“…bright ash, dark ash, mirror, moon;
a child waking in the night to hear the thunder;
a traveler stopping to ask the way home.”
~ Li-young Lee, “The Undressing”

Mornings I want to take back most clearly now—
for a different kind of listening, for keeping us
from seizing at the first summons of the clock;
I want the light to brighten without over-

fevering, to take in its arms again the body
that’s been shifting weight as it cycles from one
moment’s murmurous demands to another. Perhaps
the rain has stopped falling, perhaps the warm

jets of steam escaping from these rows of houses
carry the smells of soaped linens or boiled meat.
Does it matter if the garden fills with the shed
wealth of trees, if the cold is meant to deepen

by the hour? Why couldn’t the birds stay here and not
go south, or the skins of fruit remain supple instead
of darkening to leather? Don’t you want to linger here
in this clearing; don’t you want to remember everything?


Up, and after doing some business at the office, I to London, and there, in my way, at my old oyster shop in Gracious Streete, bought two barrels of my fine woman of the shop, who is alive after all the plague, which now is the first observation or inquiry we make at London concerning everybody we knew before it. So to the ‘Change, where very busy with several people, and mightily glad to see the ‘Change so full, and hopes of another abatement still the next week. Off the ‘Change I went home with Sir G. Smith to dinner, sending for one of my barrels of oysters, which were good, though come from Colchester, where the plague hath been so much. Here a very brave dinner, though no invitation; and, Lord! to see how I am treated, that come from so mean a beginning, is matter of wonder to me. But it is God’s great mercy to me, and His blessing upon my taking pains, and being punctual in my dealings. After dinner Captain Cocke and I about some business, and then with my other barrel of oysters home to Greenwich, sent them by water to Mrs. Penington, while he and I landed, and visited Mr. Evelyn, where most excellent discourse with him; among other things he showed me a ledger of a Treasurer of the Navy, his great grandfather, just 100 years old; which I seemed mighty fond of, and he did present me with it, which I take as a great rarity; and he hopes to find me more, older than it. He also shewed us several letters of the old Lord of Leicester’s, in Queen Elizabeth’s time, under the very hand-writing of Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Mary, Queen of Scotts; and others, very venerable names. But, Lord! how poorly, methinks, they wrote in those days, and in what plain uncut paper. Thence, Cocke having sent for his coach, we to Mrs. Penington, and there sat and talked and eat our oysters with great pleasure, and so home to my lodging late and to bed.

the old woman is alive still
a matter of wonder

her 100 years find me
in the very handwriting
her venerable ink and plain
uncut paper

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 24 November 1665.

Fake healer

Up betimes, and so, being trimmed, I to get papers ready against Sir H. Cholmly come to me by appointment, he being newly come over from Tangier. He did by and by come, and we settled all matters about his money, and he is a most satisfied man in me, and do declare his resolution to give me 200 per annum. It continuing to be a great frost, which gives us hope for a perfect cure of the plague, he and I to walk in the parke, and there discoursed with grief of the calamity of the times; how the King’s service is performed, and how Tangier is governed by a man, who, though honourable, yet do mind his ways of getting and little else compared, which will never make the place flourish. I brought him and had a good dinner for him, and there come by chance Captain Cuttance, who tells me how W. Howe is laid by the heels, and confined to the Royall Katharine, and his things all seized and how, also, for a quarrel, which indeed the other night my Lord told me, Captain Ferrers, having cut all over the back of another of my Lord’s servants, is parted from my Lord. I sent for little Mrs. Frances Tooker, and after they were gone I sat dallying with her an hour, doing what I would with my hands about her. And a very pretty creature it is. So in the evening to the office, where late writing letters, and at my lodging later writing for the last twelve days my Journall and so to bed. Great expectation what mischief more the French will do us, for we must fall out. We in extraordinary lacke of money and everything else to go to sea next year. My Lord Sandwich is gone from the fleete yesterday toward Oxford.

time papers over our grief
our ways of getting by

who is seized and for a quarrel
cut all over the back

the servants they dally with
doing what hands will do

we must fall and everything else
go to sand

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 23 November 1665.

Ravens in winter

Up, and by water to the Duke of Albemarle, and there did some little business, but most to shew myself, and mightily I am yet in his and Lord Cravens books, and thence to the Swan and there drank and so down to the bridge, and so to the ‘Change, where spoke with many people, and about a great deale of business, which kept me late. I heard this day that Mr. Harrington is not dead of the plague, as we believed, at which I was very glad, but most of all, to hear that the plague is come very low; that is, the whole under 1,000, and the plague 600 and odd: and great hopes of a further decrease, because of this day’s being a very exceeding hard frost, and continues freezing. This day the first of the Oxford Gazettes come out, which is very pretty, full of newes, and no folly in it. Wrote by Williamson. Fear that our Hambro’ ships at last cannot go, because of the great frost, which we believe it is there, nor are our ships cleared at the Pillow, which will keepe them there too all this winter, I fear.
From the ‘Change, which is pretty full again, I to my office and there took some things, and so by water to my lodging at Greenwich and dined, and then to the office awhile and at night home to my lodgings, and took T. Willson and T. Hater with me, and there spent the evening till midnight discoursing and settling of our Victualling business, that thereby I might draw up instructions for the Surveyours and that we might be doing something to earne our money. This done I late to bed. Among other things it pleased me to have it demonstrated, that a Purser without professed cheating is a professed loser, twice as much as he gets.

ravens hang out
in dead hope of an ox

full of news and folly
which will keep them all winter

full of midnight
settling into a bed thin as a purse

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 22 November 1665.

Adjusting: A Cento

the living carry on by being fluid

trying too hard is another way to confess
the blueblack uniform of service

if inside is let in and there places change

the general stance over here is based on the unshakeable belief

everything we do is against the crippling light
immigration is always editing

i know no love without teeth
& have the scars to remember

here I stumble
to approximate the durations of others, to appear
of the same time as though of space

wouldn’t I too
be godlike

Or else this dark could be our shelter in the time of long dominion.

And though we are not well suited to the perspectives it opens it is an awesome thing to see. Once you can see it.


(Source Texts: Jenny Xie, Jose Olivarez, Jehanne Dubrow, Gertrude Stein, Sawako Nakayasu, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Chiwan Choi, Aditi Machado, Mary-Kim Arnold, Rosmarie Waldrop)


The matriarch sits on a bench
in the park as pleasure boats glide
on the man-made lake. In lieu
of a crown, she wears one of her late
husband’s hats. The brim is narrow,
just like its band. It seems to perch
like a squat grey bird with no head
on her head, so it can’t make
a sound. These days she sings,
with no help, the same string of words
over and over, as if remembering. As if
remembering what they could mean.


Up, and to the office, where all the morning doing business, and at noon home to dinner and quickly back again to the office, where very busy all the evening and late sent a long discourse to Mr. Coventry by his desire about the regulating of the method of our payment of bills in the Navy, which will be very good, though, it may be, he did ayme principally at striking at Sir G. Carteret. So weary but pleased with this business being over I home to supper and to bed.

sin and din and quick again

o every evening is our coven

desire regulating our aim

a striking art

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 21 November 1665.

The flowers on your coat don’t keep still

~ after Armando Valero, “The Little Singer

Day after day brings a panic—
stampede of mothers and children
and goats along a fence, involuntary
movement of arms shielding faces
from a violent spray of gas.
Which is to say, some dreams
seem more extravagant than
others, and yet there are those
among us who will walk for weeks
to touch one. Above, the planets
teeter in their own fire. Nothing
lasts. Or rather, everything ceded
in the end prevails. The goat bleats
and the yellow bird bugles to the moon.
You don’t see or hear the cost of this
pleading so I will illustrate with
the shape of my arms, with hands
making the gesture for warding off
what wants to kill or maim us all.

Seven ways to be a poet

Mazen Maarouf (still from a film by Roxana Vilk)

I’ve never had much patience with people who want to be poets. If you’re not driven by the desire to write poetry, and to explore the world and your own mind in so doing, then get the fuck out — that’s been my mindset. But lately I’ve been thinking that there are exemplary poets out there whose life choices are worth studying and emulating, because in fact being a poet in a society that largely rejects poetry isn’t always easy. Both Luisa Igloria and I have written poems here with the title “How to be a poet”: me in 2011, quite facetiously, and she in 2015. But today I want to share a few videos of poets reflecting on their manner of being in the world.

1. Allen Ginsberg

“Turn north — I should hang up all those pots on the stovetop — Am I holding the world right?”


2. Tyree Daye

“I don’t want a preaching poet, you know what I mean? I want my poets to be flawed, to not know the answer.”


3. Nasreen Anjum Bhatti

“Two things are required: commitment and love. … Because we are not alone. I am not just myself; I have many centuries behind me.”
(Click on the CC icon for English subtitles.)


4. January Gill O’Neil

“Wanting it too much invites haste. You must love what is raw and hungered for.”


5. Mazen Maarouf

“I feel that I cannot be astonished by anything, and I lost this a few years ago, because I still remember so many parts of the wars. The traces of beauty that I just pick up from life are enough.”


6. Kyle Metcalf

“Most people think that I’m an auto mechanic. I’m not actually an auto mechanic at all.”


7. TJ Dema

“I know I can be the girl I am right now, live the life I have right now.”


A partially found poem. “[T’boli Marivic Danyan] inherited the ceremonial dagger of the tribal chief, or datu, from her father, along with the campaign he had fought for almost three decades against a coffee plantation on community land.” ~ Jonathan Watts for The Guardian, July 2018

She tended to the bodies
peppered with gunfire, menfolk

who had been working in the corn—
She tried to change the clothes

of the dead, to put part of her
husband’s brains back inside

his skull so he was fit for burial.
Along with her father and husband,

she lost her two brothers.
The soldiers shoot first

and ask questions later,
if at all. As far as the eye

can see, forests cut down
by logging companies. Coffee

plantations where the ancestors’
resting places used to be. Now,

she is chief of a village with no
guns, fighting for its rights. Who

remembers the time when birds flew,
populating the canopy as if with fruit?