September 2017

“Who other than you will ask for news of me?”
~ Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

When the cleaning women come again it takes much more
cajoling before you let them into your house, let them

scrub the grime caked over nearly a year on floorboards,
bathroom tile, kitchen cabinets, shelves still groaning

with the weight of every last rusted spoon and knick-knack
you salvaged from your other life— when you were known

as wife of the retired judge everyone remembers, dapper
to your own hand-crafted elegance. Perlita says, gently,

Let us wipe the dust off this picture frame, ma’am,
then you can put it back in your bedroom. Nothing is

going to disappear. How long has it been since you lifted
the faded mustard flannel draped over the Winkelmann

upright piano, since anyone ran fingers over its
yellowed keys? Trembling mallets wrapped in wool

stop just short of the soundboard. Has the refrigerator
light gone out, or has someone disconnected the appliance?

Extravagance, surplus poured around the ordinary
for you was slipping a half stick of butter into a pot

of pasta; or saying that in some countries, men show admiration
for women by slapping their butts. Do you remember the year

you went into the shoe store downtown at least once a month?
Now I’m told you shuffle around in a pair of plastic hospital

slippers from your recent confinement. The last time we speak
on the telephone, you cycle from crying over your empty bank

accounts to railing at me for “making” you sell your house.
How to write about a room with a bare light bulb, a threadbare

sofa, half a moon broken clean in the sky from its shadow?
This elegy for everything we’ve lost, and lost between us.

Lay long, sleeping, it raining and blowing very hard. Then up and to the office, my mouth still being scabby and a patch on it. At the office all the morning. At noon dined at home, and so after dinner (Lewellin dining with me and in my way talking about Deering) to the Fishing Committee, and had there very many fine things argued, and I hope some good will come of it. So home, where my wife having (after all her merry discourse of being with child) her months upon her is gone to bed. I to my office very late doing business, then home to supper and to bed. To-night Mr. T. Trice and Piggot came to see me, and desire my going down to Brampton Court, where for Piggot’s sake, for whom it is necessary, I should go, I would be glad to go, and will, contrary to my purpose, endeavour it, but having now almost 1000l., if not above, in my house, I know not what to do with it, and that will trouble my mind to leave in the house, and I not at home.

a sleeping rain

my mouth still
after dining and talking

deer come in the night

where should I be
if not in my mind


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 27 September 1664.

Let’s measure the size of your cranium,
the way your pupils dilate; the angle
of splay in your toes. Let’s turn you
around on a platform for specimen
portraits that will go into the catalog.
What a puzzle it is to find intricate zig-
zags and dyes woven into your threads.
Is there literature and science in
your caves? Are you able to hold more
than one thought at a time? Great minds
like to sit around the table after dinner,
holding forth on theory and complication
versus the value of making the same
dogged marks in the soil with sticks.
Out on a stroll, let’s pause every now
and then to take in landscape, observe
people; catch fleeting reflections of
ourselves walking past arcade windows.
In the air, various wheeling birds.
In the fields, all the different groups
of animals behaving true to their kind.

Up pretty well again, but my mouth very scabby, my cold being going away, so that I was forced to wear a great black patch, but that would not do much good, but it happens we did not go to the Duke to-day, and so I staid at home busy all the morning. At noon, after dinner, to the ‘Change, and thence home to my office again, where busy, well employed till 10 at night, and so home to supper and to bed, my mind a little troubled that I have not of late kept up myself so briske in business; but mind my ease a little too much and my family upon the coming of Mercer and Tom. So that I have not kept company, nor appeared very active with Mr. Coventry, but now I resolve to settle to it again, not that I have idled all my time, but as to my ease something. So I have looked a little too much after Tangier and the Fishery, and that in the sight of Mr. Coventry, but I have good reason to love myself for serving Tangier, for it is one of the best flowers in my garden.

scab employed till I bled
a little too much

I have no company now
led a little too much

but I love serving the best
flowers in my garden


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 26 September 1664.

After hurricanes sank our tin
and cardboard houses, sucked

them into the creek; after
the Lions’ & Women’s & Rotary

Clubs got tired of bringing relief
goods and water to the gym; after

the renegade sun returned, pretending
nothing happened— we too came back

to the same ground, raked over mud
plots that would harden anew. Who owns

the earth anyway? Who learned to blur
the edges of what having means?

Our bodies furnish these lives. We pick
through what chance and the winds unmoor:

a good doorpost, a window frame, an inner tube.
Any kind of thing to stand for some idea of home.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Endarkenment.

“You don’t have to understand
your hunger in order to feel it.”
~ Virgo, September 2017

Madame Clairvoyant wants you to know you can move
through the world trusting your bright inner compass,

the needle that flickers toward the faintest shadow
of north even as the tide’s hungry mouth eats up

your shallow footprints, almost as soon as you’ve
left them on the shore. You try to communicate

your intentions as clearly as possible, a skill
absolutely necessary especially when you’re giving

instructions or trying to suggest some course of action
to someone else. The problem is, often the question

bears little resemblance to the answer it seeks;
and in the same manner, often we don’t know what

we think we’re looking for until we find it. Madame
Clairvoyant seems to say we’re already as wise

as the sage we didn’t have to travel too long to find.
It shows in the annoying habit of asking for advice

then going ahead to do what one was planning to do
anyway. In any case, the blue door is chosen, not

the red. The animals are fed in disregard of the warning.
When commentary goes around the room, there’s always

that one kid who looks you in the eye and says
the work is perfect and he never revises, ever.

(Lord’s day). Up, and my throat being yet very sore, and, my head out of order, we went not to church, but I spent all the morning reading of “The Madd Lovers,” a very good play, and at noon comes Harman and his wife, whom I sent for to meet the Joyces, but they came not. It seems Will has got a fall off his horse and broke his face.
However, we were as merry as I could in their company, and we had a good chine of beef, but I had no taste nor stomach through my cold, and therefore little pleased with my dinner.
It raining, they sat talking with us all the afternoon. So anon they went away; and then I to read another play, “The Custome of the Country,” which is a very poor one, methinks. Then to supper, prayers, and bed.

sore lovers play at harm
a horse of no stomach

cold as rain talking all afternoon
they try a poor thin supper


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 25 September 1664.

Up and to the office, where all the morning busy, then home to dinner, and so after dinner comes one Phillips, who is concerned in the Lottery, and from him I collected much concerning that business. I carried him in my way to White Hall and set him down at Somersett House. Among other things he told me that Monsieur Du Puy, that is so great a man at the Duke of Yorke’s, and this man’s great opponent, is a knave and by quality but a tailor.
To the Tangier Committee, and there I opposed Colonell Legg’s estimate of supplies of provisions to be sent to Tangier till all were ashamed of it, and he fain after all his good husbandry and seeming ignorance and joy to have the King’s money saved, yet afterwards he discovered all his design to be to keep the furnishing of these things to the officers of the Ordnance, but Mr. Coventry seconded me, and between us we shall save the King some money in the year. In one business of deales in 520l., I offer to save 172l., and yet purpose getting money, to myself by it.
So home and to my office, and business being done home to supper and so to bed, my head and throat being still out of order mightily.
This night Prior of Brampton came and paid me 40l., and I find this poor painful man is the only thriving and purchasing man in the town almost. We were told to-day of a Dutch ship of 3 or 400 tons, where all the men were dead of the plague, and the ship cast ashore at Gottenburgh.

morning comes white among great
supplies of visions
all seeming to save us

and yet my one head
being out this night
is a thriving ship of the dead


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 24 September 1664.

So yeah we’ve survived another end-
of-the-world prediction, the rapture

forestalled, the mother of all apocalypse
scenarios indefinitely postponed. Remember

that Y2K scare eighteen years go? Even so,
no fortress of SPAM could protect us, not

from the force of earthquakes shearing
away at the struts that hold up the roof

of the world; nor underground shelters keep
out toxic fallout or monster floods. How

can I even take pride in the kitchen I’ve made
tidy after last night’s dinner messes, the strip

of grout and the bathroom tiles I’ve made clean
again with bleach? From the window I can see

the river’s edge, past which it rises when the tide
is high; when it lowers, the mud flats that emerge,

clotted with refuse; and the whitethroated, long-
legged birds stepping gingerly through them.

 

In response to Via Negativa: O tempora, o mores.

My cold and pain in my head increasing, and the palate of my mouth falling, I was in great pain all night. My wife also was not well, so that a mayd was fain to sit up by her all night.
Lay long in the morning, at last up, and amongst others comes Mr. Fuller, that was the wit of Cambridge, and Praevaricator in my time, and staid all the morning with me discoursing, and his business to get a man discharged, which I did do for him.
Dined with little heart at noon, in the afternoon against my will to the office, where Sir G. Carteret and we met about an order of the Council for the hiring him a house, giving him 1000l. fine, and 70l. per annum for it. Here Sir J. Minnes took occasion, in the most childish and most unbeseeming manner, to reproach us all, but most himself, that he was not valued as Comptroller among us, nor did anything but only set his hand to paper, which is but too true; and every body had a palace, and he no house to lie in, and wished he had but as much to build him a house with, as we have laid out in carved worke. It was to no end to oppose, but all bore it, and after laughed at him for it.
So home, and late reading “The Siege of Rhodes” to my wife, and then to bed, my head being in great pain and my palate still down.

falling all night on me
that bridge to morning

heart childish as a troll
in a paper palace

a lie is as much to build with
as to laugh down


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 23 September 1664.