By yon bonnie banks…

for my mum, with lines from the traditional song “Loch Lomond”

If we swim to shore,
escape the frame,
we shall not meet again.
Jean Morris, “Sea Dream

When Scottish blood gives up its ghost, that ghost goes home first, mother,
before it journeys beyond — the Highland Gate’s at Perth, mother.

Potato blight caused famine, there were only oatmeal rations.
Did Scots become thrifty gleaning history of dearth, mother?

Wool roving (sheep shucking) dyed and woven into clan tartans.
For identity, check the kilt strapped about the girth, mother.

Ye’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, / And I’ll be in
Scotland afore ye…
but Loch Lomond is not Tay’s Firth, mother.

Baa black sheep, dark rumor, our ancestor immigrated to
this continent from prison, came in a convict’s berth, mother.

Scots have the reputation of pinching every penny twice.
For haggis and bagpipes, sheep belly’s pennyworthy, mother.

Grandfather was fond of puns, lowest form of humor. Double
entendre is a frugal fun, it’s not spendthrift mirth, mother.

Below Perth the River Tay is tidal. If Perth is Heaven’s
Gate, do all Scots reincarnate, come back in re-birth, mother?

When I was small you read me poems and taught me to recite them.
I wrote this to thank you for teaching me a Word’s worth, mother.

Landmarks, signposts

~ for Dave Bonta

Does a seed anthologize
the customs of trees?
I’ve read books but sometimes
the sea’s voice is more insistent.

When I peer through shop
windows, I’m startled by my image
warping around the dusty hip
of a teapot.

There is never a prescribed
time for a foot to blurt
its confessions in the narrow
toe box of a second-hand shoe.

When I bend to investigate
a dead bird on the walk,
I remember a gate of feathers
and behind it, a face made of milk.

In the dark room,
something brushes against
my bare hand. The moon fluoresces
before I can pull on the cord.


In response to Via Negativa: Capital punishment.

Capital punishment

Up and to my office, whither several persons came to me about office business. About 11 o’clock, Commissioner Pett and I walked to Chyrurgeon’s Hall (we being all invited thither, and promised to dine there); where we were led into the Theatre; and by and by comes the reader, Dr. Tearne, with the Master and Company, in a very handsome manner: and all being settled, he begun his lecture, this being the second upon the kidneys, ureters, and yard, which was very fine; and his discourse being ended, we walked into the Hall, and there being great store of company, we had a fine dinner and good learned company, many Doctors of Phisique, and we used with extraordinary great respect.
Among other observables we drank the King’s health out of a gilt cup given by King Henry VIII. to this Company, with bells hanging at it, which every man is to ring by shaking after he hath drunk up the whole cup. There is also a very excellent piece of the King, done by Holbein, stands up in the Hall, with the officers of the Company kneeling to him to receive their Charter.
After dinner Dr. Scarborough took some of his friends, and I went along with them, to see the body alone, which we did, which was a lusty fellow, a seaman, that was hanged for a robbery. I did touch the dead body with my bare hand: it felt cold, but methought it was a very unpleasant sight.
It seems one Dillon, of a great family, was, after much endeavours to have saved him, hanged with a silken halter this Sessions (of his own preparing), not for honour only, but it seems, it being soft and sleek, it do slip close and kills, that is, strangles presently: whereas, a stiff one do not come so close together, and so the party may live the longer before killed. But all the Doctors at table conclude, that there is no pain at all in hanging, for that it do stop the circulation of the blood; and so stops all sense and motion in an instant.
Thence we went into a private room, where I perceive they prepare the bodies, and there were the kidneys, ureters, yard, stone and semenary vessels upon which he read to-day, and Dr. Scarborough upon my desire and the company’s did show very clearly the manner of the disease of the stone and the cutting and all other questions that I could think of, and the manner of that seed, how it comes into the yard, and how the water into the bladder through the three skins or coats just as poor Dr. Jolly has heretofore told me.
Thence with great satisfaction to me back to the Company, where I heard good discourse, and so to the afternoon Lecture upon the heart and lungs, &c., and that being done we broke up, took leave, and back to the office, we two, Sir W. Batten, who dined here also, being gone before.
Here late, and to Sir W. Batten’s to speak upon some business, where I found Sir J. Minnes pretty well fuddled I thought: he took me aside to tell me how being at my Lord Chancellor’s to-day, my Lord told him that there was a Great Seal passing for Sir W. Pen, through the impossibility of the Comptroller’s duty to be performed by one man; to be as it were joynt-comptroller with him, at which he is stark mad; and swears he will give up his place, and do rail at Sir W. Pen the cruellest; he I made shift to encourage as much as I could, but it pleased me heartily to hear him rail against him, so that I do see thoroughly that they are not like to be great friends, for he cries out against him for his house and yard and God knows what. For my part, I do hope, when all is done, that my following my business will keep me secure against all their envys. But to see how the old man do strut, and swear that he understands all his duty as easily as crack a nut, and easier, he told my Lord Chancellor, for his teeth are gone; and that he understands it as well as any man in England; and that he will never leave to record that he should be said to be unable to do his duty alone; though, God knows, he cannot do it more than a child. All this I am glad to see fall out between them and myself safe, and yet I hope the King’s service will done for all this, for I would not that should be hindered by any of our private differences.
So to my office, and then home to supper and to bed.

we go to see a man
hanged for robbery

I touch the dead body
with my bare hand

cold as silk
sleek as a seed

and I hear the fuddled
impossibility of a heart

the teeth that will never now
fall out

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 February 1662/63.

Before the Harvest

When I was small, my friends and I would sit
beneath the mango tree and learn to comb
hair until it stood up loose and fluffy, then plow

a straight line down to the scalp and separate
the field into even sections, slowly plait each
into a close, straight braid. My own thin blonde

hair was a frustration — how I secretly envied
my friends their gleaming ebony that could,
at our young age, be plaited into elegance!

My own hair could be brushed and braided,
and it was, but it would not stay neat through
washing, the plaits would loosen, tangle, grow

into a mess fit to nest a chicken. But envy is
even uglier than unruly, steals from the eyes
and smile whatever beauty might otherwise

reside there. I resolved in tight silence, to let
it go, to instead celebrate each time we sat
to braid and found Jumma’a’s hair grown

longer during its most recent time in narrow
rows, found it each time closer to a length
that would permit a woman’s style, a wrap

and sculpting with black thread into a form
and beauty that would be uniquely hers.
We were young girls, then. We took comfort

in the patient, loving touch of one another’s
hands, this ritual that would carry us through
as bodies changed and destinies diverged.

After Robbi Nester’s poem “The Long and Short of It.”



Confetti and streamers, jubilant change
proclaimed from windows in the business districts.

In far-flung provinces, a more tempered watch—
change comes slower where people live

in the shadowy in-between. Rebels still populate
the hills, come out to collect their tithe. Put

a gun in the hands of anyone with a grievance
and take a gamble on the outcome. Who lost

their land, their titles, in the takeover?
Such business goes back and farther back

to feudal times. I know of a wealthy clan
that once laid claim in northern territories.

What underwrote their vow to side with the people?
Their own fall from grace, their dispossession.


Up and drinking a draft of wormewood wine with Sir W. Batten at the Steelyard, he and I by water to the Parliament-house: he went in, and I walked up and down the Hall. All the news is the great odds yesterday in the votes between them that are for the Indulgence to the Papists and Presbyters, and those that are against it, which did carry it by 200 against 30. And pretty it is to consider how the King would appear to be a stiff Protestant and son of the Church; and yet would appear willing to give a liberty to these people, because of his promise at Breda. And yet all the world do believe that the King would not have this liberty given them at all.
Thence to my Lord’s, who, I hear, has his ague again, for which I am sorry, and Creed and I to the King’s Head ordinary, where much good company. Among the rest a young gallant lately come from France, who was full of his French, but methought not very good, but he had enough to make him think himself a wise man a great while. Thence by water from the New Exchange home to the Tower, and so sat at the office, and then writing letters till 11 at night.
Troubled this evening that my wife is not come home from Chelsey, whither she is gone to see the play at the school where Ashwell is, but she came at last, it seems, by water, and tells me she is much pleased with Ashwell’s acting and carriage, which I am glad of.
So home and to supper and bed.

drink a draft
of wormwood wine
and all the news is odd

votes for
and against liberty

the people of the world
given to a company

France full of French
enough to make water
from water

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 February 1662/63.


Up and to my office, where with Captain Cocke making an end of his last night’s accounts till noon, and so home to dinner, my wife being come in from laying out about 4l. in provision of several things against Lent. In the afternoon to the Temple, my brother’s, the Wardrobe, to Mr. Moore, and other places, called at about small businesses, and so at night home to my office and then to supper and to bed.
The Commons in Parliament, I hear, are very high to stand to the Act of Uniformity, and will not indulge the Papists (which is endeavoured by the Court Party) nor the Presbyters.

a night vision
of things after the war

other places call
out of uniform

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 February 1662/63.


Slept hard till 8 o’clock, then waked by Mr. Clerke’s being come to consult me about Field’s business, which we did by calling him up to my bedside, and he says we shall trounce him.
Then up, and to the office, and at 11 o’clock by water to Westminster, and to Sir W. Wheeler’s about my Lord’s borrowing of money that I was lately upon with him, and then to my Lord, who continues ill, but will do well I doubt not.
Among other things, he tells me that he hears the Commons will not agree to the King’s late declaration, nor will yield that the Papists have any ground given them to raise themselves up again in England, which I perceive by my Lord was expected at Court. Thence home again by water presently, and with a bad dinner, being not looked for, to the office, and there we sat, and then Captn. Cocke and I upon his hemp accounts till 9 at night, and then, I not very well, home to supper and to bed. My late distemper of heat and itching being come upon me again, so that I must think of sweating again as I did before.

I wake in a field
one ear to the ground

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 February 1662/63.



Always the work of history: pustule that comes to a head
and breaks. Impatient flood, gathering waters that finally

break the dam; conflagration goaded by individual
sparks. The night the dictator and his family flee

their after all flimsy palace, the people swell
the streets, pushing past barricades— right up

to the gates which they find can be scaled and breached.
Students and activists, welders and plumbers; cerveza

drinkers, slum dwellers; shop girls, out of work carpenters,
taxi drivers. In the innermost chamber, dialysis machines

and oxygen tanks. Jewels, shoes, bank notes their papers
of state. And on the mountainside, dark halo of crows

circling. When the dispossessed return, they pour the blood
of slaughtered animals on his bust to exorcise his evil.