Utopian Fruit: A Zuihitsu

Red bell tower with a cotton lining; one dark-suited crow for a clapper.


The night birds chant a song of virgules only. When I wake, the fields have throats lined with frogs’ mating songs.


In the shallows, what makes the cheeks of the lotus bulge?


I squinted up into the trees and saw the face of the Buddha pressed on each green globe dangling.


Dear tufted seed lying in the maw of thunder, I raise my cup to be blessed.


In response to Via Negativa: Farmer.


Up to Huntingdon this morning to Sir Robert Bernard, with whom I met Jaspar Trice. So Sir Robert caused us to sit down together and began discourse very fairly between us, so I drew out the Will and show it him, and [he] spoke between us as well as I could desire, but could come to no issue till Tom Trice comes. Then Sir Robert and I fell to talk about the money due to us upon surrender from Piggott, 164l., which he tells me will go with debts to the heir at law, which breaks my heart on the other side.
Here I staid and dined with Sir Robert Bernard and his lady, my Lady Digby, a very good woman.
After dinner I went into the town and spent the afternoon, sometimes with Mr. Phillips, sometimes with Dr. Symcottes, Mr. Vinter, Robert Ethell, and many more friends, and at last Mr. Davenport, Phillips, Jaspar Trice, myself and others at Mother –— over against the Crown we sat and drank ale and were very merry till 9 at night, and so broke up. I walked home, and there found Tom Trice come, and he and my father gone to Goody Gorum’s, where I found them and Jaspar Trice got before me, and Mr. Greene, and there had some calm discourse, but came to no issue, and so parted. So home and to bed, being now pretty well again of my left hand, which lately was stung and very much swelled.

It is a pig heart I dine with,
sometimes in hell and others
at Mother Rum’s.
Go home and be pretty again,
my left hand.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 20 July 1661.


Food prep, dinner, dishes— whatever
my in-laws happen to be doing, they drop it

when their favorite Korean telenovela starts
on TV. They live in a two-floor brownstone shared

with cousins that arrived with them and settled
here in the heart of Immigrantville nearly four

decades ago. And, no matter what room they’re in,
they can hear the sweet pop strains of the series

theme and rush to pull up two chairs, wipe
their hands on apron or dish towel. Scallions

scatter green parentheses on the chopping block;
the faces of cubed potatoes cloud over from

neglect. Neither does it matter if they’ll be
five spoonfuls into dinner— more compelling

is the need to find out if the long-separated brothers
will finally recognize each other in “Triangle,”

or if in “One Well-raised Daughter,” the girl
could hope to inherit her parents’ soy

sauce factory without having to disguise
herself as a boy. Don’t the titles say it all:

“Yoo-na’s House,” “Make a Wish,” “Can We Love?”
Look closely and you’ll see how every space

is fraught with hope and tears and drama—
the couple glimpsed through the window

of the corner coffee shop are going through
a divorce, the teenager crying in the phone booth

has had her heart broken by the boy who doesn’t
even know she exists. From her great distraction,

the young housewife has sliced her thumb
instead of an onion, uncertain of how to tell

her husband and his mother of her recent miscarriage.
And inside the ordinary-looking house, down a screened

hallway leading to the servants’ quarters
and laundry room, the old housekeeper is secretly

taking a bowl of rice porridge to her employers’
teenage son whom they believe has gone missing,

though he was only terrified to show his face
after spending a night out at a party with friends.

Arms race

The thing I think I’ll remember most about this summer in northwest London is the constant sound of gunfire. Fortunately it’s all from video games.

Civilians die by the hundreds in Gaza, Syria, and countless other conflicts, but in the “realistic” MMORPGs, the casualties are mainly if not exclusively other players. The bombed-out hellscapes are a given. It feels almost innocent.

But while the teenagers played war, Rachel and I watched all four seasons of Game of Thrones, which our mutual friend Jean Morris — a fan of the show — aptly described as “adrenalin porn for aging hippies.” The graphic violence and frequent nudity and sex did feel gratuitous, though the show was gritty in many other ways as well. What we perceive as realistic helped the supernatural elements from seeming too wildly improbable most of the time. It all added up to good, escapist fun.

But last year on Facebook I remember Dylan Tweney pointing out in reference to Game of Thrones that the drug cartels in Mexico are also fond of putting enemies’ heads on pikes. It made him uncomfortable, he said, that we would take pleasure in such a spectacle.

What does it say about us that we are so entranced by violence… and that we conflate graphic violence with realism? Perhaps there’s some law that states that the grimmer the world becomes that one is trying to ignore or escape, the grimmer the escapism too must become. Perhaps we are locked in a new kind of arms race: between reality and imagination. But if so, is another world still possible? And do the still, small voices of a greater-than-human, numinous reality still stand a chance?


Over time perhaps it is possible to understand
a little more about things: how the archives fill

with scraps that began as shoestrings, notes
to oneself written on cafe napkins; soft cotton

or rags tamped around a box to make it fit inside
a larger box. And the quaint customs and manners

fanned out like a tarot deck— the smiling cherub
of the self peeling off his other face to hold aloft,

the bird of opportunity and the peacock
of avarice; the wedding in the garden

and the animal quickly gored, in spite,
by its thrown-off rider. Start your careful

peeling off at one corner of the ear, to see
the body’s teeming highway of arteries and veins.

Each one breathes differently: imperceptible flutter
of moth wings, audible susurrus of breakers in the morning.


In response to Symbolical Head and Via Negativa: Existential Museuming.

Farmer (2)

These four days we spent in putting things in order, letting of the crop upon the ground, agreeing with Stankes to have a care of our business in our absence, and we think ourselves in nothing happy but in lighting upon him to be our bayly; in riding to Offord and Sturtlow, and up and down all our lands, and in the evening walking, my father and I about the fields talking, and had advice from Mr. Moore from London, by my desire, that the three witnesses of the will being all legatees, will not do the will any wrong. To-night Serjeant Bernard, I hear, is come home into the country. To supper and to bed. My aunt continuing in her base, hypocritical tricks, which both Jane Perkin (of whom we make great use), and the maid do tell us every day of.

We put in the ground
our business, our absence, ourselves—
nothing but light
in the evening fields.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 16, 17, 18, 19 July 1661.

Still Life with Banker’s Lamp

When we entered the room,
I thought someone said “composition.”
My eye lit on a dog-eared legal pad
in the roll-top desk, and a Parker
fountain pen still in its velvet-backed case.
They all came from a time lit
by a different glow: not the blue light
from a monitor screen, but the warm
yellow lozenge cast by a Banker’s lamp.
We changed the bulb and pulled on the chain
several times to our satisfaction.
In one of the drawers I found
a lace doily with a coffee stain,
several small padlocks with rusted keys.
In none of the papers bundled with rubber
bands or twine could we find anything
resembling a will. There was one
savings passbook; there were no blank
or canceled checks. You can read
in the rubber-stamped ledgers tiny
numbers in purple ink showing
how nothing was overdrawn.


Up by three o’clock this morning, and rode to Cambridge, and was there by seven o’clock, where, after I was trimmed, I went to Christ College, and found my brother John at eight o’clock in bed, which vexed me. Then to King’s College chappell, where I found the scholars in their surplices at the service with the organs, which is a strange sight to what it used in my time to be here. Then with Dr. Fairbrother (whom I met there) to the Rose tavern, and called for some wine, and there met fortunately with Mr. Turner of our office, and sent for his wife, and were very merry (they being come to settle their son here), and sent also for Mr. Sanchy, of Magdalen, with whom and other gentlemen, friends of his, we were very merry, and I treated them as well as I could, and so at noon took horse again, having taken leave of my cozen Angier, and rode to Impington, where I found my old uncle sitting all alone, like a man out of the world: he can hardly see; but all things else he do pretty lively. Then with Dr. John Pepys and him, I read over the will, and had their advice therein, who, as to the sufficiency thereof confirmed me, and advised me as to the other parts thereof.
Having done there, I rode to Gravely with much ado to inquire for a surrender of my uncle’s in some of the copyholders’ hands there, but I can hear of none, which puts me into very great trouble of mind, and so with a sad heart rode home to Brampton, but made myself as cheerful as I could to my father, and so to bed.

Clock by clock, a strange time
called me out of the world.
I live in a sufficiency of parts:
old hands, ear,
heart as cheerful as a bed.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 15 July 1661

I too come from

(after Mahmoud Darwish)

I too come from there, this place of few surviving photographs.
I have some unused stamps, I have some books of yellowed paper
and a map, somewhere, whose windows are all creased.
I have a secret that is not so secret
to those who know, and siblings
where you would not think to find them.
I used to have a house in the elbow
of an alley shaped like the letter L.
Mine is the subtrahend devised of distant hills,
and the background noise of trains after midnight.

Mine is a pair of ghost
magnolia trees, and a woman dressed in white
eternally trying to hitch a ride.
And the smell of dough in the morning,
and the invisible grain of eggshells in the coffee.
How amazed I am to think that once,
at the age of nine, I packed a paper bag with a cloth
handkerchief and a toothbrush, and attempted to run away.

I too come from there, where the sky scribes its name
with the monsoon’s hundred thousand letters.
But even when it rains I know its underlying body is sunflowers,
is made of cypress and old pine.
I know it lights the tapers during power outages.
I know it burns to ash the lottery tickets that did not win.