Pre-occupied

(Lord’s day). Busy at my office from morning till night, in writing with my own hand fair our large general account of the expence and debt of the Navy, which lasted me till night to do, that I was almost blind, and Mr. Gibson with me all day long, and dined with me, and excellent discourse I had with him, he understanding all the business of the Navy most admirably. To walk a little with my wife at night in the garden, it being very hot weather again, and so to supper and to bed.

busy with my own air
I was almost blind

all day standing
I walk at night in the garden


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 4 August 1667.

In the Otherworld

Up, and to the office, where busy all the morning. Then at noon to dinner, and to the office again, there to enable myself, by finishing our great account, to give it to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury; which I did, and there was called in to them, to tell them only the total of our debt of the Navy on the 25th of May last, which is above 950,000l.. Here I find them mighty hot in their answer to the Council-board about our Treasurer’s threepences of the Victualling, and also against the present farm of the Customes, which they do most highly inveigh against. So home again by coach, and there hard to work till very late and my eyes began to fail me, which now upon very little overworking them they do, which grieves me much. Late home, to supper, and to bed.

where I gain myself
I miss the present

farm of the most high

I gain hard eyes
which now over-grieve


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 3 August 1667.

Under a needle or a knife, I think of the sun growing colder

 
The sun was a yolk in the sky
until it pooled into a vat of soup,
     until it resolved as the bent
halo of a saint
from a forgotten country.
          Meanwhile, two hurricanes 
boiled the waters of the gulf 
as a doctor poised a needle
above my sternum. 
     He asked, Do you smell burning?
          I didn't tell him it was
only the small, hot tracks 
tears made in the folds
of my pluck—
         I've always wondered 
a little about what used to live
between the first letter 
of that word, and the house
             of good fortune 
it wants to be annexed to. 
Sun, moon, you old
heartbreakers: everything withers
     from the stalk or swells,
          buckling islands of cardboard 
houses. I am no pioneer,
no trailblazer. I only wanted
      our hearts to copper and grow 
wide-hipped as squash emerging from 
unlikely tents of fragile green.
             
          


Habitat

Up, but before I rose my wife fell into angry discourse of my kindness yesterday to Mrs. Knipp, and leading her, and sitting in the coach hand in hand, and my arm about her middle, and in some bad words reproached me with it. I was troubled, but having much business in my head and desirous of peace rose and did not provoke her. So she up and come to me and added more, and spoke basely of my father, who I perceive did do something in the country, at her last being there, that did not like her, but I would not enquire into anything, but let her talk, and when ready away to the Office I went, where all the morning I was, only Mr. Gawden come to me, and he and I home to my chamber, and there reckoned, and there I received my profits for Tangier of him, and 250l. on my victualling score. He is a most noble-minded man as ever I met with, and seems to own himself much obliged to me, which I will labour to make him; for he is a good man also: we talked on many good things relating to the King’s service, and, in fine, I had much matter of joy by this morning’s work, receiving above 400l. of him, on one account or other; and a promise that, though I lay down my victualling place, yet, as long as he continues victualler, I shall be the better by him.
To the office again, and there evened all our business with Mr. Kinaston about Colonel Norwoods Bill of Exchange from Tangier, and I am glad of it, for though he be a good man, yet his importunity tries me.
So home to dinner, where Mr. Hater with me and W. Hewer, because of their being in the way after dinner, and so to the office after dinner, where and with my Lord Bruncker at his lodgings all the afternoon and evening making up our great account for the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, but not so as pleased me yet.
So at 12 at night home to supper and to bed, my wife being gone in an ill humour to bed before me.
This noon my wife comes to me alone, and tells me she had those upon her and bid me remember it. I asked her why, and she said she had a reason. I do think by something too she said to-day, that she took notice that I had not lain with her this half-year, that she thinks that I have some doubt that she might be with child by somebody else. Which God knows never entered into my head, or whether my father observed any thing at Brampton with Coleman I know not. But I do not do well to let these beginnings of discontents take so much root between us.

in the middle of my work
I lay down in the woods
on a mission to be alone

I do not doubt that some god
entered my head
to take so much root


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 2 August 1667.

Execution

still from Execution
This entry is part 22 of 40 in the series Pandemic Year

 

Watch on Vimeo.

At some point in my late teens, I took over from my dad as chief executioner. I think it bothered me slightly less than it bothered him, a life-long pacifist.

a V of swans
my fingers still sticky
with chicken blood

When I heard that poetry makes nothing happen, I thought, how marvelous—that’s the job for me! What a fantasy. Four decades on and almost everything continues to happen; nothing happens only to the dead, it seems. The pandemic may have temporarily slowed the movements of people, but money keeps on flowing like malignant, abstract blood, circling the world thousands of times a second. Ice sheets melt. Old-growth forests and deserts burn. Here on the mountain, the summer-long drought is forcing trees into a premature fall.

first rain in weeks
the turtle’s eye turns
from me to the sky

***

Process notes

I’ve always loved single-shot videopoems, and when on Sunday I was lucky enough to be largely ignored by a box turtle as I filmed it from two feet away, crouched under my umbrella, I figured it would spark another haibun. I assumed the subject matter would be something about the slow re-opening of schools and businesses during the pandemic, but no, nothing that obvious would do. In fact, as I worked on the text, I had to abandon a rather too neat and tidy ending — it just wasn’t in the haibun spirit. Fond as I am of stretching the form to accommodate surrealist touches or, as here, social/environmental critique, I do think that haibun ought to retain something of the original Japanese aesthetic, where indirection, asymmetry, and disjunction are prized as part of an effort to create an impression of unforced spontaneity.

This is the first time I’ve used that upwards-scrolling text effect for haiku in a videopoem; it’s obviously designed more for credits and such. But since both haiku reference the sky, I thought maybe I could get away with it. For obvious reasons it’s a bit more slow-paced than most of the haibun in this series.

Destinies

Up, and all the morning at the office. At noon my wife and I dined at Sir W. Pen’s, only with Mrs. Turner and her husband, on a damned venison pasty, that stunk like a devil. However, I did not know it till dinner was done. We had nothing but only this, and a leg of mutton, and a pullet or two. Mrs. Markham was here, with her great belly. I was very merry, and after dinner, upon a motion of the women, I was got to go to the play with them — the first I have seen since before the Dutch coming upon our coast, and so to the King’s house, to see “The Custome of the Country.” The house mighty empty — more than ever I saw it — and an ill play. After the play, we into the house, and spoke with Knipp, who went abroad with us by coach to the Neat Houses in the way to Chelsy; and there, in a box in a tree, we sat and sang, and talked and eat; my wife out of humour, as she always is, when this woman is by. So, after it was dark, we home. Set Knepp down at home, who told us the story how Nell is gone from the King’s house, and is kept by my Lord Buckhurst. Then we home, the gates of the City shut, it being so late: and at Newgate we find them in trouble, some thieves having this night broke open prison. So we through, and home; and our coachman was fain to drive hard from two or three fellows, which he said were rogues, that he met at the end of Blow-bladder Street, next Cheapside. So set Mrs. Turner home, and then we home, and I to the Office a little; and so home and to bed, my wife in an ill humour still.

the past like a great bell
coming up empty

who uses
a box as a home

who is kept
in an open prison

or met at the end
of a cheap bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 1 August 1667.

Escape

Milky fog in the mountains,
thick as sea-foam: so the lizard
tells the hunters to jump in,
the water's fine. That's how
he gets away each time—finding
the words to scissor a path
into the next chapter, while
sounds of falling and surprise
echo on the previous page.

What do you mean by the poem beneath the poem?

The surface is the first
thing: entry, door, coat rack;
what kind of front room.

How it extends into 
the garden, why the hallway
light is always going out.

How many windows there are
and what direction they face;
why there is an unfinished

section on the upper floor.
That's the time you ran out
of money and had to send

the carpenters away.
For many years you were
ashamed to let people in

for fear they might see
that rough space. There's 
nothing there, you'd say. 

But that's not quite true.
There's furniture: the extra 
bed that might have gone into

a corner, a plain wooden desk
for the window; a closet full
of sheets and blankets,

fixtures for a toilet to the right 
of the stairs. Next to the that, 
the sometimes drafty rooms 

where you actually sleep at night, 
under a roof with a few loose 
shingles that bang against each 

other in the wind, spread over 
both everything and nothing
the same way as this life. 

Impossible

After I became adept
at reading notes and figuring 
their connection to the ways
my fingers moved, my father 
bought some sheet music: popular 
songs, including My Way and 
The Impossible Dream. He knew 
my piano teacher would not 
approve. She was a nun
who'd left her well-to-do 
family for convent life;
had gone to some war-torn
country to serve by teaching
children music. She 
was the one who told me
how to pronounce the name
of Bach: say it like you've
just swallowed a fly. His
partitas and fugues gave me
the most trouble: when 
what you want is to make 
one clear line of music, 
mistakes are more apparent.
I wanted to learn to play 
Chopin's Faintaisie
Impromptu but my fingers
were not that nimble.
After dinner, it was
the song about quixotic
longing that my father 
never tired of hearing. 
Again, he instructed; again. 
I wonder what star it was 
that he was trying to follow; 
what hopeless quest defined
the narrative in which he
was the hero pressing forward 
on a tired work horse. I'll never 
really know what scars he took 
with him into his grave, which
sorrows shaped his fortitude.
 
  

Underworld

Up, and after some time with Greeting upon my flageolet I to my office, and there all the morning busy. Among other things, Sir W. Batten, W. Pen, and myself did examine a fellow of our private man-of-war, who we have found come up from Hull, with near 500l. worth of pieces of eight, though he will confess but 100 pieces. But it appears that there have been fine doings there. At noon dined at home, and then to the office, where busy again till the evening, when Major Halsey and Kinaston to adjust matters about Mrs. Rumbald’s bill of exchange, and here Major Halsey, speaking much of my doing business, and understanding business, told me how my Lord Generall do say that I am worth them all, but I have heard that Halsey hath said the same behind my back to others. Then abroad with my wife by coach to Marrowbone, where my Lord Mayor and Aldermen, it seem, dined to-day: and were just now going away, methought, in a disconsolate condition, compared with their splendour they formerly had, when the City was standing. Here my wife and I drank at the gate, not ’lighting, and then home with much pleasure, and so to my chamber, and my wife and I to pipe, and so to supper and to bed.

after some time in a mine
our ears adjust

hear back to the marrow
bone where we now go

a disconsolate city
standing in amber


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 31 July 1667.