We slept in rooms that were but thin
partitions against the cold— bare
wood, tin roofs, and with our coats
unlined; yet we had no word for winter
in our dictionary. That year I learned
to eat fermented things, learned to drink
coffee sweetened with sugar, lightened with milk
from a can. No children had come yet but I knew
the press of stones against the swelling riverbank,
the shale that cut through loam. I divined then
what the herbalist meant when she whispered
as her hands worked to massage the chill
out of my limbs: There is a space beneath
the ribs where hearth stones lie close
to rub against each other— take care
their heat does not go out.
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.
High winds. I press an ear
to the trunk of a ridge-top oak
and hear nothing but wind.
My footprints in the snow
are more than erased;
they’re raised up, scattered like ashes.
The woodpecker must hear any sound
an oak can make.
It taps out a response.
Within all the morning. About noon comes one that had formerly known me and I him, but I know not his name, to borrow 5l. of me, but I had the wit to deny him.
There dined with me this day both the Pierces and their wives, and Captain Cuttance, and Lieutenant Lambert, with whom we made ourselves very merry by taking away his ribbans and garters, having made him to confess that he is lately married.
The company being gone I went to my lute till night, and so to bed.
Within me, one
that had formerly known me—
but I know not his name.
(I had the wit to deny him.)
We made ourselves
by taking away art.
Made to confess,
I married the company.
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 26 January 1660/61.
There is always an animal
in the grass: fox or weasel,
snake; marriage of tongue
to adder, fork to tine.
Keep one eye on the damp
boundary between all realms
though no satin bridesmaid
dress has caught in the branches,
no face floats in the shallows
like a page from a pale narcissus.
The wind erases all trace of encounter:
whatever was taken here or hunted hard.
In response to Via Negativa: Nuthatch .
The sound of porcupine teeth
in the oak’s crown,
as lethal as mistletoe.
Ahead of me on the path,
the tracks of three deer
braiding and unbraiding.
I reach inside my coat
and find a twig. It’s happening
sooner than I thought.
When was the last time you felt
the white glisten of tears before their
harvest in a vial; or the random
punctuation provided by birds swarming
electrical lines? Across the valley
that winter the cold made the almonds
shrivel, the citrus crops shrink
their promise of little suns.
In the yard next door, a girl read
a passage aloud from a book using
that way of talking: lilt at the end
of each phrase, question where there is
no question. Overhearing, I wanted
to strip the rosemary of leaves,
offer a brittle handful— as if
they could be used as pauses;
as if the faint languor of scent
that remained in each virgule
might bring a different
nuance to the horizon.
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.
At the office all the morning. Dined at home and Mr. Hater with me, and so I did make even with him for the last quarter. After dinner he and I to look upon the instructions of my Lord Northumberland’s, but we were interrupted by Mr. Salisbury’s coming in, who came to see me and to show me my Lord’s picture in little, of his doing. And truly it is strange to what a perfection he is come in a year’s time. From thence to Paul’s Churchyard about books, and so back again home. This night comes two cages, which I bought this evening for my canary birds, which Captain Rooth this day sent me. So to bed.
I hate to look upon
the land—to see how
strange a perfection
is a year’s time.
From the yard
this night comes.
Age is my canary,
a root sent to bed.
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 25 January 1660/61.
Nuthatch at the window,
probing under the sill
for frozen bugs and pupae,
one eye on the glass
where, behind the bare trees,
my bare face swims up—
that odd ice
on a sideways pond
with its year-round winter…
If you can read, you can cook:
my mothers’ motto from the day
I learned to crack an egg on the rim
of a bowl and separate the whites
from yolks. Powders to leaven and sift,
oils to ease; sugar to make sweet, salt
to temper all with a trace of tears—
Cake for the kitchen gods; but for you,
burnt crust at the bottom of the pan
to remind the greedy mouth
of the world’s tough hide
and bitter rind.
In response to Via Negativa: Short order cook.
At home all day. There dined with me Sir William Batten and his lady and daughter, Sir W. Pen, Mr. Fox (his lady being ill could not come), and Captain Cuttance.
The first dinner I have made since I came hither. This cost me above 5l., and merry we were — only my chimney smokes.
In the afternoon Mr. Hater bringing me my last quarter’s salary, which I received of him, and so I have now Mr. Barlow’s money in my hands.
The company all go away, and by and by Sir Wms. both and my Lady Batten and his daughter come again and supped with me and talked till late, and so to bed, being glad that the trouble is over.
A bat is ill, since
my chimney smokes.
I quarter him in my hands—
a bat bed.
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 24 January 1660/61.