How to panic

This entry is part 31 of 39 in the series Manual


Flip, flop and fly — not necessarily in that order.

Re-wire all your circuits and don’t ground anything.

Re-calibrate your trajectory every half-second like a butterfly en route to nothing in particular.

Unless you believe in market forces, you will die in your sins. Trust in the rational investor and the invisible hand.

Use the small hammer provided to break the glass.

When called upon to participate in a panic attack, be sure to bring the viable issue of your torrid fling with a goat.

Sew panic buttons into all your shirts for easy access.

Alongside the lyric, dramatic and satiric, pre-Socratic philosophers recognized the importance of the panic mode.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, you must be some kind of goddamned robot.

Panic, like dancing, worship services and outbreaks of bubonic plague, is best experienced in a group setting.

Love may take you out of yourself, but only panic can save you from the tedium of thought.

Don’t shout “fire!” willy-nilly in a crowded theater. Wait for a quiet moment full of dramatic tension.

Remember, it’s not true that the lemmings in that Disney nature film committed mass suicide. They were pushed.

Tall Ships

This entry is part 47 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012


They come over the water into the harbor
as crowds jostle for a view from the ferry,
tall ships from across the world— enactment
of some yearly ritual of crossing that dates

back to a world when kings and statesmen of new
empires leaned over tentative maps unscrolled on
library tables. Their pale, excited fingers traced
the zig-zag journey across months, across a chain

of inked islands to some vaster expanse where the sun
might, conceivably, never have to set— And their
sailors: how different might they have been, really,
from these young men in optic white from Brazil,

Colombia, Ecuador, standing at close attention at the foot
of each gangplank as tourists nervously find their way
up or down, one foothold at a time? Those conquests
might now go under the name of history: the ones

that launched Magallanes’ ships toward some idea
of the spice islands, so that today, every grocery
store in the northern hemisphere has whole shelves
listing with fenugreek, coriander, and anise,

and salts in shades that range from white to pink
and grey— the ones that gave the archipelago
of my dreams and birth, the name of a Spanish king.
Sailors climb the masts and fly the festive

banners and the crests signifying their own
native origins. And after all, this is still
about territory: the way each boat’s carefully
berthed, the way we move from one to another

as though to test or bring tribute, knowing
the waters that slap against each hull can be more
jealously coveted— for oil, for nutrient life,
for passage to safeguard into that uncertain future.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


too much august not enough snow:

A passport with stamps, the otolith acquires a new ring for every day and every sojourn in a fish’s life. One for the natal stream, separate rings for spawning and rearing. Cradles and diplomas. Stable isotopes. One for every drift and foray into distant waters. Marriage and divorce. Calcium carbonate and trace minerals. A protein skeleton.


This entry is part 46 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012


The 280 pound sophomore says, during a pause in the workshop, I go to school, I go to my part time job, I sleep. Sometimes I play games on my computer. Then I do it all over again.

All morning in the Triangle, the workers are setting up tarp, small platforms, brochure holders. Tall ships will ride into the harbor tomorrow, white sails unfurled.

Out of the blue, the landlady writes to ask what the backyard looks like now that the cypress trees have been cut down.

I snap a photo and hours later, notice that moss has grown between the bricks on the walk. There is no error here.

In a book I come across the words romantic dogs, penned in the margins. The handwriting is unfamiliar.

Dust filters down in the late afternoon sunlight. The blinds need cleaning.

I cannot remember how many funeral parlors there were between the City Hall and the church.

A stand of pampas grass gave me my first paper cut. Green against gravel. And then the surprising streak of blood.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

How to sit

This entry is part 30 of 39 in the series Manual


Bend in two places. Ready yourself for the first origami fold.

When choosing a seat, remember: comfort is important. Don’t stint on the gluteal implants.

Get off your high horse and have it shot.

Sit on the earth like a bird brooding an enormous egg. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to hatch.

Donate your wings to a soup kitchen for Wing Night Wednesday.

Why be normal? Straddle a chair backwards, you rebel you.

Wait until your number is called. Requests to be buried in a sitting position are usually honored.

Before accepting an endowed chair, make sure it isn’t too well endowed. That could get uncomfortable.

Seat belts are for cowards, and also for people riding in automobiles.

Rocking chairs are passé. Find a chair that throbs.

If the ground is rocky or uneven, simply levitate.

Let your legs atrophy like Daruma. Put the fun back in fundament.

Refuse to meditate for only three bowls of rice a day. Join a sit-down strike for some decent drugs.

Contrary to popular opinion, shutting the fuck up is not an inevitable consequence of sitting your ass down.

If you’re visiting the equator, sit down very carefully. The earth is spinning at 1,038 miles per hour!

Let sleeping kundalinis lie. Just between you and me, the subtle winds from the root chakra smell like shit.

Just sit. Sit! Good boy.


“The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back….” ~ Annie Dillard

So much work: sribbling and starting over, and scribbling again. Scrubbing and wiping, cleaning, scraping. The moon rises above the tree line. At dawn it disappears, coin plinked back into its porcelain bank. What will it all weigh, at the end of this life? I have a friend who has signed up her daughter for classes since she was three: ballet, tap,
jazz, piano, flute, violin, guitar. Another is fluent in five languages, and is hard at work learning a sixth. What can I be proud of today? I scramble two eggs before 8 am, and through the kitchen windows hear the scree of a bird. Before noon, I read the word “frisson” in a poem and am slightly, inexplicably cheered. Do you hear the train whistle, the neighbors slamming car doors in their driveways? There’s a bill for three years’ worth of water that came through the pipes. I daub scent on my wrists and inhale a border of verbena, flowering in the sun. Before bed, I will hold the detachable chrome rainfall showerhead in my hand and wash my hair in the tub, admire the wealth of each clear droplet swirling away in the drain.


In response to Complaint and small stone (98) (99) (100).


My appliances don’t understand me. Random shuffle fails to keep measure with my tics. Unfriending strangers no longer fills me with a frisson of spite. I have been sleeping too much, and in my dreams, great rolls of fencing escape from captivity and flatten trees and houses. I go for long walks with my eyes shut because some days it’s too much work to focus. The slower I go the more I stumble, like a bench grinder with a decaying belt. I’ve been too happy. As my friend the skull likes to point out, it takes no muscles at all to smile. Glowering is a lost art.

Pantoum, with Approaching Storm

In lieu of church bells, traffic on the avenue.
Thunder from a storm already almost here.
On the corner, the man with the harmonica says,
Stick around, it’ll change; it always does.

Thunder’s the voice of the storm already almost here.
Hasn’t it relented, isn’t it seven years after your death?
Stick around; there are things that never seem to change.
I lay fruit on a plate, summon your spirit with soup in a cup—

Seven years after your death: what little I know hasn’t changed.
I hear someone ask: Does the wind have the smell of salt from the sea?
Alone, I arrange wheels of citrus and water the broth with tears—
In the end, has sacrifice mattered? what safeguards will keep?

Crush a handful of grass, and still you smell the salt from the sea.
How long can I breathe through various instruments,
that plaintive tune whose other name is sacrifice? Each note’s
the rattle of a hollow limb, the gash of church bells above the avenue.


In response to Morning Porch and small stone (97).

Notes on a heart attack


They wheeled me up to the recovery ward. There was a huge tree outside the window whose foliage dipped and bobbed as a squirrel moved round in it. The room was full of a brassy, beeping monitors. I learned quite quickly to identify the tone mine made when I fibrillated or missed a beat, and for a while observed as my thoughts wandered round; every time they touched on work my heart stuttered. Somewhere around dusk a trolley came round with tea, and two digestive biscuits. They crumbled in my mouth like a sacrament.