Elemental

Sam Pepys and me

Early to my Lord’s, who privately told me how the King had made him Embassador in the bringing over the Queen. That he is to go to Algier, &c., to settle the business, and to put the fleet in order there; and so to come back to Lisbone with three ships, and there to meet the fleet that is to follow him.
He sent for me, to tell me that he do intrust me with the seeing of all things done in his absence as to this great preparation, as I shall receive orders from my Lord Chancellor and Mr. Edward Montagu. At all which my heart is above measure glad; for my Lord’s honour, and some profit to myself, I hope.
By and by, out with Mr. Shepley, Walden, Parliament-man for Huntingdon, Rolt, Mackworth, and Alderman Backwell, to a house hard by, to drink Lambeth ale. So I back to the Wardrobe, and there found my Lord going to Trinity House, this being the solemn day of choosing Master, and my Lord is chosen, so he dines there to-day.
I staid and dined with my Lady; but after we were set, comes in some persons of condition, and so the children and I rose and dined by ourselves, all the children and I, and were very merry and they mighty fond of me. Then to the office, and there sat awhile. So home and at night to bed, where we lay in Sir R. Slingsby’s lodgings in the dining room there in one green bed, my house being now in its last work of painting and whiting.

my private bone
my chance heart
and my back

become our children
at night in one
green bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 10 June 1661.

Radioactive Histories

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

The year I was born, a third
Philippine TV station was launched,
which I guess didn’t immediately matter
because we didn’t own a TV until I was
nearly ten. Unless they were reported
in newspapers, would we have known about
the first male chimpanzee put into a rocket
and sent to outer space; that Barbie was getting
a boyfriend named Ken, or that the Soviet Union
detonated the world’s largest nuclear device
over a test site in the Arctic? I wasn’t there,
but in the year of my birth, The Beatles first
performed under that name at the Cavern
Club in Liverpool. While children giggled
at the animated series about a house
cat and a mouse, prime ministers were hung
in public squares by soldiers. Before the year
was over, American helicopters landed in Saigon,
officially beginning the Vietnam War. It wasn’t
until I was in university that I learned how Bob
Dylan’s lyrics on answers blowing in the wind
pertained to that war, as much as to revolutions
fought on the streets in Manila—until finally,
the dictator was taken down. He and his family
fled to Hawai’i, butterflies with torn wings
still trying to haul suitcases stuffed with pearls
and dollar bills in their wake. Perhaps that’s one way
the past can drag you down; but mostly, we don’t even
see its invisible ripples, and how far and wide
they reach. I was twenty-five and a new mother
when, in dairy farms all over Europe, cows
eating grass ingested radioactive substances
in the fallout after Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor
exploded. I can remember how I broke my favorite
honey-brown platform sandals that year, but I can’t
remember what I did with unopened cans of imported
Birch Tree powdered milk in the pantry. Even now,
there are still reports of milk products testing
positive for above-normal levels of radioactivity.
Sometimes I wonder if my or my dairy-loving daughters’
shifts in mood are due to a gene trait far back in our
own family line, or to one of many buttons deployed
by history, ticking surreptitiously in the background.

The new black

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

(Lord’s day). This day my wife put on her black silk gown, which is now laced all over with black gimp lace, as the fashion is, in which she is very pretty.
She and I walked to my Lady’s at the Wardrobe, and there dined and was exceeding much made of. After dinner I left my wife there, and I walked to Whitehall, and then went to Mr. Pierce’s and sat with his wife a good while (who continues very pretty) till he came, and then he and I, and Mr. Symons (dancing master), that goes to sea with my Lord, to the Swan tavern, and there drank, and so again to White Hall, and there met with Dean Fuller, and walked a great while with him; among other things discoursed of the liberty the Bishop (by name he of Galloway) takes to admit into orders any body that will; among others, Roundtree, a simple mechanique that was a person formerly in the fleet. He told me he would complain of it. By and by we went and got a sculler, and landing him at Worcester House, I and W. Howe, who came to us at Whitehall, went to the Wardrobe.
Where I met with Mr. Townsend, who is very willing he says to communicate anything for my Lord’s advantage to me as to his business. I went up to Jane Shore’s towre, and there W. Howe and I sang, and so took my wife and walked home, and so to bed. After I came home a messenger came from my Lord to bid me come to him tomorrow morning.

black is now the fashion
that goes with white

on a gallows tree or at war
to communicate anything


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 9 June 1661.

Haunted

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Of course every place is haunted, 
every place manifests

traces of the energy that once lived there
or embraced in bed, legs twined,

rocking so the bedposts shook in rising
rhythm; that steeped in warm,

fragrant steam from the bath, or stood
looking out of a window

watching as the warm oil of daybreak
anointed the tops of trees and stones—



Of course every place is haunted,
but most of all the crumbling mansion

that is history, its guttered towns
and blasted belfries; its burned-down

museums and universities, its libraries
reduced to ashes, its doomed

nurseries and hospital beds. If now there are
any vestiges of doors or windows, remember

how they once rang with the sounds of children's
voices, of nothing harsher than falling rain.

Gateless gate

Sam Pepys and me

To Whitehall to my Lord, who did tell me that he would have me go to Mr. Townsend, whom he had ordered to discover to me the whole mystery of the Wardrobe, and none else but me, and that he will make me deputy with him for fear that he should die in my Lord’s absence, of which I was glad.
Then to the Cook’s with Mr. Shepley and Mr. Creed, and dined together, and then I went to the Theatre and there saw Bartholomew Faire, the first time it was acted now a-days. It is a most admirable play and well acted, but too much prophane and abusive.
From thence, meeting Mr. Creed at the door, he and I went to the tobacco shop under Temple Bar gate, and there went up to the top of the house and there sat drinking Lambeth ale a good while. Then away home, and in my way called upon Mr. Rawlinson (my uncle Wight being out of town), for his advice to answer a letter of my uncle Robert, wherein he do offer me a purchase to lay some money upon, that joynes upon some of his own lands, and plainly telling me that the reason of his advice is the convenience that it will give me as to his estate, of which I am exceeding glad, and am advised to give up wholly the disposal of my money to him, let him do what he will with it, which I shall do. So home and to bed.

who would have the whole
mystery of absence

a profane door to the temple
a gate to go out

to be in some inconvenience
wholly at home


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 8 June 1661.

Diurnal

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
Each day since the last one
wakes and folds the blankets,
plumps the pillows, shuffles
into the bathroom to clear the body
of its accumulated fluids: piss
and tears, blood or bile.

Each day since the last one
rubs and blinks its eyes
crusted over with dreams—
sometimes of searching,
sometimes of walking into a room
where a clear figure rises in greeting.

Each day since the last one
tries to feel optimistic until noon
at least. There is sugar and butter
for toast, and work that helps to quell
the thrashing in its heart
for the rest of the hours.

Each day since the last one
sifts the kernels of recent
history looking for the whole
and not yet broken,
collecting them in a jar
to place by the bedside.

Ex Libris

i open a book in the woods
and two ravens take flight

wind shuffles the sunset leaves
the ravens gurgle in the distance

another day breaks down
into its elements

i am trying not to rejoice
at the deaths of my enemies

the spongy moth caterpillars
decorating oaks with their corpses

they too are strangers
and sojourners in the earth

unable to limit their appetites
and stay where they land

the way an old mountain laurel
sheds its spent blossoms

and stands in a patch of what looks
from a distance like snow

Apparatchik

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

To my Lord’s at Whitehall, but not finding him I went to the Wardrobe and there dined with my Lady, and was very kindly treated by her. After dinner to the office, and there till late at night. So home, and to Sir William Batten’s, who is come this day from Chatham with my Lady, who is and has been much troubled with the toothache. Here I staid till late, and so home and to bed.

at war with my kind
at the office

he who is a hat
who is a tooth


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 7 June 1661.

Other Names for Love

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
A poet wrote, love makes
people. Does it not also unmake them?

You recall that linguistic riddle
about the not unblack dog and the not

unwhite rabbit running through
a not ungreen field—and how

mathematicians have always said,
remember that two negatives make

a positive. I can tell you
I've made some things out of love

including people, but I cannot
unmake them. I can only conclude

that some words have edges like glass
and that even their silence can be a severing.

But what has anyone said about discernment?
About how it isn't just love that runs

through the grass, marking other
paths for passage?

Lay of the land

Sam Pepys and me

My head hath aked all night, and all this morning, with my last night’s debauch.
Called up this morning by Lieutenant Lambert, who is now made Captain of the Norwich, and he and I went down by water to Greenwich, in our way observing and discoursing upon the things of a ship, he telling me all I asked him, which was of good use to me.
There we went and eat and drank and heard musique at the Globe, and saw the simple motion that is there of a woman with a rod in her hand keeping time to the musique while it plays, which is simple, methinks.
Back again by water, calling at Captain Lambert’s house, which is very handsome and neat, and a fine prospect at top. So to the office, where we sat a little, and then the Captain and I again to Bridewell to Mr. Holland’s, where his wife also, a plain dowdy, and his mother was. Here I paid Mrs. Holland the money due from me to her husband. Here came two young gentlewomen to see Mr. Holland, and one of them could play pretty well upon the viallin, but, good God! how these ignorant people did cry her up for it! We were very merry. I staid and supped there, and so home and to bed. The weather very hot, this night I left off my wastecoat.

my ache is made
of green music

the simple motion of a woman
with time to think

and the land’s plain lay
ignorant of waste


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 6 June 1661.