Here I am, small as ever:

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

smaller than the smallest

blade of emerald or deep pine

or thinnest fringe of blue-

grey foliage edging the park—

A planet climbs the skies

to intercept the larger arc

of sun as though a hand pulled

back the string and tensed the bow:

so small though visible to the naked

eye, its progress through the ether.

And when it’s passed, at head

and nock of the arrow my small

heart trembles still: which is

kindness, which suffering?

The hand that tries to learn

is gesturing still: how all

things, restless, scintillate

—as in a dream.

 

In response to small stones NYC (101) (102).

Tall Ships

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 47 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012

 

They come over the water into the harbor
as crowds jostle for a view from the ferry,
tall ships from across the world— enactment
of some yearly ritual of crossing that dates

back to a world when kings and statesmen of new
empires leaned over tentative maps unscrolled on
library tables. Their pale, excited fingers traced
the zig-zag journey across months, across a chain

of inked islands to some vaster expanse where the sun
might, conceivably, never have to set— And their
sailors: how different might they have been, really,
from these young men in optic white from Brazil,

Colombia, Ecuador, standing at close attention at the foot
of each gangplank as tourists nervously find their way
up or down, one foothold at a time? Those conquests
might now go under the name of history: the ones

that launched Magallanes’ ships toward some idea
of the spice islands, so that today, every grocery
store in the northern hemisphere has whole shelves
listing with fenugreek, coriander, and anise,

and salts in shades that range from white to pink
and grey— the ones that gave the archipelago
of my dreams and birth, the name of a Spanish king.
Sailors climb the masts and fly the festive

banners and the crests signifying their own
native origins. And after all, this is still
about territory: the way each boat’s carefully
berthed, the way we move from one to another

as though to test or bring tribute, knowing
the waters that slap against each hull can be more
jealously coveted— for oil, for nutrient life,
for passage to safeguard into that uncertain future.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Flickers

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 46 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012

 

The 280 pound sophomore says, during a pause in the workshop, I go to school, I go to my part time job, I sleep. Sometimes I play games on my computer. Then I do it all over again.

All morning in the Triangle, the workers are setting up tarp, small platforms, brochure holders. Tall ships will ride into the harbor tomorrow, white sails unfurled.

Out of the blue, the landlady writes to ask what the backyard looks like now that the cypress trees have been cut down.

I snap a photo and hours later, notice that moss has grown between the bricks on the walk. There is no error here.

In a book I come across the words romantic dogs, penned in the margins. The handwriting is unfamiliar.

Dust filters down in the late afternoon sunlight. The blinds need cleaning.

I cannot remember how many funeral parlors there were between the City Hall and the church.

A stand of pampas grass gave me my first paper cut. Green against gravel. And then the surprising streak of blood.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Accomplishment

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

“The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back….” ~ Annie Dillard

So much work: sribbling and starting over, and scribbling again. Scrubbing and wiping, cleaning, scraping. The moon rises above the tree line. At dawn it disappears, coin plinked back into its porcelain bank. What will it all weigh, at the end of this life? I have a friend who has signed up her daughter for classes since she was three: ballet, tap,
jazz, piano, flute, violin, guitar. Another is fluent in five languages, and is hard at work learning a sixth. What can I be proud of today? I scramble two eggs before 8 am, and through the kitchen windows hear the scree of a bird. Before noon, I read the word “frisson” in a poem and am slightly, inexplicably cheered. Do you hear the train whistle, the neighbors slamming car doors in their driveways? There’s a bill for three years’ worth of water that came through the pipes. I daub scent on my wrists and inhale a border of verbena, flowering in the sun. Before bed, I will hold the detachable chrome rainfall showerhead in my hand and wash my hair in the tub, admire the wealth of each clear droplet swirling away in the drain.

 

In response to Complaint and small stone (98) (99) (100).

Pantoum, with Approaching Storm

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

In lieu of church bells, traffic on the avenue.
Thunder from a storm already almost here.
On the corner, the man with the harmonica says,
Stick around, it’ll change; it always does.

Thunder’s the voice of the storm already almost here.
Hasn’t it relented, isn’t it seven years after your death?
Stick around; there are things that never seem to change.
I lay fruit on a plate, summon your spirit with soup in a cup—

Seven years after your death: what little I know hasn’t changed.
I hear someone ask: Does the wind have the smell of salt from the sea?
Alone, I arrange wheels of citrus and water the broth with tears—
In the end, has sacrifice mattered? what safeguards will keep?

Crush a handful of grass, and still you smell the salt from the sea.
How long can I breathe through various instruments,
that plaintive tune whose other name is sacrifice? Each note’s
the rattle of a hollow limb, the gash of church bells above the avenue.

 

In response to Morning Porch and small stone (97).

Stories

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 45 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012

 

I close my eyes, and you are children again:
asleep then waking in one room to rooster
crow, sharing blankets made unruly

in the night. I have a photograph in which
all of you are reading, a long body pillow
spread across all of your laps, a book

open in each pair of hands: in one story,
the pancake has run away from the hungry
mouths gathered around the table; or is it

a cookie in the shape of a boy, which later
gets eaten up by the animal that volunteers
to ferry it across the river, to imagined

safety? I don’t remember this thing you
insist now: how it was I that taught you
no one can be trusted, not even the warm

closeness of your own gut breathing hard
from trying to run away, or to find a way.
What I remember is I tried to teach you

to listen, keep your eyes open, learn
how the flicker of any epiphany is slight
as a bird, and quicker of wing. Everything

is instruction, especially when the lesson
can’t be neatly laid out on paper. Industry
picks up the chairs overturned by the child,

mops up the porridge trails that dripped
from spoons and the rims of bowls.
One bed is lumpy; the other is hard.

All have linens that at some point have
to be washed. The fox eats the bread— or
the cookie. Or is that the one where the wolf

eats the girl? No, she is smarter, younger,
she knows how to redden her lips and cheeks. She
makes an ally of the huntsman. The wolf gets

the she-crone, the grandmother, the woman who now
lives all alone by herself. Nights she strikes a match
to the stove, to the kindling in the hearth. A flame

leaps up like a tongue, like a flicker of something
bright come back to roost. Where wood meets town,
a hungry girl holds out her hands to stop the river

of milk and porridge. Knee-deep in such thick bounty,
and she cannot remember the words to make it do her
bidding; she cannot remember enough to make it stop.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to the Underneath

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 44 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012

 

Dear milk and almond smells rising up from skin,
damp rope of hair I now can twist into a knot
from having grown it out since winter—

I look up at the clock and it is past
the midnight hour; still, I cannot sleep.
Books and bills, papers; a watercolor

set, as yet unused, on the desk. In these
late hours, I piece together disappointment
and hurt, remorse and tears; scenes

lashed with rushes of bronze wheat, fog
cloaking green hills, sawed-off limbs
of trees. Long ago now, in my childhood,

my mother kept needles and thread,
all her sewing notions, in an old
biscuit tin etched with lines: ocean

swell, frigate furling all its sails,
armored and fitted for some destination.
Where the billows rusted and darkened over,

I’d take a pin and scratch until parts
of the picture showed again— as if
to reassure myself there was something

that came before: canvas or sky; wing of water
bird, backdrop, color, history. Dear time
prior to this, you must still be there.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.