My Kundiman

(after Patrick Rosal)

My kundiman is no swan song,
not yet. It has spoken, and decided:
this will be the year of the mother

and child reunion. I woke at dawn
just after the new year and thought,
no savings be damned: ten, fourteen

years and two continents make too long
a separation. And that song playing in my ear
goaded me on, pitched itself higher: Why not?

after all, you can’t take any of it with you when you go.
And so my kundiman took it apart for me, syllable
by syllable: Kung:: if di:: not man:: n/ever.

My kundiman asks: Do you get it yet? We don’t leave anyone
It knows what any real lover knows: that No is never
an acceptable answer; that as long as the beloved hungers

or thirsts, the heart is a ghost moon above fields
of unharvested grain, is the lit end of a cigar
burning its prayer into the roof of the mouth.


In response to Via Negativa: The day the music died.

Archives and the origins of creativity

Rick Prelinger, On the Virtues of Preexisting Material:

My partner Megan and I run a research library in San Francisco that we built around our personal book, periodical, and ephemera collections. At some point it got a life of its own and started growing like mushrooms in Mendocino. We joke about how it’s a library full of bad ideas; I characterize it as 98% false consciousness. It’s full of outdated information, extinct procedures, self-serving explanations, ideas that never passed the smell test, and lies. And yet that’s where you find the truth. You can’t judge the past at its best, you need to confront its imperfections. And of course that’s true for the present as well.


A couple of years ago I was walking down the street with a professor who was telling me how she’d tried to get her Cinema Studies students interested in archives, but they didn’t care. I asked why, and she said “I guess they felt archives were the end of it all, the place where films go to die.” This was a big a-ha moment for me, because I realized we’d all got things completely backwards. I thought, what if we reconceive the archive as a point of origin, as a birthplace for new works and a rebirthing venue for old works? If we think of the archive as an incubation point, suddenly a cloak of bad ideas starts to slip away.

Archives promise the possibility of a return to original, unmediated documents. I think this is part of their attraction to artists—the idea that we can touch and appropriate records without also having to inherit the corrupting crust that they’ve accreted over time. This is an Edenic fantasy, but it can also be a productive point of origin.


So long ago I crossed the threshold,
stepped through the gate and felt
unsure of what I’d chosen—

The neighbor’s wife had given me
a spray of white cattleya:
I could not see nor hear

the speckled warnings
crimsoning their throats
(like sex, unfurling)—

As with all things, it takes
a passing through to come
to any understanding; now

it seems possible that fear
can be undone, when finally it
turns into a kind of discerning—


In response to Via Negativa: Under the gun.

What I wanted to say

This entry is part 17 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13


is there will always be days
like waves that threaten to pull you
under, when for a while there is nothing
but their spreading mantle of salt
and mottled grey, nothing but the dark
throbbing of that undertow you might begin
to mistake for your own pulse—
And I wanted to say there is no shame
in having flailed and cried out
as if in defeat, as we will again
and yet again, as if into the very heart
of the whirlpool that would drain us,
into the bend of the wave that looks as if
it’s poised to swallow the chain of fishing boats—
And we are so tiny, so powerless to stop
the water surging over our heads; and it is
so hard to remember how the current
buoys up bodies that have ceased resisting
so they might keep the vital breath—


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


We saw a raven in the fork of a tree
spreading its wings: taut and dark
in the shadow of the belfry—

Even this far in the city, it is
a wild thing. It won’t come,
it won’t eat from your white hand—


In response to Via Negativa: Larks.