Who turns to the window, points
at a line of feathered bodies
ranged like an aria on a stave?

Who wants to know which one
carries in its beak the missing
charm to complete her life,

which one will fly
into the trees to sing a song
of greatest enchantment?

The price of listening
is either the song itself,
or a heart transformed

to granite. A mountain stands
in the pockmarked background,
littered with burial caves

and dreamlike vegetation—
Who has ever returned un-
changed from those heights?


In response to Via Negativa: Birds on a Wire.


By a letter from the Duke complaining of the delay of the ships that are to be got ready, Sir Williams both and I went to Deptford and there examined into the delays, and were satisfyed. So back again home and staid till the afternoon, and then I walked to the Bell at the Maypole in the Strand, and thither came to me by appointment Mr. Chetwind, Gregory, and Hartlibb, so many of our old club, and Mr. Kipps, where we staid and drank and talked with much pleasure till it was late, and so I walked home and to bed.
Mr. Chetwind by chewing of tobacco is become very fat and sallow, whereas he was consumptive, and in our discourse he fell commending of “Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity,” as the best book, and the only one that made him a Christian, which puts me upon the buying of it, which I will do shortly.

The ships were satisfied by wind
and I by a book.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 29 June 1661.

Vanishing Point

Boys paddle into the surf
on their boards, waiting for the swells
which will whip them up to that stance
where they’re poised between dark
cobalt sky and the quivering lip
of a wave— Above, a helicopter hovers
and for a moment I teeter, too,
on the edge of this spectacle:
green and blue umbrellas raised
in defense against the sun,
oiled bodies glistening on the shore;
far off in the distance,
the silhouette of a boat slim
as a needle poised on the water’s surface.


At home all the morning practising to sing, which is now my great trade, and at noon to my Lady and dined with her. So back and to the office, and there sat till 7 at night, and then Sir W. Pen and I in his coach went to Moorefields, and there walked, and stood and saw the wrestling, which I never saw so much of before, between the north and west countrymen.
So home, and this night had our bed set up in our room that we called the Nursery, where we lay, and I am very much pleased with the room.

Morning is now my night.
I saw rest I never saw before,
the bed I call Nurse,
and I lease the room.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 28 June 1661.

Birds on a wire

To my father’s, and with him to Mr. Starlings to drink our morning draft, and there I told him how I would have him speak to my uncle Robert, when he comes thither, concerning my buying of land, that I could pay ready money 600l. and the rest by 150l. per annum, to make up as much as will buy 50l. per annum, which I do, though I not worth above 500l. ready money, that he may think me to be a greater saver than I am. Here I took my leave of my father, who is going this morning to my uncle upon my aunt’s letter this week that he is not well and so needs my father’s help.
At noon home, and then with my Lady Batten, Mrs. Rebecca Allen, Mrs. Thompson, &c., two coaches of us, we went and saw “Bartholomew Fayre” acted very well, and so home again and staid at Sir W. Batten’s late, and so home to bed. This day Mr. Holden sent me a bever, which cost me 4l. 5s.

Starlings land
above me, greater
than my aches,
and mew.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 27 June 1661.

A la diable

Smear every cut
of meat with the fire

of chillies. Salt
each baton that tastes

like hot pavement
at noon. Don’t stint

on the Szechuan pepper-
corns that numb the sides

of your mouth with each bite.
Eat with your hands and kiss

with the sizzle of irons
lifted from coals.

War correspondent

To Westminster about several businesses, then to dine with my Lady at the Wardrobe, taking Dean Fuller along with me; then home, where I heard my father had been to find me about special business; so I took coach and went to him, and found by a letter to him from my aunt that my uncle Robert is taken with a dizziness in his head, so that they desire my father to come down to look after his business, by which we guess that he is very ill, and so my father do think to go to-morrow. And so God’s will be done.
Back by water to the office, there till night, and so home to my musique and then to bed.

War is a dizziness,
desire is business.
My ink will be water
till night.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 26 June 1661.


Up this morning to put my papers in order that are come from my Lord’s, so that now I have nothing there remaining that is mine, which I have had till now.
This morning came Mr. Goodgroome to me (recommended by Mr. Mage), with whom I agreed presently to give him 20s. entrance, which I then did, and 20s. a month more to teach me to sing, and so we began, and I hope I have come to something in it. His first song is “La cruda la bella.” He gone my brother Tom comes, with whom I made even with my father and the two drapers for the cloths I sent to sea lately.
At home all day, in the afternoon came Captain Allen and his daughter Rebecca and Mr. Hempson, and by and by both Sir Williams, who sat with me till it was late, and I had a very gallant collation for them.
At night to bed.

I have nothing here that is mine.
I have room.
I have the sea.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 25 June 1661.

At the corner of City Camp and Legarda,

the gate was green.
The houses on our street
had fences made of rusted

chicken wire.
The chickens themselves
reigned over each backyard.

Bullies, they trumpeted
each day into beginning.
The baker at the end

of the lane rose
to double a fist
into the dough.

His daughters did not
often smile, on their way
to school or church,

identical braids
swinging. Our kitchen
window overlooked

a lot where trucks
came and went, hauling
sand and gravel.

Sometimes they carried
a load of river stones,
resinous timber

poached from forests
under cover of night—
On the one-lane road,

chevron of tires
inked with soil
from somewhere else.


In response to Via Negativa: Green house.


Were you that way too? Did they tell you to tuck a book under your arm, then deposit you in a corner armchair, promising to bring a treat soon: something cool in a glass, a piece of cake on a flowered saucer, a sparkler, a bonbon? Didn’t they then wave in that singular way, with the tips of their fingers, as they traipsed out of the room in the direction of the party? When they were gone, did you hear the faraway music their voices made, the sounds of ecstatic cutlery, knives plunged into the warm breasts of meat or fowl? You tilted your head back against the furniture, pretending the overhead light was a goblet spilling its contents down your enraptured throat. The book was a prop, a foil, a digression. Surely you were brought there to hone your senses. Surely your mission was to become one with the drapery, the mute arrangement of succulents on a celadon tray, the curling banister connecting the upper and lower levels; to pass soundlessly through the great room, where islands of people pressed toward each other as though afraid to be left by themselves or in silence; to find your way to the door that led back out into the green and cloudy evening.


In response to Via Negativa: Congregation.