Hard choices

Tonight I manage to fill two shopping bags
with books: I’m thinning my shelves,

aiming for lighter, for less— Tomorrow
I’ll start going through closets, shed

old suits and shirts from their hangers,
fold and give them away. I imagine a house

with an airier center, uncluttered floors;
tidy drawers, before the immigrant’s penchant

for saving every little thing given or found
for a rainy day— No more assorted knick-

knacks in corners or rolls of used gift
wrap in bags. From such deep-seated memory

of want and hardship, this habit of hoarding
tinned food, good stuff, for use on another day

—that future during which we imagined we’d sit
and finally rest from our labors, from all the days

making bargain after bargain, figuring the sums
of hard choice against pleasure, ambition, or need.


In response to Via Negativa: Rooted.

Bird lover

Up, and it being my Lord Mayor’s show, my boy and three mayds went out; but it being a very foule, rainy day, from morning till night, I was sorry my wife let them go out. All the morning at the office. At dinner at home. In the afternoon to the office again, and about 9 o’clock by appointment to the King’s Head tavern upon Fish Street Hill, whither Mr. Wolfe (and Parham by his means) met me to discourse about the Fishery, and great light I had by Parham, who is a little conceited, but a very knowing man in his way, and in the general fishing trade of England.
Here I staid three hours, and eat a barrel of very fine oysters of Wolfe’s giving me, and so, it raining hard, home and to my office, and then home to bed.
All the talke is that De Ruyter is come over-land home with six or eight of his captaines to command here at home, and their ships kept abroad in the Straights; which sounds as if they had a mind to do something with us.

how sorry is the wolf
to eat a wing

a wolf hard as the mind
to do something with

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 29 October 1664.

Am I past the age of potential,

past the phase of charm-will-get-
you-past-the-bouncer at the door?

I don’t like being told I can’t
wear large hoop earrings or gold lipstick.

Don’t you ever wish you could dive
from on high into the world’s wide swoop?

Climbing up long narrow stairs used to frighten me—
I’d pause in the middle and look back down.

But a ripcord attached
to a large silk balloon is a different thing.

One day I’ll spill out the side
of a plane just to try a kind of weightlessness.

I close my eyes— every day,
so much at which to practice being fearless.

And in the distance, fields or crop
circles or terraces becoming legible like writing.


In response to Via Negativa: Stroke.


Slept ill all night, having got a very great cold the other day at Woolwich in head, which makes me full of snot. Up in the morning, and my tailor brings me home my fine, new, coloured cloth suit, my cloake lined with plush, as good a suit as ever I wore in my life, and mighty neat, to my great content.
To my office, and there all the morning. At noon to Nellson’s, and there bought 20 pieces more of Bewpers, and hope to go on with him to a contract. Thence to the ‘Change a little, and thence home with Luellin to dinner, where Mr. Deane met me by appointment, and after dinner he and I up to my chamber, and there hard at discourse, and advising him what to do in his business at Harwich, and then to discourse of our old business of ships and taking new rules of him to my great pleasure, and he being gone I to my office a little, and then to see Sir W. Batten, who is sick of a greater cold than I, and thither comes to me Mr. Holliard, and into the chamber to me, and, poor man (beyond all I ever saw of him), was a little drunk, and there sat talking and finding acquaintance with Sir W. Batten and my Lady by relations on both sides, that there we staid very long. At last broke up, and he home much overcome with drink, but well enough to get well home. So I home to supper and to bed.

night-colored oak
lush as a suit

my life in amber
is greater than I am

and poor beyond all
I ever overcome

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 28 October 1664.

Last known residence

I will never again wake up in the house where I grew up; or look at islands of mold stippling maps across the ceiling. Before it was sold to the owners of all souls, we tried valiantly to maintain it. The oils from our feet lovingly polished the floor and the dining room’s mismatched tiles of marble. Two cracked urns wreathed with cloisonné dragons left their footprints on the porch. What it lacked in insulation, we used to make up for by rubbing our bodies together. What fires we made, under three wool blankets during the coldest nights of the year! For safety, each window had a pair of metal hooks— one at the top and one at the bottom; and the doors were barred from the inside at night. This was necessary for the piano to feel able to emerge from under its hand-sewn cover of mustard yellow flannel. Then we could gather around it and begin undoing the stays wound around our throats. When we cried, clouds gathered in the room waiting to absorb the sorrow. Then they rippled through the corridors before slipping through the grilles. We watched them float higher and higher. We waved our hands in the way we do when someone we are fond of is going away.


Up and to the office, where all the morning busy. At noon, Sir G. Carteret, Sir J. Minnes, Sir W. Batten, Sir W. Pen, and myself, were treated at the Dolphin by Mr. Foly, the ironmonger, where a good plain dinner, but I expected musique, the missing of which spoiled my dinner, only very good merry discourse at dinner.
Thence with Sir G. Carteret by coach to White Hall to a Committee of Tangier, and thence back to London, and ‘light in Cheapside and I to Nellson’s, and there met with a rub at first, but took him out to drink, and there discoursed to my great content so far with him that I think I shall agree with him for Bewpers to serve the Navy with. So with great content home and to my office, where late, and having got a great cold in my head yesterday home to supper and to bed.

ice at noon
and I expect spoil

a white light at first
but far and cold

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 27 October 1664.

Here one moment

When have you witnessed a body quietly exit
the world? Once, at Christmas eve mass,
I saw a man in the back of the church

crumple to the floor. His head hit the edge
of the pew and made a muffled yet audible
sound. A small circle formed around him—

someone felt for a heartbeat, loosened buttons;
another called for an ambulance. At a different
time, a couple crossing a hotel lobby; then

the man slowly trailing behind. The woman
doesn’t notice; her stride unbroken, purposeful.
He extends a wavering arm as if to hail a cab

as his steps slur. The bellman notices and runs
across the room. He catches him, just as he loses
consciousness under the cascade of chandelier

icicles. Faint chime of elevator doors opening
or closing. Outside in the bushes, in the hold
of their little boats, fireflies bearing their own
cold light: pale frequencies pulsing green and gold.


In response to Via Negativa: R.E.M..


Up, my people rising mighty betimes, to fit themselves to go by water; and my boy, he could not sleep, but wakes about four o’clock, and in bed lay playing on his lute till daylight, and, it seems, did the like last night till twelve o’clock.
About eight o’clock, my wife, she and her woman, and Besse and Jane, and W. Hewer and the boy, to the water-side, and there took boat, and by and by I out of doors, to look after the flaggon, to get it ready to carry to Woolwich.
That being not ready, I stepped aside and found out Nellson, he that Whistler buys his bewpers of, and did there buy 5 pieces at their price, and am in hopes thereby to bring them down or buy ourselves all we spend of Nellson at the first hand.
This jobb was greatly to my content, and by and by the flaggon being finished at the burnisher’s, I home, and there fitted myself, and took a hackney-coach I hired, it being a very cold and foule day, to Woolwich, all the way reading in a good book touching the fishery, and that being done, in the book upon the statute of charitable uses, mightily to my satisfaction.
At Woolwich; I there up to the King and Duke, and they liked the plate well. Here I staid above with them while the ship was launched, which was done with great success, and the King did very much like the ship, saying, she had the best bow that ever he saw.
But, Lord! the sorry talke and discourse among the great courtiers round about him, without any reverence in the world, but with so much disorder.
By and by the Queene comes and her Mayds of Honour; one whereof, Mrs. Boynton, and the Duchesse of Buckingham, had been very siclee coming by water in the barge (the water being very rough); but what silly sport they made with them in very common terms, methought, was very poor, and below what people think these great people say and do.
The launching being done, the King and company went down to take barge; and I sent for Mr. Pett, and put the flaggon into the Duke’s hand, and he, in the presence of the King, did give it, Mr. Pett taking it upon his knee. This Mr. Pett is wholly beholding to me for, and he do know and I believe will acknowledge it.
Thence I to Mr. Ackworth, and there eat and drank with Commissioner Pett and his wife, and thence to Shelden’s, where Sir W. Batten and his Lady were. By and by I took coach after I had enquired for my wife or her boat, but found none. Going out of the gate, an ordinary woman prayed me to give her room to London, which I did, but spoke not to her all the way, but read, as long as I could see, my book again.
Dark when we came to London, and a stop of coaches in Southwarke. I staid above half an houre and then ‘light, and finding Sir W. Batten’s coach, heard they were gone into the Beare at the Bridge foot, and thither I to them. Presently the stop is removed, and then going out to find my coach, I could not find it, for it was gone with the rest; so I fair to go through the darke and dirt over the bridge, and my leg fell in a hole broke on the bridge, but, the constable standing there to keep people from it, I was catched up, otherwise I had broke my leg; for which mercy the Lord be praised! So at Fanchurch I found my coach staying for me, and so home, where the little girle hath looked to the house well, but no wife come home, which made me begin to fear [for] her, the water being very rough, and cold and darke. But by and by she and her company come in all well, at which I was glad, though angry.
Thence I to Sir W. Batten’s, and there sat late with him, Sir R. Ford, and Sir John Robinson; the last of whom continues still the same foole he was, crying up what power he has in the City, in knowing their temper, and being able to do what he will with them. It seems the City did last night very freely lend the King 100,000l. without any security but the King’s word, which was very noble. But this loggerhead and Sir R. Ford would make us believe that they did it. Now Sir R. Ford is a cunning man, and makes a foole of the other, and the other believes whatever the other tells him. But, Lord! to think that such a man should be Lieutenant of the Tower, and so great a man as he is, is a strange thing to me.
With them late and then home and with my wife to bed, after supper.

I sleep like a boat
touching the fish
without any thought going
through the dark water

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 26 October 1664.


Dusky aroma of roast, smoky warmth
like tobacco; dented pot percolating
on the stove, or compact machine
hissing softly on the counter.
I used to drink four to five cups
every day, the last one near midnight,
poring over student work and grading.
But lately, I’ve tried to cut back
on my consumption— none on my way
out to work, mornings darker now
every day as the year approaches
winter. Perhaps one cup at noon,
to break the rhythm of thought
and writing, writing and thinking
and reading; sometimes with the radio on,
so then there’s news of what latest calamity
worse than weather is fallen on our heads,
wrought by the terrible agencies at work
in the world. Sometimes the phone rings,
abrupt interruption: demanding I listen
to any number of things I couldn’t have
anticipated. These by themselves are enough
to trigger palpitations, the jittery hand
dropping pens and keys for the umpteenth
time, spilling water on the table.
On weekends I nurse the one mug poured
at breakfast throughout the day, taking it
with me as I clean and put furniture
in order, setting it down as I take
clothes out of the dryer; or by the sink
as I mince garlic and chop onions. It’ll have
gone cold by then— But I drink as if measuring
time with each small bitter mouthful: reminder
of the unutterable that shadows each act
we think is the moment’s most urgent occupation;
of the solitude which the tongue understands,
marked by its flavor most deeply, above all others.