Hagia Sophia

This entry is part 15 of 31 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2013


My daughter leaves again today
for parts abroad— Serbia, Prague,
Turkey, places whose very names reek
of history, streets inlaid with stones

which peasants have trod, where horses
and armies raised the dust, clattering
from one end of the old world to the other:
destroying walls, burning farmland, laying

siege to villages— History describes
the capture of Constantinople, the dome
of the Hagia Sophia glittering against
velvet night like a jewel: how the Sultan

Mehmed promised his troops three days
of unbridled pillage if the city fell,
after which he would claim its contents
. Where are those holy

relics now— the resurrection stone,
the Virgin’s milk, the teeth and bones
of saints? In photographs, even the tiles
in the great halls where refugees sang

before they were swallowed are edged
in gold. I want to tell my daughter: look
for the perspiring column in a northwest
courtyard; look for the crying column,

the wishing column— and touch it;
then look for the heavy candlesticks
Suleiman the Magnificent brought back
from Hungary in the 16th century,

which guide books say flank each side
of the mihrab— where pilgrims
stand to pray, turning their faces
like arrows toward home.

~ para kay Julia Katrina


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” ~ Rumi

Take what you can, says the gull
swooping low over the waterfront;
every bird for himself, baby.

Up in the abandoned heron’s nest,
it’s finders, keepers where the squirrels
are foraging. My friend asks how much

ocean can fill the heart’s thimble.
What does it matter, when there is no
ledger capable of taking it into account?


In response to Via Negativa: Banking.


erasure of a page from Samuel Pepys' diary

I put on first my
fine cloth cloak,
put on a pack
locked till Tuesday
that I may read
in the open,
keep a fast and
keep from sitting
as if in chains.
I walked
a great while
upon the deck.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 29 April 1660.


erasure of a page from Samuel Pepys' diary

I put a hat on
for the flock.
They go so high
that others fall,
so high that they
deceive, and I am
so low that I am not
able to escape,
my troubled hopes
made even with
my money.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 27 April 1660.

A fish named Unknown


I thought “sheefish” might be a typo (the New Yorker not being what it used to be), but no, there it was in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary: “sheefish [shee (prob. native name in Alaska or northwest Canada) + fish]: inconnu.” The vague etymology was frustrating (it’s not in the AHD, which would have had a better one, and the OED won’t get around to redoing the S’s for years), but “inconnu” took me aback—that’s the name of a fish? Sure enough, the OED has “A game fish, Stenodus leucichthys, belonging to the family Salmonidæ and found in Alaska and north-west Canada,” with citations going back two centuries. And the etymology? “French, unknown.” Which is baffling at first glance, but of course what they mean is that inconnu is a French word meaning ‘unknown.’ And why is a fish called “unknown”? Apparently it’s unknown.

Dark Histories: Refrain

“How I err to be.” ~ D. Bonta

And it flares up again, hot jet of flame,
anger I thought I’d doused once and for good—
when was the last time? Decades I’ve spent

just trying to get my due, walk in the world
able to look any other clearly in the eye,
because I can: only to encounter the side-

swipe, blind side, shift or sleight of hand
that, confronted, slides around a little more
before settling into semblance of grudging

apology, if one might call it that— Oh pardon
the oversight; it wasn’t deliberate. Just a joke,
can’t you take a joke?
So lame, so old. It used to be

I was afraid to speak, bite back, match any injured
wolf, howl for howl, under the moon’s marbled white
aloofness: o implacable, o ravenous appetite

that orders us to dance before crushing our bones.
From these bluffs, this margin slivered with pine,
it looks so beautiful: cities gleam like a lit-up

Atlantis, lost and found empires of crumbling gold—
Let me remind you we arrived a long time ago. We’re here,
each bearing a satchel of broken but luminous things.


In response to Via Negativa: The Decider and thus: consubstantiation.