All Look Alike

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I was told my name means 
light stops me in my tracks.
I shield my eyes as if I'm tired

of trying to keep them open,
when in truth there's nothing
I want more than to be done

with the constant interrogation,
even while it seems so easy 
for others to forget I am there. 

I was told my name means 
that my roots have thickened; 
that my body grafts itself to place 

and now lives inside the undulating 
current. If it knows my name by now,
why can't you remember? 







Against hate

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Up, to set my papers and books in order, and put up my plate since my late feast, and then to Westminster, by water, with Mr. Hater, and there, in the Hall, did walk all the morning, talking with one or other, expecting to have our business in the House; but did now a third time wait to no purpose, they being all this morning upon the business of Barker’s petition about the making void the Act of Settlement in Ireland, which makes a great deal of hot work: and, at last, finding that by all men’s opinion they could not come to our matter today, I with Sir W. Pen home, and there to dinner, where I find, by Willet’s crying, that her mistress had been angry with her: but I would take no notice of it. Busy all the afternoon at the office, and then by coach to the Excize Office, but lost my labour, there being nobody there, and so back again home, and after a little at the office I home, and there spent the evening with my wife talking and singing, and so to bed with my mind pretty well at ease.
This evening W. Pen and Sir R. Ford and I met at the first’s house to talk of our prize that is now at last come safe over from Holland, by which I hope to receive some if not all the benefit of my bargain with W. Batten for my share in it, which if she had miscarried I should have doubted of my Lady Batten being left little able to have paid me.

hate makes a great deal
of hot work

by men’s not crying
angry at being nobody

my mind is in a safe
by some bargain with doubt

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 16 March 1668

Teaching English in a Foreign Country

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"Our nation has found herself confronted by a great problem 
dealing with a people who neither know nor understand 
the underlying principles of our civilization, yet who, 
for our mutual happiness and liberty, must be brought 
into accord with us ...  through the common schools."
~ Adeline Knapp, one of 530 American teachers
who arrived in the Philippines in 1901 aboard the 
USS Thomas; quoted in Jonathan Zimmerman's Innocents
Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century



A name is a bright line
you can follow. The tiniest

flying creature leads out
of a wood, winking. You have  

no recollection of how you 
got there, but you trust it

completely.  Commit  its 
outline to memory; understand

that certain precious things
have to be hidden for centuries 

in order for their shine 
not to blind unopened eyes.

Under the trees, in a make-
shift schoolroom, a teacher 

writes letters on a slate; but what
is a bat that isn't a body with wings

opening like a fan? What is a ceiling
that isn't a sky ornamented 

with unchanging directions? 
Wind bells a different diction,

passing beneath the honeysuckle.
Smoke from a wood fire carries

the grammar of our prayers from this
world to the afterlife. There, even if

our names have been changed, 
the ancestors will know how to call us.
 


 

Godless

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(Lord’s day). Up and walked, it being fine dry weather, to Sir W. Coventry’s, overtaking my boy Ely (that was), and he walked with me, being grown a man, and I think a sober fellow. He parted at Charing Cross, and I to Sir W. Coventry’s, and there talked with him about the Commissioners of Accounts, who did give in their report yesterday to the House, and do lay little upon us as aggravate any thing at present, but only do give an account of the dissatisfactory account they receive from Sir G. Carteret, which I am sorry for, they saying that he tells them not any time when he paid any sum, which is fit for them to know for the computing of interest, but I fear he is hardly able to tell it.
They promise to give them an account of the embezzlement of prizes, wherein I shall be something concerned, but nothing that I am afeard of, I thank God. Thence walked with W. Coventry into the Park, and there met the King and the Duke of York, and walked a good while with them: and here met Sir Jer. Smith, who tells me he is like to get the better of Holmes, and that when he is come to an end of that, he will do Hollis’s business for him, in the House, for his blasphemies, which I shall be glad of.
So to White Hall, and there walked with this man and that man till chapel done, and, the King dined and then Sir Thomas Clifford, the Comptroller, took me with him to dinner to his lodgings, where my Lord Arlington and a great deal of good and great company; where I very civilly used by them, and had a most excellent dinner: and good discourse of Spain, Mr. Godolphin being there; particularly of the removal of the bodies of all the dead Kings of Spain that could be got together, and brought to the Pantheon at the Escuriall, when it was finished, and there placed before the altar, there to lie for ever; and there was a sermon made to them upon this text, “Arida ossa, audite verbum Dei;” and a most eloquent sermon, as they say, who say they have read it. After dinner, away hence, and I to Mrs. Martin’s, and there spent the afternoon, and did hazer con elle, and here was her sister and Mrs. Burrows, and so in the evening got a coach and home, and there find Mr. Pelling and W. Hewer, and there talked and supped, Pelling being gone, and mightily pleased with a picture that W. Hewer brought hither of several things painted upon a deale board, which board is so well painted that in my whole life I never was so well pleased or surprized with any picture, and so troubled that so good pictures should be painted upon a piece of bad deale. Even after I knew that it was not board, but only the picture of a board, I could not remove my fancy. After supper to bed, being very sleepy, and, I bless God, my mind being at very good present rest.

I weather a sober time
with better blasphemies

where the bodies of a dead pantheon
lie forever

a text eloquent
as afternoon haze

in a picture of a picture
painted in sleep

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 15 March 1668

Enchantment

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September: you make your way 
between your mother's thighs. 
That is to say, indigo profusion
of salvia on the periphery, bats
flying at dusk over the army

hospital close to the Pasig River
where someone typed in names
on a blank birth certificate form.
That is to say, somehow you 
are a parcel conveyed from one  

set of arms to another even before 
cords of the birth stump wither
on each end. This, after all,
is a country of a thousand secrets
carried carefully in women's throats.

Even the backs of moths have eyes 
that look like doors. Once vivid, blood 
dries to the color of wilted hydrangeas. 
The only way to avoid being pinned 
to the windmill or torn like a kite is to let 

someone else inhabit this story. Bend 
your head over the font of holy water; mouth
the shape of your new names, the sounds
of their splitting and reconstituting. Hold the hand 
that leads you away and into the rest of another life.

Night from the inside (2)

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pond the size
of a table for four
spring peepers

the distant cry
of a migrant gull

*

frantic wings
against the window’s
good night moon

*

I remember how I talked myself out of my fear of the dark at age eight. Or did I? I’ve never been able to watch horror movies — I don’t want those sorts of monsters running loose in my imagination. There are enough real monsters in the news, I say to myself.

But fear isn’t rational, and evolutionarily speaking, it’s not without purpose: e.g. keeping sensible people the hell out of the woods after dark, when all manner of crepuscular and nocturnal creatures come out, and when it’s easy to lose one’s way. Being able to sit outside at night without fear is something that would’ve been inconceivable for almost all of human history, and is still not an option for people in many parts of the world, especially women.

*

the owl whose name
sounds like bard
sounds like she’s laughing

*

petrichor
the Mesozoic trill
of a toad

*

But spending time outside at night without a fire, whatever atavistic fear I may feel is nothing compared to the apprehension my presence must spark in other animals. I hear the alarm-snorts of deer, the wickering of raccoons, the surprised barks of weasels. I am trespassing on their realm and disturbing their nightly patterns. And for what? Just some bogus, Romantic feeling of oneness or awe? What is awe, anyway, if not a sort of denatured terror?

*

my scent
in its midnight nostrils
black bear

*

whatever you are
I know
that discontent

*

hour of the wolf
a percolator’s
last gargle

*

cut flowers
with the corpse
changing color

*

Why is being afraid of one’s own shadow considered the essence of cowardice? It’s not an unreasonable fear. If you’ve been alive for a while, you know what you’re capable of. At night you escape your specific gravity only to be immersed in a more universal displacement. The anyone you could be in your dreams is never not you. From this perspective, death could not be more different. For then at last you do become not-you.

*

drunk
the slow off and on
of glow worms

*

stargazing
in the fog
we’re going nowhere

Fisher of men

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Up very betimes, and with Jane to Levett’s, there to conclude upon our dinner; and thence to the pewterer’s, to buy a pewter sesterne, which I have ever hitherto been without, and so up and down upon several occasions to set matters in order, and that being done I out of doors to Westminster Hall, and there met my Lord Brouncker, who tells me that our business is put off till Monday, and so I was mighty glad that I was eased of my attendance here, and of any occasion that might put me out of humour, as it is likely if we had been called before the Parliament. Therefore, after having spoke with Mr. Godolphin and cozen Roger, I away home, and there do find everything in mighty good order, only my wife not dressed, which troubles me. Anon comes my company, viz., my Lord Hinchingbroke and his lady, Sir Philip Carteret and his lady, Godolphin and my cozen Roger, and Creed: and mighty merry; and by and by to dinner, which was very good and plentifull: (I should have said, and Mr. George Montagu), who come at a very little warning, which was exceeding kind of him. And there, among other things, my Lord had Sir Samuel Morland’s late invention for casting up of sums of L. s. d.; which is very pretty, but not very useful. Most of our discourse was of my Lord Sandwich and his family, as being all of us of the family; and with extraordinary pleasure all the afternoon, thus together eating and looking over my closet: and my Lady Hinchingbroke I find a very sweet-natured and well-disposed lady, a lover of books and pictures, and of good understanding. About five o’clock they went; and then my wife and I abroad by coach into Moorefields, only for a little ayre, and so home again, staying no where, and then up to her chamber, there to talk with pleasure of this day’s passages, and so to bed. This day I had the welcome news of our prize being come safe from Holland, so as I shall have hopes, I hope, of getting my money of my Lady Batten, or good part of it.

cistern
like an only god

and me casting
only for pleasure
and the art of it

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 14 March 1668

Division of labor

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Up betimes to my office, where to fit myself for attending the Parliament again, not to make any more speech, which, while my fame is good, I will avoid, for fear of losing it; but only to answer to what objections will be made against us. Thence walked to the Old Swan and drank at Michell’s, whose house is going up apace. Here I saw Betty, but could not baiser la, and so to Westminster, there to the Hall, where up to my cozen Roger Pepys at the Parliament door, and there he took me aside, and told me how he was taken up by one of the House yesterday, for moving for going on with the King’s supply of money, without regard to the keeping pace therewith, with the looking into miscarriages, and was told by this man privately that it did arise because that he had a kinsman concerned therein; and therefore he would prefer the safety of his kinsman to the good of the nation, and that there was great things against us and against me, for all my fine discourse the other day. But I did bid him be at no pain for me; for I knew of nothing but what I was very well prepared to answer; and so I think I am, and therefore was not at all disquieted by this. Thence he to the House, and I to the Hall, where my Lord Brouncker and the rest waiting till noon and not called for by the House, they being upon the business of money again, and at noon all of us to Chatelin’s, the French house in Covent Garden, to dinner — Brouncker, J. Minnes, W. Pen, T. Harvey, and myself — and there had a dinner cost us 8s. 6d. a-piece, a damned base dinner, which did not please us at all, so that I am not fond of this house at all, but do rather choose the Beare. After dinner to White Hall to the Duke of York, and there did our usual business, complaining of our standing still in every-respect for want of money, but no remedy propounded, but so I must still be. Thence with our company to the King’s playhouse, where I left them, and I, my head being full of to-morrow’s dinner, I to my Lord Crew’s, there to invite Sir Thomas Crew; and there met with my Lord Hinchingbroke and his lady, the first time I spoke to her. I saluted her; and she mighty civil and; with my Lady Jemimah, do all resolve to be very merry to-morrow at my house. My Lady Hinchingbroke I cannot say is a beauty, nor ugly; but is altogether a comely lady enough, and seems very good-humoured, and I mighty glad of the occasion of seeing her before to-morrow. Thence home; and there find one laying of my napkins against tomorrow in figures of all sorts, which is mighty pretty; and, it seems, it is his trade, and he gets much money by it; and do now and then furnish tables with plate and linnen for a feast at so much, which is mighty pretty, and a trade I could not have thought of. I find my wife upon the bed not over well, her breast being broke out with heat, which troubles her, but I hope it will be for her good. Thence I to Mrs. Turner, and did get her to go along with me to the French pewterer’s, and there did buy some new pewter against to-morrow; and thence to White Hall, to have got a cook of her acquaintance, the best in England, as she says. But after we had with much ado found him, he could not come, nor was Mr. Gentleman in town, whom next I would have had, nor would Mrs. Stone let her man Lewis come, whom this man recommended to me; so that I was at a mighty loss what in the world to do for a cooke, Philips being out of town. Therefore, after staying here at Westminster a great while, we back to London, and there to Philips’s, and his man directed us to Mr. Levett’s, who could not come, and he sent to two more, and they could not; so that, at last, Levett as a great kindness did resolve he would leave his business and come himself, which set me in great ease in my mind, and so home, and there with my wife setting all things in order against to-morrow, having seen Mrs. Turner at home, and so late to bed.

an old door
keeping in the quiet

and the garden as still as a table
at a feast of stone

who might cook in there
and who eat

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 13 March 1668

Poem with Letters to the Future

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There are stories about people
who, at the edge of some extremity, 
somehow find the audacity to hail
the future— I don't mean that the hero 
turns around at precisely the moment 
the firing squad releases a volley of shots 
just to say Hey or There will be more 
books written about me than there will be 
of you.  I mean, is the future a straight 
line that intersects with the horizon or
does it know there are interesting 
little towns along the way, where
in a thrift shop one might find 
the kind of old-fashioned alcohol
stove where a folded note might be
hidden after the ashes of the fire
have cooled? I mean a poem, certainly,  
could be a kind of letter to the future. 
But I mean I don't always know 
what to say or if I should say anything
from inside what feels like a woefully 
banal moment. And should that even be
delivered into the time we hope will survive 
us, our bad habits of procrastination, our 
love for sugar, our petty materialisms? But 
I'm a sucker for fountain pens and inks 
with names like Armada or Piloncitos;
so when I read All the stars in the sky 
will be dissolved and the heavens rolled 
up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall 
like withered leaves from the vine, 
like shriveled figs from the tree, 
I can see the gleaming wash of water 
over paper: how streams of color 
find their way, how the tip of a brush 
fills in outlines of shapes that look 
as though they've always been there. 
How some moments are really envelopes,
holding the very message you need 
and that you find when it finds you.

Certain Ruin

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List the places 
           mothers shouldn't aspire 
to be if they want to make sure 
           their children don't turn out

           failures, forgers
of checks, degenerates; 
           prone to violent 
outbursts followed by year 

after year of exponentially 
increasing unhappiness. 

One of these days;
           mark my words, said friends from work.
They didn't mean take a piece of chalk
and draw a circle around every
other one. 

They were talking about children:
mine. Which means they were 
also talking about me.
                                                      Certain ruin
was the curtain with which they wanted 
to darken the view from every window. 
Inside, trained birds lisped 

the impossibility of joy.
But I'm tired of feeding   
                                                    animals
dried kernels of sorrow, or tearing
hanks of bread  to throw into water
that should reflect 

lIke quicksilver— a surface
that doesn't break up the changing
light into points as much as it 
proliferates like spores.