Listening to Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes

This entry is part 1 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Sinuous braid of trenchant longings,
windmill footwork criss-crossing

the polished floor then pausing to slide
and wrap— dark stockinged thigh and leg

seething with friction, that bow
ascending toward the edge of oblivion

and driving the breath, before its sudden
drop— O I’m the crimson petal

that detaches from its ebony nest of hair,
tight gather of pleats fanned off

a narrow waist; velvet cummerbund that pins
the white sleeves close as sails—

Outside, see how late afternoon rain
beats down and street lamps flare;

how leaves of the yellowest birch reflect
ardent bronze shimmer on window-panes.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Eating Dried Fish With Our Hands

This entry is part 2 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Tonight, this kitchen is not a place
the foreign or the faint of heart
would willingly choose to enter:

I’ve fried a panful of air-dried, salted,
and butterflied fish
(is that why we hear
the wail of the neighbor’s cat, or is it merely

in heat?)— So what if the smoky haze sits
thick in the air, is likely seeping through
windows, clinging to drapes and furniture?

I’ve sliced three plum tomatoes to toss
with a squirt of lime, chopped scallions
and a handful of cilantro. All this,

because the homesick tongue has dreamt
thin, golden crumbs of fish dipped in
a saucerful of vinegar, crushed garlic,

and bird’s eye chillies; followed by
a mouthful of hot jasmine rice scooped
up with the fingers. Why is feasting

on and touching this simple food such
a pleasure? Mornings, we have a little
hail of cereal grains hitting the sides

of the bowl; then the thin, cold
stream of milk. Lunch is often skipped,
in favor of coffee. And how many times

can the trio of salad, meat, and potatoes
exercise their dinner charms? The stove
flicks on, the bottom of the pan heats

to a coppery red. Sometimes the hungry,
rusted parts of memory call out for more
salt, more tang: more time to linger.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 3 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Sunday evening, and they come up the front
walk: the same lanky guy sporting an unkempt
mustache, dented baseball cap, t-shirt

and loose canvas shorts; and somewhere
on the periphery, his henchman ready
with props— a folding ladder

and clear plastic bag half-filled
with leaves and assorted debris. Their
modus operandi: some weekend

in early spring or fall, go up and down
the row houses, claiming to be “back”
to service gutters and downspouts

that need cleaning, like they’ve “always
done”. Someone told me Rob and Alma down
the way gave them sixty dollars in March

after they clattered around a bit on their
deck, showed them the bag of fake detritus
from their roof, then disappeared. What’s

even more mind-boggling is that they
come back to the same neighborhoods, season
after season— either they’re not very smart,

or are brazenly confident they won’t be
recognized. My ten year old, who saw them
the first time they came around two years ago,

rightly observed their ladder could barely
clear the second-floor windows. She said,
How do you think they could even get up

to the roof? But here they are, punching
the doorbell and peering through the blinds again:
I bet they’re getting ready to gesture toward

the slate-grey shingles, spin the same old spiel—
like a pair of mosquitos that keep coming back to buzz
in your ear, just when you’re about to fall asleep.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dear nostalgia,

This entry is part 4 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


you are the last lingering tomato plant that never
flowered through the dry summer, only pushed
yellow-green stems up through the cone trellis,
pretending its goal was succulence—

you are a broody sky the color of the cast
iron pot in my childhood home, in which
we boiled rice and only rice; beneath its lid,
an army of uniformly spaced beads of moisture—

you are the rusted orange marks against the sides
of the old garage, which tell how high the waters
rose in the flood of ___; and sheets of heavy
plastic someone couldn’t bear to throw away—

you are the night heron we’ve sighted in the shade
of the garbage bin, beside the neighbor’s wall
trailing ivy and white asterisks of jasmine;
where is it you go, when we don’t see you?


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

What We Look For

This entry is part 5 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


The cloud in search of lightning, the cloth
seeking the thunderous rip across the grain.

Gold leaf on a frame peeling away like ruin;
sorrow’s name written long across the water.

The keyhole’s outline of the beautiful one: that speck
waving, moving closer from the padlocked garden.

The cup on the table awaiting radiant downpour;
vessel poised for the tilt of the river’s skin.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Without Translation

This entry is part 6 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Mamihlapinatapai (sometimes spelled mamihlapinatapei)
is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego,
listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the
“most succinct word”, and … one of the hardest words
to translate. It refers to “a look shared by two people,
each wishing that the other will offer something
that they both desire but are unwilling to do.”


And as autumn begins to deepen in earnest, I love
late afternoons best— when the yellowing leaves
have not yet all fluttered down, exhausted moths

looking to cluster for warmth. I love the way
the light gilds branches so that they form
a sort of nave in a green cathedral, love

the way their long arms arc over the widest
stretch of the avenue. And sometimes, driving
from work or taking children home from school,

more than once I have been surprised to find
that the light has also touched a hidden lever,
a fiber of longing in my throat. I have

no words for it, just as I have no words
for the film of tears that sometimes comes
unbidden and just as quickly dissipates.

Is it a kind of joy mingled with such
wistfulness, a feeling of being taken up
and embraced before goodbye? Who

are you? I want to ask of no one in
particular, as I pass under the lit up leaves,
before the sky lowers and a little rain begins.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Heart Weighted With Cares

This entry is part 7 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


“The feeling heart does not tire of carrying
ballast.” ~ Jane Hirshfield

But at the end of the day it does
want to complain, even just a little—

so long having borne the heft of metallic
plates, having had to stand in a stream

of electric current in order to stabilize
its flow. Beneath the train tracks,

layers of crushed rock and gravel; and on
each ship that cruises past the harbor,

weights of wood to keep the sails aloft.
It isn’t easy trying to be always

good, always generous, choosing virtue
over selfishness or spite. And there are

so many gaps in each day, so little time
to get all of it right. Even the leaves

of the tiny heal-all have turned into orange-
tinged lace, now riddled with holes. How long

have I been trying to make a little more time
every day? After the dishes are washed,

I chop and slice, cube and simmer two more
dinners to freeze. I tell myself, If I do

Saturday’s laundry now perhaps I can actually
have a weekend
; or, If I stay up to finish

this report, perhaps I can get a full night’s sleep
. And through all this, the weightier

demands of time filter through the practical
work of minds and hands: suffering and longing,

desires that have not yet been met. Some days,
the heart is exhausted before it can even lay

itself in the arms of sleep or love;
most days it peels back the covers

and pushes itself again into its shoes—
thick, sensible soles made for work

or walking, anchors to keep the body
dreaming of flight, close to the ground.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 8 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


What is the story you keep trying to tell,
the thread that keeps poking through
the fabric of every poem you write?

The setting might change, the season,
the number of figures in the tableau,
the time of day— Perhaps there is

a deer standing in dim light at the edge
of the woods, her ears swiveling toward
the east, where plumes of dark smoke

are rising and where her fawn has lost
his way. Perhaps there is a king
who has taken to his bed, and three

sons or daughters who must cross seven
hills to bring back the song of a bird;
thread a bolt of silk through a needle;

breathe stone statues back to life.
Perhaps there is the eternal lover— man
or woman, it does not matter which—

who patiently scours the earth to piece
back the other’s severed limbs, or journeys
to the afterworld to lead her back, now

ransomed. Whatever it is, this
thread colors everything: lures you
forward through the dark like a trail

of crumbs that gleam in moonlight, fans
open in the underbrush like a hundred
feathered eyes; dulls all the senses

but the one which knows to bend toward
the banks of the jelly river, knows
to listen for the dangerous sound

of feet in pursuit; hungers for good,
bright scents of milk and bread and water,
rising above gingerbread, blood, or bone.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Tableaux Vivants

This entry is part 9 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


After Yola Monakhov’s “Lebende Bilder”

These five finches are no longer here,
nor is the barred owl with only a dark
socket where its other eye should be—

Neither the loose strife of leaves,
pale green beneath their crown of paler
flowers; nor the clustered apples

high and cold on the branch, their blush
beginning to shade with blue. There is
no grass to match the colors of the

mountain vireo, dun brushed with light
cadmium yellow. You could not get
such feathers from a kit: no diorama

could hold them so, except the eye
that follows the gash of scarlet upon
the pileated woodpecker’s brow, and notes

the torque in the neck of the chipping sparrow—
rust feathers splayed against a background
of white, its dusky eyebrow and dark eye-

line arrowing toward something gone: a thought,
the ghost of some accident or encounter
before the shutter whirred and closed.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Listening to Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15

This entry is part 10 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


“What if I find nothing but moonlight?”

“Then you will have found the reflection of a reflection.”

                           ~ attributed to Chopin and Delacroix

Listening to the Raindrop sonata
this afternoon, now that the temperature
has taken a sudden plunge and it feels

truly like fall, I think of how the composer
alternately burned and languished in the last
years of his short life, traveling to or from

Vienna and Paris, then Mallorca and Scotland:
afflicted by nostalgia, weakened by what
burns in genius— flame at both ends

of a wax taper, slim as any of his fingers.
Too spent, in the end, to even go up and
down stairs on his own, did he miss

the view of quiet streets in the morning—
the way light rimmed the limbs of cherry trees
in the garden and cobblestones in the square,

or glinted off Warsaw’s cathedrals at noon;
the prescient gaze of cats whose owners
did not allow them to roam the streets,

watching anyhow over all they regarded from
the sill, behind curtained windows? At the end
of a Japanese role playing game for Xbox and

PlayStation called “Eternal Sonata”, the spirit of
Furederikku Furansowa Shopan rises out
of his body to play the piano one last time.

However his name is said, its syllables
linger a little: sostenuto, the way water-
drops slide down the glass panes, the way

each prismed surface looks sheathed in another
skin; the way each bud in the garden might be
a heart embalmed, floating in a globe of fluid.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.