On the way home

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Clouds in every hollow and ravine, hovering over ponds, hiding under the trees, snaking along the one-track rail line where they filmed that movie about the runaway train. Clouds above & clouds below us as we sail past on the interstate half-way up the ridge, talking about that afternoon’s matinée. And then the slow drive up our own hollow at dusk & the white forms of our houses rising from the fog. We set down our bags, take off our boots & go in.

Morning Song

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 63 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Because I dream, I’m told my punishment is that I should always be the first to see dawn arrive at the edge of the world. But ever one to question the edict handed down, I demand proof: why punishment? Today it arrives in darkness, like a soft grey scarf of pulled fiber. So fleecy it seems the animal still breathes softly in its tent of skin. Rain ripples along its sequined flanks. There’s enough light soon to see how it noses into the day— and even when light floods the porch, fills the hollows like tea poured into cups, quilts the wooden planks beneath the window— I’ll always have the echo of its first muted sound in my ear. Tendril wound through my hair; small whisk of breath: I love your ambiguous arrivals. Reminder of what might leap into flame, thicken into honey, should I rub my two hands, stone and flint, together.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to distress furniture

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 37 of 39 in the series Manual


Bang on it with sticks, but fail to keep the beat. Wrap it in chains but evince no erotic interest in it whatsoever. Let mice rummage through its drawers or nest in its box spring, and recoil at the suggestion that you might leave your own bite-marks on its legs. Paint it absentmindedly while humming some recent and forgettable pop tune. Sand against the grain. Be in your 20s, and talk on and on about how ageing confers authenticity. Take photos of each step of the operation and post them on your blog for everyone to see. Thereafter, use it solely as a surface on which to stack empty boxes. Turn it to the wall. Replace it after three years with some cheap thing from Ikea.

Song without Strings

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 62 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Today I want to remember, but remember
beyond mere recognition. To break
the chain that holds the gate in place,

that keeps these soggy woods soggy
under a ponderous gray sky. Where
is the props man? Have him haul up

that sky and lower one in a more
pleasing color: multi-flora. You have
no idea what it takes to sustain

this effort, to remember (I carry
four flesh stumps held to a piece
of gauze by the silver prong

of a safety pin). Tip the bucket
over, let the little stippled fish
swim to the moon. Take it back,

clean its insides of kelp
and constricted tissue. Use it as
a cup from which to drink today

like a woman who isn’t a mother:
just a woman, just a girl who wants
to sit in this chair with no need

to get up real soon, who wants warm
light to love all of her back, who
wants a sip of cold clear water.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Santa Milagrita

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 61 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Here’s a heart cut out like
a cookie made of tin, ringed

and pierced with holes: through
it, the light shines— like

ornament, like a bauble wrapped
in foil. Its cold fluted layers

gleam and pleat, like the halo
of a small town saint who’s made

good and come back to a hero’s
welcome: so many tokens at her

feet, so many supplicants in
parade. The traffic never stops

at her wayside shrine: bring me
back my lover, my daughter, my

mother, that life of promised
. Here, in exchange, all

these glittering anatomies:
fingers, arms, legs; an eye,

an ear— parts we would lop
off gladly; if only, if only.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Poems to be shaved into the hair of the author’s back

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 5 of 29 in the series Conversari


Cutting words:
so warm at first & then
such a chill


The fewer the words
the more sensibility
surrounds them


Every word is a clearing
that grows


The absence of language
is not silence
but wilderness


If you want a sacred text
use a branding iron


Only through poems
can I get all
the way naked


is my


Notes: These are not haiku. They are simply poem-like things short enough to fit on my back if shaved with a small razor. To enact these properly, I would need at least one assistant, possibly two — one to cut the words, the other to record the process on video. A time-lapse photo sequence of the words growing in and disappearing each time would probably also form part of the final video document. Maybe someday when I am a proper silverback.

(UPDATE 2/5/12) See the photographic response by Rachel Rawlins, “Buddleia.”

Reading the Flypapers (April 8, 2003)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

So the last units of American troops have finally pulled out of Iraq (leaving thousands of trigger-happy mercenaries to protect U.S. citizens still in the country). Hard to believe this absurd nightmare of a miliary adventure has lasted for more than eight years. The cost in Iraqi lives (over 100,000, according to almost all estimates) has been appalling, to say nothing of American and allied troop casualties. I thought I’d dust off and re-publish an essay I originally posted to my Geocities site shortly after the invasion, reflecting the frustration I think many of us felt about the unreliability of the information we were getting. It was obvious to anyone with half a brain at the time that the official justifications for the invasion were completely made up, which made the disinclination of mainstream journalists to question anything coming out of the Pentagon all the more maddening.

Most of the links in the original essay were of course dead now, so I’ve removed them, but hopefully you can still get the drift.

As a professional geographer with over ten years of field research in Honduras, my brother Mark was understandably ticked off by an AP reporter’s description of Honduras’s Mosquito coast — recognized as a World Heritage Site for its unique biodiversity and indigenous cultures — as “a deserted, bug-infested swamp.” “Nothing like well-researched journalism,” Mark adds sarcastically.

But the sloppy reporting starts right with the headline, “Honduran Riot Displays Gangs’ Brutality.” If 61 out of the 69 people killed were gang members — most of them herded & locked into a cell, then killed by hand grenades or burnt alive, according to another report I saw — doesn’t this actually suggest the brutality of the NON-gang-affiliated prisoners? True, one does have to wonder at the depth of hatred demonstrated by such brutality. And if these articles are correct in saying that the Mara 18 gang members initiated the battle by trying to seize control, it’s possible to interpret the horrific outcome as a rather extreme form of self-defense, partially excused by the perpetrators’ own desperate condition.

But then, that’s just what the sleep-deprived, under-nourished, sun-struck British and American soldiers in Iraq are claiming as justification for their targeting of apparent non-combatants. Gotta get them before they get us, and the sooner the job’s done, the sooner we can all go home!

In any case, I can’t help thinking that, in Iraq especially, it’s not so much that “truth is the first casualty of war.” Rather, truth seems never to have been considered as an option. What’s important is to select events and interpretations that happen to conform to a pre-selected story line (in the Honduran story, internecine gang violence in a hellhole of a prison located in a hellhole of a country). The fact that these pieces are sometimes a poor fit with the overall story line probably reflects a combination of rudimentary writing skills and the sort of casual contempt for their audience so common among working reporters, especially those of the embedded variety.

Meanwhile, those journalists stalwart enough to remain in Baghdad and rash enough to refuse the suffocating embrace of the Pentagon were targeted by our increasingly impatient troops yesterday in three separate “accidents.” In the most serious incident, the Palestine Hotel, where over 100 foreign journalists are based, was hit by a mortar at close range, supposedly in response to sniping from the roof. None of the reporters gathered on the roof were able to see this sniper in their midst; they must’ve all been looking in the wrong direction. Casualties included a Reuters correspondent and a Spanish cameraman; several more were injured. U.S. bombs also took out two different command centers for Arab TV stations yesterday, one a station from Abu Dhabi (no casualty reports so far) and the other the infamous Al-Jezeera (one cameraman killed).

It’s not like the unembedded reporters hadn’t been warned. And besides, three such “accidents” in one day may reflect nothing more than the overall intensity of bombing and strafing in day two (or was it day three?) of the Battle of Baghdad. Besides, what’s a couple dead bodies more or less, in the grand scheme of things? Don’t get so hung up on accuracy, the generals told Daily Mirror reporter Bob Roberts.

Let’s not even mention the pillorying of Peter Arnett for telling the truth to the wrong audience, or the repeated, deliberate bombing of the “propagandistic” Iraqi TV — a direct violation of the Geneva Convention. And let’s especially not mention those journalists like Robert Fisk, who so irresponsibly insist on covering the shockingly unaesthetic and potentially demoralizing consequences of war. Let’s stay focused, if you please, on the clinical precision of “smart bombs,” on our leaders’ repeated insistence that they seek to minimize “collateral damage” and “friendly fire incidents,” and especially on whether the Great Satan — uh, Saddam — is alive or dead. Only such a tight and resolute focus, the neo-con pundits proclaim, can provide us with the requisite “moral clarity” of vision necessary to triumph over Evil.

One other thought: it seems dishonest to speak, as so many do these days, of “the fog of war.” As if all the confusion were just a fact of nature, an unavoidable occurrence. The Pentagon has in fact been rather forthright about its use of disinformation and innuendo as a part of psychological operations. Therefore, it seems to me, it’s not just fog that obscures the vision, but smoke and mirrors. Like the clouds of smoke from Baghdad’s ring of fire, a kind of massive smudge pot designed to keep all manner of biting insects at bay.

And if all else fails, crack out the poison gas… whoops, I mean the insecticide. Hit ’em with clouds of “calmatives“! How else to subdue “a deserted, bug-infested swamp”?