Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Out on the deck, the seedlings in my miniature lettuce garden--four brief rows of mesclun, arugula, kale, chard--have broken out into their first true leaves, tiny replicas of the plants to come. I am longing for someone to arrive at my door with an armload of lilacs. At home I would have been cutting fresh flowers every day, but all I can do now is to steal a whiff over other people's fences.

I have noticed that this town is full of mockingbirds, many of them living in the brushy areas down by the bay. A mockingbird is a bit like a socialized thrush. In Harmony, in the quiet damp of the evening, I would hold my breath, waiting to hear the invisible thrush sing. But a mockingbird flits boldly from crabapple to light post, cocking its tail and pouring out its comic repertoire. Sometimes he even seems to follow me as I walk, bouncing from tree to post to tree, crying out, "Wait! Here's another one!"

Yesterday I borrowed three more Penelope Fitzgerald novels from the library. Apparently I am in a mood. Or maybe I just need a smart woman's voice to balance out this Philip Roth novel I am reading. Sabbath's Theater is more or less an old man's version of Portnoy's Complaint. In other words, it's obnoxious on purpose, and that is tiring.

Later this afternoon I'll be heading north for band practice, so you're unlikely to hear from me tomorrow morning. I hope your day has some mockingbird in it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Heavy warm rain last night, then a rich lamplit fog, and now the sky lifting its blanket before my eyes . . .

Today I will work on Frost Place stuff--mostly writing introductions for readers, which means constructing my version of the sweetest review the poet has ever received. We don't have a great deal of honorarium money at the Frost Place, so I do what I can to make my visiting faculty feel like honored guests. And for a writer, not much feels better than knowing you've had a careful and sympathetic reader who wants to tell the world about your art.

But writing reviews takes time, and in such situations I am the opposite of a procrastinator. I'm always afraid I'm not going to give myself enough of a chance to do the best job possible. That accounts for why I'm prepping for a program that's still a month away.

The conference is, at this point, in a really good place. We are full-up with applicants, which is a great boon for our fragile budget. Of course, there's always the chance that someone will have to drop out, but we even have some wiggle room to weather that eventuality.

So, Frost Place stuff today, and a long walk, and lilacs in bloom, and a yoga class, and then homemade falafel for dinner. Maybe I should concentrate on the picaresque as a life goal.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Last night my son sent me a small essay he wrote about leaving Harmony, which he's going to transform into the script for a dance performance he's designing as his final for a choreography class. I cried, of course. He telephoned afterward, and we talked for a while, and then he started reading passages aloud from my book Tracing Paradise--passages he's planning to use as citations in a paper. As he pointed out, there aren't that many historians of Harmony around. He and I may be the only ones.

Anyway: to think that my own son will cite me in a college paper-- It's an odd feeling.

This morning I'll put in my last day of writing work with the ELL kids. And then I'll walk home in the rain. I'm feeling melancholy . . . not because of the weather--it's just another gust of homesickness and elegy. I think that sadness will never vanish.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Last night as I was making dinner (sauteed chicken breasts breaded with fresh crumbs and parmesan, oven-roasted potatoes in duck fat, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil), I decided that clank may be the top word in the English language in the category of "words that sound exactly like what they describe but also work very well as words." Of course, there are other good words in this category, such as buzz and boom, but I think clank is special because it takes into account the volume and pitch of the imitated sound as well as the sound's aural shape. Buzz makes an excellent buzzy noise but it doesn't differentiate between the varieties of buzz: e.g., the low hum of a hive of bees versus the high-pitched hum of a gnat. Boom enacts the open-ended whoosh of an explosion but not its deafening resonance. Clank, however, is exactly like a clank.

I also think sneeze is pretty good, although humans and animals have a variety of sneezes--including, for instance, the painful un-sneeze-like version that some people exhibit, when they seem to swallow the sound instead of exhaling it.

I'm eager to hear your arguments against clank. What have you got that's better?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

For some reason I slept like a drowned person last night, and now I've woken up groggy and mush-minded and generally unfit for conversation.

The sun is shining, and a sparrow is chirring. Through the window, I am watching two starlings have the bad idea of building their nest inside the neighboring house's exhaust vent.

Outside on the street corner, someone has set up tables and chairs and piles of little cups . . . yard sale items, perhaps? An event I'll need to avoid?

In the bedroom the mantel clock ticks ticks ticks ticks. Here in the main room, copies of the New Yorker and of Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater lie on the kitchen table, alongside a candle and a coffee cup. There's a stack of records on the stereo cabinet--Yo La Tengo, William Onyeabor, the Holy Modal Rounders, the Louvin Brothers. On the coffee table there's another New Yorker, a half-finished New York Times crossword puzzle, a copy of Dwell, a historical atlas of Maine, a DVD case for an Alex Cox movie titled Walker, two remote controls, a pencil, and Tom's glasses. On the table beside the window: a small lamp, an empty fruit bowl, a dish of cherry tomatoes, and a white cat.

On the floor, Tom's shoes, a copper pan filled with cat toys, a stack of last Sunday's New York Times, a red floor lamp, a black and gray rug. On the walls, a portrait of one of my great-great-great grandmothers, three of Tom's photographs (the gas station in Harmony, a pixelated beach, a woman driving a car), a bookcase filled with CDs (too many to list) and decorated with four small candles and one old camera and and a device for looking at stereo photos, a blue clock, two stereo speakers. On the low shelves: a philodendron, an orange and white tin cup filled with pencils, two library books (Skylark, Human Voices), a cribbage game, a copy of Aperture, three marble tiles, a silver reading lamp. On the high shelves: two sea shells, a baseball-sized sphere of concrete, a salad bowl, three candles, two DVDs from the library (Kubrick's The Killing, Kaurismaki's Ariel), a small TV, a tangle of wifi and router stuff and an HD box and a DVD player, a small computer printer, ten or fifteen art-photography books (Disfarmer, Arbus, Gowin, Shore, etc.), and a shelf of records (too many to list).

Now the white cat jumps off the table, and the day begins.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Yesterday was our first (possibly our only?) hot, hot day . . . a day for ice tea and linen dresses and barefoot babies in the grass . . .  a day that magically transforms cats into torpid blobs of hair . . . a day to watch overweight corgis try to drink out of water fountains . . . a day to listen to the drivers of 80s-era muffler-challenged junkers blast obscure Clash songs through their permanently open windows . . . a day to sit on a shady deck playing cribbage and losing to Tom again . . . a day to eat macaroni salad with fiddleheads and ramps, to chase away love-sick moths, to curse the repetitive jingle of the ice cream truck . . . a day to sleep without a blanket and to wonder where we stored the box fan. We may not see this day's like again.

This morning I'm off to another session at the high school. Yesterday I worked on poems with two young women, and at the end of the class, one of them crowed to her classroom teacher, "Poetry is magic!" So, needless to say, I am full of joy and pride in her happiness. Today the two girls and I will sit together and go through our "two stars and a wish" revision conversation. Frost Place alums know that phrase as a shorthand version for "what do I notice? what do I wonder?" I am excited to hear these young women--one from Burundi, the other from Iraq; both so homesick; both still living with the shock of war and displacement; both overflowing with the smoldering emotions of adolescence--ask each other those questions about their work.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Yesterday I was invited to co-direct the 2017 Kauffmann Summer Writing Seminar, a brief but free experiential learning opportunity for Maine high schoolers. The focus will be on environmental writing, intermingled with sea kayaking and camping overnight on an island; and I will get to take charge of the workshops while my co-director, the poet/musician/teacher Ian Ramsey, takes charge of the kayaking, etc. I'm excessively pleased about this opportunity, even though my kayak skills are rudimentary and I will undoubtedly be awake all night wondering why I always manage to arrange my sleeping bag on rocks and roots.

Such a pleasant invitation was a sweet distraction from the presidential scandal du jour. I am so glad to have a fresh chance to spend time with kids. As my younger son said to me tenderly over the phone, "I know you miss us." Indeed I do.

Today the temperature is forecast to rise to over 90 degrees . . . an unbelievable change from last week's perpetual 40-degrees-and-rain. Most of my summer clothes are still folded up at the bottom of trucks, so I hope I can find something decent to wear to school today. The cat is already torpidly arranged on his yellow chair, and Tom is loading his water bottle with ice cubes, and I am imagining macaroni salad with ramps and fiddleheads for dinner. Maybe we can climb out the window and sit on our teeny deck and listen to the passing motorcycles blast "Honky-Tonk Woman." Guys on motorcycles really love the Rolling Stones.