Breaking the Curse

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 36 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012


“Speak no ill of the dead we say…
We are saying, speak no ill of us, either.”

Corpse of my own soul, from what tree have you flown to enchant me with a noose braided of anger and habitual sorrow?

For thirty years you are the idol I have carried on my back, and you have whispered story after story, seeded doubt after doubt in my ear.

Oh you have known how to goad with all things I most fear, I most desire—

And each time I stooped to admire the first purple irises opening along the rock wall, or the marvel of leaves shrinking back from touch, or the simplest form that grace might take, which is silence— you pulled on a string I could not see and made me start over, from the beginning.

You courted me with your amorous breath, your dank velvet robes, language to diffuse all bits of radiance and sink them into the mud so they find it difficult to rise.

But tonight I stand on the threshold of dusk and smell the odor of lavender in the window, the green of reviving herbs—

For all the times I have kissed you full on the mouth, my mouth is yet unburnt.

And I remember the richness of my inheritance, the ransomed cache of memories, the rituals for shedding scales and changing skins—


In response to Morning Porch and cold mountain (50).


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 34 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012


Outside, the crickets’ evening chorus abates; the day’s
terrible appetites recede to the hum of almost distant traffic.

What muscled hate reaches out across the years and finds
blind targets against which to fling its poisoned arsenal?

One surface in every kitchen is nicked with marks: as though
the scene of regular practice for some circus impalement act.

The goal: to trace the body’s outline as it holds still; to throw
without shredding the air, to mark by merely a hair’s breadth.

A roll of the dice, a flick of the cards on the green velvet table.
Hands pass across stacked tiles, dividing the fauna and the seasons.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

In passing

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“For the wind blows wherever it pleases… You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3:8)

1. The photographs she took reminded her with a start: there was a house below the gate to the army base. There was a discotheque in the basement, back in the day when the word was a kind of novelty.

2. One day, they took a walk to the co-op store to buy bread; someone had written on the chalkboard that skinned rabbits were available. On the way back, she picked dry pine needles from the road. She did not ask what was in the dinner stew.

3. When the wind blows sometimes, it brings the insides to the surface— carries the stench of open sewers. You take a breath, you clench, unclench.

4. Our neighbor’s daughter thrilled to see the chef toss cleavers, eggs, whole shrimp at the hibachi grill. Metal struck against metal and the heated surfaces of the stove. All show, all show. No real danger in the onion ring volcano, lit to miniature flared explosions.

5. The brass bell swings: small rings of sound under the dogwood.

6. She misses nights sleeping under white mosquito netting, the edges tucked around the mattress; the smell of starched, woven cotton.

7. Dreams and portents: a hand coming out of the dark, searching for another to clasp.

8. Warmer nights now, warmer mornings. Humidity you can smell, rising around the flagstones.


In response to small stone (87).

Postcard toward the season’s end

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Sometimes when someone speaks, another takes up the sentence.

It is the same, though not so obvious, when one is reading: the words on the page might be a cipher, or they might slip into a fissure and wake something under the skin.

And yet I know that I have also said: I do not speak for anyone else but myself.

Hands grown old, brushing against verbena and mint for even a sliver of passing fragrance. Late spring chill like a tongue on the skin.

There is a Japanese dessert made of kanten and azuki bean paste: it is meant to evoke winter’s snow and ice melting, the earth becoming soft and sweet again.

Like beaten gold, scales flashing in the resinous waters.

The years might polish anguish to such a sheen.

What I will want to take with me: rich swirl and eddy, the sky’s impartial crease.

Everything’s mostly borrowed, but give me something to tell me it was not all for naught.


In response to small stone (90).

“Give me courage, rather, for the leap…”

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Not a fugitive, not a mole that has burrowed away from the light, into the soil— no wraith in a cave, I’ve chosen to live above ground. What are my truths? Don’t look for platitudes hanging cheap as baubles on any shrub. I’ve had to strike out farther, deeper; carve paths not favorable to the flesh of my hands. What was it for? Only to live a life under the aegis of other terms. No wealth to report, only weary. Neither bluster nor bravura: I still flinch like never before. Perhaps you would have done differently? perhaps you would have obeyed? perhaps you would have thought it unnecessary to keep in sight, that porthole of changing light? Over and over, I’ve tried to outline: so many mouths that murmur in the dark, so many things to disclose. Hands groping little girls’ breasts. Fathers who’ve abandoned their daughters. The real calculus isn’t even configured; and there are also names for these. Who is it you were looking for, again?


In response to cold mountain (54).


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

No one ever sees these moving confessionals while easing into the stream of traffic, windows rolled up: body enveloped in metal, safety-strapped into its seat, ferrying itself from one small destination to another. Chip of mica, bronzed, pearled: early sunlight glancing off the hood. I can’t remember when I started talking to myself, behind the wheel. If suddenly I should moan, or rail, or even sob, it isn’t from the press and interchange of vehicles along the unremitting stretch of road. Do I say Deliver me? I don’t know who or what I address; these are speeches, perhaps prayers, meant for no one’s ears. Unpolished stone, this voice only wants to hurl itself clear across the gap. Stepping along the water’s edge, white slips of wading birds are lithe; skittish as rumors, they fold back— mountain and valley, origami against the sky.


In response to cold mountain (53).


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Who’s to say what you can believe or not? For every animal of affection that walks into your ark, its snarling twin pulls at the chains, trembles the floorboards. You feed them both, you give the same milk and the same bone wrapped in meat, hunks of bread to sop up the oil and broth. In the dark, it’s hard to tell one from the other. Their eyes have the same marble sheen, obsidian or clear grey flecked with green. One will tolerate the length of the journey. The other will pace and pace, howl at the moon, the rain, the sun, its shadow. You know it could tear you to pieces if you gave it more than a chance. But you sing to both, you run your hands through their sorrowful pelt: this one thing they let you do without complaint, knowing that you too must live in your skin.


In response to cold mountain (51).


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“…Because you will so easily disappear,
I think of you as infinitely near.”
~ Farnoosh Fathi

They threw themselves at porch lights: hundreds of winged bodies swarming each lit window screen. You’d think the frame was covered with cellophane.

Underneath, we lay plastic basins filled with water: rippled mirrors where sheer wings caught, oceans where they drowned.

We looked for her at every bus station in town, my father asking each conductor if he had seen a woman with bobbed hair, narrow waist sheathed in an A-line dress.

Hours later, despondent, we returned home. My father paid the cab driver without saying a word. What did they fight about, I wondered. Inside, the laundrywoman gestured toward the linen closet: Don’t say I told; your mother has been hiding there.

Dense cover of fog tonight. We cannot see the moon as it swings lower toward us. It would have raised its face like a giant taiko drum above the horizon.

Tomorrow it will be close, but not this close. The night is busy with activity. When was the last time you were held or kissed? We don’t see the insects excavating holes in trees, in the soil around our feet.

He saw her not too long ago in the lobby of a public space. Strains of music poured through some open door. She was with some other people he knew but didn’t really know.

He thought she hesitated, but she came up to him and pressed his hand while saying something ordinary: How are you? Are you enjoying the evening?

There was a portrait in the lobby, a reproduction: a woman with a thorn necklace and a hummingbird for a pendant. Even in the copy, her recognition of emphatic solitude is apparent. How she gazes outward at the world without rancor, with sadness; but always, with passion.


In response to The Morning Porch and Sparrow.

“Leaving no one and nothing behind. The greater love.”

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

I haven’t stopped trying, but I don’t know if I could. Spurts of intention alternate with bouts of helplessness. And so I too manage with the laundry, the flotsam left in the wake of daily tidal pools, hurricanes, the exhausting dance of whirlwinds. This is a book of commonplace hours. No one is a saint, or everyone is a saint: the homeless man sprawled on a park bench, drab duffel bag for a pillow; the teenage boys laughing on the street corner, the glow from cigarettes in cupped hands haloing their faces like in a fresco. I too remind myself of the work I need to finish. I don’t believe it was only forty days in the desert. Night comes on, unfurling its stole of saffrons and purples. Is that the order to which we must ascend? Coming in, unlatching the gate, sometimes it takes so little to send the arrow flying: tonight, for instance— one tiny bud of wild garlic, precarious on its stalk.


In response to cold mountain (48) (49).