War preparations

Lay long in bed, and so up to make up my Journall for these two or three days past. Then came Anthony Joyce, who duns me for money for the tallow which he served in lately by my desire, which vexes me, but I must get it him the next by my promise.
By and by to White Hall, hearing that Sir G. Carteret was come to town, but I could not find him, and so back to Tom’s, and thence I took my father to my house, and there he dined with me, discoursing of our businesses with uncle Thomas and T. Trice. After dinner he departed and I to the office where we met, and that being done I walked to my Brother’s and the Wardrobe and other places about business, and so home, and had Sarah to comb my head clean, which I found so foul with powdering and other troubles, that I am resolved to try how I can keep my head dry without powder; and I did also in a suddaine fit cut off all my beard, which I had been a great while bringing up, only that I may with my pumice-stone do my whole face, as I now do my chin, and to save time, which I find a very easy way and gentile. So she also washed my feet in a bath of herbs, and so to bed.
This month ends with very fair weather for a great while together. My health pretty well, but only wind do now and then torment me about the fundament extremely. The Queen is brought a few days since to Hampton Court; and all people say of her to be a very fine and handsome lady, and very discreet; and that the King is pleased enough with her which, I fear, will put Madam Castlemaine’s nose out of joynt. The Court is wholly now at Hampton. A peace with Argier is lately made; which is also good news. My father is lately come to town to see us, and though it has cost and will cost more money, yet I am pleased with the alteracons on my house at Brampton. My Lord Sandwich is lately come with the Queen from sea, very well and in good repute. Upon an audit of my estate I find myself worth about 530l. ‘de claro’. The Act for Uniformity is lately printed, which, it is thought, will make mad work among the Presbyterian ministers. People of all sides are very much discontented; some thinking themselves used, contrary to promise, too hardly; and the other, that they are not rewarded so much as they expected by the King. God keep us all. I have by a late oath obliged myself from wine and plays, of which I find good effect.

Hearing of the war, I in a sudden fit
cut off all my beard
and wash my feet in the sea.
A uniform will make mad people
of all sides, thinking themselves
expected by the king.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 31 May 1662.

Arguments with destiny: 1

“Everything goes into me.” ~ Tomaž Šalamun

Curse and blessing, blessing
and curse: to want everything,
deplore the wanting, then plunge
a whole hand into the bowl anyway;

to eat like the world was ending,
which you know it will in time
but just not yet, and to feel
ashamed that you have shown

the size of the hunger in your gut—
And the birds in the nest open their mouths
and cry, and something comes through the mist
to soothe them: Who is it then

that will succor and feed
the one that is sent, the one called to serve;
the one that lies prone at the base of the tree,
dizzy with the ache of the unknown?


In response to Via Negativa: Mortality.

Burn Marks

~ with a line from Rubén Darío

Just because I’ve had to wear the oily green
floating on the surface of the pond

does not mean there is in me
no bud of thought seeking to be

a rose, does not mean my heart has not
looked with longing upon the moon

or caved open to a rain of blows
from some god’s hands— At least

a few times in this life I’ve seen the clearly
knighted edge of a moment: one in which

the present leaped, ecstatic tinder, toward a future
reaching across the barrier with its flame.


In response to Via Negativa: A soft storm in the skull....


This morning I made up my accounts, and find myself ‘de claro’ worth about 530l., and no more, so little have I increased it since my last reckoning; but I confess I have laid out much money in clothes.
Upon a suddaine motion I took my wife, and Sarah and Will by water, with some victuals with us, as low as Gravesend, intending to have gone into the Hope to the Royal James, to have seen the ship and Mr. Shepley, but meeting Mr. Shepley in a hoy, bringing up my Lord’s things, she and I went on board, and sailed up with them as far as half-way tree, very glad to see Mr. Shepley. Here we saw a little Turk and a negroe, which are intended for pages to the two young ladies. Many birds and other pretty noveltys there was, but I was afeard of being louzy, and so took boat again, and got to London before them, all the way, coming and going, reading in theWallflower” with great pleasure. So home, and thence to the Wardrobe, where Mr. Shepley was come with the things. Here I staid talking with my Lady, who is preparing to go to-morrow to Hampton Court. So home, and at ten o’clock at night Mr. Shepley came to sup with me. So we had a dish of mackerell and pease, and so he bid us good night, going to lie on board the hoy, and I to bed.

This morning I find myself
laid out in the grave.

I have hope—a far tree intended
for many birds—but I fear

the wall with a talking clock.
It is going to lie.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 30 May 1662.

A soft storm in the skull: three poems by Rubén Darío

This entry is part 4 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Rubén DaríoThe great Rubén Darío (1867-1916), native of Nicaragua, drunk on Parnassianism and symbolism, who almost single-handedly dragged Spanish-language poetry into the modern era, awakening it from three centuries of near-lethargy: when he was good he was very, very good, and when he was bad he was horrid. And by horrid, I mean full of overblown, precious imagery and devoid of any sense of physical reality, as for example in his most famous poem. I admit however that my ear isn’t good enough to distinguish great from merely good Spanish prosody. And in going through some of his regularly anthologized poems, I was surprised to find several that I really liked. The first one below, I think, will speak to any writer or artist who’s ever tried to grope her way toward a new form of expression without any clear idea of what that might be. The second is a good example of how well Darío’s poetry can work when it stops just short of bathos, and I liked the parallel images in the last stanza. The final poem is the third of three nocturnos Darío wrote in the course of his career. Insomnia may have been a bit of a Romantic trope, but for those of us who suffer from it, it’s a very real and baffling phenomenon. I choose to interpret the final phrase as a reference to the angel of death, mostly because I feel that almost any Darío poem could be set to music by Slayer to the benefit of both. Please feel free to critique my translations in the comments. (I’m trying to move away from reliance on Facebook.)

I Pursue a Form… (Yo persigo una forma…)

I pursue a form that my usual style doesn’t encounter,
a bud of thought seeking to be a rose.
It’s betokened by a kiss planted on my lips
in the Venus de Milo’s impossible embrace.

Verdant palms adorn the white-columned courtyard,
the stars have foretold a vision of the Goddess,
and the light settles in my soul the way the moon,
that great bird, settles on a calm lake.

And I find only the word that escapes,
the opening melody that flows from the flute,
the dream ship sailing through space,

and under the window of my Sleeping Beauty,
the never-ending sob of the fountain
and the question posed by that white swan’s neck.



(Updated 2 July 2015) Thanks to Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon for this video version of the poem below. There’s also a version in Spanish, and he blogged some process notes.

(Lo fatal)

For René Pérez

Happy the tree that is barely capable of feeling
and happier still the rock—so hard it feels nothing,
for there’s no greater pain than the pain of being alive,
no affliction more severe than consciousness.

To be, knowing nothing and lacking a sure path,
with the fear of having been and dread for the future…
And the reliable terror of being dead tomorrow,
and suffering through life and through shadow

and through everything we don’t know and can hardly guess,
the flesh so tempting with its fresh clusters
and the waiting tomb with its funeral bouquets—
and not to know where we’re headed
or whence we came!



Nocturne (Nocturno)

The still of the night—a distressing, nightly stillness…
Why does my soul quake like this?
I listen to the humming of my blood
and a soft storm passes through my skull.
Insomnia! Not to be able to sleep, and yet
to dream. I am the specimen
in a spiritual self-dissection: the auto-Hamlet!
Diluting my sadness
with the wine of night
in darkness’s marvelous glass…
And I mutter to myself: When will the dawn come?
A door has just been shut…
Someone has walked past…
The clock has struck three… If it were She!


Big Robe

We picked the cotton, pulled the soft white tufts
when they erupted, piled them in the grass baskets
we carried on our heads. First Thursday market,
we walked with covered baskets toward the river.

Long walk, but only once a month, First Thursday.

My friend’s mother sold the cotton to the master
tailor, and when she left to trade gossip with other
women, we stayed in the shade of the tailor’s
make-shift shelter, mouths silently agape, watched

as he’d take a puff of cotton, touch tips of two

fingers to his tongue, pinch and twist, roll the first
drawn fibers, form a cord. When it had reached
a hand’s-length, he’d secure it to a small rock, lift
the puff in one hand, wind the stone up, let go

and let the rebound spin turn the cotton into thread.

Another Thursday market-day and long past harvest,
but we still came, sat silently in the tailor’s shade.
Those stone-spun threads were now affixed, their
ends knotted to a double-heddle, and he wove them

into even strips, long long and precisely narrow:

each the measured width of his thumb and fingertip.
And another market, still months later, we watched
him push a steel needle through the edges of two
strips held together, form a seam, each stitch was

measured, patient, and when pulled taut, invisible.

Two years of First Thursdays we borrowed shade
and watched as our harvest that he’d purchased
gradually became babba riga, big robe, a fine
and formal garment for a man of great importance,

then embellished: swirls, knives to grace the chest.

Two years of a man’s life spun and woven, stitched
into the fabric of these robes. Two years of a man’s
life, two months blessed embroidery, our cotton.

In response to / inspired by Via Negativa: “Thinned” and “Agape.” For more on Hausa
babba riga robes, see the Powerhouse Museum Collection.


Visiting the poet’s shrine, I rubbed
a stick of graphite with my fingers
across a sheet of paper laid on stone—

To take away what: a letter? a vowel?
semblance of thin speech sent forward
across the void? Whatever it is

that transferred there is willful:
my doing, applied to a text that hardly
knows the compound altered by the years.


In response to Via Negativa: Thinned.

Guest of honor

At home all the morning. At noon to the Wardrobe, and dined with my Lady, and after dinner staid long talking with her; then homeward, and in Lumbard Street was called out of a window by Alderman Backwell, where I went, and saluted his lady, a very pretty woman. Here was Mr. Creed, and it seems they have been under some disorder in fear of a fire at the next door, and had been removing their goods, but the fire was over before I came. Thence home, and with my wife and the two maids, and the boy, took boat and to Foxhall, where I had not been a great while. To the Old Spring Garden, and there walked long, and the wenches gathered pinks. Here we staid, and seeing that we could not have anything to eat, but very dear, and with long stay, we went forth again without any notice taken of us, and so we might have done if we had had anything. Thence to the New one, where I never was before, which much exceeds the other; and here we also walked, and the boy crept through the hedge and gathered abundance of roses, and, after a long walk, passed out of doors as we did in the other place, and here we had cakes and powdered beef and ale, and so home again by water with much pleasure.
This day, being the King’s birth-day, was very solemnly observed; and the more, for that the Queen this day comes to Hampton Court. In the evening, bonfires were made, but nothing to the great number that was heretofore at the burning of the Rump.
So to bed.

no notice taken
of her passed out in the cake—
birthday rum

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 29 May 1662.


Up early to put things in order in my chamber, and then to my Lord’s, with whom I spoke about several things, and so up and down in several places about business with Mr. Creed, among others to Mr. Wotton’s the shoemaker, and there drank our morning draft, and then home about noon, and by and by comes my father by appointment to dine with me, which we did very merrily, I desiring to make him as merry as I can, while the poor man is in town. After dinner comes my uncle Wight and sat awhile and talked with us, and thence we three to the Mum House at Leadenhall, and there sat awhile. Then I left them, and to the Wardrobe, where I found my Lord gone to Hampton Court. Here I staid all the afternoon till late with Creed and Captain Ferrers, thinking whether we should go to-morrow together to Hampton Court, but Ferrers his wife coming in by and by to the house with the young ladies (with whom she had been abroad), she was unwilling to go, whereupon I was willing to put off our going, and so home, but still my mind was hankering after our going to-morrow. So to bed.

Thin things:
lace in a shoe,
a noon appointment,
a poor-house robe,
a reed
and the road I still
hanker after.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 28 May 1662.


This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2015


meaning the mouth
unhinged, gone slack,
open, unguarded— perhaps

the soul dumbstruck
or riven by lightning;
a tunnel in a mountainside

into which the wind, the night,
the feeble light by the roadside,
and a blind seam of winged

insects can go careening:
meaning a thing has moved,
casualty of wonder.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.