Arguments with destiny: 10

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“I would go be the enemy
for an afternoon.” ~ D. Bonta

What I learn of fruition
drops from the barren tree;

and what I glean of hunger is
its wild sound, wind that ratchets

through the hollows. Bound
pages of books fall open

to show me how much
there is still to study—

But they could not press
the moon’s cold wafer thinner,

they could not make its shine
more lustrous than a pearl.

Where I bend my head, the lamp’s
bright aura is momentarily

interrupted: my shadow falling on fields
where letters notch small, serifed wings.


In response to Via Negativa: Tin soldier.

New neighbor

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Early up and at the office with Mr. Hater, making my alphabet of contracts, upon the dispatch of which I am now very intent, for that I am resolved much to enquire into the price of commodities.
Dined at home, and after dinner to Greatorex’s, and with him and another stranger to the Tavern, but I drank no wine. He recommended Bond, of our end of the town, to teach me to measure timber, and some other things that I would learn, in order to my office. Thence back again to the office, and there T. Hater and I did make an end of my alphabet, which did much please me. So home to supper and to bed.

with my alphabet of commodities and Xs
a stranger in town

teach me some other
things to hate

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 9 June 1662.

Arguments with destiny: 9

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“I am the parrot
brought from the sea:” ~ D. Bonta

What are you?

A bridge made through its making,
a sorrow sewn for wings.

A meal composed of fragments,
a vineyard thick with remaindered fruit.

A letter that circumnavigated the globe
to recall what it wanted to say.

A body ordered to leave at the same time
it’s pushed to the ground.


In response to Via Negativa: Poet in public.

Poet in public

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Lay till church-time in bed, and so up and to church, and there I found Mr. Mills come home out of the country again, and preached but a lazy sermon. Home and dined with my wife, and so to church again with her.
Thence walked to my Lady’s, and there supped with her, and merry, among other things, with the parrott which my Lord hath brought from the sea, which speaks very well, and cries Pall so pleasantly, that made my Lord give it my Lady Paulina; but my Lady, her mother, do not like it.
Home, and observe my man Will to walk with his cloak flung over his shoulder, like a Ruffian, which, whether it was that he might not be seen to walk along with the footboy, I know not, but I was vexed at it; and coming home, and after prayers, I did ask him where he learned that immodest garb, and he answered me that it was not immodest, or some such slight answer, at which I did give him two boxes on the ears, which I never did before, and so was after a little troubled at it.

I am the parrot
brought from the sea:
I speak like a ruffian
to the light.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 8 June 1662.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Only a purple line, a single stroke,
sweep of frictionless calligraphy divides
the night from day, the land from sky.

Each morning, you inscribe the message
left before your door, decipher what’s
been written in the avian, depicted

in the characters of birds: swallows hawk
insects in invisible script, graceful swirls
of Arabic. Downy woodpeckers: steady Morse.

Last night, tornado warnings.
Today, a single trumpeter swan
flies south against the wind.

After The Morning Porch: May 28, May 30, & May 31.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

To the office, where all the morning, and I find Mr. Coventry is resolved to do much good, and to enquire into all the miscarriages of the office. At noon with him and Sir W. Batten to dinner at Trinity House; where, among others, Sir J. Robinson, Lieutenant of the Tower, was, who says that yesterday Sir H. Vane had a full hearing at the King’s Bench, and is found guilty; and that he did never hear any man argue more simply than he in all his life, and so others say.
My mind in great trouble whether I should go as I intended to Hampton Court to-morrow or no. At last resolved the contrary, because of the charge thereof, and I am afraid now to bring in any accounts for journeys, and so will others I suppose be, because of Mr. Coventry’s prying into them.
Thence sent for to Sir G. Carteret’s, and there talked with him a good while. I perceive, as he told me, were it not that Mr. Coventry had already feathered his nest in selling of places, he do like him very well, and hopes great good from him. But he complains so of lack of money, that my heart is very sad, under the apprehension of the fall of the office. At my office all the afternoon, and at night hear that my father is gone into the country, but whether to Richmond as he intended, and thence to meet us at Hampton Court on Monday, I know not, or to Brampton. At which I am much troubled. In the evening home and to bed.

a life-like lack of heart
in the court

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 7 June 1662.

Arguments with destiny: 8

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“the biscuits are crisp
and sweet…” ~ Linda Pastan

And thus I let myself
be tempted: spooned
real sugar into my cup,

lifted small pillows of cake
into my mouth and licked
their caps of frosting—

Of course a tiny voice
cried out: and so I banished
regret to its small turret

in the back of my head,
told it to be quiet
and stop sulking.


In response to At the Edge, Linda Pastan.

Arguments with destiny: 7

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“…monotonous refrain of the same song,
abysmal tide—” ~ Amado Nervo

When the cousins arrived,
they took over our rooms.
At breakfast one of them ate
a whole can of corned beef

and several rolls of bread.
The aunts laughed, charmed
by the way boys will be boys.
Do you have any more food,

they asked, opening cupboards
and drawers, testing and slicing
the fruit. They borrowed good
coats stored in the closet’s

deepest recesses. They drank
the boiled water and stayed out
all night. How swiftly and mutely
we gave up power in our own home.

How well we were taught to cede
all we had— We never placed our
needs first, instead offered only
the choicest to our honored guests.


In response to Via Negativa: Eternity for an inheritance....


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

At my office all alone all the morning, and the smith being with me about other things, did open a chest that hath stood ever since I came to the office, in my office, and there we found a modell of a fine ship, which I long to know whether it be the King’s or Mr. Turner’s.
At noon to the Wardrobe by appointment to meet my father, who did come and was well treated by my Lady, who tells me she has some thoughts to send her two little boys to our house at Brampton, but I have got leave for them to go along with me and my wife to Hampton Court to-morrow or Sunday. Thence to my brother Tom’s, where we found a letter from Pall that my mother is dangerously ill in fear of death, which troubles my father and me much, but I hope it is otherwise, the letter being four days old since it was writ.
Home and at my office, and with Mr. Hater set things in order till evening, and so home and to bed by daylight.
This day at my father’s desire I lent my brother Tom 20l., to be repaid out of the proceeds of Sturtlow when we can sell it. I sent the money all in new money by my boy from Alderman Backwell’s.

alone with
my model of a ship
a little moth

fear of death troubles me
till daylight

Erasure tanka derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 6 June 1662.

Eternity for an inheritance: eight poems by Amado Nervo

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 5 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Amado NervoAmado Nervo (1870-1919), Mexican journalist, fiction writer and diplomat, remains one of the better loved poets of the Spanish-speaking world. Like a latter-day Hafez, his great subject was love, be it secular or religious. I find his focus on Asian religions especially interesting, in part because of what it suggests about the ecumenical nature of his Catholicism (he originally intended to become a priest), and also because it helps me better contextualize the Eastern influences on other early 20th-century poets such as Rilke and Jiménez. I like his simplicity and directness, but I’m a little haunted by his life story: how the love of his life, Ana Daillez, died after just 11 years of marriage, and how he himself died at 48, shortly after accepting the post of ambassador to Argentina and Uruguay.

To connect Nervo to two poets already included in this series: he became a close friend of Darío while living in Paris in 1901, and he wrote a pioneering biography of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. If I got a little carried away with the length of this selection, do recall that the name of this blog is Via Negativa. Once in a while, it’s good to post some content that actually sort of lives up to that.

She Kissed Me Often
(Me besaba mucho)

She kissed me often, as if she feared
an imminent departure… Her affections
were restless, nervous.

I didn’t understand
such feverish haste. My coarse intention
never saw very far…
She foresaw!

She foresaw that our time would be short,
that the sail battered by the wind’s lash
was already waiting… and in her anxiety
she tried to leave me her soul with every embrace,
to put all eternity into her kisses.



And the Basalt Buddha Smiled (Y el Buda de basalto sonreía)

That evening in the poplar grove, mad
with love, the sweet one I idolized
offered me the wild rose of her mouth.

And the basalt Buddha smiled…

Later there was another whose charms
captured me; we made a date, and in the shade
exchanged letters and lockets.

And the basalt Buddha smiled…

It’s been a year today since I lost her love.
I return to our trysting spot and, exhausted
from the long walk, creep up to the top
of the pedestal where the image rests.
The day dies, squandered and bloody,
and in the arms of the basalt Buddha
I’m astonished to see the mysterious moon.

And the basalt Buddha smiled…



Kalpa (Kalpa)

“Do you want all this to begin again?”
“Yes!” the chorus replied.

In all the eternities
that preceded our world,
how can we refuse to believe that there have already
been other planets with human beings,

whose Homers have declaimed
their first heroic deeds
and whose Shakespeares have shared wisdom gleaned
from delving into the depths of the soul?

Serpent biting your tail,
uncompromising circle, black
ball that turns without ceasing,
monotonous refrain of the same song,
abysmal tide—
is this story of yours ever to have an end?



Identity (Identidad)

Tat Tvam Asi
(You are this: that is to say, you are one
and the same as everything around you;
you are the thing in itself)

Anyone who knows they are one with God achieves nirvana:
a nirvana in which all darkness is illuminated,
a dizzying expansion of human consciousness
that is merely the projection of the divine idea
on the screen of time…

The phenomenon—the external, useless fruit
of illusion—is extinguished: now there is no plurality,
and the self, ecstatic, is at last absorbed in the absolute,
and has all eternity for an inheritance!



The Wing’s Shadow (La sombra del ala)

You who assume I don’t believe
whenever we two debate:
you can’t imagine how I long,
I thirst, I hunger for God.

You’ve never heard
my desperate cries filling
the heart of darkness
with invocations of the Infinite.

You’ve never seen how my thought,
in its dedication to bearing
the ideal, regularly endures
the tortures of childbirth.

If my barren spirit
had your fertility,
it would’ve already forged a heaven
to make its world whole.

But I say: who knows
what effort would suffice
in a soul with no flag
to lead your torturer about,

a soul that lives by abstinence from faith,
and with heroic tenacity,
interrogates each abyss
and each night, asking why?

At all events, I take refuge
in my thirst for investigation,
my craving for God, deep and silent;
and there is more love in my doubt
than in your heated contention.



Deity (Deidad)

As a spark sleeps in the pebble
and a statue in the clay,
so in you, divinity sleeps.
Just a press of intense pain
till the shock—the lightning of deity
bursting from the inert stone.

Therefore don’t complain and blame fate,
since what is divine within you
can only emerge in such a manner.
Grin and bear it if you can,
this life the creator is sculpting,
the hard blow of the chisel.

What matter, then, the evil hours,
if every hour he adds a lovelier
plume to your nascent wings?
You shall see the condor at full altitude,
you shall see the completed sculpture,
you shall see, my soul, you shall see…



A film by Eduardo Yagüe. Read his process notes at Moving Poems.

Offertory (Ofertorio)

Deus dedit, Deus abstulit
[God has given, God has taken away]

God, I offer you my pain—
that’s all I can offer you!
You gave me a love, only one love,
a great love!
Death stole it from me,
and I have nothing else now but my pain.
Accept it, Lord—
it’s all that I can offer you!


At Peace (En paz)

Very near to my sunset now, I bless you, life,
because you never gave me any false hope
or unjust labor or unwarranted punishment;

because at the end of my rough road, I see
that I was the architect of my own fate,

that if I extracted honey or gall from things
it was because I instilled them with a gall or honey flavor:
when I planted rosebushes, I always harvested roses.

True, after all my blossoms, winter must come—
but you never said that May would last forever!

Certainly I had my long nights with the blues,
but you never promised only good nights,
and to make up for it, I had some that were holy and serene.

I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face.
Life, you owe me nothing! Life, we are at peace!