How to find things

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 7 of 39 in the series Manual


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Stop searching. Only pre-existing itches should be scratched.

Pull the petals from a daisy, then use tweezers to remove the yellow florets in its eye.

This is the way to perfect your own seeing.

Court sleep as if it were a lover.

When you dream of being chased, stop fleeing—let yourself be caught, killed and dismembered.

Your dreams will be so much better with a new protagonist!

Call your own phone number and say, Who’s this?

Have a notary’s signature tattooed above your genitals.

If you’re claustrophobic, team up with an agorophobic and make love from a safe distance.

(Love-making is dangerous: you can discover too many things at once.)

However quickly you’re going, go faster still.

Give each of your possessions a pet name and a safe word.

Work. Do somebody else’s bidding for 50 years.

Vacate. Watch a log burning in a fireplace on cable TV.

If you want to find God, sin flagrantly to invite divine retribution.

If you want to follow your gut, you must first acquire a gut.

Close your mind and open your mouth to every sweetness.

You are a child of the universe. Stuff yourself until you resemble a minor asteriod.

Each borborygmus is a message from the other world.

The Jewel in the Fruit

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 48 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


“…The brilliant days and nights are
breathless in their hurry. We follow, you and I.”
~ Lisel Mueller

This is a story about time. But when
is any story not about time? Who knows
where it really begins, or how?

The important thing is that the message
finally gets delivered to the king.
And everything is of course a metaphor:

each piece of fruit the beggar has brought
every day as a gift for ten years, the guards
that throw it into a neglected store-room

and chase away the one who patiently returns,
seeking audience. And then the day the king’s
monkey intercepts the gift, breaks the dull

brown pericarp to reveal the riches
within. What can the poor soul do but follow?
In the wood is a corpse hanging from a tree.

The branch does not break, but every footfall
sinks into its own shallow grave. His task
is to carry it on his back, deliver it.

The corpse tells stories, poses riddles,
threatens death. Imagine: the minute the answer
passes the king’s lips, the corpse flies back

into the tree. So it goes, this task
of rolling the body’s stone forward then back,
forward then back, until one forgets one’s name.

How many trips have I made? I’m listening
still, trying to figure out how to answer
paradox without breaking silence, how to sever

the contradictions that faithfully dog my steps.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to breathe

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 6 of 39 in the series Manual


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Find a tree willing to trade some oxygen for your carbon dioxide.

Start with one breath and see how it goes.

Vacuum cleaners make excellent coaches, since they have nothing useful to teach.

Sleep with your mouth closed so your breath can’t escape.

Cover your mouth when you yawn for the same reason.

Every breath is really the same breath, like a guest that keeps coming back.

Some people do other things while they breathe, but we don’t recommend this. Concentrate!

Public air may be free, but who knows who’s used it?

Breathe natural, odorless bottled air instead.

Some religious people may tell you that prayer is the original form of breathing, but they have it backwards.

Cold weather causes insanity—that’s why you see your breath at lower temperatures.

If pneumonia strikes, burrow into the leaf duff and practice breathing through your skin like a lungless salamander.

The lungs are nothing but wings that have lost their way.

Preparing the Balikbayan Box

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 47 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


It’s almost spring, and I am putting
a large box of things together to send
away across the ocean in a container ship
with many other boxes just like this one.

We call these balikbayan boxes— and we
fill them to the brim (they’re packed and taped,
not weighed, by volume) with every imaginable
first world desire: chocolate, clothes and shoes

bought at various sales throughout the holidays,
books for nieces and nephews; coffee, processed
ham, brined and pressed into teardrop-shaped tins;
liter bottles of shampoo, purse-size samples

of scents and lotions and oils; candy, pain-
killers, cans of tuna and corned beef and Spam.
Strips of masking tape and markers help
to designate which items will go to which

relatives and friends back home. I know
that what I really want to send can’t fit
inside this cardboard box— And so from time
to time I’ll stop to lean against the kitchen door,

survey the goods strewn across the table:
despite the labels, unsure of their destination
as I am uncertain of what real purchase
I have over the things in this world.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to wait

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 5 of 39 in the series Manual


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Incubate an egg with the heat of your palms. Brood.

Nurse your sorrows with the sour milk of jealousy, or failing that, Nestle’s infant formula.

Dissect a seed.

Relive a pleasant memory by reenacting it in excruciating detail.

Do math problems in your head—for example, prove Goldbach’s Conjecture.

Collect rain in jars, tightly sealed and organized by month and day.

Get ready! Sharpen all your knives.

Grind them until they’re thin as piano wires.

Hug yourself tightly and rock back and forth on your haunches.

If you must watch the clock, unplug it first.

If you must play solitaire, dispense with the cards.

Light cigarettes and watch from a safe distance as they turn into columns of ash.

Pace, but let your fingers do the walking.

Novels are best read backwards, one page at a time.

Stop kidding yourself about what comes next.

Go about your business.

Coil into a spring so your mind won’t have anywhere to wander.

Diorama, with Mountain City and Fog

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 46 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


On Friday afternoons, my father
sometimes picked me up from school
and took me with him up Session Road,

past Assandas, Bombay, and Bheroomull’s
department stores; then Dainty Restaurant
where the chess-players were by then deep

in their cups, and the air was fragrant
with the smells of coffee, soy sauce,
and sesame oil. In the alley, a rabble

of crows occasionally swooped down
among the garbage for scraps, driving
the cats behind the upstairs apartment

windows crazy. Farther, past Pines
Studio and Cid Educational Supply,
the entrance to Magnolia ice cream

parlor and Sky View Mezzanine.
There, he gestured to the maitre d’
named Lito, who soon escorted us

to the basement where father’s best
friend, Don Alfredo Blanco, held office
in a room musty with the cinnamon

and clove smells from the humidor, mingled
with a whiff of English Leather. I don’t
know or can’t remember what they talked

about for hours, it seemed; only
that they let me sink into the leather
armchair underneath a lamp and a poster

of a toreador in Spain, and I was free
to take out books from the low shelf:
The Count of Monte Cristo, The Great

Gatsby, and I turned the yellowed
pages and read or drowsed, until a hand
shook me awake and it was time to go.

Sky View is gone; I hear it’s now
a pizza parlor. And both men have
likewise passed away. Sometimes

I catch a glimpse in photographs
someone has posted on Facebook—
the old buildings, the wide sweep

of streets not yet choked by cars
and pedestrian traffic: the Chinese

couple who kept a shop called The Old
Pagoda, dipped brushes into ink to make
calligraphy; fingers of fog on the sleeves

of trees, their reluctance to let go too soon.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to listen

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 4 of 39 in the series Manual


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Just as the tail bone is a vestigial tail, the ears are vestigial cabbages.

Wear a hat to ward off ear worms, which if unchecked can turn into ear moths.

Listen with the heart. It’s not really designed for that, but it gets bored just pumping blood all the time.

Listen with your skin: each body hair is an antenna.

Turn on, tune in, drop into a really comfortable couch.

That “still, small voice” is neither God nor conscience but a long-deceased great aunt with a few things still on her mind.

Take notes.

All sound can be heard as music, but not all music can be heard as music.

Your life did, in fact, come with a soundtrack—what have you done with it?

The listener, too, must improvise.

One chord is enough for most purposes—don’t be greedy!

Silence can take four basic forms: pregnant, shocked, utter, and radio.

Pregnant silence is the most tragic, since she always dies giving birth.

Compose in her memory a sonata for the ear trumpet.