holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and going out of doors, I understand that Sir W. Batten is gone to bed on a sudden again this morning, being struck very ill, and I confess I have observed him for these last two months to look very ill and to look worse and worse. I to St. James’s (though it be a sitting day) to the Duke of York, about the Tangier Committee, which met this morning, and he come to us, and the Charter for the City of Tangier was read and the form of the Court Merchant. That being done Sir W. Coventry took me into the gallery, and walked with me an hour, discoursing of Navy business, and with much kindness to, and confidence in, me still; which I must endeavour to preserve, and will do; and, good man! all his care how to get the Navy paid off, and that all other things therein may go well. He gone, I thence to my Lady Peterborough, who sent for me; and with her an hour talking about her husband’s pension, and how she hath got an order for its being paid again; though, I believe, for all that order, it will hardly be; but of that I said nothing; but her design is to get it paid again: and how to raise money upon it, to clear it from the engagement which lies upon it to some citizens, who lent her husband money, without her knowledge, upon it, to vast loss. She intends to force them to take their money again, and release her husband of those hard terms. The woman is a very wise woman, and is very plain in telling me how her plate and jewels are at pawne for money, and how they are forced to live beyond their estate, and do get nothing by his being a courtier. The lady I pity, and her family. Having done with her, and drunk two glasses of her meade, which she did give me, and so to the Treasurer’s Office, and there find my Lord Bruncker and W. Pen at dinner with Sir G. Carteret about his accounts, where I dined and talked and settled some business, and then home, and there took out my wife and Willet, thinking to have gone to a play, but both houses were begun, and so we to the ’Change, and thence to my tailor’s, and there, the coachman desiring to go home to change his horses, we went with him into a nasty end of all St. Giles’s, and there went into a nasty room, a chamber of his, where he hath a wife and child, and there staid, it growing dark too, and I angry thereat, till he shifted his horses, and then home apace, and there I to business late, and so home, to supper, and walk in the garden with my wife and girle, with whom we are mightily pleased, and after talking and supping, to bed. This noon, going home, I did call on Will Lincolne and agree with him to carry me to Brampton.

sitting still
I endeavor to care
for nothing

vast as a drunk
in the nasty end
of a nasty room

growing dark
till supper and
the garden call

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 3 October 1667.

Fire Line

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Grief is not exactly the same
as desolation: is not the stretch
of space throughout a landscape
that goes on and on as if 
without end. Though we understand
not every blank bristles with 
the resounding echoes of silence,
there is also that hammock of bare
light that swings between a door
and the space before or
beyond it. Perhaps it's no longer
possible to make an accounting
of how we survive our days,
even as winds in the west 
whip up fire with a frenzy 
water can't put out. If that heat
never wished to speak to the earth
again, perhaps what's scorched
might have a chance to survive.


Catching a Cranefly: linked verses

Catching a Cranefly still

Watch on Vimeo.

just one drink
catching a cranefly
in mid-air

how many months now
since I’ve held someone

missing you
the morning after
a hard frost

breath measured out
in small white clouds

what the rattlesnake sees
in infrared

ah just to touch
that velvety skin

floating leaves
the fetal curl that makes
a good craft

trapped in transit with
whatever’s going ’round

a Japanese barberry
trembling with sparrows

will the circle in fact
be unbroken

mountain path
I step aside to let
a caterpillar pass

in the trail register box
an empty bottle

just one drink…


Process notes

This began as three tanka jotted down in the Notes app while I sat out in the woods, and snowballed from there. While haiku-writing culture prizes Zen-like objectivity, tanka are traditionally more open to the overt or side-long expression of deep emotion. This persisted even as I broke the tanka apart into a short linked-verse sequence, which I’d call a renku except that it wasn’t composed by a small group, just me. But as in renku, each pair of adjacent stanzas may be read as one verse.

I thought of ways to underline those linkages by repeating verses throughout the film, but the footage I ended up using — all shot on my phone over the course of the month — was so pretty, I thought it had to take center stage. And quite early in the process of editing I decided to make the bluesiness explicit with the choice of music. Fortunately, there are some seriously good blues musicians and remixers on ccMixter. After playing for a while with a more traditional, BB King-style guitar instrumental, I went with something more drone-y and experimental, which was a better fit for my slow presentation of text and images.

I also experimented with mixing music with spoken word, but couldn’t make it work. At that point it just sounded like a failed blues song. But I have long felt that the way traditional blues singers improvise songs, by adding or modifying verses from their repertoire to a stable melody+verse core, bears a more than passing resemblance to the way Japanese linked verse sequences are made. So I was glad for the opportunity to create a sort of hybrid of the two.

I hope the flying-in animation effect for the couplets doesn’t become too annoying. I recently bought a souped-up version of my video-editing software to help with client work (Need a poetry video or a clean-up job on a reading documentary? I’m your man!) so yes, I let myself be seduced by this new, not-at-all-cheesy effect. I find the contrast between slow-moving footage and nervously excited text aesthetically interesting. Your mileage may vary.

Also, yes, a timber rattlesnake! Sadly not here in Plummer’s Hollow, but in a nearby state forest. Ditto with the woolly bear. As for the trail register with the empty whiskey bottle, I shared a photo of it on Instagram (with my first draft of the haiku about the caterpillar).

One, two

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and very busy all the morning, upon my accounts of Tangier, to present to the Commissioners of the Treasury in the afternoon, and the like upon the accounts of the office. This morning come to me Mr. Gawden about business, with his gold chain about his neck, as being Sheriffe of the City this year. At noon to the Treasury Office again, and there dined and did business, and then by coach to the New Exchange, and there met my wife and girl, and took them to the King’s house to see “The Traytour,” which still I like as a very good play; and thence, round by the wall, home, having drunk at the Cock ale-house, as I of late have used to do, and so home and to my chamber to read, and so to supper and to bed.

morning like a gold chain
noon like a roundhouse

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 2 October 1667.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
These days, in the mornings
I rise after you've left. 
Cold tile underfoot
in the bathroom, telling me 
I'm awake. From the window,
clumps of ochre and tan
where islands of spores
spring up overnight, 
as if wanting to take
over the world. Reddening 
full moon maple, mint leaves 
shriveled in sun. A small 
animal thrashes across the roof, 
landing in the leaves. Did it 
give itself up to the fall, or
miscalculate what it thought
possible? As the day wears on,
I try to keep ahead of the hours. 
Making and mending, measuring
coffee and pages, I am my own 
vow of silence, the fullness 
of all I haven't been able to say 
in order to defend myself. 
What have I made of a life?
Beside the back steps, 
unkempt plot of tangled 
stems under which the rhizome 
holds its place to replenish
itself in the earth.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
The body says lagoon,
and its map of origins 
surfaces in a thicket 

of trees. It says womb,
and fire in the shape 
of a child climbs 

out of the well. A bird
keeps revising the message 
it's been writing  

since the beginning of time:
the dream of endings, clearly
something it doesn't

want to confront. So I will say 
to the body: continue without me,
or lie down in the bluest

hollow of my throat. Press 
your ear to it, and you'll hear 
the rhythmic pull at the oars,  

an endless circling. Otherwise
it is so quiet. So quiet now
that you're the only one here.  


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

All the morning busy at the office, pleased mightily with my girle that we have got to wait on my wife. At noon dined with Sir G. Carteret and the rest of our officers at his house in Broad Street, they being there upon his accounts. After dinner took coach and to my wife, who was gone before into the Strand, there to buy a nightgown, where I found her in a shop with her pretty girle, and having bought it away home, and I thence to Sir G. Carteret’s again, and so took coach alone, it now being almost night, to White Hall, and there in the Boarded-gallery did hear the musick with which the King is presented this night by Monsieur Grebus, the master of his musick; both instrumentall — I think twenty-four violins — and vocall; an English song upon Peace. But, God forgive me! I never was so little pleased with a concert of musick in my life. The manner of setting of words and repeating them out of order, and that with a number of voices, makes me sick, the whole design of vocall musick being lost by it. Here was a great press of people; but I did not see many pleased with it, only the instrumental musick he had brought by practice to play very just. So thence late in the dark round by the wall home by coach, and there to sing and sup with my wife, and look upon our pretty girle, and so to bed.

one night with her and
I almost hear violins

but never the words
the out-of-order voices

the whole lost press
of an instrumental wall

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 1 October 1667.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

By water to White Hall, there to a committee of Tangier, but they not met yet, I went to St. James’s, there thinking to have opportunity to speak to the Duke of York about the petition I have to make to him for something in reward for my service this war, but I did waive it. Thence to White Hall, and there a Committee met, where little was done, and thence to the Duke of York to Council, where we the officers of the Navy did attend about the business of discharging the seamen by tickets, where several of the Lords spoke and of our number none but myself, which I did in such manner as pleased the King and Council. Speaking concerning the difficulty of pleasing of seamen and giving them assurance to their satisfaction that they should be paid their arrears of wages, my Lord Ashly did move that an assignment for money on the Act might be put into the hands of the East India Company, or City of London, which he thought the seamen would believe. But this my Lord Anglesey did very handsomely oppose, and I think did carry it that it will not be: and it is indeed a mean thing that the King should so far own his own want of credit as to borrow theirs in this manner. My Lord Anglesey told him that this was the way indeed to teach the Parliament to trust the King no more for the time to come, but to have a kingdom’s Treasurer distinct from the King’s. Home at noon to dinner, where I expected to have had our new girle, my wife’s woman, but she is not yet come. I abroad after dinner to White Hall, and there among other things do hear that there will be musique to-morrow night before the King. So to Westminster, where to the Swan; and there did fling down the fille there upon the chair and did tocar her thigh with my hand; at which she began to cry out, so I left off and drank and away to the Hall, and thence to Mrs. Martin’s, to bespeak some linen, and there je did avoir all with her, and drank, and away, having first promised my goddaughter a new coat-her first coat. So by coach home, and there find our pretty girl Willet come, brought by Mr. Batelier, and she is very pretty, and so grave as I never saw a little thing in my life. Indeed I think her a little too good for my family, and so well carriaged as I hardly ever saw. I wish my wife may use her well. Now I begin to be full of thought for my journey the next week, if I can get leave, to Brampton. Tonight come and sat with me Mr. Turner and his wife and tell me of a design of sending their son Franke to the East Indy Company’s service if they can get him entertainment, which they are promised by Sir Andr. Rickard, which I do very well like of. So the company broke up and to bed.

speak for this warlord
our number one self

speak into ears of ash
teach music to the swan

speak at a grave
as little as in bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 30 September 1667.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
What shapes does the world make,
slowing down? On the green

mall, does the stone lion
still raise one paw 

amid thin streams of water?
Overhead, between layers of cloud  

at dusk, you hear 
the high call of flocks migrating 

and imagine the arrow
their bodies make—

Something in you might turn,
then; and a sliver of light

resembling insight 
ribbon away across water. 

No one is asking you to stay
or to go. You stand there,

waiting for the grass to send
a signal, for the night

flowers to open their throats
with understanding.  

* Musical instruction to hold a note, chord, or rest at its full time value; Italian

Illustrated man

(Lord’s day). Up, and put off first my summer’s silk suit, and put on a cloth one. Then to church, and so home to dinner, my wife and I alone to a good dinner. All the afternoon talking in my chamber with my wife, about my keeping a coach the next year, and doing some things to my house, which will cost money — that is, furnish our best chamber with tapestry, and other rooms with pictures. In the evening read good books — my wife to me; and I did even my kitchen accounts. Then to supper, and so to bed.

summer’s silk suit
talking to my fur

am I tapestry
the pictures I itch to be

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 29 September 1667.