This entry is part 1 of 55 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012


On the wall, a poster of the body’s meridians: every point on the palm, on the sole of the foot, a little signal that knowing fingers can decode.

The shoji screen is paper and wood. Or if you like, grain threshed, pulped and pressed into a frame; tensile bamboo coaxed upright from leaning too far out over water.

Face down on the table, I can feel knob by knob how the rungs on my spine lengthen, align.

The spicebush sends up its haze of yellow, the magnolia its tumble of sweet pinks. Underneath the scumble of bark, parts of wood look shiny, as if washed in egg.

Face down, I breathe through the paper towel laid across the headrest and think of how in the water, this might look like a dead man’s float.

Do you notice how one side of every face looks slightly asymmetrical in relation to the other?

I bought a pair of metal earrings from an artisan at a fair: one engraved surface said “un”, the other “usual.”

My hair has grown longer. Mornings are too quickly warm. On the porch, through a haze of hair, I like to listen to things that warble.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


“Do not attempt to say everything at once.
Take advantage of the fourth dimension: time. ~ D. Bonta”


Who remembers how the index finger slid into circles on a rotary phone, going around the wheel? Each number released, bringing voices closer through the ether.


I’m not very curtains, said our landlady, gesturing toward the blinds. Above each window frame, a scarf of crinkled white cotton, looped through hooks on the wall.


Overheard at a meeting: Ontological uncertainty. The oscillatory drift between states of desire.


Why don’t you tilt your head back in the swing before pushing forward again?


An invisible umbrella connects nine dots with four unbroken lines.


Citrus, tuberose, gardenia. The woman holds an acrylic cube filled with coffee beans under my nose. Vetiver, patchouli, musk.


Gas light flicker, wind in an accordion. Ache and catch in a tango passage.


Fluted sails on a boat going downriver. Something too expands in my side.


In response to How to talk.


It’s true then— every word’s a compass, pointing at least four ways; five if you count the rosy bull’s-eye that sits in the center: inscrutable, stubborn or mystical, certainly not letting on. Not just two, which is what some believe ambivalence to mean. Take my father’s good serge coat, for instance: up close the fine diagonal weave and ribbing of twill, the relatively affordable sumptuousness of wool polyester; from a distance, whipcords or pin-stripe marching down a light grey field. Experienced fingers would know the difference. He liked to cut a dapper figure, match the colors in the breast pocket to those of the slip-noose ties. It was a time when shoes were made of real leather, buffed and shined by spit, a swipe of polish. The sky in summer had the chalky quality of canvas. Seersucker and madras, burlap and raw silk— the wind blew its humid torch equally through every window. The sun wrote its progress in swirls of turmeric and ink. Heat or no heat, everyone mostly walked to where they were going. Old history books have engravings— foreigners in the tropics, top-hatted and walrus-heavy in their layered suits; their long, spindly legs sheathed in hose, their women in petticoats and laces. Here, on the first warm day of spring, I slip into flip-flops and cotton voile. I’ve snipped the leather buttons off an old cardigan, saving them for some unknown occasion in which I might revive their charm.


In response to cold mountain (32).


Warmer days, light that fades later and later. Finally we can fling the windows open. The clasps grate and rasp, like throats gargling salt water first thing in the morning. Rooms crammed with more than winter’s fat; eaves with bits of leaf and twig, blinds lined with ledgers of dust. The drawers groan with socks and scarves, the pantry shelves with unopened cans of beans. I want to scrub all the corners, scour the tiles in the bathroom with bleach— even the stripes of grout between each one. I want a pot of yellow strawflowers, a bowl of blood-red tulips, nothing else but the mellow gleam of wood in the middle of the room. I read about ascetics and what they chose to renounce. Sometimes I think I want that. Sometimes I want to be both the mountains emerging from their heavy robes of ice and snow, and the streams they feed below, rushing and teeming with color and new life. Sometimes I want to be the clear unflavored envelope of agar, other times the small mouthful of sweet azuki bean entombed like a heart in the center.


In response to cold mountain (31).

Dear shadow,

This entry is part 72 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


it is certain you’ll travel to what waits
: not the intersection with its lights

already changing, not the fringe of rain-
spattered fields nor the road unbuckling

toward dusk. Even the lone truck you might hear
starting and stopping, engine running as if on

empty, will fade from sight. Just like
at the optometrist’s, when the technician

asks you to look through the viewfinder
and straight ahead at the red barn

with a silo and no stick weathervane. Then
she’ll blow a puff of air into your open

eyes, before sliding the window down.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


Tonight, after reading the story of Rauschenberg’s erasure
of one of Willem de Kooning’s drawings— something

I would miss, the painter declared; something very hard
to erase
— I go out on the deck to snap another picture

of Venus and Jupiter coming closer together in the sky.
Intensely bright, two orbs outshining faint amber spilled

from street lamps obscured by leaves. What remains after
the marks are erased? Not nothing, say the physicists.

Not nothing, but poetry— says the artist. And I pause
for a moment, trying to look harder into the corridor

of darkness, knowing that everywhere I go, I have
no idea how much I am seeing. You, for instance, absent

from my side but now not so far away in the same
field of graphite: you could be anywhere. You could be

that outline scissored against the pines, a faint
stroke of orange blossom lofting above these fences.

You could be the sound of a shutter, the blank
accordion surface of blinds turned down for the night.


In response to Two Ways to Think about Nothing.

How have I failed to notice until now

This entry is part 69 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


that the earnest-sounding clerk calling
all shoppers to gather round his station
between the produce and meat sections
at the price club, is doing his demo
of Ginsu knives by slicing through
not a steak, but the metal head of a claw
hammer? There’s a small collective gasp
when the same steel blade that severs
the claws which fall like little Toblerone
shapes on the chopping block, swiftly renders
a tomato into paper-thin circles. While this
is not exactly the state of “disruptive wonder”
which the TED lecturer was talking about in that
viral video, in which she describes how her passion
to find “the hidden talents of everyday things”
led to the paper record player-invitation she made
for friends getting married— still, the suddenly
Ginsu-happy crowd might see in the photophoric
gleam of new steel bonded to textured no-slip
polypropylene or wood handles, a few other
things they might not have paid attention to
before: the tiniest flinch in a cut of brittle
green nori wrapped around a savory mouthful
of rice; the even perfection of carrot stars
and radish wheels; the elegance of cucumber
matchsticks, pale and smooth as jade.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dear Epictetus, this is to you attributed:

This entry is part 68 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse.
And even then you were talking to all of us, weren’t you:
ghostly presences in a future that we now inhabit,
tumbling swiftly from one gate to another. Last week,

moments before the train departed the platform at the Jackson
Street station for O’Hare and the flight I had no idea
would be canceled three times before I could board— a woman
got on, breathless, asking passengers nearest the doors:

Chinatown? Chinatown? She had on a thin cloth coat,
and her short bob of greying hair was plastered to her forehead.
No one even blinked. Perhaps they couldn’t hear from whatever
was playing on their earphones, or maybe they were tourists

with no idea either. Before the doors swung shut I caught
her eye and shook my head; yelled Red line, red line, and she
darted off. I don’t know if she ever made it to her destination,
whatever that might have been. And in a related meditation

I read how Time is like a river made up of the events which
happen, and a violent stream: for as soon as a thing has been seen,
it is carried away, and another comes in its place
… Therefore,
all that afternoon into evening, as thin snow began to fall again

on the tarmac, streaking the windows, chilling the glass,
seats filled and emptied, emptied and filled; and it is
as though the blue light flickering near the ceiling
of the concourse were that same river’s garment.

Passengers anxious about missed connections watched
as TV monitors showed footage of town after town in southern
Indiana hit by a single tornado— New Pekin, Henryville,
Marysville, Chelsea— before it crossed the Ohio River

into Kentucky. The hours stretched, and in their fluid arms
there might have been the call of the mourning dove, there
might have been a sparrow slight as the child borne aloft
before the dark column of air set her down in the field.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.