June 2016

“…My happiness dissolves and yet endures:
I wither and I flourish, both at once.”
~ Louise Labé, “Sonnet VIII,” trans. Jean Morris

Where is there a word
to mean both

and not merely one,
which hides a gleam

that flashes on
when the life sap thins

and hesitates? Where
is the sound to melt

whatever might need
disarmament; a pocket

in the air for the aftermath
of slicing onions, crushing

garlic? There should be
a word for both act

and aftermath: the tear
and the trail it leaves,

the kiss and its evaporation
from the still warm mouth.

The plate and its shadowy signature
pressed into the tablecloth.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Louise Labe....

Up betimes yesterday and to-day, the sun rising very bright and glorious; and yet yesterday, as it hath been these two months and more, was a foul day the most part of the day.
By and by by water to White Hall, and there to my Lord’s lodgings by appointment, whither Mr. Creed comes to me, having been at Chelsey this morning to fetch my Lord to St. James’s. So he and I to the Park, where we understand that the King and Duke are gone out betimes this morning on board the East India ships lately come in, and so our meeting appointed is lost. But he and I walked at the further end of the Park, not to be observed, whither by and by comes my Lord Sandwich, and he and we walked two hours and more in the Park and then in White Hall Gallery, and lastly in White Hall garden, discoursing of Mr. Creed’s accounts, and how to answer the Treasurer’s objections. I find that the business is 500l. deep, the advantage of Creed, and why my Lord and I should be concerned to promote his profit with so much dishonour and trouble to us I know not, but however we shall do what we can, though he deserves it not, for there is nothing even to his own advantage that can be got out of him, but by mere force. So full of policy he is in the smallest matters, that I perceive him to be made up of nothing but design. I left him here, being in my mind vexed at the trouble that this business gets me, and the distance that it makes between Sir G. Carteret and myself, which I ought to avoyd. Thence by water home and to dinner, and afterwards to the office, and there sat till evening, and then I by water to Deptford to see Sir W. Pen, who lies ill at Captain Rooth’s, but in a way to be well again this weather, this day being the only fair day we have had these two or three months. Among other discourse I did tell him plainly some of my thoughts concerning Sir W. Batten. and the office in general, upon design for him to understand that I do mind things and will not balk to take notice of them, that when he comes to be well again he may know how to look upon me.
Thence homeward walked, and in my way met Creed coming to meet me, and then turned back and walk a while, and so to boat and home by water, I being not very forward to talk of his business, and he by design the same, to see how I would speak of it, but I did not, but in general terms, and so after supper with general discourse to bed and sleep.
Thus, by God’s blessing, ends this book of two years; I being in all points in good health and a good way to thrive and do well. Some money I do and can lay up, but not much, being worth now above 700l., besides goods of all sorts. My wife in the country with Ashwell, her woman, with my father; myself at home with W. Hewer and my cooke-maid Hannah, my boy Wayneman being lately run away from me.
In my office, my repute and understanding good, especially with the Duke and Mr. Coventry; only the rest of the officers do rather envy than love me, I standing in most of their lights, specially Sir W. Batten, whose cheats I do daily oppose to his great trouble, though he appears mighty kind and willing to keep friendship with me, while Sir J. Minnes, like a dotard, is led by the nose by him. My wife and I, by my late jealousy, for which I am truly to be blamed, have not the kindness between us which we used and ought to have, and I fear will be lost hereafter if I do not take course to oblige her and yet preserve my authority. Publique matters are in an ill condition; Parliament sitting and raising four subsidys for the King, which is but a little, considering his wants; and yet that parted withal with great hardness. They being offended to see so much money go, and no debts of the publique’s paid, but all swallowed by a luxurious Court: which the King it is believed and hoped will retrench in a little time, when he comes to see the utmost of the revenue which shall be settled on him: he expecting to have his 1,200,000l. made good to him, which is not yet done by above 150,000l., as he himself reports to the House.
My differences with my uncle Thomas at a good quiett, blessed be God! and other matters.
The town full of the great overthrow lately given to the Spaniards by the Portugalls, they being advanced into the very middle of Portugall.
The weather wet for two or three months together beyond belief, almost not one fair day coming between till this day, which has been a very pleasant [day] and the first pleasant [day] this summer.
The charge of the Navy intended to be limited to 200,000l. per annum, the ordinary charge of it, and that to be settled upon the Customs.
The King yet greatly taken up with Madam Castlemaine and Mrs. Stewart, which God of Heaven put an end to!
Myself very studious to learn what I can of all things necessary for my place as an officer of the Navy, reading lately what concerns measuring of timber and knowledge of the tides.
I have of late spent much time with Creed, being led to it by his business of his accounts, but I find him a fellow of those designs and tricks, that there is no degree of true friendship to be made with him, and therefore I must cast him off, though he be a very understanding man, and one that much may be learned of as to cunning and judging of other men. Besides, too, I do perceive more and more that my time of pleasure and idleness of any sort must be flung off to attend to getting of some money and the keeping of my family in order, which I fear by my wife’s liberty may be otherwise lost.

the sun is a foul
East India ship

full of nothing but distance
and ill weather

this is how I would speak of it to God
in his book of years

up above the light
like a lost swallow

belief limited to
an ordinary heaven

of all things
necessary and true


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 30 June 1663.

Up betimes and to my office, and by and by to the Temple, and there appointed to meet in the evening about my business, and thence I walked home, and up and down the streets is cried mightily the great victory got by the Portugalls against the Spaniards, where 10,000 slain, 3 or 4,000 taken prisoners, with all the artillery, baggage, money, &c., and Don John of Austria forced to flee with a man or two with him, which is very great news.
Thence home and at my office all the morning, and then by water to St. James’s, but no meeting to-day being holy day, but met Mr. Creed in the Park, and after a walk or two, discoursing his business, took leave of him in Westminster Hall, whither we walked, and then came again to the Hall and fell to talk with Mrs. Lane, and after great talk that she never went abroad with any man as she used heretofore to do, I with one word got her to go with me and to meet me at the further Rhenish wine-house, where I did give her a Lobster and do so touse her and feel her all over, making her believe how fair and good a skin she has, and indeed she has a very white thigh and leg, but monstrous fat. When weary I did give over and somebody, having seen some of our dalliance, called aloud in the street, “Sir! why do you kiss the gentlewoman so?” and flung a stone at the window, which vexed me, but I believe they could not see my touzing her, and so we broke up and I went out the back way, without being observed I think, and so she towards the Hall and I to White Hall, where taking water I to the Temple with my cozen Roger and Mr. Goldsborough to Gray’s Inn to his counsel, one Mr. Rawworth, a very fine man, where it being the question whether I as executor should give a warrant to Goldsborough in my reconveying her estate back again, the mortgage being performed against all acts of the testator, but only my own, my cozen said he never heard it asked before; and the other that it was always asked, and he never heard it denied, or scrupled before, so great a distance was there in their opinions, enough to make a man forswear ever having to do with the law; so they agreed to refer it to Serjeant Maynard. So we broke up, and I by water home from the Temple, and there to Sir W. Batten and eat with him, he and his lady and Sir J. Minnes having been below to-day upon the East India men that are come in, but never tell me so, but that they have been at Woolwich and Deptford, and done great deal of business. God help them. So home and up to my lute long, and then, after a little Latin chapter with Will, to bed. But I have used of late, since my wife went, to make a bad use of my fancy with whatever woman I have a mind to, which I am ashamed of, and shall endeavour to do so no more. So to sleep.

prisoners forced to eat skin
and monstrous fat

kiss the flung stone
raw as their opinions of sin

of a fancy woman
of more sleep


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 29 June 1663.

There was the rust-colored sweater and skirt set of scratchy
mohair, its generous cowl that hotly framed my tiny face.

I sat in one of three plastic chairs onstage at the parish
gym, while the emcee took bids for a mystery box held aloft.

I hooked my feet clad in black Mary Janes around
the chair legs, trying surreptitiously to see

if Mary Ann and Meliza next to me were also drowsy.
Did we really care which one of us would be

crowned Santacruzan queen? There was a gown
of neon orange lace. Navy blue uniform skirts

three inches below the knee, the measure of growing
not yet grown into. There were sweaters of pastel-

colored acrylic yarn that gave off a noxious smell
combined with sweat; and in the awkward ‘teens,

elephant pants to pair with platform shoes.
Still, I was always the homely one, burrowing into

an armchair with a pile of books, freezing in terror
at the sound of the telephone’s shrill alarms.

I tell my daughters I never bought clothes off
the rack or owned a pair of jeans until I got

to college. Now I don them almost every day, liking
the soft frayed cuffs and their dusty, commonplace blue.

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Louise Labé

VIII

Painting by André Minaux 1

I’m living, dying, drowning, burning up –
extremes of heat and then I’m cold again.
Life is too soft on me and then too hard –
my trials are great, but intertwined with joys.

I burst out laughing and then into tears,
smile through the torment of my many wounds.
My happiness dissolves and yet endures:
I wither and I flourish, both at once.

So Love’s inconstant but remains my guide
and when the pain seems at its very worst
I rise above it unexpectedly.

Then just when I think joy has really come,
that peak experience is mine at last,
I find myself back where I started from.


Je vis, je meurs: je me brule & me noye.
J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure:
La vie m’est & trop molle et trop dure.
J’ay grans ennuis entremeslez de joye:

Tout à un coup je ris & je larmoye,
Et en plaisir maint grief tourment j’endure:
Mon bien s’en va, & à jamais il dure:
Tout en un coup je seiche & je verdoye.

Ainsi Amour inconstamment me meine:
Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur,
Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy ma joye estre certaine,
Et estre en haut de mon desire heur,
Il remet en mon premier malheur.

IX

Painting by André Minaux 2

As soon as I allow myself to rest,
safely tucked up in my own comfy bed,
my stupid, sorrowing mind can’t help itself –
it leaves my body, flies straight back to you.

It strikes me then: within this tender breast
I harbour still the very thing I’ve craved,
the object of my deepest sighs, of sobs
I’ve often felt would break my heart in two.

Oh sweetest sleep, oh night of happiness!
May joyful, calming rest bring me this fond
illusion every time I close my eyes.

If my poor lovesick soul is destined now
to never really know such love again,
at least let me have dreams and fantasies.


Tout aussi tot que je commence à prendre
Dens le mol lit le repos desiré,
Mon triste esprit hors de moy retiré
S’en va vers toy incontinent se rendre.

Lors m’est avis que dedens mon sein tendre
Je tiens le bien, où j’ay tant aspiré,
Et pour lequel j’ay si haut souspiré,
Que de sanglots ay souvent cuidé fendre.

O dous sommeil, o nuit à moy heureuse!
Plaisant repos, plein de tranquilité,
Continuez toutes les nuiz mon songe:

Et si ma pauvre ame amoureuse
Ne doit avoir de bien en verité,
Faites au moins qu’elle en ait en mensonge.

 

Louise Labé in Wikipedia.

Paintings by André Minaux (1923-86) – I came across his work by chance for the first time this week and the sharp, stylized imagery, often of women alone in interiors, somehow resonated with the sonnets; also an exquisite concert on the radio of short pieces by J S Bach and Jörg Widmann made me think about how mutually enhancing old and new(er) works can be.

(Lord’s day). Early in the morning my last night’s physic worked and did give me a good stool, and then I rose and had three or four stools, and walked up and down my chamber. Then up, my maid rose and made me a posset, and by and by comes Mr. Creed, and he and I spent all the morning discoursing against to-morrow before the Duke the business of his pieces of eight, in which the Treasurer makes so many queries.
At noon, my physic having done working, I went down to dinner, and then he and I up again and spent most of the afternoon reading in Cicero and other books of good discourse, and then he went away, and then came my brother Tom to see me, telling me how the Joyces do make themselves fine clothes against Mary is brought to bed. He being gone I went to cast up my monthly accounts, and to my great trouble I find myself 7l. worse than I was the last month, but I confess it is by my reckoning beforehand a great many things, yet however I am troubled to see that I can hardly promise myself to lay up much from month’s end to month’s end, about 4l. or 5l. at most, one month with another, without some extraordinary gettings, but I must and I hope I shall continue to have a care of my own expenses.
So to the reading my vows seriously and then to supper. This evening there came my boy’s brother to see for him, and tells me he knows not where he is, himself being out of town this week and is very sorry that he is gone, and so am I, but he shall come no more. So to prayers, and to bed.

early in the morning
last night’s work is in pieces

the work of joy clothes us
in nowhere

out and gone I shall come
no more to pray


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 28 June 1663.

so what if i haven’t
given up, if i keep

testing this voice
on the edge of the wind,

stringing versions of what
i’m trying to say, revising,

then taking it all back,
tomorrow and tomorrow?

don’t listen if you don’t
want to, if to you

it’s nothing. pretend
it’s the rain; something

background you
can sleep through.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Active Voice.

Up by 4 o’clock and a little to my office. Then comes by agreement Sir W. Warren, and he and I from ship to ship to see deals of all sorts, whereby I have encreased my knowledge and with great pleasure. Then to his yard and house, where I staid two hours or more discoursing of the expense of the navy and the corruption of Sir W. Batten and his man Wood that he brings or would bring to sell all that is to be sold by the Navy.
Then home to the office, where we sat a little, and at noon home to dinner, alone, and thence, it raining hard, by water to the Temple, and so to Lincoln’s Inn, and there walked up and down to see the new garden which they are making, and will be very pretty, and so to walk under the Chappell by agreement, whither Mr. Clerke our Solicitor came to me, and he fetched Mr. Long, our Attorney in the Exchequer in the business against Field, and I directed him to come to the best and speediest composition he could, which he will do. So home on foot, calling upon my brother’s and elsewhere upon business, and so home to my office, and there wrote letters to my father and wife, and so home to bed, taking three pills overnight.

hip to hip I have increased
my knowledge of rain

garden in the field a composition
calling me to my wife


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 27 June 1663.

Up betimes, and Mr. Moore coming to see me, he and I discoursed of going to Oxford this Commencement, Mr. Nathaniel Crew being Proctor and Mr. Childe commencing Doctor of Musique this year, which I have a great mind to do, and, if I can, will order my matters so that I may do it.
By and by, he and I to the Temple, it raining hard, my cozen Roger being got out, he and I walked a good while among the Temple trees discoursing of my getting my Lord to let me have security upon his estate for 100l. per ann. for two lives, my own and my wife, for my money. But upon second thoughts Mr. Moore tells me it is very likely my Lord will think that I beg something, and may take it ill, and so we resolved not to move it there, but to look for it somewhere else.
Here it raining hard he and I walked into the King’s Bench Court, where I never was before, and there staid an hour almost, till it had done raining, which is a sad season, that it is said there hath not been one fair day these three months, and I think it is true, and then by water to Westminster, and at the Parliament House I spoke with Roger Pepys. The House is upon the King’s answer to their message about Temple, which is, that my Lord of Bristoll did tell him that Temple did say those words; so the House are resolved upon sending some of their members to him to know the truth, and to demand satisfaction if it be not true.
So by water home, and after a little while getting me ready, Sir W. Batten, Sir J. Minnes, my Lady Batten, and I by coach to Bednall Green, to Sir W. Rider’s to dinner, where a fine place, good lady mother, and their daughter, Mrs. Middleton, a fine woman. A noble dinner, and a fine merry walk with the ladies alone after dinner in the garden, which is very pleasant; the greatest quantity of strawberrys I ever saw, and good, and a collation of great mirth, Sir J. Minnes reading a book of scolding very prettily.
This very house was built by the Blind Beggar of Bednall Green, so much talked of and sang in ballads; but they say it was only some of the outhouses of it. We drank great store of wine, and a beer glass at last which made me almost sick.
At table, discoursing of thunder and lightning, they told many stories of their own knowledge at table of their masts being shivered from top to bottom, and sometimes only within and the outside whole, but among the rest Sir W. Rider did tell a story of his own knowledge, that a Genoese gaily in Leghorn Roads was struck by thunder, so as the mast was broke a-pieces, and the shackle upon one of the slaves was melted clear off of his leg without hurting his leg. Sir William went on board the vessel, and would have contributed towards the release of the slave whom Heaven had thus set free, but he could not compass it, and so he was brought to his fetters again.
In the evening home, and a little to my Tryangle, and so to bed.

rain on the temple trees
like words in the book of a blind beggar

the outhouse
which made me almost sick

shivered from top to bottom
with the outside thunder

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 26 June 1663.