, yet I lacke time to stay, besides that it is, I perceive, an unpleasing thing to be at Court, everybody being fearful one of another, and all so sad, enquiring after the plague, so that I stole away by my horse to Kingston, and there with trouble was forced, to press two sturdy rogues to carry me to London, and met at the waterside with Mr. Charnocke, Sir Philip Warwicke’s clerke, who had been in company and was quite foxed. I took him with me in my boat, and so away to Richmond, and there, by night, walked with him to Moreclacke, a very pretty walk, and there staid a good while, now and then talking and sporting with Nan the servant, who says she is a seaman’s wife, and at last bade good night.

a nest of papers
convenient as one’s own pale horse

not yet dead
but open to it

an ink body to carry me
away by night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 10 July 1665.

It’s long afterward, but still
you want what doesn’t exist anymore—

and so you light a votive, set it
on a leaf to float across the lake’s

dirty surface. Every crack in the pavement
is part of a letter penned in script,

its fissures just wide enough to admit
a trail of insects walking toward the ghosts

of bodies trapped in a cavern below.
They drink from a trickle of rainwater

falling into the basin. They save
a thimbleful of pee for that time no one

speaks of— Please, don’t tell them it’s
over. When you shred a dandelion’s slight

corona in your hand, don’t mention the sound
of buildings collapsing. Don’t tell them

the morgue has run out of sheets, the funeral
parlors have run out of candles and coffins.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Childhood memory.