Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: mothers and mothering, silence and mental noise, wonder and wreckage. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19”

Self-Portrait, Partly in Manila

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
There's a song that's an ode to it, made popular by
a '70s band with the name of a sausage brought over
in the 1800s by German immigrants to the new
The wife of an older cousin on my father's side
was given that name at birth; that's why her nickname
was City. If you learned to drive there, you should
be able to drive anywhere in the world.
By which I mean, in a city
where six lanes of traffic
cram into three and where it might take nearly half
a day to commute to school or your place of work,
unless you leave
your house at four AM.
Though I was from a different city seven hours
away by bus, I took a job there for nearly two years.
This was the time I'd become a newly single mother
trying to raise three children on a single paycheck
the benefit of a formal divorce—which is
nonexistent in that country. In fact, it's the last country
in the world besides Vatican City where divorce is illegal.
For a while I rented
a miserable little room next to
a Seven-Eleven selling bao buns and instant ramen,
in a gated compound close to the university on Taft.
All other residents were women. It felt safe, I suppose,
until I wondered why all my comings and goings
seemed under surveillance. Perhaps
in a city with
currently 1.7 million inhabitants, privacy is practically
impossible. I didn't miss any of that when I left.
I've always loved my solitude,
to hold even the tiniest silvered moth of it
in the clumsy space I form with my hands.


Sam Pepys and me

My wife had a very troublesome night this night and in great pain, but about the morning her swelling broke, and she was in great ease presently as she useth to be. So I put in a tent (which Dr. Williams sent me yesterday) into the hole to keep it open till all the matter be come out, and so I question not that she will soon be well again.
I staid at home all this morning, being the Lord’s day, making up my private accounts and setting papers in order. At noon went with my Lady Montagu at the Wardrobe, but I found it so late that I came back again, and so dined with my wife in her chamber.
After dinner I went awhile to my chamber to set my papers right.
Then I walked forth towards Westminster and at the Savoy heard Dr. Fuller preach upon David’s words, “I will wait with patience all the days of my appointed time until my change comes;” but methought it was a poor dry sermon. And I am afeard my former high esteem of his preaching was more out of opinion than judgment.
From thence homewards, but met with Mr. Creed, with whom I went and walked in Grayes-Inn-walks, and from thence to Islington, and there eat and drank at the house my father and we were wont of old to go to; and after that walked homeward, and parted in Smithfield: and so I home, much wondering to see how things are altered with Mr. Creed, who, twelve months ago, might have been got to hang himself almost as soon as go to a drinking-house on a Sunday.

night welling up at noon
with the war in my words

I will wait with my point
until change comes

poor as a reed
in the old field

wondering how thin
a reed might go

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 12 May 1661.

Mothers’ Day Psalm

yours is the thorn that suckles us
the marsupial pouch in which we play king of the hill

yours is the rare orchid appointed
to a moth no one has ever seen

yours the corals whose cities shone
like nothing from a planning committee

and yours the epidemics the cancers the blights
a creativity as limitless as time and space

oh Nature soften the hearts
of all your little pharoahs
so we don’t have to overthrow them

and let those who insist you must be male
give birth through their penises

On Gratefulness

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
The label is Italian. I haven't worn it once, ever. 
It's called a tent dress because once you slip it
over your head, the shape is an upside-down V.
It's supposed to be "forgiving:" no waistline,
loose around the hips, stopping just at the knees.
Some kind of costly pink fabric, just hanging
in the back of my closet. A friend I no longer
speak to (she stopped speaking to me first)
sent it as a Christmas present some years ago.
She bought it during one of her many trips
all over Europe. It came in a box filled with other
expensive items for the family: designer purses,
luxurious leather; Russian bonbons, trinkets
from other far reaches of the earth. From the time
we sported the same inverted bowl haircuts, we lived
and grew up in the same small teacup of a city, went
to the same grade school where the bathrooms had
no running water or toilet paper. Now, as they say,
she's made it. But what is it with generosity and
indebtedness, about how it can also turn the one
receiving a gift into a kind of vassal? Actions
never quite measure up to the benefactor's
yardstick. You wonder if you've really been so
ungrateful, or if after all this time, you were simply
judged as not good enough at anything you did.

The old block

Sam Pepys and me

This morning I went by water with Payne (Mr. Moore being with me) to my Lord Chamberlain at Whitehall, and there spoke with my Lord, and he did accept of Payne for his waterman, as I had lately endeavoured to get him to be. After that Mr. Cooling did give Payne an order to be entertained, and so I left him and Mr. Moore, and I went to Graye’s Inne, and there to a barber’s, where I was trimmed, and had my haire cut, in which I am lately become a little curious, finding that the length of it do become me very much.
So, calling at my father’s, I went home, and there staid and saw my workmen follow their work, which this night is brought to a very good condition.
This afternoon Mr. Shepley, Moore, and Creed came to me all about their several accounts with me, and we did something with them all, and so they went away. This evening Mr. Hater brought my last quarter’s salary, of which I was very glad, because I have lost my first bill for it, and so this morning was forced to get another signed by three of my fellow officers for it.
All this evening till late setting my accounts and papers in order, and so to bed.

in my white hair
I am my father

on his last lost morning
the evening paper

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 11 May 1661.


Sam Pepys and me

At the office all the morning, and the afternoon among my workmen with great pleasure, because being near an end of their work. This afternoon came Mr. Blackburn and Creed to see me, and I took them to the Dolphin, and there drank a great deal of Rhenish wine with them and so home, having some talk with Mr. Blackburn about his kinsman my Will, and he did give me good satisfaction in that it is his desire that his kinsman should do me all service, and that he would give him the best counsel he could to make him good. Which I begin of late to fear that he will not because of the bad company that I find that he do begin to take. This afternoon Mr. Hater received for me the 225l. due upon Mr. Creed’s bill in which I am concerned so much, which do make me very glad.
At night to Sir W. Batten and sat a while. So to bed.

the near end of work
is black with burnout

it is desire
that should do me in

not the company to which
I am so much

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 10 May 1661.

Terra Incognita

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
What, divided by summer and multiplied by winter,
is equal to the number of squares on a map? You

stand on that shore between northings, I on my own
between eastings. Seasons of rain in other worlds,

in other hemispheres, are not so much reversible
as they are fed and fevered by more than tears.

There will always be limits we seem powerless to bend.
What latitude value creates a square with the largest

room, a space no one needs to bridge? That is where
I want to travel, that is where I want to stay.

Identity politics

Sam Pepys and me

With my workmen all the morning, my wife being ill and in great pain with her old pain, which troubled me much because that my house is in this condition of dirt.
In the afternoon I went to Whitehall and there spoke with my Lord at his lodgings, and there being with him my Lord Chamberlain, I spoke for my old waterman Payne, to get into White’s place, who was waterman to my Lord Chamberlain, and is now to go master of the barge to my Lord to sea, and my Lord Chamberlain did promise that Payne should be entertained in White’s place with him. From thence to Sir G. Carteret, and there did get his promise for the payment of the remainder of the bill of Mr. Creed’s, wherein of late I have been so much concerned, which did so much rejoice me that I meeting with Mr. Childe took him to the Swan Tavern in King Street, and there did give him a tankard of white wine and sugar, and so I went by water home and set myself to get my Lord’s accounts made up, which was till nine at night before I could finish, and then I walked to the Wardrobe, being the first time I was there since my Lady came thither, who I found all alone, and so she shewed me all the lodgings as they are now fitted, and they seem pretty pleasant. By and by comes in my Lord, and so, after looking over my accounts, I returned home, being a dirty and dark walk. So to bed.

in this no place
who am I

to the sea
the remainder of a child

to the swan
a street at night

to the war an ant
dirty and dark

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 9 May 1661.

Self-Portrait Post-Biopsy, with Caravaggio’s Last Painting

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

There's a small, faint scar at the edge of her right areola
(the circle of dark pigmentation surrounding the nipple):

souvenir of a procedure the doctors insist on performing
after routine mammograms come back with areas of

suspicious irregularity. So she agrees to a localization
biopsy, in which a small wire is threaded through a needle,

and its tip guided toward the area of abnormal tissue.
A French dermatologist came up with the word biopsy

in 1879: study of tissue removed from a living body.
Because that day there's renovation going on in other

parts of the clinic, they numb her up, insert the wire,
tape it down, and steer her in a wheelchair to the building

next door. She thinks about the legend of St. Ursula, martyr
and subject of the very last documented painting produced

by Caravaggio—in it, Ursula calmly regards the arrow
that's just been released from the bow of the pagan king:

how it pierces the cloth of her dress and rests like a quill
on the plump cushion of her breast. No blood drips from her

wound, but her cloak and the voluminous sleeves of her
murderer's doublet are crimson. Already, her face

has the pallor of death, but there's no aureole of light
yet above her head. None of the 11,000 virgins in her retinue

are in the frame; they've all been beheaded. The artist
has painted himself right behind her figure: openmouthed,

in witness or in wonder. Two months after he finishes
the painting, he is dead. As for her, they take out the wire lead

and cover the site with gauze. In less than a week, she will get
the results: nothing conclusive. Just breasts as dense as oatmeal.