The shape of emptiness

This afternoon a box arrives in the mail;
it reeks of the distinct perfume of guavas.
I know what they are because my friend
in California has told me to expect them.
And they have a particular smell: a little
like passionfruit, a little flowery.
She picked them from the tree in her yard:
abundance of sweet pink flesh in green jackets.
On one corner of the flat rate box, she printed
Perishable. Only two or three are smashed, within
the folds of foam padding. I wash them in the sink
and cut them up, scooping out the seeds. They simmer
over half an hour in a pot with water, sugar. Now
they are fruit butter, which I can smear on a piece
of toast or a cracker. Does any of what I do
really keep the fruit from rotting sooner,
the mouth from curiosity or hunger? No matter
how many gods I’ve learned from, all my life
there’s always been someone who thinks I’m
an impostor: how do I know what I know, and
do I even have the language to speak of it?
Long after heat has changed the fruit, a well
of odor lingers in the air. We like to ask
about emptiness, about what we think
couldn’t possibly be there— forgetting
there can be different forms for things.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Consumer economy

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and finished Sir W. Warren’s great contract for timber, with great content to me, because just in the terms I wrote last night to Sir W. Warren and against the terms proposed by Sir W. Batten.
At noon home to dinner, and there found Creed and Hawley. After dinner comes in Mrs. Ingram, the first time to make a visit to my wife. After a little stay I left them and to the Committee of the Fishery, and there did make my report of the late public collections for the Fishery, much to the satisfaction of the Committee, and I think much to my reputation, for good notice was taken of it and much it was commended.
So home, in my way taking care of a piece of plate for Mr. Christopher Pett, against the launching of his new great ship tomorrow at Woolwich, which I singly did move to His Royall Highness, and did obtain it for him, to the value of twenty pieces. And he, under his hand, do acknowledge to me that he did never receive so great a kindness from any man in the world as from me herein. So to my office, and then to supper, and then to my office again, where busy late, being very full now a days of business to my great content, I thank God, and so home to bed, my house being full of a design, to go to-morrow, my wife and all her servants, to see the new ship launched.

we eat timber because
the night proposed it

and the fish ate fish
much to the satisfaction of Christ

we eat the world
being very full now of God

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 25 October 1664.

Little death song

Up and in Sir J. Minnes’ coach (alone with Mrs. Turner as far as Paternoster Row, where I set her down) to St. James’s, and there did our business, and I had the good lucke to speak what pleased the Duke about our great contract in hand with Sir W. Warren against Sir W. Batten, wherein the Duke is very earnest for our contracting.
Thence home to the office till noon, and then dined and to the ‘Change and off with Sir W. Warren for a while, consulting about managing his contract. Thence to a Committee at White Hall of Tangier, where I had the good lucke to speak something to very good purpose about the Mole at Tangier, which was well received even by Sir J. Lawson and Mr. Cholmely, the undertakers, against whose interest I spoke; that I believe I shall be valued for it. Thence into the galleries to talk with my Lord Sandwich; among other things, about the Prince’s writing up to tell us of the danger he and his fleete lie in at Portsmouth, of receiving affronts from the Dutch; which, my Lord said, he would never have done, had he lain there with one ship alone: nor is there any great reason for it, because of the sands. However, the fleete will be ordered to go and lay themselves up at the Cowes. Much beneath the prowesse of the Prince, I think, and the honour of the nation, at the first to be found to secure themselves. My Lord is well pleased to think, that, if the Duke and the Prince go, all the blame of any miscarriage will not light on him; and that if any thing goes well, he hopes he shall have the share of the glory, for the Prince is by no means well esteemed of by any body.
Thence home, and though not very well yet up late about the Fishery business, wherein I hope to give an account how I find the Collections to have been managed, which I did finish to my great content, and so home to supper and to bed.
This day the great O’Neale died; I believe, to the content of all the Protestant pretenders in Ireland.

at the undertaker’s I
shall lie in the light
I shall have no body
to give to age to tend

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 24 October 1664.

Death cleaning

Everywhere I look there’s so much accumulated life
around us: deeds and papers, hundreds of books;

shoes and sweaters, assorted pots and pans.
Too many coffee mugs, ceramic plates bought

because something in the swirled green glaze
spoke to that deep need for beauty besides

the thing’s functionality: and also the hunger
that never is appeased. After the popcorn

and chips are gone, only crumbs; but at the bottom
of the bowl, wreathed letters spelling “Fill Me”

— just as, no matter how the days swell, it seems
I’m always running out of time. How will I ever

finish reading all the stories, the poetry? I read
the first page in the store, fall in love, pay, bear

my small new treasure away. I touch the folded dress
worn once at a daughter’s wedding, and never again;

the soft woven wrap brought back from foreign travels
by a friend. I want to wind it around me and lie down

as if spent. But also, I want to be one among a crowd,
come to raise our arms and push paper lanterns with tiny

flames flickering in their hearts up toward the indigo
sky, as we release our breaths at the same time.

I still want to live as if every small thing mattered
all the time, even if I know nothing can be ours to keep.


In response to Via Negativa: Collector.

Hole truth

(Lord’s day). Up and to church. At noon comes unexpected Mr. Fuller, the minister, and dines with me, and also I had invited Mr. Cooper with one I judge come from sea, and he and I spent the whole afternoon together, he teaching me some things in understanding of plates. At night to the office, doing business, and then home to supper. Then a psalm, to prayers, and to bed.

an unexpected minister the hole
teaching me something of night
of sin and psalm

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 23 October 1664.

Art world

Up and to the office, where we sat all the morning. At noon comes my uncle Thomas and his daughter Mary about getting me to pay them the 30l. due now, but payable in law to her husband. I did give them the best answer I could, and so parted, they not desiring to stay to dinner. After dinner I down to Deptford, and there did business, and so back to my office, where very late busy, and so home to supper and to bed.

morning comes out
in the best art

no ring to own or business
to busy up

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 22 October 1664.


Up and by coach to Mr. Cole’s, and there conferred with him about some law business, and so to Sir W. Turner’s, and there bought my cloth, coloured, for a suit and cloake, to line with plush the cloak, which will cost me money, but I find that I must go handsomely, whatever it costs me, and the charge will be made up in the fruit it brings.
Thence to the Coffee-house and ‘Change, and so home to dinner, and then to the office all the afternoon, whither comes W. Howe to see me, being come from, and going presently back to sea with my Lord. Among other things he tells me Mr. Creed is much out of favour with my Lord from his freedom of talke and bold carriage, and other things with which my Lord is not pleased, but most I doubt his not lending my Lord money, and Mr. Moore’s reporting what his answer was I doubt in the worst manner. But, however, a very unworthy rogue he is, and, therefore, let him go for one good for nothing, though wise to the height above most men I converse with.
In the evening (W. Howe being gone) comes Mr. Martin, to trouble me again to get him a Lieutenant’s place for which he is as fit as a foole can be. But I put him off like an asse, as he is, and so setting my papers and books in order: I home to supper and to bed.

a color change
in the sea at evening
setting my books in order

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 21 October 1664.

I never knew about Lucky

In third grade, for a genealogy project,
I came home with a sheet on which was pre-
printed a simple family tree, and questions:
what were the names of my grandparents
on either side? when were they born,
what did they do, when did they die?
On mother’s side, I knew how Lorenzo,
her father, left his farm at nineteen
and came to the city for work. He was
a cook for four years in Baguio at a hotel
built in 1909; my daughter and I stayed there
when we visited in the summer of 2015.
His first wife was Filomena— I never saw
her picture, but her name sounded like flowers.
She died young of a heart attack, from news
of her brother’s death during the war.
His second wife was Victorina; visiting us
in my childhood, she brought with her a warm
tobacco smell that clung to her skirts;
when she sat in a dining chair she liked
to draw up her knees and eat with her hands.
After the war, Lorenzo went into business
with a friend and put up two small barbershops,
one of them named Lucky and the other, Symphony.
I never knew about Lucky, but I do have a dim
memory of Symphony: the smell of shaving foam
and hot towels, the men tipping up their chins
at the blade’s approach. Little piles of hair
gathered at the base of each chair, bright
red-white-and-blue striped helixes revolving
in the barber’s pole outside the door.
No one could tell me much about my grand-
father on the other side— least of all
my tightlipped father. Only his name, Felix;
how he was father’s father, but not my aunt
Sofia’s. Father’s mother Irene stayed with us
part of the year. She never liked my mother,
poor farmer’s daughter. At the end of her life,
bedridden, it was only my father’s name she
called out in the night. It was never
him but my mother who had to bring water,
the chamberpot, a change of sheets.


In response to Via Negativa: Sandman.

But does the water love us back

(next section in this series; a partly found poem)

Written on water: what describes a debt that will
in all likelihood never be paid back.
Meaning when someone borrows money or goods you sigh,
knowing that may be the last you’ll see of it.
Meaning a ledger of blue-green lines, always moving.
Meaning erasure; meaning hiding or wavering.

That joke about how many islands there are,
depending on whether it’s high or low tide.
If it could never be written in the first place,
what is it that’s erased?
Should you leave town, change your name?
Write on the envelopes that come
in the mail: Return to sender?

60-70% of the body’s weight is water.
12 gallons per day sustains the average person’s
water needs— including washing, bathing, cooking.
In third world countries, more than half
the population has no access to clean water.

It is well known that one could die
of thirst.There are also cases of death
from water intoxication.
In 2007 a woman died after drinking more
than 6 liters of water in 3 hours.
It was for a contest called “Hold Your Wee
for a Wii,” sponsored by a radio station.
The prize would have been a Nintendo game console.

Mostly women and children spend more than an aggregate
of 200 million hours per day collecting water for their families.
One pail in each hand. A length of cloth twisted into a ring
to help carry a jug or basin on the head.
Training for these things can start as young as 5.
There are dances involving the balancing of glasses
of water on each open palm, and one on the head.
Also, fire might substitute for water—
a votive, a flaming bowl.

The cameras are waiting.
Don’t spill one drop.


Up and to the office, where all the morning. At noon my uncle Thomas came, dined with me, and received some money of me. Then I to my office, where I took in with me Bagwell’s wife, and there I caressed her, and find her every day more and more coming with good words and promises of getting her husband a place, which I will do. So we parted, and I to my Lord Sandwich at his lodgings, and after a little stay away with Mr. Cholmely to Fleete Streete; in the way he telling me that Tangier is like to be in a bad condition with this same Fitzgerald, he being a man of no honour, nor presence, nor little honesty, and endeavours: to raise the Irish and suppress the English interest there; and offend every body, and do nothing that I hear of well, which I am sorry for.
Thence home, by the way taking two silver tumblers home, which I have bought, and so home, and there late busy at my office, and then home to supper and to bed.

where am I with my bag of sand
like a bad condition
with this little nest to press rest
every body a nothing that I am taking
home and home and home

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 20 October 1664.