Housekeeping note: change of email subscription service

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

Putting on my web admin hat for a second to bring you this important announcement (clears throat): Henceforth, Via Negativa subscriptions will be served by rather than Mailchimp, which doesn’t work too consistently anymore. That’s because we have too many subscribers for Mailchimp to handle on their free plan—a quality problem, I suppose—and I didn’t feel like hitting y’all up to cover the cost of a paid plan ($27/month! Yikes). I’ve swapped in the new form in the sidebar, and a checkbox will appear below the comment form at the bottom of every post.

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river in November light between bare woods and mountain

Our pockets full, we've been blessed
with mystery and unseen presences. We
should learn what it means to become
the ancestor, but we are still so enamored
with the million and one ways time is organized 
in this life of constant endings. The ice cream place 
closes at 10. and sushi restaurants make Sundays 
and Mondays their staff weekends. Trash collection 
in this neighborhood is Thursday, and recycling 
is picked up on alternating weeks. More 
than coincidence, serendipity is finding 
a doctor who speaks your language, a human
who sees in you not history as baggage, 
who still opens to the possibility of surprise.

Dirt merchant

Sam Pepys and me

All day at home to make an end of our dirty work of the plasterers, and indeed my kitchen is now so handsome that I did not repent of all the trouble that I have been put to, to have it done.
This day or yesterday, I hear, Prince Rupert is come to Court; but welcome to nobody.

to make dirt last
my hands met

all that I have done
is welcome to nobody

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 29 September 1660.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

You salt a magic circle on the ground, leave
offerings of food and drink on the counter. 
Allow the porch light to keep burning 
but nearby, lay a water-filled basin—decoy 
and reflective surface. You want them near 
but not so near that they forget they're on 
an otherworldly journey; you want them 
not to lose their way, but imagine one more 
visitation. In the morning when the pewter 
bowl is filled with wings of little silver 
bodies, your sadness swells like the first time. 
Why is it so hard for us to leave sorrow alone, slip 
its many medallions into their cases? And yet 
our pockets are full, we have been blessed.


Sam Pepys and me

(Office day). This morning Sir W. Batten and Col. Slingsby went with Col. Birch and Sir Wm. Doyly to Chatham to pay off a ship there. So only Sir W. Pen and I left here in town.
All the afternoon among my workmen till 10 or 11 at night, and did give them drink and very merry with them, it being my luck to meet with a sort of drolling workmen on all occasions. To bed.

office is a birch
and I am the only pen

I work in luck
a sort of rolling occasion

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 28 September 1660.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

The call of owls at night, always interrogating.
A fear of hairy tree demons crouched in the branches,
smoking cigars. We went to school but left an opening, 
for in case any of that was true. Returning from funerals,
we washed our hands by the door, in case the souls
of the departed had followed our scent home. 
Under a froth of mosquito netting, an island
from which to push off toward sleep. You tucked
every fold carefully around the mattress, leaving
no space. In the ceiling or in the floor, some houses 
held a secret door—one rusted handle coupled with 
an iron slide lock. Before the grownups retired for
the night, sometimes they walked around the house 
perimeter, checking windows or scattering salt.


Sam Pepys and me

To my Lord at Mr. Crew’s, and there took order about some business of his, and from thence home to my workmen all the afternoon. In the evening to my Lord’s, and there did read over with him and Dr. Walker my lord’s new commission for sea, and advised thereupon how to have it drawn. So home and to bed.

sand out of sand
the Lord’s lord

is sea
is the raw bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 27 September 1660.

The Turn

it starts with a zipper in the rain
that soft syllable

an oak leaning into
its impending death

you can shelter under it
as open as a book

it starts red and wrong
as an oak apple

old sapsucker holes bleeding
pale sap down a spruce

rain collecting in a hollow
atop an exposed birch root

so the tree can mainline it
like an autumn addict

mushrooms glory
in their fruiting bodies

as black drupes swell on maple-
leafed viburnum

and beechdrops’ self-fertilized flowers
hide under a twiggy bouquet

it’s a kind of spring
buried in the heart of autumn

just before antlers turn
from trees into weapons

and every leaf in the forest
goes off-script


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

Roses in pots; stubby, uneven grass we believed 
would grow into luxuriant green. We tried to make 
that garden as pleasing as others'. I remember 
mint growing on one side of the porch, bougainvillea 
quickly taking over the wall. No birdbath or statuary 
of cherubs, but Saturday afternoons we drank
soda on the steps, fingered dog-paged komiks 
borrowed from the corner store. Angela 
puckered her lips and boasted that she'd filched 
her sister's tube of coral lipstick. Unless the grownups
were around, no one really batted an eye, not even when 
she asked if we wanted to see the lace edge of her new 
panty. On the downwind, the heavy musk of magnolias.
The call of owls at night, always interrogating.

Broken home (2)

Sam Pepys and me

Office day. That done to the church, where we did consult about our gallery. So home to dinner, where I found Mrs. Hunt, who brought me a letter for me to get my Lord to sign for her husband, which I shall do for her.
At home with the workmen all the afternoon, our house being in a most sad pickle.
In the evening to the office, where I fell a-reading of Speed’s Geography for a while.
So home thinking to have found Will at home, but he not being come home but gone somewhere else I was very angry, and when he came did give him a very great check for it, and so I went to bed.

a home brought me
all the house
a sad geography

thinking to have found a home
but being gone

somewhere else
as angry

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 26 September 1660, a revision of my 2013 erasure.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

My mother stands in the garden, dressed
in stirrup pants and a print top cropped 
at the hip. I am five, according to the date
she writes in blue ballpoint pen ink directly  
on the photograph: April 1966. I stand right next 
to her with a ribbon in my hair, wearing an outfit 
she must have sewn—a close-necked dress which
looks like a tunic, because she was always leaving 
some allowance for growth. Behind us is a row 
of hollyhocks, most taller than me. The photograph 
is sepia, but I remember the flowers were pink 
and white. I can't see her eyes shaded by cat-eye
sunglasses; can't tell if she was happy in the middle 
of that garden: roses in pots, stubby, uneven grass.