Last Telegram

There are things you never forget
that reside somewhere inside

your bones: the span of a chord,
the way water tastes when it first

shoots out of the mouth of a rusted
iron pump. Razor-bite of acid applied to

a wart, the near-human scream of a goat
awaiting its death under guava

trees. And everyone comes from imagined
origins: land of dark sugar hills, land 

of multiplying gravestones. You can clean 
windowpanes with balled-up newsprint 

and their shine will be like cathedral
glass dipped in milk. This is your

history, and you bind it in ink and crosses. 
You were born in its shed but left for an 

unholy land. Whatever you erect in its image 
becomes an orchard where you will spend 

the rest of your days like a bride who can't
return until every fruit is charred or picked 

clean. Who has decided to live in the present. 
That is, between the crescent's horns.  

  

Memory loss

(Lord’s day). Up, and to my office, there, with W. Hewer, to dictate a long letter to the Duke of York, about the bad state of the office, it being a work I do think fit for the office to do, though it be to no purpose but for their vindication in these bad times; for I do now learn many things tending to our safety which I did not wholly forget before, but do find the fruits of, and would I had practised them more, as, among other things, to be sure to let our answers to orders bear date presently after their date, that we may be found quick in our execution. This did us great good the other day before the Parliament.
All the morning at this, at noon home to dinner, with my own family alone. After dinner, I down to Deptford, the first time that I went to look upon “The Maybolt,” which the King hath given me, and there she is; and I did meet with Mr. Uthwayte, who do tell me that there are new sails ordered to be delivered her, and a cable, which I did not speak of at all to him. So, thereupon, I told him I would not be my own hindrance so much as to take her into my custody before she had them, which was all I said to him, but desired him to take a strict inventory of her, that I might not be cheated by the master nor the company, when they come to understand that the vessel is gone away, which he hath promised me, and so away back again home, reading all the way the book of the collection of oaths in the several offices of this nation, which is worth a man’s reading, and so away home, and there my boy and I to sing, and at it all the evening, and to supper, and so to bed.
This evening come Sir J. Minnes to me, to let me know that a Parliament-man hath been with him, to tell him that the Parliament intend to examine him particularly about Sir W. Coventry’s selling of places, and about my Lord Bruncker’s discharging the ships at Chatham by ticket: for the former of which I am more particularly sorry that that business of W. Coventry should come up again; though this old man tells me, and, I believe, that he can say nothing to it.

I now learn many things
which I forget

the fruit we bear
after our execution

I take a red inventory
of oaths and places

though this old man tells me
believe nothing

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 27 October 1667.

Ten years!

Luisa A. Igloria

Luisa A. Igloria

Ten years of daily poeming! It was November 20, 2010 when Luisa A. Igloria began her amazing daily writing exercise, originally prompted by a post of mine at The Morning Porch. I soon invited her to become a contributor to the blog, sensing that it would not only expand readership, but also help revive my own flagging interest in daily blogging. I did get some push-back from long-time readers who didn’t want anything to ever change, but Via Negativa had already changed significantly from the early years, when I was more apt to post 5000-word brain dumps than poems. By the late aughts, VN had become that dreaded sort of blog where the author posts his own half-baked drafts and doesn’t seem to ever bother submitting them anywhere. Blogging itself had suffered a radical decline in fashionability with the rise of social media.

Luisa brought not only a fresh voice and virtuoso talent, but as a multiple award-winning author and director (at the time) of a university writing program, she has pioneered a unique path for online poets: flaunting the general taboo in academic circles against self-publishing while still keeping a hand in the regular submissions process. And due in part to her phenomenal ability to win blind contests, publicly sharing her drafts here doesn’t seem to have hurt her ability to land manuscripts with book and chapbook publishers at all. Not to mention her selection as Virginia Poet Laureate! In fact, her daily writing practice appears to have been a factor in leading the committee to choose her.

Of course, writing is its own reward, and being able at some point every day to get into the headspace where poetry happens is a great gift. As Luisa told the Richmond Free Press in September, her practice is a “pleasure and high point of each day.”

I look forward to that part of the day, not rigidly scheduled, when I claim that window of time to sit down and write a poem. I think this is just because poetry is the place I prefer to go in order to think through and feel and process things.

If I stress Luisa’s publishing success, it’s not because I feel that’s the ultimate measure of writing achievement, but from a conventional standpoint, it’s certainly a vindication of this poetry-blogging model. (Blogs that are mainly about poetry will always get way more traffic than we do, so if you want to actually make money on the internet, this is not the way to go!) So with that said, let me paste in a list of all Luisa’s books and chapbooks where a significant portion of the content debuted at Via Negativa.

Visit her website for a complete list of books. I’ll close by quoting from a post at her author blog that she wrote to announce the publication of Maps for Migrants and Ghosts:

June 1990 ~ My first published book, Cordillera Tales, Retold and Illustrated (in the picture above); I was all of 28, a very young instructor at the University of the Philippines in Baguio. Seven years prior, even younger (and a new mother to boot) I’d entered poems for the first time to the Palanca Literary Awards in the Philippines. To my great shock my entry won first prize. When Cordillera Tales came out, I wasn’t even sure what “page proofs” or “royalty” meant.

September 18, 2020 ~ My newest book, Maps for Migrants and Ghosts, is scheduled for release from Southern Illinois University Press. Each book, and every book in between these 2, has been a leaving and a returning: to find and lose and find the self again.

In this strange pandemic time that we inhabit, as forests burn and deltas flood and winter comes to places that never knew it before, we count our daily dead, grieve everyone and everything that has passed too soon, and keep close what’s most important (family, friends, community). It’s heartbreaking work, this living we must do. And yet we do it, for all we love and hold sacred in the world.

Amen. And congratulations on reaching this milestone! Via Negativa and all its readers and visitors are so much richer as a result.

Harbinger

Up, and we met all this morning at Sir W. Pen’s roome, the office being fowle with the altering of our garden door. There very busy, and at noon home, where Mrs. Pierce and her daughter, husband and Mrs. Corbet dined with me. I had a good dinner for them, and mighty merry. Pierce and I very glad at the fate of the officers of Ordnance, that they are like to have so much blame on them. Here Mrs. Pierce tells me that the two Marshalls at the King’s house are Stephen Marshall’s, the great Presbyterian’s daughters: and that Nelly and Beck Marshall, falling out the other day, the latter called the other my Lord Buckhurst’s whore. Nell answered then, “I was but one man’s whore, though I was brought up in a bawdy-house to fill strong waters to the guests; and you are a whore to three or four, though a Presbyter’s praying daughter!” which was very pretty. Mrs. Pierce is still very pretty, but paints red on her face, which makes me hate her, that I thank God I take no pleasure in her at all more. After much mirth and good company at dinner, I to the office and left them, and Pendleton also, who come in to see my wife and talk of dancing, and there I at the office all the afternoon very busy, and did much business, with my great content to see it go off of hand, and so home, my eyes spent, to supper and to bed.

an owl altering our fate
like Mars
her red face after dancing
my great eyes

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 26 October 1667.

Countdown

You learn the difference
between not holding your breath
and its opposite— The first takes
a long time, longer than you could
survive what you thought

would only be a temporary lack
of oxygen. The second can mean
take a quick inhale and hold 
that bright little bubble 
of surprise or delight at 

the unexpected: quickly
release it from your mouth
and watch it float, then 
clap your hands upon receipt 
of a longed-for piece of good

news or a loved one's return.
And truly, there are things that take 
hardly any time; but when you're waiting, 
they can feel like eternity— for the light 
to change from yellow to green, the water 

in the kettle to boil. You're old 
enough to remember when flash photography 
meant a little cube filled with explosive 
powders and filaments attached to a Kodak 

instamatic camera. The photographer 
counted Three-two-one! before setting off 
a mini-bonfire of magnesium foil to flood 
her subjects' faces with extra light. 
The sharp pop made you cringe, 

your face contort into anything but 
a smile. And you remember watching  
on the news each rocket launch 
of astronauts into the sky, 
as ground crew voiced 

their solemn countdown from ten 
to liftoff—the heat of burning fuel 
and the whole world exhaling one long 
breath producing enough energy to propel 
our tinfoil-colored craft into space. 

***

Poet's note: I thought it fitting that I wrote a poem involving counting— as today marks my 10th year writing [at least] a poem a day! 

  

Apocrypha

 
In August, after your annual mammogram,
the doctor asks you to return for a core
needle biopsy; and you lie in the surgery

three days later, arm upraised, numbed
from the armpit all the way down your right
side. The doctor and his aide make light

banter while waiting for more lidocaine
to take; then you feel a small, dull 
punch, a formless ache; a tug, 

before they apply a gauze square 
and a piece of bandage. Straight-
forward, unremarkable. That is, jabbing 

into the lumpy oatmeal bowl of your breast 
is so much quicker a procedure, more pain-
less than if you turned a corner and ran

accidentally into a construction worker 
carrying an armful of metal pipes—
you'd bruise for days, and know 

exactly why. When you get the call
a few days later, the doctor says benign 
inconclusive: meaning there's something

sitting there like a pellet 
of hardened oats, a clump of brown 
sugar. It's not doing anything, but

not going anywhere either. They don't
know why; meaning the body, that book
of mysteries and secrets, wins again.


Respite

Up, and all the morning close till two o’clock, till I had not time to eat my dinner, to make our answer ready for the Parliament this afternoon, to shew how Commissioner Pett was singly concerned in the executing of all orders from Chatham, and that we did properly lodge all orders with him. Thence with Sir W. Pen to the Parliament Committee, and there we all met, and did shew, my Lord Bruncker and I, our commissions under the Great Seal in behalf of all the rest, to shew them our duties, and there I had no more matters asked me, but were bid to withdraw, and did there wait, I all the afternoon till eight at night, while they were examining several about the business of Chatham again, and particularly my Lord Bruncker did meet with two or three blurs that he did not think of. One from Spragg, who says that “The Unity” was ordered up contrary to his order, by my Lord Bruncker and Commissioner Pett. Another by Crispin, the waterman, who said he was upon “The Charles;” and spoke to Lord Bruncker coming by in his boat, to know whether they should carry up “The Charles,” they being a great many naked men without armes, and he told them she was well as she was. Both these have little in them indeed, but yet both did stick close against him; and he is the weakest man in the world to make his defence, and so is like to have much fault laid on him therefrom. Spragg was in with them all the afternoon, and hath much fault laid on him for a man that minded his pleasure, and little else of his whole charge. I walked in the lobby, and there do hear from Mr. Chichly that they were (the Commissioners of the Ordnance) shrewdly put to it yesterday, being examined with all severity and were hardly used by them, much otherwise than we, and did go away with mighty blame; and I am told by every body that it is likely to stick mighty hard upon them: at which every body is glad, because of Duncomb’s pride, and their expecting to have the thanks of the House whereas they have deserved, as the Parliament apprehends, as bad as bad can be.
Here is great talk of an impeachment brought in against my Lord Mordaunt, and that another will be brought in against my Lord Chancellor in a few days.
Here I understand for certain that they have ordered that my Lord Arlington’s letters, and Secretary Morrice’s letters of intelligence, be consulted, about the business of the Dutch fleete’s coming abroad, which is a very high point, but this they have done, but in what particular manner I cannot justly say, whether it was not with the King’s leave first asked.
Here late, as I have said, and at last they broke up, and we had our commissions again, and I do hear how Birch is the high man that do examine and trouble every body with his questions, and they say that he do labour all he can to clear Pett, but it seems a witness has come in tonight, C. Millett, who do declare that he did deliver a message from the Duke of Albemarle time enough for him to carry up “The Charles,” and he neglected it, which will stick very hard, it seems, on him.
So Sir W. Pen and I in his coach home, and there to supper, a good supper, and so weary, and my eyes spent, to bed.

the clock had no time
to answer to
under the sea
naked as the hole in an ear

I am old like that
high up in a birch
the questions are enough
to carry home

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 25 October 1667.

Portrait of the Future as Prehistoric Fish

A sturgeon washes up on the beach, 
   loosened or dredged from some ancient 
ledge. Another reminder of how there's no 
   almanac for the time we're living through— 
Our century's mouth, constantly rooting for  
   the inscrutable fundament of prehistory, 
wanting some token of life's endurance. Here 
   it is, then, after a fashion— Pillowed by
the tide, head of yellowed ivory snapped clear
   of its body but still attached to a dull  
sheath of armor, ridged and scaled. I can't tell 
   what's soft in what remains; nor what kept it
nearly whole, down in the depths where barely  
   any light tendriled for 120 million years.

Echo chamber

Up, and to the office, where all the morning very busy, and at noon took Mr. Hater home with me to dinner, and instantly back again to write what letters I had to write, that I might go abroad with my wife, who was not well, only to jumble her, and so to the Duke of York’s playhouse; but there Betterton not being yet well, we would not stay, though since I hear that Smith do act his part in “The Villaine,” which was then acted, as well or better than he, which I do not believe; but to Charing Cross, there to see Polichinelli. But, it being begun, we in to see a Frenchman, at the house, where my wife’s father last lodged, one Monsieur Prin, play on the trump-marine, which he do beyond belief; and, the truth is, it do so far outdo a trumpet as nothing more, and he do play anything very true, and it is most admirable and at first was a mystery to me that I should hear a whole concert of chords together at the end of a pause, but he showed me that it was only when the last notes were 5ths or 3rds, one to another, and then their sounds like an Echo did last so as they seemed to sound all together. The instrument is open at the end, I discovered; but he would not let me look into it, but I was mightily pleased with it, and he did take great pains to shew me all he could do on it, which was very much, and would make an excellent concert, two or three of them, better than trumpets can ever do, because of their want of compass. Here we also saw again the two fat children come out of Ireland, and a brother and sister of theirs now come, which are of little ordinary growth, like other people. But, Lord! how strange it is to observe the difference between the same children, come out of the same little woman’s belly!
Thence to Mile-End Greene, and there drank, and so home bringing home night with us, and so to the office a little, and then to bed.

Mr. Hater with his art
in which I do not believe

trump and trumpet
play one another

like an echo so
they seem together

like children come out of
the same bellend

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 24 October 1667.

Some Tenderness

This stage is when the soul allows for some tenderness.

      The body, no longer young, can finally accept 

time's allotments as neither brutal nor necessary:

      merely the way it wears itself, inhabits its own

ephemeral garments in the only way it can.

      The ways it stumbles and makes mistakes, 

the way it has a weakness for moonlight, clean floors, 

      neat drawers; ink pens, marginalia.   

The way it has a weakness for moonlight, clean floors;  

      the ways it stumbles and makes mistakes,

ephemeral garments. In the only way it can:

      merely the way it wears itself, inhabits its own

time's allotments. Neither brutal nor necessary,

      the body— No longer young, can finally accept

this stage is when the soul allows for some tenderness.