August 2017

She liked to try new things at the stove,
at night after most of the family had gone
to bed— Once, a Scandinavian recipe for black

pepper cookies. Still awake, reviewing for a test,
I got to taste them after they came out of the oven:
thin discs with a surprising woody edge of heat

that flared against a canvas of milk and sweet
butter. Another time, a cache of fermented fish
and rice— catfish, perch, or mudfish—

she’d hidden away in the cupboard for seven
days. It was storming when she took it out to cook
with garlic and red onions in a skillet: aroma

of vinegar mingled with flowered yeast;
while outside, metallic rain soaked through dry
earth and grass. As lightning ionizes the air

to fix nitrogen oxides, so my taste buds
are forever harnessed to this knowledge she
passed on to me: how flavors are more

complex when they’re swirled together,
how salty and sweet and hot and bitter build
the most memorable hit in the mouth.

It may be that the past is another country; or a kind
of cloud-vessel shadow moving through the days.

It may be that a window is something to frantically
open, before the throat closes on itself from lack

of air. There’s another word for it, though– it means
lookout, crow’s nest, balcony, or ledge. And it may be

that a chair is only a chair and not a fortuitous
place to land, especially in the grips of vertigo.

Maybe a closed book collecting dust on a shelf isn’t
history— only a letter badly written to yourself

before you really traveled anywhere. Postcards came
in the mail with panoramas of unlined blue; bird

serifs, pebbled beaches. In time, you dared to pull
at the buttery flesh of a sea urchin with your teeth,

tipping its armored body to your lips— only the first
briny thimbleful that cracked open the passages to thirst.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Following orders.

Up by six o’clock, and to my office with Tom Hater dispatching business in haste. At nine o’clock to White Hall about Mr. Maes’s business at the Council, which stands in an ill condition still. Thence to Graye’s Inn, but missed of Mr. Cole the lawyer, and so walked home, calling among the joyners in Wood Streete to buy a table and bade in many places, but did not buy it till I come home to see the place where it is to stand, to judge how big it must be. So after ‘Change home and a good dinner, and then to White Hall to a Committee of the Fishery, where my Lord Craven and Mr. Gray mightily against Mr. Creed’s being joined in the warrant for Secretary with Mr. Duke. However I did get it put off till the Duke of Yorke was there, and so broke up doing nothing. So walked home, first to the Wardrobe, and there saw one suit of clothes made for my boy and linen set out, and I think to have him the latter end of this week, and so home, Mr. Creed walking the greatest part of the way with me advising what to do in his case about his being Secretary to us in conjunction with Duke, which I did give him the best I could, and so home and to my office, where very much business, and then home to supper and to bed.

I hate haste

at a stand-still I see
where to stand

how big must be a committee
for doing nothing

one suit with his secretary
I did the best I could


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 24 August 1664.

During a visit to Kew Gardens the other week, I was charmed by the interactions of the visitors — a highly multi-ethnic crowd — with an installation called The Hive, by artist Wolfgang Buttress, which is designed to raise consciousness about the plight of bees and other pollinators. Looking at the videos I shot on my hand-me-down iPhone, I was reminded of an old poem-like thing that seemed to complement the footage rather well, which I later supplemented with a couple of other shots from Tate Modern. After extensive tinkering, I decided that the best soundtrack was simply the audio I’d picked up at The Hive, which generated a kind of ambient soundscape “triggered by bee activity in a real beehive at Kew.” Unfortunately, the gardens are right under the flight path of jets landing at Heathrow, but given the subject matter of the videopoem, that noise didn’t seem entirely out-of-place.

Lay long talking with my wife, and angry awhile about her desiring to have a French mayde all of a sudden, which I took to arise from yesterday’s being with her mother. But that went over and friends again, and so she be well qualitied, I care not much whether she be French or no, so a Protestant. Thence to the office, and at noon to the ‘Change, where very busy getting ships for Guinny and for Tangier. So home to dinner, and then abroad all the afternoon doing several errands, to comply with my oath of ending many businesses before Bartholomew’s day, which is two days hence. Among others I went into New Bridewell, in my way to Mr. Cole, and there I saw the new model, and it is very handsome. Several at work, among others, one pretty whore brought in last night, which works very lazily. I did give them 6d. to drink, and so away. To Graye’s Inn, but missed Mr. Cole, and so homeward called at Harman’s, and there bespoke some chairs for a room, and so home, and busy late, and then to supper and to bed. The Dutch East India Fleete are now come home safe, which we are sorry for. Our Fleets on both sides are hastening out to Guinny.

a sudden moth
on my hand

who works so gray
so late


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 23 August 1664.

1. Too many mornings are all wound, stringent light.

2. I look at the crepe myrtle, its peeling bark;

3. and the square of paper I nailed to the trunk, asking

4. that the person/s walking their dog/s pick up their crap.

5. I was starting to talk about that wound, the one that opens

6. like a remembrance in the side, like a flare or crossing

7. we all gape at, looking at the sky with dark-

8. shaded glasses one hot afternoon in August.

9. And yes, sometimes the slightest dropping

10. on a fringe of grass acquires the cast

11. of an injury. What to do with the unasked for?

12. I have no need to be reminded that some people

13. have absolutely no regard for others, that somehow

14. it’s easier for them to maintain some pure internal

15. plumbing, by dumping their trash elsewhere. Who

16. turns on the switch, what welds the foot to the pedal

17. as the car rams into soft bodies gathered on the road?

18. Who pulls the trigger without trembling, until empty?

19. If they could, they would have the grass arrested. They talk

19. and talk boundaries, undoing and erasing to suit their whims.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Presence.

Up and abroad, doing very many errands to my great content which lay as burdens upon my mind and memory. Home to dinner, and so to White Hall, setting down my wife at her father’s, and I to the Tangier Committee, where several businesses I did to my mind, and with hopes thereby to get something. So to Westminster Hall, where by appointment I had made I met with Dr. Tom Pepys, but avoided all discourse of difference with him, though much against my will, and he like a doating coxcomb as he is, said he could not but demand his money, and that he would have his right, and that let all anger be forgot, and such sorry stuff, nothing to my mind, but only I obtained this satisfaction, that he told me about Sturbridge last was 12 months or 2 years he was at Brampton, and there my father did tell him that what he had done for my brother in giving him his goods and setting him up as he had done was upon condition that he should give my brother John 20l. per ann., which he charged upon my father, he tells me in answer, as a great deal of hard measure that he should expect that with him that had a brother so able as I am to do that for him. This is all that he says he can say as to my father’s acknowledging that he had given Tom his goods. He says his brother Roger will take his oath that my father hath given him thanks for his counsel for his giving of Tom his goods and setting him up in the manner that he hath done, but the former part of this he did not speak fully so bad nor as certain what he could say.
So we walked together to my cozen Joyce’s, where my wife staid for me, and then I home and her by coach, and so to my office, then to supper and to bed.

errands on my mind
like a doting comb

let all be forgot but this ridge
this former peak


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 22 August 1664.

What’s left here that nostalgia would find
satisfying? The haunts of your youth, carved

over with graffiti or the tracks of skateboards.
At every turn, billboards advertising Hotel

Sofitel, Eat All You Can, City Lunch, Go-Go
Dance, Dim Sum Palace. Where in this wilderness

of palimpsests is the door to the dreaded
dentist’s office, the neon sign in the shape

of a noodle bowl; the all-night diner where,
out of pity, the wife of the balding owner

once slipped you a cup of fries and a Coke
while your parents bickered and fought, fought

and bickered and made up, oblivious to whoever
might hear? What happened to the row of small shops:

the baker, butcher, haberdasher; the apothecary
and its shelves filled with vials smelling of mint

and camphor and lavender? That parking lot used to be
the movie theatre where you got your first job;

after cleaning the aisles, the toilets, and all
around the popcorn and drink machine, you sat

with the other temps on the steps out back. Everyone
talked about how they couldn’t wait to get away to their

real lives, away from this place where nothing ever happened.
And that girl who offered you your first smoke, saying, Here,

there’s nothing to it, it’s just a little bit of burning paper.
You weren’t sure what you wanted, but took it anyway. Because

isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? She wanted to sing
and act; but she only got as far as Tarlac; you married

too young. Her eldest son now runs Ace Laundromat,
where clothes spin in chrome baskets in the shadow

of a church famous for the seam in its center aisle,
dating back to the war. The owners of the Boulevard

Bistro are gone, as are your parents. So many hopes,
once crammed with their own ammunition, ready to go.

And you, passing through— you pry yourself loose,
as you have some kind of life elsewhere to get back to.

(Lord’s day). Waked about 4 o’clock with my wife, having a looseness, and peoples coming in the yard to the pump to draw water several times, so that fear of this day’s fire made me fearful, and called Besse and sent her down to see, and it was Griffin’s maid for water to wash her house. So to sleep again, and then lay talking till 9 o’clock. So up and drunk three bottles of Epsum water, which wrought well with me. I all the morning and most of the afternoon after dinner putting papers to rights in my chamber, and the like in the evening till night at my office, and renewing and writing fair over my vowes. So home to supper, prayers, and to bed.
Mr. Coventry told us the Duke was gone ill of a fit of an ague to bed; so we sent this morning to see how he do.

clock with a looseness
at several times

so fear of day’s fire
made me call for ash

so sleep papers over
my morning


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 21 August 1664.

“Trump said, “[Pershing] took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.” ~ CNN News, August 17, 2017

“… this is not the country of the Americans, but is the country of you Moros…” ~ Gen. John J. Pershing, transcript of May 29 and 20, 1911 meeting with leaders in Marawi (papers in the Library of Congress)

How easy to lie, to take from history
in order to serve one’s dirty purpose—

How typical. To look at old wars
and think their details all but forgotten;

then take liberties. To cast the figures of the long
dead on either side as puppets in roles

they would themselves not recognize,
having spoken differently. For instance,

in General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing’s
documents: a transcript of his meeting

with leading sultans, datus, and headmen
in Lanao, Marawi, in May 1911 (the same area

over which President Rodrigo “P-Duts” Duterte declared
Martial Law in May 2017, and which has since become

a wilderness of bombed-out homes, its people turned
into refugees overnight). In the transcript, he calls them

“friends.” In the transcript, Datu Noscalem tells of how
the general gifted him with a copy of the Quran.

Pershing responds that The Moros should live
     according to the teachings of the Quran, because… it is

the best book that they can follow. There would not
have been any pork served at the meal, if they shared any.

No scrunchions or chicharones, no salt-cured ham,
no cochinilla roasted in an open pit while the men

conversed. In the throes of that war at the turn of the previous
century, some attempt at decorum, if not recognition. No fables

yet of bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, no enemy heads sewn into pig
carcasses as warnings for “the infidels.” How interesting that pork

barrel means the use of government funds for projects designed
     to please voters or legislators and win votes. General Black

Jack’s wife and children, save for one son, perished in a fire
in California. That son, Francis Warren Pershing, served in WWII

then went on to found the brokerage firm Pershing
& Company, which was bought in 2003 by Bank of New York/

Mellon. It’s probably located on Wall Street—but did you know
that the financial district in lower Manhattan, revered by all

the priests of high profit today, was named after a long
wall erected to keep out hordes of rampaging pigs

rapidly reproducing through the colonies after their introduction
in Jamestown in 1607? Everyone in the south loves their ham

and biscuits. The Chinese bought up the Smithfield ham company
three years ago, but local residents and employees grudgingly

admit the quality hasn’t gone down, and more jobs were created.
Around these parts, a favorite side is some red or green

pepper jelly—a little sweet heat to offset the metallic tang
of the meat from brining. During the Civil War, the typical

American soldier’s rations included peas or beans, hardtack, and salt
pork— described as a stinky kind of blue extra salty meat, with hair,

skin, dirt, and other junk left on it. Of course they ate it. It was
probably one of their only sources of protein. It isn’t just

Muslims who don’t eat pork for religious reasons. Jewish religious law
has also historically banned the eating of pork, perhaps in part

from fear of disease. There are Muslim and Jewish bankers, farmers,
soldiers. Not far from Charlottesville, where white supremacists

chanted “Jews will not replace us,” is Jefferson’s Monticello. Culinary
historian Michael W. Twitty will speak there about how slaves built

a cuisine, a region, and a country. Since he’s African American,
gay, and Jewish, he can say “I am the target, the bogeyman,

the enemy.” Some pig farmers think the tastiest pork comes
from smaller varieties of dark-colored pigs. How even

do pigs get such names? As in immigrant swine and capitalist
pig. And also that spiel about it being The Other White Meat.