Epigrammatically incorrect

I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. Epigrammatic posts and humor have been mainstays of Via Negativa from the beginning. Here’s a post that bridged the two categories. (Please click through to read the whole thing.)

Bad maxims:

19. Misery loves company. Specifically, the Frito-Lay Company, makers of Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles and Lay’s brand snack chips. Frito-Lay.TM Food for the fun of it!TM

20. Before doing X, always ask yourself, “What would happen if everyone did X?” If the answer is, “Cataclysmic war and social chaos, leading to the rapid extinction of most higher life forms,” then it’s probably a pretty good way to turn a profit.

21. Some people see things as they are and ask, “Why?” Some people dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” If you know either of these kinds of people, please call the Department of Homeland Security’s toll-free hotline.

Shaggy dog story

I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. I used to post stories more often than I do now — sometimes true ones, and sometimes fictional ones that started out as if they were nonfiction, just because I liked to mess with readers’ heads. I seem to recall the original comments (via Haloscan, subsequently lost like all comments left before April 2006) included one or two confessions from readers who continued to think it was a true story even after the passage quoted here. (Please click through to read the whole story.)

New tricks:

“You make them yourself?” I asked, remembering that her parents had been artists.

That laugh again. “Oh, it’s not like I have a forge in my backyard or anything…”

Then, perhaps sensing my frustration, she knelt down and pointed out the outline of a dog sitting on its haunches. “They’re so popular with dog lovers… Anyone who’s ever had a companion animal knows what a deeply spiritual connection that can be… Like my Hermione here? Would you like to say hello to Dave? Dave, this is Hermione…”

There was a dog on my bed. A brown and tan mongrel – a beagle-border collie mix, by the look of it. “Hello,” it said.

“No rain of flowers marked my entry into the world.”

History’s indifferent like that—
Whatever its chroniclers decree
is afterthought, footnote, hind-
sight, perhaps atonement for previous
shortcomings— And therefore,
on the other hand, is it so surprising
we want to feel more than mere
accident: unplanned-for, unhoped-for,
excess bit of baggage someone has to pay
for in steerage? Destiny likes to say
it isn’t going to hand out second chances;
and yet we’re told that history repeats
itself. What are the odds the child
born into poverty becomes the general,
and not the slave substituted for a corpse?
What luck ordained that I have wealth
but only the kind that “doesn’t compute?”
The djinns of the desert and the scripts
of old say the heavens reward all
that’s patient and uncomplaining in its toil;
that the multifoliate rose, in turning,
recalibrates the cosmic energies so she who weeps
or suffers, finds release… But Lord, for a change,
let someone else guard the front lines at battle;
let other hands barter and trade or sharpen
the weapons on the fiery wheel.


In response to Via Negativa: In the voice of Cortez's mistress.

Peak experience

I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. A trip to the Adirondacks supplied the material for my 400th post at Via Negativa, a milestone I reached after only eight months of blogging. (Please click through to read the whole thing.)

Climbing Algonquin Peak:

We find a shelf of rock facing east where we can sit and watch the clouds swirl past, ogling the iconic, landslide-scarred face of Mt. Colden whenever they clear. The lunch is as luxurious as I can manage; my only regret is the absence of a white linen tablecloth. After tea – Earl Grey steeped with spruce – I sit with my back against the stone. My companion lies supine for a while, and finally says, I can feel the whole mountain underneath me.


This entry is part 5 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


The call of vendors in the streets,
the yowling of a cat drowning out the chitter of birds;
the early morning rabble of roosters in their cages,
the drip of water into plastic pails;
the diesel drone of jeepneys in the alley,
the bickering of neighbors across the fence,
the crying of a child who can’t go back to sleep—
Any one of these, sounds you might swear
you have not heard in many years.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

In the voice of Cortez’ mistress

I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. Here’s a poem in the dramatic monologue mode, written under the influence of Ai with some imagery borrowed from translations of classic Aztec poetry. (Please click through to read the whole poem.)

Malinche, A.D. 1522:

No rain of flowers marked my entry into the world.
I wasn’t born onto a shield or draped
in a robe of feathers. My own mother
sold me in secret & celebrated my funeral
with the substituted corpse of a slave.
I ended up serving the lords of Yucatán,
on the eastern shore.

Four years ago, when Hernán Cortez came back
from setting fire to his ships, slipping
like a thief into camp, I was waiting in
his tent. We understood each other
from the first, before I could speak
one phrase of Castillian. We had
the same hungers.


My memory of breasts is not
all gentle, not always milky—
Long before the daughters came,
and their trusting, hungry mouths
closed around aereolas grown turgid
with food, there was a matinee show
at a theatre, standing room only;
and I, the only pre-teen (but tall
for my age) in a group of older
cousins. It was a comedy, slapstick,
and bodies pressed on all sides
against each other— then a hand
came through the darkness to fumble
at the snaps on my blouse. I clawed
and batted at this unseen intruder
which snaked in and out as if
disembodied. Everyone laughed,
oblivious, preoccupied by the antics
onscreen. Stricken mute, I could
not utter a sound. When we came out,
it was late afternoon. The sun made
the hills look sinuous, but I
saw them lit as if on fire.


In response to small stone (164).

Imagining an Iraqi imagining us

I’m taking a break and highlighting some classic posts from my first full year of blogging, 2004. Though a note on the post says it’s a rough, first draft, I ultimately decided it didn’t need further revision. (Please click through and read the whole poem.)

From a Distance:

God knows how many times
I have stood frozen in the hot street
with rifles pointing at my crotch

& watched myself – small
& impossibly thin – in the oil-black
mirrors of their sunglasses.

They never take them off, not even
to enter a mosque. God knows
they are easy to hate.