Friend, I tell you I have no real
power in this world but what is given
me: that is, they take one look and see
a woman born in a foreign place,
they point out accents in my speech
to use as argument for how I couldn’t
possibly teach about the nuances
and meanings of literature
or language. Nobody can imagine
anyone’s pain better than through
a story— perhaps that is a power,
but not one I can exclusively claim.
Diligent student though, I count
how many times in a day I stop to think:
what am I really trying to say? Who
has already said it better than I could?
The hope of hopes is that someone
will love us back, will return
with some kind of care the words
we’ve allowed, though haltingly,
out into the open.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Omission.

Up, it being a cold misting morning, and so by water to the office, where very busy upon several businesses. At noon got the messenger, Marlow, to get me a piece of bread and butter and cheese and a bottle of beer and ale, and so I went not out of the office but dined off that, and my boy Tom, but the rest of my clerks went home to dinner. Then to my business again, and by and by sent my waterman to see how Sir W. Warren do, who is sicke, and for which I have reason to be very sorry, he being the friend I have got most by of most friends in England but the King: who returns me that he is pretty well again, his disease being an ague. I by water to Deptford, thinking to have seen my valentine, but I could not, and so come back again, and to the office, where a little business, and thence with Captain Cocke, and there drank a cup of good drink, which I am fain to allow myself during this plague time, by advice of all, and not contrary to my oathe, my physician being dead, and chyrurgeon out of the way, whose advice I am obliged to take, and so by water home and eat my supper, and to bed, being in much pain to think what I shall do this winter time; for go every day to Woolwich I cannot, without endangering my life; and staying from my wife at Greenwich is not handsome.

a misting morning
my disease come back I drink
to my physician


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 15 September 1665.

Moved four times in the last two
decades, kept from taking out
a mortgage until egged on
by others. Wouldn’t you know it—
these nesting dreams made recently
precarious by threat of tidal
swell and rising oceans, by news
of melting icecaps. When told
to leave you look around, not
knowing what to take, being
that it’s impossible. Water,
heat, fire; broad stones
under the fig tree in the yard.
Though everything you need
is already in your heart,
you’ll continue to eye
the coats on the line,
the good boots in the closet;
the army of beetles edging along
the length of the garden hose.

Up, and walked to Greenwich, and there fitted myself in several businesses to go to London, where I have not been now a pretty while. But before I went from the office newes is brought by word of mouth that letters are now just now brought from the fleete of our taking a great many more of the Dutch fleete, in which I did never more plainly see my command of my temper in my not admitting myself to receive any kind of joy from it till I had heard the certainty of it, and therefore went by water directly to the Duke of Albemarle, where I find a letter of the 12th from Solebay, from my Lord Sandwich, of the fleete’s meeting with about eighteen more of the Dutch fleete, and his taking of most of them; and the messenger says, they had taken three after the letter was wrote and sealed; which being twenty-one, and the fourteen took the other day, is forty-five sail; some of which are good, and others rich ships, which is so great a cause of joy in us all that my Lord and everybody is highly joyed thereat. And having taken a copy of my Lord’s letter, I away back again to the Beare at the Bridge foot, being full of wind and out of order, and there called for a biscuit and a piece of cheese and gill of sacke, being forced to walk over the Bridge, toward the ‘Change, and the plague being all thereabouts. Here my news was highly welcome, and I did wonder to see the ‘Change so full, I believe 200 people; but not a man or merchant of any fashion, but plain men all. And Lord! to see how I did endeavour all I could to talk with as few as I could, there being now no observation of shutting up of houses infected, that to be sure we do converse and meet with people that have the plague upon them. I to Sir Robert Viner’s, where my main business was about settling the business of Debusty’s 5000l. tallys, which I did for the present to enable me to have some money, and so home, buying some things for my wife in the way. So home, and put up several things to carry to Woolwich, and upon serious thoughts I am advised by W. Griffin to let my money and plate rest there, as being as safe as any place, nobody imagining that people would leave money in their houses now, when all their families are gone. So for the present that being my opinion, I did leave them there still. But, Lord! to see the trouble that it puts a man to, to keep safe what with pain a man hath been getting together, and there is good reason for it. Down to the office, and there wrote letters to and again about this good newes of our victory, and so by water home late.
Where, when I come home I spent some thoughts upon the occurrences of this day, giving matter for as much content on one hand and melancholy on another, as any day in all my life. For the first; the finding of my money and plate, and all safe at London, and speeding in my business of money this day. The hearing of this good news to such excess, after so great a despair of my Lord’s doing anything this year; adding to that, the decrease of 500 and more, which is the first decrease we have yet had in the sickness since it begun: and great hopes that the next week it will be greater. Then, on the other side, my finding that though the Bill in general is abated, yet the City within the walls is encreased, and likely to continue so, and is close to our house there. My meeting dead corpses of the plague, carried to be buried close to me at noon-day through the City in Fanchurch-street. To see a person sick of the sores, carried close by me by Gracechurch in a hackney-coach. My finding the Angell tavern, at the lower end of Tower-hill, shut up, and more than that, the alehouse at the Tower-stairs, and more than that, the person was then dying of the plague when I was last there, a little while ago, at night, to write a short letter there, and I overheard the mistresse of the house sadly saying to her husband somebody was very ill, but did not think it was of the plague. To hear that poor Payne, my waiter, hath buried a child, and is dying himself. To hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams, to know how they did there, is dead of the plague; and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on Friday morning last, when I had been all night upon the water (and I believe he did get his infection that day at Brainford), and is now dead of the plague. To hear that Captain Lambert and Cuttle are killed in the taking these ships; and that Mr. Sidney Montague is sick of a desperate fever at my Lady Carteret’s, at Scott’s-hall. To hear that Mr. Lewes hath another daughter sick. And, lastly, that both my servants, W. Hewer and Tom Edwards, have lost their fathers, both in St. Sepulchre’s parish, of the plague this week, do put me into great apprehensions of melancholy, and with good reason. But I put off the thoughts of sadness as much as I can, and the rather to keep my wife in good heart and family also. After supper (having eat nothing all this day) upon a fine tench of Mr. Shelden’s taking, we to bed.

no news is plague news
shutting up infected people
and nobody imagining their pain

no news is like meeting an angel
more than air
more than some poor child
and dying daily of sadness
at my heart having nothing


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 14 September 1665.

Up, and walked to Greenwich, taking pleasure to walk with my minute watch in my hand, by which I am come now to see the distances of my way from Woolwich to Greenwich, and do find myself to come within two minutes constantly to the same place at the end of each quarter of an houre.
Here we rendezvoused at Captain Cocke’s, and there eat oysters, and so my Lord Bruncker, Sir J. Minnes, and I took boat, and in my Lord’s coach to Sir W. Hickes’s, whither by and by my Lady Batten and Sir William comes. It is a good seat, with a fair grove of trees by it, and the remains of a good garden; but so let to run to ruine, both house and every thing in and about it, so ill furnished and miserably looked after, I never did see in all my life. Not so much as a latch to his dining-room door; which saved him nothing, for the wind blowing into the room for want thereof, flung down a great bow pott that stood upon the side-table, and that fell upon some Venice glasses, and did him a crown’s worth of hurt.
He did give us the meanest dinner (of beef, shoulder and umbles of venison which he takes away from the keeper of the Forest, and a few pigeons, and all in the meanest manner) that ever I did see, to the basest degree.
After dinner we officers of the Navy stepped aside to read some letters and consider some business, and so in again. I was only pleased at a very fine picture of the Queene-Mother, when she was young, by Van-Dike; a very good picture, and a lovely sweet face.
Thence in the afternoon home, and landing at Greenwich I saw Mr. Pen walking my way, so we walked together, and for discourse I put him into talk of France, when he took delight to tell me of his observations, some good, some impertinent, and all ill told, but it served for want of better, and so to my house, where I find my wife abroad, and hath been all this day, nobody knows where, which troubled me, it being late and a cold evening. So being invited to his mother’s to supper, we took Mrs. Barbara, who was mighty finely dressed, and in my Lady’s coach, which we met going for my wife, we thither, and there after some discourse went to supper. By and by comes my wife and Mercer, and had been with Captain Cocke all day, he coming and taking her out to go see his boy at school at Brumly, and brought her home again with great respect. Here pretty merry, only I had no stomach, having dined late, to eat. After supper Mr. Pen and I fell to discourse about some words in a French song my wife was saying, “D’un air tout interdict,” wherein I laid twenty to one against him which he would not agree with me, though I know myself in the right as to the sense of the word, and almost angry we were, and were an houre and more upon the dispute, till at last broke up not satisfied, and so home in their coach and so to bed.
H. Russell did this day deliver my 20s. to my wife’s father or mother, but has not yet told us how they do.

I walk with my watch in my hand
to see the distances with minutes

to run is to save nothing
wind blowing into the forest a few pigeons

walking I find my body where it is
all stomach and no sense of the word fat


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 13 September 1665.

We are blown grass, rocks
sheared into pieces by wind,

box houses tumbling into
the Balili river. We are

splints of fools’ gold,
seed libraries shaken

into upended gardens.
We’d crawled into the earth

with pick-axes in search
of luck and scrimshawed

bones. We come out thick
with mud, tails between

our legs, watching as one
by one omens come true:

horses flaring their nostrils
before they step over the edge,

the sun’s lazy eye clicking
into place, fixing us all.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Death angel.

Up, and walked to the office, where we sat late, and thence to dinner home with Sir J. Minnes, and so to the office, where writing letters, and home in the evening, where my wife shews me a letter from her brother speaking of their father’s being ill, like to die, which, God forgive me! did not trouble me so much as it should, though I was indeed sorry for it. I did presently resolve to send him something in a letter from my wife, viz. 20s. So to bed.

at my peak
like God not present
to my wife


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 12 September 1665.

“6:00 o’clock, morning, 30 December, 1896.
To my very beloved Mother, Dña. Teodora Alonso.”
~ Jose P. Rizal’s last letter to his mother before his execution

In his last hour, he writes a letter to his mother
consisting of the time and date only; a salutation,

followed by silence. For how could language gather
the enormity of what could be said; or even what can’t?

There are people who are so uncomfortable
with silence they have to fill it with something

immediately: click the radio dial on, the TV,
keep the babble going in the background

though they don’t feel the need to pay
any real attention. My doctor friend who lives

alone says he makes it a point to use the guest
bathroom regularly just to hear the sound of flushing

from another part of the house. But returning
to the hero’s silence, which archivists have described

as both cryptic and lyric or profound: someone sent
me a picture of my mother when she was brought

to the ER after falling or fainting on the street
corner. No broken bones, only surface bruising

on one shin. When the Barangay tanod brought
her home, she was appalled by the sight of unkempt

rooms— empty plastic bottles strewn in every
corner, piles of unwashed clothes; styrofoam

boxes crusted over with food remnants. Two
children left to watch over her and also

themselves. Hardly a trace of any responsible
adult: the orphans of her sister, who’ve lived

rent-free under her roof all their lives
and eaten at her table in ampler times, yet can’t

be bothered. The ones quick to say she has
a daughter in America, why should they be the ones

to care? River rats come and go as they please
through cracks in the floorboards. Bread disappears;

fruit, rind and pith. The faded drapes are streaked
with marks of their desperate foraging. Or perhaps

other mouths are at work here too. Someone turns off
the electricity to her rooms, while theirs are lit.

How does one even begin to address the enormity
of what else is hidden from view? Beloved, there is

no letter ample enough for my helplessness and that
kind of silence: door pummelled by wind day and night.

~ From poetry prompts given to 2nd graders at Buckingham Primary School, Buckingham, VA; 17 September 2018:
Write Two Animals
Write Two Machines
Write Two Things that Taste Good
Write Two Things that Hurt

1
A newspaper article on how to survive a monster storm tells people returning to check on damage in the aftermath. It also says, “In the Philippines there are some more unique risks. Beware of poisonous animals like snakes that may have entered your house….” We didn’t see any. Only a deer in the shadows, head bent and deadheading the hydrangeas.

2
When I am heartsick I press
my right hand to my chest
and listen for the whoosh of water.

When I court sleep I hold the levers
of my thumbs as I was taught.

3
Sugar.
Salt.

4
The body scored
by sugar
and salt.

Up and walked to the office, there to do some business till ten of the clock, and then by agreement my Lord, Sir J. Minnes, Sir W. Doyly, and I took boat and over to the ferry, where Sir W. Batten’s coach was ready for us, and to Walthamstow drove merrily, excellent merry discourse in the way, and most upon our last night’s revells; there come we were very merry, and a good plain venison dinner. After dinner to billiards, where I won an angel, and among other sports we were merry with my pretending to have a warrant to Sir W. Hickes (who was there, and was out of humour with Sir W. Doyly’s having lately got a warrant for a leash of buckes, of which we were now eating one) which vexed him, and at last would compound with me to give my Lord Bruncker half a buck now, and me a Doe for it a while hence when the season comes in, which we agreed to and had held, but that we fear Sir W. Doyly did betray our design, which spoiled all; however, my Lady Batten invited herself to dine with him this week, and she invited us all to dine with her there, which we agreed to, only to vex him, he being the most niggardly fellow, it seems, in the world.
Full of good victuals and mirth we set homeward in the evening, and very merry all the way. So to Greenwich, where when come I find my Lord Rutherford and Creed come from Court, and among other things have brought me several orders for money to pay for Tangier; and, among the rest 7000l. and more, to this Lord, which is an excellent thing to consider, that, though they can do nothing else, they can give away the King’s money upon their progresse. I did give him the best answer I could to pay him with tallys, and that is all they could get from me. I was not in humour to spend much time with them, but walked a little before Sir J. Minnes’s door and then took leave, and I by water to Woolwich, where with my wife to a game at tables, and to bed.

the clock over our revels
is an angel on a leash

I give it a while to betray us
and tally all our time


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 11 September 1665.