Death of the Author

A small pin-striped bird alights
on the dead cherry tree next to the porch
& starts gleaning its breakfast
from crevasses in the decaying wood.
At length I remember its name,
black-and-white warbler
& in so doing, forget the name of the author
whose Collected Shorter Poems I hold
in my lap. They’re orphaned for more
than a minute by my poor memory.
If I can just get the first letter…
something beginning with a G, perhaps?
That letter like a smile
warped into a grimace…
Or a T, that tall gallows.
The warbler stops to issue his usual
six whispery notes. Bill Knott.


I’m the proud owner of 15 new “homepubs”—homemade publications—from the great contemporary poet Bill Knott, who prints them up and bundles them off along with a limited edition print and an original painting to anyone who orders a painting through his website. Check it out. I find I like the whole concept of home pub, especially now that I have a new batch of homebrew ready to drink (more on that soon).

Ramadan in Istanbul

Human Landscapes:

It’s at night that Ramazan becomes palpable to the nonobservant, and that’s one of the reasons I love it. The whole city becomes as nocturnal as I, by disposition and habit, already am. The streets are lively well past midnight: people stay out late, strolling on the shore, filling sidewalk teahouses in the warm night air. Children are up late too—they don’t fast, but in summer there’s no need to wake for school in the morning, so they’re out and about, walking with their families and playing on the sidewalks. There’s something of a fairground atmosphere: cotton candy and ice-cream and street vendors selling cheap plastic toys. But the gaiety goes hand-in-hand with marks of piety, like the low, continous sounds issuing from the mosques—Qur’an recitation, prayers, ilahi—and the lightbulbs strung between their minarets.

Changes at the Morning Porch

Tinkering with WordPress sites can be a lot of fun, but often doesn’t produce visible differences as far as site visitors are concerned. This morning’s tinkerings with The Morning Porch, however, have brought one highly visible change that I think dramatically improves the reader’s experience: In the “On this date” sidebar widget, I now include the full text of posts from previous years so one can read them without clicking through. Also, I believe the widget will now change in sync with my timezone rather than stay tied to GMT, as it did before.

I should also note the addition of a new site to the “other micropoetry and microessay blogs” section of the Morning Porch blogroll: Northern Light: A Daybook, by the western Massachusetts-based poet Rosemary Starace, author of Requitements.


For those of you who are fellow WordPress geeks, here’s what changed behind the scenes and why. When I moved the site to its current location in late 2009 after two years on Tumblr, none of the posts had titles—Tumblr isn’t as insistent on that point as WordPress is. Rather than do the smart thing and start creating titles at that point, manually pasting the first few words and an ellipsis into the title field of each post going forward, I couldn’t bring myself to let the archived posts remain titleless. So I found a nifty plugin designed for a slightly different purpose, Blogger Title Fix, that would automatically substitute a short excerpt for the title field. It worked pretty well, but I had to hack the hell out of the plugin I used to display “on this date” links so that it would link to the date rather than the (nonexistent) titles. Last year, that plugin—A Year Before—got a major update, but when I upgraded, I found it didn’t play nice with Blogger Title Fix, and since its codebase had been substantially rewritten and I am a terrible coder, I couldn’t figure out how to hack it as I had its predecessor. But at some time in the intervening months I must’ve run across another, newer and more general title-adjusting plugin called Auto Post Title and given it a quick try without thoroughly checking out its features, because I found it unactivated among my plugins at The Morning Porch this morning. This time I realized that one of the things it can substitute for a title is the excerpt, so it was just a matter of radically shortening the standard excerpt length with another plugin, Advanced Excerpt, so my titles wouldn’t be the same length as the posts. (I could also do this via a hack to my functions.php file, of course, but in my opinion such things belong in plugins rather than theme files.)

So I was happy to have replaced an old, unupdated plugin with a newer one, which still leaves me dependent on a plugin where I shouldn’t be, but puts off the day when a major change in WordPress core suddenly makes all the post titles disappear. And then I was able to update to the current version of A Year Before, and oddly enough, what it uses for a post excerpt is still the standard—it’s unaffected by the Excerpt Length plugin—so I was able to include the full text of Morning Porch posts as previously mentioned, which I think adds a whole new dimension to the site. Moral: it pays to reexamine one’s plugin configuration on a regular basis. Just because a given setup works doesn’t mean it’s optimal.


This entry is part 22 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


Let us dispense with.
Have you receipts
for my ripened figs?
You took my pleasure,
you skimmed the trees
without so much
as touching down.
I took you for
abundance, unasked-
for sugar, fat in
a time of drought;
in return you pressed
my substance, absently,
into a distant fold—
slip of paper shedding
its metaphors.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Night Walk

Boats slip into the harbor.
At one end of the dock, we walk
through a makeshift arch festooned
with flags, left over from the last
festival. Pretend it is a portal
to another time: choose one,
before this quiet flowers
into a battering ram.
I dont know where
you’ll wind up,
I don’t know
where I am.


In response to small stone (111).


modern cowboy’s lament

You’re too florid, too weepy
for this sleepy street—
even the fireplug looks away.
The sidewalk should tip you off:
this ain’t no lone prairie.
Tumbleweeds never make it across I-35
so how the hell did you?
We’re proud of our values here—
especially our property values.
Only broke people walk
& to loiter is to litter.
We may wear big hats
as if at some point expecting
exposure to the elements
but for God’s sake, son,
we die behind closed doors.


For those who aren’t familiar with the old ballad I’m riffing on, here’s the Wikipedia article.

Night Willow

(after Beth Adams)

The only ones I knew, those that fringed the man-made lake in my hometown, interspersed with red bottlebrush trees.

I used to have a sepia print made by an artist friend who just passed away— The woodcut showed rowboats on choppy water, the City Hall in the distance; and, distinct at the edges of the frame, the long-fingered leaves of willows.

In their shade, early mornings, an elderly Chinese man came to lead T’ai Chi exercises: single whip, warding off, cloud hands, wild horse spreading mane. Shoes made no sound on the grass.

This is my dream painting: shot through with yellow gleam of lamplights, shadows hunched or hugging their knees like granary gods.

Moss lining the undersides of jagged stones— so even here, it might be possible to say there is still kindness to be found.

Is this what you mean? I’ve decided to stop knotting up my questions and lobbing them like weapons into the trees.

The sky at night can be the color of ash, can be the color of burnished metal.

If the nest is a purse, then it is so high up in the branches I could not possibly plunder it or probe its depths.

Dear mystery: daily, night after night, I think you’re testing me; I won’t fight with you anymore.

Branches sough, and shapes of leaves shift in the wind. One by one my daughters will fly away.

Lit, candles burn down into bowls of liquid wax, even as their smoky fragrance lingers.

Tell me in your own time what you want to say.


In response to Cassandra Pages: Night Willow.

Scythes revisited

This entry is part 31 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools



These scythes are just a few of the old farm tools we found in the barn and shed when we moved to Plummer’s Hollow in 1971. Other gems included a butter churn, a foot-operated grindstone and a chest-high, hand-cranked winnowing machine.

If the photo looks familiar, that’s because Phoenicia Publishing used it for the cover of Odes to Tools. In “Ode to Scythes,” I had written:

The scythes are emissaries
from a country
that no longer exists.

Martin Hardy in Plummer's Hollow, 2012 (1)

In fact, as I learned this past Saturday, that “country” is not completely vanished yet. The gentleman above, Martin Hardy, actually wielded those sythes (and also operated the butter churn, the grindstone and winnowing machine) as a boy back in the 1930s. His family lived in the old tenant house, the same house I live in now, for roughly the first four decades of the 20th century, living here year-round and looking after the farm while the absentee owners were in Chicago. To make ends meet, they grew oats, wheat, and other crops, kept a few dairy cows and sold the milk and cheese once a week in Tyrone. They stored the milk in the springhouse to keep it cool the rest of the week.

Though we’ve met many Plummer family descendents over the years, their attachment to the mountain is mainly a sentimental one. What memories they have are based on the few weeks they spent up here each summer. It was wonderful to meet a former year-round resident who actually grew up on the mountain the same as I did. Mr. Hardy was born in 1922, but he seems as if he could easily be 15 years younger. He recalled taking walks south along the mountain toward Altoona for fun, just as my brothers and I did, and like us, they kept chickens in the shed (the building behind him in the photo, which also houses the old tools). And while I have vivid memories of the Flood of ’72 (Hurricane Agnes), when we stood at a safe distance and watched floating trees slam into the decking of our access bridge over the Little Juniata, he remembered walking home from school during the Flood of ’36 and discovering that the bridge was completely gone. It was his grandfather, a skilled mason, who built the stone pediment that supports the present bridge, he said. It’s held up very well indeed.

I don’t think I ever shared this video for “Ode to Scythes,” the work of the British blogger and Buddhist priest Kaspalita. It was an unexpected gift, and very well executed, I thought — especially considering it was his first videopoem!

Mr. Hardy said they used a team of horses (one blind, the other sighted) to pull a mowing machine, and got out the scythes to mow the edges and the corners. I’ll bet our Amish neighbors in Sinking Valley still do much the same. I kind of question the poem’s premise now, in fact. A few decades from now, scythes may very well be common tools once again, and if any of us manage to live to 90, the tools people inquire about may not be hand tools, but things like iPads and the internet.

Of Nectar

This entry is part 21 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


After my first child was born, my mothers came to the hospital with a pot of clam broth.
Drink, drink, they urged; to let down the milk: so the child will suck of your nectar.

I didn’t know what it would feel like for my waters to break— Toward dawn, I dreamt
salt-smells from the sea. The sheets were soaked. Not mild, light hidden in night’s nectar.

Sometimes, one craves fish and rice, green mangoes, fermented shrimp. Other times,
nothing except yogurt: only what’s bland, nothing wild. Until the tongue misses nectar.

To this day it isn’t known who wrote that poison pen letter. Familiar diction; details
that couldn’t have been known, dredged up to revile— Clearly, someone denied nectar.

Most days I prefer savory to sweet: laurel or bay leaf, pink peppercorns, zest of ginger;
blend of cardamom and anise, piquant over mild. But it depends on who offers the nectar.

I pressed my forehead to glass to feel its cool aloofness; then against the weave of your
coat, the warmer folds of your nape. Don’t say memory denies the thickening of nectar.

Half my life is over, or only just begun. I’ve wished so long for a home of my own:
honeysuckle vines in the shade, stone patio tile; hummingbirds come to drink nectar.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.