How a frosted glass repeats
the shadow of itself on the desk:
a broken circumnavigation.

How the the tree cut down
in the back lot leaves a table
smoothed by five days’ rain—

Ask about the green-shrouded
spirits who walked past my sleeping
form to convene in the attic—

How the peonies bent
their heads from the deepest
rose they could bear—

How I knew the smallest buds
would give their hearts
like that, too.

Up, and by appointment to a meeting of Sir John Lawson and Mr. Cholmly’s atturney and Mr. Povy at the Swan taverne at Westminster to settle their business about my being secured in the payment of money to Sir J. Lawson in the other’s absence.
Thence at Langford’s, where I never was since my brother died there. I find my wife and Mercer, having with him agreed upon two rich silk suits for me, which is fit for me to have, but yet the money is too much, I doubt, to lay out altogether; but it is done, and so let it be, it being the expense of the world that I can the best bear with and the worst spare.
Thence home, and after dinner to the office, where late, and so home to supper and to bed. Sir J. Minnes and I had an angry bout this afternoon with Commissioner Pett about his neglecting his duty and absenting himself, unknown to us, from his place at Chatham, but a most false man I every day find him more and more, and in this very full of equivocation.
The fleete we doubt not come to Harwich by this time. Sir W. Batten is gone down this day thither, and the Duchesse of Yorke went down yesterday to meet the Duke.

the swan of absence died
having too much world

I miss his absenting himself
from his place full of down


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 17 May 1665.

At a party,
in the humid dusk among people
I mostly don’t know: just as
the tray of mint chocolate brownies
is passed around, a man turns
to me: And where did you
do your graduate degree?

Let’s try that again.
At a party, in the living room
among academics she doesn’t know
very well: just as dessert is passed
around, a man in khaki shorts, sandals,
and a Hawaiian print shirt turns to her:
My wife and I used to live in HK.

One more time.
At the party, my focus sharpens
as the man who said he and his wife used
to live in HK suddenly discloses that he
was so disturbed about those tiny sleeping
quarters in apartments there— no bigger
really than for two or three pieces
of luggage. He wrote and published
an article about it.

A ten year war, or twelve, or twenty;
a century or more. A siege. A taking,
a taking over. Those subdued
are called the colonized.

On seeing the shade of Helen, Faustus
declaims that famous line: Was this
the face that launch’d a thousand ships/
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

On seeing my face,
others seem moved
to remember only their
encounters with maids.

Up betimes, and to the Duke of Albemarle with an account of my yesterday’s actions in writing. So back to the office, where all the morning very busy. After dinner by coach to see and speak with Mr. Povy, and after little discourse back again home, where busy upon letters till past 12 at night, and so home to supper and to bed, weary.

I mar my day
with discourse
busy as a night ear


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 16 May 1665.

left shoelace, nail-width space
once tethered by a button; street
washed by too much rain— Come in,
come in, take off your sandals,
cool your fevered throat.
On the road you smell the flowers—
Peonies bursting with the shade
of cream, blushing; their plush,
the texture of suede. Swooning arcs
of wisteria, undividing the fence.
The heart wants to confess how much
smaller it feels today than yesterday,
and the day before; how frightened it is
of what it will surely be asked to bear.
It wants to climb the hill and rest there,
let the wind stream through the rooms, prop
all its windows open. What threads the needle
burning through the canopy? You didn’t know
kindness could still unravel from the inside
of whorled green shells. The heart wants
to trade its tattered rags for a square
of cotton, a piece of hollow bone; one clear note
to fly like a flag, but not yet in surrender.

~ “The poem is for those who’ve lost.” ~ Sean Thomas Dougherty

It’s spring, but in other places it is
not-yet-spring. It’s dry, or wet

with monsoon, or it is why-is-there-still-
snow-on-the-ground. It’s strange and high,

that mechanical whine in the night, coming
from somewhere beyond the ceiling. It’s

Wednesday, and in another place already
Thursday; it is night, though here it is

still half-past noon; and look at the news-
paper! On the upper left, a woman in a pale

peach dress is smiling and waving her hand.
On the bottom right, there’s a picture

of cities burning: it’s spring, or whatever
season it is for laughter or slaughter, a

difference of one letter between one state
of being and another. It’s that time when cows

and sheep are calving, when blood is the marker
for a life breaking away, or maybe just breaking.

 

In response to Via Negativa: Gloaming.

…our victualling ships to set them agoing, and so home, and after dinner to the King’s playhouse, all alone, and saw “Love’s Maistresse.” Some pretty things and good variety in it, but no or little fancy in it. Thence to the Duke of Albemarle to give him account of my day’s works, where he shewed me letters from Sir G. Downing, of four days’ date, that the Dutch are come out and joyned, well-manned, and resolved to board our best ships, and fight for certain they will.
Thence to the Swan at Herbert’s, and there the company of Sarah a little while, and so away and called at the Harp and Ball, where the mayde, Mary, is very ‘formosa’; but, Lord! to see in what readiness I am, upon the expiring of my vowes this day, to begin to run into all my pleasures and neglect of business.
Thence home, and being sleepy to bed.

after love an account
of my day’s work

where we join our hips
to the company of sleep


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 15 May 1665.

Today, students in my Washington & Lee University Spring Term 2018 class in Prose Poems & Hybrid Forms were fortunate to participate in an hour-long conversation with poet and artist Sam Roxas-Chua 姚 whose book Echolalia in Script we have been reading and studying as part of our course reading list.

Sam very generously got up early (he’s in Eugene OR and we are in Lexington VA!), but everyone felt warmly connected to him through our FaceTime session.

He devised a short “program” of poetry reading, conversation, and both semic and asemic writing, which culminated in the entire class doing a group asemic (each contributing a couplet) on a beautiful red sheet of calligraphy paper that Sam had sent us in the mail last week.

To set the tone, Sam chose as opening poem William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other;” and I chose as our closing poem Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Shoulders.”

It was a simple but beautiful and profound experience for everyone.

Sam wrote a poem dedicated to my students; and here is the poem I wrote in class today as a response to his “Inner Wiring Exercise.”

Here is the prompt he gave us:
“If the heart had a mouth, what would it say? If the mouth was a door, what shape would its room be? Circle, square, or triangle? What shape are the windows? If a window has a taste, what would it taste like? If the heart had a tongue what would it say?”

Following my poem below is the poem that Sam wrote, dedicated to my students.

*

The heart would say please,

lay a trail of milk pearls

it can follow; a sheen that,
like the hand on the heart,

helps it see in the dark.
Who led it here into the well

of the wood, afraid it could
no longer call it child?

The houses and farms know only
of splintered skin that sang

away from the lip of a blade,
panes of frosted sugar laid

in place where the eyes could
no longer trust the weather’s

dictation. A fox runs sometimes
through the hills, stippling

the grass with the hair on its tail
as it goes. It pauses under a moon

that looks from afar as small as a heart:
it calls with its spiraling call until

the silver in the sky rains down,
until the spirits hear and gather

the coins it has spent to buy
your passage back from the dark.

~ For Sam Roxas-Chua 姚; and for my Spring Term 2018 students at W&LU ~ LAI

*

*

(Lord’s day). Up, and with my wife to church, it being Whitsunday; my wife very fine in a new yellow bird’seye hood, as the fashion is now. We had a most sorry sermon; so home to dinner, my mother having her new suit brought home, which makes her very fine. After dinner my wife and she and Mercer to Thomas Pepys’s wife’s christening of his first child, and I took a coach, and to Wanstead, the house where Sir H. Mildmay died, and now Sir Robert Brookes lives, having bought it of the Duke of Yorke, it being forfeited to him. A fine seat, but an old-fashioned house; and being not full of people looks desolately. Thence to Walthamstow, where (failing at the old place) Sir W. Batten by and by come home, I walking up and down the house and garden with my Lady very pleasantly, then to supper very merry, and then back by coach by dark night. I all the afternoon in the coach reading the treasonous book of the Court of King James, printed a great while ago, and worth reading, though ill intended. As soon as I come home, upon a letter from the Duke of Albemarle, I took boat at about 12 at night, and down the River in a gally, my boy and I, down to the Hope and so up again, sleeping and waking, with great pleasure, my business to call upon every one of…

with its yellow bird’s eye
the old garden
reading the book of night


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 14 May 1665.

On the walk, a patch of green,
a slip of bloom which someone
has tagged: “Bashful.”

*

I try to walk fast, believing
that way, I might gain space
to catch up with myself.

*

Slub of hand-dyed yarns, colors
other than the dark and blue of ink:
I’ll plunge my hands into their stain.

*

How much more of our history
do we need to rescue? Between the owl
and the dogwood, we don’t get to decide.

*

In the evenings, the heat
is a faceted glass from which,
gratefully, we’ll drink to sleep.

*

Coming across the word outhouse,
sometimes I imagine these rooms walking
outside without us just to sit in moonlight.