Letter to Stone

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 33 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Dear constant chafing
under heel and ball
of foot, teach me patience

for the long, slow simmer
under water, in the wild;
teach me the inward-

turning gift of each
lunar hollow, smaller
than the eye could reckon.

Within the pebbled garden
where monks rake labyrinth
upon labyrinth, juniper

and pine open in the wind
to praise. Shingle and shale
upon the beach: buffed

by seafoam and crowned
by the gods’ careless spit,
you’ve promised

like a lover to mold
me smooth, to lilt me
quick across the water

to the other side.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Landscape, with Incipient Questions

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 32 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Question-mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis)

The underside of every moment is a shimmer you
might hear, but not see: curved and silvering
as an echo of bells at sundown, mottled

or muffled from mallet-blows. When the last
of the herd is driven into the barn, the man
latches the gate and washes up at the pump.

Shadows streak the linen on the supper table.
Shadows soften the winged bodies in love
with the dangerous heat from the lamp: listen,

they frame most of the questions at this hour.
In the corner of the room, a woman dozes off
in an armchair. The knitting has slipped

from her hands. The child by the window
has brushed her long, black hair and gazes
at a wilderness of stars in the dark.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dowsing

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 31 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

“…and at the iron’s point
there seemed to be a little fire.”
~ St. Theresa of Avila

Sunflower bowing to the east,
tethered to the blazing sun—

Sparse carpet of moss with hidden
tongues desiring volumes of water—

Tell me again the story of the saint,
her every shudder pressed in sensuous

folds of marble; and of the angel standing
above her with his spear of gold—

Red brick dust, planks of weathered
wood crumbling in the courtyard—

No golden dome here but relentless sky
under which everything’s stripped of rapture—

Pots of baked earth, each marked
sin cere, distinct, unalloyed—

I run my hands over the rough, dry clay,
loving best those surfaces whose cracked

veins might lead divining rods to all
the parched suburbs of the heart.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Discordant

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 30 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Dear jake-brake and tire whine
slicing like a stonecutter’s tool
through the scented dark, it’s been
a while but I know all about your

penchant for early morning throat-
clearing, those loud flushing sounds
you like to make from the outhouse
of out there. As usual they’re

reminders that beneath fleecy
cloud border or vivid blue veins
of water and sky, you’re hard at work
prying the tarp of summer loose.

Oh soon enough, soon enough: we’ll turn
a corner, and the avenues now flushed cerise
and heavy with crepe myrtle will streak
like watercolors left out in the rain.

There you are in the hot heart of pavement,
shimmering like the proverbial mirage. There
you are in every syncopated bird call; chilled
taste of winter tucked in every bite of sour fruit.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Real

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 29 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

My youngest girl asks for stories—
Real stories tonight, she says, not
made-up
. Like what I did, summers when

I was her age: mornings with the wash billowing
on the line, evenings too humid for clothes
but too buggy for bare skin (smolder and fume

of mosquito coils in terra cotta dishes).
And so I tell her again of sandals kicked off
on the wooden porch, reading Gasoline Alley

and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in
the Sunday paper, while eating mouth-
puckering green plums dipped in salt

and sugar. Sputter and flare of kerosene
lamps, lizards skittering across living
room walls. Strident cry of a black and

orange rooster tied to the tree in
the yard (its heaped bones decorate
lunch plates the next day). I have

nostalgia for these things, not
necessarily for their pieties.
And she, she wants to smell

the camphor escaping from ancient
wardrobes I pry open; wants to taste,
along with me, the star-shaped indentation

on my father’s pinky finger where the nail
should have been; to imagine the ghost nun’s
shadow beside the bell-pull at school,

summoning souls from the other side.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to Attention

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 28 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Dear restless, wandering mind, sometimes
you really must try to chisel your focus—

Try to listen to the soft-spoken woman
who leads us through downward-facing dogs,

warrior poses and planks, steeple
mudras, salutations, lunges—

instead of to the growing industrial whine
of your belly, where no other breakfast

but the half-cup of soy latte now sloshes
around, a whirlpool of acids and worry. Keep

count of the breaths as they come through
the branches in the upside-down trees

of your lungs. Keep count as they exit:
the thing to do is turn them into things

with wings— cicadas, perhaps. Or tiny
fireflies throwing their low-wattage beams

at the dark. Effortless effort, the teacher
intones. So don’t let the ten year old’s

giggling distract you as you try and fail
to maintain your balance, coming out

of the dancer’s pose. Are you still with me?
I know you’re tired, and you want to press

your cheek on the mat or stay supine as a corpse.
But the voice nudges you back to the shore, saying

Open your arms and legs like a starfish, open
the cage of your heart; look at the unblinking sun
.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Defiler

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 27 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Lymantriidae: family of moths, many of its component species referred to as Tussock moths; Lymantria means “defiler”.

Before Todos los Santos, the Day
of the Dead, armed with whitewash,
buckets, and brooms we visit
the graves of our dearly departed,

to clear the gathered debris of
the previous year— dry leaves
and bracken pushing up through
cracked concrete, bits of amber-

colored glass from broken Cerveza
Negra
bottles. Someone’s grand-
father’s grave has been spray-painted
with graffiti; and the stone cherubs’

wings have been chipped for sport.
What do we know of eternity? What
could we do to stave off the hardening
froth of days? In the groves of trees,

above rows of headstones, cicadas rub
their tymbals and sing their heated songs
of courtship. Two months later, all of them
will die, leaving behind eggs that will emerge

in seventeen years. Among the skeletal branches,
the tussock moth caterpillar is busily at work.
For every mouthful of leaf, a tufted crown; red-
light glands on its back signaling imminent

danger: dazzling mystery: inevitable conclusion.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Ode to the Pedicure Place at the Mall

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 26 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

That kind of day— when even the wren
in the tree swipes its bill back and forth
on the end of a dead limb, as if sharpening

a knife on the whetstone. And so instead
of waiting resigned for the blade to fall,
or the basilisk to sink its old caried

tooth into the vein throbbing at the base
of my nape, I betake myself to a spa
called Millennium Nails at the mall.

The water in the basin swirls with warmth;
and a dark-haired woman named Maria takes
my tired, callused feet into her two gloved

hands. She lathers and massages with pomegranate
oils, sugar and crushed walnut seed scrubs till—
don’t laugh— the ginger-root knobs on my toes

unclench. When she lifts my feet to pat them
dry on the terrycloth towel, I know all about
her so-called best friend who didn’t come

to her wedding, and she knows the age
when I had my first child. Is it the light
chemical veil of ammonia floating in the air,

or the low-key bubble of voices across the room?
No matter: I can only think of the poet who’d written
of the world in a grain of sand and of holding

infinity in the palm of his hand; and of how,
likely, he never had a pedicure in all his life.
Maria and I bend over rainbow rows of bottles

with names like Haze of Love or Cha-Cha-Champagne;
Snake Charmer, Bling to Me, Seize the Daze, Fire Starter—
for all I know, they could be ruby-lit signs:

shiny new fortunes just waiting to be painted on.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Shit

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 25 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

“Whither the thrush whose ethereal notes
woke me at dawn? A male towhee flies up to a sunlit
branch and takes a shit, singing.” ~ Dave Bonta

Explaining idioms to my youngest child,
I remembered a book we used to keep
in the bathroom of my childhood home,
stuffed into the basket of dog-eared

Good Housekeeping and Better Homes
and Gardens
magazines: An Irreverent
and Almost Complete Social History of
the Bathroom
— dishing out in droll

anecdotal detail the likely reasons for
expressions such as Don’t throw the baby
out with the bathwater
(the master
of the medieval household the first to dunk

himself in the tub, the rest of the family
succeeeding); and Careful that you don’t
get the short end of the stick
(public
toilets at a time when organic implements

were used in lieu of toilet paper, which
hadn’t been invented yet). The same book
blandly made the case for privies and
outhouses still being then so rare,

that belled skirts, hooped petticoats,
and perfume provided cover or necessary
counterpoint. Sometimes I can hardly
remember how I raised my older

daughters from birth through
toddlerhood without diapers whose
sticky tabs you could pry loose
after wiping and changing, to refasten

the bundle for tidy disposal in the can.
Shit, says the man skidding out of the drive-
way then hitting the row of garbage bins.
Shit, says his wife as the shit

hits the fan. A friend tells me
that in moments of great stress,
when not only his bosses but clients
get viciously mean, he closes his eyes

and simply imagines what they might
look like without a stitch of clothing,
or grunting on the pot; then smiles at
the equalizing release that ensues.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dear modest four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 24 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

home with bay windows and a covered garage
almost identical to each of the houses down

the way and circling that cul-de-sac: how
many times have I driven past without knowing
that one day soon I’d be looking more closely,

more covetously (how is it possible) at you?
Last week, our neighbor the realtor unlocked
the front door to let us in. We stepped through

the foyer, heels sounding on hardwood floors;
then climbed the carpet-covered stairs to peer
at bedrooms, gaze up a skylight, click open

and shut the wooden blinds. Stripped of
furniture, adornments, pictures, vestiges
of clothing and former lives— and yet

it simmered with history. Should I not
have entertained the possibility; not dreamed
of how to lighten dark stains beneath the old

refrigerator, imagined all sorts of yeasty
smells glazing the kitchen walls done up in maize?
There was a mantel wide enough for our clock

that runs just a few minutes fast; and a side
door opening out onto the yard where a firefly
sailed past, inner wings glowing in the sun.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.