Road Trip, ca. 1980

This entry is part 28 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


Zigzagging up the mountain road, wonder why
you see only sparse cover of pine— dry
xylem of plants that knew more succulence
when waterfalls cleft rocks and veiled our
vision briefly as buses veered close in their
upward climb. Difficult to fall asleep on
the six to seven hour trip, the driver’s
stash of Betamax tapes playing musicals or
Ronnie Poe and Joseph Estrada action films.
Quiet chatter and endless snacking,
punctuated by the occasional query
on how far away the rest stop is.
Next town’s not it, so another hour
maybe, before they let us file out,
list toward the bathrooms. Had I
known, thirty years ago, that meant
just a slab of concrete on chilled ground,
I might have been better prepared to squat,
half on tiptoes while on my haunches, pee
guttering in a channel from a row of women
fixing their eyes on the horizon. Au naturel.
Evening quickly masks the scene. There’s a pump
damp with running water where we wash. The driver
cuts up meat and drinks a cup of coffee. We eat.
Before getting back on the bus, someone sneezes:
a fifteen minute wait, as superstition dictates.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 27 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.” ~ Bizet

Aragonaise (the simplified arrangement for piano),
by Bizet, from “Carmen”— I remember a well-thumbed music book
covered with pinched pencil lettering, the weeks it took to learn.
Did the nuns who taught us, drill frozen arpeggios from our wrists?
Every girl one girl in a blue and white uniform with a straight face.
From deep in the lilac, the warble of a tree sparrow rose,
grew a little warmer, coloring like a flame
hovering just on the edge of what little we knew.
It’s possible some of us could imagine Carmen in
jail, possessive lovers; seduction, jealousy, dark rage
kindling in the breast and nearby in the meadow, bulls
lifting their feet, snorting, ready for the charge.
My own instinct is never to give anything away:
not a hint of what I’m feeling inside, though
often enough it’s worry or confusion costumed
poorly by bravura. Ruffles, a rose, a skirt
quilted in deepest red. At the sweetest passage,
read the notes, play them like they’re violets about to be
surrendered under the hooves of the heaving animal.
There’s no way to learn that simply by rote,
understanding how things measure out. Years later,
veer toward this music again as it drifts,
wayward thread unhooked from memory.
Exactly how do you know when the song has reached
you, claimed you? When its naked feet stamp out the flame,
zero in on what it loves, dagger aimed at the heart.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Field Notes

This entry is part 26 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


What veils? What clouds?

Wing upon wing feathers the view.

The door swings between rooms.

Blast of air, cold rain. Not

ruin. I’ve only longed to find

what you said you lost in a dream:

mountains dissolved in lake water,

sunflowers turning like weather vanes.

Amulets among the cracked stones,

cross-hairs in the branches.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Making Dinner, I Hear Rostropovich on the Radio

This entry is part 25 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


Zest of lemons fills the air, and on the radio,
yearning notes from the throat of a cello.

Exactly how much salt or spice to throw in?
Without measurement, the senses tend to open wider.

Viola, violin, strings from the orchestra fill out
undertones in the andante part of the Rococo Variations:

this is Tchaikovsky in the arms of Rostropovich, or
so my daughter tells me. Slow as a waltz— and suddenly I

realize this might be the music I’d like played at my funeral.
Quelle alternative? I don’t know, as I wasn’t really

pondering the matter. Just something in the phrasing,
or the way the quietly contemplative cadenzas make me feel

none of the sorrowful hysteria sometimes induced by
music that lobs the racquetball of the soul around in its cage,

little bird reminded of the wilderness that bred it.
Kindness after long difficulty is what I hear, perhaps. Or

just a simple turn, a few steps around the room, notes that burgeon
into the fullness of their theme. I don’t know much more.

How have I started with lemons and garlic—
grease quietly sputtering under the layer of

fricasseed chicken breasts in a pan on the stove— then
ended up thinking of music by which to exit?

Don’t read more into this than there is.
Clouds look lovely outside the prismatic window,

bunched and fleecy as pulled wool. I’m here and not
about to go anywhere just yet; I love the color yellow.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Tarot: False Spring

This entry is part 24 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


Confused by warmth followed
by plummeting cold, buds
on the pink magnolia

begin to fruit. In this case,
as in many others, I know
the outcomes of nostalgia.

Don’t look back, I want to say
to the not yet fully formed
corona of petals—

though the sun’s warmth
is barely a husk on this
day with no brim or trestle.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 23 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


There are mockups of mermaids every few
blocks in this town— plaster and paint
over wire, arms stretched fore and aft. All
in the same frozen pose, they look like
synchronized swimmers yanked out of the pool
before their final choreographed curtsy.
Pale, flat-chested, not the least bit
sinuous, each sports a different garb:
one’s in a sailor suit, another’s covered
in fake barnacles; and the one in the bay
of the Chinese pagoda close to where
we live has a painted-on cheongsam
of red and gold. Rooted under the half-
moon and the scattering of pixelated stars,
each looks across the pavements and parking
lots, out to the dark water— where all day,
restless waves come in and out with the tide.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 22 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


The wind drives us forward.
A little spin and we’re pulled
as thread into a skein, the skein
into cotton, the cotton into a scarf,
the scarf into a cowl. Gandhi once sat,
not speaking, only spinning. One thread
unbroken for nine hours. How long
would I have lasted? Here, it’s almost
half past three. Children spill
out of school doors, pulling peacoats
on top of cardigans. Are those leaves
poking through the brown fretwork?
The clock’s hands never run the other way.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Chalk Circle

This entry is part 20 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


False apple, pale vegetable— green lightbulbs swinging like unripe hearts in the trellis among curled leaves: unchoked among the rampant honeysuckle, sayote that we ate the week after a hurricane and its deadly mudslides locked the city in. Only Sunshine grocery was open; but no bread, only de lata: sardinas, canned mackerel, corned beef, beans (one square of fat the size of a postage stamp, hidden somewhere in a swamp of legumes). No onions, no frying, no lard. But plenty of rice, sayote boiled on the kerosene stove, a squeeze of wild lime. Choppers overhead, long lines at the water main where someone had pried a valve open and everyone came with plastic pails, gallon bottles. Children washed their faces and made newspaper boats in the rain. In the evenings, we piled mattresses in the center of the living room floor and watched our shadows lengthen by candlelight, ash-brown, dark-tinted like a ring we’d drawn, thin membrane between us and the cold.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 19 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


The hour will come, oblivious to your noticing,
when you’ll look back and see that the shore
is truly far away and the boat you’re in,

bobbing miles from any clear destination.
From that distance it will be hard to tell
what the sunlight strikes hard and

fractures: the chrome edge of a pair of
sunglasses, the unibrow of the man
wearing it, the neon stripes of the beach

umbrellas that now look ridiculously small
and crowded around the rim of a dirty
yellow margarita glass. And you will ask,

stranded in the middle of it all, whether you
really still need sunblock or if the little
stencils of color floating before your eyes

are a sign— everything that once
pinned you to the business of diminishing
returns, has called it quits. Now only this

expanse, its lesson unrolling like a sutra:
unfurnished, unambiguous, pithy,
comprehensive; continuous, without flaw.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.