Making a Spirit House

(a partially found poem)

"Certain kinds of beauty make people weep..."
- Rebecca Solnit



It is good if it can be built
in front of a tree

It is good if it can nestle
by its roots

It should not face
a toilet or a road
or the compost heap

Its door must look north
but it can never be placed
to the left of your own door

It should not stand
in the shadow of the house

Therefore it may be placed
on the roof

Calculate everything
from the time of day
to the color and material
of the spirit house

Infuse the pillars
with goodness, placing nine
lucky leaves and an abundance
of fruit and flower

Let the grass grow tall
and mark the river's edge
with smooth stones

Call in the angels and other
guardians from different realms

Call in their horses and dogs,
their baby elephants, their
owls, their sleepy cats

One holds a money bag
and a sword
One receives a tray
of oil and rice

Let the brown-cloaked moths
drink from your tears

Once the spirit world's
energy enters, place
a gold leaf on the roof

Honor the spirits of the land
and the water and the air

Make their dwelling more splendid
than the bigger, uglier
real thing where we live

Weatherman

Up, and after taking leave of my poor father, who is setting out this day for Brampton by the Cambridge coach, he having taken a journey to see the city burned, and to bring my brother to towne, I out by water; and so coach to St. James’s, the weather being foul; and there, from Sir W. Coventry, do hear how the House have cut us off 150,000l. of our wear and tear, for that which was saved by the King while the fleete lay in harbour in winter. However, he seems pleased, and so am I, that they have abated no more, and do intend to allow of 28,000 men for the next year; and this day have appointed to declare the sum they will give the King, and to propose the way of raising it; so that this is likely to be the great day. This done in his chamber, I with him to Westminster Hall, and there took a few turns, the Hall mighty full of people, and the House likely to be very full to-day about the money business. Here I met with several people, and do find that people have a mighty mind to have a fling at the Vice-Chamberlain, if they could lay hold of anything, his place being, indeed, too much for such, they think, or any single subject of no greater parts and quality than he, to enjoy. But I hope he may weather all, though it will not be by any dexterity of his, I dare say, if he do stand, but by his fate only, and people’s being taken off by other things. Thence home by coach, mighty dirty weather, and then to the Treasurer’s office and got a ticket paid for my little Michell, and so again by coach to Westminster, and come presently after the House rose. So to the Swan, and there sent for a piece of meat and dined alone and played with Sarah, and so to the Hall a while, and thence to Mrs. Martin’s lodging and did what I would with her. She is very big, and resolves I must be godfather. Thence away by water with Cropp to Deptford. It was almost night before I got thither. So I did only give directions concerning a press that I have making there to hold my turning and joyner’s tooles that were lately given me, which will be very handsome, and so away back again, it being now dark, and so home, and there find my wife come home, and hath brought her new girle I have helped her to, of Mr. Falconbridge’s. She is wretched poor; and but ordinary favoured; and we fain to lay out seven or eight pounds worth of clothes upon her back, which, methinks, do go against my heart; and I do not think I can ever esteem her as I could have done another that had come fine and handsome; and which is more, her voice, for want of use, is so furred, that it do not at present please me; but her manner of singing is such, that I shall, I think, take great pleasure in it. Well, she is come, and I wish us good fortune in her.
Here I met with notice of a meeting of the Commissioners for Tangier tomorrow, and so I must have my accounts ready for them, which caused me to confine myself to my chamber presently and set to the making up my accounts, which I find very clear, but with much difficulty by reason of my not doing them sooner, things being out of my mind.

the weather in a tear
is like a chamber full of ice

but weather is only weather
ordinary clothes not fur

I shall confine myself to my chamber
which I find very clear


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 12 October 1666.

On Distance

There's a one letter difference 
between strange and estrange,

between hoarse and horse.
You can call from the edge

of the field for the animal
that bolted the stall a long

time ago, until you've lost
your voice. As the animal

that's fled, you might try
to return only to find

there's no way to slip easy into
the familiar or make it yours

again. One word means not from
or distant or disconnected,

the same way one letter makes
there different from here.

Homeland security

Up, and discoursed with my father of my sending some money for safety into the country, for I am in pain what to do with what I have. I did give him money, poor man, and he overjoyed. So left him, and to the office, where nothing but sad evidences of ruine coming on us for want of money. So home to dinner, which was a very good dinner, my father, brother, wife and I, and then to the office again, where I was all the afternoon till very late, busy, and then home to supper and to bed.
Memorandum. I had taken my Journall during the fire and the disorders following in loose papers until this very day, and could not get time to enter them in my book till January 18, in the morning, having made my eyes sore by frequent attempts this winter to do it. But now it is done, for which I thank God, and pray never the like occasion may happen.

in some safe country
I am poor
for want of disorder:

loose paper
mad eyes
frequent attempts to pray


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 11 October 1666.

Where the dead

The latest videohaiku uses footage shot in Kensal Green Cemetery, the oldest of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian garden cemeteries, which is just a half mile from my wife’s house. The footage reminded me initially somehow of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold…”) — time and timelessness being hard not to think about in a cemetery in any season.

Sleep was of course the dominant metaphor for death in the Victorian era, a fact that was brought home in a lecture we attended at another of the Magnificent Seven last week, Brompton Cemetery, about the once-popular custom of posing the recently deceased for photographs. Hopefully the faceless figure in the video suggests something of my feelings about our fondness for euphemisms around death. I also gave the video misty edges as a general nod to Arcadian sentimentality.

I can’t help thinking though that this would be greatly improved by the addition of a black metal soundtrack…

Sokushinbutsu

- Sokushinbutsu is the ritual practice 
of Buddhist monks observing asceticism
to the point of death and entering
mummification while alive.



Over a thousand years ago, the monks
Liuquan and Kukai prepared for life
after death by eating only nuts, seeds,
and berries and drinking a poisonous tea
to make the body repulsive to maggots.

Then they folded themselves into the pose
of deep meditation. The bellows of the lungs
slowed, the flesh gradually lost moisture
and elasticity, and they were sealed
in a stone tomb for a thousand days.

If the body shriveled but kept intact,
that meant divinity had come to mold
the mortal form into a specimen of itself;
and it could sleep inside the statue of
the Buddha, there to be venerated as

a kind of ghost inside eternity's fragile
shell. If this is so, then what ghosts
reside in all the statuary we've created
from the beginning of time? When moon-
light passes through them will we see

their scroll of bones, their tree-like
veins? The general on his horse, the child
drinking from a fountain; the girl
in a simple dress, tilting her head
and holding a bird feeder in each hand.



Love song

(Fast-day for the fire). Up with Sir W. Batten by water to White Hall, and anon had a meeting before the Duke of York, where pretty to see how Sir W. Batten, that carried the surveys of all the fleete with him, to shew their ill condition to the Duke of York, when he found the Prince there, did not speak one word, though the meeting was of his asking — for nothing else. And when I asked him, he told me he knew the Prince too well to anger him, so that he was afeard to do it. Thence with him to Westminster, to the parish church, where the Parliament-men, and Stillingfleete in the pulpit. So full, no standing there; so he and I to eat herrings at the Dog Taverne. And then to church again, and there was Mr. Frampton in the pulpit, they cry up so much, a young man, and of a mighty ready tongue. I heard a little of his sermon, and liked it; but the crowd so great, I could not stay. So to the Swan, and ‘baise la fille‘, and drank, and then home by coach, and took father, wife, brother, and W. Hewer to Islington, where I find mine host dead. Here eat and drank, and merry; and so home, and to the office a while, and then to Sir W. Batten to talk a while, and with Captain Cocke into the office to hear his newes, who is mighty conversant with Garraway and those people, who tells me what they object as to the maladministration of things as to money. But that they mean well, and will do well; but their reckonings are very good, and show great faults, as I will insert here. They say the king hath had towards this war expressly thus much
Royal Ayde
2,450,000l.
More
1,250,000
Three months’ tax given the King by a power of raising a month’s tax of 70,000l. every year for three years
0,210,000
Customes, out of which the King did promise to pay 240,000l., which for two years comes to
0,480,000
Prizes, which they moderately reckon at
0,300,000
A debt declared by the Navy, by us
0,900,000
5,590,000
The whole charge of the Navy, as we state it for two years and a month, hath been but
3,200,000
So what is become of all this sum?
2,390,000
He and I did bemoan our public condition. He tells me the Duke of Albemarle is under a cloud, and they have a mind at Court to lay him aside. This I know not; but all things are not right with him, and I am glad of it, but sorry for the time. So home to supper, and to bed, it being my wedding night, but how many years I cannot tell; but my wife says ten.

I am a dog and you a crow
we find dead things

that we will eat
as customs ate us

as we become this sum of a cloud
and our wedding night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 10 October 1666.

Seeing the Body

You recognize them in countless cities you've 
passed through; witnessed speech and gesturing

in markets and airport terminals, in languages
you recognize.
They like to make a kind of

pilgrimage to famous churches in every place
they visit, perhaps the way something felt

like obligation so you walked to the Baguio
Cathedral even in the pouring rain, that one

time you returned after close to two
decades away. Inside, it seemed brighter

than you remembered: the exterior walls
once painted a creamy egg yolk now

a shade of muted pink, a gilded resin
angel lifting a bowl of cloudy water

by the door. There was that one time
you joined a line walking to the nave

where a life-size statue of the crucified
Christ was taken off the wall then laid

on a velvet-draped bier, just like a real
corpse. Like the others, you touched your

finger to the painted hollow of the wounded
palm, a nail-gashed foot. The faithful—that's

the word always used—beat their breasts,
pressed their lips against oiled wood.





Formic

Up and to the office, where we sat the first day since the fire, I think. At noon home, and my uncle Thomas was there, and dined with my brother and I (my father and I were gone abroad), and then to the office again in the afternoon, and there close all day long, and did much business. At night to Sir W. Batten, where Sir R. Ford did occasion some discourse of sending a convoy to the Maderas; and this did put us upon some new thoughts of sending our privateer thither on merchants’ accounts, which I have more mind to, the profit being certain and occasion honest withall. So home, and to supper with my father, and then to set my remainder of my books gilt in order with much pleasure, and so late to bed.

office fire
on the road a long convoy
of ants

I have more mind
to fit in a nest


Erasure poem (tanka) derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 9 October 1666.

Pepys pilgrimage

Samuel Pepys bust at Seething Lane

On Wednesday, Rachel and I made our way over to the Museum of London to gawk at the silver plate recently identified as having belonged to Samuel Pepys.

The silver trencher plate is one of three in existence known to have belonged to Pepys — although it was only recently recognised as such — and is the only one on display in the UK.

It bears Pepys’ coat of arms and was made in a workshop in Foster Lane, near St Paul’s Cathedral and the museum where it now resides, in 1681/2. Cutlery scratch marks are visible in its surface, suggesting it was one of the pieces Pepys was referring to in his diary when he boasted that he served his guests on silver plates rather than pewter.

Well, if it was made in 1681 or 2, it couldn’t have featured in the diary, though there’s no doubt he was very proud of his silver. At any rate, it was such an impressive object I walked right past it and had to ask Rachel where the hell it was. My photo is, um, not good:

Pepys plate at Museum of London

I thought this ceramic plate on display nearby captured the spirit of the age much better:

plate in Museum of London

Coolest of all, perhaps, was this copy of astrologer William Lilly’s 1651 book Monarchy or No Monarchy, which was said to predict the Great Fire:

astrologist William Lilly's 1651 book predicting the Great Fire

Pepys’ diary accounts of the actual conflagration were extensively drawn upon for the museum’s looped six-minute film. I sometimes wonder whether his diary would be nearly as famous had he not had the (mis)fortune to live through the great plague in 1665 and the fire the next year.

We decided sort of on the spur of the moment to go back to Seething Lane and see whether the gardens on the site of Pepys’ office were accessible. On our previous attempt at a Pepys pilgrimage three years ago, the site had been all torn up and walled off for some sort of construction, and we feared the worse.

Our route took us past the Guildhall, and I couldn’t resist another selfie with the Pepys bust there. This is Sam at the peak of his power and influence — not the young man on the make of the diary period.

selfie with Pepys bust  at London Guildhall

As we rounded the corner from Hart Street to Seething Lane, Rachel noticed that St. Olave’s — Pepys’ church — was actually open. We hadn’t gotten into that last time either. So we were finally able to see the sculptor John Bushnell’s bust of Elizabeth Pepys that the grieving Sam had paid for after her early death in 1669, high on the wall to the left of the altar.

St. Olave's on Hart Street interior - Elizabeth Pepys memorial close-up

A more modern memorial to Sam himself, paid for by public subscription at the instigation of his Victorian-era editor Wheatley — the diary edition I’m erasing — isn’t nearly as impressive:

St. Olave's on Hart Street - Sam Pepys memorial

But the church has plenty of other fascinating details, such as this window from the Clothworkers’ guild, which evidently had teasel as its emblem:

St. Olave's on Hart Street window

And it was great to see that it was still very much a functioning Anglican church, not merely a tourist attraction. See my album on Flickr for more photos.

The churchyard was also charming, and included an herb garden in tribute to another famous parishioner, William Turner (1510-1568), the father of English botany. There was also a labyrinth, and Rachel didn’t object to my filming her feet as she walked it. Naturally, I had to turn it into another videohaiku:

The site of the Naval Board offices was right across the narrow Seething Lane, and Pepys had arranged for a covered walkway connecting them so the great men could walk to their gallery in church without getting rained on. Such is the enduring interest in Pepys that even the location of that former entrance is memorialized…

Pepys entrance to St. Olave's

…as is, of course, the site of the navy office, which survived the Great Fire only to be destroyed in another fire seven years later.

site of Naval Board offices

The reason the Seething Lane gardens had to be destroyed and replaced was to build an underground parking garage for the adjacent building, formerly the headquarters of the Port of London Authority, but now London’s second Four Seasons Hotel,

Seething Lane Gardens Pepys bust and Four Seasons back door

this one owned and operated by a Chinese corporation…

Seething Lane Gardens dedication

…which has done a decent job with it. To quote the wonderful London travel blog IanVisits:

The word ‘Seething’ may originate from a medieval word ‘sifethen’ meaning ‘full of chaff’, so-called after a nearby Corn Market.

Seething Lane Gardens have a curious history, but suffice to say it was once the topic of a planning dispute, and, with a slight gap, the fine of one red rose has been paid annually to the Lord Mayor. That’s since 1381, and the Knollys Rose ceremony still takes place each year.

In addition to the roses though, it’s famous for its association with the diarist Samuel Pepys, who lived in the same street and said he buried his exceptionally expensive Parmesan cheeses in his own back garden to protect them from the Great Fire of London.

Imagine our delight to look down and see Pepys’ buried cheese memorialized in a flagstone:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

This was just one in a whole series of flagstone engravings relating to Pepys, the Naval Board, the fire and the plague. Check out, for example, this excellent flea:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

And here’s a depiction of Pepys’ shorthand original of the diary:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

There’s no key to the paving stones anywhere, so if you’re not a Pepys fan, some are likely to be mystifying. This for example clearly depicts the removal of his bladder stone, which diary readers will know was a very big deal to him — he marked the anniversary of the operation every year with a party:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

I have photos of most of the engraved slabs on Flickr. As for the garden, Ian nails it:

Although I would have to say the current garden is rather pleasing, it’s of a style that’s increasingly generic – of raised beds with lots of paving, and hence not that interesting.

What does make this one stand out a bit is the paving […]

Sadly, the Knollys Rose has not been immortalized in stone, but some of the plants looked distinctly rose-like, so the ceremony should resume this year.

The garden was designed by the landscape architects, Capita Symonds.

The cost of the landscaping works came in at £1.25 million, paid for by the hotel development.

Pepys bust in Seething Lane Gardens

Walking to the Bank tube station at rush hour, we were impressed by the crowds of business-suited young and middle-aged City men, some scurrying, a few sauntering, many smoking (an unusual sight elsewhere these days). Palimpsest as London may be, some things don’t seem to change very much over the centuries.