Saturday, September 19, 2020

Last night, Tom and I were quietly eating puttanesca and listening to the Red Sox game, when Joe and Will, the guys doing the call, suddenly interrupted their patter to announce that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died.

Hearing that she was gone was like having a rock thrown through the window. I put down my fork. I swallowed. All I could say, moronically, was "Fuck."

Yet the guys on the radio kept talking. Between balls and strikes, pop-ups to center and groundouts, they spoke of Ginsburg with sadness, with deep respect, recalling what she had done for the women in their lives, for the nation as a whole. They even, idealistically, tried to explain what they thought all Americans should do, on hearing the news of her death, which was: no matter what your political beliefs, pause and honor her well-lived life. They were hokey, but they were not circumspect. Here were two guys, whose lives center around a sport open only to men, who in a normal year avoid political commentary like it's the plague, paying homage to a great liberal justice, a great woman.

I say in a normal year. I say like the plague. Well, it's a plague year: and this is not the first time that Will and Joe have become newsmen this year rather than simply stats raconteurs. They've been monitoring the Covid situation; they've been monitoring the BLM protests; and in both cases they've revealed their staunch support for equality and for science. Joe is close to retirement; Will is a young father; both are white men, and they have stepped up, clearly to their own surprise, and become spokesmen for do-the-right-thing.

The loss of Ginsburg is devastating. But what she has left behind offers hope. Not only has she changed the trajectory of so many women's lives, but she has also served as a model of conviction and civility for men. I'm grateful for my twenty-six-year-old son, who called me at 7 a.m. this morning to mourn, who is currently sussing out the situation with his equally sad fifty-five-year-old father. And those baseball guys, Joe and Will, driving home after a game, sliding into bed with their sleeping wives: they're trying, we're trying, we'll keep on trying.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Since May, I've known that one of my manuscripts was in the running for a major poetry award, but I had to keep quiet during the judging. Today I'm thrilled to let you know that A Month in Summer was a finalist for the 2020 National Poetry Series. I send all sorts of congratulations to the winners and much joy as well to the other finalists, whose names have just been announced. Among them is my friend Julia Bouwsma, a fellow Maine poet, whose work is remarkable.

It feels wonderful to see my name on this list, but of course the manuscript is still floating around, unpublished. I wish someone would just call me up and say, "Hey! Submit it to us!" But that is as likely as finding two alligators in my basement playing blackjack.

Anyway, for the moment, I'm just allowing myself to take pleasure in having made the cut in such a big competition. I'll procrastinate a little longer, and then I'll start over again.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Not much new to report from the little northern city by the sea. Still no rain, and the sunlight is hazy with smoke from the western fires. I harvested a bushel of collard leaves yesterday, and made an angel food cake with egg whites saved up in the freezer. I shipped a batch of editing to an author and created some college-student-style tables and shelves out of various bits-n-pieces in the basement, in an attempt to make my writing/editing area somewhat more adequate. I am currently working at a standing desk stuffed into a corner of the bedroom so tightly that I can't easily open a book and open a laptop at the same time. I have to use the top of Tom's dresser as as a table top; there's nothing resembling a standard desk or chair, and no space to bring them in. I've got books shelved in an unfinished gap in the sheetrock . . . The only place in the room to sit down and read is the bed, but the bed is just a mattress on the floor and the bedside lamp has been set too low to aim the bulb at the page. It's all kind of pathetic, but at least now I've rearranged things so the lamp is high enough to cast a beam.

Somehow I've managed to keep working in these less-than-ideal conditions since March . . . though in the heat of summer I mostly just sat downstairs on the couch because the bedroom was an oven. Now that tolerable temperatures have returned, I'm trying to piece together some sort of semi-unaggravating setup. It's difficult. All of my poetry books are shelved in the room that used to be my study but is now Paul's bedroom, and Paul's bedroom is exactly what you'd expect from a 22-year-old: a chaos of stuff cast hither and yon. It's hard to believe that room ever belonged to me. And yet I was so excited about it, when I moved into it. My first room-of-one's-own. A short-lived joy.

In Harmony I had half-a-room-of-one's-own. Now I've sunk to a corner. So I keep reminding myself of those Bronte sisters, packed together in that parsonage sitting room, writing novels on their laps, as their brother screamed and threw furniture upstairs. I've got it easy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

This is probably our last eggplant of the season. Last night I fried up the slices, then quartered them and tossed them in a salad. The peppers all went into the freezer: a bag of diced sweet, a bag of diced hot. 

I've still got a few more peppers in the garden, though we're definitely on the slide into fall. But the marigolds and cilantro are going strong. I love marigolds in salads: so bright and sturdy.

Earlier in the day there were two giant pots simmering on the stove, but by this point I was just down to chicken stock. I ran the cooked tomatoes through a food mill and used them as the base for cream of tomato soup. And Tom specially requested grilled-cheese sandwiches as well, because what is better with a good tomato soup?

I did end up lighting a fire in the wood stove last night. And then Tom and I sat under the couch blanket and ate homemade ice cream and garden strawberries and listened to the Red Sox actually play well. Good pitching! Clutch hitting! What a surprise!

This morning I'm feeling as if I've had a teeny-tiny vacation: just a simple evening under a blanket; just a glass of wine with my tomato soup; just a deep sleep in which I did not dream about losing my (long dead) dog in the woods or enact any other terrible self-blaming scenario.

Today maybe I can ride this small peaceable wave a little bit longer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Yesterday all three of us were home for dinner, so I roasted a chicken, mashed a pot of Yukon Golds, made mushroom gravy and a big tomato salad, and churned vanilla ice cream for root beer floats. Given that I was frenetic all day about work, chores, the election, et al., I don't exactly know why I decided to produce such a giant meal. But by that point my high-strungness had dissipated. An hour's talk with Teresa about Blake helped a lot. So did a long walk with Tom. I feel as if every single day I need to take myself in hand: figure out a way to live. When I first moved to Portland from Harmony, I did the same thing. But then I was fighting depression; now I'm fighting dread.

Anyway: another day, another battle. It's cold this morning, 47 degrees. Over the weekend I filled the woodbox and the kindling basket, dusted off the fire tools and brought them up from the basement. So everything is ready for the first fire of the season. Last night the house was warm enough, what with the chicken-roasting oven cranking for hours. But maybe tonight will be the night I give in to coziness.

Probably I'll cook down some tomatoes into sauce today. I've also got chicken bones to boil into stock, so I might as well fill the stove with giant pots. They can sit there simmering while I'm chipping away at my editing work. The grass needs to be mowed. The endless garden watering continues. I should make an appointment for a flu shot. Maybe I'll look at that poem draft I started on Saturday.

September 15, 2020. In a few weeks I'll turn 56. By then the leaves will be glowing on the trees. Time is a strange companion. Like a corgi puppy tugging at a leash. Like a mosquito on the wall, digesting the blood it just stole from me. Like a word I don't understand.

Monday, September 14, 2020

 I've almost finished reading Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, but I'm not sure I can finish it. The book is very good, very compelling, but also extremely violent: by which I mean, a many-page description  of a heretic being burned alive, etc. And the problem with historical novels is that I know what the ending will be, and this one will end with the main character getting beheaded, no doubt in present-tense "what does it feel like to get beheaded?" detail. Can you wonder, in this season of dread, why I've become increasingly reluctant to pick up the book? And the next book on my reading list is David Treuer's The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present--also guaranteed to be a heartbreaker.

Finally, last night, I gave in and took a break from my painful list. Now I'm rereading Larry McMurtry's Texasville and feeling much better. I tell you: I was almost driven to P. G. Wodehouse. That's how gloomy my intake has been.

Today I have to work and Tom and Paul do not, so I guess we'll see how that shakes out in this tiny, hear-every-noise house. I am tired from a weekend of harvest chores and get-ready-for-fall deep housecleaning. But it all needed to get done, and it all did get done, and I'm glad, though I hope that next weekend I can maybe have a real day off.

And I did draft two pages of a new poem that is not nearly finished. So that's something too.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Another cool morning, but I managed to sleep late, so I woke up to find sunshine streaming through the windows, grey-green shadows flickering among trees and houses, squirrels bustling across the fence lines, mouths crammed with nuts from a neighbor's black walnut tree.

Yesterday was busy. I dealt with a bunch of work emails and then began a new poem, which was going along swimmingly until the phone rang and the rest of my day began. So I chatted for a long time with my Chicago son, hung sheets on the line, and then girded my loins for tomatoes. From four plants, I collected two bushels of full-sized green tomatoes, a dishpan of half-ripe ones, and a big mixing bowl full of immature ones. Then I tore out the plants, cut them into manageable pieces, and hauled them to the compost bins. I still have one plant left in the ground--a cherry tomato--because the fruit is able to ripen quickly, even in this cool weather.

What to do with all of this bounty? I started with the immature greenies, which won't keep well and have no hope of ripening. I've learned that they make an excellent facsimile of tomatillo sauce, so I diced them, spread them in baking pans, poured in some olive oil, salted them lightly, and roasted them for about an hour, until they were soft and slightly caramelized. Once they cooled, I ran them through a food mill and poured the sauce into several small freezer containers. Over the winter I'll thaw this, add fresh spices or herbs (onion, garlic, hot pepper, cilantro, roasted cumin, whatever), and use it as a finishing sauce in tacos, curries, beans, stews, etc. It adds a sharp, citrusy flavor to winter staples.

In the meantime, I made a batch of red sauce with fruit already ripening in the kitchen: roughly cut-up tomatoes, a green pepper, and a head of garlic simmered for several hours; put through the food mill; and simmered again for another couple of hours. I froze two quarts from that batch.

So we'll see how the mature greenies ripen. I'll have to sort through the bushels every couple of days, removing anything that's starting to go bad, separating out the ones that are reddening. Usually this works pretty well, as long as I keep on top of the job. My hope is that I'll be simmering a lot of sauce over the next couple of weeks. I can use as much as I can make: for pasta dishes, for soup base. I wish I could can sauce instead of freezing it, but this piecemeal ripening means I'll be working in small batches, so canning isn't practical.

While all of this was going on in the kitchen, I was also making yeast rolls and processing a giant picking of Swiss chard. It's a good thing I have a brand-new, easy-to-clean counter as well as a dishwasher that holds a lot of big pots and bowls. I ran it four times yesterday.

In short, I celebrated a full-blown farmwife day, here in my tiny vegetable plot in a city by the sea.