On Respiration

Suddenly the internet is teeming
with sewing patterns, and everyone

is hunting through their closets 
for an old cotton or poplin shirt

that might be cut and sewn into face
masks. The most common model is one

that starts with a rectangle you fold
in half then pleat and pleat again 

in small sections; two garter straps 
or pony tail holders are added 

for fastening around each ear. Another 
has a seam running down the middle. 

The fabric's cut so it forms a slight 
peak in front, reminiscent of plague 

doctors' bird-beak masks in the 1300s. 
Like death's acolytes they glided   

through streets infested with bubonic 
plague—aroma of ambergris or mint, 

lavender and herbs stuffed into 
the protrusion, for tempering 

the stench of rotting bodies piled 
in churchyards. Nose, mouth, and chin

are covered; and the eyes? The eyes,
not hard to read above the mask-edge   

as now, when we venture out to get
medicine or food: the eyes, blurring 

with the hurt, the hope, the effort 
to hold the breath then just breathe.  

In Shelter

April, with cities not yet completely 
convinced that the air they breathe 

is filled with millions of lethal particles— 
what is the difference between air mottled 

with simple, burnished dust and this plague 
that enters our houses to take up residence 

in the upside-down chandeliers next to our 
hearts? Time is out of its usual dispensers: 

no more horse-drawn carriages clocking 
circles around the park, no more log books 

and sign-in sheets spread open in building 
lobbies; no more waiting in line for tables. 

The Spanish bluebells are out; streams 
begin to clear of softwood and rot, and 

the heart of day seems as quiet as night.
How did it take so long to get to this  

place of listening, with that deep silence
the only thing that's returned to us? 

Early days

Up pretty betimes, and to the Old Swan, and there drank at Michell’s, but his wife is not there, but gone to her mother’s, who is ill, and so hath staid there since Sunday. Thence to Westminster Hall and drank at the Swan, and ‘baiserais the petite misse’; and so to Mrs. Martin’s who I find in opposante and su hermana rising. So here I had opportunity para tocar tout sobra su body as I would, and did traher sus pernos out of the lecto and do hazer myself hazer. I sent for some burnt wine, and drank and then away, not pleased with my folly, and so to the Hall again, and there staid a little, and so home by water again, where, after speaking with my wife, I with Sir W. Batten and J. Minnes to our church to the vestry, to be assessed by the late Poll Bill, where I am rated as an Esquire, and for my office, all will come to about 50l.. But not more than I expected, nor so much by a great deal as I ought to be, for all my offices. So shall be glad to escape so. Thence by water again to White Hall, and there up into the house, and do hear that newes is come now that the enemy do incline again to a peace, but could hear no particulars, so do not believe it. I had a great mind to have spoke with the King, about a business proper enough for me, about the French prize man-of-war, how he would have her altered, only out of a desire to show myself mindful of business, but my linen was so dirty and my clothes mean, that I neither thought it fit to do that, nor go to other persons at the Court, with whom I had business, which did vex me, and I must remedy. Here I hear that the Duke of Richmond and Mrs. Stewart were betrothed last night. Thence to Westminster Hall again, and there saw Betty Michell, and bought a pair of gloves of her, she being fain to keep shop there, her mother being sick, and her father gathering of the tax. I ‘aimais her de toute my corazon’. Thence, my mind wandering all this day upon ‘mauvaises amours’ which I be merry for. So home by water again, where I find my wife gone abroad, so I to Sir W. Batten to dinner, and had a good dinner of ling and herring pie, very good meat, best of the kind that ever I had. Having dined, I by coach to the Temple, and there did buy a little book or two, and it is strange how “Rycaut’s Discourse of Turky,” which before the fire I was asked but 8s. for, there being all but twenty-two or thereabouts burned, I did now offer 20s., and he demands 50s., and I think I shall give it him, though it be only as a monument of the fire. So to the New Exchange, where I find my wife, and so took her to Unthanke’s, and left her there, and I to White Hall, and thence to Westminster, only out of idleness, and to get some little pleasure to my ‘mauvais flammes’, but sped not, so back and took up my wife; and to Polichinelli at Charing Crosse, which is prettier and prettier, and so full of variety that it is extraordinary good entertainment. Thence by coach home, that is, my wife home, and I to the Exchange, and there met with Fenn, who tells me they have yet no orders out of the Exchequer for money upon the Acts, which is a thing not to be borne by any Prince of understanding or care, for no money can be got advanced upon the Acts only from the weight of orders in form out of the Exchequer so long time after the passing of the Acts. So home to the office a little, where I met with a sad letter from my brother, who tells me my mother is declared by the doctors to be past recovery, and that my father is also very ill every hour: so that I fear we shall see a sudden change there. God fit them and us for it! So to Sir W. Pen’s, where my wife was, and supped with a little, but yet little mirth, and a bad, nasty supper, which makes me not love the family, they do all things so meanly, to make a little bad show upon their backs. Thence home and to bed, very much troubled about my father’s and my mother’s illness.

I drank to her sun
and to her body of water

me in my dirt and my rot
my wandering and my idleness

not yet declared by the doctors
to be past recovery

it was little yet
and bad to make a show
about the illness

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 20 March 1667.


Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning. At noon dined at home very pleasantly with my wife, and after dinner with a great deal of pleasure had her sing, which she begins to do with some pleasure to me, more than I expected. Then to the office again, where all the afternoon close, and at night home to supper and to bed. It comes in my mind this night to set down how a house was the other day in Bishopsgate Street blowed up with powder; a house that was untenanted, and between a flax shop and a —————-, both bad for fire; but, thanks be to God, it did no more hurt; and all do conclude it a plot. I would also remember to my shame how I was pleased yesterday, to find the righteous maid of Magister Griffin sweeping of ‘nostra’ office, ‘elle con the Roman nariz and bonne’ body which I did heretofore like, and do still refresh me to think ‘que elle’ is come to us, that I may ‘voir her aliquando’. This afternoon I am told again that the town do talk of my Lord Arlington’s being to be Lord Treasurer, and Sir W. Coventry to be Secretary of State; and that for certain the match is concluded between the Duke of Richmond and Mrs. Stewart, which I am well enough pleased with; and it is pretty to consider how his quality will allay people’s talk; whereas, had a meaner person married her, he would for certain have been reckoned a cuckold at first-dash.

every pleasure begins
somehow as powder
and a lax fire

remember my ham bone
refresh me in us
that I may be Secretary of Stew

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 19 March 1667.

For We Were Here Bent to the Soil You Did Not Want to Tend

                 And the beaches, when they finally empty
                         of human congregation 
Bridges whose curves will show
            from one abutment to another,
with only air threading through   
     cantilevered spans
                 And on the railroad tracks stretched
            like so much forgotten history from coast
to coast, the wraiths of those of us
     who drove their spades into the earth       
                 What spaces are there now where our bodies  
                         can go to find sustainment—
     with only clear wind, not bearing    
            virus taunts or spittle streaks