Poems & poem-like things

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

…we for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit’s growth—
~ From The Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke

They poisoned the water
before taking it away. They said:

choose a death alone in a park
with no witnesses, or one

in a schoolroom, in the company
of others. They said you can’t

have it all, though you have
but little. So they schemed

to separate sibling from sibling,
parent from child. Before the corpses

were evicted or buried, one of their own
remembered to snap the rosary chains

they clutched in their hands:
for revenge, and to keep the border

permeable— that thin line dividing
this world and the next and the next.

Up, and to the office, where sat all the morning; at noon to the ‘Change, and thence to the Royall Oake taverne in Lumbard Streete, where Sir William Petty and the owners of the double-bottomed boat (the Experiment) did entertain my Lord Brunkard, Sir R. Murrey, myself, and others, with marrow bones and a chine of beefe of the victuals they have made for this ship; and excellent company and good discourse: but, above all, I do value Sir William Petty.
Thence home; and took my Lord Sandwich’s draught of the harbour of Portsmouth down to Ratcliffe, to one Burston, to make a plate for the King, and another for the Duke, and another for himself; which will be very neat.
So home, and till almost one o’clock in the morning at my office, and then home to supper and to bed.
My Lord Sandwich, and his fleete of twenty-five ships in the Downes, returned from cruising, but could not meet with any Dutchmen.

I experiment with marrow bones
and a mad mouth

one plate for the king
and another for the clock

and then home to supper
and my sandwich hips sing

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 18 February 1665.

[ ~ with a line from Sam Roxas-Chua 姚’s Echolalia in Script ]

I love the homely egg, even after it’s broken:
my flawed desiderata, my failed cartography.

I distrust those who warn against dreams—
those who say dreamers are swindlers,

peddlers of moldy bean curd, fake
pashmina. Look around, there are many

far more evil than the dreams they warn us
not to harbor. They wear identical dark

suits and cannot look straight at the camera
even while professing apology or regret.

Whereas I love the irregular weave of a hand-
loomed blanket, how and where it holds itself

most accountable to light: the thin spots,
the possibility of future breaking. Every use

thus beautifies the tally of a thing’s im-
perfections; which isn’t the same as saying

it is flawed. I admire what’s entered fire
yet stays supple, acutely reflective.

The leather-faced slapper coaxes gold to tendrils.
We’ll wear what the blows will never finish.

This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté

Page 17 from Max Ernst's <em>Une Semaine de Bonté</em>

In the demimonde they say rules
don’t apply; even the law of gravity
has been suspended. You can laugh

from the bottom bounce of a check.
You can float. Women are more
than ornamental: their arts are art.

A sailor spots his ship’s figurehead
on her way to a meeting of the board.
The glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered

but turned into a floor: like sea ice,
blue, translucent, prone to cracks
and groans. It will hold your weight

until spring, when the old order returns
with its dark fins and foreclosures,
its strip poker, its house that always wins.

Nature conspires with nurture again
and an infant, fresh from its watery Eden,
screams like a gull for your breast.

Up, and it being bitter cold, and frost and snow, which I had thought had quite left us, I by coach to Povy’s, where he told me, as I knew already, how he was handled the other day, and is still, by my Lord Barkeley, and among other things tells me, what I did not know, how my Lord Barkeley will say openly, that he hath fought more set fields than any man in England hath done. I did my business with him, which was to get a little sum of money paid, and so home with Mr. Andrews, who met me there, and there to the office. At noon home and there found Lewellin, which vexed me out of my old jealous humour. So to my office, where till 12 at night, being only a little while at noon at Sir W. Batten’s to see him, and had some high words with Sir J. Minnes about Sir W. Warren, he calling him cheating knave, but I cooled him, and at night at Sir W. Pen’s, he being to go to Chatham to-morrow. So home to supper and to bed.

bitter and old
how I still bark and bark

open fields get me
out of my jealous office

a night at noon calling
eating me up

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 17 February 1665.

Up, and with Mr. Andrews to White Hall, where a Committee of Tangier, and there I did our victuallers’ business for some more money, out of which I hope to get a little, of which I was glad; but, Lord! to see to what a degree of contempt, nay, scorn, Mr. Povy, through his prodigious folly, hath brought himself in his accounts, that if he be not a man of a great interest, he will be kicked out of his employment for a foole, is very strange, and that most deservedly that ever man was, for never any man, that understands accounts so little, ever went through so much, and yet goes through it with the greatest shame and yet with confidence that ever I saw man in my life. God deliver me in my owne business of my bill out of his hands, and if ever I foul my fingers with him again let me suffer for it!
Back to the ‘Change, and thence home to dinner, where Mrs. Hunt dined with me, and poor Mrs. Batters; who brought her little daughter with her, and a letter from her husband, wherein, as a token, the foole presents me very seriously with his daughter for me to take the charge of bringing up for him, and to make my owne. But I took no notice to her at all of the substance of the letter, but fell to discourse, and so went away to the office, where all the afternoon till almost one in the morning, and then home to bed.

I get a prodigious kick out of shame
my own hands foul my fingers

let me suffer for it a little
let me make my own afternoon bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 16 February 1665.

Again we’ll enter our last world—
following the path birders took into the wild,
that promptly forgot itself as soon as work

crews came to build a road. Where are the birds
now that cried, rising in unison from the screen
of leaves to rend the hems of mountain fog? Who

remembers how many steps led to the grotto, or
where soldiers hid a statue cast in gold? I’m told
that children dance in the streets daubed in paint

and flowers; that papier-mâché swans write
half-finished letters to a dwindling lake.
The rains come back, season after season.

In the post office, rows of unfilled boxes line
the walls, their tiny keyholes set in numbered
doors like so many eyes, unblinking.

In every family there’s the good one,
the slow one; the hungry one, the impatient
one: I’m told I am that one. I make Tuesday’s

lunches and Wednesday’s dinner on Sunday
because I know how fast Monday will go.
I get up at 6:00, shower and dress by 6:15,

unlock the gate and load the dishes before
you’re done with coffee; am out the door
by 6:45. I accelerate at yellow.

And so for the longest time I couldn’t
figure out why the story of Odysseus
should resonate so much: that uber slow,

twenty-year jaunt, one excruciating
detour after another prolonging arrival
or return. It was clear I couldn’t quite

identify with the one waiting at home: the one
making her endless macrame of strings all day
only to pluck them apart at night.

Rather, I felt I understood what it meant
to exert heroic effort, take nothing
for granted, work harder than everyone

because I was from somewhere else; gather all
the tokens, move from one level to the next
and score. If you’re like me you get

what it’s like to stopper the ears against
the easy seduction along the way; make it through
a narrowing chasm in the nick of time. Did the hero

ever ask When does it stop? Did he ever want to buy
a Honda Odyssey minivan just so he could at least
drive from one new trial to the next with a modicum

of style? Or at least hire a driver; get a map
highlighting independent bookstores and coffee
shops and sushi restaurants along the way.

Sample them all, check off items on the bucket
list before the sun’s long shadow darkens the earth
and he’s finally, like the rest of us, run out of time.


In response to VIa Negativa: Postmortem.

Up and to my office, where busy all the morning. At noon with Creed to dinner to Trinity-house, where a very good dinner among the old sokers, where an extraordinary discourse of the manner of the loss of the “Royall Oake” coming home from Bantam, upon the rocks of Scilly, many passages therein very extraordinary, and if I can I will get it in writing.
Thence with Creed to Gresham College, where I had been by Mr. Povy the last week proposed to be admitted a member; and was this day admitted, by signing a book and being taken by the hand by the President, my Lord Brunkard, and some words of admittance said to me. But it is a most acceptable thing to hear their discourse, and see their experiments; which were this day upon the nature of fire, and how it goes out in a place where the ayre is not free, and sooner out where the ayre is exhausted, which they showed by an engine on purpose. After this being done, they to the Crowne Taverne, behind the ‘Change, and there my Lord and most of the company to a club supper; Sir P. Neale, Sir R. Murrey, Dr. Clerke, Dr. Whistler, Dr. Goddard, and others of most eminent worth. Above all, Mr. Boyle to-day was at the meeting, and above him Mr. Hooke, who is the most, and promises the least, of any man in the world that ever I saw. Here excellent discourse till ten at night, and then home, and to Sir W. Batten’s, where I hear that Sir Thos. Harvy intends to put Mr. Turner out of his house and come in himself, which will be very hard to them, and though I love him not, yet for his family’s sake I pity him. So home and to bed.

the old oak rocks
taken by fire and exhaust

how an engine promises
the least world

a house which will be
very hard to love

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 15 February 1665.