During one of my last eye check-ups
before I learned he passed away,
the ophthalmologist who liked to have
his poodle nearby while he examined
patients said sotto voce, You may be
a candidate for early cataracts— And just
like that, I felt the edges of the room
fog up with clouds soft as the ringlets
of the dog sleeping fitfully in the corner,
one ear draped over a paw. The normally clear
lens of the eye, a little lake filled
with water and protein, turns
gradually murky with age: the color
of a milk tea pearl, the texture of an agar
pellet that didn't completely dissolve.
Sometimes, in the early stages, there will be
a sudden sharpness in near vision, a temporary
sense of "second sight." Then, as you drive
in the mountains at night looking for the right
fork in the road that will take you to the cabin
retreat you worked so long all year to get to,
the windshield blurs into a kind of impressionist
painting: behind it there could be a sky
reeling with stars, a gas station marquee;
the faded neon signs of the last La Quinta
or Starlite Motel, endless open stretches
before the next town comes into view.
Up, and with Reeves walk as far as the Temple, doing some business in my way at my bookseller’s and elsewhere, and there parted, and I took coach, having first discoursed with Mr. Hooke a little, whom we met in the streete, about the nature of sounds, and he did make me understand the nature of musicall sounds made by strings, mighty prettily; and told me that having come to a certain number of vibrations proper to make any tone, he is able to tell how many strokes a fly makes with her wings (those flies that hum in their flying) by the note that it answers to in musique during their flying. That, I suppose, is a little too much refined; but his discourse in general of sound was mighty fine.
There I left them, and myself by coach to St. James’s, where we attended with the rest of my fellows on the Duke, whom I found with two or three patches upon his nose and about his right eye, which come from his being struck with the bough of a tree the other day in his hunting; and it is a wonder it did not strike out his eye. After we had done our business with him, which is now but little, the want of money being such as leaves us little to do but to answer complaints of the want thereof, and nothing to offer to the Duke, the representing of our want of money being now become uselesse, I into the Park, and there I met with Mrs. Burroughs by appointment, and did agree (after discoursing of some business of her’s) for her to meet me at New Exchange, while I by coach to my Lord Treasurer’s, and then called at the New Exchange, and thence carried her by water to Parliament stayres, and I to the Exchequer about my Tangier quarter tallys, and that done I took coach and to the west door of the Abby, where she come to me, and I with her by coach to Lissen-greene where we were last, and staid an hour or two before dinner could be got for us, I in the meantime having much pleasure with her, but all honest. And by and by dinner come up, and then to my sport again, but still honest; and then took coach and up and down in the country toward Acton, and then toward Chelsy, and so to Westminster, and there set her down where I took her up, with mighty pleasure in her company, and so I by coach home, and thence to Bow, with all the haste I could, to my Lady Pooly’s, where my wife was with Mr. Batelier and his sisters, and there I found a noble supper, and every thing exceeding pleasant, and their mother, Mrs. Batelier, a fine woman, but mighty passionate upon sudden news brought her of the loss of a dog borrowed of the Duke of Albemarle’s son to line a bitch of hers that is very pretty, but the dog was by and by found, and so all well again, their company mighty innocent and pleasant, we having never been here before. About ten o’clock we rose from table, and sang a song, and so home in two coaches (Mr. Batelier and his sister Mary and my wife and I in one, and Mercer alone in the other); and after being examined at Allgate, whether we were husbands and wives, home, and being there come, and sent away Mr. Batelier and his sister, I find Reeves there, it being a mighty fine bright night, and so upon my leads, though very sleepy, till one in the morning, looking on the moon and Jupiter, with this twelve-foote glasse and another of six foote, that he hath brought with him to-night, and the sights mighty pleasant, and one of the glasses I will buy, it being very usefull.
So to bed mighty sleepy, but with much pleasure. Reeves lying at my house again; and mighty proud I am (and ought to be thankfull to God Almighty) that I am able to have a spare bed for my friends.
how many strokes a fly
makes with her wings
is a wonder the leaves tally
where we nest
with pleasure in everything
but that pretty clock the moon
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 8 August 1666.
What's unnatural is how we look
on these rectangles of laminated
plastic, eyes directed at a laser-
point dot of light; how we're
given the option to smile
or not to smile, to sign
permission for future harvest
of our eyes and other organs
so a blond girl or boy in Peru,
Illinois can have a chance
at something called a bright
future. What's real is not
whatever piece of paper
we're here to file (plus
$200 or more in government
fees), to render unto us
the status of the real. What's
natural is how, if you closed
your eyes and just listened,
the undercurrent is the same
sounds of breathing everybody
makes in the cell, in the room.
There's the bride and her groom
dancing in the middle of the square—
her dress sewn with a little lace
but never a seed pearl, his sheer
white tunic concealing no weapon.
The rented band makes merry
music out of tin instruments,
and the corner store brisk
trade in coconut liquor and safety
pins, as guests begin to paper
their clothes with bills and
notes. Soon they're plated
and leaved in this flimsy armor.
Soon they'll undress in the dark,
shocked at how naked it feels
under the mercurial moon,
out in the windswept open.
Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and home to dinner, and then to the office again, being pretty good friends with my wife again, no angry words passed; but she finding fault with Mercer, suspecting that it was she that must have told Mary, that must have told her mistresse of my wife’s saying that she was crooked. But the truth is, she is jealous of my kindnesse to her. After dinner, to the office, and did a great deale of business. In the evening comes Mr. Reeves, with a twelve-foote glasse, so I left the office and home, where I met Mr. Batelier with my wife, in order to our going to-morrow, by agreement, to Bow to see a dancing meeting. But, Lord! to see how soon I could conceive evil fears and thoughts concerning them; so Reeves and I and they up to the top of the house, and there we endeavoured to see the moon, and Saturne and Jupiter; but the heavens proved cloudy, and so we lost our labour, having taken pains to get things together, in order to the managing of our long glasse. So down to supper and then to bed, Reeves lying at my house, but good discourse I had from him: in his own trade, concerning glasses, and so all of us late to bed.
I receive fresh intelligence that Deptford and Greenwich are now afresh exceedingly afflicted with the sickness more than ever.
angry at my crooked foot
the dancing moon
in my glass
Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 7 August 1666.
What did we know of the angel,
how it decided which of our houses
to mark with chalk, and which with
the blood of an animal that bleated
six times before being led to slaughter?
What did we know of angels in the first
place, when our mothers raised us to avert
our eyes as we passed beneath the trees
at dusk, when babaylan taught us to listen
for the breathing of kapres lighting
enormous cigars? If the angel marked us
safe, we knew it wasn't so much
because we were exceptionally good
or favored. Perhaps the animal bleated
three times instead of five or six.
Perhaps hot ashes from the kapre's cigar
fell into the well instead of on our
thatched roofs. And it doesn't matter
if you are the mayor's son or the black-
smith's daughter: the dark cloud gathering
at the foothills isn't a storm coming,
isn't a pestilence of locusts. It's just
ordinary smoke rumbling history's
reproach. It doesn't condone stasis
or equilibrium; it loves the sound of wind
stirred up by giant wings, the way it breaks
the cardinal points from a compass rose.
In response to Via Negativa: Improvisational.
Up, and to the office a while, and then by water to my Lady Montagu’s, at Westminster, and there visited my Lord Hinchingbroke, newly come from Hinchingbroke, and find him a mighty sober gentleman, to my great content. Thence to Sir Ph. Warwicke and my Lord Treasurer’s, but failed in my business; so home and in Fenchurch-streete met with Mr. Battersby; says he, “Do you see Dan Rawlinson’s door shut up?” (which I did, and wondered). “Why,” says he, “after all the sickness, and himself spending all the last year in the country, one of his men is now dead of the plague, and his wife and one of his mayds sicke, and himself shut up;” which troubles me mightily. So home; and there do hear also from Mrs. Sarah Daniel, that Greenwich is at this time much worse than ever it was, and Deptford too: and she told us that they believed all the towne would leave the towne and come to London; which is now the receptacle of all the people from all infected places. God preserve us! So by and by to dinner, and, after dinner in comes Mrs. Knipp, and I being at the office went home to her, and there I sat and talked with her, it being the first time of her being here since her being brought to bed. I very pleasant with her; but perceive my wife hath no great pleasure in her being here, she not being pleased with my kindnesse to her. However, we talked and sang, and were very pleasant. By and by comes Mr. Pierce and his wife, the first time she also hath been here since her lying-in, both having been brought to bed of boys, and both of them dead. And here we talked, and were pleasant, only my wife in a chagrin humour, she not being pleased with my kindnesse to either of them, and by and by she fell into some silly discourse wherein I checked her, which made her mighty pettish, and discoursed mighty offensively to Mrs. Pierce, which did displease me, but I would make no words, but put the discourse by as much as I could (it being about a report that my wife said was made of herself and meant by Mrs. Pierce, that she was grown a gallant, when she had but so few suits of clothes these two or three years, and a great deale of that silly discourse), and by and by Mrs. Pierce did tell her that such discourses should not trouble her, for there went as bad on other people, and particularly of herself at this end of the towne, meaning my wife, that she was crooked, which was quite false, which my wife had the wit not to acknowledge herself to be the speaker of, though she has said it twenty times. But by this means we had little pleasure in their visit; however, Knipp and I sang, and then I offered them to carry them home, and to take my wife with me, but she would not go: so I with them, leaving my wife in a very ill humour, and very slighting to them, which vexed me. However, I would not be removed from my civility to them, but sent for a coach, and went with them; and, in our way, Knipp saying that she come out of doors without a dinner to us, I took them to Old Fish Streete, to the very house and woman where I kept my wedding dinner, where I never was since, and there I did give them a jole of salmon, and what else was to be had. And here we talked of the ill-humour of my wife, which I did excuse as much as I could, and they seemed to admit of it, but did both confess they wondered at it; but from thence to other discourse, and among others to that of my Lord Bruncker and Mrs. Williams, who it seems do speake mighty hardly of me for my not treating them, and not giving her something to her closett, and do speake worse of my wife, and dishonourably, but it is what she do of all the world, though she be a whore herself; so I value it not. But they told me how poorly my Lord carried himself the other day to his kinswoman, Mrs. Howard, and was displeased because she called him uncle to a little gentlewoman that is there with him, which he will not admit of; for no relation is to be challenged from others to a lord, and did treat her thereupon very rudely and ungenteely. Knipp tells me also that my Lord keeps another woman besides Mrs. Williams; and that, when I was there the other day, there was a great hubbub in the house, Mrs. Williams being fallen sicke, because my Lord was gone to his other mistresse, making her wait for him, till his return from the other mistresse; and a great deale of do there was about it; and Mrs. Williams swounded at it, at the very time when I was there and wondered at the reason of my being received so negligently.
I set them both at home, Knipp at her house, her husband being at the doore; and glad she was to be found to have staid out so long with me and Mrs. Pierce, and none else; and Mrs. Pierce at her house, and am mightily pleased with the discretion of her during the simplicity and offensiveness of my wife’s discourse this afternoon. I perceive by the new face at Mrs. Pierces door that our Mary is gone from her.
So I home, calling on W. Joyce in my coach, and staid and talked a little with him, who is the same silly prating fellow that ever he was, and so home, and there find my wife mightily out of order, and reproaching of Mrs. Pierce and Knipp as wenches, and I know not what. But I did give her no words to offend her, and quietly let all pass, and so to bed without any good looke or words to or from my wife.
in the dead town
and all the infected places
I make words out of
other times and doors
other discourse and hubbub
and the same
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 6 August 1666.
~ after "Buscando Luciérnagas Una Noche de Enero,"
("Looking for Fireflies on a January Night"),
Armando Valero (oil on canvas)
It's light we crave at all costs,
the kind that flickers in the belly
under a fringe of fern without need
for battery-powered torches. Its beams
don't register well in a landscape
of surveillance, in a climate of constant
sweep and search. Not even the jewel
on your wife's earlobe, not even the gold
cufflink at your wrist knows how to call it
out of hiding. Sunrise is soft but not
its friend. Its messengers emerge
only when the sun disappears behind that
curtain at the edge of the sea. Watching
them, watching for them, instinctively we hold
our hands below our hearts, guarding the space
where our own fire must kindle and burn.
(Lord’s day). Up, and down to the Old Swan, and there called Betty Michell and her husband, and had two or three a long salutes from her out of sight of ‘su mari’, which pleased me mightily, and so carried them by water to West minster, and I to St. James’s, and there had a meeting before the Duke of Yorke, complaining of want of money, but nothing done to any purpose, for want we shall, so that now our advices to him signify nothing. Here Sir W. Coventry did acquaint the Duke of Yorke how the world do discourse of the ill method of our books, and that we would consider how to answer any enquiry which shall be made after our practice therein, which will I think concern the Controller most, but I shall make it a memento to myself.
Thence walked to the Parish Church to have one look upon Betty Michell, and so away homeward by water, and landed to go to the church, where, I believe, Mrs. Horsely goes, by Merchant-tailors’ Hall, and there I find in the pulpit Elborough, my old schoolfellow and a simple rogue, and yet I find him preaching a very good sermon, and in as right a parson-like manner, and in good manner too, as I have heard any body; and the church very full, which is a surprising consideration; but I did not see her.
So home, and had a good dinner, and after dinner with my wife, and Mercer, and Jane by water, all the afternoon up as high as Morclacke with great pleasure, and a fine day, reading over the second part of the, “Siege of Rhodes,” with great delight. We landed and walked at Barne-elmes, and then at the Neat Houses I landed and bought a millon, and we did also land and eat and drink at Wandsworth, and so to the Old Swan, and thence walked home. It being a mighty fine cool evening, and there being come, my wife and I spent an houre in the garden, talking of our living in the country, when I shall be turned out of the office, as I fear the Parliament may find faults enough with the office to remove us all, and I am joyed to think in how good a condition I am to retire thither, and have wherewith very well to subsist. Nan, at Sir W. Pen’s, lately married to one Markeham, a kinsman of Sir W. Pen’s, a pretty wench she is.
nothing to signify nothing
I make a meme
simple yet right
like an evening in the country
Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 5 August 1666.
So much counting through the years, a tally
written then erased then rewritten on the sky's
flimsy paper. How much do I owe now, in the fourth
decade, in the fifth? The jasmine, too, has lost
count. A torrent of white blooms presses against
the fence, as if to say even the slightest skins
collect to make a weight that history registers.
Later, when the vine is cleared away, its dark
imprint remains on the surface: surely no one
can deny it once had a fragrant body, a shape.