Ghazal, with Piano Bar in Winter

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 11 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

Increase intensity through attention, pressure, weight,
or time, to hear the singing in a higher register—

The same way a threaded button spins faster, looser
or more taut, depending on the varied register

of fingers pulling at the edges. I prefer lower, mellow
notes to shrill, but there is power too in upper registers—

but there must be absolute precision there, no way to flub
the reach by saying, Oh, I was just trying a jazzy register

In the low-lit bar, patrons sent up slips of paper and requests.
But though the pianist crooned his best, not all could register

the depth of feeling poured into a song: something with a blue moon
or a river, the way you looked the night when I first registered

the tilted axis of the room, banal rush of traffic outside in the rain:
unusual warm night in late winter, that too a kind of register.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Tracks

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 12 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

When I was seven I wanted to run away from home,
miserable child alone in her solitude while adults
hurled insults and knives and forks across
the breakfast table, or threatened to scald
each other with boiling water snatched
up from the stove. The neighbors craned
their necks toward the fence or peered
outright through windows to watch our
daily theatricals of grief. And where
did I think I was going when I packed a set
of clean handkerchiefs and my toothbrush
into a brown paper bag, unlatched the gate
that always was kept so guardedly close?
Not three blocks away, before I reached the end
of the street where it curved away into town,
a kindly neighbor recognized me: saw
my tearful, shuffling progress along the sidewalk,
asked gently if I needed help returning home…
After all these years I no longer remember exactly
how the incident resolved, only that we retraced
my small, fugitive steps back; and no one
had even noticed I had tried to go—

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Nostos

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 13 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

Leave it; you don’t want to dwell there, you don’t want to know what might have happened if it didn’t happen the way it did.

At times it is impossible to tell intention from intervention, the thorny stalk from the hedge, floss from the papery husk. In the dark, you might think it hardly matters, but it does, it does.

And the bud? It might have been white, red, or yellow; a bird might have plucked it from the stalk.

Say happenstance, say accident, say unthinking. But no matter, someone decreed that you had to pay.

Sentiment costs; nostalgia’s a big cottage industry, especially when there are poets locked up in cells, beasts that pace the ramparts worrying about deflation and capital gains in the real world.

Under the eaves, wind mingles with the sounds of haunted things: mouth harp, train whistle, gypsy cutting through the woods.

Once, at a writers’ retreat, I slept in the tower room. Toward the end of the week, near dawn, a weight, a shape, sat on my chest and refused to move. For a few seconds I struggled toward the light-pull. Was it a dream, or had there been too much salt on the baked salmon at dinner?

I cannot live your lives again, o ghostly ones. But I can walk to the balcony and look down at the river where your faces occasionally swim up under moonlight. I can collect your delicate ululations like pearls, one by one on a line.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

N/ever

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 14 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

And the poem: does it hold you,
welcome you, swallow you whole?

Does it burrow in you like a secret,
wind the key a little tighter

in the lock, unravel like a bright
string of yarn plucked from a sleeve?

Does it send down the night like a maw
or use the silhouettes of trees for fringe?

When nothing stirs, it’s easy to think
the mountain’s cold heart won’t thaw.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Cold Snap

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 16 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

Not snow but frost, says my friend the photographer, looking at slides of cabbage farms in La Trinidad: row after row speckled white, and in the distance a cluster of tin-roofed houses, an idling jeepney. Farmers shake their heads over penciled sums in dog-eared notepads: not enough to bring to market. In the next frame, the shocking brightness of carrots thicker than your wrist, baskets of purple yam; in another, a grandfather sitting on his haunches in the doorway, smoking his eternal cigar.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

What I wanted to say

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 17 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

is there will always be days
like waves that threaten to pull you
under, when for a while there is nothing
but their spreading mantle of salt
and mottled grey, nothing but the dark
throbbing of that undertow you might begin
to mistake for your own pulse—
And I wanted to say there is no shame
in having flailed and cried out
as if in defeat, as we will again
and yet again, as if into the very heart
of the whirlpool that would drain us,
into the bend of the wave that looks as if
it’s poised to swallow the chain of fishing boats—
And we are so tiny, so powerless to stop
the water surging over our heads; and it is
so hard to remember how the current
buoys up bodies that have ceased resisting
so they might keep the vital breath—

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Insurmountable

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 19 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

Do you remember the stories about the girl given one impossible task after another? I do not mean the one where she goes to the middle of the field to confess the sorrows of her heart to an old stove, nor the one where she passes the city gates to greet the bloodied head of a horse whose sole rider she once was— though perhaps that is the same story? I do like the one that begins with the great despair of the uncountable: a heap of grain— or is it salt or sugar or pearls?— that she must reckon by nightfall. It ends as such stories do, with a certain hope held out to those like us: how the marginal creatures emerge from the interstices to take the mountain apart, crumb by patient crumb.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Dream Metonymy

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 20 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13

 

I have been here before, it is no accident:
even if here is in the last dream my friend has
before waking this morning in New Bedford, MA—
I can see exactly how we walked through the main street
in our hometown across the sea, looking in the shops,
digging our hands into our jean pockets for warmth.
Here is the Chinese restaurant famous for its noodles
and egg pie, here is the barbershop with its candy-
striped light. Here in a storefront window is an old-
fashioned printing press, and maps of the Philippines
drawn in blue-green ink. Here in a snow globe,
a red-tailed hawk flies clockwise then counter-
clockwise over ruins of the ancestral home.
When I hold it in my hand and twirl it,
wind stirs up sieved tears, a storm of ice.

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.