Letter to Ardor

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 49 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


Perhaps you are right and this is the most
one could ever hope to distill from any moment,
the loveliness that puckers and flares

in such heady directions through half-
leafed-out trees— Scent escaping the white
lilacs’ quilled skirts of alabaster and eggshell,

the small fingerprint of a kiss you leave
on my lips each time you go. We’ll grow old
in the aftermath of the question, but not

its flicker. I’m the one who counts the cost of each
lingering: the stubborn dreams ignite, reckless,
despite their long habit of rootedness.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Landscape with Carillon

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 48 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


Take me back: I tell you I have come too far
from myself. A pebble drops into a well
but I cannot hear its thunk to let me know
it has come to rest. From the kitchen in my
childhood home, I could see the church belfry
clear across the roofs of houses, and the thin
grey cord of birds unspooling overhead at dusk—
Imagine the carillonneur in his wooden cabin
under the bells, striking out the music with his feet
and fists. Through the green wall of woods today,
the dawn sky leaks through a hundred holes.
I rummage in the bowl of random fortunes
and my hand picks out only those with no
coherent answer: Do not walk by yourself
in the dark
. Or, It is better to have a hen
tomorrow than an egg today
. And my heart
after all remains a sieve— Come sorrow; come love;
come mutable chord and struck descant of things.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Angel food cake

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

The others have gone back down, and I am alone on the mountaintop with a strange young woman, dressed all in white, who shows me how to survive on nothing but snow left over from the long winter. The snow stands two feet deep among stone ruins built by a vanished race of miners, and it is gritty with dust from the atmosphere. Those are aerial plankton, she says, the microscopic corpses of our only real angels. The snow keeps them fresh. Eat it and live.

WordPress and my grandfather’s tool shop

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

It occurs to me that I like to tinker with WordPress installations in the very same way that my late grandfather used to putter around in his shop. He and Grandma spent the summers here when I was a kid, living in the same small tenant house I currently occupy. One of the first things he did when they moved their stuff up here from their old place in Pennington, New Jersey, was to establish a typically male domain, complete with workbench, cabinets and lots of tools, up in the non-chicken-coop portion of the old shed. Grandma was a quiet soul who liked to read and do crossword puzzles; it’s not like she drove him out of the house. He just loved to tinker. I don’t remember him being especially good at anything except wiring — he was a retired electrical engineer — but that didn’t stop him from acquiring tools and attempting to fix things.

My dad, too, had a work shop of sorts; his was in the basement. But it shared space with the laundry area, the freezer, and the canning shelves and jelly cabinet, which were all part of Mom’s domain, so Dad wasn’t a typical guy in this respect. Also, I don’t think his heart was ever fully in it. Unlike his father, I don’t think he actively looked for excuses to putter around on the workbench. He and I take more after his mother, I think, and would just as soon read most of the time. Since his retirement from the Penn State library, he’s become a full-time scholar, and turned his bedroom into a study for his research and web work on peaceful societies. Mom’s own study is just down the hall.

Unlike me, though, Dad is content to use the same design and tools for his website as when he started out seven years ago. The two news articles that he posts to his site each week are thoroughly researched and exhaustively edited. I’m not sure that would be the case if he spent as much time tinkering with his site as I do with my various blogs. Sure, there are a lot of nifty navigation and site-promotion tools he’d be able to take advantage of if he were on WordPress or some other CMS, but the site still gets a ton of traffic, almost never goes down, and is unlikely to be targeted by malicious or commercial hackers that way WordPress installations are.

A self-hosted WordPress site, by contrast, practically demands tinkering. Yes, it’s easy to install and the user interface is very intuitive, but with the constant threat of new hacks and the updates required to keep ahead, you can’t just ignore the inner workings of a site and assume that things will be fine. I found this out the hard way during my first year with the platform, which was back when all updating had to be done by FTP or the like. I didn’t have the cPanel option because I was on my cousin’s server at the time, and I made the mistake of relying upon him to keep the site running, neither of us understanding what exactly was required. Fortunately, Via Negativa was hit not by the malicious kind of hacker but the kind who wants to hide ads on your site where only logged-out visitors will see them. Such hackers have a vested interest in seeing that the site continues to perform as expected. And getting rid of them gave me a crash course in the inner workings of the software, which was bolstered a year later when I decided to move the site to a regular shared web host, and had to figure out how to move a database and such. By that point I was eagerly installing plugins willy-nilly and re-jiggering the layout every chance I could get.

So gradually I got more and more comfortable with the platform, without necessarily becoming very good at it. It’s in that respect that I think I most resemble Grandpa, and probably many other hobbyists and gear-heads. I like knowing what I can do, and acquiring the tools to do it, and I have full confidence in my ability to do the equivalent of dropping a new transmission into any of my sites if so required — but let’s hope that confidence is never put to the test.

This fragment of memoir is actually an abandoned introduction to “Five Years of WordPress: a love note,” q.v.

Like the Warbler

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 47 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


“I dare not eat it, though I starve,—
My poignant luxury….”

~ Emily Dickinson

So clear, it almost hurts: so blue, so green—
that line hurtling into the distance and pulling

like a thick brush-stroke everything that lives
at ground-level: that’s how you’ve lifted me,

little chipped stone that’s traveled
from some far tributary. And the air

is cold, but the heavy clapper sounds the notes
of the bell like a heart hollowed for just this

purpose. But oh, what the bird sings is sweet-
. And all these bitter years,

what releases is the same each time: mouth
like the warbler that has learned your name.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Interstates and States of Grief

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Interstates and States of Grief from Phil & Angela Rockstroh on Vimeo. Click on the little four-arrows icon on the lower right to expand to full screen.

I shared this on Moving Poems, too, but even those who aren’t especially into poetry should get something out of it: a searing, personal indictment of American militarism, consumerism, capitalism and the interstate highway system, closer in mood to an elegy than a manifesto.

I have a weakness for documentaries anyway, and I like the collaborative process involved in the making of this film. Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist, and essayist, published widely across the progressive internet. Angela Tyler-Rockstroh is a broadcast designer/animator who currently works with HBO. She has worked with major networks such as the Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and PBS, as well as with Michael Moore on his documentaries Fahrenheit 911 and Sicko.

Gypsy Heart

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 46 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


Every once in a while the branches part
and there is a gleaming splinter of light–

just enough to nick the rough bark, make it seem
like the scritch of a match head had birthed

its copper sides and these rich, fluttering
halos of green. Hard to court abundance,

hard to keep it— And yet, here is a feather
left behind by the crested bird, the silken pods

from the honey locusts, vermillion threads
pulled from the frayed tapestry: what surged

like ripeness once, continues to show its face—
shy homeless waif, knocking again on your door.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Bird Looking One Way, Then Another

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 45 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


At an airport many years ago, as people rushed
toward their connections, so bent on where
they needed to go, so sure of what they were
leaving behind— What was it I glimpsed through
the sliding doors? Indecisive figure on the sidewalk,
head tilted one way, body tilted the other: bird
listening for the coming of rain the same way
I feel the tug, mid-morning, of bell-like tones
that filter through the screen, warning of weather
even as the sun pours through and through.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Link roundup: Things I give a flying f*ck about

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

A few links I’ve shared on Facebook over the past three weeks. With all the poetry reading I did last month, I didn’t have much time for anything else.

Truthout: “Why the United States is Destroying its Educational System”
Chris Hedges, depressingly on-target as usual.

The Atlantic: “Stephen King on the Creative Process, the State of Fiction, and More”
Stephen King has some nice things to say about poets. (But preferring Judas Priest to Black Sabbath? No accounting for taste!)

Harriet: “Death of a Kingmaker: A Critical Evaluation of Silliman’s Blog”
How being a powerful blogger can interfere with writing. I found Silliman very cordial the couple times I communicated with him, a genuine guy with some strong opinions and an equally strong streak of generosity. I wasn’t a regular reader, though.

Poetry Daily: “Casino” by Osip Mandelstam — a new version by Christian Wiman
Probably the single best poem I read all April.

Glenn Greenwald @Salon: “Lessons from Manning’s transfer out of Quantico”

This episode should be a potent antidote to defeatism, as it provides a template for how issues that would be otherwise ignored can be amplified by independent voices creatively using the democratizing and organizing power of the Internet, and meaningful activism achieved.

Not just a gag gift, but a very simple concrete or visual poem. I’m trying to think how I can integrate one into a panel discussion at next year’s AWP.