If only the wind now dresses the trees

This entry is part 32 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


in leaves, it’s time to clap two
pieces of wood together.

Keep an eye on the fire, raising both
hands over your head; turn one knee out
while resting the sole of the foot

on the inside of the calf. Imagine
what it takes to stay breathing like that,
how to store up heat for a whole season.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Pavor Nocturnus

This entry is part 31 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


All night, he said, I’d thrashed and snarled
thick bits of indecipherable language through
clenched teeth; and even after he’d shifted
my unconscious, evidently dreaming body
into another position, whatever its source
would start me up again— In the morning,
limbs aching as if from deep muscle strain,
I tell him I’m still trying to remember,
reluctant to name the same old ghosts
that have come here again to haunt me—
First, the boy my mother hired from down
the street to cut the grass and scrub
the floors, and how he slit gladiolus stems
and yellow snapdragon throats in the garden
from boredom, before turning to me to say
he’d show me how to play doctor; then,
not long after, the uncle whose unexpected
fingers broke into my afternoon naps—
How could you remember something like this,
they said to me years later, implying lies,
invention, refusing to believe a three-
year-old could come to such swift understanding
of how something could untether from the body
suspended within a bathroom’s cold white tile,
climb up the wire dangling the lone light bulb,
out the window, past the twisting trees
to where the thin, high notes of some
small bird beat through the air—


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Canción sin fin

This entry is part 30 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


“Paciencia y barajar.” (Patience and shuffle the cards.)
~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quijote


Open certain books, and windmills
become giants, most certainly arrived
to take over or worse, defile the earth.
Since no one else apparently sees

the impending danger, you have to be the one
to don your suit of armor, fix the brass
washbasin on your head, hoist the pennant
of your dirty dishrag— Turn the ignition

of your trusty, pre-owned chariot and ride
through fields of goldenrod drying in late
winter light, as birds scatter cryptic
messages in the air. And who’s to say

this isn’t the waking world, after all?
The stakes remain the same: beneath
its newfangled disguises, love; honor,
in a world where it grows harder

to tell the nobleman from the thief.
The story that knighted you, the song
you were given, that you have
to keep trying to sing.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 29 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


Nothing went to waste:
sweetened skins from gourds,
pickled rinds as edible
scherenschnitte. Their seeds,
sprinkled with salt and roasted
on a tray— we cracked them
between our teeth while gossiping
on Sunday afternoons. We snipped
every last button from shirts
rubbed thin at the elbows,
and saved them like coins
in jars. I loved best the ones
covered with lattice strips
of leather— each nubbed
surface, a little luxury.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Nothing and Everything

The wind shuffled a full deck of leaves, each of them blank.
Imagine what to do with carte blanche: how you’d furnish

your rooms, the many-leaved days, nights dusky as blackboards
chalked over with dreams— And I’m sure I’d love blanc-

mange, sweet rolls, strong coffee for brunch, the hours blank
as new linen, duty shoring up the banks— And how sweet

to be able to start, mess up, do it over again; fill in blanks
that were missed the first time around. Nothing left vacant,

no stone left unturned; no check voided, gone bad, or returned
for want of funds: the empty hull pleasing as its original shape.


In response to Via Negativa: Of two minds.

And ever

This entry is part 27 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


[and today I have written at least a poem a day, every day, for the last two years]


“Forever and forever, and forever.” ~ Ezra Pound, “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”

When I was six, my biological mother took me to Mido Chinese restaurant in the plaza to meet the lover she was not supposed to have. We climbed the stairs to the mezzanine. The air was stale with the smell of sesame oil, fried onions, and five spice powder. You can have a dumpling with your soup, she whispered. Just don’t tell your mother that we came here, or whom we met. She was referring to her older sister, her only sister, who was raising me as her own, and putting her through high school. Both of them, therefore, were/are my mothers; and I was taught a special name for each of them.

I do not remember the face of the man we met there. I do not know for sure if this is the man she married, one grey morning months later in December. (Was it December?) Gigi, one of the next door neighbors’ daughters, served as flower girl with me. We wore stiff white satin dresses and tiny tulle veils; Gigi had stolen a tube of pink lipstick from her older sister’s dresser. She grasped my chin with her left hand and said, Pucker, then smack. I obeyed, making a fish face as she applied a waxy stripe of color to my lips. We stood in the vestibule, shivering, waiting for the cue to begin walking down the aisle, scattering dahlia and rose petals.

Is she going to faint? Gigi wanted to know. All brides faint at the altar, she said confidingly. That’s because the waistlines of their dresses are tightened, so they don’t show in case they already have a baby. She didn’t know, but I knew that couldn’t be true, because I was so far the only baby— and wasn’t I standing there, in a pair of shoes that pinched, clutching a wicker basket still full of petals husked from beheaded blooms?

No, not many knew. No one knew then, either, that one afternoon this man put his hands under my waistband and said, eyes glinting, I know another way to make you pee. And there they were, bending their heads under the veil and cord, passing a handful of coins from one to the other: making promises, drinking the wine without knowing quite yet we’d already fallen, head-first, all of us, into the rest of everything to come.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Exit Interview (excerpt)

This entry is part 26 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


What have you learned, I am asked; or, Who do you think you are?

I have learned that from the same window, the landscape is always the same, even when it is different. For example, today, heavy frost sheens the branches of trees. Yesterday, they were leafed in ochre and gold.

The seasons are punctuated by construction work, sewers flooding over, the high tide rising, squabbles with the local government over the correct placement and reading of water meters.

Every summer, when tall ships sail into the harbor unfurling flags from different countries, my heart feels that familiar tugging, reminding me of all the times it wants to climb the rigging, all the times it refuses to budge from its crow’s nest.

Patience is not necessarily a virtue learned only through traditional monastic disciplines; one school of teaching conducts its lessons through customer service branches on the telephone. It doesn’t matter for which product— just hit the prompt for “customer service” or “service hotline.”

There are only so many trips one can make to the mall or to the craft shops, hunting for sales, before the price tag evaporates with the steam of adrenaline. The shelf life of products grows shorter by the season.

Half a bag of apples, a few carrots, and a knob of ginger will make juice for around three people.

Who do I think I am? I ask myself the same question over a hundred times a day. Sometimes I think I hear an answer, and then I realize the sound of voices has drifted in through the window from somewhere up the street.

One thing seems a little more certain now than it was before: I do not chafe so much at silence anymore; but still, I know to crave the sweet touch of a hand, the memory of lips and eyes.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

In One and the Same Moment

This entry is part 24 of 41 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2012


“I am small in the rain.” ~ Eugene Gloria

We are all small in the rain;
we are even small in the sunlight,
though the shadows might grant the brief
illusion that we are taller or more brave

than we really are. And we can be small
at dusk, especially at dusk; smaller,
certainly, than in the early morning
when there is that sensation that we

are somehow taller, taking the first
sip of water or coffee, or sliding
into the car behind the wheel. Not only
are we small, returning in the morass

of traffic, or holding on to a strap
in the middle of the lurching bus
or train— also, we are flattened,
hollowed out, or pleated with

nervous anxiety; so that the howl
of the accelerating vehicle passes
like a blade across our bones,
and the drops of actual rain

pelting the windowpane border
on something that can be equal
parts tenderness and sorrow,
or simultaneous regret and

sweet nostalgia. Things live
like this in one and the same
moment, the large sometimes
in the small, the small more

rarely, but brilliantly, filling up
the inside of a room; the chest expanding
with the sudden intake of breath, the cupped
palm curled around a tiny, wavering flame.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.