Monday, May 30, 2016

Killing Time

We got home late last night, greeted by a porch light and a dozen giant moths and a pair of cheerful pets. It was an odd little journey, mostly because the time schedule was so strange. We left here at 4 a.m. on Saturday, just as the dark was beginning to lighten . . . driving through the White Mountains in the fresh early morning and then along the Connecticut River. At 8:30 we dropped Paul off at the camp where he would be taking his wilderness first aid course and then we continued to wind down along the river to Hanover, New Hampshire, where we ate an enormous diner breakfast and pondered our options. The temperature was already 80 degrees and rising. We could not get into our hotel room until 3. So we Googled "Things to Do" and settled on the Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Monument.

But first we went to the used bookstore across the street [list of purchases below]. Then we got back into the car and crossed the river and drove south and then crossed the river again and found ourselves on an oddly compact Gilded Era estate, with strange shabby hedges that had classical busts poking out of them, and a replica of the Parthenon frieze along one side of the artist's studio, and sentimental Civil War-era statuary hiding behind bushes, and so on and so on. It was quite lovely and peculiar and we were very, very hot.

Then we got back into the car and wound our way up to White River Junction, which seems to be a ghost town populated by one bartender and her confidential friend. Finally, though, 3 p.m. arrived and we checked into our room, pulled the shades, and collapsed into a pre-dinner coma.

After an elaborate meal served by a coy chatterbox, we strolled through the Dartmouth campus. Many young people passed us. They were wearing odd garments, mostly in fluorescent greens and pinks and oranges. Tutus were common. I wondered if they were attending a Safety Dance. Then we returned to our hotel and fell asleep while watching something that might have been a remake of King Kong.

The next morning we again ate a large diner breakfast. We went for a walk, returned to the hotel, read the newspaper in the lobby (the Miss Manners column was particularly good), and then sallied forth again, this time to look at the Orozco murals in the Dartmouth library . . . which are magnificent and you should go look at them as well. Think "Blake's sinewy bards combined with an epic irony combined with the history of Mexican conquest." Then think "perfectly preserved frescoes in a basement."

After that experience, we were sorry to have nothing better to do than go to a terrible flea market, which was followed by a mediocre sandwich and a visit to the American Precision Museum, an old factory building full of mysterious impressive machines (1850s through 1950s) that once made a lot of stuff such as guns and sewing machines and bicycles and typewriters. We wandered through the room, cloud-like in our ignorance, admiring the shapes of devices and the fonts on labels. And then we got back into the car and slowly drove back north, listening to a crackly baseball game on the radio, observing the river, and wishing for an exciting yard sale that we never found. We did, however, look at some expensive furniture that was supposedly on sale. We managed to return to the camp at 5 p.m. and fetched our son, who told us about his weekend (fake blood, splints with sleeping pads, hypothermia treatment on the trail). As you can see, it was different from ours.

And then we drove and drove and ate pizza and drove and drove. And here we are.

* * *

Dawn's list of purchases:

October 1964 [David Halberstam's history of the 1964 World Series between the Yankees and the Cardinals. Also, the month and year of my birth, so of course I had to buy it.]

Pictures and Conversations [A collection of Elizabeth Bowen's miscellany . . . some autobiographical, some critical essays about this and that. You know how I feel about Bowen. I need to own it all.]

Doctor Jazz [First edition of Hayden Carruth's 2001 poetry collection. I talked myself out of buying two first editions.]

The Evening Star [A Larry McMurtry novel, published in 1992, and the sequel to one I read over the winter and only sort of liked. But this one could be a lot better; you never know.]

* * *

Tom's list of purchases:

Last Evening on Earth [A short story collection by Roberto Bolano, a writer whom Tom loves and I do not. However, I love Tom, so it all works out.]

A small box of prints labeled "A Special Study of Fine Art Reproductions Prepared by The University Prints, Cambridge, Mass" and including the typed insertion "HARVARD FINE ARTS 13, Professor Fo[illegible]e" [Containing a stack of black-and-white reproductions of something or other I haven't looked at yet but that Tom has apparently found entertaining and/or instructive.]

A preprinted postcard that reads, "YES! I'd like to know more about Shell Point Village. Please rush additional information to: . . . " and shows a picture of what could be a retirement village, or an island penitentiary, or a large industrial complex, and could possibly be on the Florida coast but who knows for sure [Tom has a large collection of such mysterious arcana.]

Friday, May 27, 2016

I've been slowly, very slowly, composing a series of poems written in the voice, or sometimes through the eyes, of a character named John Doe. It's been an absorbing and also a melancholy task, pushing myself to dissolve into a kind of collective Everyman sensibility, then trying to come out on the other side (to mix my metaphors) with a distilled individuality. Writing these poems feels a bit like working to embody a chemical change.

At the same time I find myself, once again, an observer of the sadness of men. As a woman writer who considers herself a feminist, I have spent an extraordinary amount of time with the literature of men. I live in a household of men. I have adored many men, and have ground my teeth in fury at their behavior, and have abased myself and bossed them around, been patient and impatient with them, been fair and unfair.

But the sadness of men . . . why does it move me so? And how is it different from the sadness of women? For it is different--a mysterious slow sea, a rocket into the dark, an energy of the hands, a grenade.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tomorrow evening Tom comes home. Simultaneously my band, Doughty Hill, will be playing at Pastimes Pub in Dover-Foxcroft, 6:30-9:30 p.m., and Paul will be running in his regional high school track finals. After a couple of hours of sleep, we will all drive to Vermont so that Paul can begin a wilderness first-aid class at 9 a.m. Then Tom and I, glassy-eyed, will park the car somewhere and fall into comas.

Which is to say: you may or may not hear from me this weekend. Ugh.

On the bright side, I will be visiting a region of Vermont and New Hampshire that I have never seen before, I will be spending two days with Tom in a place where we cannot possibly do any household chores, and I should have no trouble with insomnia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The lilacs are on the edge of bloom. The last few daffodils and tulips are fading, and the iris are beginning to bud. The grass is speckled with violets and wild strawberry flowers. If only it would rain--but all we have is fog. The garden soil is as dry as talc.

The old dog had another restless night, so I am tired. On the bright side, I did learn to make Vietnamese spring rolls yesterday, and taught a class of happy excited middle schoolers, and wore sandals, and listened to a baseball game with my son, and sat on the stoop with the cat. Small nothings that are something.

In Portland, the fog rolls in from the bay. The air smells of salt and fish and cars and restaurant exhaust. In Harmony, the fog rises from the lowlands, and the air smells of cut pine trees and diesel. I suppose I will still be sitting at a kitchen table, somewhere, at this time next year. I suppose I will still be drinking coffee and wearing my red bathrobe and thinking of poems.

Small nothings that are something.

The future is a fog rolling in from the bay. It is the scent of lilacs in a jar on my table. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder . . . there is nothing else I can do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Somewhere in my yard a bird is stereotypically remarking, "Tweet, tweet. Tweet, tweet. Tweet, tweet." I have no idea what kind of bird this might be, but like all of the birds in my yard, it is loud. By 5 a.m. the baby crows are screaming, the pileated woodpecker is wailing, the goldfinches are quarreling with the purple finches, the blue jays are cursing at each other, and the nuthatches are bouncing up and down the tree trunks: "Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep."

And now I am laughing with my son as he walks out the door to catch the schoolbus. And now I am sitting alone in my kitchen, listening to robins trill and sputter among the maples and the lilacs.

The school year is winding to a close . . . my last school year as a parent. No more emergency signing of silly forms as my child rushes out the door. No more sandwich making and last-minute track-suit laundering. No more hunts for lost books or lost phones or lost shoes or lost water bottles or lost anything else you can think of. No more frying eggs at 6 a.m. and listening to a summary of yesterday's baseball and soccer scores, or to loud explanations of why Faulkner is better than Orwell, or to rap battles from Hamilton, or to declamations from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or to angsty dramatics, or to bubbling-over epiphanies, or to political tirades, or to dumb jokes about elephants, or to ineptly performed vocal beat-boxing, or to braggadocio in the voice of the cat. No more giant spontaneous hugs. No more forgetting to say goodbye.

By this time next year, I will probably be waking up to different loud birds.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tonight my band, Doughty Hill, is unexpectedly playing at a benefit dinner at Foxcroft Academy (Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, 5-7 p.m.) for a local family who lost their home to a fire. So if you feel like eating spaghetti and listening to whatever it is we might be playing, stop by.

During the rest of the day, I will be editing a Richard Wilbur bio, planting sage and parsley, mowing grass, hard-boiling eggs, harvesting many pounds of rhubarb, and thinking about a talk on Sylvia Plath's poetry that I'll be giving at the Frost Place in June.

It has been fun watching my son sign up for his first college classes: acting intensive, dance intensive, "The History of Drama" (a combined lit/drama class), and "Shakespeare's History Plays" (a literature class). I am so happy for him--finally, he's getting the chance to live in the world he has been longing to inhabit. Meanwhile, I have a Monday of poetry and poets, and plants and music, and working with my hands and making food. I should never complain about anything ever again.

Also, there is one lovely benefit to living apart from my husband for most of the week: when we do see each other, we are starry-eyed. This is not a bad thing, given that we are fifty years old and have known each other since we were nineteen.


Driving Home

Dawn Potter

In the mirror, a hitchhiking Hasid
raises a hand, coat flying in the breeze.
Behind him the green-hazed hills
fold one upon another.
Everything is a poem.

Full as a cup,
delicate as a peeled egg,
I write my love on air,
on sunlight stealing through a murky
window, on a traveler’s windswept beard.

The distance between us narrows like a wish.
At sunset, you will step into my kitchen,
your eyes singing, “I love you.”
I am driving home to you so fast.

[from Boy Land (Deerbrook Editions, 2004)]

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A woman attends a funeral as a performer rather than a mourner and finds herself in a strange, musing position. Also, she wields strange power. In a funeral home packed with people, she begins singing "Amazing Grace." She is not an extraordinarily powerful singer, nor is her rendition unusual. Merely she can project her voice into a room and sing in tune. Nonetheless, nearly everyone weeps, and continues to weep, through the eight verses of the song.

Afterward, she sits quietly and listens to man after aging man come to the podium--bald heads, white ponytails, arthritic knees; badly fitting suits, clumsy thick shoes, Masonic aprons. They have names like Chummy, and all they want to do is talk about the old days with Bob, the old days when they weren't old men but wild boys in cars--
Remember the time we drove Bob's car so fast down that back road in a LaGrange and went into the ditch? 
Remember the time we were sitting in Bob's car drinking spiked Orange Crush behind the IGA in Sangerville and the sheriff pulled up? 
Remember the time we had that load of Milo girls in Bob's car and the Milo boys didn't like that so much and one of them shot at us?
Their daughters and sons and grandchildren laugh quietly. Their wives roll their eyes.

The woman who is not a mourner stands up, behind the family members and their instruments, and leads off with a fiddle break, then docilely sings her harmony part. "May the Circle Be Unbroken." She is not part of this circle; she is merely filler. Somehow this does not seem to matter to Chummy. He cries anyway.

Later, at the local theater, as she paces the lobby during the intermission of her son's play, a stranger accosts her. "So beautiful," he mutters and quickly walks away. He means the tears.