Landscape, in the Aftermath of Flood

This entry is part 1 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


This is the way it often is, after calamity:
sudden gust of quiet, or spool of open air;

a few hundred feet of nothing. Nothing moving,
nothing doing, gray stasis of between-one-thing-

and-another. Until: closer view of the aftermath—
human figures daubed with mud, pinned under the ruins.

Did you not move quietly? Didn’t you take care not
to rouse the gods, or the duendes, or the anitos?

When you passed a large outcropping of rock,
didn’t you keep your head down? Didn’t you stop

short of teasing the makahiya into folding up its
leaflets? Didn’t you whisper, pagpaumanhin po ninyo ako?

Pray that the river does not rise again, does not reach
its muddy arms to take you in your sleep. Whole

cities have just gone under. When the wind bears down,
every frond bristles with the recent memory of voices

calling children from supper and to bed, singing
simple lullabies, saying Yes, tomorrow.

It’s all you can do to keep from giving yourself to
oblivion. If not for taking the living in your arms.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

A Carol

This entry is part 2 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


What’s there to be so worked up about? Is it
an upset stomach, a crumb of moldy cheese,
an underdone turnip, a ponderous chain
that clanks with every careworn step?
Let the snow fall amid the stenciled
branches, let the winds swirl like spirits
whose coming is always foretold, but who
cannot linger. They’re here, they’re here,
they’ve never left. They watch us who weigh
everything by gain, point to the shadows
of things that are yet to come. Curse
or blessing? May you be happy in the life
you’ve chosen
. Remember what passed between
us: clear, bright, cold. I know this place,
this tune, down to the last mince pie and dance.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Because it is years since I last saw you

This entry is part 4 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


Mother, the yard’s a-glitter with frost,
and fleecy strips of cloud reflect

off the sheen of an iced-over puddle.
All’s white on white, save for the raven

flash of a wing, creasing the air as it
passes over. I rinse the cups and plates,

I put the folded linens away. Your grand-
child cranks out notes from a tiny music

box: they sound like water drops, perfect
in their brief, round plinking. I think

about the rings you used to wear on your
fingers— the cold cut of diamond chips

inlaid in gold, raised crown of the ruby
pushing up from its leathered chair.

We’ve learned to hold the tastes of fruit
in our mouths, mulled and spiced for winter.

I’m growing out my hair again: it pushes
past my nape, falls in a circle about my

shoulders. At night, in sleep, my right
hand cups my cheek; from habit I turn

toward the window. Behind night’s
lowering net, miles and miles of quiet.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Landscape, with Remnants of a Tale

This entry is part 5 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


Like them, we were young once at the bend of the road where the trail enters the woods. No one who goes in emerges unchanged. Watch the way the colors shift on the bark of trees, from russet to carbon, to old serpentine. We turned the stones over, lay our bodies across their moss. Who cared what the sunlight touched? The littlest stones looked glazed with sugar. Feathers flashed in our hair— stippled, brilliant with color, purple and green. Egged on by hunger and need, our tongues were quicker than quick. It was always now or never; always fire, fucking, curses. Our hearts never stopped banging at the door. And then, the tollways reached, the fumbling for ivory card stock embossed with names. Under the moon, on the winding trail, our pockets rich with crumbs.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

En Crépinette

This entry is part 6 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


What’s that burning smell, that rattling like sleet on the roof of the garden shed? Or is it the woman tumbled into the oven, flailing her arms against sleeves of darkening crust? Why is it her and not the woodcutter, the paterfamilias whose task it is, supposedly, to raise healthy children as future citizens, maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household, honor his clan and ancestral gods? Pass the salt, skip the pepper. There’s nothing but sausage casing in the house to eat. It’s the membrane that wraps the minced ground pork or veal, that makes a farce, a shape that holds in the fire though all are torn from their origins. Pass the paprika, pass the pickling lime. What do they know? Who do you really think tried to hold it together, made paste out of boiled rice and water? Who read to them of stone soup and fed them stories to make the scraps seem sweeter? The law can punish for even the intent to abandon. But whose is the burden of proof? The bony finger that swims in the poorest gruel is the same one that polishes the moon, that hangs its dollar store corpse from the trees. Someone has confused the spelling of “desert” for a house of confectionery located in the woods. This is where they left us, or left us for dead. This is where they wanted us fed, then eaten alive. Well, I’ve got news for you, daddy-o. It’s your days that are numbered. I’ve found a bitch’s stash of balisongs and Ka-Bars that cut through both the softest bread and the hardest glass. Eat your last sweetmeat, kiss your dumpling wife and child. Not bothering with the cork, I’ll lop off the top of a bottle of champagne. It’s customary to offer a toast, a roast, on the eve of the new year.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 7 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


“The quality of mercy is not strain’d…”
— “The Merchant of Venice”,  Shakespeare

Before snow blew sideways, scattering
crystalline fragments, we held up metal

wires dipped in magnesium, ferrotitanium.
Held to a match, rich white and golden yellow

sparks branched off into the dark. Don’t lend
out any money today, the feast of Niños

Inocentes. Or if you do, don’t count
on getting any of it back. For a second,

think back to the story of soldiers scouring
the countryside for infant boys to slaughter

in their sleep. There is a difference between
naivete and the purely diabolical. Insist

on the former as an undeveloped state
that might yet lead to grace. The deer

might come to lick at lumps of packed
salt you’ve placed at the far end of

the garden. When they do, sit still, just
watch them. I know it’s hard, but hold

your face up to the fading light, mouth
rehearsing the ancient shapes of wonder.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 8 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


And afterwards? Didn’t the air carry a burnt sugar and cinnamon smell, even as the cinders stopped falling? You came out relatively unscathed, dammit. Which is more than can be said for others like you. Did you stop to give a thought about whose bones lay about in the cage or under the table where you crouched, where they thought you could be kept until you burst out of your skin from boredom or angst or misery, or all of the above? The hunger hasn’t gone away, has it? I’m not talking about cheap fashion made in China or Bangladesh, or shiny new electronics. The witch always wants what makes the music. Not the heart but the fire in the belly. Let me tell you about the rivers that rose beyond their jelly-colored banks to drown everyone in the sleeping town. Sweet children at the breast. Grandmothers in their hammocks. Under the sheets, fathers’ gnarly hands reaching for something softer than the handle of a hammer or the back of a plane. Watch that cardinal in the bush, sitting nearly motionless for a good ten minutes now. Even in that thimbleful of time, the instinct to take panicked flight is stilled: bright firecracker, urgent red of its triangle cap like a post-it note on a branch— You could read it from a mile away. And when it flies off, give thanks because you can.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.