I love porches, and have since childhood. I love porch sitting, porch reading and even porch painting. Most of all, I love porch music. Simple or complex, played by a group or a single lonesome fiddler, it’s a delight. Even the most down-home instrument – a washtub bass, a ukelele, a buzzing, well-played comb – makes me smile.
One of my favorite musical groups is the E-Flat Porch Band from McKinney, Texas. They’ve made their way around the state for years, and it’s always a pleasure to hear them – so much so that I’ll actually get in the car and travel to have the chance. I would have introduced them to you sooner, but there hasn’t been a video available of any quality. Now there is.
As entertaining as porch music can be, other things happen on porches. People visit with their neighbors and snap beans. They discuss politics, watch the grandkids play in the yard and hope upon hope that no one comes along to remind them of undone chores. You can find breezes on the porch in summer, and watch leaves drift in the fall. You can drink coffee, check your email, scratch the dog’s ears and even take a nap, if you really trust your neighbors. Porches are for solitary dreaming and family chatter – they’re one of the semi-permeable membranes of human social life.
Recently, I discovered someone making use of his front porch in a slightly different way. Dave Bonta, photographer, writer, affable blogger and gentle curmudgeon has tucked something special next to his terrific Via Negativa. Called The Morning Porch, it’s a collection of sights gleaned from his front porch view first thing in the morning, little bits of reality captured in 140 or fewer characters and transcribed purely for enjoyment. His entries are amazingly descriptive, occasionally amusing and always of interest to someone who loves the natural world.
As I mentioned to Dave recently, I’d been pondering the matter of Lenten discipline when I stumbled onto his porch. While not strictly religious, the discipline of looking – really looking – at the world fresh each morning could be beneficial in a number of ways. So, in the spirit of appreciative emulation rather than slavish imitation, I’ve begun my own 40 days of morning-looking-around, just to see what I might see.
While The Morning Porch is Dave’s, there are plenty of porches – or at least perches – in every neighborhood. With that in mind, I’m calling my little collection A View From Another Porch. While I’ll certainly be adding new posts on other subjects throughout the season of Lent, each day an additional observation will be tucked in here. After not quite a week of looking around, I’m enjoying the discipline far more than I expected to, and I’m looking forward to continuing the heart and eye-opening exercise until Easter.
9 March ~ A rising cacophony of gulls tugs at my dreams and pulls me from slumber – an alarm unset by human hands.
10 March ~ Tethered and forlorn, the sleeping flock of boats stirs beneath a rising light, dreaming of movement, an improbable escape.
11 March ~ Close along the horizon, yellow threads of smoke lie warp to sunlight’s weft, dying distant grasses become new patterns for the day.
12 March ~ Patches of turquoise and terra cotta cloud float across the water – reflected, watery gems strung along a heavy, silver sky.
13 March ~ Raucous and demanding, the bluejay calls in flight. Responsive and dependable, I lay shelled pecans along the railing. We know one another.
14 March ~ Puzzled by my rising, the calico prowls and poses at the window, sniffing for the dawn. Across the still-dark room I whisper, “Time changes”.
15 March ~ Whorls of wind-blown pollen skim across the water and splash onto the shore, a sheen of green potential draped across the rocks.
16 March ~ Unmoving and silent beneath a dense and overspreading fog, the world crouchs and waits, daring the creatures of the day to cross her path.
17 March ~ A sharp chitter and chirring of sparrows streams from the heart of the ficus, tiny jackhammers of sound breaking silence into bits.
18 March ~ Motionless as decoys, mallards drowse away the dawn. Even the gossipy female tucks her head, floating silent and still on a shining pool.
19 March ~ Roils of seagull laughter bubble up and flow into the silence, tumbling, infectious cascades of chatter demanding, “Look at me! Look at me!”
20 March ~ Spreading sunlight warms the palms, coaxing the doves to life. A lifted wing, a murmured endearment and they face the day, gentle and serene.
21 March ~ Puffed up with pride in their cottony finest, cloud families stroll the morning’s turquoise boulevards, wispy hands entwined.
22 March ~ A xylophone of masts stirs to life beneath the rising breeze, their tinkling halyards tuned to echo childhood’s long-forgotten song.
23 March ~ Only a lightening sky suggests the dawn while a single, metronome sparrow ticks off the minutes until true sunrise. Chirp Chirp Chirp Chirp
24 March ~ Gray skies, gray water, gray-green trees in the half-light. Wrapped in a chrysalis of gray the world waits to split open into sunlight.
25 March ~ Huddled beneath the cactus pads a single clover blooms, fragile as sugar spun beneath the spines but safe, a bit of determined pink and white.
26 March ~ A jangle of chain, a rush of wings and harsh, metallic complaints sundering the silence – dogs walk, and the night’s last heron retreats.
27 March ~ Dark skies, dark water, shadowless trees and silent birds. A single light clicks on, filling the void with a glimmering affirmation of life.
28 March ~ Unexpected, rushing down from the clouds like a sudden, northern sigh, the wind writes its will upon the water and is gone.
29 March ~ Sad, iridescent rainbows swirl and twist along the water’s edge, their oily sheen arching behind a rain of human carelessness.
30 March ~ Cold and bereft, scoured dry even of dew by a rising northern wind, the world grieves her loss – the longed-for rain has passed her by.
31 March ~ Shining and silver, glass minnow schools shatter and scatter across the water’s surface, their shush of sound an obbligato to the morning.
1 April ~ New pads crown the spineless cactus, their thick, green thorns as soft as kittens’ fur. Touching them, I hear nature’s voice: “April Fool!”
2 April ~ A familiar, rhythmic drumming pierces through early bird chatter. Scanning the forest of masts I wonder – would a woodpecker peck that wood?
3 April ~ Irritating seagulls, indistinct colors, blurred sightlines & faded flowers – viewing the world through grumpy eyes with a broken coffee pot.
4 April ~ An unseen hand stirs the pot of fragrance simmering just out of sight: wisteria and honeysuckle, honey-sweet hawthorn, a soupçon of rain.
5 April ~ Coaxed from hiding by an incessant wind the sandbars emerge, crouching by the bulkheads like great, gentle creatures of the depths.
6 April ~ A bluejay pair flies low and fast, silent streaks of blue swirling around the feeder.Their to & fro tells the tale – new parents on the wing.
7 April ~ Two hours until midnight. Herons call across the darkened water, startled and alert, beginning their own new day under the slivered moon.
8 April ~ Flashing indigo in the sunlight, the bunting lands, turns, preens and is gone, a tumbling jewel in search of the perfect setting.
9 April ~ Weariness, stiffness, twinges and pain – a lavish bouquet of morning afflictions embellishes the window and obscures the view.
10 April ~ Insistent and sweet, a froth of calling doves pours across the rich and fragrant darkness. I sip the silence through their sounds.
11 April ~ Like a mournful dove crossing a dry and dusty water dish, I begin my own morning trek and wonder: does a watched cloud ever drizzle?
12 April ~ Dusted and swept by the wind the world shimmers and shines, its sunlight and shadows, edges and angles a ready stage for dramas of the day.
13 April ~ Like cellophane crinkling or a creak of gravel underfoot, the tiny sound suffuses morning’s hush – the sparrows are cracking their seed.
14 April ~ Tumulous cumulus, sodden and gray, pile and tumble and whip through the skies, filled with abandon, abandoned by rain.
15 April ~ Like cool cloths on a fevered brow, the morning’s dew and tender light relieve symptoms but never cure – the prescription is for rain.
16 April ~ No need to turn, to rise and look – morning cold drifts through my window, a still and smoke-smudged Autumn come to visit Spring.
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20 thoughts on “Porch Poetry”
When I was still a Catholic and observing Lent, a movement was beginning toward making the season more positive, rather than a time to “give something up.” I think your beautiful morning observations celebrate that idea.
Loved the YouTube video, too.
If you’re near a high school tomorrow morning, you’ll hear the Monday-after-Daylight-Savings-Time-begins grumbling. I’ll hear it from one teen, but hearing the chorus would really be a treat!
I do have a high school close by, but those high-schoolers are going to have to work to outdo me in the daylight-savings-time-grumpiness department. Since I work by the sun, it’s a real adjustment. Home later, supper later, and all that. It means I have to be more organized in the morning to make things roll smoothly at night.
I’ve always appreciated both Advent and Lent. They feel like times-out-of-time to me, opportunities to discover things I didn’t know. Already the discipline of looking has revealed how deeply a part of my life the bluejay has become. He lives about two blocks away, and starts to call when (I presume) he leaves his tree. When I first hear him, I have just enough time to get the pecans and get them lined up for him. I can’t just put them out, because the pigeons will gather around. I don’t have anything against pigeons, but they’re sure not eating my pecans!
Glad you’re enjoying the exercise! Welcome to the small stones movement. (And thanks for the link and kind words — I’m honored.)
A blogging friend joined in the practice of writing daily “small stones” in January. I read her entries, and muttered a little in her comments about “maybe” trying it, “someday”, but I made no connection between that movement and what I’m doing here until you reminded me. Thanks for the link – there’s nothing quite like discovering the obvious!
And I must say, there’s nothing like starting each day with a bit of thought and a few words. I’m so glad I discovered your site.
Well, I loved the links. Small stones movement sounds very interesting (concentrated, like haiku in its way). The E-Flat Porch Band reminds me–it must be about time for you to pull up stakes for a bit and make your annual Blues run…
Porches are amazing spots. The best one in my memory belonged to my grandmother’s aunts. It stretched all the way around their late Victorian home, was wide, shady, and best of all, directly opposite the Reviewing Stand for the Memorial Day Parade in their town–which we attended religiously. Lemonade, iced tea, and a marching band. Didn’t get much better than that!
Love your blue jay–yep, he knows you!
I think the small stones movement is spreading. I don’t know if the 140 character limit is Twitter-based, but I wouldn’t be surprised. In any event, it’s a nice coincidence. And while I enjoy reading haiku, when I’ve tried writing them I end up thinking more about the structure than the words. This feels a bit more congenial.
I can see that porch! The wrap-arounds were the best, because you always could find a shady spot. I could be happy with a tiny bungalow or cottage, if it had such a porch. And what luxury, to be able to watch parades from its comfort. We had to go downtown and stand along the street – although we did get lemonade and iced tea afterward. And sugar cookies, snickerdoodles and macaroons, but no chocolate chip cookies. (Writing that, I wondered if I’m so old chocolate chips hadn’t been invented yet. I went and looked, and in fact we arrived at about the same time – chocolate chips in 1940, me in 1946. It’s never occurred to me I’m almost older than chocolate chips!)
Maybe that bluejay calls because he fears I’m so old I won’t remember him unless he reminds me. ;-)
Your title reminded me of the scene in The Notebook where Noah is reading Walt Whitman on the porch with his dad.
What a perfect reference. I didn’t remember the poem, but found that it was “Continuities”:
Even if I hadn’t decided to “look”, that passage would have been an invitation to do so!
Thanks for stopping by. You’re always welcome!
I love your reflections – they are beautiful!
Thank you so much. And how nice to see you again!
Splendid idea! I do love me some porch sitting. When weather permits, we do quite a bit of it – morning coffee/tea and evening wine. It’s good for what ails you.
Loved the video and thanks for the links.
I thought about you when I made mention of porch painting. Doesn’t that seem a long time ago!? It won’t be long before your porch-sitting weather will be dependable again, rather than catch-as-catch-can. And it absolutely is a dependable cure.
Glad you enjoyed the video. They do a version of “Rivers of Texas” that just can make me weep for pleasure. Maybe I’ll try and get permission to use the music and make my own video – you’d like it!
Lovely idea, to pause, look, let the sweet rain of the world around us sink in — thank you, Linda. (Am looking forward to the video when I’m in a quiet place of my own.)
Too often we equate discipline with punishment or enforced obedience. But it also can mean “training that molds character or behavior”. My suspicion is that it can mold other things, as well.
You’ll enjoy the music – I enjoyed having you stop by.
If you love the washtub bass and the comb music, surely you also love the saw, Linda. We had a man in our church, while we kids were growing up, who would play some old hymn during the service…like “The Old Rugged Cross…from time to time. I will never forget it. In fact, it lingers on a list of things I’d like to learn.
The thing I like about your Lenten list is that it’s manageable. You can do anything for 40 days. Actually, when I was in massage school years ago, I remember saying I could do anything for a year. 40 days is a doable goal. So maybe the thought will catch on for me for Advent…or next Lent…or somewhere in between where I can set my own parameters. I like that kind of challenge…so the inspiration ripples out and touches me. :)
“You can do anything for 40 days…” Ha! Theoretically. There’s always chocolate. Of course, that’s made more difficult by the fact that every store in the world starts loading its shelves with the stuff even before Ash Wednesday.
I had a friend a long time ago who believed Lent and Advent were meant to be times of discernment, not teeth-gritting denial. I’ve always remembered that. It’s a fact that too much of what passes for religious discipline ends up focusing our attention on ourselves, our successes and failures. Not exactly the point of the exercise. I don’t have a clue what others would say, but I personally like waking up and thinking, “What will I see in the world today?” rather than “How am I going to get through another day without chocolate?”
The saw is wonderful. I’ve never seen someone play one live! I suppose that’s why it didn’t make the list. But if I see a saw concert, you can bet I’ll be there!
I like this kind of tweet. These are uplifting and deep, like haiku. To pay attention to what is around, and to use words sparingly, what could be more important for a writer? and a reader too. I had trouble with Dave’s “follow” page, but maybe my Internet is off the porch …
I envy you your front porch. We have a side porch, and I do love it in nice weather. But there are no neighbors who sit on it. I grew up with a big front porch where my big family sat and watched thunderstorms approach and then release. I lived my whole life there in the summer when I was home and up.
While I think of my blog as a front porch of sorts, where friends come and chat, I also value the good ole real thing with all the sensory realities and community support.
Ah, my “porch” is metaphorical, I’m afraid. It’s a balcony, and two stories up, so the only folks I get to wave to are the seagulls and pelicans – and the birds I entice with pecans and bread. But porches have been an important part of my life, and substitute-porches. Even when I was living on board a boat, the impulse toward gathering was strong. The liveaboards would gather in the evening on a common patio, and watch the world go by. Even in an anchorage, folks will hop in their dinghies and travel to other boats, just to hang on and chat for a bit. I’m convinced it’s primal.
I have a friend who refers to her “blog-porch” regularly. And she contends that porches are important because they allow us not only to socialize but to do so in safety. After all – we have that house behind us, and we always can go in and shut the door if we feel the need.
Haiku and tweets – isn’t it amazing how much can be said, with so little?
This is the most fun and a lovely Lenten “task” (tho’ quite the contrary, really – how nice to observe and then write it at first light every day)!
I adore your bluejay references. He’s cousin to the crow, which makes me understand your shared culture connection. Crows (and family) do that; they are one of the few animal/bird cultures that impact us culturally and vice versa. I must try out that pecan bit. And then take some time off to watch them.
And your lines about waking in the still dark room and whispering “time changes” to the cat. Just. so. nice. lovely.
I’m afraid I did not say nice things on Sunday (last) with the time change. And in fact, I refused all the day long to embrace what the clock had to say and only reset ONE of the several of ’em in this house!
I have to think about this porch idea since I am so fond of the one you define as yours (being on the water).
I’m never so aware of the light as I am in the days after the time change. The clock may say 6 pm, but I “feel” it’s 5. It takes a good week or two for the adjustment to happen. Given a choice between a chronometer and a kairometer, I’ll take the latter every time – even though the joke, of course, is that kairos can’t be captured and metered.
My little “task” already has yielded two interesting insights. One is that it’s quite nice to begin the morning not thinking at all of the day’s “list”, but simply looking about to see what’s happening in real time, in the real world.
And then there’s this: when I sit down and try to “write poetry”, I mostly freeze. When I just look around and describe what “is”, it’s far more poetic.
There’s a lesson there, for sure, but having noticed it, I’m not going to think about it too much. I’m just going to wait for today’s dawn and see what’s out there. ;-)
I live in an apartment in Edinburgh, no porch unfortunately! However when I lived in Malawi we had a wonderful porch with a view through bougainvillea plants down the hill to Lake Malawi. We spent a lot of time there just watching….
I always like to sit and pay attention, there’s so much to notice in nature if we give it the time.
Thanks for visiting my blog by the way!
Crafty Green poet
I just saw that singer Annie Lennox will be speaking about a recent trip to Malawi in Scotland – the article mentioned “special ties” between the two countries. That is a surprise to me. Not that there shouldn’t be such ties – I only didn’t know they existed. I spent some time in Liberia and we had our own view through the bougainvillea, although our sights were not so lovely as yours, I suspect. We were treated to more green, dusted with laterite from the roads.
It’s the combination of sitting, seeing and paying attention that is so productive. There’s not a thing wrong with just sitting, sometimes, but paying attention does yield such lovely rewards.
Isn’t oh wonderful for introducing us to each other?
These are no ‘small stones’. They are gems, Linda. When I first read your mention of 140 characters, of course I thought of Twitter right away. And Dave might have created a new genre of writing, poetic tweets, or twittering poetry. But porch poetry is most delectable. No matter what they’re called, they are a breeze of poetic air through the tiny window of short messaging.
I’ve never had any porch experience. How I envy those who have a porch, and the time, and the quietness, and the neighbors to just sit and chat. Well, to me it sounds very American, Cape Cod style houses, large lawns, or maybe in the South, like a scene from To Kill A Mockingbird. But since you say it can be metaphorical, then my closest equivalent to porch experience would have to be … yes, our leaving comments on each other’s blog. Alas, how I wish we could do this actually sitting on a porch enjoying nature’s offerings, and not through our computers digitally!
What’s most interesting to me is that if I try to “write poetry”, I generally freeze up. I’ve got a couple of titles-plus-a-few-words in my files that I know have to be poems rather than something else, but I’ve not been able to get on with them. Once I’ve finished up with this little discipline, I’ll go back and see what happens. I may have been standing in my own way.
“Porch” is a pretty elastic term, actually. I had friends in New York who used to sit on a fire escape and talk with friends on other fire escapes. And of course there’s the roof! There’s a lot of social life that goes on atop those buildings – far more than I ever imagined.
One of my (Southern) great-aunts had a wonderful phrase – “sitting the porch”. Being Southern, she used “gallery” rather than porch, but the meaning was much the same. It always gave a bit of an active edge to the experience. And it would be fun to be able to do it in real time, wouldn’t it? Can’t you just see a group of us taking over a big, seaside house for a week? Chicken salad and lemonade for everyone!
What a splendid Lenten practice. I’ve always had issues with Lent. It’s not that I don’t want to give something up — it’s just most of the time at Lent it seems as though we’re giving up something we shouldn’t be doing anyway. Eating too much chocolate, for example. This year I decided to give up being so hard on myself. But that’s something I should be doing anyway.
But looking around, adding to your rich experience of life really seems like a far more positive and beneficial discipline — and on top of that, look at all you can see and experience! Bravo. I’ll look forward to “seeing” with you.
I still laugh when I think about our childhood “disciplines”. Giving up watermelon always was a favorite, even though there wasn’t a watermelon within a thousand miles or four months of us. Let’s face it – kids are legalistic at heart. I suppose being constrained by so many rules helped encourage the tendency. At any rate, looking for loopholes does lead to a certain kind of creativity.
I can’t help asking – if you fail at this year’s discipline, are you going to be hard on yourself? ;-)
I must say, after about day six of this I wondered, “What if I run out of things to look at?” Now, I suspect that’s going to be part of any wisdom that emerges from the experience. There’s always something there, for those who choose to look.
I grew up on a front porch. When I was a teenager I even slept out there occasionally in the summer when it was too hot to sleep in the un-air-condtioned house and not a breath of air was stirring. When did we decide it was better to have privacy on a deck in the back of the house? So much community was lost when decks and air conditioning became popular.
I have only had a front porch once in my married life, and it was a puny one. But I made it work, and it was my favorite place to sit in the summer. And my neighbors did drop by and “sit a spell” with me. We have a 3-season room here, really an enclosed breezeway, which is lovely and it keeps out the mosquitoes, but I really want a front porch that wraps around and connects to it. We live out in the country, so neighbors wouldn’t be stopping by to chat if they saw me out there, but they might wave as they drive by.
Interesting you mention decks and air-conditioning as impediments to community. That’s so true. And don’t forget privacy fences. Back in the day, we never had privacy fences. Even the hedges we chose were low-growing and always trimmed. How else would you know when to wander over to your neighbor’s for a beer?
I was a porch sleeper, too – and a cockpit sleeper in recent years. Some of my friends who grew up in Texas did us one better, though. They’d have beds dragged outdoors, under the oak trees, and go to sleep watching the stars.
Waving’s just as good as sitting, sometimes. Texans like to wave so much we do it even in our cars and trucks – at least we do in the country. When I first moved to Texas (well, rural Texas, as opposed to Houston) I didn’t have a clue what was happening. Now, whenever I get out of the metropolis and get to roam the country, I wave like crazy. It’s more like a salute, actually. You can see a photo in the link.
I saw a sign in a South Texas gas station once. It said, “Wave. It ain’t gonna hurt you none, and it might do you some good.” ;-)
Oh, I loved that piece on waving! We do that where I came from in southern Ohio, too! Everyone waves! The gentleman who owned the local grocery store always did the one-finger wave and everyone who came in contact with him at the store was addressed as “honey”. It didn’t matter if you were male or female, you were always “honey”. I think it was his way of making you feel welcome without having to remember anyone’s names. :)
I’ve always wanted a porch where I could have one of those hanging beds with mosquito netting surrounding it. Someday.
You know what’s even better than waving? Hat-tipping. The first time a gentleman tipped his hat to me after I moved to Texas, I was stunned. I was going into the post office and he opened the door and tipped his hat. And I am not lying here, when I tell you he said, “Howdy, Ma’am.” I’ll be forever grateful to him for turning me into Scarlett O’Hara for that minute. ;-)
When you get that bed and mosquito netting, be sure you also have one of those slow, rotating fans with blades made of woven palm. It’s more African Queen than Tara, but hey! They’re both good!
You made me long for a porch. I have a balcony, but that’s about it. Love your haiku-like entries, they make me want to spend my mornings at your porch. In some ways, now I probably have.
I think you’d like my “porch”, which really is a balcony. The best thing about it (apart from the view) is that my computer desk sits next to the window which opens directly onto it, so I’m only about three feet from the birds who come for their treats.
Do you suppose the birds write poetry about us?
Porches, balconies, decks, verandas – something so lovely about those words. Evocative.
Aren’t they, though? And you know, given the right climate, they’d make a wonderful place to display a few extra Buddhas, etchings, nested dolls, pieces of fabric art…. If you get my drift. ;-)
Your daily observations paint beautiful pictures, Linda. I especially liked March 19, because we, too, live in a place populated by gulls. Also: “Porches are… semi-permeable membranes of human social life.” That’s exactly how I think of them –inside and outside overlapping. Wonderful post.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It’s been interesting to see different people responding to this post or that – one likes clouds, another is more attuned to color. And the gulls seem to be everywhere. A reader in Kansas City mentioned them. Kansas City? That seems strange to me, but maybe they were on vacation.
There’s something else about porches – they seem inherently friendly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a threatening porch in my life. Deserted and sad, perhaps, but not threatening.
Thanks for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure!
Wonderful post, Linda. Porches, porch music, porch poetry and more. Where to start?
I’ve only had balconies over the years, but they can do for those purposes. Mine now has a partial view of the Andes foothills, beyond and between the high rise buildings. Loved the E-Flat Porch Band, and visited their site, too. A pity there aren’t more videos of them online. The washtub bass was interesting, but not so sure about the man with the comb. Hmm… Am in the process of checking out those blogs you give links to, so thanks.
Your porch poems seem to have a Japanese sensibility, as in haiku. Had never come across “roil” before, so looked it up in my big dictionary, but nothing. Then looked on line. Cambridge doesn’t list it, but Merriam Webster, did, but only as a verb. The listing there asks what why you’re looking it up, so I quoted the verse, complete with a link back to your blog. Here it is.
Until next time, then…
Actually, “roil” still makes me laugh because it was part of one of my earliest word-confusions: “roil” and “royal”. I learned “roil” first. My grandmother was given to asking, “Is that water roiling?” when she wanted to know how things were progressing on the stove.
Later, when Elizabeth II was crowned, there was much talk of the “Royals”, and much confusion in my young head. I’d never known people who bubbled and boiled!
I was surprised at how many of the little “poetic utterances” turned out. The limitation of the form does seems to give them a haiku-like feel. I suspect it’s the spareness.
I looked at the Merriam Webster link – that’s really cool! I didn’t realize citations could be added – and yours has already garnered a comment!
I’m glad you enjoyed the post – and yes, I do envy you the sight of the Andes from your balcony!