Vagrants

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and Greeting comes, who brings me a tune for two flageolets, which we played, and is a tune played at the King’s playhouse, which goes so well, that I will have more of them, and it will be a mighty pleasure for me to have my wife able to play a part with me, which she will easily, I find, do. Then abroad to White Hall in a hackney-coach with Sir W. Pen: and in our way, in the narrow street near Paul’s, going the backway by Tower Street, and the coach being forced to put back, he was turning himself into a cellar, which made people cry out to us, and so we were forced to leap out — he out of one, and I out of the other boote; Query, whether a glass-coach would have permitted us to have made the escape? neither of us getting any hurt; nor could the coach have got much hurt had we been in it; but, however, there was cause enough for us to do what we could to save ourselves. So being all dusty, we put into the Castle tavern, by the Savoy, and there brushed ourselves, and then to White Hall with our fellows to attend the Council, by order upon some proposition of my Lord Anglesey, we were called in. The King there: and it was about considering how the fleete might be discharged at their coming in shortly (the peace being now ratified, and it takes place on Monday next, which Sir W. Coventry said would make some clashing between some of us twenty to one, for want of more warning, but the wind has kept the boats from coming over), whether by money or tickets, and cries out against tickets, but the matter was referred for us to provide an answer to, which we must do in a few days. So we parted, and I to Westminster to the Exchequer, to see what sums of money other people lend upon the Act; and find of all sizes from 1000l. to 100l. nay, to 50l., nay, to 20l., nay, to 5l.: for I find that one Dr. Reade, Doctor of Law, gives no more, and others of them 20l.; which is a poor thing, methinks, that we should stoop so low as to borrow such sums. Upon the whole, I do think to lend, since I must lend, 300l., though, God knows! it is much against my will to lend any, unless things were in better condition, and likely to continue so.
Thence home and there to dinner, and after dinner by coach out again, setting my wife down at Unthanke’s, and I to the Treasury-chamber, where I waited, talking with Sir G. Downing, till the Lords met. He tells me how he will make all the Exchequer officers, of one side and t’other, to lend the King money upon the Act; and that the least clerk shall lend money, and he believes the least will 100l.: but this I do not believe. He made me almost ashamed that we of the Navy had not in all this time lent any; so that I find it necessary I should, and so will speedily do it, before any of my fellows begin, and lead me to a bigger sum.
By and by the Lords come; and I perceive Sir W. Coventry is the man, and nothing done till he comes. Among other things, I hear him observe, looking over a paper, that Sir John Shaw is a miracle of a man, for he thinks he executes more places than any man in England; for there he finds him a Surveyor of some of the King’s woods, and so reckoned up many other places, the most inconsistent in the world.
Their business with me was to consider how to assigne such of our commanders as will take assignements upon the Act for their wages; and the consideration thereof was referred to me to give them an answer the next sitting: which is a horrid poor thing: but they scruple at nothing of honour in the case.
So away hence, and called my wife, and to the King’s house, and saw “The Mayden Queene,” which pleases us mightily; and then away, and took up Mrs. Turner at her door, and so to Mile End, and there drank, and so back to her house, it being a fine evening, and there supped. The first time I ever was there since they lived there; and she hath all things so neat and well done, that I am mightily pleased with her, and all she do. So here very merry, and then home and to bed, my eyes being very bad.
I find most people pleased with their being at ease, and safe of a peace, that they may know no more charge or hazard of an ill-managed war: but nobody speaking of the peace with any content or pleasure, but are silent in it, as of a thing they are ashamed of; no, not at Court, much less in the City.

a narrow street
people escape on the wind like down

into a paper woods
a place with no door

and there they live
nobody speaking of the city

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 23 August 1667.

sintomas*

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
3

the thigh: its speckled landscapes and faun-like moods
the tongue: its love of idle industry and minor angels

the throat: its splintered caves and hidden rivers 
the cheek: its aches, indecipherable from engagements

the forehead: its balconies of constant dreaming
the nape: its squeamishness and fear of wooden blocks

the arms: their pale whipped froth and custardy insides
the groin: its marshy bogs and and mists of gasses


* symptoms; Tagalog

Elimination round

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office; whence Lord Bruncker, J. Minnes, W. Pen, and I, went to examine some men that are put in there, for rescuing of men that were pressed into the service: and we do plainly see that the desperate condition that we put men into for want of their pay, makes them mad, they being as good men as ever were in the world, and would as readily serve the King again, were they but paid. Two men leapt overboard, among others, into the Thames, out of the vessel into which they were pressed, and were shot by the soldiers placed there to keep them, two days since; so much people do avoid the King’s service! And then these men are pressed without money, and so we cannot punish them for any thing, so that we are forced only to make a show of severity by keeping them in prison, but are unable to punish them. Returning to the office, did ask whether we might visit Commissioner Pett, to which, I confess, I have no great mind; and it was answered that he was close prisoner, and we could not; but the Lieutenant of the Tower would send for him to his lodgings, if we would: so we put it off to another time. Returned to the office, where we sat all the morning, and at noon to Captain Cocke’s to dinner; where Lord Bruncker and his Lady, Matt. Wren, and Bulteale, and Sir Allen Apsly; the last of whom did make good sport, he being already fallen under the retrenchments of the new Committee, as he is Master Falconer; which makes him mad, and swears that we are doing that the Parliament would have done — that is, that we are now endeavouring to destroy one another. But it was well observed by some at the table, that they do not think this retrenching of the King’s charge will be so acceptable to the Parliament, they having given the King a revenue of so many 100,000l.‘s a-year more than his predecessors had, that he might live in pomp, like a king. After dinner with my Lord Bruncker and his mistress to the Kings playhouse, and there saw “The Indian Emperour;” where I find Nell come again, which I am glad of; but was most infinitely displeased with her being put to act the Emperour’s daughter; which is a great and serious part, which she do most basely. The rest of the play, though pretty good, was not well acted by most of them, methought; so that I took no great content in it. But that, that troubled me most was, that Knipp sent by Moll to desire to speak to me after the play; and she beckoned to me at the end of the play, and I promised to come; but it was so late, and I forced to step to Mrs. Williams’s lodgings with my Lord Bruncker and her, where I did not stay, however, for fear of her shewing me her closet, and thereby forcing me to give her something; and it was so late, that for fear of my wife’s coming home before me, I was forced to go straight home, which troubled me. Home and to the office a little, and then home and to my chamber to read, and anon, late, comes home my wife, with Mr. Turner and Mrs. Turner, with whom she supped, having been with Mrs. Turner to-day at her daughter’s school, to see her daughters dancing, and the rest, which she says is fine. They gone, I to supper and to bed. My wife very fine to-day, in her new suit of laced cuffs and perquisites.
This evening Pelling comes to me, and tells me that this night the Dutch letters are come, and that the peace was proclaimed there the 19th inst., and that all is finished; which, for my life, I know not whether to be glad or sorry for, a peace being so necessary, and yet the peace is so bad in its terms.

shot by soldiers in a show of severity
a prisoner
the morning wren
the last falcon

we now destroy one another
like kings
infinitely displeased with
our promised life

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 22 August 1667.

sintomas*

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
2

the nose: its diving headfirst into wind, its lift and flop
the chin: its love for hammocks, its pyrrhic aspirations

the vein: its unsteady arrows in single lanes
the eyebrow: its cliff hangers, its plein air sketching 

the philtrum: its silence concerning the wisdom of the world
the suprasternal notch: its quiet alley, its nest of fallen birds 

the bladder: its muffled trumpets, its watery bleats
the hand: its genius at picking locks, its open softness


* symptoms; Tagalog

Roll call

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and my wife and I fell out about the pair of cuffs, which she hath a mind to have to go to see the ladies dancing to-morrow at Betty Turner’s school; and do vex me so that I am resolved to deny them her. However, by-and-by a way was found that she had them, and I well satisfied, being unwilling to let our difference grow higher upon so small an occasion and frowardness of mine. Then to the office, my Lord Bruncker and I all the morning answering petitions, which now by a new Council’s order we are commanded to set a day in a week apart for, and we resolve to do it by turn, my Lord and I one week and two others another. At noon home to dinner, and then my wife and I mighty pleasant abroad, she to the New Exchange and I to the Commissioners of the Treasury, who do sit very close, and are bringing the King’s charges as low as they can; but Sir W. Coventry did here again tell me that he is very serious in what he said to Sir W. Pen and me yesterday about our lending of money to the King; and says that people do talk that we had had the King’s ships at his cost to take prizes, and that we ought to lend the King money more than other people. I did tell him I will consider it, and so parted; and do find I cannot avoid it. So to Westminster Hall and there staid a while, and thence to Mrs. Martin’s, and there did take a little pleasure both with her and her sister. Here sat and talked, and it is a strange thing to see the impudence of the woman, that desires by all means to have her mari come home, only that she might be at liberty to have me para toker her, which is a thing I do not so much desire. Thence by coach, took up my wife, and home and out to Mile End, and there drank, and so home, and after some little reading in my chamber, to supper and to bed.
This day I sent my cozen Roger a tierce of claret, which I give him.
This morning come two of Captain Cooke’s boys, whose voices are broke, and are gone from the Chapel, but have extraordinary skill; and they and my boy, with his broken voice, did sing three parts; their names were Blaewl and Loggings; but, notwithstanding their skill, yet to hear them sing with their broken voices, which they could not command to keep in tune, would make a man mad — so bad it was.

in school we grow close
to the void

here is a strange thing
to not desire to be

boys sing their names
with broken voices

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 21 August 1667.

sintomas*

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
1

the heart: its palpitations in molasses and vinegar
the liver: its hooded falcon and perforated clouds  

the spleen: its doubled fists and banked fires
the spine: its naked chandeliers and broken lamps

the mouth: its one red dress and oyster bed
the stomach: its allegories of milk and vellum

the ear: its copper clocks and restless constellations
the eye: its fenced lagoon and roving windlass

* symptoms; Tagalog

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 37

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: abundance and loss, fire and ash, falling, the fallen. Fall.


The apples are falling into bags which find their way to my doorstep, the damsons have relaxed, forgiven themselves for not being plums, the dish and the spoon are getting well used, and the courgettes are running away with the beans. Even the herbs in my window box are making a final push for the sun, over-stretching beyond their theme tune … Parsley, Chives, Rosemary and Thyme – with a ladida and a hey diddle diddle and damn the absence of Sage and a fiddle! 

I’ve saved jars, and jammed some fruits into them, I’ve baked an apple tart, sprinkled it with almond flakes and cinnamon. In years gone by I pickled. I stoned. I peeled. I cored. But this year’s new harvest trick is bottling. 

Bottle. What a word. I bottle, you bottle, he, she, zhe, they, bottle. We’ve all bottled it through lock-down and here in the northern hemisphere we’re facing, well, we’re facing west and the lowering sun, and the coming of the colder months. But before that, the plenty, abundance of good things to store, to shore us up, turn into something warm and friendly, encouraging and faintly medicinal for whatever lies ahead. It’s cordial. 

Liz Lefroy, I Bottle Abundance

This [click through for photo] is the University of Chicago “Great Books of the Western World” collection, edited by Mortimer Adler and published in the 1950s. My grandmother, a single mom on a budget, scrimped and saved for months to buy this for my father when he was quite young, maybe 12, and it shaped the rest of his life. He eventually went to the University of Chicago, and became a research psychologist, a scholar, a book collector, and a deeply engaged intellectual with a broad ranging curiosity and knowledge of the world. He kept this collection with him always – I remember it in his library when I was growing up – and it’s still right here next to the bed where he slept until last January. I’m staying in this room now, visiting my stepmom, and realizing just how long the influence of something like this can last. My dad truly believed in the life of the mind and dedicated his life to it, and his life – not to mention these books – are a testament to how the mind lives on in the pages we write, the people we talk to, the students we teach, and the children we raise.

turning the page ::
a vase of dried reeds on the old bookshelf

Dylan Tweney [no title]

The week was heavy and emotional. My eyes were permanently swollen from crying and I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. I slept little and ate like crap. But every day I held my dad’s hand, I kissed his forehead, I stroked his face, I told him I loved him. I spooned ice into his mouth and at the end, I spooned morphine into his cheek. I injected meds into his catheter. I emptied his urine catch and I changed his dressings. I performed these tasks with love and heartbreak.

My dad was unresponsive the entire time but I believe he knew I was there. The first few days he opened his eyes and looked at me. He didn’t say anything but once, while looking at me, I swear he was trying to say I love you.

Each morning I would rise early and watch the sky as I drank my coffee. One morning, the sunrise was breathtaking. I thought of all the days my farmer father greeted the day before the sun rose. How he watched the sky lighten as he worked the fields or fed the cattle. In that moment, I felt at peace.

While death is always overwhelming and hard and painful, I’m grateful I had this time with my dad. I’m grateful I could be with him all week and be with him at the end.

I tried writing but the words wouldn’t come. I’ve written a lot about my dad in the past and so maybe, for now, I’ve written myself out of this. Maybe right now I just need to sit with the emotions. So here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago. [Click through to read.]

Courtney LeBlanc, Saying Goodbye

Today I hiked Wendell State Forest, where hundreds of hours and miles of our laughter is imprinted in bark, water, sky, and springy pine-roots underfoot.

Finally, I don’t miss him: he just is, in me, again, differently now and it’s not as good but he’s there, imprinted in every cell, muscle, timbre, laugh.

I forgot my phone, my camera: just me and his ghost and the slant light of the end.

And herons. Bears. Minks. Otters. Beavers. Frogs. Turtles. Coyotes.

Images of him layered on my retinas, images of me in his tapetum, images of The Us reflected in every forest leaf-shimmer, in all that September gold.

JJS, last nights together: 7 years gone tomorrow

Meanwhile, our family house is eerily tidy. I have an urge to rush around the kitchen sprinkling every surface with breadcrumbs, smearing humus on light fixtures, kicking over piles of books to make everything seem more normal. The laundry bin is looking as deflated as a jumper that shrunk in the wash. I almost hate the silence as much as I hate the thumping beats of techno music. My daughter’s leaving feels much closer to loss than when she left to study at university – and I always knew she’d be back home every eight weeks.

But I hope I will get back to a regular writing routine next week. Much as I miss my eldest child, I’m glad to be reinstated in the room and desk I loaned to her for her studies and online tutoring. It is great to be able to shut myself away for some time each day and not be disturbed mid-sentence by my fantastic but distracting husband, Andrew, when he pops into the kitchen from his office (at the bottom of our garden) to make himself a cup of tea.

Josephine Corcoran, Proper Weeping

The whole West Coast is covered in smoke, with wildfires still raging in Washington State, Oregon, and California. Our air quality has been so bad I’ve been shut up in my bedroom with four air purifiers since Monday night, and the indoor air quality is still almost 100. Outdoor air quality yesterday was 400. It is impossible to breathe outside; even for healthy people, creosote particles (among others) can cause long-term lung damage. Cloth masks don’t work, either, only n95 or P100 masks, the news continues to tell us – though I have no idea where people are getting those, they haven’t been available to normal people since February. So, we’re basically screwed until it rains – which won’t be til Monday or Tuesday, and even then we’re not guaranteed clean air. […]

Hummingbirds continue to appear and drink from the feeder, and from the flowers. We run the sprinkler periodically for the birds and my garden; apparently the spray helps them stay cleaner from the smoke (or so I was told.) I have added houseplants to my room of solitude to help make up for the fact that I can’t go outside – an orchid, a snake plant, an aloe, a couple of ferns – all plants that coincidentally are supposed to help air quality. One thing about things you are able to control – I can’t stop over 600,000 acres burning, but I can plant a tree in my yard (when this is over and it’s safe outside, naturally.) I can’t leave the “clean room” in my house (without suffering more than the nosebleeds, headaches, and cough I’m currently having) but I can try to connect with others online, and think about how to improve the quality of the air in the house (air purifiers, plants, dusting, getting rid and loose papers, avoiding burning anything (food, candles, etc.) I’ve been writing poems, too, when I can, though I’m not sleeping well with all the smoke so they may be mildly incoherent.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, In an Apocalyptic Week, an Apocalypse Book Giveaway: Field Guide to the End of the World, and Margaret Atwood with Hummingbirds

the sky is brown full of smoke ash tar creosote and whatever else trees exhale as they burn as they die that picture is not current I just put it there because it is a portal I only stepped outside once yesterday to grab the CSA box from the porch and I held my breath while doing so no baking no frying no vacuuming (not that I was going to vacuum) and no running the dryer we are quiet inside both of us with raging headaches the house full of invisible smoke waiting for rain there are no birds flying or hopping around no birdsong the leaves on my rhododendrons are drooping my trees cast their eyes to the south toward Seattle and Portland which is now on alert to evacuate half a million people that amazing green place burning burning with an administration that has been steadily and quietly rolling back environmental protections an administration that does not believe in science an administration that disregards the entire west coast because our governors would not stoop to kiss the nasty man’s ring

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The air itself seems heavy. Suffocating. The simple act of breathing is as hard as understanding your life. Outside, the fading lights of a passing car give way to starlight. Light and dark, breathing and suffocation. Your life is heavier than air. There’s the sound of footsteps, but you can’t tell if they are coming or going.

James Lee Jobe, smoke and ash everywhere

By Thursday afternoon my house was filled with smoke. My nostrils were parched, and my head felt not achy, but heavy. My eyes wanted to stay closed.

I am not in an evacuation zone, not even level one, but they aren’t far from me. […]

I had a conversation with an old friend, and we talked about evacuation plans, our children’s futures, whether or not we should buy guns and learn how to use them.

If you’d told me even ten years ago that I would think seriously about buying a gun I’d have told you to shoot me now. That I would never want to live in a world where I’d find myself thinking seriously about whether or not I should buy a gun.

But Thursday was the day rumors started to fly that the wildfires in Oregon were set by antifa and BLM supporters (spread by far-right talk radio and dubious web sites and hordes of ignorant, scared people), and I read from a valid news source that our country’s vice president was planning to address a meeting of QAnon supporters as a campaign event, and my house filled with smoke, and our already-closed schools closed more, and it felt like a reasonable conversation to be happening.

“It’s not like I feel like I need one now,” I said to L. “But I don’t think we should wait until we feel like we need to do some things. I think if we wait until then, it might be too late.”

The first thought that came into my head upon waking Thursday morning was that I should photograph everything in the house that I might want to submit in an insurance claim, if we had to leave and the house burned. I know my house isn’t going to burn now, but that seems like it might be a good thing to have.

Still, I felt calm. I still feel calm.

I think Thursday was the day I went over an edge I’d been getting closer and closer to. It might have happened after I dropped my daughter off at work and drove down a street and noticed that the line of tents camped along it had grown over the past few days. Two years ago we reported such camps to some agency, and a few days later we’d see them disappear. Now I can’t remember how long they’ve been permanently there. They are everywhere, modern-day Hoovervilles.

“I think,” I said to L., “that whoever gets to look back on this year will see it as a turning point, the time in which a fundamental shift happened. I don’t think we are ever going to go back to what we think of as normal.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, On fire in the eye of a hurricane

The physical technique stuff is learnable, even for me. But developing the true emotional readiness to defend yourself from an attack is a whole other layer. I can visualize myself doing the defensive moves. I can run the programs in my head and ready myself to act rather than freeze in the event that the worst happens. I am fully willing to protect myself, but I need to work on that small seed of doubt that I cannot. That small seed of doubt could literally kill me. Used correctly, these techniques will work reliably every time, so the only thing in the way right now is my thoughts, which are much harder to master than anything physical. 

My one regret is that I wasn’t able to break the black block. We did block-breaking as a mental exercise, and I broke every other one fairly easily after a few tries, but the black block was the hardest, and I couldn’t break through it, despite everyone cheering me on. One of my bruises from the class is on my wrist from whacking that thing over and over again, until the instructor took it away and gave me plaudits for trying. I am now haunted by that black block. That black block represents to me an unconscious lack of readiness, and a deep layer of shame about all of the times I have been attacked and bullied and was unable to protect myself. (And there it is. I didn’t expect to get so deep on myself that I would start crying as I wrote this.) I need to break that black block in my mind. I need to understand that I am not a frail, boundary-less, vulnerable person anymore. I am eons away from being that person. I have to know that and believe that, because my life truly could depend on it. So that is the real work ahead of me, grappling not physically but emotionally. Defeating not the enemy outside of me, but the one inside of me.

It’s been an intense few days, topped off by our air in Seattle being so thick with wildfire smoke as to be almost edible.

Kristen McHenry, The Black Block

The ongoing soundtrack of fire and smoke transform these western skies into a horror movie.

Reruns of choked air stumble zombified before our eyes, casting the sun in an eerie Halloween glow, making high noon a vast jack-o’-lantern on heaven’s porch step.

Our shadows don’t even tag along as we wander outdoors amidst a climate that’s changed into apocalyptic clothing.

And so we bide our time, counting the falling ashes, waiting for rains whose every wet syllable is aria.

Rains unafraid to bed down in dark forests.

Rains unshy in the ways of turning burned skies clean.

Rich Ferguson, How to Unmake This Movie of Our Making

Even as ice rained on the desert, even
    as the skies above California turned
the color of rusted chains, someone
    was still trying to dig out remnants
of that dream. Confused birds tucked
      their heads under their wings. 
In field after field, garlic and artichoke 
    hearts bent beneath the weight
of all they too could no longer hold.

Luisa A. Igloria, American Dream

Already these crystalline days.  Already the air moving in its own way, letting sun and warmth shout at mid-day, then fall silent.  Already sound of the sea in the crowns of trees.   Already baskets full with the harvest.  Already late fruits, second round of figs, God’s tomatoes.  Already coming into peak.  Already reap what you sow.  Already reap what you have sown.

Then, as if the bonfires of vine cuttings have been let loose on the country, already fires, fires, fires.  Fire balls and lies and a house divided.  Unloosed colors that are not our crystalline days.  Our, not our days.  Dazed by destruction, red-hot beauty that flashes in its rage.  Haze of underwater yellow dawn.  Smoke, air moving in its own way.

Leaders loosened from any ground.  Pronouncements. As with everything, the language exposes.  What our fears are.  What we’re not saying. 

Already turn, turn.  Turn of the twirling leaf.  Turn of teshuva of the Jewish New Year — return to a better self.  Breakdown, collapse, strip to origins.  Quiver, terror, suspense.  Turn after a long stare of paralysis.  Reap what you sow — maybe.  Reap in spite of what you sowed – maybe.  No guarantees.  Mystery.  Be nourished by all experience.  Sow, pause in the nothingness.  

The ripe tomato turns on the vine.

Jill Pearlman, Turn, Turn, September’s Turn

Every year I write an extra high holiday sermon. Not on purpose! It just happens. Every year, it seems, I write my three sermons… and then realize that one of them is predictable, or trite, or doesn’t say anything new, or doesn’t speak to the unique needs of this moment. I could publish a book of the sermons I never gave. (I won’t. But I’m amused that I could.)

In that sense, preparing for the Days of Awe this year has been just like every other year. I make an outline for every service, trying to balance Hebrew with English, song with spoken-word, familiar with new. I thrill to cherished ancient melodies. I practice singing, and I jot musical motifs on Post-it notes so I don’t lose track of which melodic mode we’re in. Just like always.

And who am I kidding: preparing for the holidays this year has been unlike any other, ever. I translated my machzor into a slide deck, adding images and artwork and embedded video, adding new readings and prayers for this pandemic moment. I made it much longer! and then I cut, ruthlessly, because services need to be a manageable length for Zoom, and they need to flow. 

I’m trying to help my kid get ready for school. He’s growing like mint, like a sunflower. There is a stack of new notebooks and pencils on his desk. There’s also a school-issued Chromebook. The year will begin with two weeks of remote learning before we enter a “hybrid model” phase. The juxtaposition of normal and unprecedented is itself becoming our new normal.

My kitchen counter is heaped with beautiful lush heirloom tomatoes from the CSA where I’ve been a member since 1995. I eat them sliced, on toast with cream cheese; cubed, with peaches, topped with burratini and a splash of balsamic vinegar; plain, like impossibly juicy apples. Any minute now their season will end, and I will miss this late-summer abundance fiercely.

There’s a gentle melancholy to this season for me, every year. The changing light; the first branches turning red and gold; the knowledge that the season will turn and there’s nothing I can do to stop it… I sit on my mirpesset, arms and legs bared to the warm breeze, listening to late-summer cricketsong. I know their song isn’t forever. That, at least, really is just like always.

Rachel Barenblat, Just like always

I’m still rambling through Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. The part where he reminds us that “the word “passion” means basically “to be affected”…” He’s talking about the beauty / soul connection, saying, “If we can be affected by beauty, then soul is alive and well in us, because the soul’s great talent is for being affected.” He reminds us that “beauty is not defined as pleasantness of form but rather as the quality in things that invites absorption and contemplation.” Beauty isn’t necessarily pretty. Beauty is “things displaying themselves in their individuality.”

The soul needs beauty. And Moore quotes Rilke’s ideas on the “passive power” of being affected, in the image of a flower’s structure: “a muscle of infinite reception.” Moore says, “We don’t often think of the capacity to be affected as strength and as the work of a powerful muscle, and yet for the soul, as for the flower, this is its toughest work and its main role in our lives.”

The world needs a lot of things right now, but it also needs places for us to exercise that muscle of infinite reception. Libraries, for example. Schools. Art galleries.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that since the pandemic began, I’ve been going out more often and photographing people and buildings in my city, Edmonton. And so there’s a chapter in C of the S that spoke to me. Moore says, “Care of the soul requires that we have an eye and an ear for the world’s sufferings.” He suggest that we see things (not just people) in their suffering condition. (People and things are connected, and it’s just another level of noticing). When we see trashed areas of our city, and now boarded up ones, graffitied walls (not the artistic ones), what’s going on there? “When our citizens spray-paint a trolley or subway or a bridge or a sidewalk, clearly they are not just angry at society. They are raging at things. If we are going to understand our relationship with the things of the world, we have to find some insight into this anger, because at a certain level those people who are desecrating our public places are doing a job for us. We are implicated in their acting out.”

The book was published in 1994, but yah, we are all still implicated. That’s certainly something this past year should have taught us all. What do the ruins of our city tell us? Maybe we’re too deep in it all to know, but we can still record. We can photograph, describe with words. What do the ruins and boarded up or otherwise neglected places related to Covid-19 tell us about what’s happening? How will they continue to tell a story?

Shawna Lemay, To Be Affected

Her house is ramshackle, she bought it for a song because that was all she could afford in her post-retirement wish to move out of the city for a quiet life. When I visited her, she warned of the scorpions under the tiles, mice that sneak in through the mitham, and centipedes that permanently reside in the washroom. There was a contraption that looked like the one used to hold down a snake. Seeing me eye the long rod, she said it was used to pull down drumsticks and lime from trees. I remained alert during my stay and watched my steps.

Her husband took me around the village. The banyan tree dwarfed the temple and arched across the narrow road to canopy the large and mossy temple pond. A dirt road led out of the village to acres of shimmering paddy fields – heads of the tall grass heavy with grains, the stalks a coppery gold. When the sun moved high in the sky, the earth became a column of light, and I could barely keep the eyes unblinking. He led me to a tree and we sat for long in silence as dark patches gathered at the corner of my vision. In the city I had not experienced naked light; tall buildings and dust-laden trees bounce off the glare.

He wiped his forehead with the carefully folded thundu. His veshti was crisp and his shirt neatly ironed – echoes from the days he displayed fine taste. Many of my friends desired him to be their father, or rather desired their father to be like him – stylish and suave; he wore shades for Madras summer, and went for a jog near the Marina in shorts – something that only film heroes did.

He worked as a technical director in a film studio – what job that entailed I do not know, but l knew it commanded an envious lifestyle of parties and travels to places that I had to look up in the atlas. He sailed in a cloud of perfume, you could smell musk for hours after he left a room.

I wasn’t perceptive then; in retrospect, I see the cracks: his aspirations tensed his relationship with his wife. Now in the absence of all that he possessed, I sense a turmoil, his dis-ease with himself, and alienation from the resplendent kingfisher just a metre away hovering above the wild fern fronds.

Uma Gowrishankar, Kumbakonam thereabouts

I have a recurring dream that I am downtown at night, completely alone, and the lights go out.  Completely and not even a moon to see by.  In the most recent version a few nights ago, I was trying to use the flashlight on my cell phone to navigate. Sometimes, there are car headlights, but more often, it’s pitch black.

Tonight was my first evening shift at the library and my first night downtown since March, and it’s a strange, eerily deserted world I come back into and very much not the bustling one I left.  Granted, it’s chilly and a little rainy, which no doubt kept a lot of people in, but I only saw a few people on the streets, a few riders on the bus.  […]

But really, many of the storefronts were already empty long before Covid–high rents, dwindling physical shoppers. I would guess at least one storefront per block empty for years or recently vacated. So maybe it was always getting darker along that strip, and even moreso south of the river.  Not just the theatres and bars and hotels, but also the businesses that thrived because of loop workers, many of whom are working from home and no longer populating the cafes and lunch spots. I am curious to see how the Chicago rebuilds itself in the wake of this, what changes the textures and routines of city life.  In my neighborhood on the north side, things are pretty much the same and most eateries have managed to stay open. People who work from home still get carryout and coffee, just closer to their houses, but downtown, who knows what that will look like when this is over–if this is ever over… 

Kristy Bowen, chicago by night

I never wrapped up my thoughts on the Sealey Challenge, which dares you to read a poetry book every day of August. One question was, is this mostly a chance to look cool and post photos of your reading stack or is it a sincere request that you engage with poetry on a daily basis for a month?

Well, it’s up to you. In my case I didn’t read a book a day. Some of the books I wanted to read were more than a hundred pages long and even if I didn’t have a job I might not have managed it. But I consider 20 books a positive thing. I also didn’t have the desire or wherewithal to post something on social media every day. I’m sure the world is not bothered.

I admit there were a couple books I didn’t like, one of which I eventually gave up on. That was kind of sad, but I am old and I have to be selective. I’ve read just shy of 600 books over the past ten years. Hopefully I’ll live another 20 years, which means I have time for 1,200 more.

Of the books by poets I’d never read before last month, my favorite was Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall. The book includes many ekphrastic poems alongside family poems, all dealing with race, interracial families and identity. I felt it was very well done, beautifully written and felt and conveyed. It had music and meaning. It was engaging and accessible. I like that.

Sarah J Sloat, Thrall

–On Monday, we began unpacking the boxes of books that have been packed away for 2 years–2 years.  There were moments when I wanted to weep when I took the books out of the boxes, to weep because I was so happy to see them again.

–I didn’t finish unpacking the boxes.  We discovered that the lowest shelf wasn’t as attached to the wall as my DIY spouse thought it was.  We decided to take a pause to see how the other shelves, now full of books, responded.  So now the front bedroom is a bit of a disaster, but at least we’re in progress to getting the books put away. […]

–During one of my quicker restocking trips, I picked up a bouquet of flowers, the cheap $4 kind.  It has a hydrangea bloom, lots of small sunflowers, a huge fuchsia carnation, and some daisy-esque blossoms.  I am amazed at its beauty.

–Here is the task, it seems:  to continue to be amazed at the beauty.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Look Back at Labor Day

home alone
I plaited my hair
but word got around

domestic science
I wish I’d done more
reweaving my life

we are stymied
silenced by the virus
hold fast to courage

a transgression
to sing to Rosie’s goats
whose bones are made of music

Ama Bolton, ABCD September 2020

I don’t want these poems I’m writing now to feel forced and I haven’t quite got an organic spark for this latest one. So I’m tip-toeing around it, writing notes about images and a few lines, but at the moment it feels very telling and unfocused. I have a deadline for the end of the month I’d like to meet, so need to get it finished. 

The sun is finally shining after a rough, rainy week, so I hope to go out to the allotment today. The girls have been selling my excess courgettes this week and want to see if any others are ready. I have had a serious glut of them this year. They grow to marrows so quickly. The kids are tired of courgette bread and the veg in pasta sauces. I have a freezer full of grated courgette as well. I was surprised anyone bought them as they aren’t a traditional Finnish veg and most people I’ve given them away to haven’t known what to do with them, but they shifted over a dozen of them at fifty cents each. I’ll try and get as much in as I can before the wet gets to them, but I think the plot is winding down.

Gerry Stewart, Autumn Scramble

I’m sure everyone with school-age kids is finding it the same, but now that Flo’s back at school, we’ve been spending a lot of this week getting used to a new routine in the house. She’s getting up earlier again and that means we are too. It’s amazing what a difference an hour makes. Please note this is not where I start singing the praises of rising 12 hours before you go to bed, etc. I won’t do that as it’s a shit state of affairs and I’d rather stay in bed.

However, in an attempt to make hay, etc I’m trying to make use of the time and do my exercises and then spend at least 30-45 mins writing before work. You take what you can, I guess. I managed it once this week and that was more by luck than judgement, but it happened and the poem that emerged from it wasn’t half bad, if I say so myself and so far.

It’s based on an idea that’s been hanging around for a long time—well, almost a year, in scribbled note form, but sometimes these things just need to just do their thing sub-consciously.

Who knows what will happen next week. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you can do consistently… I admire folks that turn up and just do the “work”. Perhaps I should do that. Sod it, let’s see what happens if I make a point of doing that for the next week.

Mat Riches, A Raise of Sunshine

I was thinking about the hazards of writing current events poetry, and asked some poet friends if we talked about Covid in our poems are we not in danger of having them become dated?

One argued that we are writing poems out of a specific experience, out of an extraordinary time.

But don’t all times feel extraordinary when we’re in them? 9/11, World War I, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the death of a parent — all of them were times that felt catastrophic to the individuals inside them. How to write a good poem that transcends its extraordinary time to encompass all extraordinary times? Or should that even be a goal? Why not linger in the time and be frank about it?

Another person called attention to Yeats’s Easter 1916 as a poem grounded in a specific experience but a poem that has transcended the time of that experience. It is a wonderful poem, which certainly by the title grounds us firmly in time, though makes the assumption the reader will understand the reference to the Irish uprising. That phrase, though, “terrible beauty,” captures the imagination and takes me in any number of directions far from Irish soil. And the naming of the dead is an ancient rite that we still take part in. The movement of the poem to the unceasing natural world is both a common approach of putting us in our place and also effective, a useful reminder of the fleeting nature of our existence. But even though he wrote it shortly after the event, the poem already feels like a historic, long view. It has a vital distance, the “I” a distant onlooker from the start, already elegiac.

Is it this real or perceived distance that offers an avenue into the power of the poem? I don’t know.

Marilyn McCabe, Got the rockin’ pneumonia; or, On Writing About Current Events

A large buddleia bush obscured my view of the raptor, so I could not make out whether it was a young redtail (it was on the small side) or perhaps a Coopers or sharp-shinned. The squirrel’s response intrigued me. In a fraction of a second, it determined that running straight toward me was ever so much wiser than running the opposite direction (braving the open lawn to make for the treeline). I watched, amused, as the squirrel scurried along the porch to within a foot of my chair, where it suddenly scrabbled its legs, slewed sideways, and stared up at me in confused terror. Poor thing.

It climbed down the side of the porch and huddled in the bushes as the hawk shook itself and made for the oak tree and the small birds returned to their interrupted repast. The cats gazed out with renewed interest, having felt a bit flustered themselves, I could tell.

I don’t blame them. Everything lately seems so unprecedented and apocalyptic.

I feel simpatico with the squirrel.

Ann E. Michael, Hawk. Squirrel.

It’s a test for me, this poem [“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski], I say to them. June’s long days and drops of rosé wine, yes. But refugees going nowhere? Executioners singing joyfully? After the summer we have had, that is a bit much. Isn’t it? Is it all part of the same whole, I ask them? Are we to look at everything as an opportunity for praise, for grace, for beauty? And what if we can’t see the world in that way? What if our past history and life experiences have hard-wired us to be just a little suspicious of messages which sound like ‘It’s all going to work out fine’? For many of us, it hasn’t, and didn’t.

Well, you start with the gray feather a thrush lost. You start with the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns. That concert where the music flared. Can you praise those and hold them in the light, just for one minute? You’ll be surprised with what your imagination shows you.

Anthony Wilson, Praise the Rain

poems
chiselling the tombstone 
of the world

Jim Young [no title]

You Say You Need the World to be the World Again (a haibun)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
 
What wounds, what overgrown fields and blunted 
ploughs. What skies dangling with freefall of 
blasted birds. What broken shelves of mountains 
on which markhor have left behind their winter 
coats, their spiraled horns. What towns of smoke 
and elegy of 9 AM shadow. What strange noons 
of orange fog, an acreage of embers sparking 
into fire. The moon keeps a tally on its chipped 
marble whiteboard: each plank of hewn and stolen 
wood; each pod of pilot whales and porpoises, 
their effort to steer out of boiled saltwater 
to strand upon the coast. And you, mouth that 
did not eat of soups with sea-turtle eggs and 
pangolin flesh, that did not tear the joints 
off buttonquail roasted on bamboo spits, that 
did not dip a spoon into stews of elk— yet 
you dressed your skin in velvet and let them 
dwindle into abandoned shells, sink like rusted 
vessels. Always at dusk, the ancestors visit: 
their wings cleave air you find increasingly 
hard to breathe. What wounds, what fingerprints 
you’ve left on every surface: hard as diamond 
points, scattershot trails visible from thousands 
of miles above the earth.
 
There’s only this moment. 
Don’t call on stars or meteors.
Don’t speak just to speak.

 

 

In response to Via Negativa: Unthinkability.

Unthinkability

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to my chamber to set down my journall for the last three days, and then to the office, where busy all the morning. At noon home to dinner, and then with my wife abroad, set her down at the Exchange, and I to St. James’s, where find Sir W. Coventry alone, and fell to discourse of retrenchments; and thereon he tells how he hath already propounded to the Lords Committee of the Councils how he would have the Treasurer of the Navy a less man, that might not sit at the Board, but be subject to the Board. He would have two Controllers to do his work and two Surveyors, whereof one of each to take it by turns to reside at Portsmouth and Chatham by a kind of rotation; he would have but only one Clerk of the Acts. He do tell me he hath propounded how the charge of the Navy in peace shall come within 200,000l., by keeping out twenty-four ships in summer, and ten in the winter. And several other particulars we went over of retrenchment: and I find I must provide some things to offer that I may be found studious to lessen the King’s charge. By and by comes my Lord Bruncker, and then we up to the Duke of York, and there had a hearing of our usual business, but no money to be heard of — no, not 100l. upon the most pressing service that can be imagined of bringing in the King’s timber from Whittlewood, while we have the utmost want of it, and no credit to provide it elsewhere, and as soon as we had done with the Duke of York, Sir W. Coventry did single [out] Sir W. Pen and me, and desired us to lend the King some money, out of the prizes we have taken by Hogg. He did not much press it, and we made but a merry answer thereto; but I perceive he did ask it seriously, and did tell us that there never was so much need of it in the world as now, we being brought to the lowest straits that can be in the world. This troubled me much. By and by Sir W. Batten told me that he heard how Carcasse do now give out that he will hang me, among the rest of his threats of him and Pen, which is the first word I ever heard of the kind from him concerning me. It do trouble me a little, though I know nothing he can possibly find to fasten on me. Thence, with my Lord Bruncker to the Duke’s Playhouse (telling my wife so at the ’Change, where I left her), and there saw “Sir Martin Marr-all” again, which I have now seen three times, and it hath been acted but four times, and still find it a very ingenious play, and full of variety. So home, and to the office, where my eyes would not suffer me to do any thing by candlelight, and so called my wife and walked in the garden. She mighty pressing for a new pair of cuffs, which I am against the laying out of money upon yet, which makes her angry. So home to supper and to bed.

an oven in the summer
in the winter thin ice

imagine it while we have it
no elsewhere

I need the world to be
the world again

ingenious
full of variety and suffering and light

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 20 August 1667.

One Saturday, We Move Quietly through the Unthinkable

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Where are the toys
in your house, asks my grandson
with his face next to the cell
phone screen. The sky's not ash
or amber where we are in the south.
We've barely been outside
these long months. He watches
solemnly as I pick up a little
metal thing with wheels;
pull it back, then let it roll
across the floor. It tracks a wobbly
line that comes to a stop at the far
end by the wall, near the coat
rack and the outside shoes lined up
by the door; next to a shelf of books.
It's mostly quiet in our neighborhood,
but none of us heard when a gust
of wind knocked down the deck
umbrella sometime in the night.
Now and again, the high-up hum
of cicadas. Imagine a sound
like that, magnified by flame
and crackling through dry
hills in the west. The animals'
ears pushed back; each one
alert and unblinking.