Refugee’s prayer

(Lord’s day). Waked early, but being in a strange house, did not rise till 7 o’clock almost, and so rose and read over my oaths, and whiled away an hour thinking upon businesses till Will came to get me ready, and so got ready and to my office, and thence to church. After sermon home and dined alone. News is brought me that Sir W. Pen is come. But I would take no notice thereof till after dinner, and then sent him word that I would wait on him, but he is gone to bed. So to my office, and there made my monthly accounts, and find myself worth in money about 686l. 19s. 2½d., for which God be praised.
And indeed greatly I hope to thank Almighty God, who do most manifestly bless me in my endeavours to do the duties of my office, I now saving money, and my expenses being little.
My wife is still in the country; my house all in dirt; but my work in a good forwardness, and will be much to my mind at last.
In the afternoon to church, and there heard a simple sermon of a stranger upon David’s words, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the way of the ungodly,” &c., and the best of his sermon was the degrees of walking, standing, and sitting, showing how by steps and degrees sinners do grow in wickedness.
After sermon to my brother Tom’s, who I found has taken physic to-day, and I talked with him about his country mistress, and read Cook’s letter, wherein I am well satisfied, and will appear in promoting it; so back and to Mr. Rawlinson’s, and there supped with him, and in came my uncle Wight and my aunt. Our discourse of the discontents that are abroad, among, and by reason of the Presbyters. Some were clapped up to-day, and strict watch is kept in the City by the train-bands, and letters of a plot are taken. God preserve us! for all these things bode very ill. So home, and after going to welcome home Sir W. Pen, who was unready, going to bed, I staid with him a little while, and so to my lodging and to bed.

an oath came to get me
but I made myself hope

bless me
in the dirt of a stranger

bless the man I talk with
about his country on the train

preserve us for all
unready going

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 31 August 1662.

Theory of souls

Here under this tree in summer’s last
mellow heat, I am not writing in a journal

but trying to send telegrams
to the future though the star-

fingered leaves beginning to fall
at my feet are like ushers,

impatient to sweep others
along in their wake.


This entry is part 11 of 19 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2015


(Magellan’s Cross and Basilica del Santo Niño, Cebu)

A part for the whole, the whole for the part:
one reason we collect souvenirs, make gifts,
bring proof of states we’ve passed through

and survived. The reason we wrap and tuck
in tissue, fold away in plastic or in chests
with cedar chips before it’s even clear

why, or what it is we’re saving— That day,
for instance, lining up with other pilgrims
at the shrine, a hot wind blowing through

the cupola from the sea; and the native women
clad in broadcloth skirts of brown and yellow
swayed their hips in the sinulog, and chanted

prayers into which they’d braided our names—
safe travels, good health, love, luck, wealth—
the usual pleas the faithful might bring

before any deity. A couple of fifty
peso bills, and they pressed into our hands
a clutch of candles: blue, green, yellow,

some of which we could light and fix
atop the marble base beneath Magellan’s Cross,
the rest to take with us on our return. A plaque

affixed there told me this tindalo wood
that people stroked with reverent fingers
was not the cross itself the explorer planted

on the beach in 1521, perhaps more grateful
for the end of that wretched sea-voyage
than for the complex details of conquest

to follow— but that he did not actually
live to see unfold. The artifact itself lay
inside the wood, as a violin might nestle

darkly in its case, preventing the overzealous
from chipping off pieces, splintery tickets
to the miraculous. A courtyard away,

inside the Basilica, longer lines snaked through
stone-paved hallways for the chance to look
into the glass case holding the image

of the child Jesus: robed in blood-red velvet
and embellished with gold, Magellan’s gift
to Rajah Humabon’s wife after the pair

were baptized and made to pledge allegiance
to the Spanish crown. Four decades and another
expedition later, Miguel López de Legazpi torched

the villages where he claimed the natives
had grown hostile; a soldier supposedly found
the image intact in a charred wooden box,

though fisherfolk were in the habit
of telling other stories— the kinds in which
holy statues abandoned their altars at night

and traveled through the countryside,
dipping bare feet and hems of garments
in the mud to come to the aid of the poor

and ailing. How could transcendence
newly spring in a stricken world where
mystery has been traded for chance,

politicians’ promises, cheap knockoffs?
Awaiting our turn, it was unnerving
to observe so many devotees

rap almost violently with their hands,
with their knuckles, on the glass
that kept the idol in its separate,

airless space— Some sobbed, some wept quietly;
all of them cried Pit Senyor! Pit Senyor!
before dropping a coin into the box.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


Up betimes among my workmen, and so to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon rose and had news that Sir W. Pen would be in town from Ireland, which I much wonder at, he giving so little notice of it, and it troubled me exceedingly what to do for a lodging, and more what to do with my goods, that are all in his house; but at last I resolved to let them lie there till Monday, and so got Griffin to get a lodging as near as he could, which is without a door of our back door upon Tower Hill, a chamber where John Davis, one of our clerks, do lie in, but he do provide himself elsewhere, and I am to have his chamber. So at the office all the afternoon and the evening till past 10 at night expecting Sir W. Pen’s coming, but he not coming to-night I went thither and there lay very well, and like my lodging well enough. My man Will after he had got me to bed did go home and lay there, and my maid Jane lay among my goods at Sir W. Pen’s.

morning news—
I wonder what to do
what to do in a lodging
without a door
where I lie in amber

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 30 August 1662.

Ecumenical Eucharists

In the early days of my quilting group, we met on a Friday night. We’d bring food and gather after work as the sun started to set. We brought our favorite foods, and we lit candles. We ate a meal and worked on our quilts. It felt very sacramental, in terms of my Lutheran training.

Around Holy Week of 2003, I wrote the following poem, which was later published in the journal Ruminate:


I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.

My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.

Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.

Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.

We have participated in the Paschal mysteries,
not yet comprehending the scope of what we have created.

Armenian lentil soup
a pot of Armenian lentil soup (photo: Dave Bonta, soup: Marcia Bonta)

I was not a lapsed Lutheran (I kept that word because I like the alliteration); on the contrary, I’d been planning a Maundy Thursday meal for my church. I had wanted to create a full Seder meal, the Passover meal Christians traditionally believe was Christ’s last supper. But I didn’t have any assistance, so I decided to do something more simple, a stew of lentils, which would have been a common meal amongst the disciples.

I was not a lapsed Lutheran, but my friends did have that wide diversity of beliefs described in the poem. And those daughters that joined us are now finishing college.

In the poem, I can see the elements of the Seder meal and the imagery of the early church. This actual recipe may not create a meal that’s quite as sublime, but it’s delicious, cheap, and easy. I created the recipe for a cousin who didn’t cook, so I was trying to explain the process along the way.

Lentil Soup

A timing heads up: this soup needs 30-60 minutes to simmer.

The bare minimum of ingredients you’ll need:

12-16 oz. package of lentils
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Del Monte petite cut) OR 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
Pot of water

Nutrition Booster:

Several carrots (3-6), chopped into bite-size pieces (you can use baby carrots, but they’re more expensive). Carrots are SO nutritious and cheap—don’t be afraid to use a lot.

Flavor Boosters:

1 onion, chopped

several cloves of minced garlic (put the cloves through a garlic press or look for jars of minced garlic in your produce department and use a spoonful or two); garlic powder is easier and will work just fine

several Tablespoons of olive oil

herbs: oregano and basil (1-2 Tablespoons of each)

several Tablespoons of brown sugar (or molasses)

several Tablespoons of red wine

several Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

Basic Instructions:

Put the onion and oil in a big soup pot. Turn the burner to high or medium high (8 or so on your burner control dial). Stir the onions around in the bottom of the pot until they’re limp and more translucent. Add the garlic and the oregano and basil. Stir another minute or two.

Put all the sliced carrots that you’re going to use in the pot and cover them with water. Turn up the heat of the burner under the pot until the water boils. Let the carrots boil 10-15 minutes. You want tender carrots before you go any further. Spear one, let it cool, and eat it to be sure.

Add the tomatoes and the lentils and all the rest of the flavor boosters that you’re using. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Let the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat way down (you want it to simmer just below a boil—you’ll probably want to keep the heat at medium low—at 2-4 on the dial). The lentils probably need a half hour of cooking at this point. If you think about it, give the pot a stir every so often (if not, no big deal).

You can also let this soup simmer away for an hour or longer. Just keep an eye on the liquid level (those lentils will soak it up as they cook!) and add water as necessary.

You could serve this topped with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish. But it’s great plain.

A pot of this soup will easily serve 6-15 people; smaller groups can get several meals out of one pot. And it’s cheap (it will cost you less than $5 to make a whole pot), so when you’re tired of it, throw it out.

Or you can turn it into something else: boil as much liquid out of it as you can. Add chunks of feta cheese to the lentils, along with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half work well), cucumbers, peppers or whatever veggies you have on hand. Voila! A lentil salad (feel free to serve it on top of greens) or something you can spoon into pita bread.


Up betimes and among my workmen, where I did stay with them the greatest part of the morning, only a little at the office, and so to dinner alone at home, and so to my workmen again, finding my presence to carry on the work both to my mind and with more haste, and I thank God I am pleased with it.
At night, the workmen being gone, I went to my office, and among other businesses did begin to-night with Mr. Lewes to look into the nature of a purser’s account, and the business of victualling, in which there is great variety; but I find I shall understand it, and be able to do service there also. So being weary and chill, being in some fear of an ague, I went home and to bed.

I eat alone with haste
night and other night

in nature there is great variety
but in fear, a home

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 29 August 1662.

Intersections: reading, translation, writing

This entry is part 29 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Jacques BraultBelow is a short translation of an extract from Visitation, a long poem in French by the Quebecois poet, essayist, novelist and translator Jacques Brault. The trajectory of his work has a particular resonance for a translator and for readers in translation. Born (1933) and raised in Montreal in both financial poverty and what he experienced as linguistic poverty and disenfranchisement, he militantly embraced the cause of a separatist, francophone Quebec, but the output of his long writing life also reflects a journey first into the riches of his own language and thence into a broader, cosmopolitan consciousness, which has involved him in translation and transnational/translingual collaborations. A recurring image in his poetry is that of the street corner, the intersection of writing and other art forms, of life and language, language and language, self and others.*

I’ve been reading Jacques Brault’s work while trying to formulate a few thoughts about the pleasure of translating some poetry for the Poetry from the Other Americas project. And about my surprise, because I’d only rarely written poetry myself and had stoutly maintained that only poets should translate it. Even greater surprise that it led to writing a few poems of my own: the patient exercise of translating a poem mobilises the relevant muscles, I suppose. Like many, I’m often too speedy and compulsive a reader to fully appreciate poetry, fret against slowing down enough, going deep enough. Translation is an exceptionally close kind of reading. It makes you slow down a lot, read and re-read a poem over a considerable time. This concentrated, fierce encounter with words is rewarding, and I’d encourage fellow sceptics to have a go. If you don’t think of yourself as someone who writes poetry, but do know more than one language, translation might prove to be a way in. It might even lead you to the puzzling, scary but alluring place Jacques Brault describes here:


          But I don’t know don’t know any more if I should speak or keep silent let the waters flow or plunge myself into them forget myself in the moment of turning down this street or inhabit myself down to the bone down to the cry

          Tell me do you know you who listen to me watch me do you know what it is that I don’t say won’t ever say so there it is between us like a night falling and hiding us in darkness

          In a low voice lower your voice I beg you come closer let your breath touch my ear it makes a sound I had forgotten the human voice

          Or je ne sais pas je ne sais plus s’il faut parler ou me taire laisser les eaux couler ou me rouler en elles m’oublier dans l’instant qui tourne le coin de la rue ou m’habiter jusqu’à l’os jusqu’au cri

          Dis le sais-tu toi qui m’écoutes et me regardes le sais-tu ce que c’est que je ne dis pas que je ne dirai jamais et c’est là entre nous comme un soir qui tombe et nous oscurcit

          À voix basse baisse la voix je t’en prie approche et que ton souffle me touche à l’oreille cela fait un bruit que j’avais oublié la parole humaine


* I found out about Jacques Brault from Sherry Simon’s absorbing book, Translating Montreal.

Whatever it is

This entry is part 10 of 19 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2015


Green pail overturned in the garden,
the creaking hinge of a gate.


Above pebbled blankets of cloud, the sound
that groups of birds make, flying south.


The sticky wad of silk a spider wrapped
around a pouch still faintly pulsing.


Pale slick like melted butter
around a rising moon.


Branches that gave fruit after fruit
now mired in difficult remembering.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


I observe that Will, whom I used to call two or three times in a morning, would now wake of himself and rise without calling. Which though angry I was glad to see. So I rose and among my workmen, in my gown, without a doublet, an hour or two or more, till I was afraid of getting an ague, and so to the office, and there we sat all the morning, and at noon Mr. Coventry and I dined at Sir W. Batten’s, where I have now dined three days together, and so in the afternoon again we sat, which we intend to do two afternoons in a week besides our other sitting.
In the evening we rose, and I to see how my work goes on, and so to my office, writing by the post and doing other matters, and so home and to bed late.

I used to wake without my work
without a double all day
sitting in me

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 28 August 1662.

Ode to scrapple

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Poets in the Kitchen


Meadows brand scrapple in the Big Apple
Meadows brand scrapple in the Big Apple, 2007

I’ve probably written before about our family’s adventures with raising pigs when I was a kid. My parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement, which meant that we lived as far out in the country as possible—first in central Maine, then here on a mountain in the Appalachian part of Pennsylvania—and raised, hunted or gathered as much of our own food as we could. For three years in a row, we got a pair of adorable piglets from a local farmer in the spring and butchered the hogs in the fall. The logic was that we could convert a lot of kitchen scraps and surplus vegetables from our garden into meat, but the project was not without ecological cost. Though we gave each pair a large pasture and shifted the location every year, that part of the field has never recovered its fertility from the massive erosion it suffered when the growing hogs rooted everything up.

Pigs are very impressive creatures. Unlike sheep or chickens, there’s something going on when you look in their eyes. Their capacity to eat anything and everything is more than epic, it’s down-right mythic. They are role models of consumption, sacrificial gods of plenty. In their native Eurasian forests, wild hogs are essential nutrient recyclers and agents of natural disturbance.

We named each pair we raised: Pork and Beans the first year, then (in honor of the winning presidential ticket in 1976) Jimmy and Fritz, and finally Sears and Roebuck. Dad built a smokehouse, reusing the walls and roof from a decommissioned outhouse, and the first year, Mom went whole-hog, so to speak, and even made head cheese. Looking back, I think raising pigs was something we did more out of enthusiasm for the back-to-the-land lifestyle than anything else; we were never terribly fond of pork per se, and eventually discovered that it was way cheaper and easier to satisfy our need for free-range meat by shooting a few of the increasingly numerous white-tailed deer. The movable shelter Dad built for the pigs has long since rotted away, and the electric fence charger was moved up to the garage, where it was put to work around the garden, keeping deer out rather than pigs in. These days, we don’t even garden, getting most of our vegetables instead from the local Amish, who are new to the area since I was a kid.

scrapple slices on a cookie tray
baking scrapple to feed hungry bloggers

But one thing I retain from that era of my childhood is the sense of scrapple as a special treat. Mom was always looking for a cheap way to feed her three ravenous sons, and scrapple is nothing if not affordable. Both my parents were raised in New Jersey but have roots in eastern Pennsylvania, the heartland of Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. German) culture and cuisine, so they never learned to look down their noses at this meat product whose very name tends to make urban sophisticates recoil. I like to tell people it’s much healthier than a hot dog, being generally fresh and local and containing cornmeal and other grains, depending on the brand. I also like the way it blurs the line between breakfast and dinner—every diner should serve it for that reason alone. But in the diner where I used to work in State College, though scrapple was on the menu, no one knew how to cook it. We were instructed to whack off a slice and drop it in the deep fryer. Yuck! Here’s how we make it in my family.

Scrapple and Maple Syrup

Cut loaf of scrapple into half-inch slices. Either fry in an iron griddle or place on cookie trays in a medium oven—the latter approach is slower but uses less oil (especially if you have access to trans-fat-free shortening). Flip when the bottom begins to get crusty. Serve hot and drench in maple syrup.

Ode to Scrapple

lightly edited from the original posting (August 7, 2007)

Sing scrapple: buckwheat-
and cornmeal mush-stuffed
relative of head cheese,
the hog’s gray matter.
Plus every part
that couldn’t be cured
into ham or crammed
into sausage casings—
some good foot meat, perhaps,
a corkscrew piece of tail—
up to and including
the oleaginous grunt.
Always the butt of jokes
for the ignorant mass
of wiener-eaters who prefer
their pig scraps pink
and pre-fitted for the throat.
This is a square meal
the color of earth.
It’s what’s for supper
when you haven’t eaten
since breakfast and want
something you can
slap in the hot
fat of a griddle and fry
until it grows a thick
brown skin. Then
serve with Grade-A
maple syrup, go hog-
wild, wallow in the gray
and gritty mush.

half-eaten slice of scrapple on a plate
A meat product even vegetarians have a hard time resisting.

Photos from a 2007 gathering of literary bloggers in New York City by Rachel Rawlins (tournesol on Flickr).