Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

The poetry blogosphere was relatively quiet this week; I think U.S. poets are worn out or simply stunned by what’s unfolding on the streets. Today, as Erica Goss reminds us, was Walt Whitman’s birthday. Come back, Walt, we need you! Oh well, I guess we’ll have to look for him under our combat boot-soles…


The dark threw its patches down upon me also, Walt Whitman wrote in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Nearly as often as he reflects on his own tingling senses, Whitman, it turns out, writes about distance and solitude, sometimes expressing pain about it and reaching for touch across impossible gaps. “It avails not, time nor place–distance avails not,” he insists. We can be together, apart. This violent week has proven again that in my country, unity is a fiction. Some U.S. citizens are protected by police; in overlapping territory, other U.S. citizens are murdered by police. I admire Whitman’s desire to heal damage and division, but I can’t love my country the way he did.

Yet the fellowship of writers in other places, even other times, helps my heart. I wrote last week about feeling rested by the kind intelligence of Ned Balbo’s new book The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, and before that the pleasure of revisiting Martha Silano’s Gravity Assist.

Lesley Wheeler, It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall

I struggle to find words right now.

The virus has stolen life and breath from so many. Systemic racism has stolen life and breath from so many more.

What words could be equal to the murder of George Floyd? To the unthinkable horror of a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck until the life leaves him?

And we know that the pandemic disproportionately kills people of color because of the same systemic racism that causes police to arrest, and to kill, people of color in disproportionate numbers. It’s injustice heaped on injustice.

Rachel Barenblat, I don’t have words.

Say anything over and over,
word you love or word you loathe
it reduces to sound,
to nonsense.
As a meditation,
this nudges us
closer to edges,
toward wilder realms rarely visited.

But be wary of ideas
ranted over and over.
They lose something too,
lose the softness of grass on bare feet,
of hand touching hand. They become
strictures against the way rain speaks,
barriers to what nourishes
the ground we are.

Laura Grace Weldon, Now, Reality Is Surreal

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday writing a post I’m not going to share.

Writing is my way of processing what’s happening, and it served that purpose, but even I am just not all that interested in my perspective on what’s happening in my country–so I’m not going to share it here.

I am weary of so many people I know pontificating on social media when, frankly, they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. And, sorry(notsorry), their opinions (and mine) just aren’t as important as those of others who know more than we do. I’m thinking I don’t need to join the cacophany of white noise any more than I already have.

I think the best thing I can do as a white person is shut the hell up and listen.

Here are a few voices that need amplification far more than mine:

A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 ‘Fed-Up’-rising (from The Root)

George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show (Trevor Noah)

Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us (Roxanne Gay)

Rita Ott Ramstad, The best thing I can do

If he’s been working hard,
his skin glints
as if lacquered with gold
and if you’re lucky enough
to behold it, my nephew’s
contagious smile
will lighten your burdens
for a while,
despite his dark skin.

So when you ask me why
I’m outraged
ask yourself why
to white policemen
&
to white supremacists
&
to whites who say they
don’t see color,
my nephew’s skin
is the color of fear,
the color of hatred,
the color of oppression,
the color of lynching
in broad, bright daylight.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, The Color of Racism

Here in Canada, I’ve observed the Truth and Reconciliation process with the indigenous community. Although America has perpetrated even more injustices, including genocide, against its native people, this did not feel like “my” issue when I moved here; because of the time when I grew up, I was more concerned, more familiar, and more invested in the struggles for civil rights, women’s rights, peace and nuclear disarmament, gender equality, and the rights of immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities — all of which had been major issues in the United States during my lifetime.  But I have seen the painful steps toward truth-telling and reconciliation here, as well as in South Africa, and I believe that this is the ONLY way to begin to redress the wrongs that have been done, and to bring a society into greater understanding.

Yet in Canada, in spite of believing that we’re better than our neighbors to the south, we have our share of racism and hatred, especially directed against Muslims and Jews. Just this week, in one of the worst attacks in recent memory, a synagogue here in Montreal was violently ransacked, its religious objects desecrated — a Torah had been cut up and stuffed into a toilet — the floors covered in red paint, and the walls with antisemitic graffiti.

Meanwhile, the poor, and people of color and of ethnic minorities are dying at higher rates of COVID-19, while they fill a greater number of poorly-paid service and health care jobs. The same Quebec government which recently threw out three years of immigrant applications just had the gall to start a new fast-track program for immigrants who are willing to come here and work in the deplorable care homes for the elderly, where the virus has spread like wildfire, resulting in 80% of the deaths in the province. The message is clear: we didn’t want you before, but now we need you to take care of us, so we’ll make you a deal.

We white people of conscience have no choice: we have to stand for justice and against racism in all of its forms, against violence, against oppression, and for equality for all people regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. And you know what? It is not the job of black people, or Muslims, or Jewish people, Asians, Arabs, or any other minority group, to educate us about why their lives matter, and what needs to be done. It’s our job, and we had damn well better get on with it.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 27: A Summer Already Ablaze

This week, we hit a different grim milestone:  100,000 dead in the U.S. of COVID-19.  It’s a number that’s hard for me to get my head around, so earlier this week I looked up #s of deaths in past wars.  The number that we heard this week is that we now have more COVID-19 dead than in all the wars since Korea.  Daily we lose the number of U.S. citizens that we did on September 11, 2001. […]

In this week of deaths of all sorts, I was sobered by the loss of AIDS activist Larry Kramer, especially since I had just seen archival footage of him in How to Survive a Plague, footage that reminded me of how powerful and effective (and irritating) he was.  But Robb Forman Dew also died.  This obituary in The Washington Post noted that she emerged at the same time as Louise Erdrich and Ann Tyler, and that’s how I remember her, as part of a group of important women writers who came a generation before me.  Barbara Sher also died this week–in the mid-90’s, I read all her books, and I particularly remember Wishcraft as the type of book that told us to train our brains to think about what we wanted to achieve, not on our fears.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Milestones and Hinges

Benjamin and Kathryn, husband and wife, died three days apart.

Anne Mae, 82, known for sweet potato pies, and daughter Connie, 64
days after her mother.

Jaimala, 65, designer of saris and tapestries.

Dianne, Stella, and Maria, the three sisters, dying within a month of
each other.

Mike, over 60, called a “heart survivor.”

“Miss Minnie,” no symptoms.

Motoko, 92, the last of the surviving “Monuments Women.”

Newborn Baby Girl, no chance to be named.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXII

The events of the world
enter my house via cable lines
and satellite.

Family fabric frays,
children fledge. I free a robin
tangled in fence wire,

harvest spinach,
prepare a meal no one
stays home to eat.

Ann E. Michael, Events in the world

The manic dust of my friends is with me at all times, a different kind of grief and yet part of it, a grief I need to answer to, one I only answer with my own.

As I roam through the wreckage I am overcome by a new thing, is it anger, this man who did what, who said what, who dares to go on living without knowing about my grief?

The next chapter in my book of transformations is already here. What shall I call it? Shall I go back to my life and live it, even as I grieve?

Anthony Wilson, Living in the layers

I have a strange desire to lug something heavy on my back so that I can put it down at the end of the day. I want to see something besides the yard and the same 4 kilometre stretch of trail along the lake.

Until then – until the grades have been logged and the students sent off –  I’m starting a garden. When I say “I”, I mean E. is sawing down the overgrown thuja to make room for the tiny greenhouses.  I’ll try to grow chilies and tomatoes.

Basil, mint, parsley, cilantro.

There is a space he is clearing along the southern side of the house where I’m going to plant raspberry bushes and apple trees.

It upsets me a little to consider that the trees might not take root.

I have a desire to do something that matters. Like growing things. I have a fear that even on this tiny scale, I won’t be able to do it right.

So I am procrastinating and blaming the weather. I’m blaming the weather for the melancholy, too.

For some reason I keep thinking about the Italians – months ago now – who spontaneously sang together from their balconies. Not for each other, but with each other.

Is there a really good word for this feeling it brings up in me? I know other people felt it. Because they tried so hard to repeat it.

This is a kind of grasping, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, Clearing the Way for Summer

Days of letdowns, feeling unseen vs. those getting on up, getting back on the scene.

Days of walking crowded or well-distanced streets, forging the depths of fake news vs. real news.

Undercounting death tolls and high-stakes elections. Encountering those politically unmasked vs. others respectfully protected.

Unrest, unemployment, and racism thrive while too many black men die.

Days when innocence seems rarer than cynicism, when the clock turns slowly and Minneapolis burns,

when the only thing we seem to have in common is what keeps us awake at night.

Rich Ferguson, What Diseases Whisper to Us While We Sleep?

I met Lucille Clifton the first time, I think, in 1991 when she came to the University of Washington to read for our Watermark series. Her larger-than-life personality and her brash honesty about being black, about being female, swept me away. I was in the MFA program and I thought I had something to say. But I was too young, too sheltered, too inexperienced to have written the poems she had written: “homage to my hips,” or “lumpectomy eve,” or “in the meantime” (“the Lord of loaves and fishes / frowns as the children of / Haiti Somalia Bosnia Rwanda Everyhere / float onto the boats of their bellies / and die”). There seemed no subject that was so controversial she wouldn’t take a crack at it, and I was in awe of her.

At the reception after the reading, another young poet started telling Clifton all about herself. I knew it was nerves, but it was still a little stunning to see her binge-talk through the entire conversation. When she walked away, Clifton said, laughing, “Does she ever listen? How does she ever learn anything?”

As a member of the Watermark committee I was gifted with the opportunity to drive her to the airport the next morning. She said, “Oh, drop me at the curb,” but I refused. Over breakfast, I told her a little about the “verse-writing” class that had recently been assigned to me. My professor and long-time mentor, Colleen McElroy, had advised that I teach them “one thing,” a thing that she would not divulge. I asked Lucille Clifton what she emphasized in her classes, and she began expounding. Listening and learning–not just from teachers, from everything–was the general theme. “And never stop,” she said.

Bethany Reid, Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

This labor is simple: Pull.
Your back is a pinion of flames. Pull
Through the strain of this toil. Pull.
The waters are heaving. Pull.
You will rise on this swell. Pull
In your staggering grief. Pull
In this fevered forgetting. Pull
Withthe will of the holy. Pull
For this scaffold of sinew. Pull
With your castle of bone.

Kristen McHenry, Still Life with Rowing Machine

Spring is really just starting where I live, and the birdsong is wild, the frogs are loud, and the traffic sounds from the nearby highway are quieter. I feel as though we’re forgetting how to talk to people, and we’re becoming a bit subdued. I worry a lot about my daughter, alone in her apartment across the country. I know she’s fine, but I love her so I worry. We’re all missing a lot of things and trying not to dwell. It does no good to miss the idea of going to Rome, or missing the dog we haven’t had for years. We have to all just go on trusting in our hearts and pausing for those delicately made things, for those shocks of surprising beauty. Might we use them as stepping stones to get over this river?

There are so many bruising and devastating moments which I know you’ve all read about or watched the video just this week (you know the one I’m talking about I’m sure) and the horrible thing is we know there will be more ugliness ahead. That’s a given. I wish it weren’t. And I can’t look away. I can minimize my exposure but I’m not going to ignore these inhuman acts.

I’m a broken record for beauty. I’m a broken record for the open heart. If we keep these with us, they’ll help steer us. As much as we’re learning about what and who is inhumane, we’re also learning about who is beautiful, who understands what is good and delicate and true.

If we’re going to record what’s happening in our ordinary lives, along with the view from where we sit on the ills of the world, and I think we ought to be, we have to remember, too, to get down the moments of pure joy, the moments of respite, solace, and when things are so beautiful they make us break down and cry.

Shawna Lemay, Ordinary Life, Continued

Today has been a grey, rainy day. Seattle is not only under coronavirus-related lockdown but roads have been shut down and a 5 PM curfew has been announced. Trains and ferries have been stopped. The news is full of ugly images.

This morning I attended a two hour online master class from A Public Space on editing creative-non-fiction and fiction. As you probably know if you’re here, I’m mainly a poet, but I occasionally experiment with other forms, and I’d never rule out a short story or a memoir someday, so it’s good to learn about the tools. Check out A Public Space which is also offering free online book clubs.

I then fell asleep for two hours. Zoom still wears me out. I’m not sure if this is an MS thing or what. Does this happen to you guys, or is because of my damaged neurology? Or could it be the massive unrest across the country, the accumulated anxiety of months of lockdown coming to an uneasy end, that makes it hard to have energy for appreciating the good things, like this towhee and orange roses?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in the Atlanta Review, Trying to Say Something about America Right Now, and a Grey End of May

yesterday we had such a huge thunderstorm that it shook the bones of my house and I was scared for the first time ever in a thunderstorm it lasted for one or two hours after I scouted for split trees but found none

my son drove me to town to find Maria Sanchez who runs the little Lopez Family Farm fruit stand on the corner next to the sad furniture store I was so excited and happy to see her that I bought an entire flat of strawberries thinking about ruby red jam I washed the berries then put them in the fridge I truly don’t know if I have the energy to make jam right now I am exhausted with frustration and anger and worry I’ll probably make a small batch of no pectin jam today then freeze the rest for smoothies and try again later

I argued with my son last night which made me sad he wanted to go to Seattle to photograph the mayhem which after all is his life’s work but I told him if he went he would have to stay there at his girlfriend’s house for two weeks to make sure he doesn’t pick up the virus from being in a huge body of people when the plague is still alive and well and waking back up as cities begin to ease restrictions maybe you think I’m being unreasonable it is clear my son thought so but my self preservation instinct is very strong I have not survived abuse and and addiction and poverty and mental illness and 40 years of back breaking factory work to be brought down by a virus fuck that noise as we used to say back in the day fuck. that. noise.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Oh how good we feel on those straight lines, so sure of our path, running parallel to the turning world, convinced of our own deservingness, the justice of it all, we are so right, righteous even, and able to see where everyone else is going wrong, what they should be saying, doing, who they should be doing it for.

And what about the crooks and fissures in the road behind us when we stamped and grumbled, the times we ran back from fear and not toward, the fences we kicked in, the gates we refused to walk through when someone opened them for us, when we refused to move on and blamed the road we had made and chosen?

Here they come again, more clefts and fractures, and that bend ahead just willing us to refuse it.

forgiveness
someone else’s footsteps
hardened in the dry earth

Lynne Rees, straight lines ~ a haibun

so i ran with the hare, and soared with the lark,
hill-high and be-blued above the heather.
those alone moments with a rod or a gun
and the neighbour’s dog. bonzo.
i remember bonzo, i do. he was a fun dog,
a company across the fields sort of dog.
a marsh harrier of rats in the rubbish tips
long-walked upon the marsh.

these marble memories rattle now, around and
around they rattle my brain – as that song said.
where shall i lay them, and when is the time?
here upon a few lines of ink think? or shall i
take them to the graveside of childhood and
knock the door and run away? but, hey,
they are homing dreams, like the pigeons in baskets
at release of somewhere, somewhere.

look, i’ll put them just here. OK?
Look after them for me;
i won’t be long.

Jim Young, i’ll put them just here

He was going
to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash,
spit with effort: all movements slower now
that the rest of him was testing the currents
of this new sea his doctors referred to as
The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning,
at noon, and again at night for the faltering
heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old
record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and
beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation
with the idea of time not yet knighted
by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked,
the future would lose no time unseating us from
the surface where we tried to hold our ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of My Father From a Second Floor Window Four Months Before His Death

Some poets evolve by venturing into new subjects, new narratives, new locations. Others, meanwhile, burrow further and further into their core concerns, casting different perspectives on similar themes, grappling with them in fresh ways, layering them, building their nuances and ramifications.

Abegail Morley’s recent development, from her previous collection, The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press, 2016) to her new book, The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), shows that she clearly belongs to the latter group. Her focus on loss, already a pivotal element, has now expanded its reach, its depth and its power to move the reader.

One clear example occurs in the opening pages to The Unmapped Woman, in the first lines of a poem titled Gravid. They can, of course, be read as the portrayal of a moment, of an incident. However, they can also be read as a declaration of poetic intent for the collection as a whole. They announce an exploration of the relationship between language and loss:

Not until after the front door slams shut
and absence sucks air from its cheeks,
do the words in her head, packed tight
as if on postcards, unhook their ink…

Matthew Stewart, Absence that disorientates, Abegail Morley’s The Unmapped Woman

I love when I’m reading someone else’s poem and find it’s inspired me such that I have to put it down and run over to my own notebook to write something. Usually when I go back to the triggering poem by the other poet, I can’t for the life of me figure out how I got to what their poem said to what I felt compelled to run to write down. But hooray for the whole enterprise. So I turned with relish to the pile of books of poetry that has been growing at my elbow, and will today share some of the choice lines from them.

So thanks to some trade deals, I have three wonderful little handsewn books from Ethel Zine & Micro Press:

– From Joanna Penn Cooper’s When We Were Fearsome, from “The Keening”:   “…That scene in The Shining that terrifies/a child, the beautiful woman falling old./Now when I see it I think, It’s just a woman./His whole big horror was just embracing/the woman’s changing body.”

And this from her “Existential Kink”: “…My whole life has been one long/creative exercise, a Life Prompt, if you will. Try it. Go/from something kind of funny to something kind of sad/and back again. Repeat. Keep repeating….”

– From Annmarie O’Connell’s Hellraiser, from “Tonight I’m sitting in the front room”: “Im telling you/that a story can remember me/hunt me down/and sooner or later/knock me dead into the past/with its invisible/arms.”

And this from “This is a road.”: “Suddenly inside we are better people/miraculous/with the undertow of failing.”

– From Barbara Ungar’s Edge, from “Madascan Moon Moth”: “To distract bats, he spins his extravagant/and expendable long red tail./They aim for that/and miss him as he burns through the dark,/improbably and fleeting, the Comet Moth.”

And from “April Journal, 2018”: “Though living in the end days/with thirteen kinds of crazy/still the birds return one by one.”

Marilyn McCabe, Prepare ye the way; or, On Poetry I’m Reading, and Possibly Stealing From

Risa Denenberg: Your books incorporate the term “survivor.” How has your identity as an AIDS survivor impacted your vision as a poet? Have you written about your journey as an AIDS survivor? How did you incorporate that impact on the person who walks through the woods and oceans and seasons in these poems?

Marjorie Moorhead: Being a survivor of AIDS (from a time when there was no viable treatment) has shaped my vision as a poet because I learned, during many, many hours and years “alone” with myself, traveling through grief to self-discovery, to SEE things, “in the moment”. If you travel around with death in your lap, ready to take over at any moment, each moment seems indeed a gift and full of rich detail. Each breath becomes a full and wonder-full moment; the in, and then the out. I spent at least five years learning to meditate, and practice tai chi ch’uan. My goal in those years (as, of course it should be for everybody all the time…but gets lost so easily once Life is “easy”), was to live in a state of Grace in each moment. I had to figure out what that meant for myself. It’s a very personal interpretation of the word “Grace,” as I was not brought up with religious practice or dogma except for very general overlying morality (which I am grateful for!). So, the person walking through woods, oceans, seasons in these poems is one who is noticing, processing, and feeling a part of where she is. […]

RD: Finally, I hope you are safe and well. Can you talk a bit about how you are faring during the pandemic?

MM: At the start of this pandemic, I was very aware of the link back in time to the AIDS epidemic. I started writing “Coronavirus Diary” poems (to date, I think there are 12 of them!), and also responded, in April, to the call from Indolent Books’ HIV Here & Now “Na(HIV)PoWriMo” project for poems about HIV/AIDS.  I have since moved on to writing a series of poems inspired by the Bluejays who built a nest outside within view of our window. Watching their daily journey, while in “lockdown”, has been a way to expand out into the world and I’ve attempted writing a few poems where the “I” is a nesting bird. I also try to get out for a daily walk, just breathing and moving and noticing what’s around me…same as I have been doing for thirty years or more.

Risa Denenberg, Survival in Two Volumes

Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises, and these flowers bless our lives. I reject the abuses of my mother and my father just as I reject all flags and leaders. The earth and the flowers, the irises, are my family. There is no value to the memory of abuse, and there is no value in a flag. Life is for passion, love, kindness, and the beauty of things growing on the earth. Damn every last leader anywhere.

James Lee Jobe, Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises

Thinking of our lives as art or as prayer reminds us that we are the raw material from which art arises, whatever the outcome, whether painting, sculpture, music, or literature. Each person is a moving, breathing, work of art, one that is ever-changing; to paraphrase Whitman, we all contain that beautiful truth.

Early in Leaves of Grass, he writes:

            There was never any more inception than there is now,

            Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

            And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

            Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

In this time when our environments have shrunk, when we are doing everything from home, we need big thinkers like Walt Whitman, who reminds us that no matter where we are, no matter our age, ability, or belief system, we are individual works of art.

Sunday, May 31st is Walt Whitman’s 201st birthday. If you’re able, go outdoors, and, as he advises,

            Loafe with me on the grass…loose the stop from your throat.

Erica Goss, You Are a Work of Art

Unrest

This entry is part 14 of 19 in the series Pandemic Season

 

Watch on Vimeo.

Humid middle of the night. It’s stuffy in the bedroom, hard to sleep. I get up and sit outside, waiting for a storm to clear the air, but nothing—just a flicker on the horizon now and then.

frost-struck oaks
slowly recovering
a rash of stars

I check Twitter on my phone and holy shit, the uprising in response to police violence is spreading across the country. The precinct building for the part of Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered is in flames. Goddamn. Under the porch I hear a porcupine clacking its teeth to ward off an enemy. Then gnawing, gnawing, gnawing on the foundation beam.

that near shriek
in the last note
whip-poor-WILL

Process notes

Written two nights ago. Since this series has the flavor of a diary or vlog, I worry about current events-related pieces getting stale, so I tried to finish the video up last night. But nothing seemed quite right so I held off, and I’m glad I did. The necessary changes weren’t too extreme, and in fact I ended up sticking with the footage I’d initially chosen. Too bad it’s beech and not oak leaves, but otherwise I liked the vibe — especially combined with some public-domain audio of the scratchy silent part of an old vinyl record, which had just the unsettling, obsessive quality the video needed, I thought. After the last three videos playing around with more complex combinations of images, I wanted to get back to the basics here.

As is often the case, the haiku I really struggled with, the first one, isn’t as good as the one that came easily. One alternate to “a rash of stars” that I flirted with was “the glabrous sky,” but I decided that would be entirely too clever and obscure. But I’m sure my fellow botany nerds would’ve enjoyed it.

This feels like a totally inadequate response to the severity and sadness of current events, but in my experience it’s better to be understated in poetry than to try to say everything and end up spinning off into abstraction or didacticism. Besides, I AM a fairly clueless old white guy living in the boonies, there’s no use pretending otherwise. Poets in the streets right now will write the essential poems about this possibly pivotal moment in the decline and fall of the American empire.

That Long Arc

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Have you ever had to stand up 

or kneel for what you believed in, or

weigh in a single instant the consequence

of staring down the barrel of a gun

Have you ever been the one

to knock on a door, bringing 

a message regretting to inform 

And have you ever been the one

who opened to the sudden clamor

at night or in the middle of the day

already knowing from glimpsing through

a window the pair of sombre

dark-clothed messengers

Could any of such moments

be recompensed

erased or forgotten in

the detritus of time

Could time go any slower

or any faster than

the way it does






Portrait of My Father From a Second Floor Window Four Months Before His Death

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
My father stood in front of the sink
in the bathroom he shared with my mother.
The color of the tiny floor tiles was green; 
and the color of the tiles on the walls, an old
mustard yellow. Looking down, unseen, from 
the second floor window of the house we built 
next door that my children and I lived in, 
I could swear it was almost the same color 
as his skin. He took his time, my father: 
he took off the watch on his wrist and folded 
the cuffs of the daytime shirt he wore 
under an old cardigan. He was going  
to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash,   
spit with effort: all movements slower now 
that the rest of him was testing the currents
of this new sea his doctors referred to as 
The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning, 
at noon, and again at night for the faltering 
heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old 
record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and
beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation
with the idea of time not yet knighted
by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked, 
the future would lose no time unseating us from 
the surface where we tried to hold our ground.  

   

Capitalist

This morning my wife had some things brought home by a new woman of the New Exchange, one Mrs. Smith, which she would have me see for her fine hand, and indeed it is a fine hand, and the woman I have observed is a mighty pretty looked woman. Up, and with Sir W. Batten and J. Minnes to St. James’s, and stopt at Temple Bar for Sir J. Minnes to go into the Devil’s Taverne to shit, he having drunk whey, and his belly wrought. Being come, we up to the Duke of York’s chamber, who, when ready, we to our usual business, and being very glad, we all that signed it, that is, Sir J. Minnes, W. Batten, W. Pen, and myself, and then Sir G. Carteret and W. Coventry, Bruncker, and T. Harvy, and the officers of the Ordnance, Sir J. Duncombe, and Mr. Cholmely presented our report about Carcasse, and did afterwards read it with that success that the Duke of York was for punishing him, not only with turning him out of the office, but with what other punishment he could, which nobody did forward, and so he escaped, only with giving security to secure the King against double tickets of his and other things that he might have wronged the King or subject in before his dismission. Yet, Lord! to see how our silly Lord Bruncker would have stood to have justified this rogue, though to the reproach of all us who have signed, which I shall never forget to have been a most malicious or a most silly act, and I do think it is as much the latter as the other, for none but a fool could have done as this silly Lord hath done in this business. So the Duke of York did like our report, and ordered his being secured till he did give his security, which did fully content me, and will I hope vindicate the office. It happened that my Lord Arlington coming in by chance was at the hearing of all this, which I was not sorry for, for he did move or did second the Duke of York that this roguery of his might be put in the News-book that it might be made publique to satisfy for the wrong the credit of this office hath received by this rogue’s occasion. So with utmost content I away with Sir G. Carteret to London, talking all the way; and he do tell me that the business of my Lord Hinchingbroke his marriage with my Lord Burlington’s daughter is concluded on by all friends; and that my Lady is now told of it, and do mightily please herself with it; which I am mighty glad of. So home, and there I find that my wife hath been at my desire at the Inne, thinking that my father might be come up with the coach, but he is not come this week, poor man, but will be here the next. At noon to dinner, and then to Sir W. Batten’s, where I hear the news how our Embassadors were but ill received at Flushing, nor at Bredah itself, there being only a house and no furniture provided for them, though it be said that they have as much as the French. Here we staid talking a little, and then I to the office about my business, and thence to the office, where busy about my own papers of my office, and by and by comes the office full to examine Sir W. Warren’s account, which I do appear mighty fierce in against him, and indeed am, for his accounts are so perplexed that I am sure he cannot but expect to get many a 1000l. in it before it passes our hands, but I will not favour him, but save what I can to the King. At his accounts, wherein I very high against him, till late, and then we broke up with little done, and so broke up, and I to my office, where late doing of business, and then home to supper and to bed. News still that my Lord Treasurer is so ill as not to be any man of this world; and it is said that the Treasury shall be managed by Commission. I would to God Sir G. Carteret, or my Lord Sandwich, be in it! But the latter is the more fit for it. This day going to White Hall, Sir W. Batten did tell me strange stories of Sir W. Pen, how he is already ashamed of the fine coach which his son-in-law and daughter have made, and indeed it is one of the most ridiculous things for people of their low, mean fashion to make such a coach that ever I saw. He tells me how his people come as they do to mine every day to borrow one thing or other, and that his Lady hath been forced to sell some coals (in the late dear time) only to enable her to pay money that she hath borrowed of Griffin to defray her family expense, which is a strange story for a rogue that spends so much money on clothes and other occasions himself as he do, but that which is most strange, he tells me that Sir W. Pen do not give 6000l., as is usually [supposed], with his daughter to him, and that Mr. Lowder is come to use the tubb, that is to bathe and sweat himself, and that his lady is come to use the tubb too, which he takes to be that he hath, and hath given her the pox, but I hope it is not so, but, says Sir W. Batten, this is a fair joynture, that he hath made her, meaning by that the costs the having of a bath.

I would go into the devil’s tavern to shit
I would put the news on to flush

my own war is with this world

I would be white
I have made people of ash mine coal


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 15 May 1667.

The years pass; the feeling doesn’t.

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
I haven't learned yet 
to take for granted 
how I'm here instead of 
somewhere else.

Should a raised voice say
You! I've learned not to flinch 
too visibly though I always fear
I'm the one being addressed.

One weekend many years ago
after I'd just got here,
two coworkers knocked on the door
and asked if I'd like to go out.

I looked at them confused
and said I was working,
which I was. After they left
I wondered if I should have.

Sometimes it's easier 
to keep to ourselves
or out of the way if not
out of sight.

Hampas-lupa

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
When we moved to this part 
of the country, some of the first
kababayans we met sounded concerned
we'd found an apartment in Norfolk,
and not in Virginia Beach. Perhaps
they meant well, even when they said
things like You should move 
as soon as you can so you don't have 
to live in the ghetto, where there are 
a lot of blacks. Then there are those
who caution their daughters and sons 
when they begin to date: Anyone 
really of any race, except 
yellow or black. So it shouldn’t 
have been surprising to hear those
same daughters and sons say Our parents
are not like those Filipinos on the west 
coast or in Hawaii— they came here 
as professionals. Perhaps they don’t know 
what they’re saying; perhaps they can't 
hear what those words really mean, having 
been raised in a culture of skin bleaching 
products where white is held up as right, 
and the fair-skinned mestizo will always get 
the office or the acting job over the dark-
skinned ones who look like maids or peasants: 
hampas-lupa, those who crawl like worms
along the earth— mud-dwellers, clay
compared to the haughty figures
whose marble floors and shoes they buff
until they shine and won’t acknowledge
that the brown reflections they see
every day in the mirror are their own.   

The CARES Act

Up by 5 o’clock, and when ready down to my chamber, and there with Mr. Fist, Sir W. Batten’s clerk, who writes mighty well, writing over our report in Mr. Carcasses business, in which we continued till 9 o’clock, that the office met, and then to the office, where all the morning, and so at noon home to dinner, where Mr. Holliard come and eat with us, who among other things do give me good hopes that we shall give my father some ease as to his rupture when he comes to town, which I expect to-morrow. After dinner comes Fist, and he and I to our report again till 4 o’clock, and then by coach to my Lord Chancellor’s, where I met Mr. Povy, expecting the coming of the rest of the Commissioners for Tangier. Here I understand how the two Dukes, both the only sons of the Duke of York, are sick even to danger, and that on Sunday last they were both so ill, as that the poor Duchess was in doubt which would die first: the Duke of Cambridge of some general disease; the other little Duke, whose title I know not, of the convulsion fits, of which he had four this morning. Fear that either of them might be dead, did make us think that it was the occasion that the Duke of York and others were not come to the meeting of the Commission which was designed, and my Lord Chancellor did expect. And it was pretty to observe how, when my Lord sent down to St. James’s to see why the Duke of York come not, and Mr. Povy, who went, returned, my Lord (Chancellor) did ask, not how the Princes or the Dukes do, as other people do, but “How do the children?” which methought was mighty great, and like a great man and grandfather. I find every body mightily concerned for these children, as a matter wherein the State is much concerned that they should live. At last it was found that the meeting did fail from no known occasion, at which my Lord Chancellor was angry, and did cry out against Creed that he should give him no notice. So Povy and I went forth, and staid at the gate of the house by the streete, and there stopped to talk about the business of the Treasury of Tangier, which by the badness of our credit, and the resolution that the Governor shall not be paymaster, will force me to provide one there to be my paymaster, which I will never do, but rather lose my place, for I will not venture my fortune to a fellow to be employed so far off, and in that wicked place. Thence home, and with Fist presently to the finishing the writing fair of our report. And by and by to Sir W. Batten’s, and there he and I and J. Minnes and W. Pen did read and sign it with great good liking, and so away to the office again to look over and correct it, and then home to supper and to bed, my mind being pretty well settled, having this report done, and so to supper and to bed.

I write with a fist
expecting to die
of some convulsion

fear returned
like a grandfather
for the children

the state should fail
from a chance
cry in the street

the paymaster
will be unemployed
by a pen of ice


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 14 May 1667.

In the Fullness of Time

still from In the Fullness of Time
This entry is part 13 of 19 in the series Pandemic Season

 

Watch on Vimeo.

Six weeks after I planted potatoes, they are finally all up, the latest leaves no bigger than the ears of the mice I was sure had dug up and eaten them, especially after a series of holes appeared in each hill. But it’s been unusually cold this spring, and sprouts were simply taking their time. Our neighbors had urged patience, and they were right.

All this waiting to see what happens with the pandemic would be hard to bear if I didn’t also have something to wait for: a garden growing and changing day by day now, so that time doesn’t merely pass like some lifeless assembly line, but unfolds, ramifies, flourishes, bears fruit.

even as
I pull weeds my beard
keeps on growing

evening garden
a snake has left her skin
beside the lettuce

***

Process notes

Yes, I’ve been shooting videos of my feet propped up on the porch railing since mid-April (the first of the two snowy shots) waiting for an excuse to combine them into a videopoem. I’d love to tell you that I shot them every set number of days, because I’m all organized like that, but actually, I just did it when I thought of it. As followers of my long-running Morning Porch microblog will know, I have a bit of a thing for sitting outside. In fact I sat on the porch while waiting for this video to upload (which took an hour and a half! Ah, country living).

The font I used for the haiku is called Permanent Marker — basically a Comic Sans that doesn’t suck. And it just occurred to me that the most likely reason it struck me as a good fit is because the grid presentation of shots is ultimately derived from the comics — an association very much in the haiku spirit, by the way, given the traditionally high valuation of lightness (karumi).

Someone asked me how long this video haibun series will go on, and honestly I have no idea. The only thing I have in mind to do with them is stitch some or all of them together into a longer film, as I did with the half-hour-long film of videohaiku that I showed at the REELpoetry festival in January, Crossing the Pond (watch it here). The longer this series continues, the more selective I can be when it comes time to make Pandemic Season: The Movie. On the other hand obviously I am fervently hoping for the pandemic to be over as soon as possible, but it looks as if we may be in for the long haul. Good thing I have gardening to distract myself. And there’s a real sense of solidarity with all the other people getting into gardening in a big way this spring — some for the first time, others, like me, with a renewed passion.

***

Here’s a brain fart I posted on Facebook when I shared the previous haibun in this series, for what it’s worth: Ever since Basho came along and turned what had been a parlor game into high art, haiku writers have made a fetish of satori-like moments of awareness. In reality, such moments are rare, even for Zen masters, and a better analogy to what we’re trying to do with haiku is the novice spending days pondering an unsolvable riddle (koan), proposed in this case by the universe. You generally have to discard at least your first half-dozen attempts as too clever and keep going back to the riddle of your original glimpse or inkling. With modern haiku and haibun, the challenge is no different; it’s just that the number of allowable subjects has exploded, and our relationship with nature has changed to acknowledge our complicity in its degradation. (Climate change, for example, is playing hob with traditional seasonal references.) Instead of aha moments I tend to look for WTF moments, and instead of personal insights, I’m more interested in creating a space for the reader/listener to make some connection on their own. Without engaged listening and seeing, there’s no haiku.

Sentenced

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and when ready, to the office (my wife rising to send away Barker, according to our resolution last night, and she did do it with more clothes than have cost us 10l., and 20s. in her purse, which I did for the respect I bear Mr. Falconbridge, otherwise she had not deserved half of it, but I am the more willing to do it to be rid of one that made work and trouble in the house, and had not qualities of any honour or pleasure to me or my family, but what is a strange thing did always declare to her mistress and others that she had rather be put to drudgery and to wash the house than to live as she did like a gentlewoman), and there I and Gibson all the morning making an end of my report against Carcasse, which I think will do our business, but it is a horrid shame such a rogue should give me and all of us this trouble. This morning come Sir H. Cholmly to me for a tally or two; and tells me that he hears that we are by agreement to give the King of France Nova Scotia, which he do not like: but I do not know the importance of it. Then abroad with my wife to my Lord Treasurer’s, and she to her tailor’s. I find Sir Philip Warwicke, who I perceive do give over my Lord Treasurer for a man of this world, his pain being grown great again upon him, and all the rest he hath is by narcotiques, and now Sir Philip Warwicke do please himself, like a good man, to tell some of the good ejaculations of my Lord Treasurer concerning the little worth of this world, to buy it with so much pain, and other things fit for a dying man. So finding no business likely to be done here for Tangier, I having a warrant for tallies to be signed, I away to the New Exchange, and there staid a little, and then to a looking-glass shop to consult about covering the wall in my closet over my chimney, which is darkish, with looking-glasses, and then to my wife’s tailor’s, but find her not ready to go home, but got to buy things, and so I away home to look after my business and finish my report of Carcasse, and then did get Sir W. Batten, Sir J. Minnes, and [Sir] W. Pen together, and read it over with all the many papers relating to the business, which they do wonder at, and the trouble I have taken about it, and like the report, so as that they do unanimously resolve to sign it, and stand by it, and after a great deal of discourse of the strange deportment of my Lord Bruncker in this business to withstand the whole board in behalf of such an impudent rogue as this is, I parted, and home to my wife, and supped and talked with her, and then to bed, resolving to rise betimes to-morrow to write fair the report.

what drudgery to live
on such a rogue world

like the ejaculation
of a dying man

like looking in a looking-glass
to find an ape

like resolving to rise tomorrow
to write


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 13 May 1667.