Sunday, May 24, 2015

Yesterday I mowed grass while wearing a winter coat. The machine was an old non-self-propelled push mower requiring considerable yanking and pushing and muscular commitment, the grass was tall and springy and combative, and the coat was zipped up to the neck. People should think twice before moving to green lands filled with lilacs and birdsong.

And this morning the temperature again sits at 30 degrees. According to the weather report, it's supposed to rise to 74, but who could believe such lies?

I'll tell you what creature likes this weather: rhubarb. It is this week's garden star, plump and flourishing amid the stones. One might mistake it for a Benevolent Leader.

Need any rhubarb?

I'm not actually as grouchy as I sound. I'm not actually grouchy at all. The blossoms in my yard are stunning, and there are no weeds in my tidy planted garden, and I've kept up with the mowing and the pruning, and the clotheslines are filled with clean towels, and the pets prance on the sward.

I would like to be warmer, but if I were warmer, the blackflies would bite me and the poison ivy would spread. C'est la vie in the garden that is not Eden.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Fate goes ever as fate must."

--Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney


Here in central Maine, on the nominal first weekend of summer, the thermometer stands at 30 degrees, the skies are the alien blue of a white cat's eyes, and a wild cold gale is tearing at the buds and blossoms.


I dreamed a poem last night, a poem full of anger and wind.


"Time and again, when the goblets passed
and seasoned fighters got flushed with beer
they would pledge themselves to protect Heorot
and wait for Grendel with whetted swords.
But when dawn broke and day crept in
over each empty, blood-spattered bench,
the floor would be slick with slaughter. And so they died,
faithful retainers, and my following dwindled."

--Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney


"Exactly right takes many, many elements into account: definition, connotation, sound, cadence, visual appearance, even the poet’s private associations with the word. For instance, if you were to note the words dawn or sunrise or rosy-fingered in my poems, you would not be wrong to suspect a personal resonance, any more than I am wrong to suspect a parallel resonance in Robert Frost’s many references to snow and ice. Our names, after all, are among the oldest echoes in our own minds. 'Where was the child I was, / still inside me or gone?' asked Pablo Neruda in The Book of Questions."

--Dawn Potter, The Conversation: Learning to Be a Poet


"But when dawn broke and day crept in
over each empty blood-spattered bench,
the floor would be slick with slaughter."


"Where was the child I was,
still inside me or gone?"

Friday, May 22, 2015

Last night, more or less on the spur of the moment, my band performed at an open mic at the Lakeshore House in Monson, Maine, a restaurant/bar so close to the edge of Lake Hebron that it looks like it might be in danger of falling in. To my surprise, the place was sardine-packed with people. It was so full that we had trouble getting our cases in through the door.

We were scheduled to play five songs, but then, as I'd already pointed out to the boys in the band, we'd have to leave because I had to go pick up my kid, who'd been away overnight at a Maine Junior Classical League Convention (aka Latin Camp, aka The Only High School Activity That Is Nerdier Than Math Team). But it was an open mic, right?, so someone else would be champing to perform, right? That's how it works at poetry open mics anyway.

What happened, though, is that we turned out to be a hit, and the sardine-crowd clapped and cheered and whistled and begged begged begged for more, and the owner offered us a paying gig, and the boys were smitten with performance glory, and I had to drag them away after ten songs and was almost late for the Latin Camp bus.

As I was adding wailing fiddle solos to Hendrix songs in front of a lot of happy people with beers, Tom was giving a successful and well-attended artist's talk at the Maine Media Workshops gallery in Rockport and Paul was gloating over his SAT scores and reliving the glory of placing first in a 13-school Latin poetry translation contest. In real life, Tom fears and despises public speaking, and Paul has never said a single word to me about Latin poetry. Everyone's night was very strange.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mourning dove crooning among the pines. Apple trees glazed with pink buds. Grass overrun with violets. Air scented with plum blossoms. Temperature: 40 degrees, because not everything can be perfect.

Yesterday I planted potatoes and picked nettles (carefully). I'm sure you're tired of recipes so I will only mention the polpettone we had for dinner: beef rolled up around caramelized onions, fried nettles, and slivers of home-pickled hot peppers, with a side of quinoa and a salad of roasted parsnips and carrots tossed with chervil.

I am reading Margaret Drabble's The Middle Ground and Anonymous's Beowulf, composing intros for Frost Place readings, finishing up an editing job, and considering the viability of writing a book about poetry and music.

Viability is probably the wrong word. Maybe what I mean is possibility or suitability or would this bore my readers? or can I remember how to write?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Okay, I'm back--with a new hard drive, a sunny day, and a recipe for sorrel soup.
Go into the garden and pick a dishpan full of fresh sorrel leaves, 1 large scallion, and 5 or 6 spears of asparagus (or acquire them by nefarious or commercial means). 
Root around in your cupboards and find 1 onion and 5 red potatoes. Peel and slice the cupboard vegetables. Wash and dry the garden vegetables. 
In a soup pot, brown the onion in 3 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle with salt. Add the sorrel and stir until wilted. Toss in the sliced potatoes and let everything cook together for 10 minutes. 
Add water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil; then cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender (roughly 40 minutes). 
Meanwhile, cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces, and chop up the scallion. 
Run the soup through a food mill, using the coarsest strainer. Return it to the soup pot, add salt and pepper as needed, and reheat to the boiling point. 
Add the asparagus to the soup; continue to cook for about 3 minutes. Add the scallions and serve. 
This soup is excellent with sides of home-fried tortilla chips and a radish-turnip-carrot slaw.
Suggested experimental options: (1) Instead of a potato-based soup, make an Italian-style rice-chicken broth-parmesan version. Marcella Hazan cookbooks will give you the basic rice-soup-with-greens pattern. (2) Start with garlic instead of onion. Substitute chervil or what-have-you for the scallions. (3) Replace the sorrel with spinach and add the juice of half a lemon. (4) Add asparagus stems to the initial brew, run them through the food mill with everything else, and reserve the tips for the final serving prep. (5) Serve with a small dab of freshly made salsa. (6) Dice the onions and potatoes, mince the greens, and don't puree the soup. (7) Make the original recipe but add a half-cup of heavy cream when you mix in the asparagus.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What I'll be doing today: Planting kohlrabi, turnips, calendula, and forget-me-nots; mowing grass; weeding the herb garden; hanging sheets and towels on the line; baking rhubarb crisp; reading Beowulf and Phineas Finn; listening to a Red Sox game; vacuuming and dusting; trying not to jump when New-Haircut Son walks into the room.

What the blackflies will be doing today: Ripping small bloody holes in human flesh.


Tomorrow my computer will be going to the computer doctor, so if you do not hear from me, do not despair. Of course, New-Haircut Son is trying to make me nervous.

"It's getting a lobotomy," he says calmly.

"Oh, no!" I cry. "It won't be able to write poems anymore! It will only shop online at Walmart and play interminable rounds of Candy Crush Saga! Oh, no!"

"That's right," he says calmly.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Instead of spending today in the garden, I will be spending today at the mall, buying Paul shorts, track spikes, and [gasp] a haircut. As I far as I know, he is currently the only long-haired boy at his high school; and because his long hair is dense and curly and bouncy in a Robert Plant-like way, it is hard to overlook. On Monday, his vanished locks will be the talk of the school, no question.

I dislike the mall, but at least Bangor's is podunk and low-key. Last time I was there, the center walkway was filled with local stockcar racers and their cars--a close-up-and-personal look at painted-over Bondo, not-quite-matching spoilers, peculiar advertising, and lawn chairs. This kind of thing improves a visit to the mall, and I believe that most of the retired husbands (the ones who ordinarily spend their mall-purgatory sitting on benches or teetering on the edges of frozen massage chairs, where they chew Double-Mint gum and wait gloomily for their wives to finish up at Sears) would agree with me.