In my last post I introduced you to Dave Bonta, a poet and literary magazine editor from the eastern edge of western Pennsylvania, and his must-read blog Via Negativa, which posts poems, photos, essays, etc. I also mentioned that there is microblog companion site called The Morning Porch. Here Dave posts short (140 character) descriptions and poems; these in turn have been used as prompts by master poet Luisa A. Igloria who writes a poem every day mostly in response to Dave’s observations at The Morning Porch but sometimes (as you’ll see below) in response to other prompts. If you thought you misread the above statement, let me repeat: Luisa A. Igloria has written a poem every day for almost two years now.
It all began on November 20, 2010, when Dave posted this observation on The Morning Porch: “Dawn. In absolute silence, a pileated woodpecker hitches its way up a locust trunk, silhouette pivoting like a pawl on an invisible ratchet.” And Luisa turned it into a poem:
Dawn: in absolute silence,
a pileated woodpecker
hitches its way up
a locust trunk, silhouette
pivoting like a pawl
on an invisible ratchet—
consider this early
summons, this parking
before the hubbub
Luisa A. Igloria
I asked Luisa to share some of her favorite posted poems, to which she replied, “I’m hard pressed to identify a poem ‘favorite’— like being asked to choose which of your children you love the most!”
About the poem-a-day routine, Luisa says “what I’ve come to do in this daily poem ‘discipline’ is actually a lot of playing. One of the most important lessons I learn from doing this may sound over-simple but I find oftentimes it’s the hardest thing to do: letting go.”
I am so happy to share some of Luisa’s poems with you. I hope they inspire you as she has been inspired to write prose poems, ghazals, and abecedarians, reverse abecedarians, and many other poems.
(after Roberto Bolaño’s “A Stroll Through Literature”)
1. I dream of blood that wells from a cut, uncoils its wavelengths of sequestered light,
turns more solid than the furniture in my house.
2. In my dream it is Lent, just like it is right now. Guardia civil are herding babaylanes
into yellow Humvees. Their bandannas, knotted under the chin, catch the glow of sunset.
The vehicles rev up and head toward the hills. When the dust settles, the townsfolk find
they cannot erase the ancient writing that has formed beneath tire tracks. It becomes
their new epic poem. They will read it every year. Movie producers will come to film it.
3. In my dream it is still Lent. Which can mean any of a number of things: penitents
stripped to the waist, their heads wrapped in sack-cloth, their brows circled with crude
vines or barbed wire. Their backs: red labyrinths, ladders gorged with flame.
4. In another dream all the lilies have open vestments. The children come to gather
pollen in their cups. Every eyelid will be streaked with gold, every finger outlined with
5. I dream that in the ruined chapel, above carpets of moss, a cherub ziplines toward me
from the belfry. When was the last time you washed your face? I ask my soul. It likes to
play in the mud, where it is cool. It hangs its head to one side; it doesn’t like to brush its
6. Donde? Aqui, aqui.
7. In this dream, I knock on the door of room after room until I come to the one where
Prinsipe Florante is lashed to a tree, bemoaning his fate. If I turn the right combination
of locks hidden in the leaves, we will understand each other perfectly, in monorhyming
quatrains filled with lyric and metaphor. And the lion will slink back into the darkness
from which it came.
8. In this dream I gently cover the woman’s mouth with my hand, lead her into a
room which has temporarily been stripped of all reminders of her sons; I bathe her fevered
brow with water. If you lived her story, you too would be crazed. Later in the night, the
oil lamp that should have ignited the revolution the first time, will burn down the
9. In this dream it is many years since you have touched me. By this I mean the premises
have fallen silent. Sometimes it is not a dream.
10. The poet leaves: she is outcast from her hometown. Does she drink? Chew betel nut
leaf? Swear like a cargador at the pier? Gamble away her children’s inheritance? Smoke
cigars with the lit end in her mouth? Take lovers, including her maid? Wear only pants?
Burn her bra? You have no imagination if you think this is all it takes to be a poet.
Luisa A. Igloria Posted on March 25, 2012; in response to small stone (71), which appears on Seon Joong’s (Thus) blog. Also, Luisa’s poem was in turn used as a “curated prompt” in the May issue of The Lantern Review.
(after Beth Adams)
The only ones I knew, those that fringed the man-made lake in my hometown,
interspersed with red bottlebrush trees.
I used to have a sepia print made by an artist friend who just passed away— The woodcut
showed rowboats on choppy water, the City Hall in the distance; and, distinct at the edges
of the frame, the long-fingered leaves of willows.
In their shade, early mornings, an elderly Chinese man came to lead T’ai Chi exercises:
single whip, warding off, cloud hands, wild horse spreading mane. Shoes made no sound
on the grass.
This is my dream painting: shot through with yellow gleam of lamplights, shadows
hunched or hugging their knees like granary gods.
Moss lining the undersides of jagged stones— so even here, it might be possible to say
there is still kindness to be found.
Is this what you mean? I’ve decided to stop knotting up my questions and lobbing them
like weapons into the trees.
The sky at night can be the color of ash, can be the color of burnished metal.
If the nest is a purse, then it is so high up in the branches I could not possibly plunder it
or probe its depths.
Dear mystery: daily, night after night, I think you’re testing me; I won’t fight with you
Branches sough, and shapes of leaves shift in the wind. One by one my daughters will fly
Lit, candles burn down into bowls of liquid wax, even as their smoky fragrance lingers.
Tell me in your own time what you want to say.
Luisa A. Igloria Posted on July 24, 2012; in response to Cassandra Pages: Night Willow
Night Heron, Ascending
Through the window by my desk, I see a poem light in the branches
of a tree. It roosts awhile, then leaves— Night heron, ascending.
My friend thinks it an omen for something good and rare. I regard the question
mark of its neck and back, its feathered cap streaked with pale saffron, ascending.
Last season’s big storm flung a nest with young herons to the ground.
Perhaps this is one of them, out of the rhododendrons ascending.
In The Conference of The Birds, what fate befalls it as the flock undertakes
the journey? A blur past oak, ash, and willow; past reddened crags, ascending.
From that height, boats are specks on the water, and we, even smaller.
Which dark craft at the river’s mouth is Charon’s, swiftly descending?
In this summer light, some things look struck by gold: mythic, emblematic.
Portentous spirit, wings outlined with neon— tell me of ascending.
Luisa A. Igloria Posted on July 1, 2012; in response to an entry from the Morning Porch. This entry is part 7 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012
Overheard lunchtime conversation: Longing is a color, just as much as a state.
And as I turn to the window, goldfinches pass through the trees like a yellow wind.
Along the boardwalk, shops sell puka shell bracelets, batik sarongs, T-shirts silkscreened
Virginia is for Lovers. Skateboarders on the street, zipping by like day-glo wind.
See the parasailers aloft in their tethered vests. Waves roll in and crash, then roll out
again. The beach is dotted with collapsible tents, ochre-striped flaps open to the wind.
From someone’s radio, the dance theme from Slumdog Millionaire. I’m seized by
a craving for lemon rice, mango chutney, some hint of chillies and saffron in the wind.
Some days are impermeable, asbestos. Other days spontaneously combust. The thing is,
there’s no warning panel with lights flashing yellow, no siren blaring into the wind.
Amarillo‘s another name for the blossom of the Caraiba, Tabebuia, or Araguaney:
long-throated flowers emerge after leaves have shed, rustling like gold foil in the wind.
Dear sunflower, you are too faithful, following that scorcher all day— Has he ever
bent to kiss your hot golden head? No? But rain’s been kind; and the cool wind.
Luisa A. Igloria Posted on July 15, 2012; in response to an entry from the Morning Porch. (This entry is part 18 of 47 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2012)
Ghazal of the 1 o’clock caller looking for Pomona
The shadow of a tiger swallowtail crosses my legs; I’m in the sunroom, reading,
when the phone rings. It’s 1 pm. There’s a man on the other end asking for Pomona.
His voice isn’t urgent or pleading, just a little gravelly, and matter-of-fact.
I tell him there is no one here by that name. But he simply insists, Pomona.
For a minute I consider asking him if he knows that is the name of the goddess
of fruitful abundance; in tapestries she presides over a cornucopia: Pomona.
But I hang up after saying Sorry, wrong number, and think no more of it. Until
the very next day at 1 pm, the phone rings again and it’s him, asking for Pomona.
And it goes on for weeks after this. I’m convinced even on days when I’m not home,
the yellow phone in the sunroom rings at 1 pm: it’s the caller looking for Pomona.
I’ve tried to tell him to stop calling, that no other woman lives here but me. I
write poems. I grade papers. I don’t make enough money. My name is not Pomona.
The teakettle whistles on the stove in alarm. I butter my toast and spoon
some apricot jam, wondering if they’re friends or lovers, this man and Pomona.
I’ll stop sometimes when I’m out in the city: that dark-haired woman running
in the rain, into the arms of a man at the stop— is that him, is that Pomona?
I water orchids in the sunroom, straighten books on shelves; dust photographs
of my daughters when they were younger. Do any of them resemble Pomona?
She married Vertumnus (the goddess, I mean; not this mystery girl): he tricked her,
disguised as an old woman. I wonder what she’d look like in drag, this Pomona?
Call the police, my friends say; call missing persons. But I’m hesitant. Did she
want to be found, did she want to disappear? Ah this man, this caller. And Pomona.
~ with thanks to Tammy Ho Lai-ming for the germ of the story
Luisa A. Igloria Posted on May 18, 2012; in response to an entry from the Morning Porch. (This entry is part 36 of 54 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2012)
Road Trip, ca. 1980
Zigzagging up the mountain road, wonder why
you see only sparse cover of pine— dry
xylem of plants that knew more succulence
when waterfalls cleft rocks and veiled our
vision briefly as buses veered close in their
upward climb. Difficult to fall asleep on
the six to seven hour trip, the driver’s
stash of Betamax tapes playing musicals or
Ronnie Poe and Joseph Estrada action films.
Quiet chatter and endless snacking,
punctuated by the occasional query
on how far away the rest stop is.
Next town’s not it, so another hour
maybe, before they let us file out,
list toward the bathrooms. Had I
known, thirty years ago, that meant
just a slab of concrete on chilled ground,
I might have been better prepared to squat,
half on tiptoes while on my haunches, pee
guttering in a channel from a row of women
fixing their eyes on the horizon. Au naturel.
Evening quickly masks the scene. There’s a pump
damp with running water where we wash. The driver
cuts up meat and drinks a cup of coffee. We eat.
Before getting back on the bus, someone sneezes:
a fifteen minute wait, as superstition dictates.
Luisa A. Igloria Posted on January 19, 2012; in response to an entry from the Morning Porch. (This entry is part 29 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12)
Luisa A. Igloria is the author of The Saints of Streets (forthcoming from the University of Santo Tomas Press, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. She teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program . Since November 20, 2010, she has been writing (at least) a poem a day at Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa site.
For a look at more of her poems as well as an interview with Luisa, you may want to read Marly Youman’s blog The Palace at 2:00 a.m. Also, in the aforementioned article (“Curated Prompt: Luisa A. Igloria–‘Poetry as Speculum'”) in The Lantern Review, Luisa talks about writing poetry as being archeological in nature, and she gives examples of how she has been able to mine experiences and history for her work.
When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, Luisa cooks with her family, hand-binds books, listens to tango music, and keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings.
Do you think you’d be interested in using Dave’s morning musings as a prompt for your writing? Well, you can. As Dave explains, “I welcome this, and my copyleft license explicitly permits such remixing. I would encourage anyone who leaves such a poetic comment to subscribe by email to any subsequent updates, so if, for example, a linked verse sequence kicks off, you’ll know about it in time to take part.”
What is Dave’s Copyleft statement? All content by Dave Bonta at The Morning Porch is licenced for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike U.S. 3.0 license.
BTW, the illustration at the top of this post is the header to Dave’s site The Morning Porch. It’s from a detail of “Paper Garden” by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
I am also taken with a quote Dave uses at the top of his site; it’s by Paul Éluard: “There is another world, but it is in this one.”
Thanks so much to Luisa A. Igloria for sharing these poems and to Dave Bonta who inspires us.
marly youmans says
Lovely to see this introduction to Luisa’s daily poems–a good signpost to more.
Ellen Beals says
Thanks for your comment. I agree! I hope more people discover the poetry of Luisa A. Igloria and Dave Bonta — I am a fan.
Robbi Nester says
Every day I have been receiving Luisa’s and Dave’s Via Negativa posts by email, until it is almost as part of my day as breakfast. If it suddenly stopped, I would feel bereft.
Ellen Beals says
Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope more people discover the great poetry Luisa and Dave are producing. I know I am always in awe of Luisa’s poems and Dave’s too — he has been doing a Pepys erasure project that is very entertaining. Thanks again for writing!