Legacy

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 45 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

What had he saved, at the close
of his life, that he might have left
as a bequest? We found out only

after his death: despite his long
career in law, how scrupulous, how
fraught with superstition the lengths

he went to avoid the writing of a will,
or such grave considerations of the end:
a bank account his widow had no real

knowledge of, with one last retirement
deposit; the neat and mostly unused
stack of blank checks (he favored cash)

tucked in a corner of the sock drawer.
Somehow I can’t remember more
than the questions that now come

out of that time. They crowd upon
the present, which today seems
cloudless and untrammelled, clear

blue shot through with loose coins
of sunshine though winter’s breath
suspends its shadow from every branch.

If you can’t take it with you, what is
this lifetime of working and making do,
of putting others’ needs before your own;

and nights of sleepless worry, counting
the days from one paycheck to the next?
The clock in the hallway whirrs

and hidden levers scroll the hands
across its ivory face. Its music
is also a counting-out, a measuring

of the remaining distances between
the ache of all that wants so much
to be fulfilled, to be disbursed.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to walk

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 3 of 39 in the series Manual

 


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Walking is a form of climbing—one extremity should keep hold of the floor or ground at all times to prevent a fall.

(Feet are better for this than hands.)

You can try delegating it to others, but you have to hope they won’t do the same.

Someone must walk or the earth will forget about us and have other bad dreams instead.

Find a tree to coach you—trees spend their whole lives plotting their next step.

Be careful not to take root.

Every corner of terra firma requires a different walk, as well as every hour of the day.

A morning walk should never take the place of an evening or postprandial walk.

Saunter. Shuffle. Swagger. Stride. Plod.

Feet are like oxen bound in harness: they’re paired, but they’re not a couple.

However much they’re fetishized, their first and only mate is the ground.

Muscles are like batteries—simply walk backwards to recharge!

Try not to think about the ten little piggies with their discordant agendas.

Try not to think about those other two-legged animals, the birds.

At birth, you are allotted just so many steps. Choose them carefully.

Keep your eyes on the sidewalk—there are no dropped coins in the sky.

Maquette

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 44 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

Buttonhole: wound, opening trellised over
with such careful stitches. If the edging
is even and well-spaced, and the knot hidden
from view, the garment is practically knighted.
Tell me about frog closures, keyhole backs,
pin-tucks that seam close and sigh open;
the patient work of the foot, the hours
pressed on the treadle. Romance of voile,
the pragmatism of cotton, the tensile
wisdom of wool and lace. At the mall,
trendy with mirrors and mannequins:
a thousand blemishes sparkle, but
everything is hungry for more.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to eat

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 2 of 39 in the series Manual

 


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Cultivate an appetite through rigorous exercise of the organs of speech.

Grow root vegetables and, if possible, talons.

Salivation is important, but in most cases it will not be necessary to consume the saliva of other creatures, e.g. in the form of Aerodramus swiftlet nests.

Go to the ocean—primal eater—and watch how it wags its tongue.

Make sure the bread and the soup are singing in the same key.

Beware of the sea cucumber, which turns itself inside-out to avoid becoming a meal.

The best food is the most obvious: a fan never runs out of air to chew.

If the meat is rotten, eat the maggots.

Forks to the left, spoons to the right and a steak knife’s macron over the dish’s O.

Oxidation is too unpredictable. Use gastric acid and fermentation.

Set an extra place at your table for the anthropologist with the most delectable buttocks.

How to wake up

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 1 of 39 in the series Manual

 


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This is the first page of the missing manual, designed to be understood only by those who have no need of it.

Waking up isn’t for everyone.

Dreaming is an anodyne to our nearly inescapable grief.

But if you must awaken, make your bed inside a kettle drum and pray for rain.

When it starts to thunder, climb onto the roof and cling to the lightning rod.

Waking up isn’t for those who are already dead.

You have to start from a position of strength: go fetal.

Every zipper yearns for closure, but it can’t be rushed.

The mountain isn’t going anywhere—stop trying so hard!

Early birds are known only from the fossil record, having met their end in the jaws of nocturnal beasts.

Leave a window open for cat burglars and cats, either of whom might teach you how to travel light.

Waking up isn’t for sleepers.

Eternity can be bribed, though, if you’re subtle about it.

Thread and Surface

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 43 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

The eye of a needle is tiny. The threader’s wire hooks a whip of floss and passes it through the door of a wool-gray sky. If I were a camel, would I have known where the fissure lay? The word heather means variegated, shaded off in parts, whimsy not cut out of the same sheen or sheet or cloth. Like how some dreams are stippled and some are plain. Like how some joys are miles and miles of gossamer, unfazed by the idea of seams. I drive past neighborhoods in the afternoons, as children are just starting to walk home from school. Brick houses like rust-colored skeins line the streets, flagstone walks edged by monkey grass. Let me not forget what I’ve always wanted, so hard its edges strain against the remnants of fabric scraps.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Interrogations

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 42 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

Is there dew on the grass, are they tears
of a lover that time forgot?

Is there milk in the cup, fresh
skin formed on the nourishing fat?

Is the seed worked free of rock,
and has it brought its tattered shirt?

Is the grout in the bathroom stall
now a legible trail?

Is the pear tree warm or cold? Beneath its arms,
does it wish for a reader of long Russian novels?

Is the sill wide enough for a window
to rest, for a wing to roost?

Is the woman headed toward the train
station, does she hear the warning bell?

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 41 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12

 

Rock

On the other side
of the world, a nun
ponders rain that is
beginningless
which makes me remember
the first of many games
that women in the family
would play with every new
baby: close, open, close,
open
— by turns
the fist is soft as new
paper, then layered flint
cropped from a lunar crater.

Paper

When I pried
the orange’s clear
segment from its rind
and mesh of membrane,
a spray of volatile oil
arced into the air.

Scissors

Loggers clear trees along
the powerline to make way
for a new parking structure
at the mall. You
could not see the shore
from here— fish in nets
a kind of dappled wealth,
even a little change dropped
back into the water.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Groundhog Day

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

It’s not his own shadow he looks for
but the shadows of hawks.
He has stirred from hibernation
not to forecast but to inspect
others’ burrows—to scout for mates.
His lust is still containable,
a faint mutter like an underground stream
or a sleepwalker’s obstreperous
small intestine. He serves it
more in faith than in urgency,
a reluctant prophet answering a call,
for he’s exposed to the sky
in a way he isn’t used to:
there’s no grass, no cover,
the meadow has a new, white surface
& the sun too is strange—it gives
no heat. He freezes, wary
as it emerges from its burrow
behind a snowcloud.