An inquiry concerning the poetics of, like, whatever

The poem behind the poem says
what do we do with the other
creatures of this world?
Those that stay put, stay put;
those that move, raise their mobile
devices to the window
and press record. What do we do
with the other languages of this world,
the other ways to forget or fall silent?
Dogs can’t be the only ones
whose vocalizations have adapted
to the inattentiveness of the human ear.
And there’s a bird in New Guinea
that can imitate with equal accuracy
a camera shutter or a chainsaw.
What do we do with ourselves
during the 99% of our lives
when we are not listening
to the poem (song, prayer) in which
our actual names happen to be recorded,
and customs agents are demanding more
and more documentation for everything
that crosses a line, while those that stay put
learn to imitate themselves…
I’m sorry, what
was the question again?
I’ve been busy collecting photographs of cherubs.
I love how they manage to be
both fleshy and impossible.
And now the voices are telling me
to mind the gap—
over and over, as if that were
our most essential task…

London on five pounds a day

Millennium Dome etc. from a station of the DLR

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was indeed well-lit, and offered stunning views of the Millennium Dome and the towering steel and glass centers of global finance.

Thames barrier at low tide

It was low tide on the longest day of the year. At the Thames Barrier, we saw a cormorant and a curlew. House martins fed their young in an artificial cliff above the river — a concrete apartment building. Continue reading “London on five pounds a day”


(Lord’s day) I walked in the morning towards Westminster, and seeing many people at York House, I went down and found them at mass, it being the Spanish ambassodors; and so I go into one of the gallerys, and there heard two masses done, I think, not in so much state as I have seen them heretofore. After that into the garden, and walked a turn or two, but found it not so fine a place as I always took it for by the outside. Thence to my Lord’s and there spake with him about business, and then he went to Whitehall to dinner, and Capt. Ferrers and Mr. Howe and myself to Mr. Wilkinson’s at the Crown, and though he had no meat of his own, yet we happened to find our cook Mr. Robinson there, who had a dinner for himself and some friends, and so he did give us a very fine dinner.
Then to my Lord’s, where we went and sat talking and laughing in the drawing-room a great while. All our talk about their going to sea this voyage, which Capt. Ferrers is in some doubt whether he shall go or no, but swears that he would go, if he were sure never to come back again; and I, giving him some hopes, he grew so mad with joy that he fell a-dancing and leaping like a madman.
Now it fell out so that the balcone windows were open, and he went to the rayle and made an offer to leap over, and asked what if he should leap over there. I told him I would give him 40l. if he did not go to sea. With that thought I shut the doors, and W. Howe hindered him all we could; yet he opened them again, and, with a vault, leaps down into the garden:— the greatest and most desperate frolic that ever I saw in my life. I run to see what was become of him, and we found him crawled upon his knees, but could not rise; so we went down into the garden and dragged him to the bench, where he looked like a dead man, but could not stir; and, though he had broke nothing, yet his pain in his back was such as he could not endure. With this, my Lord (who was in the little new room) come to us in amaze, and bid us carry him up, which, by our strength, we did, and so laid him in East’s bed, by the door; where he lay in great pain. We sent for a doctor and surgeon, but none to be found, till by-and-by by chance comes in Dr. Clerke, who is afeard of him. So we sent to get a lodging for him, and I went up to my Lord, where Captain Cooke, Mr. Gibbons, and others of the King’s musicians were come to present my Lord with some songs and symphonys, which were performed very finely. Which being done I took leave and supped at my father’s, where was my cozen Beck come lately out of the country.
I am troubled to see my father so much decay of a suddain, as he do both in his seeing and hearing, and as much to hear of him how my brother Tom do grow disrespectful to him and my mother.
I took leave and went home, where to prayers (which I have not had in my house a good while), and so to bed.

We turn
the Lord into dinner—
no cook but hope, leaping
like a madman.
One ray and we open
to the most desperate life,
like a dead man broke
by the surgeon.
So much decay
is a mother to prayer.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 19 May 1661.

The power of negative thinking

Watch on YouTube

A lovely little animated trailer for a new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, by Oliver Burkeman. I sort of feel as if I don’t need to read it, because I’ve been saying this sort of thing all my life — ever since my high school launched a Power of Positive Children (POP-C) propaganda campaign, complete with motivational messages on the intercom every morning, when I was in 11th Grade. I think drug and alcohol use and teen pregnancies actually increased as a result — it was such obvious bullshit that you could will your way to success. Especially in a school system as nakedly classist as ours was, where Stanford-Binet IQ test results were arbiters of fate and teachers did all they could to discourage poor kids from thinking they’d ever amount to anything. I realize now that that campaign wasn’t for us, really. It was for the teachers and administrators, so they could reassure themselves that anyone who stumbled or didn’t get ahead had only themselves to blame for having bad attitudes and being negative.

In other news, I’m looking forward to spending another summer in the U.K., surrounded by cynical, sarcastic alcoholics. My people.

Hat-tip: Brain Pickings.

Teaching the catbird to sing

The single-mindedness of a heron in flight: its dangerous bill, coiled neck, and arrow-straight path. No thank you! I’m the sort of guy who whistles a tune hoping the catbird will copy it.

Ay, ay, ay, ay,
Canta y no llores,
Porque cantando se alegran,
cielito lindo, los corazones.

The small blue butterfly keeps circling and landing, circling and landing among the small blue stones of the road, as if searching for a lost twin. When a car comes along straight as an arrow, the butterfly tries the same randomized flight pattern it uses to escape from everything else, tripping the light stochastic. It survives, but not because of that.

In the Popol Vuh, the hero twins use magic tricks and theater to defeat the single-minded lords of death. Their lust for violence is turned against them, and they participate willingly in their own destruction for the sheer thrill of it.

I’ve been listening to the catbird’s inventions for hours now. Twice I thought I heard phrases from Cielito Lindo.

That old-time religion

(Lord’s day). Heard Mr. Mills in the morning, a good sermon. Dined at home on a poor Lenten dinner of coleworts and bacon. In the afternoon again to church, and there heard one Castle, whom I knew of my year at Cambridge. He made a dull sermon.
After sermon came my uncle and aunt Wight to see us, and we sat together a great while. Then to reading and at night to bed.

A poor
bacon, the church.
I knew a ridge.
We sat together
a great while.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 10 March 1660/61.

Why birthdays suck

Victorian-era card showing a kitten in apron carrying a birthday cake
The Victorians pioneered two things I hate: mass-produced birthday cards and LOLcats.

Birthdays are like assholes: everyone has one, and they connect us to unpleasant realities we’d rather not think about. But that’s not why I dislike them. I dislike birthdays because, in our culture, they are a time for those who are already privileged to feel as if they own a goddamn day on the calendar.

In centuries past, only saints had special days; individuals could participate in that specialness with a celebration on the day of the saint who shared their name. So you still got an annual celebration, but it wasn’t all about you — and its significance extended far beyond your own birth and death. And in a largely agricultural society in which the annual cycle of the seasons was of much greater relevance to people’s everyday lives, imagine how simultaneously humbling and exalting it must’ve felt to have been so integrated into the cosmic wheel.

But what do we have? An individualized pseudo-holiday, hyped by the greeting-card industry, whose effect is to simultaneously flatter and insult: it’s your special day in which you are special, but don’t forget that, if you just turned 30 or above, you are now well on your way to becoming old, unattractive and irrelevant. Oh, and here’s another shit-load of stuff you don’t really need.

That said, the blowing-out-the-candles thing is pretty cool. And the chance to make all your friends wear stupid little party hats. But it’s too bad we don’t bake symbolic objects such as coins and thimbles into the cake anymore. It must’ve been a real blast waiting to see which semi-inebriated celebrant would be the first to break a tooth.

(I’m 48. Why do you ask?)


Called up by my Cozen Snow, who sat by me while I was trimmed, and then I drank with him, he desiring a courtesy for a friend, which I have done for him. Then to the office, and there sat long, then to dinner, Captain Murford with me. I had a dish of fish and a good hare, which was sent me the other day by Goodenough the plasterer.
So to the office again, where Sir W. Pen and I sat all alone, answering of petitions and nothing else, and so to Sir W. Batten’s, where comes Mr. Jessop (one whom I could not formerly have looked upon, and now he comes cap in hand to us from the Commissioners of the Navy, though indeed he is a man of a great estate and of good report), about some business from them to us, which we answered by letter.
Here I sat long with Sir W., who is not well, and then home and to my chamber, and some little, music, and so to bed.

My Zen: I drank with
a friend, then sat
long with a fish.

The other day I sat all alone
and nothing—no form,
no answer—sat with me.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 6 February 1660/61.


This morning with Mr. Coventry at Whitehall about getting a ship to carry my Lord’s deals to Lynne, and we have chosen the Gift. Thence at noon to my Lord’s, where my Lady not well, so I eat a mouthfull of dinner there, and thence to the Theatre, and there sat in the pit among the company of fine ladys, &c.; and the house was exceeding full, to see Argalus and Parthenia, the first time that it hath been acted: and indeed it is good, though wronged by my over great expectations, as all things else are. Thence to my father’s to see my mother, who is pretty well after her journey from Brampton. She tells me my aunt is pretty well, yet cannot live long. My uncle pretty well too, and she believes would marry again were my aunt dead, which God forbid. So home.

We have chosen the gift of heat
and a pit fine and full.
The first time it is good, though wronged
by my over-great expectations,
as all things are.
I cannot believe in a dead God.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 31 January 1660/61.


This entry is part 6 of 91 in the series Toward Noon: 3verses


Five below zero.
The stream bank is garlanded
with flowers of frost.

The dogmatic drone
of a single-prop plane,
its cross-shaped silhouette.

The sky is blue as a bruise.
My lungs ache
just from trying to breathe.