Family Names

Ours was not the kind of family 
whose fortunes & failures become

legendary, whose sons' or patriarchs' 
indulgences were bought by placing bets 

with cattle or houses as guarantee; whose 
daughters & wives were beautiful but only 

in the way a rumor of smoke remains in some 
towns, long after they've burned to cinders— 

In the ruins, there was no general
still dazed from the war, dictating

orders in his crumpled uniform the color
of putty, from inside the fortress of 

a claw-footed tub. We were the kind 
who quietly changed the chamberpots

in the morning, or collected rain-
water in empty oil pails. We were 

the kind sent with a letter and 
instructions to wait for a reply;

the ones trusted to keep our eyes &
mouths shut as bushes in the garden

trembled with a volley of violent 
thrusts. We aired the linens &

straightened the books, taking care
there were at least two other witnesses

in the room. The measure of our ambition
was to be no larger than the present,

no clearer than the past. The future
was time, & time was for the gods;

& therefore unseemly for our further
concern. We saw the ways in which names

could be let loose: they snaked their way 
across oceans, tasked to find the one 

root from which they first sprang,
or broke. It is believed the wind 

once knew our names at the coast's edge.
Then boats came, baptizing us in their wake.



Dear God, I Said, What Do We Do Now? (A Cento)

Above the roofs of the village houses
the heaviest word
       when you break me

Anyone sleepless will hear the sound of the wind
of guitars and stomped hay
of cardinal flower, one of whose crimson blooms 
       thereby coaxing the bird

Where exactly? Where would a child go?
In my remembered country
       lie still and watch

with your belt removed, your boots untied
laced by grease and silt from the machinery of life—
All the hours are superfluous
       like the mushroom called wood ear


Source Texts:
Louise Gluck * Ales Steger * Rodrigo Dela Peña * James 
Richardson * Gillian Conoley * Ross Gay * Ross Gay
* Tracy K. Smith * Claribel Alegria * Louise Gluck
* Jude Nutter * Karen An-hwei Lee * Gabriela Mistral
* Tung-Hui Hu

A-hunting we will go

Up; and to the office, where all the morning, and at noon comes Creed to dine with me. After dinner, he and I and my wife to the BearGarden, to see a prize fought there. But, coming too soon, I left them there and went on to White Hall, and there did some business with the Lords of the Treasury; and here do hear, by Tom Killigrew and Mr. Progers, that for certain news is come of Harman’s having spoiled nineteen of twenty-two French ships, somewhere about the Barbadoes, I think they said; but wherever it is, it is a good service, and very welcome. Here I fell in talk with Tom Killigrew about musick, and he tells me that he will bring me to the best musick in England (of which, indeed, he is master), and that is two Italians and Mrs. Yates, who, he says, is come to sing the Italian manner as well as ever he heard any: says that Knepp won’t take pains enough, but that she understands her part so well upon the stage, that no man or woman in the House do the like. Thence I by water to the Bear-Garden, where now the yard was full of people, and those most of them seamen, striving by force to get in, that I was afeard to be seen among them, but got into the ale-house, and so by a back-way was put into the bull-house, where I stood a good while all alone among the bulls, and was afeard I was among the bears, too; but by and by the door opened, and I got into the common pit; and there, with my cloak about my face, I stood and saw the prize fought, till one of them, a shoemaker, was so cut in both his wrists that he could not fight any longer, and then they broke off: his enemy was a butcher. The sport very good, and various humours to be seen among the rabble that is there. Thence carried Creed to White Hall, and there my wife and I took coach and home, and both of us to Sir W. Batten’s, to invite them to dinner on Wednesday next, having a whole buck come from Hampton Court, by the warrant which Sir Stephen Fox did give me. And so home to supper and to bed, after a little playing on the flageolet with my wife, who do outdo therein whatever I expected of her.

come into the bear garden
on oiled hips
talk about music is like
the full sea put into a pit

I cloak my face
and one shoe off
I am the rabble to the fox
playing my wife

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 9 September 1667.

The perfect audience

sign with a slash through clapping hands

(Lord’s day). Up, and walked to St. James’s; but there I find Sir W. Coventry gone from his chamber, and Mr. Wren not yet come thither. But I up to the Duke of York, and there, after being ready, my Lord Bruncker and I had an audience, and thence with my Lord Bruncker to White Hall, and he told me, in discourse, how that, though it is true that Sir W. Coventry did long since propose to the Duke of York the leaving his service, as being unable to fulfill it, as he should do, now he hath so much public business, and that the Duke of York did bid him to say nothing of it, but that he would take time to please himself in another to come in his place; yet the Duke’s doing it at this time, declaring that he hath found out another, and this one of the Chancellor’s servants, he cannot but think was done with some displeasure, and that it could not well be otherwise, that the Duke of York should keep one in that place, that had so eminently opposed him in the defence of his father-in-law, nor could the Duchesse ever endure the sight of him, to be sure. But he thinks that the Duke of York and he are parted upon clear terms of friendship. He tells me he do believe that my Lady Castlemayne is compounding with the King for a pension, and to leave the Court; but that her demands are mighty high: but he believes the King is resolved, and so do every body else I speak with, to do all possible to please the Parliament; and he do declare that he will deliver every body up to them to give an account of their actions: and that last Friday, it seems, there was an Act of Council passed, to put out all Papists in office, and to keep out any from coming in.
I went to the King’s Chapel to the closet, and there I hear Cresset sing a tenor part along with the Church musick very handsomely, but so loud that people did laugh at him, as a thing done for ostentation. Here I met Sir G. Downing, who would speak with me, and first to inquire what I paid for my kid’s leather gloves I had on my hand, and shewed me others on his, as handsome, as good in all points, cost him but 12d. a pair, and mine me 2s. He told me he had been seven years finding out a man that could dress English sheepskin as it should be — and, indeed, it is now as good, in all respects, as kid, and he says will save 100,000l. a-year, that goes out to France for kid’s skins. Thus he labours very worthily to advance our own trade, but do it with mighty vanity and talking. But then he told me of our base condition, in the treaty with Holland and France, about our prisoners, that whereas before we did clear one another’s prisoners, man for man, and we upon the publication of the peace did release all our’s, 300 at Leith, and others in other places for nothing, the Dutch do keep theirs, and will not discharge them with[out] paying their debts according to the Treaty. That his instruments in Holland, writing to our Embassadors about this to Bredagh, they answer them that they do not know of any thing that they have done therein, but left it just as it was before. To which, when they answer, that by the treaty their Lordships had [not] bound our countrymen to pay their debts in prison, they answer they cannot help it, and we must get them off as cheap as we can. On this score, they demand 1100l. for Sir G. Ascue, and 5000l. for the one province of Zealand, for the prisoners that we have therein. He says that this is a piece of shame that never any nation committed, and that our very Lords here of the Council, when he related this matter to them, did not remember that they had agreed to this article; and swears that all their articles are alike, as the giving away Polleroon, and Surinam, and Nova Scotia, which hath a river 300 miles up the country, with copper mines more than Swedeland, and Newcastle coals, the only place in America that hath coals that we know of; and that Cromwell did value those places, and would for ever have made much of them; but we have given them away for nothing, besides a debt to the King of Denmarke. But, which is most of all, they have discharged those very particular demands of merchants of the Guinny Company and others, which he, when he was there, had adjusted with the Dutch, and come to an agreement in writing, and they undertaken to satisfy, and that this was done in black and white under their hands; and yet we have forgiven all these, and not so much as sent to Sir G. Downing to know what he had done, or to confer with him about any one point of the treaty, but signed to what they would have, and we here signed to whatever in grosse was brought over by Mr. Coventry. And [Sir G. Downing] tells me, just in these words, “My Lord Chancellor had a mind to keep himself from being questioned by clapping up a peace upon any terms.” When I answered that there was other privy-councillors to be advised with besides him, and that, therefore, this whole peace could not be laid to his charge, he answered that nobody durst say any thing at the council-table but himself, and that the King was as much afeard of saying any thing there as the meanest privy-councillor; and says more, that at this day the King, in familiar talk, do call the Chancellor “the insolent man,” and says that he would not let him speak himself in Council: which is very high, and do shew that the Chancellor is like to be in a bad state, unless he can defend himself better than people think. And yet Creed tells me that he do hear that my Lord Cornbury do say that his father do long for the coming of the Parliament, in order to his own vindication, more than any one of his enemies. And here it comes into my head to set down what Mr. Rawlinson, whom I met in Fenchurch Street on Friday last, looking over his ruines there, told me, that he was told by one of my Lord Chancellor’s gentlemen lately (———— byname), that a grant coming to him to be sealed, wherein the King hath given her [Lady Castlemaine], or somebody by her means, a place which he did not like well of, he did stop the grant; saying, that he thought this woman would sell everything shortly: which she hearing of, she sent to let him know that she had disposed of this place, and did not doubt, in a little time, to dispose of his. This Rawlinson do tell me my Lord Chancellor’s own gentleman did tell him himself.
Thence, meeting Creed, I with him to the Parke, there to walk a little, and to the Queen’s Chapel and there hear their musique, which I liked in itself pretty well as to the composition, but their voices are very harsh and rough that I thought it was some instruments they had that made them sound so.
So to White Hall, and saw the King and Queen at dinner; and observed (which I never did before), the formality, but it is but a formality, of putting a bit of bread wiped upon each dish into the mouth of every man that brings a dish; but it should be in the sauce. Here were some Russes come to see the King at dinner: among others, the interpreter, a comely Englishman, in the Envoy’s own clothes; which the Envoy, it seems, in vanity did send to show his fine clothes upon this man’s back, which is one, it seems, of a comelier presence than himself: and yet it is said that none of their clothes are their own, but taken out of the King’s own Wardrobe; and which they dare not bring back dirty or spotted, but clean, or are in danger of being beaten, as they say: insomuch that, Sir Charles Cotterell says, when they are to have an audience they never venture to put on their clothes till he appears to come to fetch them; and, as soon as ever they come home, put them off again.
I to Sir G. Carteret’s to dinner; where Mr. Cofferer Ashburnham; who told a good story of a prisoner’s being condemned at Salisbury for a small matter. While he was on the bench with his father-in-law, judge Richardson, and while they were considering to transport him to save his life, the fellow flung a great stone at the judge, that missed him, but broke through the wainscoat. Upon this, he had his hand cut off, and was hanged presently! Here was a gentleman, one Sheres, one come lately from my Lord Sandwich, with an express; but, Lord! I was almost ashamed to see him, lest he should know that I have not yet wrote one letter to my Lord since his going. I had no discourse with him, but after dinner Sir G. Carteret and I to talk about some business of his, and so I to Mrs. Martin, where was Mrs. Burroughs, and also fine Mrs. Noble, my partner in the christening of Martin’s child, did come to see it, and there we sat and talked an hour, and then all broke up and I by coach home, and there find Mr. Pelling and Howe, and we to sing and good musique till late, and then to supper, and Howe lay at my house, and so after supper to bed with much content, only my mind a little troubled at my late breach of vowes, which however I will pay my forfeits, though the badness of my eyes, making me unfit to read or write long, is my excuse, and do put me upon other pleasures and employment which I should refrain from in observation of my vowes.

an audience
of no one with no
possible body

no skin
no public release
no paying member

no hands clapping
no insolent ink
no voice of an interpreter

no danger
of a flung stone
not one letter to me

only my ow
my bad eye
my oy

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 8 September 1667.

America: Milk, Honey, Gold

What a story you were
before we arrived in ships;
much later in planes. What 
a story, requiring we carry 
X-rays revealing sniper 
shadows in the trees of our 
lungs. But there was more gold
in the fillings of our grand-
parents' teeth than in the linings
of your sidewalk cracks, more
sweetness in chunks bitten off
from the end of a cane of sugar.
After the doctors thumped
our chests and marked our coats
with chalk letters, we made our way
down the gangplank. Seagulls
swooped down on our heads as if you
yourself were handing out the welcome
blessing feathered in dirty gray.

October: Sorrow Pantoum

That light in late afternoon this time of year—
that brassy note in the trees before the sun
It's hard to believe how much has changed  
              or how little: history of our miseries in this world.

That brassy note in the trees before the sun disappears:
but what did they see of the light before it fell?
How little your worth, history of your miseries in this world.
             First it mellows your heart then floods it with dread.
O what did they see of the light before they fell:
the child in the park, the woman asleep in her bed?
Their mellow hearts notwithstanding, flooded with dread.
             The ones who call out, gasping for breath in the street

like the child in the park, the woman asleep in her bed—
It's hard to believe that nothing has changed.
What new body calls out, gasping for breath in the street?  
            The light a knife in late afternoon, this time of year.


Up, and to the office, where all the morning. At noon home to dinner, where Goodgroome was teaching my wife, and dined with us, and I did tell him of my intention to learn to trill, which he will not promise I shall obtain, but he will do what can be done, and I am resolved to learn. All the afternoon at the office, and towards night out by coach with my wife, she to the ’Change, and I to see the price of a copper cisterne for the table, which is very pretty, and they demand 6l. or 7l. for one; but I will have one. Then called my wife at the ’Change, and bought a nightgown for my wife: cost but 24s., and so out to Mile End to drink, and so home to the office to end my letters, and so home to supper and to bed.

no teaching will promise
I shall obtain
what I am

a table for one

my own drink

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 7 September 1667.


Up, and to Westminster to the Exchequer, and then into the Hall, and there bought “Guillim’s Heraldry” for my wife, and so to the Swan, and thither come Doll Lane, and je did toucher her, and drank, and so away, I took coach and home, where I find my wife gone to Walthamstow by invitation with Sir W. Batten, and so I followed, taking up Mrs. Turner, and she and I much discourse all the way touching the baseness of Sir W. Pen and sluttishness of his family, and how the world do suspect that his son Lowther, who is sick of a sore mouth, has got the pox. So we come to Sir W. Batten’s, where Sir W. Pen and his Lady, and we and Mrs. Shipman, and here we walked and had an indifferent good dinner, the victuals very good and cleanly dressed and good linen, but no fine meat at all. After dinner we went up and down the house, and I do like it very well, being furnished with a great deal of very good goods. And here we staid, I tired with the company, till almost evening, and then took leave, Turner and I together again, and my wife with W. Pen. At Aldgate I took my wife into our coach, and so to Bartholomew fair, and there, it being very dirty, and now night, we saw a poor fellow, whose legs were tied behind his back, dance upon his hands with his arse above his head, and also dance upon his crutches, without any legs upon the ground to help him, which he did with that pain that I was sorry to see it, and did pity him and give him money after he had done. Then we to see a piece of clocke-work made by an Englishman — indeed, very good, wherein all the several states of man’s age, to 100 years old, is shewn very pretty and solemne; and several other things more cheerful, and so we ended, and took a link, the women resolving to be dirty, and walked up and down to get a coach; and my wife, being a little before me, had been like to be taken up by one, whom we saw to be Sam Hartlib. My wife had her vizard on: yet we cannot say that he meant any hurt; for it was as she was just by a coach-side, which he had, or had a mind to take up; and he asked her, “Madam, do you go in this coach?” but, soon as he saw a man come to her (I know not whether he knew me) he departed away apace. By and by did get a coach, and so away home, and there to supper, and to bed.

touch me well
till I dance without
any legs

a piece of clockwork
where a man’s age
is shown

we end in the dirt
and I like it madam
you know me

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 6 September 1667.