Unending Lyric

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 21 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Zealous at long rehearsals, tenacious at audition— the brushed
yellow-olive, drab-coated vireo hangs upside down then
exits the tree with a prize: red berry or dun kernel, blur of
winged insect disappearing down the hatch of its throat.
Valediction isn’t its song: not a saying farewell, not the
up-swelling notes of a soprano— just the same
tremulous question and answer all through the day.
Sound shivers like a string when plucked. I learned
rote-singing, then followed the pencil across the staff:
quarter-notes, eighths, sixteenths; the rests like little
puffs of breath propelling onward. And yes it’s work,
opening the chest to let the air of longing out for that
nimbus of release, though brief and incommensurate.
My audible heart wants a nest like a cup in the fork of a tree.
Lit up at night, in that forest of softened trills, who
knows how the air might shear its stuttering refrains,
join the failed parts of songs as leitmotif?
I practice and practice though nobody hears.
Hoarse from effort and nearly at empty, I
gloss sometimes over difficult parts that
find a way of coming back, sliding into another
edge of passage. Nothing ever stays still:
do you see how the moon shimmers, then
clears a path for the screech owl’s call?
Bright, brassy, or somber rounding in the mouth—
answer that burns salt shapes on the tongue.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Trace

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 22 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Wind that moves in the tree behind the tree,
that leaves a spoor of unnameable scent
then dissipates— It’s strongest when spent
and all that remains is filament, memory:

like love that desired what the other desired
but somehow forgot its errand. Your fever breaks;
then the longer route home, blue-girdled by lake
water that bears prints of leaves fallen, still flushed.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Prospecting

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 23 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Incremental: [adjective] increasing gradually by regular degrees or additions

We do the rounds, list address after address,
then make appointments to inspect the premises;
all the properties we’ve checked are more or less
close: a range of eight to fifteen miles at best
from where we currently reside. New to the process,
we’re warned not to fall in love too quickly or say yes
to everything, not get too attached nor obsessed
with one or another set of charming features, lest
we forget what we’re looking for. Incremental progress
so far— as we calculate, submit to being assessed:
what we’ve earned versus what we haven’t saved, the press
of percentages against the sharp glint of dream. Oh dressed
doorways with welcome mats, driveways and shaded decks—
behind glass we almost see our figures at home, at last.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dear modest four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 24 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

home with bay windows and a covered garage
almost identical to each of the houses down

the way and circling that cul-de-sac: how
many times have I driven past without knowing
that one day soon I’d be looking more closely,

more covetously (how is it possible) at you?
Last week, our neighbor the realtor unlocked
the front door to let us in. We stepped through

the foyer, heels sounding on hardwood floors;
then climbed the carpet-covered stairs to peer
at bedrooms, gaze up a skylight, click open

and shut the wooden blinds. Stripped of
furniture, adornments, pictures, vestiges
of clothing and former lives— and yet

it simmered with history. Should I not
have entertained the possibility; not dreamed
of how to lighten dark stains beneath the old

refrigerator, imagined all sorts of yeasty
smells glazing the kitchen walls done up in maize?
There was a mantel wide enough for our clock

that runs just a few minutes fast; and a side
door opening out onto the yard where a firefly
sailed past, inner wings glowing in the sun.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Shit

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 25 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

“Whither the thrush whose ethereal notes
woke me at dawn? A male towhee flies up to a sunlit
branch and takes a shit, singing.” ~ Dave Bonta

Explaining idioms to my youngest child,
I remembered a book we used to keep
in the bathroom of my childhood home,
stuffed into the basket of dog-eared

Good Housekeeping and Better Homes
and Gardens
magazines: An Irreverent
and Almost Complete Social History of
the Bathroom
— dishing out in droll

anecdotal detail the likely reasons for
expressions such as Don’t throw the baby
out with the bathwater
(the master
of the medieval household the first to dunk

himself in the tub, the rest of the family
succeeeding); and Careful that you don’t
get the short end of the stick
(public
toilets at a time when organic implements

were used in lieu of toilet paper, which
hadn’t been invented yet). The same book
blandly made the case for privies and
outhouses still being then so rare,

that belled skirts, hooped petticoats,
and perfume provided cover or necessary
counterpoint. Sometimes I can hardly
remember how I raised my older

daughters from birth through
toddlerhood without diapers whose
sticky tabs you could pry loose
after wiping and changing, to refasten

the bundle for tidy disposal in the can.
Shit, says the man skidding out of the drive-
way then hitting the row of garbage bins.
Shit, says his wife as the shit

hits the fan. A friend tells me
that in moments of great stress,
when not only his bosses but clients
get viciously mean, he closes his eyes

and simply imagines what they might
look like without a stitch of clothing,
or grunting on the pot; then smiles at
the equalizing release that ensues.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Ode to the Pedicure Place at the Mall

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 26 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

That kind of day— when even the wren
in the tree swipes its bill back and forth
on the end of a dead limb, as if sharpening

a knife on the whetstone. And so instead
of waiting resigned for the blade to fall,
or the basilisk to sink its old caried

tooth into the vein throbbing at the base
of my nape, I betake myself to a spa
called Millennium Nails at the mall.

The water in the basin swirls with warmth;
and a dark-haired woman named Maria takes
my tired, callused feet into her two gloved

hands. She lathers and massages with pomegranate
oils, sugar and crushed walnut seed scrubs till—
don’t laugh— the ginger-root knobs on my toes

unclench. When she lifts my feet to pat them
dry on the terrycloth towel, I know all about
her so-called best friend who didn’t come

to her wedding, and she knows the age
when I had my first child. Is it the light
chemical veil of ammonia floating in the air,

or the low-key bubble of voices across the room?
No matter: I can only think of the poet who’d written
of the world in a grain of sand and of holding

infinity in the palm of his hand; and of how,
likely, he never had a pedicure in all his life.
Maria and I bend over rainbow rows of bottles

with names like Haze of Love or Cha-Cha-Champagne;
Snake Charmer, Bling to Me, Seize the Daze, Fire Starter—
for all I know, they could be ruby-lit signs:

shiny new fortunes just waiting to be painted on.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Defiler

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 27 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Lymantriidae: family of moths, many of its component species referred to as Tussock moths; Lymantria means “defiler”.

Before Todos los Santos, the Day
of the Dead, armed with whitewash,
buckets, and brooms we visit
the graves of our dearly departed,

to clear the gathered debris of
the previous year— dry leaves
and bracken pushing up through
cracked concrete, bits of amber-

colored glass from broken Cerveza
Negra
bottles. Someone’s grand-
father’s grave has been spray-painted
with graffiti; and the stone cherubs’

wings have been chipped for sport.
What do we know of eternity? What
could we do to stave off the hardening
froth of days? In the groves of trees,

above rows of headstones, cicadas rub
their tymbals and sing their heated songs
of courtship. Two months later, all of them
will die, leaving behind eggs that will emerge

in seventeen years. Among the skeletal branches,
the tussock moth caterpillar is busily at work.
For every mouthful of leaf, a tufted crown; red-
light glands on its back signaling imminent

danger: dazzling mystery: inevitable conclusion.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Letter to Attention

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 28 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Dear restless, wandering mind, sometimes
you really must try to chisel your focus—

Try to listen to the soft-spoken woman
who leads us through downward-facing dogs,

warrior poses and planks, steeple
mudras, salutations, lunges—

instead of to the growing industrial whine
of your belly, where no other breakfast

but the half-cup of soy latte now sloshes
around, a whirlpool of acids and worry. Keep

count of the breaths as they come through
the branches in the upside-down trees

of your lungs. Keep count as they exit:
the thing to do is turn them into things

with wings— cicadas, perhaps. Or tiny
fireflies throwing their low-wattage beams

at the dark. Effortless effort, the teacher
intones. So don’t let the ten year old’s

giggling distract you as you try and fail
to maintain your balance, coming out

of the dancer’s pose. Are you still with me?
I know you’re tired, and you want to press

your cheek on the mat or stay supine as a corpse.
But the voice nudges you back to the shore, saying

Open your arms and legs like a starfish, open
the cage of your heart; look at the unblinking sun
.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Real

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 29 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

My youngest girl asks for stories—
Real stories tonight, she says, not
made-up
. Like what I did, summers when

I was her age: mornings with the wash billowing
on the line, evenings too humid for clothes
but too buggy for bare skin (smolder and fume

of mosquito coils in terra cotta dishes).
And so I tell her again of sandals kicked off
on the wooden porch, reading Gasoline Alley

and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in
the Sunday paper, while eating mouth-
puckering green plums dipped in salt

and sugar. Sputter and flare of kerosene
lamps, lizards skittering across living
room walls. Strident cry of a black and

orange rooster tied to the tree in
the yard (its heaped bones decorate
lunch plates the next day). I have

nostalgia for these things, not
necessarily for their pieties.
And she, she wants to smell

the camphor escaping from ancient
wardrobes I pry open; wants to taste,
along with me, the star-shaped indentation

on my father’s pinky finger where the nail
should have been; to imagine the ghost nun’s
shadow beside the bell-pull at school,

summoning souls from the other side.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Discordant

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 30 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011

 

Dear jake-brake and tire whine
slicing like a stonecutter’s tool
through the scented dark, it’s been
a while but I know all about your

penchant for early morning throat-
clearing, those loud flushing sounds
you like to make from the outhouse
of out there. As usual they’re

reminders that beneath fleecy
cloud border or vivid blue veins
of water and sky, you’re hard at work
prying the tarp of summer loose.

Oh soon enough, soon enough: we’ll turn
a corner, and the avenues now flushed cerise
and heavy with crepe myrtle will streak
like watercolors left out in the rain.

There you are in the hot heart of pavement,
shimmering like the proverbial mirage. There
you are in every syncopated bird call; chilled
taste of winter tucked in every bite of sour fruit.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.