Trauermantel

This entry is part 69 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

“You write to become immortal, or because the piano happens to be open, or you’ve looked into a pair of beautiful eyes.” ~ Robert Schumann

Nymphalis antiopa (Linnaeus 1758)

Little herald of the soul, more sedate
than the hummingbird who comes
in search of sugar, who flashes in and out
of the emerald leaves to drink
nectar from the throats of flowers—
you circle the porch and yard three times
before coming to rest behind my chair.
At first, I think your name has come
from the same springs as reverie,
that wistful song spun from childhood.
And it could very well be, though your
bistre cloak, sooty umber edged
with blue or white, lies open like the covers
of a book of reckoning. The chimes
clink half-finished tunes in the garden
and I hold my hand over my heart
because I know it knows no rest:
it does not want to mourn what
passes from this life, just yet.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Night-leaf Tarot

This entry is part 68 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

A change of linens, pillows plumped and
mattresses flipped over, spritz of mist

smelling of warm cloves and milk— then finally
I might fall asleep. Sometimes, deep in the night

it rains; and in the morning I find it hasn’t been
a dream. Tarot waiting to be read on a wet

driveway— random lilac, red maple; sharp
green spades that cradled gardenias: what

do they know of warnings and misfortune?
Leaf of the cherry, red heart, organ of fire:

I name you as if I could thread your bones;
I name you not knowing your mystery.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to Myself, Reading a Letter

This entry is part 67 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Yellowing aerogramme passed from hand
to hand, creases striped with naphthalene dust,

salt-tang over sleepy villages— here’s
the broken line of hills, the sweep of coast

caught in a curl of cursive, shadowed
cul-de-sac of consonants bent at elbow

and knee. I’ll never know again the knotted
lace of curtains behind which we as children hid,

convinced the sounds behind the heavy doors
were the dead coming to claim our souls.

Here in a sunlit house not my own, I polish
the furniture and floor with oils smelling of fruit

until the heart of the wood is glossy
as an oriole’s song, and the rooms

where you come to me again
are a palace of leaves. Summer light,

thick as honey, pooling in squares at our feet:
we ask to be touched, before being taken.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Redolence

This entry is part 66 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Delicacy: The faintest tinge of flavor, the way
I know what words can make you blush.

Mostly for their smell, last summer I planted
verbena between the mint and roses.

The weeds look almost tipped with silver
and the moon is a penny, coppered thin.

I sit in the window bay waiting for the heat
to dwindle, to sweeten in the clover.

Do you know why the green herbs stitch
their tiny shadows on the sill?

After the storm last night, all the lights
went out, down the length of the street.

Warm amber, warm musk, sweet
hook: your scent in the dark.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to What Must be Borne

This entry is part 65 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011

 

Dear patience, crown of flowers whose root
is the same suffering we give the name
of love— We learn that the afternoon’s
passing storms, broody with thunder and
petulant with hail, have ripped the night

heron’s nest from the trees, and flung
its young upon the cobblestones. None
have survived. Is it to make amends
that the first irises open in the dark,
confessing the wounds on their tongues?

Red and yellow, stained crests of violet—
here is how the heart’s delivered from
one injury to another. Our limbs thrash
in sleep, swimming toward the promise
of an island of repose. Come, wind

with your interchangeable songs of virtue
and endurance— Come any way through
the windows; cool these overheated rooms.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

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.