She didn’t know how much he had in the bank when he died; whether he had any savings, whether he had debts that needed to be paid. Decades after, when she finally arranged to sell the house, I am told there were huge back taxes taken out of the sale amount. The only memories I have involving actual glimpses of money: every morning before he left for work, he pushed a fistful of soft bills across the table— for the market, for groceries. Did anything extra have to be pleaded for? And so the sewing she did on the side makes sense. One morning she took me by the hand and said Don’t tell of our errand today. We took a jeepney to the market where her friend owned a dry goods store. Her friend handed her a paper sack and gave me a treat. I never asked about it, and she never told. I’m haunted by exchanges: what was borrowed, what was returned. What was bought, or sold. Before my eighteenth birthday, she gave me a ring with tiny sapphires, my birth stone. She believed in the power and endurance of gold. Last year, before I left, she plunged her hand into a dilapidated purse and took out a knotted handkerchief; in its folds, a pair of diamond earrings, a matching pendant on a chain. I have them in a box in my drawer. Sometimes I take them out and look at them, touch all their surfaces dented with bits of brilliance.
In response to Via Negativa: Scrip.
Up and to my office all the morning, where Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes did pay the short allowance money to the East India companies, and by the assistance of the City Marshall and his men, did lay hold of two or three of the chief of the companies that were in the mutiny the other day, and sent them to prison.
This noon came Jane Gentleman to serve my wife as her chamber mayde. I wish she may prove well.
So ends this month, with my mind pretty well in quiett, and in good disposition of health since my drinking at home of a little wine with my beer; but no where else do I drink any wine at all.
My house in a way to be clean again, the Joyners and all having done; but only we lack a Cooke-maid and Jane our chambermaid is but new come to us this day.
The King and Queene and the Court at the Bath. My Lord Sandwich in the country, newly gone, with my doubts concerning him having been debauched by a slut at his lodgings at Chelsy. My brother John with me, but not to my great content, because I do not see him mind his study or give me so good account thereof as I expected.
My Brother embarqued in building, and I fear in no good condition for it, for he sent to me to borrow more money, which I shall not lend him.
Myself in good condition in the office, and I hope in a good way of saving money at home.
money in prison is quiet
a wine with no wine
a way to be clean again
having only sand lodgings
brother give me
my fear money
I shall lend myself
hope money at home
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 31 August 1663.
Dear ___, I have not written in years. What made me think of it today, of you? When we came home this evening, small bodies of gnats and moths were outlined against the door. We fumbled for the keys, and in that small beat of time I felt almost embarrassed to see how many had battered themselves against that rectangle of shimmering white. In the garden, the ferns push up, insistent through a skin of plastic and a thin layer of mulch. The August sky is waning. Another year is almost gone.
Dear ___, I started this letter last night in hopes that I would finish it. I looked for a stamp and wanted to use my good pen; I filled it with ink the color of burnt wheat from a half-filled bottle on the shelf. There was a young woman in my classroom whose right thigh was bandaged. She had no crutches, but walked with a limp. She said she was in a motorcycle accident yesterday. A driver speeding up to merge didn’t see her, not even her hair dyed bottle green. Her anger and self-pity still crackled freshly like a halo around her. She pulled a chair from the next row and put up her leg.
Dear ___, when you were my age did you worry about dying? Did you worry about leaving anyone behind? When she called last week, my daughter told me that in her college there is a new one-credit class called “Adulting.” They teach students things about “real life” like how to do their laundry (separate the whites), fill out checks for deposit, how frequently they should change their sheets, how to tell when the milk has gone bad. She couldn’t believe it, she said. Sheets. Milk. Laundry.
Dear ___, do you know how table legs jut out and bump against your knees depending on how the chairs are positioned around it? I tried to change the way the seats were arranged, tried to move them like a compass or a clock hand pushed very slightly out of orbit. In less than two days they were back again where they were originally. I know someone who was given a different office space; she moved everything and laid the objects out exactly the way they were, on her new desk. Do you remember the little purse you gave me when I was a child? the one shaped like a girl’s face under the broad brim of a straw hat? When we were out and I was bored, I’d suck on the little cluster of green rubber grapes adorning the ribbon. I still remember the way they tasted, the way something needless claims obsessive attention.
Lords Day. Lay long, then up; and Will being ill of the tooth-ake, I stayed at home and made up my accounts; which to my great content arise to 750l. clear Creditor, the most I have had yet. Dined alone with my wife, my brother dining abroad at my uncle Wights I think. To church, I alone, in the afternoon; and there saw Pembleton come in and look up, which put me into a sweat, and seeing not my wife there, went out again. But Lord — how I was afeared that he might, seeing me at church, go home to my wife; so much it is out of my power to preserve myself from jealousy — and so sat impatient all the sermon. Home and find all well and no sign of anybody being there, and so with great content playing and dallying with my wife; and so to my office, doing a little business there among my papers, and home to my wife to talk — supper and bed.
on a clear afternoon
seeing how much
is out of my power
my patient body being
a great ape
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 30 August 1663.
they do not loiter
here for long
they say they come
to watch the fish and learn
the ways of water
what it takes to stand
as long as the egret does
doubling the image
on the stilled surface
before it remembers
of its wingspan
but don’t speak
of greatness yet
what is the end
or the beginning
from the middle
which looks both ways
In response to Via Negativa: Above the river.
Up betimes and settled some necessary papers relating to my security in the accounts which I lately passed with my Lord Sandwich; then to the office and there all the morning sitting. So home to dinner and then abroad with my wife by water to Westminster, and there left her at my Lord’s lodgings, talking with Mrs. Harper about her kinswoman’s coming to my wife next week. And I to Jervas the barber’s, and there was trimmed, and did deliver back a periwigg, which he brought by my desire the other day to show me, having some thoughts, though no great desire or resolution yet to wear one, and so I put it off for a while.
Thence to my wife, and calling at both the Exchanges, buying stockings for her and myself, and also at Leadenhall, where she and I, it being candlelight, bought meat for to-morrow, having never a mayde to do it, and I myself bought, while my wife was gone to another shop, a leg of beef, a good one, for six pense, and my wife says is worth my money. So walked home, with a woman carrying our things, and had a very pleasant walk from White-hall home. So to my office and there despatched some business; and so home and to supper and to bed.
We called at Toms as we came by, and saw his new building, which will be very convenient. But I am mightily displeased at a letter he sent me last night, to borrow 20l. more of me, and yet gives me no account, as I have long desired, how matters stand with him in the world. I am troubled also to see how, contrary to my expectation, my brother John neither is the scholler nor minds his studies as I thought would have done, but loiters away his time, so that I must send him soon to Cambridge again.
thoughts wear off
light as thin ice
give no account how matters
stand in the world
how other minds
would loiter on a bridge
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 29 August 1663.
At the office betimes (it being cold all night and this morning, and a very great frost they say abroad, which is much, having had no summer at all almost), where we sat, and in the afternoon also about settling the establishment of the number of men borne on ships, &c., till the evening, and after that in my closet till late, and quite tired with business, home to supper and to bed.
and the numb men borne on it
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 28 August 1663.
Though I too live in a blur of worlds, I am one
shade of brown: my blood not as obviously mixed.
Who gave me this nose? I have no dimples. I have a brow
broad as a page. The eyes tell when I am smiling.
And eyebrows constitute a language of their own. Never
asleep, they are two republics separated by a bridge.
Do you know the power of discarded fishbones?
I know delight can interchange with dilate.
I’ve strung the dried stumps of my daughters’ birth
cords on a safety pin; this is one way I keep them close.
Do you know the sound the tin bucket makes, the shape
of its mouth as it looks at the sky from inside the well?
In the bird house made from hollowed-out wood: wasps
coming and going. They are not angry yet, only nesting.
The ginger flower’s torch burns with scent in the middle
of the garden. Not even the rain can put it out.
Newspaper stories of lifeless bodies fished out of
the gutter: too many now every day to number.
Their wrists are bound, their mouths sealed
with tape. Before they died, who had their number?
Along the canals, a rash of deep green vines:
their arms bear yellow flowers, too many to number.
At the height of summer, the flowers give way
to fruit. The bloated fall— some number.
The rest are allowed to live awhile, then are reaped to assuage
hunger. The problem is with hunger that knows no number.
The bigger the maw, the bigger the hunger. It won’t stop:
what can’t be satisfied has no belief in limits, in numbers.
In response to Via Negativa: Issue.
Up, after much pleasant talke with my wife and a little that vexes me, for I see that she is confirmed in it that all that I do is by design, and that my very keeping of the house in dirt, and the doing of this and any thing else in the house, is but to find her employment to keep her within and from minding of her pleasure, in which, though I am sorry to see she minds it, is true enough in a great degree.
To my office, and there we sat and despatched much business. Home and dined with my wife well, and then up and made clean my closet of books, and had my chamber a third time made very clean, so that it is now in a very fine condition.
Thence down to see some good plank in the river with Sir W. Batten and back again, it being a very cold day and a cold wind. Home again, and after seeing Sir W. Pen, to my office, and there till late doing of business, being mightily encouraged by every body that I meet withal upon the ‘Change and every where else, that I am taken notice of for a man that do the King’s business wholly and well. For which the Lord be praised, for I know no honour I desire more.
Home to supper, where I find my house very clean from top to bottom again to my great content. I found a feacho (as he calls it) of fine sugar and a case of orange-flower water come from Mr. Cocke, of Lisbon, the fruits of my last year’s service to him, which I did in great justice to the man, a perfect stranger. He sends it me desiring that I would not let Sir J. Minnes know it, from whom he expected to have found the service done that he had from me, from whom he could expect nothing, and the other failed him, and would have done I am sure to this day had not I brought it to some end.
After supper to bed.
from the river
a cold body
from each flower a fruit
a perfect stranger
from me no one
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 27 August 1663, written while listening to Entheos.