Bel Canto

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 3 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012


Courage is the first of the virtues,
because it makes all others possible. ~ Aristotle


Sweet wind that trembles the first shoots sprouting
from cracks in the walk: it is such little things
that most undo me. For instance, I know it wasn’t
the a capella voices in the high school choir we heard
singing Laudate Dominum tonight, that ruffled the leaves
or brought on the sudden evening shower. And yet, each
young face, so plaintive and perfect above concert black
and white, pulled at the edges of reverie. From open mouths,
notes of praise hovered, poured full before descent and
dissolution. Isn’t it true there is hardly anything
unconnected with any other thing
? So I must believe
that there is nothing merely in the manner of a tangent,
that each bud blooms in the way a code becomes more
and more apparent. In my palm I cradle a phone that
only hours ago, carried a message from my mother—
I am so sad, she wrote. I want to ask for your help,
whatever you can send
. What heart would not sing
everything it could muster from the depths, every
tendril, even the ones just beginning to turn green.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to sleep

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 26 of 39 in the series Manual


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Treat every night as if it were your last. Lay the alarm clock out for burial.

Practice uni-hemispheric sleep for greater productivity, for example while migrating.

Alternatively, take micro-naps every time you blink.

Build up enough fat stores to last till spring, waking only to chew off the calloused pads of your feet.

During REM sleep, mouth the lyrics to “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo” by Minus the Bear. This will frighten off any intruders.

Keep a glass of water by your bedside to douse your partner or roommate at the first sound of snoring.

If you intend to sleep on a bus or a plane, be sure to bring pyjamas and a bootle of hooch.

Even if you wait for the sun to set before powering down, it’s still a good idea to close your eyes, as this usually triggers sleep mode.

Instead of sheep, count electric cars, which are quiet as cats and run on nothing but self-righteousness and coal.

As with tickling, the self-administered lullaby has little effect.

If all else fails, listen to the audio version of this manual.

World Poetry Day

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Reading to you, I come to the word sacred and there’s a catch in my throat, I come to the word habit and you smile without opening your eyes. I hear myself reading—too grave, I think—and the computer humming on the floor next to my feet. At your feet, 3600 miles away, the dog doesn’t stir.

It’s later there than here, and the poem is a long one. By the time I finish, your face has blurred and frozen on my screen, and I startle when you speak—your mouth hasn’t moved. Your eyes remain shut. It’s as if I’m hearing your thoughts.

That was like an incantation.

Almost like a spell, yes. And by the way, you’re not moving again.

I watch entranced as you switch your camera off and on, and after a few seconds of the slow-spinning O, you’re back, and grinning. I remember that stanza means room. Thanks to the magic of poetry and the internet, you in my box and I in yours can together tour the same, strange castle.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 1 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012


On the wall, a poster of the body’s meridians: every point on the palm, on the sole of the foot, a little signal that knowing fingers can decode.

The shoji screen is paper and wood. Or if you like, grain threshed, pulped and pressed into a frame; tensile bamboo coaxed upright from leaning too far out over water.

Face down on the table, I can feel knob by knob how the rungs on my spine lengthen, align.

The spicebush sends up its haze of yellow, the magnolia its tumble of sweet pinks. Underneath the scumble of bark, parts of wood look shiny, as if washed in egg.

Face down, I breathe through the paper towel laid across the headrest and think of how in the water, this might look like a dead man’s float.

Do you notice how one side of every face looks slightly asymmetrical in relation to the other?

I bought a pair of metal earrings from an artisan at a fair: one engraved surface said “un”, the other “usual.”

My hair has grown longer. Mornings are too quickly warm. On the porch, through a haze of hair, I like to listen to things that warble.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to dig

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 25 of 39 in the series Manual


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Whatever you’re carrying, set it aside.

Can you dig it? If not, look for an area that is free of concrete, asphalt, paving bricks, or other impervious surfaces.

Digging need not involve a downward motion. Those who are buried may endeavor to dig themselves out.

When digging into your past or your subconscious, stay well above the high-tide mark.

An earthworm severed by a digging tool will only grow into two new earthworms if the split occurs between the 12th and 18th segments. The head will grow a new tail, the tail will grow a new head, and neither will need a spade to resume digging.

Dig quickly, before your excavation can cave in.

Dig slowly and take many breaks to enjoy the haunting music of the moles.

Don’t stop to fraternize with rocks. Daylight makes them dangerous. Boys have been known to turn them into weapons.

Don’t remove the top of a mountain unless the adjacent valley happens to be devoid of rich people.

The technical name for soil that has been forcibly relocated elsewhere is dirt.

If there’s nowhere else to put it, dirt can be eaten. Bake at 350 for two hours and season with vinegar.

Even in the softest soil, the human penis is a very inefficient digging tool, since it lacks a baculum. Try a trowel instead.

When digging through bedrock, resist the temptation to stretch out and take a nap.

If you’re in a hurry, there are many pre-existing excavations, such as old mine shafts and abandoned railway tunnels, that you can use to escape from the tyranny of the surface.

The deeper you go, the fewer options you have. Blindness is a mercy.

Don’t dig to plant or to unearth. Don’t dig for exercise. Just dig.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“Do not attempt to say everything at once.
Take advantage of the fourth dimension: time. ~ D. Bonta”


Who remembers how the index finger slid into circles on a rotary phone, going around the wheel? Each number released, bringing voices closer through the ether.


I’m not very curtains, said our landlady, gesturing toward the blinds. Above each window frame, a scarf of crinkled white cotton, looped through hooks on the wall.


Overheard at a meeting: Ontological uncertainty. The oscillatory drift between states of desire.


Why don’t you tilt your head back in the swing before pushing forward again?


An invisible umbrella connects nine dots with four unbroken lines.


Citrus, tuberose, gardenia. The woman holds an acrylic cube filled with coffee beans under my nose. Vetiver, patchouli, musk.


Gas light flicker, wind in an accordion. Ache and catch in a tango passage.


Fluted sails on a boat going downriver. Something too expands in my side.


In response to How to talk.

How to talk

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 24 of 39 in the series Manual


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Unless you’re in an opera, stop singing. There’s music in speech, true, but it comes from the ground rather than the sky.

Do not attempt to say everything at once. Take advantage of the fourth dimension: time.

Do worry syntax not about, out figure will it they.

Words are like moss: plants without roots that rely on each other for support.

Never think before you speak. That’s tantamount to speaking before you speak—rehearsing everything before an invariably appreciative audience of one.

To start a conversation, it’s not necessary to have something to say. Find someone who looks as if they have nothing to say and ask them about themselves.

True conversation requires listening. A basic audio surveillance bug can be purchased on Amazon for as little as $28.50.

When learning a new language, the second thing to master is the way pauses are filled, the way they say um and ah. Master the shapes and rhythms of the inarticulate and meaning will take care of itself.

The first thing to learn, of course, is how to curse, and the body language that goes along with that.

Only when you understand how to say what can’t be unsaid will the everyday rituals of giving and receiving, welcoming and taking leave, apologizing and expressing condolence begin to make sense.

To speak is to fabricate. This is why so often sociopaths are such charming speakers.

The god of silence, Harpocrates, never wore clothes.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

It’s true then— every word’s a compass, pointing at least four ways; five if you count the rosy bull’s-eye that sits in the center: inscrutable, stubborn or mystical, certainly not letting on. Not just two, which is what some believe ambivalence to mean. Take my father’s good serge coat, for instance: up close the fine diagonal weave and ribbing of twill, the relatively affordable sumptuousness of wool polyester; from a distance, whipcords or pin-stripe marching down a light grey field. Experienced fingers would know the difference. He liked to cut a dapper figure, match the colors in the breast pocket to those of the slip-noose ties. It was a time when shoes were made of real leather, buffed and shined by spit, a swipe of polish. The sky in summer had the chalky quality of canvas. Seersucker and madras, burlap and raw silk— the wind blew its humid torch equally through every window. The sun wrote its progress in swirls of turmeric and ink. Heat or no heat, everyone mostly walked to where they were going. Old history books have engravings— foreigners in the tropics, top-hatted and walrus-heavy in their layered suits; their long, spindly legs sheathed in hose, their women in petticoats and laces. Here, on the first warm day of spring, I slip into flip-flops and cotton voile. I’ve snipped the leather buttons off an old cardigan, saving them for some unknown occasion in which I might revive their charm.


In response to cold mountain (32).