Mouth Stories

This entry is part 24 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13


She was but the daughter of a farmer who owned a small
tract of land, a hat with a brim, one good white suit—

And he was the son of a man he knew only by name and the long
stub of ash before it fell from the cigarette into the tray—

And she on the other hand was a child when her mother expired
in that unfortunate flowering of war, when a soldier ran

a bayonet through her brother’s heart— There in the field,
that wound pried open in the shape of a gaping mouth—

Even now, they recount how long lines of men walked
south and farther south in the heat— For days

furtive foraging in paddies for snails and frogs,
for draughts of water thickened with mud— For days

their hands, roped and stacked behind their heads—
Pliable like leaves and tender, the shoots

you couldn’t guess you could mash with your teeth
and hold like a shield against the roof of your mouth.


In response to Via Negativa: Invitation to the mouth.


This entry is part 25 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13


He wrote of his commute home from the city on Valentine’s day— In the train station, men and women all rushing to dinner, to the movies, to that rendezvouz with a lover— Rushing unmindful into heartbreak, heartache, all the buds of pleasure or anticipation quivering like tiny asterisks of Gypsophila paniculata and their not-quite shadows against pale grey walls, moving filigree of arms looped around massed bouquets of flowers— Ruffled lilies, darkly gleaming roses, anthuriums raising turgid centers like batons— And there on the station platform, a young man fallen forward on his belly, in the throes of a seizure— Torso stiff, arms and legs flailing, throat constricting, mouth foaming, eyes rolled back as if in rapture— Seizing and seizing, while the faces of that horde of strangers and lovers opened in confused speech and hands wildly gestured– And all the beautiful flowers wrapped in cellophane and ribbons, those astonishing, jeweled colors, trembling as if in sympathy— And as the medics came and lifted, the train doors closing and opening, closing and opening, and the people passing in and out of the vestibule again—

~ With thanks to Wilfredo Pascual


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Zuihitsu for G.

This entry is part 26 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13


“C’est payé, balayé, oublié…
(It’s paid for, removed, forgotten…)”

~ Je Ne Regrette Rien

On Sunday, the seventh anniversary of his death, she will walk to the Delaware river, light candles, set a little cup of flowers adrift.

Wasn’t this where they dredged for his body, brought it ashore, pockets empty of identification, cleaned-out car found a week later, many parking lots away?

When I first spoke to her on the phone some years after not knowing where she had gone, I heard Gounod playing in the background.

Rain or sleet rattled on the windows; water knocked discordant symphonies against the ancient plumbing.

The years have brought no balm for me, she says; all work is sublimated grief.

I get postcards from her whenever she travels, which is often; a blanket woven from yak hair in Tibet, where she has gone to start a school for women; inks and polished bone.

Jars of grey-tinted salt from France, sun-dried tomatoes from Italy, a tooled leather folder from a workshop in the city where Dante was born.

Just this morning I was explaining allegory to my daughter: the meaning of the wood, the threshold of the crater lake, the circles upon circles of souls; the way station, the bus stop, the climb out again in search of heaven and the muse…

But always, at this time of year, my friend who has been abroad so much circles back, returns.

There is nothing I really want now for myself from this world, she writes on hotel stationery in Amsterdam, or New York, or overlooking a marbled plaza where pigeons descend to fight for bread that tourists have thrown.

Sometimes I wish to just quietly go away.

In my mind, I listen for the plink of coins in the fountains’ shallow basins: their bronze arc in the air, their weight in impossible wishes softened by a film of green moss covering the stones.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Nuthatch calls to nuthatch, wren to wren—

This entry is part 28 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13


and the limpid silence in between is a braid
that proves there is no difference: there is pain
anywhere, and there are brief moments made
of flame. You feed me soup or bread, then
kiss the tips of my fingers. And yes, I am afraid
when the wind’s dark voices warn that we won’t finish
what we started— Ardent love, wild hope: don’t vanish.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 29 of 29 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2012-13


The letter I found was bone-yellow, blue
ink crusted grey on flimsy paper. Dear Uncle,
wrote his niece: we are well, we are taking kindly
to farm life. Away from the city, the children
are thriving. I let them play in the fields
with no fear they might get lost or run
over by speeding cars. My eldest boy goes
fishing with his father on weekends. They bring
back fish still thrashing in the pails. We hope
someday you will be blessed with children of
your own—

And in the last paragraph she asks about me,
ghost child of a publicly nameable father, child
of my mother’s hidden sister: little solemn one
in photographs the color of old maps, clutching
a spray of flowers and a doll. Some things,
even unknown, are true; some things lend
shade to the length of a life.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.