Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita
Dante, The Divine Comedy (Canto 1, Part 1, Inferno)
Past the middle, by imperfect calculus:
as in the tale which starts with the boat
descending into the river’s mouth—
The waters with their dark pearl sheen,
mile after mile traveled back through time
that cannot be recovered except as dream.
And it is true the body is its own freight,
pulling everything it’s touched and burned for
in its wake: grass, cricket song, paper
and thorn; lantern lights, flesh and its robe
the color of smoke and clouds. Wherever I go,
I’ll feel the pulse of that beacon signaling
always ahead of arrival, invisible thread
drawn from foot-sole and up through crown
of the head. O long-lost love, bear me safely
across the chasm; seat me at your table.
In response to Via Negativa: Ranter.
By times to Sir R. Fanshawe to draw up the preamble to my Lord’s Patent.
So to my Lord, and with him to White Hall, where I saw a great many fine antique heads of marble, that my Lord Northumberland had given the King. Here meeting with Mr. De Cretz, he looked over many of the pieces, in the gallery with me and told me [by] whose hands they were, with great pleasure.
Dined at home and Mr. Hawly with me upon six of my pigeons, which my wife has resolved to kill here.
This day came Will, my boy, to me; the wench continuing lame, so that my wife could not be longer without somebody to help her. In the afternoon with Sir Edward Walker, at his lodgings by St. Giles Church, for my Lord’s pedigree, and carried it to Sir R. Fanshawe.
To Mr. Crew’s, and there took money and paid Mrs. Anne, Mrs. Jemima’s maid, off quite, and so she went away and another came to her. To White Hall with Mr. Moore, where I met with a letter from Mr. Turner, offering me 150l. to be joined with me in my patent, and to advise me how to improve the advantage of my place, and to keep off Barlow.
To my Lord’s till late at night, and so home.
Time to draw heads
and hands on pigeons,
to kill somebody for a fan
or join with me in my patent
to improve the night?
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 30 June 1660.
In the high grass that rippled like a sea, we played at finding, hiding, disappearing. In and out of the shadows, the sun flickered like a lazy fish, a silken flag, a golden eye whose tears spooled thin into a bowstring. Straight down we slid, and down again, to where the ground dipped like presentiment of treachery to court that sharp frisson of danger: rocks to tatter our clothes, any abrupt edge to catapult us through the humid air— We touched and tasted salt of our sweat, whelped cries from our furious labor to break through circles that ringed our homes: bees in their hive, the honey-fat queen glued fast in her cell. All the drones circling and circling, sentinels divested of their sting.
In response to Via Negativa: Sound of the Sea.
This day or two my maid Jane has been lame, that we cannot tell what to do for want of her. Up and to White Hall, where I got my warrant from the Duke to be Clerk of the Acts. Also I got my Lord’s warrant from the Secretary for his honour of Earle of Portsmouth, and Viscount Montagu of Hinchingbroke.
So to my Lord, to give him an account of what I had done. Then to Sir Geffery Palmer, to give them to him to have bills drawn upon them, who told me that my Lord must have some good Latinist to make the preamble to his Patent, which must express his late service in the best terms that he can, and he told me in what high flaunting terms Sir J. Greenville had caused his to be done, which he do not like; but that Sir Richard Fanshawe had done General Monk’s very well.
Back to Westminster, and meeting Mr. Townsend in the Palace, he and I and another or two went and dined at the Leg there. Then to White Hall, where I was told by Mr. Hutchinson at the Admiralty, that Mr. Barlow, my predecessor, Clerk of the Acts, is yet alive, and coming up to town to look after his place, which made my heart sad a little. At night told my Lord thereof, and he bade me get possession of my Patent; and he would do all that could be done to keep him out. This night my Lord and I looked over the list of the Captains, and marked some that my Lord had a mind to have put out. Home and to bed. Our wench very lame, abed these two days.
I rant. My mouth must have
some good Latin to flaunt,
like a monk in the palace
coming to look after his mind.
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 29 June 1660.
My brother Tom came to me with patterns to choose for a suit. I paid him all to this day, and did give him 10l. upon account.
To Mr. Coventry, who told me that he would do me all right in my business.
To Sir G. Downing, the first visit I have made him since he came. He is so stingy a fellow I care not to see him; I quite cleared myself of his office, and did give him liberty to take any body in. Hawly and he are parted too, he is going to serve Sir Thos. Ingram.
I went also this morning to see Mrs. Pierce, the chirurgeon. I found her in bed in her house in Margaret churchyard. Her husband returned to sea. I did invite her to go to dinner with me and my wife to-day. After all this to my Lord, who lay a-bed till eleven o’clock, it being almost five before he went to bed, they supped so late last night with the King.
This morning I saw poor Bishop Wren going to Chappel, it being a thanksgiving-day for the King’s return.
After my Lord was awake, I went up to him to the Nursery, where he do lie, and, having talked with him a little, I took leave and carried my wife and Mrs. Pierce to Clothworkers’-Hall, to dinner, where Mr. Pierce, the Purser, met us. We were invited by Mr. Chaplin, the Victualler, where Nich. Osborne was. Our entertainment very good, a brave hall, good company, and very good music. Where among other things I was pleased that I could find out a man by his voice, whom I had never seen before, to be one that sang behind the curtaine formerly at Sir W. Davenant’s opera. Here Dr. Gauden and Mr. Gauden the victualler dined with us. After dinner to Mr. Rawlinson’s, to see him and his wife, and would have gone to my Aunt Wight, but that her only child, a daughter, died last night.
Home and to my Lord, who supped within, and Mr. E. Montagu, Mr. Thos. Crew, and others with him sat up late. I home and to bed.
My brother the sea,
who lay so late awake,
I find by his voice.
His only child died
last night at home.
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 28 June 1660.
Heat like a mouth,
high musical whine
of cicadas emerging
from that womb
beneath the trees—
Scents of dry leaf,
and the long days
Brass and gold,
deep bass chord,
o you that rouse
the sleeping wing
to its small mystery.
Thin stroke pencilled
by razor edge of grass,
heat of candle flame
pinched by finger and thumb—
What pleasures does the body
remember, surpassing pain?
In response to Via negativa: Resonant.
With my Lord to the Duke, where he spoke to Mr. Coventry to despatch my business of the Acts, in which place every body gives me joy, as if I were in it, which God send.
Dined with my Lord and all the officers of his regiment, who invited my Lord and his friends, as many as he would bring, to dinner, at the Swan, at Dowgate, a poor house and ill dressed, but very good fish and plenty. Here Mr. Symons, the Surgeon, told me how he was likely to lose his estate that he had bought, at which I was not a little pleased.
To Westminster, and with Mr. Howe by coach to the Speaker’s, where my Lord supped with the King, but I could not get in. So back again, and after a song or two in my chamber in the dark, which do (now that the bed is out) sound very well, I went home and to bed.
My body gives me joy,
as if I were a swan or a fish.
A song or two
in my chamber in the dark,
now that the bed is out,
sound very well.
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 27 June 1660.
In London, every day is a red letter day, and the sky is rarely anything but white.
They only want you to think
there isn’t a script: that buildup
from behind-the-scenes confession
to crestfallen admission, to wrath
then tears as cameras twist from face
to eager face in the audience? That’s not
natural outburst— and if for some
unfathomable reason that has become
a credible picture of the soul’s
wilderness, take me away now
and throw away the key. I’d rather be
a monk sentenced to celibacy, confined
to a musty carrel within a library,
assigned to a lifetime of illustrating
page after page: nightshade, monkshood,
bitter oleander, blue cohosh. World
ungraspable except in pieces,
world of unseen danger, unfinished
psalms and lamentations: your dust
powders an edge and for a moment
its parts shine almost like a halo.
In response to Via Negativa: Against Nature.