Mind’s eye

In this portrait only one of them is smiling for the camera. They are young enough still; but not so young to not care about concealing the gaps in front teeth, a lock of hair that won’t be tamed.

The last war is many years behind them. He lost a fingernail in that one. She lost her birth mother so young, she does not remember anything about her except for a name.

A fragrance, a sweet roll, a recipe that won’t be passed down because its maker is gone. The smell released by yeast cells spreading across a cup of lukewarm water.

Who will teach them how banks and pawnshops work, the way to breathe again after looking upon the enormity of what the years are about to exact?

She sits at the edge of the pool trying to keep the children quiet. They are in a different city. Then the curfews are announced and everyone has to go indoors.

Sometimes they read encyclopedia pages aloud by flashlight or candlelight while waiting for power to be restored. He likes the entry about the third eye— how it is related to the pineal gland, which affects sensitivity to light and is thought to flood the body with a chemical substance during the big upheavals of birth and death.

There is a part about how some precolonial cultures practiced tapping the space on the forehead between the eyes with a pointed instrument. The younger the subject, the better.

She remembers how her two older children looked when they had seizures as babies— the stiffened limbs, the way their eyes rolled back into their heads like unmoored marbles.

A sudden urge to eat sweets or roasted seeds, and drink water. Following, sleep like a thick white blanket, sounds sifting through the brain as if they came from somewhere very far away.

But it is the mother’s body twitching awake at the smallest tremor not her own.


In response to Via Negativa: Self-actualization.

Old hat

Up, and with Sir W. Batten to the Committee of Lords at the Council Chamber, where Sir G. Carteret told us what he had said to the King, and how the King inclines to our request of making us Commissioners of the Prize office, but meeting him anon in the gallery, he tells me that my Lord Barkely is angry we should not acquaint him with it, so I found out my Lord and pacified him, but I know not whether he was so in earnest or no, for he looked very frowardly. Thence to the Parliament House, and with Sir W. Batten home and dined with him, my wife being gone to my Lady Sandwich’s, and then to the office, where we sat all the afternoon, and I at my office till past 12 at night, and so home to bed.
This day I hear that the King should say that the Dutch do begin to comply with him. Sir John Robinson told Sir W. Batten that he heard the King say so. I pray God it may be so.

I am old hat
the lines meet
in my quaint nest
look at me go to sandwich
this ear with that

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 29 November 1664.


Up, and with Sir J. Minnes and W. Batten to White Hall, but no Committee of Lords (which is like to do the King’s business well). So to Westminster, and there to Jervas’s and was a little while with Jane, and so to London by coach and to the Coffee-house, where certain news of our peace made by Captain Allen with Argier, which is good news; and that the Dutch have sent part of their fleete round by Scotland; and resolve to pay off the rest half-pay, promising the rest in the Spring, hereby keeping their men. But how true this, I know not. Home to dinner, then come Dr. Clerke to speak with me about sick and wounded men, wherein he is like to be concerned. After him Mr. Cutler, and much talk with him, and with him to White Hall, to have waited on the Lords by order, but no meeting, neither to-night, which will spoil all.
I think I shall get something by my discourse with Cutler. So home, and after being at my office an hour with Mr. Povy talking about his business of Tangier, getting him some money allowed him for freight of ships, wherein I hope to get something too. He gone, home hungry and almost sick for want of eating, and so to supper and to bed.

like news of peace
the land so promising in spring
is sick and wounded with oil

getting money
we hope to get thin
go home hungry to be

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 28 November 1664.


A pair of them: one for the side gate, one for the driveway gate hardly ever opened except when guests arrived in more than two cars; or when the city services truck came through the road in back to snake the sewer line. Neither happened very often. The side gate, however, was opened and closed every day, at sunup and sundown, to allow access to the meter readers and the guys who trimmed the grass every three weeks or so. The old padlocks were scaled with rust and had to be thrown away. They were almost exactly like the new ones except for the one thing they didn’t have: a little rubber window that could slide over the keyhole itself. Whoever came up with that must have been a thoughtful kind of person.

What do you do with
a thing fallen out of use?
Its name overtakes it.

Late bloomers

(Lord’s day). To church in the morning, then dined at home, and to my office, and there all the afternoon setting right my business of flaggs, and after all my pains find reason not to be sorry, because I think it will bring me considerable profit.
In the evening come Mr. Andrews and Hill, and we sung, with my boy, Ravenscroft’s 4-part psalms, most admirable musique. Then (Andrews not staying) we to supper, and after supper fell into the rarest discourse with Mr. Hill about Rome and Italy; but most pleasant that I ever had in my life. At it very late and then to bed.

setting sun with ravens
a most admirable music

we fell into rare life
and then to bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 27 November 1664.

Frost warning

Every night I rehearse for some possibility
of shattering: for the temperature to drop,

for the crops to crackle over with ice;
for clustered leaves, womb-like and whorled,

to heave out their purpling, waterlogged
hearts. It isn’t just ruin: some things

just get heavier with time. Season after season
tunnels into the next, the way a drift follows

the veins in bedrock. Hear the matriarch
shift in her bed, slight as a sheet of dry

tobacco. Indoors, in the stilled hallway, a clock
measures the remaining hours before circling

back around to the beginning. I can think
of sounds to match these constant cinemas

of undoing: a string twanging in a doorway;
crickets; the ivory percussion of bones.

Funny business

Up and to the office, where busy all the morning. Home a while to dinner and then to the office, where very late busy till quite weary, but contented well with my dispatch of business, and so home to supper and to bed.

office where
the morning quit
wit is a business

Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 26 November 1664.


That game in which we make a steeple
of our fingers and open the doors to see

the people— What a marvel to think
part of the known world could telescope

into the space between one’s palms,
the colors of stained glass windows

prismed into specks smaller than grains
of sand. Look close and see everyone

we’ve ever known who’s passed away, walking
around in those museum halls: listening

to the guided tour, studying the dream-shapes
painted on the walls for clues to what they

might recall of the lives they had, before we
revised the ways in which we remember them.


In response to Via Negativa: Convolution.

Diosito mío

Up and at my office all the morning, to prepare an account of the charge we have been put to extraordinary by the Dutch already; and I have brought it to appear 852,700l.; but God knows this is only a scare to the Parliament, to make them give the more money.
Thence to the Parliament House, and there did give it to Sir Philip Warwicke; the House being hot upon giving the King a supply of money, and I by coach to the ‘Change and took up Mr. Jenings along with me (my old acquaintance), he telling me the mean manner that Sir Samuel Morland lives near him, in a house he hath bought and laid out money upon, in all to the value of 1200l., but is believed to be a beggar; and so I ever thought he would be.
From the ‘Change with Mr. Deering and Luellin to the White Horse tavern in Lombard Street, and there dined with them, he giving me a dish of meat to discourse in order to my serving Deering, which I am already obliged to do, and shall do it, and would be glad he were a man trusty that I might venture something along with him.
Thence home, and by and by in the evening took my wife out by coach, leaving her at Unthanke’s while I to White Hall and to Westminster Hall, where I have not been to talk a great while, and there hear that Mrs. Lane and her husband live a sad life together, and he is gone to be a paymaster to a company to Portsmouth to serve at sea. She big with child. Thence I home, calling my wife, and at Sir W. Batten’s hear that the House have given the King 2,500,000l. to be paid for this warr, only for the Navy, in three years’ time; which is a joyfull thing to all the King’s party I see, but was much opposed by Mr. Vaughan and others, that it should be so much. So home and to supper and to bed.

an ordinary god
is only a scare

make one that is a beggar
giving a dish of rust in the evening

and the sea big with child
calling for so much bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 25 November 1664.

Post Exchange

Gulity pleasures like lavender soap, good chocolate—
But also shampoo and potato chips in stacked cardboard
towers; squat jars of peanut butter. Whole blocks
of cheddar (no visible sell-by date) that we didn’t realize
until much later, were rations sent by the store owner’s
relatives from overseas. Percale sets divided up and sold
by the piece: pillow slips, flat sheet, fitted sheet. More
division: coffret sets of fragrance, toothpaste packs. Name
brands that rolled off our tongues like candy charms: Brachs,
Hershey’s Kisses; Lucky Strikes, Marlboro Reds; Breck, Hills
Bros., Kraft, Yardley. More rarely: Chanel No. 5, Elizabeth
Arden, English Leather; Johnny Walker, Courvoisier.
Behind bins of local coffee and ubiquitous dry goods, brisk
trade in facing and interfacing with colonial dreams.