Season of honey and locusts,

of desert sand, of fasting;
wilderness where the silence
will remain unbroken— dry
bread and water, no sugar,
no salt. The skin might break
out in fever, the eyes glaze
with hallucinations, until
someone calls and the parched
spirit might quicken in recognition—
Who was it that said When the pupil
is ready, the teacher will make
himself known
? What they forget
to say is how long it lasts: how far
the row of flame trees stretches,
how steadily their acetylene torches
clearly devote themselves to burning.


In response to How to sacrifice.

How to sacrifice

This entry is part 22 of 39 in the series Manual


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Start with the cut that severs all connection with the earth.

Start slowly so the body can re-learn how to be whole after each amputation.

Start by living elsewhere, in another part of town. You’re better off not knowing.

Once you start giving things up, it becomes difficult to recapture the joy you felt in the presence of an adored partner or possession.

What happens to the worshipper who makes a gift of her worship and learns to do without?

What happens to service when the floor falls away and every salaam is infinite?

Let the child and the ram both go and place the knife on top of the stacked wood.

Too long have you thrilled to its militant conversation with the whetstone.

Let it go out like a phoenix, come back as a black wing.

Stay in the wilderness until someone calls you by a name you’ve never heard.


“Stare into the darkness until it returns your gaze.

Accept no substitutes, neither love nor a mirror.” ~ Dave Bonta

The depths return what they’ve been given:
old shoes, bits of broken teeth, snapped pencils.

The carapace of a seahorse, perfectly preserved.
The skull of an animal, smaller than an idol’s.

Who told you to tell your sorrows to the river?
It is always hungry, always trying to swallow

the moon’s silver wafer. And the moon? As always,
it is indifferent to your fate. As always,

it trails its silken garment, a lure weaving
in the dim rushes. The water you cup, falls

through your fingers like so much silver. Sometimes,
it’s hard to tell what love is, from its other.

How to make a face

This entry is part 21 of 39 in the series Manual


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Carve a bowl-shaped hollow at head height in a softwood tree and stand with your head in the hollow, embracing the trunk.

Stare into the darkness until it returns your gaze.

Accept no substitutes, neither love nor a mirror.

Remember: you’re not your reflection, much less the water in which it appears, but the dropped stone that shatters its composure.

Practice being smooth.

Learn laughter from schizophrenics, ecstacy from pornstars and outrage from politicians campaigning for office.

Shave your head so your face will have nowhere to hide.

When applying make-up, don’t forget to leave breathing holes!

Scowl at the moon. Don’t be its sycophant.

Your goal isn’t to make children laugh, but to make them love the façade.

When you feel yourself smiling for no reason, say: this is what happiness feels like.

Keep crayons and a paper bag handy for emergencies.

Dear unseen one,

This entry is part 65 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


tell me the hour isn’t late,
that the all-day, all-night

diner still serves what I crave.
The sky’s cloudy, marbled, shot through

with bits of emerald: the color of expensive
granite countertops, or the supple skin

of certain fish. Pebbly in places, like
day-old bread. This might be the hour

for some old-time miracle: say,
fish and loaves; or wine and water.

Birds twisting free from fire. This time,
console me. My losses, reconstitute.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

The Captain’s Reverses

This entry is part 14 of 29 in the series Conversari


after Pablo Neruda

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In you the earth, murmurs
the make-believe sailor,
dipping his old-fashioned
straight razor into a bowl
of steamy water. Little rose,
he croons, beginning to feel
that familiar stirring in what
he has always supposed to be
his heart. Tiny and naked
he clutches the razor like a pen,
like his poet’s scalpel—
you have grown, watching
that celebrated moon emerge
from the shaving foam,
its sensuous lips, its ravenous snout.
You are loosed, my love.
You are full and fleshy.
I am all at sea.


Only by becoming an object of love does the woman come into being. Without her male lover, she is “vacía, sin substancia” (“El amor,” LVDC). This portrayal of woman in the texts is sharply juxtaposed with that of the male speaker, who does not depend on the physical presence or the love of the female for his existence. At times, the woman’s absence is even considered preferable, since it allows the male to recreate her in the text, and thus provides him with a heightened level of inspiration.
—Cynthia Duncan, “Reading Against the Grain of Neruda’s Love Poetry: A Feminist Perspective


Thanks to Rachel Rawlins for prompting this with her unexpectedly negative reaction to The Captain’s Verses, which is making me rethink my admiration for Neruda’s love poetry. Thanks also to musician and SoundCloud user Hani Maltos for uploading the music I used and licensing it under the Creative Commons (since I’m too rushed this morning to be able to get permission). I have a video in mind for this, but don’t know if I’ll get a chance to do it before my departure for Chicago tomorrow afternoon. (Incidentally, if you’re going to be at the AWP conference too, please get in touch.)

See Rachel’s photographic response, “A pair of blue eyes.”


This entry is part 64 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


The old man wants to know which of his daughters loves him the most.

Like robes of silk? like crackling fat? like sheets of hammered gold with garnet crusts?

Like steel vaults, like a suit of mail, like a dome’s marble pillars and carved doors?

Woe to the stammering one who cannot summon her parade of woodpeckers, her retinue of tumbling clowns.

Be careful: bottom-dwellers lurk in the mud, jealous of every bright bubble of original thought.

They’ll want to pull her down, cast her out, call her traitor, demoness, ingrate, stupid bitch.

They won’t remember it was her who lit the fire in the morning, put the pots to bed at night, filled the glass with water that the indifferent hand reached for and drank.

She fashions a gown out of discarded plastic. She gathers water in a sieve.

Her heart fills and fills with salt— fractals like quivering ribs in magicians’ parasols, each more beautiful than the last.

I won’t tell her that she’ll have her day.

But I watch for signs glimpsed from the high window: how the planets align, how trees cast their shadows along the broken boundary; how the wolves howl as they press closer to their prey.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 63 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


When the hero of a thousand journeys is born, part of her soul spirals into a plant that her mother has made to take root in the soil. A sunflower, perhaps. Or a sapling that grows rapidly into a tree, leaning and breaking into blossom against the wind. Between every journey is a threshold. Birds bring news of what comes next, flashing their breasts like pennants rouged with coral or smoke. The stalk bends and straightens. The flower follows the sun’s ascent. The child climbs trees, runs across the grass, hair flying behind her like a sheet of night. Milk in the glass still has the sheen of alabaster. She does not stand in the light of the refrigerator, shifting weight from one foot to the other, mouth sleepless with frustration or ache or hunger. In old stories, the elders speak of warriors with heart: nakem; of growing wiser as growing in heart. Perhaps, what they mean is that capacity not only to survive what gusts in to level us all— Admit we’ve traced the fragile vein in the leaf, in the flower; seen it pulsing at the base of each other’s throats.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to make a fist

This entry is part 20 of 39 in the series Manual


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Abdicate. Grow backwards.

Let the flowers retract into their buds, the buds into the stalk and the stalk into the hemispheres of the seed.

Let the circle be unbroken: form a feedback loop until the brain roars with howlround in its cage.

Focus. Prune every Y until there’s nothing but a pollarded knot of pure intention.

Trade nuance for the on or off of a machine.

Don’t give anything away.

Without a hoard, there can be no power. Let your waters build and build behind this new dam.

Zero in like the ouroboros.

Curl. Coil. Clutch. Constrict. Consume.


Note: this is not a revision but an extended commentary on my poem, “Fist.”


This entry is part 62 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


the crooner breathed from the vinyl record,
besame mucho; and a few more lines
in Spanish that I can’t remember, this song

that floated like a veil over the sound
of clinked highball glasses, musky
murmur from a living room packed

with couples in the days my parents
entertained— while I lay in bed
listening, and rain striped the window

behind the crocheted curtains. Getting up
to tiptoe to the bathroom, who did I see
pressed in the shadow of the potted plant,

against the lawyer’s breast? And that
plaint, that pleading: I know its color
now— the lilac shade of longing

that looks to slide into the arms
of evening, the way I want to feel
your lips linger, your tongue

shape itself to the ache of my mouth.
The way the syllable opens in mucho,
before trailing off into the night.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.