How to mourn, Belgian-style

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 19 of 39 in the series Manual


Manual: How to mourn from Swoon on Vimeo

Swoon’s fourth video for my Manual series takes a different tack. “No more bacon,” as he puts it in his blog post, “but peace, contemplation and coffee.” In an email, he explained the associations of coffee for Belgians in this context:

We have a thing called ‘coffeetable’ (koffietafel), when someone is burried the family invites friends and relatives to the ‘coffeetable’ after the burial and serves them coffee and sandwiches.

I wanted to have an absurd, yet subdued, take on that fact. It needed different sounds too.

How to burn

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 18 of 39 in the series Manual


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Become an idol sheathed in gold leaf.

Let no one touch you but the wind, and then only through proxies.

Have your hands replaced with hooks and your feet with augers.

Avoid lakes and oceans, thunderstorms and kisses. Dry out.

Live on earth: an unconsummated star smoldering under a thin crust of ash.

Spend your holidays on a barely cooled tongue of lava, or the slag pile from an old coal mine.

Become coal yourself if necessary, but avoid the extremes of heat and pressure that would turn you translucent.

Diamonds are a poor fuel, and their cold fires last nowhere near forever.

We need to burn carbon if we are to fulfill our destiny.

Embark on a long-distance relationship, ideally with the assistance of an anatomically correct knitted heart.

Listen through keyholes.

Feed small rumors with bacon grease and fan them with the shoulder blades of race horses.

What is digestion but a controlled burn?

Join the crowd for a public execution or the overthrow of a government.

Dance the way flames dance, leaping in and out of existence.

Oxidize and exfoliate like a slow book made of rust.

Glow if you can’t flicker, flicker if you can’t blaze.

Set fire to the crops so the harvest will never come, cold and dark—that death that grows inside you like a field of snow.

High in the hills, the dead

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 60 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


are pressed into crevices of limestone.

Their limbs, their bones, are smaller now,
pebbled or smoothly pleated. Their shrouds

have attained the quality of paper.
Tresses? Eyelash hair? These have become

slight as wind, but brittle. Removed from
village life, they do not care if animals

inquire into their secrets, hoard seeds
or feathers in the louvres of their ribs.

Nights dark as ink, then dawns
splayed through blue fingers of pine.

If it were here and whole, the heart
would think this was a nest.


             “Let heaven and earth be my coffins…” ~ Chuang-tzu



In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Kew gardens photo set

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

yellow orchids in the Temperate House

In May of last year, during my week in London I visited the Kew botanical gardens twice, the second time in the company of fellow blogger-photographer Rachel Rawlins. I shot more than 500 photos at Kew all told (though in retrospect I should’ve doubled that number and taken photos of the labels for each plant, too, so I’d actually be able to i.d. everything).

I shared the first part of those photos in a post here last August about the oldest of Kew’s signature glasshouses, the Palm House. Last night, I presented a slideshow on Kew to my local Audubon chapter, so in the past few days I’ve processed a bunch more photos — and now they’re uploaded to Flickr as well. You can browse the set (especially if you’re on a slower connection) or view the slideshow. (I could embed it in the post, but what’s the point? It should be viewed at full-monitor size.)

The second day I went to Kew, it was their spring festival, with stilt walkers, live world music and teeming crowds. The set begins with the Palm House, moves to the treetop walkway (with a shot of the Chinese pagoda in passing), then proceeds to the Temperate House. Then it’s back outside for a couple of live bands, a few of the more picturesque trees, and some random shots from smaller glasshouses, and we end in the newest of the “big three,” the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Revisiting these photos, I came to a realization about what my favorite group of plants is, aesthetically speaking. The set closes with them: the cacti. Maybe I really belong in the desert.

Empty Ghazal

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 59 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


Two bright ceramic pots beneath the window: purple for starbursts
that haven’t seeded, orange for lavender. In other words, they’re empty.

Waiting at the doctor’s, a feathered strip glimpsed beneath
the awning. Blue wing, black bars, then the space emptied.

Geckos call on the fringes of the factory where young migrant workers
cobble computer tablet parts together. The suicide nets tonight are empty.

There are days I want to move boxes out of cold storage, not
knowing what’s inside: take them to the curb; purge, empty.

Cleaning my drawers, I find a small stack of unused journals.
The leather-covered one you gave me, my favorite, is still empty.

I dream of choosing a rich Japanese ink to fill my pens, with names
like Dew on Pine Tree (Syo-Ro) or Old Man Winter (Fuyu-syogun).

How much a flourish on cream stock gathers: scroll of morning glory,
blush of persimmon. Wildness of horses’ manes, the horizon empty.

Loosely held, the brush gathers the line as it goes. Uncertain at
first, it stumbles on the trail, then speeds: moving away from empty.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to spit

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 17 of 39 in the series Manual


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First identify the target within: that bit of foreign matter infiltrating your phlegm.

Gather yourself. Hate is hard work.

Remember: the conscious control of bodily discharges is the essence of civilization.

If there’s a wind, make sure it’s at your back.

If there’s a sun, make sure it isn’t watching.

Wait until it’s 40 below zero—the temperature at which Centigrade and Fahrenheit coincide and spit turns into a slow bullet of ice in mid-air.

Take three steps forward like a bowler.

Lose your dignity—it can grow back.

Let fly.

How to grow up

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 16 of 39 in the series Manual


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for J.R. on his 17th birthday

Leap often to get used to the view.

Swing from tree limbs every day to make sure your arms stretch to the proper length.

Growing up is not only difficult, but also extremely time-consuming.

Instead of the future, day-dream about the past—the one thing your warped desires can’t destroy.

It’s true that some caterpillars turn into lovely butterflies, but many more turn into drab brown moths. Avoid metamorphosis altogether if possible.

Friends come and go but books stay with you, even in a strong wind.

Instead of going on dates, court boredom, which will never desert you.

Make friends with the invisible family who lives upside-down on your ceiling.

Have somebody record your height on a door with a pencil every year. If the marks start to go lower rather than higher, this could indicate that instead of growing up, you are growing old.

Avoid anything that prevents a good night’s sleep. Prizes, for example, are for livestock.

Remember: you can keep learning all your life, but you’ll never again be able to skip school.

Experiment with different personalities.

Don’t be over-clever or let yourself be fired out of a cannon.

Feeling hungry? Try eating!

When I was your age, I was young.

If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff too? Why not? Don’t you like your friends?

Playing video games imparts a valuable life skill: how to hold your pee.

Watch movies rated for mature audiences. These are usually the most juvenile.

If you dream of a career in politics, learn to do magic tricks.

Hypnotizing chickens is not merely a fun stunt—it also makes them tractable prior to execution.

Go to school with blood on your shirt. Say it’s your name in Chickenscratch.

If all else fails, learn to walk on stilts.

To Silence

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 57 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


All night rain rattles soft against
the windows, forms pellets bordering
on frost; they fall like asterisks

upon the sill, language dissolving
as soon as spoken. Even the oboe
of a distant loon, the stream’s

purling clarinet, cannot prevent
this imminent slide toward silence—
The bell quieting toward the damper,

the mouth withdrawn from the reed;
the instrument returned to its velvet-
lined case, the tongue curled back

into its underground cave. So rich
and fragile, so little understood.
Maligned silence, milky as the swirl

at the bottom of a cup, toward which
the face bends to drink, wanting more.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.