This entry is part 40 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


The night before I left that first time,
I stayed up composing a letter
while the three of you slept. We were

guests in someone’s godfather’s house,
a few murky breaths from the bay;
neon poured through the windows

while the air conditioning unit blew
noisy drafts into the room. Along the sea
wall, peddlers hawked their wares.

Traffic coursed through choked streets
humid as the weather. Before first
light, in the morning, it was time

to leave for the airport. One of you
slept through it, was left behind.
A small mercy, I was told, to keep

you dreaming some hours more. I don’t
quite know now if that was the right
thing to do; or what you felt

when you awoke and no adequate sign
materialized for the apology I have been
making in the intervening years since then.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 42 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


Maomaoyu : fine hair rain—

Natsu âme: summer rain—

Buhos : downpour, Noah’s rain—

Bagyo : storm—

Ambon : drizzle—

Ulap : clouds that bring both mist and rain—

Agar-arbis : what we say up north—

Hil ulán, kaw uyán, uran : in Hiligaynon—

Some syllables are rain themselves—



*Drops are falling.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

There’s a bird that comes

This entry is part 43 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


There’s a bird that comes to perch
on the dead cherry—

Is it the same that returns each day;
was it a man or a woman once,

a child, a snail, a blind ascetic
walking through the hills?

The sound it makes is dull percussion
on the side of a hollow bowl.

Is it the same, but now a winged soul
that troubles the wood

all through the year? A landmark:
pocked, scarred, familiar—

Safe in the relative way we
ourselves return,

to seek the ghosts of previous
hungers; then striking out

again for all that green, still
achingly out of reach.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 44 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


At lunch in the Chinese restaurant: couples with salt-and-pepper hair (the women in modest pumps and tweedy jackets and the men just loosening their ties), babies in high chairs, teens in tunic tops not even teetering in their absurd stiletto heels. A veil of sesame oil in the air, the clatter of dim sum carts. The child says— I wonder what you’ll look like when you’re older? On the way here, we passed the Woodlawn Cemetery and I couldn’t remember if that was where the writer who was a diplomat in his other life, was buried. Many years ago I spoke with him a few times, over a crackly phone connection; me in graduate school, acorns pinging from the trees as autumn in the midwest made the branches ready for a long sheathing in ice. He must have been in that nursing home where he died. I did not know then about the daughters they said had left him there then disappeared, the nurses unable to trace them to any forwarding address. He told me he walked to the local library as often as he could, a yellow legal pad under his arm. In the latter part of his life, he scoured the shelves for poems, copied them out by hand. He complained he could not find anything by René Char. I think I might have sent him a book, translated poems found in one of the used bookstores up on Clark. le Poème pulvérisé? I can’t remember now. I knew about his hasty exit from Cambodia just before the fall, he and his wife with one suitcase each. The former dictator’s government never made up for his losses, those years of faithful service. I must repeat, I never really met him. He was a voice on the phone, a voice I imagined when I read his stories. Often I wonder if he ever thought this would be a place as good as any, in which to die.


In response to Morning Porch and Via Negativa: Drinking Companion.

September 1972

This entry is part 45 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


This is how it was settled: my father’s first cousin, who was some minister or deputy of tourism or other, would help him get a room at the Hilton by the bay. Failing that, his other cousin the congressman had one of his half-dozen apartments in Bel-Air. We could stay in the guest room, which was really his home office. The only caveats: his maid might come in at odd hours to retrieve from one drawer in the filing cabinet, bottles of black label Johnnie Walker, Courvoisier, bourbon; also: his Korean mistress might be in town. He borrowed a government car which came with an assigned driver; after all, it was his oath-taking ceremony at the palace.

My mother took special care, ironing his barong between sheets of dressmaking paper. Feeling generous, he told my mother she could bring a friend, but she didn’t want to invite any of the women in her various clubs. So I invited Rhonda instead. We listened to the adults gossip through the six hour trip and drowsed or threw up in paper bags from motion sickness. There was a new and explosive biography about the First Lady, telling of her origins in the south. How she lived in the garage, illegitimate child of the man in whose household her mother served. A few surreptitious copies were making the rounds; the writer had gone into hiding.

Of course it was hot. Even a butterfly pod would shrivel in the shade, split a sleeve open before its time. But still, we fished out our swimsuits as soon as we got there, and went to bake in the sun by the pool, armed with cheap plastic sunglasses. To hell with heatstroke. We were too young for anything but pineapple juice on the rocks, but the waiters brought them with paper parasols. Rhonda tried to teach me how to affect what she called an air of worldly ennui, but I was working through a library copy of Anna Karenina. She gave up on me and flopped face-down, on her untanned belly.

The next day, the swearing in itself was a blur; but mostly because someone decided at the last minute that we (women) might not have the protocol clearances. The cousin-congressman and cousin-deputy went with him. As for us, we returned to the pool and ordered sandwiches and Coke. My mother cooled her bunioned feet in the water and filed her nails. After lunch, my father came back and said we had to hustle. Rumors, he said. Best to travel back north before nightfall. When I think about it now, I realize he was what his contemporaries might have thought a lightweight, not a big stakes player. Too conscientious for his own good, never took a bribe.

That evening, after we got back, more rumors. Then radio and TV blackouts, and sirens at six and at nine. Not the clarion of the Angelus, but signals for the first of many curfews and the squall ahead. Our sunburned skin peeled for weeks afterward, but nothing of that sort mattered anymore. At home, in the streets where people cast furtive glances at each other, we learned bits of new vocabulary: martial law, suspension, writ of habeas corpus; rally, molotov cocktail, salvage, subversive, detain.


In response to Morning Porch and small stone (150).

Fire Drill

This entry is part 46 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012


The alarms go off at ten, lights flashing
on each floor. And dutifully we file down
the stairs to the courtyard, where fall’s
first sharp wind is blowing. The sky
is full of rain clouds dark as the underside
of vultures’ wings. And you know, where there
are vultures, there is always death
waiting for its cue: even in those old
Looney Tunes cartoons, they watch with interest
from the canyon’s rim as the wild-eyed hare
or speeding roadrunner miscalculate the road,
then skid, and plunge— All is practice
for the real thing. But not today, not yet
today— Shrill bells cease their jangling.
The elevator lights blink green. The bunny
with the overbite and the long-legged bird
spring up, intact. The chase is on again.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.