The year’s midnight

Up, and with Sir W. Batten by coach to White Hall, where all of us with the Duke; Mr. Coventry privately did tell me the reason of his advice against our pretences to the Prize Office (in his letter from Portsmouth), because he knew that the King and the Duke had resolved to put in some Parliament men that have deserved well, and that would needs be obliged, by putting them in.
Thence homeward, called at my bookseller’s and bespoke some books against the year’s out, and then to the ‘Change, and so home to dinner, and then to the office, where my Lord Brunkard comes and reads over part of our Instructions in the Navy — and I expounded it to him, so he is become my disciple. He gone, comes Cutler to tell us that the King of France hath forbid any canvass to be carried out of his kingdom, and I to examine went with him to the East India house to see a letter, but came too late. So home again, and there late till 12 at night at my office, and then home to supper and to bed.
This day (to see how things are ordered in the world), I had a command from the Earle of Sandwich, at Portsmouth, not to be forward with Mr. Cholmly and Sir J. Lawson about the Mole at Tangier, because that what I do therein will (because of his friendship to me known) redound against him, as if I had done it upon his score. So I wrote to my Lord my mistake, and am contented to promise never to pursue it more, which goes against my mind with all my heart.

I become a disciple
to the night to see
how things are in the world
of the mole
never mind my heart

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 12 December 1664. The title is a quote from John Donne’s “A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day” (which is Dec. 13).


For I am every dead thing.
John Donne, “A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day”

December night. Meteors streak
through the bare crowns of oaks.

I watch the sky as if it were the sleeping face of a dreamer.
All that blazing action without a sound!

And the longer I look, the more unfamiliar it becomes,
wholly itself & yet possessed. Wild. Vulnerable.

I want to be present the way an oak is present
& stretch empty arms into the void.

Santa Lucia

barn tree

For those of us in the northern hemisphere who live below the Arctic Circle, this time of the long night is also when the sun, low in the sky for much of the day, most easily floods our caves. Now more than ever we are dazzled by the play of shadows. We stretch our half-dead fingers toward the screen.

barn light 2

The barn is no church or synagogue; its plank siding is spaced to allow the circulation of air, not spirit. The floor in the haymow is only half there, and low beams can clobber you in the forehead. You have to watch your step. The sky peers in through a dozen knotholes.

barn light 4

In late afternoon, fat candles of sunlight illuminate the far wall. Golden beams bristle with splinters. Some bear the semi-circular marks of a saw blade, others, the rectilinear patchwork left by an adze. Many were recycled from older barns, reminding us, perhaps, of other necessary sacrifices: the stars, for example, that had to die in order to create the ingredients for life here on the third planet from the present star.

barn light 5

Louvers in lieu of windows offer no view out or in, just a prisoner’s stripes, a choice of identical horizons. High overhead, the cupola is a virtually inaccessible, floorless cell. One can get a tinge of vertigo simply by looking up at it.

barn lightbulb

The sun singles out the lone lightbulb, offered up for its delectation like the glistening eyeball of the future patron saint of blindness, whose name means light.

barn forebay 2

Outside, the sun sinks behind the goldenrod, a multitude of blowsy, rounded seedheads as if from some strange flock gone feral. Their only use for the barn is as shelter for the tractor and brush hog that keep the dark woods at bay.


The night goes great and mute.
Now one hears in every silent room
a murmuring, as if from wings.
Behold, at the threshold, standing
all in white, with lights in her hair,
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!
— Swedish song for St. Lucy’s Day


For more photos of the barn in Plummer’s Hollow, see here.