Smell Pox

still from Smell Pox showing snow falling on wet leaf duff
This entry is part 32 of 32 in the series Pandemic Season


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I lost my sense of smell for just two days. When it came back, the first odor I noticed was soil, which still surprises me this time of year. When I was a kid, the only time the temperature rose above freezing in January was for a few days of warm weather toward the end of the month, a little false spring we called January Thaw.

white clippings
from my haircut
winter garden

Rachel went back to work after a ten-day self-quarantine. She had what might’ve been the common cold, though five of the other people who looked after the same special-needs person tested positive for Covid. That’s the hell of it, the not knowing whether one might be infectious or immune.

afternoon moon
where’s your shadow


Process notes

This went through so. many. drafts. That’s in part because I had several haiku that worked with it, but didn’t have any particularly amazing footage. In the end, yesterday’s moon got me where I needed to go, I think: Absence was my true subject all along. I uploaded it last night, but this morning had one more tweak, that lens-warp fade in. I felt it needed something, but wasn’t sure what until I discovered that effect.

Oculus Song

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Unbearable months of almost wishing
you could disappear, and then

one day the brush of a small wing;
the lilt of a new voice in your ear.

Indigo shadows and their gradual 
altering. Lunettes of color, tentative  

on the periphery— like vegetation 
coming back after a fire. Or a woman 

with a red coat walking in the fields;
her red umbrella. You know the world

is still a pandemonium, a ship-
wreck, an intubation. A mausoleum

of seemingly incurable slaughter. 
And yet at the edges, a blue ripple 

threads itself like a stitch through
arms of willows, sweetgum, and magnolia. 

At day's end: the light, closing again
but not like a wound; pleating, like a fan.   


The Hanged Man

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and by water to White Hall, and there walked with Creed in the Matted gallery till by and by a Committee for Tangier met: the Duke of York there; and there I did discourse over to them their condition as to money, which they were all mightily, as I could desire, satisfied with, but the Duke of Albemarle, who takes the part of the Guards against us in our supplies of money, which is an odd consideration for a dull, heavy blockhead as he is, understanding no more of either than a goose: but the ability and integrity of Sir W. Coventry, in all the King’s concernments, I do and must admire. After the Committee up, I and Sir W. Coventry walked an hour in the gallery, talking over many businesses, and he tells me that there are so many things concur to make him and his Fellow Commissioners unable to go through the King’s work that he do despair of it, every body becoming an enemy to them in their retrenchments, and the King unstable, the debts great and the King’s present occasions for money great and many and pressing, the bankers broke and every body keeping in their money, while the times are doubtful what will stand. But he says had they come in two years ago they doubt not to have done what the King would by this time, or were the King in the condition as heretofore, when the Chancellor was great, to be able to have what sums of money they pleased of the Parliament, and then the ill administration was such that instead of making good use of this power and money he suffered all to go to ruin. But one such sum now would put all upon their legs, and now the King would have the Parliament give him money when they are in an ill humour and will not be willing to give any, nor are very able, and besides every body distrusts what they give the King will be lost; whereas six months hence, when they see that the King can live without them, and is become steady, and to manage what he has well, he doubts not but their doubts would be removed, and would be much more free as well as more able to give him money. He told me how some of his enemies at the Duke of York’s had got the Duke of York’s commission for the Commissioners of his estate changed, and he and Brouncker and Povy left out: that this they did do to disgrace and impose upon him at this time; but that he, though he values not the thing, did go and tell the Duke of York what he heard, and that he did not think that he had given him any reason to do this, out of his belief that he would not be as faithful and serviceable to him as the best of those that have got him put out. Whereupon the Duke of York did say that it arose only from his not knowing whether now he would have time to regard his affairs; and that, if he should, he would put him into the commission with his own hand, though the commission be passed. He answered that he had been faithful to him, and done him good service therein, so long as he could attend it; and if he had been able to have attended it more, he would not have enriched himself with such and such estates as my Lord Chancellor hath got, that did properly belong to his Royal Highness, as being forfeited to the King, and so by the King’s gift given to the Duke of York. Hereupon the Duke of York did call for the commission, and hath since put him in. This he tells me he did only to show his enemies that he is not so low as to be trod on by them, or the Duke hath any so bad opinion of him as they would think.
Here we parted, and I with Sir H. Cholmly went and took a turn into the Park, and there talked of several things, and about Tangier particularly, and of his management of his business, and among other discourse about the method he will leave his accounts in if he should suddenly die, he says there is nothing but what is easily understood, but only a sum of 500l. which he has entered given to E. E. S., which in great confidence he do discover to me to be my Lord Sandwich, at the beginning of their contract for the Mole, and I suppose the rest did the like, which was 1500l., which would appear a very odd thing for my Lord to be a profiter by the getting of the contract made for them. But here it puts me into thoughts how I shall own my receiving of 200l. a year from him, but it is his gift, I never asked of him, and which he did to Mr. Povy, and so there is no great matter in it. Thence to other talk. He tells me that the business of getting the Duchess of Richmond to Court is broke off, the Duke not suffering it; and thereby great trouble is brought among the people that endeavoured it, and thought they had compassed it. And, Lord! to think that at this time the King should mind no other cares but these! He tells me that my Lord of Canterbury is a mighty stout man, and a man of a brave, high spirit, and cares not for this disfavour that he is under at Court, knowing that the King cannot take away his profits during his life, and therefore do not value it.
Thence I home, and there to my office and wrote a letter to the Duke of York from myself about my clerks extraordinary, which I have employed this war, to prevent my being obliged to answer for what others do without any reason demand allowance for, and so by this means I will be accountable for none but my own, and they shall not have them but upon the same terms that I have, which is a profession that with these helps they will answer to their having performed their duties of their places. So to dinner, and then away by coach to the Temple, and then for speed by water thence to White Hall, and there to our usual attending the Duke of York, and did attend him, where among other things I did present and lodge my letter, and did speed in it as I could wish. Thence home with Sir W. Pen and Comm. Middleton by coach, and there home and to cards with my wife, W. Hewer, Mercer, and the girle, and mighty pleasant all the evening, and so to bed with my wife, which I have not done since her being ill for three weeks or thereabouts.

who takes an hour to make
despair an enemy

and their doubtful body trust
in another

if he should suddenly die
there is nothing but what
is undercover now

is life therefore a letter from myself
which to answer I will
be accountable for

among other things I wish
on the cards

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 December 1667.

Future Tense

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
When we helix in the dark
I pray for a time and place

our bodies haven't lived yet—
spackled with moonlight or 

slick with humid rain, 
threading through alleys

glowing from the undulation
of single light bulbs

in every home's kitchen. 
Or: sidecar and tricycle,

pedalling over bluegreen
cobblestones, promising 

the sea around every next
corner. In fields loud

with green growth, animals
step into view. They  

won't wait until we aren't 
looking. They won't hide 

their meaning. In that
world they'll eat

what they want 
from every garden. 

They'll let us lie
down in thickets

of bamboo— when wind
passes through their hollow

throats, they might remind
us of the sadness in that

dying other world; or they 
might stir more quietly, 

the way things do 
before vanishing.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up and to Westminster, and there to the Swan, and by chance met Mr. Spicer and another ’Chequer clerk, and there made them drink, and there talked of the credit the ’Chequer is now come to and will in a little time, and so away homeward, and called at my bookseller’s, and there bought Mr. Harrington’s works, “Oceana,” &c., and two other books, which cost me 4l., and so home, and there eat a bit, and then with my wife to the King’s playhouse, and there saw “The Surprizall;” which did not please me to-day, the actors not pleasing me; and especially Nell’s acting of a serious part, which she spoils. Here met with Sir W. Pen, and sat by him, and home by coach with him, and there to my office a while, and then home to supper and to bed. I hear this day that Mrs. Stewart do at this day keep a great court at Somerset House, with her husband the Duke of Richmond, she being visited for her beauty’s sake by people, as the Queen is, at nights; and they say also that she is likely to go to Court again, and there put my Lady Castlemayne’s nose out of joynt. God knows that would make a great turn. This day I was invited to have gone to my cozen Mary Pepys’ burial, my uncle Thomas’ daughter, but could not.

in the drink called ocean
all the spoils of our joy make
a great turn
into one burial

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 December 1667.

On Seeking the Blessing of the Gods

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
A book on etymologies explains inauguratio—
a ritual ceremony by which a college of ancient 
diviners and high priests of government obtained, 
or endeavoured to obtain, the sanction of the gods 
to something which had been decreed by man. The day
would have to be auspicious; augurs scanned 
the skies for stars, starved the birds in the royal
coop or fed them to the fire as sacrifice—which 
could possibly be another word for bribe. 
From antiquity, there are countless stories of
collusion and betrayal; and of orators delivering
impassioned speeches against tyranny and
corruption in the state—the enemies they made 
rose up with force, not hesitating when they set
assassins loose. Unsatisfied with plain
old slaying, they cut off the head and right 
hand of Cicero, which were displayed on the podium
from where he'd spoken. More, the wife of his enemy
took his head into her lap and turned the dead
man's tongue into her personal pincushion. 
There's no end to public commentary in the fevered 
anxiety of our own days, on the violent mob 
advancing with intent to threaten and destroy. 
But when they shake their heads and declare 
America, this is not who we are—I have to pause. 
History overflows with euphemisms: substituting
decency for self-interest, pacification for war. 

Y’all Qaeda

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

…it being a fine, light, moonshine morning, and so home round the city, and stopped and dropped money at five or six places, which I was the willinger to do, it being Christmas-day, and so home, and there find my wife in bed, and Jane and the maids making pyes, and so I to bed, and slept well, and rose about nine, and to church, and there heard a dull sermon of Mr. Mills, but a great many fine people at church; and so home. Wife and girl and I alone at dinner — a good Christmas dinner, and all the afternoon at home, my wife reading to me “The History of the Drummer of Mr. Mompesson,” which is a strange story of spies, and worth reading indeed. In the evening comes Mr. Pelling, and he sat and supped with us; and very good company, he reciting to us many copies of good verses of Dr. Wilde, who writ “Iter Boreale,” and so to bed, my boy being gone with W. Hewer and Mr. Hater to Mr. Gibson’s in the country to dinner and lie there all night.

moonshine Christ
the dull history
of hate

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 25 December 1667.

What just happened

Thomas Jefferson statue at Jefferson Memorial

negative image of the Thomas Jefferson statue at the Jefferson Memorial with a speech ballon asking What happened

What just happened
said the mockingbird in advanced middle age surviving his first real snowstorm

What just happened
said the fork and the spoon when their owner started eating with her fingers

What just happened
said the pandemic stoner sitting in his flat full of nothing much

What just happened
said the blind cave fish after feeling the heat of a spelunker’s torch

What just happened
said the disposable chopsticks dug up by an archaeologist a thousand years from now

What just happened
said the t-shirt retailing for as low as $25 on Etsy but $16.99 on Amazon

What just happened
said the trees in March when their sap began to rise by a process still not fully understood by scientists

What just happened
said the Corona virus with its spike proteins buried in an antibody

What just happened
said the owner of the last brick-and-mortar porn shop in America when crude words were sprayed across his MAGA billboard

What just happened
said the porcupine skull beside the router when the electric came back on

What just happened
said the war criminal when he went back to his first love: oil painting

What just happened
said the Trump toady when Pepe the Frog showed up

What just happened
said the TV pundit every weekday morning for four years as ratings soared

What just happened
said the new Antarctic iceberg the size of Wales, in Welsh

What just happened
said the great blue whale encountering the song of an uncontacted tribe

What just happened
said the non-native ladybird beetle coming back to life in the walls of a house

What just happened
said the tree of liberty that had been refreshed with the blood of ordinary policemen

What just happened
said the headline the day before a new democratically elected warlord took power

What just happened
said the poem over and over clearly fancying itself some kind of postmodern incantation

What just happened

Are you all right

Are any of us

Have we ever been all right

An Abbreviated History of Pain

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
After centuries, we still don't
understand pain. The Greeks imagined it 

almost as a kind of spirit, looking to gain
entrance into the body through any wound.  

In the bible, there are more than 70
mentions of the word pain or suffering.
The pain of childbirth, the grief after loved 
ones die, the pain of lepers and others afflicted 

with disease; boils, thorns, nails, and crosses— 
All are meant to illustrate that what comes after 

pain is the more important experience. Scripture
boils down to just one message: wait for it.

As for theories of natural selection, organisms 
that display a nimble ability to survive 

often do so at the expense of others. The human hand 
evolved to grasp a rock or fashion a metal spear. 

The heads of toppled strongmen or dictators 
were swiftly severed by guillotine; naturally,

they died before they could describe how that 
might have felt. Phantom pain rouses an amputee

in the middle of the night, so he'll clutch
a leg fashioned of air and blankets. Shooting 

and stabbing pains send electric nerve signals 
from the brain to the face and mouth. Neurosurgeons

probe this pain that doesn't seem to further the body's 
instincts for self-preservation: microvascular decompression,

stereotactic radiation. But it comes and goes at will, 
like a capricious god or spirit reminding you of 

a proverb about how the hurt in the littlest 
finger becomes agony for the whole body.  


Crowd ritual

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and all the morning at the office, and at noon with my clerks to dinner, and then to the office again, busy at the office till six at night, and then by coach to St. James’s, it being about six at night; my design being to see the ceremonys, this night being the eve of Christmas, at the Queen’s chapel. But it being not begun I to Westminster Hall, and there staid and walked, and then to the Swan, and there drank and talked, and did besar a little Frank, and so to White Hall, and sent my coach round, I through the Park to chapel, where I got in up almost to the rail, and with a great deal of patience staid from nine at night to two in the morning, in a very great crowd; and there expected, but found nothing extraordinary, there being nothing but a high masse. The Queen was there, and some ladies. But, Lord! what an odde thing it was for me to be in a crowd of people, here a footman, there a beggar, here a fine lady, there a zealous poor papist, and here a Protestant, two or three together, come to see the shew. I was afeard of my pocket being picked very much. But here I did make myself to do la cosa by mere imagination, mirando a jolie mosa and with my eyes open which I never did before – and God forgive me for it, it being in the Chapel. Their musique very good indeed, but their service I confess too frivolous, that there can be no zeal go along with it, and I do find by them themselves that they do run over their beads with one hand, and point and play and talk and make signs with the other in the midst of their masse. But all things very rich and beautiful; and I see the papists have the wit, most of them, to bring cushions to kneel on, which I wanted, and was mightily troubled to kneel. All being done, and I sorry for my coming, missing of what I expected; which was, to have had a child born and dressed there, and a great deal of do: but we broke up, and nothing like it done: and there I left people receiving the Sacrament: and the Queen gone, and ladies; only my Lady Castlemayne, who looked prettily in her night-clothes, and so took my coach, which waited, and away through Covent Garden, to set down two gentlemen and a lady, who come thither to see also, and did make mighty mirth in their talk of the folly of this religion. And so I stopped, having set them down and drank some burnt wine at the Rose Tavern door, while the constables come, and two or three Bellmen went by…

I see the ceremony in a crowd
a high mass of people

here a beggar
here a fine lady
her pocket being picked

for music
their go-along selves

for a sacrament
only mirth

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 24 December 1667.