This entry is part 66 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


When I was a child did you bend back my little toes
and my big toes, then wrap them in a linen bandage
for years?
asks my second daughter, frustrated
that there are fewer grown up styles for size 5 feet.


A signature may consist of a folio or an octavo.
Sewing through the fold makes a nice journal or book—
you have to take care that the binding tape is nicely
aligned on both sides of sewing, on the spine.


A friend chafes at wearing his wedding band in
public; or not at all. I think I’ve only seen it once
or twice: a plain ring with a raised rim in yellow
gold. He and his wife have arguments about that.


The gossip of goldfinches makes a single bright thread
in the day. For a change, how nice it is to have warmth
without shadows, quiet talk, no rancor, no regret. I like
that the mull is mesh material glued to the signature set.


Here is the bone that burnishes smooth, that lays the papers down
with their marbled leaves. Did you know the word volume comes from
volvere, which is related to scroll, thin sheet of parchment wound
like a blind about its staff? As desire returns to its beginnings.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


“…in which each letter is signified by a random mark.” ~ D. Bonta


If a spiked flare from the sun is a petal
and the petal breaks off from the crown—

If the crown is a wheel run amok
so the road blooms with rusted metal

and bad mojo— Then the firebird will hide
in plain view: tufts of flame trees, glimpsed

as you make your way from afar. Shake open
your map, walk steady along the arrow’s sight.


In response to How to take notes.

How to Flinch

“It’s emblematic of our societal discomfort with poetry that so many blurbs for poetry books use the word ‘unflinching.’ Actually, I think poets should flinch. We need to get better at flinching.” ~ Lia Purpura


Yes, I have eaten ants’ eggs. Faintly sweet little clusters whose honey
clicked a little between your teeth. Sometimes, parts of bodies
still clinging fiercely by a thread.

The tech on duty explained about the suction created in the vein
when pulling back against the plunger of the syringe. Let me try
, he said, gently swabbing with alcohol.

Old wives’ remedies for warts: drops of muriatic
acid. Frog piss. A razor blade cutting
clean and across from the base.

Swarms of winged ants— thin waists, bent antennae—
after days of heavy rain. Gleam from basins of water on the porch:
I cried to see the drowned ones sheathed in their gossamer.

Dear Fyodor, how old will I be when old grief passes gradually
into quiet tender joy
? For hives, sometimes I’m tempted to pass
the back of a heated spoon on raised, feverish skin.


In response to Heard at AWP.

Trail of Crumbs

“Learn to love silence and the taste of water.” ~ Dave Bonta


There is only a column of stones
where the fireplace used to be.

What was the thunk in the night of a green body
falling from the tree? Jackfruit, or avocado?

The heady smell from the garden is strongest
at noon: red-streaked tongues of ginger lilies.

If you take a candle and look in the mirror at midnight,
the gaunt face of your future bridegroom will appear.

No one around: waking from groggy sleep after giving birth,
finding the bathroom; jellied spiral of blood on the floor.

One memory of moonlight: my mother patiently filled spaces
between large, flat stones on the walk with smaller pebbles.

The furl of a fish fin in pond water: scallop
of vanishing rouge, tip of a mossy hieroglyph.

Dry bread, still sweet, softens in a cup of amber-
colored tea. This you can drink, and eat.


In response to How to lose.


“Send the dew of blessing, the dew of grace;
renew my dispensation, and grant me length of days.”

– from “Prayers for the Protection and Opening of the Heart”
by Ya’akov Hakohen, trans. Peter Cole


Intuit, lean in, listen: the world’s too much. Who’s left
that knows to comprehend words that don’t get spoken?

A finger traces a vein along the chipped Formica counter.
Behind it, the cashier’s chalking in prices on the menu board:

Banh mi, buckwheat crepes, waffles, sausage and gravy. Outside fog,
windows clouded with steam. Appetite not meaning to obscure the view.

A woman’s knitting a blanket for a child soon born. The tips of fingers
where they press to work against the metal needles, blue-heathered as yarn.

How long, I wonder, will I have the strength to keep sprinting? I barely made
the last flight out. And no one cares to look through manifests for missing names.

Rain now, snowfall tonight. Unharmed, the baby they found in a field.
A town raked through and through by tornado winds around her.

We sit with charts and tables: worry times need calculating cost. Ring it up
once, twice, thrice. Was everything all right? Come back again soon.


In response to How to Burn.


“The song badly sung. The incomplete preparation. The careless remark. The unexpected and breathtaking disappointment, which we try to hide.” ~ Seon Joon

The rows of sausages looped like necklaces of marbled beads at the butcher’s.

The layer of fat congealed on the surface of stew.

The limp caused by gout.

The bare light bulb and its coated wire, suspended from the ceiling.

The fingers bloated with fluid, the morning after (not rounds of drinking, just soy sauce from last night’s Chinese takeout).

The letters on the mantel, addressed but still unsent.

The seeds that never sprouted in the flower pot.

The flammable heart, equipped with its miniature fire extinguisher in matching red.


In response to errata & corrigenda.

You could write home about any of these:

the tourists turning their faces up in the rain
to gaze at the knickers of Marilyn’s larger-
than-life-size statue, her sculpted skirt
fanned open like sampan sails in the wind—

in the shadow of a billboard that says
Occupy Your Bed, the poet in his motel room
wondering about bed bugs before drifting off,
a haze cast by traffic lights on the window—

the slim boys and girls in olive uniforms and Mao caps
emblazoned with one red star each, serving spicy hot
pot chicken and salt and pepper shrimp in Chinatown,
years away from the cultural revolution—

the nine thousand five hundred and some writers
rushing from one conference room to another, the lines
for coffee and croissants longer than discourse, fleeting
conversations with the sound of riffled pages—

the man singing Billy Joel covers at the piano
in the chop house, the waiter who sang ode
after ode to marbled steaks, their filets
and strips, their bone-in and barrel cuts—

the sky above the art institute beginning to color
like the inside of a skillet, sheen of a butter knife
lying beside a plate of fish in a Dutch still life as towns
splinter apart in the wake of tornados down south—

the man on the street corner rattling his cup of coins
breathing Sweet little momma, please help;
the stranger pointing to his camera then to his face,
bowing and saying Thank you, please, you’re welcome.


In response to Words on the Street.

Season of honey and locusts,

of desert sand, of fasting;
wilderness where the silence
will remain unbroken— dry
bread and water, no sugar,
no salt. The skin might break
out in fever, the eyes glaze
with hallucinations, until
someone calls and the parched
spirit might quicken in recognition—
Who was it that said When the pupil
is ready, the teacher will make
himself known
? What they forget
to say is how long it lasts: how far
the row of flame trees stretches,
how steadily their acetylene torches
clearly devote themselves to burning.


In response to How to sacrifice.


“Stare into the darkness until it returns your gaze.

Accept no substitutes, neither love nor a mirror.” ~ Dave Bonta

The depths return what they’ve been given:
old shoes, bits of broken teeth, snapped pencils.

The carapace of a seahorse, perfectly preserved.
The skull of an animal, smaller than an idol’s.

Who told you to tell your sorrows to the river?
It is always hungry, always trying to swallow

the moon’s silver wafer. And the moon? As always,
it is indifferent to your fate. As always,

it trails its silken garment, a lure weaving
in the dim rushes. The water you cup, falls

through your fingers like so much silver. Sometimes,
it’s hard to tell what love is, from its other.