Poems & poem-like things

Original poetry, translations and videopoems by the authors of this blog. (See Poets and poetry for criticism, etc.)

a middle-aged woman with brown hair and
an accent I can’t place, who says Hello, my name
is Cathy
let me know if there’s anything you’d
ever need!
I’ve just let myself into the building
where I’ll be teaching for a month, and hear
the rain still coming down in sheets outside.
I’m fearful of making wet puddles on the polished
floors of Washington Hall that Cathy has just
finished buffing— Or slipping and falling
on my butt, like I nearly did in the middle
of the Farmer’s Market, where Margo took me
to admire the fresh produce, eggs, and butter
and cheese from grass-fed cows. And the pleasure
of finding one tent selling homemade Persian
pickles and fig and lime preserves! I’ve read
that a weak butt can lead to injuries, so I’m somewhat
thankful for the extra padding there. But the coccyx
can shatter: that triangular arrangement of bone
located at the very bottom of the spine below
the sacrum, that in chickens and possibly other
related fowl has been likened to a pope’s or bishop’s
hat; and that scientists say is a vestigial tail, evidence
of our kinship with other creatures in the animal world—
including, I want to think, that bright blue horse
with silver coils and wings standing on the corner
of Main Street in front of the Wells Fargo bank.
Come back again, says the farmer selling radishes
and tatsoi. And Sorry for the rain, at least it’s not
a gully-washer.
Still, I wish I’d worn the green
rainslicker my husband lent me for this trip. When,
I wonder, will I see the sun in this quiet town
where I realize I’ve yet to hear someone say y’all?
Yesterday, a woman inquired how I liked it here
and I said It’s so quiet! But I take that back,
quiet can be good. I’ve actually craved quiet. Quiet
means I can read my books and write and go to bed
and do it all again without the usual distractions:
at least for a while. But my landlord has just texted
to say he’s installed cable, and now I can watch TV,
which is how I learn that a federal judge has just ruled
that not only must the Trump administration allow
current DACA recipients to reapply, but must also accept
new applications. Why does time go trickle-slow some days,
then like a train or a bullet arrowing dangerously through
the quiet? Around the statuary here, the lawns are trim
and green and thirsty, which means that soon it will be
the season of lawnmowers. Everything is a historical
marker, but someone has to ask: who mows the lawns, who
takes care of the graves in the cemetery, who puts up
the white tents and rows of plastic seating on the mall?
Will my daughter remember to water the African
violets along with the air plants, perched atop white
and yellow and rose quartz in their little dishes?
And I can’t stop bending the first joint of my thumb
that’s been hurting for over a week, little hinge
that brings me back to my body like a stress ball,
like an old coin, like a prayer bead when my mind goes
wandering over fields of worry or sorrow. Next door
there’s a mini golf with a mural of Stonewall
Michael Jackson moon-walking, one red glove
on his hand. I can almost hear him singing
“There are people dying/ if you care enough/ for
the living/ make a better place/ for you and for me.”

(Lexington, VA)

(Lord’s day). Mr. Povy, according to promise, sent his coach betimes, and I carried my wife and her woman to White Hall Chappell and set them in the Organ Loft, and I having left to untruss went to the Harp and Ball and there drank also, and entertained myself in talke with the mayde of the house, a pretty mayde and very modest. Thence to the Chappell and heard the famous young Stillingfleete, whom I knew at Cambridge, and is now newly admitted one of the King’s chaplains; and was presented, they say, to my Lord Treasurer for St. Andrew’s, Holborne, where he is now minister, with these words: that they (the Bishops of Canterbury, London, and another) believed he is the ablest young man to preach the Gospel of any since the Apostles. He did make the most plain, honest, good, grave sermon, in the most unconcerned and easy yet substantial manner, that ever I heard in my life, upon the words of Samuell to the people, “Fear the Lord in truth with all your heart, and remember the great things that he hath done for you.” It being proper to this day, the day of the King’s Coronation.
Thence to Mr. Povy’s, where mightily treated, and Creed with us. But Lord! to see how Povy overdoes every thing in commending it, do make it nauseous to me, and was not (by reason of my large praise of his house) over acceptable to my wife. Thence after dinner Creed and we by coach took the ayre in the fields beyond St. Pancras, it raining now and then, which it seems is most welcome weather, and then all to my house, where comes Mr. Hill, Andrews, and Captain Taylor, and good musique, but at supper to hear the arguments we had against Taylor concerning a Corant, he saying that the law of a dancing Corant is to have every barr to end in a pricked crochet and quaver, which I did deny, was very strange. It proceeded till I vexed him, but all parted friends, for Creed and I to laugh at when he was gone. After supper, Creed and I together to bed, in Mercer’s bed, and so to sleep.

having left my talk
I hear you who I am
newly present to

the plain life
of your heart is to me
as large as the weather

where we go together
to bed and so
to sleep

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 23 April 1665.

“What if you could/ say only one thing for the rest of your life…” ~ Adriana Cloud

What else do you need, you texted
from the convenience store. I asked

for one pen but you bought a pack
of 10 + bonus— blue ink carriages

in their filmy cellophane wrapper
with a double heart. And oh, maybe

a few plastic hangers; but you bought
what you said was the minimum

of 16; and as afterthought, an extra
pack of coffee pods even when I’d counted

what I had and knew there should be enough.
Because I was raised to save every leftover

bit of string, taught to eat the bitter
greens and hold something back

for that proverbial rainy day, I always
want to smooth and re-fold every square

of glossy paper loosened from a gift,
parcel out every part of the butchered

animal so that it lasts and lasts and lasts
until the gristly end. I thought

this was the only way to care for:
like taking one step forward and two

steps back will make sure there’s always
enough to go around. Like after all

these years I haven’t learned the difference
between slowness and patience. Like speaking

warnings instead of carefully going over
the sums makes a better armor for the heart.

Up, and Mr. Caesar, my boy’s lute-master, being come betimes to teach him, I did speak with him seriously about the boy, what my mind was, if he did not look after his lute and singing that I would turn him away; which I hope will do some good upon the boy.
All the morning busy at the office. At noon dined at home, and then to the office again very busy till very late, and so home to supper and to bed. My wife making great preparation to go to Court to Chappell to-morrow.
This day I have newes from Mr. Coventry that the fleete is sailed yesterday from Harwich to the coast of Holland to see what the Dutch will do. God go along with them!

as a boy
what my mind was
I did not sing

I would turn
the morning off
busy making tomorrow anew

from a sail
from the coast of a god

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 22 April 1665.

~ after Natalie D’Arbeloff; 2018, Boxwork, mixed media 11″ x 11″ x 7.5

Oh yes that’s you: scabbed,
acne-scarred, awkward as hell,

tongue-tied even just answering
the telephone. And nobody seems

to understand the exquisite
loneliness of checkerboard tile,

the smell of old polyvinyl
chloride shower curtains, chipped

blue enamel in this bathroom
where you retreat at least twice

a day. You let thin arrows
of scalding water rain down

your chest and shoulders,
breathe in the steam that lets

the hurt you’ve been hoarding
in your lungs escape at last—

pfffft. You rub yourself
raw with a pumice stone, soap

on skin afterward another penance
before the rinse. You already know

how it comes down to the body,
how it comes down to rituals

we’ll make for softening more
than flesh: but only later without

judgment, with kindness, before
going back into the world again.

Up and to my office about business. Anon comes Creed and Povy, and we treat about the business of our lending money, Creed and I, upon a tally for the satisfying of Andrews, and did conclude it as in papers is expressed, and as I am glad to have an opportunity of having 10 per cent. for my money, so I am as glad that the sum I begin this trade with is no more than 350l..
We all dined at Andrews’ charge at the Sun behind the ‘Change, a good dinner the worst dressed that ever I eat any, then home, and there found Kate Joyce and Harman come to see us. With them, after long talk, abroad by coach, a tour in the fields, and drunk at Islington, it being very pleasant, the dust being laid by a little rain, and so home very well pleased with this day’s work. So after a while at my office to supper and to bed.
This day we hear that the Duke and the fleete are sailed yesterday. Pray God go along with them, that they have good speed in the beginning of their worke.

business comes expressed
as opportunity

so that the sum is
no more than the sun dressed

in field dust
laid by a little rain

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 21 April 1665.

It’s human nature to seek
the short cut, the cool side

of the pillow, the nearest cave
with dimmed lights and no noise

when the sledgehammers of everyday
despair return to their favorite

construction sites in the brain.
But it’s also human nature to want

to know who else might be in a similar
or maybe slightly worse predicament:

to slow down as you drive past the truck
that flipped over this morning at the inter-

section of Hampton and Bolling, the engine
visibly steaming, blue lights and sirens

blaring toward the scene. Don’t look,
my father might have said that day

years ago as we passed the mangled heap
of a pedicab hit by a bus on the highway,

the driver’s body flung across the ditch—
fearful that the sight of blood and mortal

wounding might undermine my faith
in the world. And then there are those

who leap out of their own vehicles, run
straight into the accident site, go down

on hands and knees, searching through
broken glass for any visible signs of life.

Up, and all the morning busy at the office. At noon dined, and Mr. Povy by agreement with me (where his boldness with Mercer, poor innocent wench, did make both her and me blush, to think how he were able to debauch a poor girl if he had opportunity) at a dish or two of plain meat of his own choice. After dinner comes Creed and then Andrews, where want of money to Andrews the main discourse, and at last in confidence of Creed’s judgement I am resolved to spare him 4 or 500l. of what lies by me upon the security of some Tallys. This went against my heart to begin, but when obtaining Mr. Creed to joyne with me we do resolve to assist Mr. Andrews. Then anon we parted, and I to my office, where late, and then home to supper and to bed. This night I am told the first play is played in White Hall noon-hall, which is now turned to a house of playing. I had a great mind, but could not go to see it.

the morning blush
a dish of plain meat

I want my heart to turn
to a house of play

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 20 April 1665.

that no one taught the bee

to thread its humming again
through the door of any hive;

that in some fields, blue
begins to stipple its way

through green. On hillsides,
the yellow of beggarticks,

the open mouths of dogwood.
Don’t doubt the rain, don’t walk

under signposts that point
elsewhere, away from the ordinary.

Should icicles yield their spears
from the eaves as you pass, take it

as a sign that ponds are starting
to brim with gurgle— That shimmer

in the rushes, perhaps your
many acres of sorrow folding.

Up by five o’clock, and by water to White Hall; and there took coach, and with Mr. Moore to Chelsy; where, after all my fears what doubts and difficulties my Lord Privy Seale would make at my Tangier Privy Seale, he did pass it at first reading, without my speaking with him. And then called me in, and was very civil to me. I passed my time in contemplating (before I was called in) the picture of my Lord’s son’s lady, a most beautiful woman, and most like to Mrs. Butler. Thence very much joyed to London back again, and found out Mr. Povy; told him this; and then went and left my Privy Seale at my Lord Treasurer’s; and so to the ‘Change, and thence to Trinity-House; where a great dinner of Captain Crisp, who is made an Elder Brother. And so, being very pleasant at dinner, away home, Creed with me; and there met Povy; and we to Gresham College, where we saw some experiments upon a hen, a dogg, and a cat, of the Florence poyson. The first it made for a time drunk, but it come to itself again quickly; the second it made vomitt mightily, but no other hurt. The third I did not stay to see the effect of it, being taken out by Povy. He and I walked below together, he giving me most exceeding discouragements in the getting of money (whether by design or no I know not, for I am now come to think him a most cunning fellow in most things he do, but his accounts), and made it plain to me that money will be hard to get, and that it is to be feared Backewell hath a design in it to get the thing forced upon himself. This put me into a cruel melancholy to think I may lose what I have had so near my hand; but yet something may be hoped for which to-morrow will shew. He gone, Creed and I together a great while consulting what to do in this case, and after all I left him to do what he thought fit in his discourse to-morrow with my Lord Ashly. So home, and in my way met with Mr. Warren, from whom my hopes I fear will fail of what I hoped for, by my getting him a protection. But all these troubles will if not be over, yet we shall see the worst of there in a day or two. So to my office, and thence to supper, and my head akeing, betimes, that is by 10 or 11 o’clock, to bed.

the sea speaking
like an elder brother

to the drunk
come to vomit

is not melancholy to have
so great an aching

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 19 April 1665.