From the Leaves of the Night Notebook

This entry is part 64 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

On the common fleabane, the leaves
clasp their stems and the spiraled
white lashes close on their one
yellow eye for the night. What
does it see, peeking through
the fringed curtains?

*

In his Flora Suecia, Carl Linnaeus
wrote of a Russian soldier
cured of dysentery by fleabane
decoction. Burn the plant,
hoary head and all, and be rid
of fleas, insects, and other itches.

*

The night-blooming cereus
spreads its ivory skirts to reveal
its corded saffron petticoat.
For a few hours of such
intense fragrance, what
would you not unravel?

*

Legends describe a soup
prepared from entire flowers,
and fed to warriors and lovers
with thinning breath. In other tales,
the flowers are called Job’s Tears.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Three Improvisations

1

The clouds are sheets of cotton pulled thin between our fingers.

Translation: At the lake, villagers are harvesting
shoals of tiny fish, their bodies an inch long, the dark
pupils of their eyes no bigger than pinpricks.
The water ripples like oil.

2

You lean forward and say, Don’t move. There is an animal in the tree above you.

Translation: The nuns in the school I attended
made us walk, single file, up and down the narrow
wooden staircases: Only on the balls
of your feet, girls
, they commanded.
Lightness is all.

3

Where can I go to feel sand under my feet, watch the rush of water tint them sable?

Translation: The Japanese irises wear thin
wrappers of color; they’ve had too much heat
and now they’re shriveling in the evening air.
A cricket twangs its strings in the shadows,
oblivious to the deep vermilion pouring over
the harbor. Not me— I want to drink it up.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Landscape, with Wind and Tulip Tree

This entry is part 63 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Here is the season of growing, so you are digging
somewhere in a garden, your hands turning warm

soil and putting in seed. Even those without a yard
can put up wooden boxes on their back decks

and pour sackfuls of rich brown earth. Such neat
rows, each headed by a tiny plastic triangle listing

how much water, how much shade; naming
what comes out of the harvest moons later—

heirloom tomatoes, stoplights of bell peppers,
cinnamon basil, sweet bee balm. My mother never

planned too hard about what things should grow,
or where— after chopping vegetables for stew,

she threw the seeds that clung to her hands
past the kitchen door, and months later we’d see

her thrift multiplied among the zinnias and
nasturtiums, latticed across pearled gravel.

I think of these tiny patches of almost wilderness
as a breeze stirs the tulip tree from top to bottom

and my heart picks its way among detritus of fallen
blossoms, their deep pink underbellies and the four-

fingered green of leaves like hands smoothed
open, ready to catch what might fall from the sky.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Balm

This entry is part 62 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Honeysuckle in the shade, the day’s
hot store of oils cooling gradually into dusk;

then unexpected rain: thin drizzle a screen
through which late sunshine sifts,

the kind of rain we were told as children
was the spray of tears from God’s eyes.

And the mingled smells of heat and coolness
rouse the blades of memory from their hiding places,

where the musk of your breath mingles with
my own. Each glaucous leaf of the bleeding-heart

cradles its perfect droplet of moisture,
and the air is full of questions. Sometimes

I cannot bear to think past them, to pry them
loose from their trellis of hope and doubt and fear.

The volatile tea-green smells of soap rise up
from the little drawer where I keep fragrances

among the linen— I take out just one leaf
of scent and give myself permission to loosen

the stays from their clasps, the buttons like stars
plucked at cost from their hammered settings.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Song of Work

This entry is part 61 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Ochre and sienna slashed by tremulous
strains of green— here is where the furrows
were gutted by the wheel. It turned as all
things used for purpose dial to the next
toothed radial: what is it about labor
that burnishes the surfaces it works
over or levels down? Change me,
I begged my beloved, I begged the trees,
the light, the river that never needs to think
about changing course; that must hear
but never knows how difficult to keep one
note sustained, aloft in the dark.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

You

This entry is part 60 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Mirage, to be reflected— from the French se mirer; from the Latin mirare

Who are you writing to?
Who are you speaking to?

Every question’s pitched

toward a you. Always I and thou,
though no one meets the face
I lower to the sink except its own

reflection glancing back
from the milky porcelain
glazed with water drops,

then glancing up again
through the curtained window
where the one green leaf

at the end of a branch
shakes itself dry and turns
into a hummingbird.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to Nostalgia

This entry is part 59 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

City I once wore like a shawl
on my shoulders, the soft brown outlines
of your hills and valleys the first thing I saw
coming in at dawn on the lowland bus—
Where will I see again except in memory
such astonishing green, or the deep sapphire
of a sky outlining trees that push through sheer
outcroppings of rock? And it’s true, nothing
I’ve seen abroad holds a candle to this view:
early morning light glinting off rooftops,
the cry of bean curd vendors in the streets;
my children once, in their own youth, holding out
bowls by the gate for a taste of this sweet.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to Duty

This entry is part 58 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Dear shadow busy in the nest under the springhouse
eaves, see how the bird feeds its young. A phoebe hovers,
bug in its beak, tail like a tapping foot. Oh industry,
ah marriage, that long list of errands unscrolling
with its own kind of fervor after days and nights in
the sunlit meadow— Is this all that remains
of desire’s candle that burned, its two seared
ends meeting in the middle? It can’t be so, else how
could I still quicken, years and years later,
to the unexpected heralds of warmth returning?

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Landscape with Shades of Red

This entry is part 56 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Cranberry, Sparkling Berry, True Red, Movie Star Red, Red Delicious, Sunset Red— how many names for these little tubes of pigment lined up on a drugstore wall? My older daughters and I come here to find a name for the color of our changing moods. In the fall we turn to russet shades, to nutmeg and chocolate and spice; in spring we might crave the fluttery pink of orchids, the softer wistfulness of mauve. But here we are on the precarious brink of summer— just like that pair of tanagers foraging in the rain, not two feet from the porch: though it is the male in his costume of brash red that trails the drab female onto a branch, and returns my level gaze. Of course it is the same old story all over again. The Beatles sing “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” and Mrs. Robinson lights her cigarette, rolls her stockings back up her legs. Elaine and Benjamin have barred the church door shut and are running, running away and into the bus.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.