The Buddha picks up a call without first checking caller ID,

so he is unprepared for the phone sales person’s smooth
segue from the opening “Do I have the pleasure of speaking
with Mr. Buddha?” to a series of personal-seeming questions.
Too late, he realizes these are geared toward selling him
a life insurance product. But, having nothing more pressing
to do than water his dendrobiums and clean the bathroom
before a simple supper and his bedtime meditation,
he lets the agent who identifies himself as “Joe”
work through his spiel. The Buddha answers in good
faith questions about dependents and beneficiaries:
No one, and everyone; and whether he might appreciate
the difference between a simple term life insurance
versus a universal or whole-life policy which combines
life coverage with an investment fund: The goal of all
life, young man, is the movement toward greater and
greater enlightenment, which is the freedom at last
from suffering and illusion.
Joe the agent splutters,
fumbles to pick up the thread, then falls momentarily
silent before concluding he is speaking with a madman.
Therefore, when he disconnects, he does not hear
the Buddha’s questions: What good is the cash value
one might build from investments made by the company
in my imperfect life? and even if there is no deductible
because death is a one time event— from every iteration
of suffering, do we not die repeatedly and wither
faster than thistles under the scorching sun?

Civilizing mission

Up among my workmen with great pleasure.
Then to the office, where I found Sir W. Pen sent down yesterday to Chatham to get two great ships in readiness presently to go to the East Indies upon some design against the Dutch, we think, at Goa but it is a great secret yet.
Dined at home, came Mr. Shepley and Moore, and did business with both of them. After that to Sir W. Batten’s, where great store of company at dinner. Among others my schoolfellow, Mr. Christmas, where very merry, and hither came letters from above for the fitting of two other ships for the East Indies in all haste, and so we got orders presently for the Hampshire and Nonsuch. Then home and there put some papers in order, and not knowing what to do, the house being so dirty, I went to bed.

I go to the Indies
on business with Christ
in the ship, and I an ape
not knowing the dirt.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 29 March 1661.

Wage slave

Up early among my workmen, then Mr. Creed coming to see me I went along with him to Sir Robert Slingsby (he being newly maister of that title by being made a Baronett) to discourse about Mr. Creed’s accounts to be made up, and from thence by coach to my cozen Thomas Pepys, to borrow 1000l. for my Lord, which I am to expect an answer to tomorrow. So to my Lord’s, and there staid and dined, and after dinner did get my Lord to view Mr. Shepley’s accounts as I had examined them, and also to sign me a bond for my 500l.
Then with Mr. Shepley to the Theatre and saw “Rollo” ill acted. That done to drink a cup of ale and so by coach to London, and having set him down in Cheapside I went home, where I found a great deal of work done to-day, and also 70l. paid me by the Treasurer upon the bill of exchange that I have had hopes of so long, so that, my heart in great content; I went to bed.

Work is a net
made of ale and cheap hopes,
my heart in a tent.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 28 March 1661.

Onion snow

This entry is part 63 of 91 in the series Toward Noon: 3verses


The March winds
have blown wet snow
sideways against the trees—

look in one direction
and the woods are white;
in the other, brown.

The snow sticks to our boot soles,
lifting like lids
from jars full of spring.


Musk that soil gives off after rain,
first petrichor of approaching spring:
what message is written in the loam,
in the clustered weeds poised to send
tiny emissaries on the wind: death?
increase? In the window’s embrasure
I pause to widen the in-between,
increased in the window’s embrasure.
Tiny emissaries on the wind, death
in the clustered weeds poised to send
what message is written in the loam.
First petrichor of approaching spring,
musk that soil gives off after rain.


In response to Via Negativa: Rain Date.


is the bead I finger all
night long, the bone
made smooth from constant
plying; it is the drops
that fall down the gradated
steps of the motorized
tabletop fountain
before they climb up again;
it is January’s recycled sorrows
come to haunt the mind in April,
the prayer flags that flutter
squares of color in uneven wind.

Killer moves

Up early to see my workmen at work. My brother Tom comes to me, and among other things I looked over my old clothes and did give him a suit of black stuff clothes and a hat and some shoes.
At the office all the morning, where Sir G. Carteret comes, and there I did get him to promise me some money upon a bill of exchange, whereby I shall secure myself of 60l. which otherwise I should not know how to get.
At noon I found my stairs quite broke down, that I could not get up but by a ladder; and my wife not being well she kept her chamber all this day.
To the Dolphin to a dinner of Mr. Harris’s, where Sir Williams both and my Lady Batten, and her two daughters, and other company, where a great deal of mirth, and there staid till 11 o’clock at night; and in our mirth I sang and sometimes fiddled (there being a noise of fiddlers there), and at last we fell to dancing, the first time that ever I did in my life, which I did wonder to see myself to do. At last we made Mingo, Sir W. Batten’s black, and Jack, Sir W. Pen’s, dance, and it was strange how the first did dance with a great deal of seeming skill.
Home, where I found my wife all day in her chamber. So to bed.

A black hat
and some shoes
could not get up
a ladder, and fell
to dancing—
the first dance,
the first great kill.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 27 March 1661.

Rain date

This entry is part 62 of 91 in the series Toward Noon: 3verses


It’s the first petrichor of spring—
that musk the soil gives off after rain,
strongest when long delayed.

So who wouldn’t choose
a day like today for dancing?
Side by side, cackling softly,

the two pileated woodpeckers
hitch their way down a tall locust tree
all the way to the ground.

For a fuller description (and pictures) of this unusual pileated behavior, see Rachel’s blog post.

The Buddha fills in job applications

Almond the shape of my eyes; lotus
the width of my hips or the soft
inscrutability of a half-smile.
Virtue the act of sitting still,
going nowhere, being a stick-in-
the-mud. Or being pliable: sucking
the tummy in, filling it out with breath
or bread. Give me the bread, the bowl
of milk, honey from the hive, water
from the well, wine from the skin
that loosens all tongues and turns
every fool into a resident sage.


In response to Via Negativa: Butsuzo.


Open wide, says the dentist’s assistant
to the Buddha; I’m going to stretch your mouth
a little bit more, ok?
She blinks at the overhead
light; the xylocaine with the bitter bubblegum
taste and scent has taken effect, and the dentist
plunges the tip of the needle into her lower gum
and jawline, pulling at her cheek for effect.
When the drill begins to widen the broken
enamel of her tooth to prepare for its filling,
she closes her eyes and tries to pretend
she is on a lounge chair poolside, and
the noise and discomfort are merely effects
of a nearby construction project. She’s marveled
at small glimpses caught in the mouth mirror,
her jagged teeth miniature rows of mountains
receding in a ridged landscape. She remembers
a black-and-white film she watched long ago:
“The Passion of Joan of Arc,” how she found it
impossible to tell whether it was rapture
or suffering that crossed the stark face
of the girl martyr played by Maria Falconetti;
how the tipped-back head, wide eyes, and parted
lips might signify both agony and the most
exquisite pleasure. And she can see it’s true
from the faces of people buckled into their seats
as the roller coaster picks up speed before
the plunge, from the way the lovers writhing
in the sheets approach their climax: how thin
is the line that separates one state from
another, how quickly pain might transition
to the joy of release then back again.