Tendril

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 11 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

It is the Past’s supreme italic
makes the Present mean—

~ Emily Dickinson, “Glass was the Street— in Tinsel Peril” (#1518)

My cities and estates are made of smoke
and poems, my résumé laced with ample
culs-de-sac. You must have known

I could not trade my mountains
for plains so desolate in the heat.
I longed for the absolving rain, erasure

of missteps: poor choices, my rush
to cash the currency before its prime.
But now the sight of any small

tenderness moves more than grief
that runs its salt into the soil:
a flower smaller than my finger-

nail bursts white upon the sill
then shrivels; and yet it gifts
its fragrance like a signature.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

The days, sharp-finned, they plane

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 12 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

along the outer edges: bearing down,

shearing leaves from boughs, thin wrapper
of azaleas crumpled like an after-party

underfoot; summer’s glove peeled
from the bony hand— It plucks

without hesitation red fruit from green,
berries purpling at the rim toward dark;

and above, brisk wind and stippled clouds, wrought-
iron weather vanes swiveling south and farther south.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Selling the Family Home

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 13 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

This neighborhood used to be a government
camp for laborers building the city up from scratch—

Mother said, later, a row of bungalows came up:
housing for officials on vacation from the capital.

Mother washed floors caked with dust
when we moved here fifty years ago—

She said this house, No. 6, used to be
one of the president’s summer homes.

His portrait used to hang in the front room,
but I don’t know now where it’s gone.

After we settled in, the first thing she did
was plant a garden: grass seed strewn across

the muddy flats in front; then rose bushes,
even a dwarf apple tree, like a foreign hope

to nurture through the years. When I was ten,
my parents extended the kitchen and put in

granite tiles with sawtooth shapes, remaindered from
someone else’s building project. Father took his lump

sum in retirement, and before I graduated college,
had all the floors re-done in wood parquet, the walls

paneled in pine. Before the money ran out, he’d hoped
to turn the rafter space into an extra room, snug

for reading beneath the eaves. This room is still
unbuilt, but there’s a staircase with beautiful balusters

leading to the space of what might have been.
And all of us are gone, or going, one by one—

So mother in her waning years will find
a buyer willing to take it, tear it down,

make of it some new thing we might no longer
recognize… She sits and sorts and packs,

discards detritus, surfeit of accountables:
garments, furniture, oddments whose meaning

could only be deciphered by her. Deeds
will be drawn, contracts acknowledged

on all sides. The tremble in her voice
is the uncertainty about her next abode:

not just where, how many rooms, how much,
who the neighbors are— How can it be

there’s a fourth-quarter moon already
in the branches, how can it be so late now

in the year? She could swear the new grass
had just come in, the shutters set in place,

domestic spirits appeased with prayers,
with gifts of grain, oil, water, wine.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Elegy, with lines from e.e. cummings

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 14 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

(Tacloban City, Philippines)

Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands: but I do not agree. Time, perhaps, has the illusion of small hands. Time is made of wings we cannot see or feel even if they brush against our faces in the dark. In the daytime, they take the shape of pauses, those moments we think we have forgotten something important and we retrace our steps. Somewhere in the mind, the sound of a shutter clicking open and close. Warnings and sirens, and then the wind: rising, insistent, forcing open all closed doors, all shelters. The pictures show how, before it made landfall, the storm was a magnitude of elegiac proportions: its one eye did not blink, so bent it was on bearing down with the unbearable weight of its sadness. No, this rain did not have small hands. But the child did, the one whose frail body spun like a compass needle wrenched free of its battered case. Let me go, and you live, she said to her mother, before the current took her. None of this is metaphor. Ten thousand lives did not shut very beautifully, suddenly, or close like roses.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to Audrey Hepburn

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 15 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

So many yards of cloth:
good cotton, polyester, rayon;
prim edge of childhood’s
Peter Pan collars, chaste tents
of A-line skirts that crept
up and up as silhouettes tightened
and searched for the key
in any keyhole neckline,
the getaway boat in any bateau.
I was no exception: I could not
bind a blanket stitch,
would not feather a herringbone.
What chance did I have without
the curved swan of your neck,
my feet shod but shoddy
in ballerinas, un-dainty from birth,
limbs decorated with scars or scabs,
stitched together with dark
needle and thread? And so I flew
the nest right after breakfast,
kissed the first tear-shaped bar
of light from the chandelier,
hurried to find myself
a fit bustle. I do, I do,
I do regret more than a few
things: but guess what, finally
I’m old enough to admit I don’t
rue it all! —though you hit it
right on the head when you said
those things about the sky
being vague and empty— Marriage
(whatever that means), or what you give
yourself to, can be like that: just a country
where the thunder goes and things disappear

sometimes, but not forever.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Disintegrate

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 16 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

(a partly found poem)

“The death toll could still climb higher, with an additional 1,000 cadaver bags sent to provinces, the disaster council announced as search-and-rescue operations continued in Tacloban City.” ~ from a news report on the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

Different cells die at different rates.
Hair and nails continue to grow a little
while, but nature is more efficient.

In the air decomposition is twice as fast
as when the body is under water, four times
more than underground. Clostridia

and coliforms, enzymes; greens and blues
that blister. Methane and mercaptans,
sulfides. More rapid in the tropics,

where the sun brings everything up
to a melon boil. Bluebottle flies,
carrion flies, ants and beetles

and maggots and wasps. Nails and teeth
detach, their ivory falling, letter
after letter that will never

again be sent. After weeks, a month,
a year, a decade: rags and bones,
motes indistinguishable

from dust. Finally
everything the body held,
burst open like a secret.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Stage Directions

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 17 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

Thirst and dreams in the middle of the night. Smoked herring in oil; sardines, anchovies. Capers and capelin roe. This strange, intense longing for salt, unkillable like a roach that skitters out from under the shelves as soon as the lights are doused. Nervous twitching behind walls, beneath the floorboards. Don’t give me a fake geode to lick; let me have a bead of citrine, a yellow sapphire, a tiger’s-eye, a crystal facet around which to fit my tongue. In other words, the thing itself: because everything else would be poor copy. I groom my retinue of desires to impeccable standards— only the best will do. I march them through daily drills, hup hup; review their syntax, applaud all vaults and clumsy dismounts, attempts to clear the pommel horse. Up high, the bars and wires glint sharper than walls in a knife thrower’s gallery. But darlings, don’t fret. You work hard, you’re lovely as newborn lyrics. Don’t worry yourselves about the weather, ticket sales, secret shoppers, masquerading critics, the ennui of the damned. Don’t pay attention to anything but the beautiful wings waving you onward, the ones that flush the currant bushes with color and sound.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dear spurred and caruncled one in the grass,

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 19 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

don’t stand uncertain in the cold dry field
looking up at gathering rainclouds where the wind
could untie your snood or ruffle your wattle. Don’t
open your mouth and drown in the rain. Don’t streak
the black, hairlike feathers on your breast with tears
or thickened gravy, don’t get so worked up to change
the colors on your head— Don’t worry about what
might be moving in the bushes, closing in from
a hundred yards away— You had ten million years
to get to this moment, you might as well go out
in a beaded flapper dress, doing the turkey trot.
Don’t watch anything except in high definition
color, because at night everything turns black.
And when you go to bed in the trees, don’t
startle at the first plaintive call, don’t
have a random heart attack; don’t let any
little thing keep you from clicking.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dear one, anxious again about arrival—

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 20 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013

 

do not be disheartened by the appearance
of yet another detour: that there is road work
suggests this path has not been abandoned yet,
or that it is time to look more closely
at the establishments that line this section
of the map— Not everyone perhaps is an hija
de puta
, a heartless bruja, a bitch only waiting
to trip you up or put you in what she assumes
is your place. So she was born with a silver
spoon in her mouth, a blingety-bling in her nose
ring, her father’s stocks to cover her precious
behind? Ya qué? Remember what your grand-
father used to say about their kind: just close
your eyes and think about all the ugly and unkind,
all the beautiful, snooty ones who live in their cold,
drafty mansions with no one to love, no one who loves
them back except for the miserly crumb of a saltine
cracker beside their bag of tea; and think about
how everyone on this earth is reduced to that common
denominator of skin beneath these artificial layers,
how the fat around the waist dimples then folds
as the body strains on the pot to expel its daily
load of crap— Take a look around and see who else
is on this pilgrimage: you’d be surprised at how many
are inching along, making clearings, hefting their dollar-
store supplies, their thrift store finds, their non-
designer bags filled with an assortment of viable dreams.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.