April 2017

According to the students at my university,
among the features of the new cafeteria
that opened in fall is a Sushi Robot—

which I thought would be an updated version
of Rosie the Robot Maid from that old sixties
cartoon, The Jetsons, until I searched

the internet for a helpful YouTube
which showed me a boxlike contraption
smaller than an ATM but larger

than a water cooler, capable of pressing out
a uniformly thin square of cooked sushi rice
upon which one can proceed to quickly lay

a sheet of nori and on top of that,
precisely measured slices of avocado,
carrots, and crab sticks

before the revolving belt platform
retracts and an arm pushes down
to fold the roll in thirds

before sliding it out onto a waiting
plastic tray. First it was the Roomba,
that circular robotized disc

quietly whirring as it went, eating dust
from room to room. Next came all the talk
about the self-driving Tesla X, capable

of accelerating from 0 to 60 in two
seconds flat. Some think this is the beginning
of our end, a future drawing nearer when we

and our hungers will simply be extruded
from one end of a pipe to the other for the sake
of efficiency, with no intervening time to meditate

on what it all means. Will there be any
further need to work, or will everyone have
access to basic income? With work distributed

to mechanized devices, will we finally enter
the temple of true pleasure, knowledge of which we
have only ever known because of its differentiation

from pain? Will there be reading and writing,
will there be poems? Will we hold our fingers up
to the light, trying to recall what they were for?

 

In response to Via Negativa: Circumscribed.

Up and all the morning at the office. At noon to the ‘Change, where, after business done, Sir W. Rider and Cutler took me to the Old James and there did give me a good dish of mackerell, the first I have seen this year, very good, and good discourse. After dinner we fell to business about their contract for tarr, in which and in another business of Sir W. Rider’s, canvas, wherein I got him to contract with me, I held them to some terms against their wills, to the King’s advantage, which I believe they will take notice of to my credit.
Thence home, and by water by a gally down to Woolwich, and there a good while with Mr. Pett upon the new ship discoursing and learning of him. Thence with Mr. Deane to see Mr. Falconer, and there find him in a way to be well.
So to the water (after much discourse with great content with Mr. Deane) and home late, and so to the office, wrote to my father among other things my continued displeasure against my brother John, so that I will give him nothing more out of my own purse, which will trouble the poor man, but however it is fit that I should take notice of my brother’s ill carriage to me. Then home and till 12 at night about my month’s accounts, wherein I have just kept within compass, this having been a spending month.
So my people being all abed I put myself to bed very sleepy.
All the newes now is what will become of the Dutch business, whether warr or peace. We all seem to desire it, as thinking ourselves to have advantages at present over them; for my part I dread it. The Parliament promises to assist the King with lives and fortunes, and he receives it with thanks and promises to demand satisfaction of the Dutch.
My poor Lady Sandwich is fallen sick three days since of the meazles.
My Lord Digby’s business is hushed up, and nothing made of it; he is gone, and the discourse quite ended.
Never more quiet in my family all the days of my life than now, there being only my wife and I and Besse and the little girl Susan, the best wenches to our content that we can ever expect.

I have seen a ship in a well
and a compass in bed

what will become of all my promise
in a quiet life


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 30 April 1664.

It’s difficult to practice for
the unseen, prepare for the unknown.
Meanwhile, dandelions release

their small planet load of white-
tendriled paratroopers; chickweed,
purslane, yellow oxalis creep

along the fence. Some nights,
humid, sulphurous smells come in
from the beach. Some days, we turn away

persistent salesmen from our doors.
We warn the neighbors. We plant
ourselves across the threshold.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Grind.

Up betimes, and with Sir W. Rider and Cutler to White Hall. Rider and I to St. James’s, and there with Mr. Coventry did proceed strictly upon some fooleries of Mr. Povy’s in my Lord Peterborough’s accounts, which will touch him home, and I am glad of it, for he is the most troublesome impertinent man that ever I met with. Thence to the ‘Change, and there, after some business, home to dinner, where Luellin and Mount came to me and dined, and after dinner my wife and I by coach to see my Lady Sandwich, where we find all the children and my Lord removed, and the house so melancholy that I thought my Lady had been dead, knowing that she was not well; but it seems she hath the meazles, and I fear the small pox, poor lady. It grieves me mightily; for it will be a sad houre to the family should she miscarry. Thence straight home and to the office, and in the evening comes Mr. Hill the merchant and another with him that sings well, and we sung some things, and good musique it seemed to me, only my mind too full of business to have much pleasure in it. But I will have more of it. They gone, and I having paid Mr. Moxon for the work he has done for the office upon the King’s globes, I to my office, where very late busy upon Captain Tayler’s bills for his masts, which I think will never off my hand. Home to supper and to bed.

times touch and trouble us
where we move
melancholy as an ox
the work done for the office
the office never off


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 29 April 1664.

“When we received the cable from Admiral Dewey telling of the taking of the Philippines I looked up their location on the globe. I could not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000 miles!” ~ President William McKinley to H.H. Kohlsaat, Editor of the Chicago-Times Herald

I’m looking at captions of old
newspaper photos from April 1898,

just before The Battle of Manila Bay—
all the language already in place,

as if to make the outcome so: War
in the Orient! American Squadron

Will Capture Philippine Islands and
American Warships Will Fight Spanish

Squadron Near Manila; A Very Desperate
Encounter is Predicted
. And the fleet

of Spanish vessels goes down in flames
or sinks into the bay: the Reina Cristina

and Castilla, the gunboats Don Antonio
de Ulloa, Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Luzon,

Isla de Cuba, Velasco, Argos— while
on the American side, the Olympia plays

“The Star-Spangled Banner” and “El Capitan”
as sailors on the Baltimore, Raleigh and Boston,

the gunboats Concord and Petrel, the revenue
cutter McCulloch, and the transport ships Zafiro

and Nanshan shout “Remember the Maine!”
Admiral Dewey issues strict orders that “no

barbarous or inhuman acts are to be perpetrated
by the insurgents,” by which he means Filipinos.

Artist prints and photographs show no native casualties
of war, no native involvement— except that skirmish

cost the Spanish a 20 million dollar fine: the price
of handing over their former colony and its inhabitants

to the Americans. Who doesn’t love a good war? When news of Dewey’s
victory reaches the mainland, Americans cheer. What does it matter

that most didn’t know what and where the Philippines are,
as long as those darned islands are now the spoils of war?

Up and close at my office all the morning. To the ‘Change busy at noon, and so home to dinner, and then in the afternoon at the office till night, and so late home quite tired with business, and without joy in myself otherwise than that I am by God’s grace enabled to go through it and one day, hope to have benefit by it. So home to supper and to bed.

close to change
to quit and out myself

otherwise I am
by God’s grace bled


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 28 April 1664.

Push back against the hands
arranging the conditions

for movement (meaning barely any),
the narrow confines of a cell

stripped down to minimum
furnishings: cot with creaky

springs, mattress streaked
with sepia stains, cracked

washbowl in the corner. Kick
and scream when they send

the trumped-up summons,
as outside, someone prepares

the spit and starts the fire.
Recall every subterfuge and tactic

for stalling, every scanned
memory of some kind of hinge

or chink in the armor. Yes
your stamina can go beyond

a thousand and one nights. You
can also drive the tip of any sharp

point at hand into the first
blur that hesitates or wavers.

Up, and all the morning very busy with multitude of clients, till my head began to be overloaded. Towards noon I took coach and to the Parliament house door, and there staid the rising of the House, and with Sir G. Carteret and Mr. Coventry discoursed of some tarr that I have been endeavouring to buy, for the market begins apace to rise upon us, and I would be glad first to serve the King well, and next if I could I find myself now begin to cast how to get a penny myself. Home by coach with Alderman Backewell in his coach, whose opinion is that the Dutch will not give over the business without putting us to some trouble to set out a fleete; and then, if they see we go on well, will seek to salve up the matter. Upon the ‘Change busy. Thence home to dinner, and thence to the office till my head was ready to burst with business, and so with my wife by coach, I sent her to my Lady Sandwich and myself to my cozen Roger Pepys’s chamber, and there he did advise me about our Exchequer business, and also about my brother John, he is put by my father upon interceding for him, but I will not yet seem the least to pardon him nor can I in my heart. However, he and I did talk how to get him a mandamus for a fellowship, which I will endeavour.
Thence to my Lady’s, and in my way met Mr. Sanchy, of Cambridge, whom I have not met a great while. He seems a simple fellow, and tells me their master, Dr. Rainbow, is newly made Bishop of Carlisle.
To my Lady’s, and she not being well did not see her, but straight home with my wife, and late to my office, concluding in the business of Woods masts, which I have now done and I believe taken more pains in it than ever any Principall officer in this world ever did in any thing to no profit to this day.
So, weary, sleepy, and hungry, home and to bed.
This day the Houses attended the King, and delivered their votes to him: upon the business of the Dutch; and he thanks them, and promises an answer in writing.

the multitude rising
have been a salve

for the heart simple
as rain in the woods

more in it than any
weary answer


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 27 April 1664.

black-and-white photos of tree foliage seen from below

To be in nature like a human tree, your desires
spread out like deep, luxuriant foliage, and feel,
on peaceful and on stormy nights alike, the universal
sap flow through your hands. To live with the sun’s rays
warm on your face, drink the scorching salt of sea-spray
and of tears, and hotly taste the joy and then the grief
that fashion foggy human forms in space. To feel
in your own beating heart the turbulence of air and fire
and blood like wind upon the earth, reach for reality
and stoop to mystery, embrace the rising daylight
and the falling dark. Like evening’s purple and cerise,
to let the flame and flood flow from the crimson
of your heart while your soul, like pale dawn resting
on a hillside, sits beside this world and dreams…

 

La vie profonde

Être dans la nature ainsi qu’un arbre humain,
Étendre ses désirs comme un profond feuillage,
Et sentir, par la nuit paisible et par l’orage,
La sève universelle affluer dans ses mains !

Vivre, avoir les rayons du soleil sur la face,
Boire le sel ardent des embruns et des pleurs,
Et goûter chaudement la joie et la douleur
Qui font une buée humaine dans l’espace !

Sentir, dans son coeur vif, l’air, le feu et le sang
Tourbillonner ainsi que le vent sur la terre.
– S’élever au réel et pencher au mystère,
Être le jour qui monte et l’ombre qui descend !

Comme du pourpre soir aux couleurs de cerise,
Laisser du coeur vermeil couler la flamme et l’eau,
Et comme l’aube claire appuyée au coteau
Avoir l’âme qui rêve, au bord du monde assise…

 

From Anna de Noailles’ first collection, Le Coeur innombrable / The Uncountable Heart (1901). A fairly close translation, but lately I’ve been writing dense 14-line poems and this seemed to pour itself so naturally into that shape… More of my translations of Anna de Noailles on Via Negativa are here and here.