How to calculate

This entry is part 15 of 39 in the series Manual

 


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Let your yesses mean yes and your nos also mean yes.

Blink authoritatively like Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie.

Acquire a sleek and gleaming surface, punctuated only by a minimalist logo.

Have your people call my people.

Regardless of emergent properties, any whole can be reduced to the sum of its parts through the elimination of each part, for example during warfare.

Flagrantly compare apples and oranges. It’s no worse than lumping Winesaps with Red Delicious.

If two wings are good, three wings must be better!

Every problem is a word problem. Make language your bitch.

Assume that the soil removed in digging a hole will never be enough to fill it again.

Plan on emptying your bowels to make up the difference.

Don’t use a broker; find a money-whisperer.

If you want to be on the winning team, side with death.

Rename all the numbers, starting with A.

Morning, Cape Town

This entry is part 58 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

A man wakes in a city between
the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.
He feels like a stranger in the sleeping

house. He wakes before first light,
before the first bird leaves the nest,
before the silence is broken by a rustle

in the leaves. His feet are cold
on the floor of this room, someone
else’s room. He wears his clothes

as if they were someone else’s.
Where has the bird flown? The man
dreams of being a swallow who can fly

to the roof of the world,
to its balconies tiled in warm
terra cotta. Does he also dream

that his daughters are swallows
with green bead eyes, that their wings
cut out of silver paper and strung

with flowers, ring the walls with their
bright cries? In the grey stillness of dawn,
shut your eyes in the room like a man

without sight: tell me if this way,
you hear more acutely the signal of wings,
the small lift of air underneath each stroke.

 
(for Jim Pascual Agustin)

 

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Release

“My knuckles are raw in the wash-water, my hips ache with a thousand unbirthed hopes.” ~ Seon Joon

You dream that your father, long dead, walks out of the bathroom like he used to do.

He’s clad in his terry-cloth robe the color of light ochre, the color of pollen shaken from the stamen of a common flower whose name you have forgotten.

It’s barely morning, the sky just shading into a faint silvery blue. Like periwinkles washed by rain, the fragile garment of their petals thin as breath.

Why are you here, you want to ask, what is the meaning of your visit? But he has gone to sit by the window in his favorite chair; he closes his eyes, begins fingering his rosary. You do not think it is proper to disturb. You let him be.

In the middle of a dream like this you know you’re watching your heart move through a landscape it has mostly hidden from view.

You know you’ve been the snail, rolling the evidence of everywhere you’ve been into a narrow ribbon. Would you call this economy, or efficiency? So much, crammed into such a miserably small space.

Everything fit into this spiral shell of echoes, plus some. You heard the water in the dishwasher. Tremulous sounds coming over the trees. Cars slowing down on the cobblestones, the high-pitched whistle of a train approaching. Two women quarreling, always quarreling, in the same house. The neighbor taking his dog in from a walk.

It’s time to go, children; pack up your work, your notebooks, your things. There are thumbprints on the edge of the wooden desk. The drawer is full of pencil shavings. Soon the trees will thicken with leaves, or birds.

You want to empty the blue plastic buckets standing under the rain spout. You want to feel their round, palpable heft as you tip them over the stones and the cool water floods the empty garden plots.

You want to feel the weights released from each hand, the pulley-ropes gone slack. A line almost of sweetness, the shock rippling from your wrists to your hips.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to mourn

This entry is part 14 of 39 in the series Manual

 


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Write his or her name in the snow, get a comfortable chair and watch how it melts: the letters expanding, becoming illegible and finally disappearing into the earth.

Spend time—the only form of currency the dead still honor.

Find the perfect slab of polished granite and release it into its native habitat.

Every year on the anniversary of your loss, take out a small ad in your local paper. Let it remain blank—an oasis of propriety among the ads for legal services and riding mowers.

Become migratory.

Visit caves that have lost all their bats to white-nose syndrome. Stand at the entrance and listen.

Visit mountaintop-removal sites in the Appalachians that have been terraformed to look like Wyoming.

Wear a cowboy hat and squint.

Become addicted to a tear-flavored brand of chewing tobacco.

Bleed yourself regularly with leeches to remove the black bile.

Follow a river from its mouth to its source: a spring small enough to empty with one long sip.

Plant a stump.

Provision

This entry is part 56 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

She texts, mid-month, to ask if she could have
a little more money for food, her cupboards
nearly bare, the floating exchange rate

up again— or down, depending on how you look
at it; but in her case, more applicably, down.
A twenty year old gas range that doesn’t work

anymore, and in its place a little hot plate
toaster oven. But how could you properly boil
water or soup in that, much less fry an egg

or a strip of meat? Crackers, bread, instant
coffee: she says a friend brings her these
every few days. The ceiling leaks in a house

that’s fallen into disrepair. One brother-
in-law made bitter by drink, one niece, a nephew
with a gambling habit, live rent-free under

her roof, largely neglectful of her
circumstance— who in her heyday shared
so freely of her larder, day to day.

Too far away, farther than any train’s distant,
watery whistle, I read her brief bulletins at night
as I lower the blinds; or, mornings when I raise them

to see blue sky felted between the arms
of trees. This is my daily trial, grave
failure through omission: how do I sip water

or coffee or broth, pass fruit or bread sweetened
with butter through my mouth, without tasting
the salt of her hunger’s quiet reprimand?

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to listen: the movie

This entry is part 13 of 39 in the series Manual

 

Manual: How to listen from Swoon on Vimeo

This is the third and final video in Swoon’s “bacon triptych” (my term, not his) — see the other two here, if you missed that post. (He does say at his blog, however, that there’s a good chance he’ll be making more videos for my Manual series.)

In an email exchange, I told Swoon I thought he had a real gift for absurdism. He responded, “Absurdism is a Belgian thing I sometimes think… so it comes naturally.” Which immediately made me long to hail from a country where something like absurdism could be a general predilection of its citizens, rather than, say, self-righteousness and extreme credulity.

Apostrophe

This entry is part 55 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

“God gave a loaf to every bird…” ~ Emily Dickinson

When the fever is a dark flower
and the flower will not break, herbalists
come in the night with a bowl of warm water.

On its limpid face, they’ll throw grains
of rice, the white of an egg. O spirits
and your furtive dictation: clouds form,

lines run. I cannot read the language
you harvest, the serifs spiraled into secret
hexes. Who cast the spell I’ve labored under

all this time? My hot pulse beats under
the collarbone. I sleep under the reeling
stars. The sheen of skin blazons the pan.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to play

This entry is part 12 of 39 in the series Manual

 


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During horse-play or rough-housing, keep your head in its case to avoid injury.

It’s not play if there isn’t some risk of dismemberment.

Climb to the top of a top for a 360-degree view of the room.

Don’t let the other players know the rules, or even that it’s a game.

Meet the gaze of random strangers and whisper You’re it.

Hide without seeking. Stay hidden.

Change your mask every few years to avoid detection.

When exploring a forest, arm yourselves with silence and trashcan lids.

Monsters are terrified of chalk. They can be bribed with erasers to do anything you want.

When falling from a great height, flap your arms wildly—you never know.

Hand-puppets should never be given real mouths. They will want real anuses next.

Only an adult can legally consent to be a toy.

Blocks may be made out of anything that’s shaped like a block.

A toy with a power button is a tool in disguise.

The point of a ball is that it has no point—however it happens to land, it’s always at rest.

Cut it open and breathe its peaceful air.

Laughter is the body’s rebellion against the mind.

What’s the point of winning if you can’t suspend all the rules?

Get everyone to run in place and you can make the earth spin faster.

When you collapse, make sure to collapse in a heap.