When I was young,
I resembled nobody.

In the middle of the room,
the beautiful girls

practiced dance steps
like “The Grind,”

admiring each other’s hair
and clothes: I love

your elephant pants, that
disco shirt, that belt

with an apple on the buckle!
We gathered around a table

in someone’s smoke-
filled basement, listening

to guitar music, talking
about the future, always

the future, and how to get
away from here. Someone

passed around a bottle,
a rolled-up joint: Try it,

it’s just like smoking
But I

was young and resembled
no one I knew.

At least not then,
not yet.


In response to Via Negativa: Hill country.

Hill country

We rose, and set forth, but found a most sad alteration in the road by reason of last night’s rains, they being now all dirty and washy, though not deep. So we rode easily through, and only drinking at Holloway, at the sign of a woman with cakes in one hand and a pot of ale in the other, which did give good occasion of mirth, resembling her to the maid that served us, we got home very timely and well, and finding there all well, and letters from sea, that speak of my Lord’s being well, and his action, though not considerable of any side, at Argier. I went straight to my Lady, and there sat and talked with her, and so home again, and after supper we to bed somewhat weary, hearing of nothing ill since my absence but my brother Tom, who is pretty well though again.

A road of dirt and ash.
Deep in a hollow, a woman
resembling the sea,
considerable and weary.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 September 1661.

A single night and the noise of rain:

how it amplifies the details

of lost years: the murmur in study
halls, the light that glanced

off waxed wooden floors; the chalky
clouds that rose in frigid air

then sifted down the bannisters
from the felt percussion of

erasers. And the mingled smells
that slicked each humid head tired

from the day’s long schoolroom hours,
the dog-eared books whose spines

and sides we lightly sanded
at year’s end before passing them

on to others— The dictionaries
that held more than we would ever

know, the old Mercator maps we pulled
like shades to cover the dark

green surface of the board—
And we could point, reciting names

of continents and capitals and seas
that some of us now have crossed.

And some of us have stayed,
and some returned. But none of us

remember exactly when or how we turned,
and, turning, left it all behind.


In response to Via Negativa: Prescription.


Up, and sad to hear my father and mother wrangle as they used to do in London, of which I took notice to both, and told them that I should give over care for anything unless they would spend what they have with more love and quiet. So (John Bowles coming to see us before we go) we took horse and got early to Baldwick; where there was a fair, and we put in and eat a mouthfull of pork, which they made us pay 14d. for, which vexed us much. And so away to Stevenage, and staid till a showre was over, and so rode easily to Welling, where we supped well, and had two beds in the room and so lay single, and still remember it that of all the nights that ever I slept in my life I never did pass a night with more epicurism of sleep; there being now and then a noise of people stirring that waked me, and then it was a very rainy night, and then I was a little weary, that what between waking and then sleeping again, one after another, I never had so much content in all my life, and so my wife says it was with her.

For love and quiet
we took a mouthful of age,
a single night
and the noise of rain.
And between waking
and sleeping, never had
so much content.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 23 September 1661.


(Lord’s day). Before church time walking with my father in the garden contriving. So to church, where we had common prayer, and a dull sermon by one Mr. Case, who yet I heard sing very well. So to dinner, and busy with my father about his accounts all the afternoon, and people came to speak with us about business.
Mr. Barnwell at night came and supped with us. So after setting matters even with my father and I, to bed.

In the garden,
a common
a din
is a sin
with tin.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 22 September 1661.


All the morning pleasing myself with my father, going up and down the house and garden with my father and my wife, contriving some alterations. After dinner (there coming this morning my aunt Hanes and her son from London, that is to live with my father) I rode to Huntingdon, where I met Mr. Philips, and there put my Bugden matter in order against the Court, and so to Hinchingbroke, where Mr. Barnwell shewed me the condition of the house, which is yet very backward, and I fear will be very dark in the cloyster when it is done. So home and to supper and to bed, very pleasant and quiet.

Pleasing the house with
my fat rations, I live
on lips, my inching
barn-dark oyster. It is
home and supper
and bed, very quiet.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 21 September 1661.

Harlequin life

I pushed off long ago,
barely looking back.

Part of it was caused
by circumstance,

other parts by willfulness
or what we mean

when we say
I had no choice.

What happened
in the intervening years

would fill an archive,
but no more or less

than anyone else’s
harlequin life.

I cannot clearly tell
what parts shone

with more lucidity
than foolishness,

or where I found
the courage to rise

above the givens of this
grasping self. So many

moments as if doomed
from the start

taught me how difficult
it is to shelter hope,

how necessary to hold
its stubborn flicker,

cupped against
the not yet known.


In response to Via Negativa: Writing process.

Writing process

Will Stankes and I set out in the morning betimes for Gravely, where to an ale-house and drank, and then, going towards the Court House, met my uncle Thomas and his son Thomas, with Bradly, the rogue that had betrayed us, and one Young, a cunning fellow, who guides them. There passed no unkind words at all between us, but I seemed fair and went to drink with them. I said little till by and by that we come to the Court, which was a simple meeting of a company of country rogues, with the Steward, and two Fellows of Jesus College, that are lords of the town where the jury were sworn; and I producing no surrender, though I told them I was sure there is and must be one somewhere, they found my uncle Thomas heir at law, as he is, and so, though I did tell him and his son that they would find themselves abused by these fellows, and did advise them to forbear being admitted this Court (which they could have done, but that these rogues did persuade them to do it now), my uncle was admitted, and his son also, in reversion after his father, which he did well in to secure his money. The father paid a year and a half for his fine, and the son half a year, in all 48l., besides about 3l. fees; so that I do believe the charges of his journeys, and what he gives those two rogues, and other expenses herein, cannot be less than 70l., which will be a sad thing for them if a surrender be found.
After all was done, I openly wished them joy in it, and so rode to Offord with them and there parted fairly without any words. I took occasion to bid them money for their half acre of land, which I had a mind to do that in the surrender I might secure Piggott’s, which otherwise I should be forced to lose.
So with Stankes home and supped, and after telling my father how things went, I went to bed with my mind in good temper, because I see the matter and manner of the Court and the bottom of my business, wherein I was before and should always have been ignorant.

I set out in the morning
on a journey without any words
to a half acre of land where
I always have been.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 20 September 1661.