The Morning Porch will be one year old on November 5, and I’m starting to think about what I want to do, if anything, with my first year’s worth of jottings. I think I’ll probably keep up the discipline — it’s a good exercise and a great way to wake up — though it’s possible I could change the form or focus a little. It’s also a fun way to participate in the Twitterverse and defy its reputation as a repository for disposable ephemera.
Though I’ve always thought of my Morning Porch tweets as prose, many readers have taken them for poetry, so I decided to see whether they might pass muster as short poems. The following were selected using the Random link, and all I’ve done is rearrange them, swap in ampersands, and change the punctuation here and there. What do you think? Do they work better as prose or as poems? (I’ve linked the dates to the original posts in case anyone wants to compare.) If I were to enlist the help of one or more editors and publish a book of these, would you buy a copy? If the answer is “probably not,” don’t be shy. I am supremely lazy and would be happy for an excuse not to bother.
Feel free to use the Contact form or leave anonymous comments if you prefer.
December 6, 2007
Clear and very cold.
I hear squirrel teeth
on walnut shell.
The Carolina wren’s happiness motor
turns over once, twice, then putts to life.
July 24, 2008
Fast-moving showers; the light
changes from minute to minute.
A distant rumble
turns out to be an A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Our modems are safe.
April 7, 2008
Gray sky, the smell of rain.
Two insomniac screech owls
The low-frequency thumps of a grouse.
An enormous silence.
August 26, 2008
The hollow sound of claws
on loose bark:
another furious squirrel chase,
this time in the dead elm.
The chaser pauses to lick its genitals.
January 11, 2008
Hard rain. Under a monochrome cloud ceiling,
the colors are intense:
October 12, 2008
BAM. BAM. BAM.
The red crest of a pileated woodpecker
flashes into view from
the dead side of a maple, sunrise
orange on the hill behind.
January 2, 2008
I sweep snow off my chair,
then look up to see the crescent moon
appearing & disappearing behind the clouds.
Trees creaking in the dark.
December 23, 2007
Thick fog at dawn,
gray against the snow.
Slate-colored juncos call back & forth: Where are you?
A wind comes up.
September 15, 2008
Where daffodils bloomed in April,
a more worldly yellow.
The distant hurricane
makes a roosting monarch flap its wings.
April 3, 2008
The feral cat is back from
wherever it goes for the winter.
It crouches on a fallen limb,
eyes fixed on the weeds,
gathered for the spring.
Main Street is mad
Main Street is a state highway
Main Street is too broke to pay them back
Main Street is white hot these days
Main Street is fed up
Main Street is part of the iconography of American life
Main Street is blinded
Main Street is upside down too
Main Street is theirs
Main Street is already gridlocked at certain times during the day
Main Street is hot and trendy
Main Street is not there
Main Street is an earnest, homey spot
Main Street is a limited, inadequate and inapt metaphor
Main Street is skeptical
Main Street is going to take over paying the electric bills
Main Street is already feeling the pinch
Main Street is looking for an 18-20 foot tall evergreen
Main Street is hosting its inaugural Scarecrow Decorating Contest
Main Street is becoming a row of refugee camps
Main Street is the first bank to fail
Main Street is open or closed
Main Street is so true now
Main Street is set for reconstruction and some watermain work
Main Street is not so bad
Main Street is also getting angry at itself
Main Street is wider and more exposed
Main Street is at risk
Main Street is excited about the falling price of gasoline
Main Street is where the mansions are in your town
Main Street is in real trouble
Main Street is the patsy in this deal
Main Street is also a good incubator
Main Street is now at stake
Main Street is about to get hit
Main Street is crowded with wood awnings
Main Street is taking a stand as of today
Main Street is speaking out
Main Street is so busy being angry that it isn’t sufficiently frightened
Main Street is still waiting to exhale
Main Street is a self-help program
Main Street is scheduled to continue
Main Street is running right past us
Main Street is hurting very much.
This morning, my uncle described his first encounter with African-Americans, which happened when he was drafted into the Army in the late 1950s. They were nice enough, he said, but they cursed constantly, using the foulest language he’d ever heard. And every month when they got their paychecks, they went and gambled for hours until one of them had won all the money from everyone else, forcing them to go borrow ten dollars to live on for the next month. “I found that incomprehensible,” my uncle said. “It was as if they had nothing to live for.”
Today is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is poverty. The coordinating site suggests ways that participating bloggers of various types might post on-topic, and for personal bloggers like myself, the suggestion is, “document a personal activity of the blogger that is helping the disadvantaged.” Hmm. Well, I’m not doing anything to help alleviate poverty per se, but I would like to think that the range of materials I publish online, here and elsewhere, for free to anyone with internet access — which is, in the United States at least, anyone who can get to a public library — constitutes “helping the disadvantaged” as much as anything might. I don’t make any great claims for my own work, but I think a lot of the stuff I’m helping to put online at qarrtsiluni and Postal Poetry is first-rate. Like Andrew Carnegie, whose philanthropy was so instrumental in the spread of free public libraries, I tend to believe that “It is the mind that makes the body rich.” But unlike Carnegie, I don’t exactly speak from a position of privilege.
I’ve never been a gambler, but I do cuss a lot and at one time in my life had very little to live for apart from drinking and carousing. I spent most of my paycheck on booze, and switched apartments frequently to avoid paying rent. After a while, I found a basement to store my stuff in for free and began crashing on people’s couches. It was actually a fairly satisfying existence, though I think if I’d done it for more than a couple of years, it would’ve gotten old. But simplifying one’s needs and learning to satisfy them in a way that doesn’t directly engage complex thought processes is a sure route to something that looks at least superficially like contentment. A couple years later, when I read Down and Out in Paris and London, I recognized the lifestyle in George Orwell’s description:
I had no sensation of poverty, for even after paying my rent and setting aside enough for tobacco and journeys and my food on Sundays, I still had four francs a day for drinks, and four francs was wealth. There was — it is hard to express it — a sort of heavy contentment, the contentment a well-fed beast might feel, in a life which had become so simple. For nothing could be simpler than the life of a PLONGEUR. He lives in a rhythm between work and sleep, without time to think, hardly conscious of the exterior world; his Paris has shrunk to the hotel, the Metro, a few BISTROS and his bed. If he goes afield, it is only a few streets away, on a trip with some servant-girl who sits on his knee swallowing oysters and beer. On his free day he lies in bed till noon, puts on a clean shirt, throws dice for drinks, and after lunch goes back to bed again. Nothing is quite real to him but the BOULOT, drinks and sleep; and of these sleep is the most important.
Then there is the kind of poverty I enjoy now, where the deprivations, still self-imposed (given that I do have a college degree and a few marketable skills), are mainly social (no wife or girlfriend, no kids, no employment, no car and thus no easy way to go do things with other people). I have simply made a decision to try and be content with very little, with the critical difference that now I’m living a life of the mind. I guess I’ve been pretty successful in this regard — successful enough to feel rather sorry for those with other life goals, and to suspect that most people might be happier if only they were more like me. Which is complete bullshit, of course.
Poverty used to be considered an unmitigated virtue. Up until the 16th century, begging was treated as a valid vocation: beggars were considered closer to the heart of reality, and were also valued as objects of charity, helping the less virtuous bribe their way into God’s good graces. I believe this is still the attitude in much of India. For some reason, though, attitudes changed rather suddenly in early modern Europe, when begging was outlawed in city after city and beggars were driven out. Poverty now became a problem to be solved through wage-labor. Through sheer coincidence, this was right about the time that the enclosure movement began, creating vast numbers of hungry peasants through the privitization of common lands: disadvantagement was an active, intentional process. And needless to say the deliberate destruction of traditional, subsistence economies was essential to the creation of impoverished, utterly dependent laborers in the global South, as well. The first great lie internalized by the conquered and the enslaved was that they were poor, ignorant, and without a valid culture of their own.
To what extent do any of us choose our destiny? The typical American answer is, “to a very great extent” — we are nothing if not positive thinkers. My favorable quotation of Andrew Carnegie above exposes me as a typical American, too, I guess. But that means that if you’re poor (or sick, or overweight), it must be your own fault. Even a lot of poor people believe this, to their extreme detriment, along with some admixture of blame for a scapegoat (black people for poor whites, white racists for poor blacks). These are the second and third great lies.
Can poverty ever be eliminated without first confronting these poisonous assumptions head-on, I wonder? I don’t have any answers — that’s why I’m not a political blogger. I am by no means certain I’m even asking the right questions. If, as our politricksters are continually suggesting, more jobs are the answer to all social ills, what about that mind-numbing spiritual poverty that Orwell wrote about? This I suppose is where art and poetry could enter the mix, by making people feel intellectually empowered and creatively enriched. But should poverty really be the target of our social uplift efforts in the first place, given that our economic system is based on a gambler’s worldview in which there can ever only be a few winners and everyone else must lose?
Perhaps you think socialism is the answer. But if we impoverish the land past any reasonable hope of recovery — witness the almost total loss of topsoil in Haiti, for example — what then? What happens when the global population so far exceeds the ecological carrying capacity that no redistribution of wealth can buy us a new earth?
Again this morning, a northern harrier
haunts our forty-acre field,
over the spent goldenrod & brome,
the white flag on her rump flashing
as she banks & hovers, her wings
in a fluttery V:
mixed signals for those who would see her
as nothing more than namesake
for a flying weapon.
into the grass
& reemerges with a squirming meal.
Old fields like ours
are rarer than they used to be, & perhaps
she would prefer marshland,
but most of the marshes were drained
a hundred years ago, & so
for four days we have watched her
appear & disappear like
a magician’s handkerchief
along the top edge of the field.
Left alone, the land
in ways that contradict all expectation.
The cool wet forest felled
for charcoal in 1813
would’ve held — in root-nets,
in yard-deep humus & baroque
superstructures of wood —
as much water as
a small lake.
But with the recent arrival
of the woolly adelgid, we know
the old-growth hemlock will never
come back. Best
to make our peace
with light & drought,
with curled flourishes of grass
& a migrating harrier fishing for voles
under the bluest skies.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”: that’s as far as I ever got with Frost’s best known — and most poorly understood — poem. Oh, sure, I finished reading the words, but my imagination never advanced beyond that initial image, which delighted me. To hell with the figurative meaning; the literal one was quite enough for me. I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that I often engage with poetry on such a superficial level, but you have to understand that we have several miles of old woods roads here on the mountain which seem much like the “roads” in “The Road Not Taken,” moss-covered, sometimes grassy, and ankle-deep in yellow (and orange and red) leaves this time of year, which whisper as you walk. And in any case, a yellow wood on a bright October day invites careless wandering. You can push regrets and fears of failure to the back of your mind for a while.
Archery season for white-tailed deer began last Saturday, so we do share the woods with a few hunters, who sit camouflaged in the trees, alert and focused on a single goal while we amble past, heedless as only an unhunted non-predator can be.
The yearly mulch is underway. I walk admiring the woods with a lazy gardener’s eye, willing myself to ignore multiple ecological wounds and see everything as if couldn’t be better arranged, as if each bush and tree were perfectly shaped and situated, as if every stone and clump of ferns stood in an aesthetically optimal relationship with its surroundings. It’s not a bad habit to get into, I think. The problem with the narrator of “The Road Not Taken” is that he’s too concerned about destinations. “Somewhere ages and ages hence,” he might think back on the choice he made, but what he’ll really miss, I’ll bet, is what he missed that day: the option to stay and revel in all that yellow.
You Are Here, says the sign,
& a red arrow
indicates a dot.
This is the familiar dot
from the letter i,
from the hole
in the paper where
the compass pirouetted,
from the spots on your retina
where the sun returned
your gaze. The arrow
never quite touches it —
not because it’s too small
or too far away, but
because it’s too likely
to spill. You are here…
& you, & you, & you,
& you, & you:
are both endless
It’s a whole note, freed
from the five-line staff
to sing its monotone
song of yourself
for as long as
you’ll listen, thinking
it’s just you,
thinking you’re all alone
on this head
of a pin.
It’s been a while since I made a video postcard. Both halves of this video were shot from the same location, right outside my door. The flying ants emerge from my weed garden every year about this time, around 4:00 p.m. on a warm afternoon in early October — in fact, I spliced in a little bit of footage from last year’s emergence.
I mean actual, honest-to-Whomever fog: clouds that form on the ground instead of in the sky.
Of course, when you live on a mountain, your fog might well be someone else’s cloud, especially in the winter and early spring. But this time of year, you can rise above the clouds simply by walking uphill. Or you can stay inside and wonder vaguely, between bouts of election-season-induced fury, who the hell keeps knocking on the roof.
The lake is half drained
and now looks like the mud
puddle of some enormous child.
Where water slid away fast, cracks
appear, as does the detritus
of our living. Geese find
the few places fish still swim,
and killdeer have set up home
near the cinderblocks and tires
that once served as nests
of another kind. Tree stumps
line the lakebed, solid despite
their years underwater. I imagine
this grove before any saw cleared it,
before the stream at the far side
was dammed, before this depression
in the earth accepted the weight
we filled it with. A blue jay
in an ash tree sneers at our efforts,
and I smell the harsh smell
of wet earth drying.