Thursday, April 28, 2016

In "Spring 1967" Hayden Carruth writes, "Rain / soaks the fish-scale snow, the bloom / of beer cans emerges beside the road. / Another spring."

No rain or snow here, though. Our beer cans bloom in the dry ditches, among the blackened fronds of last year's goldenrod, the bleached labels of cigarette packs, the stubbled shards of gravel and chipped asphalt.

"You laugh," says Hayden," "calculating the nostalgia / of people fifty years from now."

Oddly enough, it is fifty years from his "now," and I am still laughing at the nostalgia of those people of the future. Laughing and not laughing.

* * *

The weather in Harmony has been ridiculous--low 20s in the morning, mid-40s in the afternoon, and a chill breeze all day long. In addition, the soil is dry, dry, dry . . . not a spring shower to be seen, and it's nearly May.

As a result, I've done very little planting (some lettuce and radishes, some peas). Spring garlic shoots and rhubarb and sorrel and green onions are only half-visible. Asparagus is dormant, grass is brown, tree buds are silent, daffodils are withering in the cold. I've given up hanging out laundry because my hands get too stiff. So tomorrow, as we head south for stage 1 in my older son's graduation festivities (the screening of his film), I'll be hoping for portents of real spring. Even 50 degrees and a south wind will do.

* * *

In "Thaw," Hayden writes,
fuzzed snow browning in lastyear's haystubble the pasture's winter-starved moss
lionskin flung rumpled, moist, eaten, crushed eyes in the mage-fur
of old leaves
Wet is the optimal word in images of northern spring: snow, rain, snow, rain, thaw, damp, rot. So this year's dryness is unnerving. My friend Sue and I walked down through the woods to look at the stream, which should be a torrent of snowmelt. But instead it is brown and feeble, barely filling its banks.

* * *
Stones, brown tufted grass, but no water.
It is dry to the bottom. 
--from Hayden Carruth's "The Ravine"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It felt good to finally get yesterday's news off my chest. It also felt good to receive so many sweet responses--here, by email, by phone call, by Facebook message--and so much encouragement about the rightness of our decision to leave Harmony. I told Tom that letting everybody know is a way of pushing myself not to back out of our agreement, but also it's a way of asking you to read my ambivalence as as neither timidity nor capitulation. I think it's something different, something both complicated and simple: a struggle to act my age.

* * *

Rivers run, and springs each one
Knowe their home, and get them gone:
Hast thou tears, or hast thou none?

--from George Herbert's "Businesse"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


The time has come for me to share this news with you: Tom has taken a job in Portland. At some point this summer we will be putting our home in Harmony on the market, and when it sells, we will be moving south.

I am, as you might expect, deeply ambivalent about the change. My land is so enmeshed in my identity that I am barely able to envision myself as myself without it.  But do not worry: I am not going to wail to you about this. I know that a move south into a thriving cultural life will be, in so many ways, the best thing for us both as a pair and as individuals . . . and I try to hold on to that rationalization even as I know I cannot stop grieving. We will be closer to the ocean, closer to our families, closer to our jobs. Our life as a pair will no longer center around children and firewood. We will be able to listen to music and go to readings and look at pictures and buy decent parmesan cheese without driving hours and hours to get there. I will have a new garden to plan.

Nonetheless, I feel as if every day I spend in Harmony is an elegy: the last dandelions, the last pileated woodpecker, the last fiddleheads, the last chanterelles. Who I will become inside when I transform into a woman who spends her days in a small northern city by the cold sea? I am not yet able to imagine myself as that woman.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Portland reading was shockingly wonderful. To begin with, the space was packed . . . so many people out on a Friday night to hear poems. And there was an even stranger thing: I knew so many of them. What an odd feeling. And then I read "Mr. Kowalski," which felt good in my mouth and in the air, so that was a fine relief.

So here I am, now, back in the north . . . a music gig this morning, housework in the afternoon, and teaching all day tomorrow. The essay that made me cry is still making me cry, but not with such vigor. That's for the best.

"There is a kind of despair involved in creation which I am sure any artist knows all about." Iris Murdoch put those words into the mouth of a completely unreliable narrator, her character Bradley Pearson in The Black Prince. Bradley also declares that "men truly manifest themselves in the long patterns of their acts, and not in any nutshell of self-theory." These remarks all sound reasonable, except that Murdoch proceeds to show us how ridiculously mistaken Bradley has been about himself and his motivations. Nabokov's Lolita and Pale Fire do similar work, I think. The lesson here is: Do not make pompous artist statements.

Still, our acts do manifest patterns, whatever those patterns may imply. I am writing an essay that makes me cry, and this is not the first time I've cried over what I'm writing. But the fact that I cry has nothing to do with whether or not the essay will turn out to be crap. Something else must also be at work, something beyond raw feeling, and I think it involves a certain detachment . . . a doubleness, an inside-while-outside sensation. Or maybe that's just me. I'll stop now before the pompous artist statement starts to swell.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Later today I head down to Portland, where I'll be reading at the Beloit Poetry Journal's Maine Poetry Gala, held at Space Gallery tonight at 7 p.m. Other featured poets include Jeffrey Thomson, Betsy Sholl, Martin Steingesser, and Elizabeth Tibbetts.

The magazine's editors asked us to read a poem that's been published in Beloit, so I've decided to read a section or two from "Mr. Kowalski," a long poem about violins and failure and the Holocaust that I have not revisited very recently. It will be odd to say the words aloud again.

And probably I'll read something from the Chestnut Ridge manuscript because I know Betsy Sholl likes those poems. Or maybe instead I'll read "Ugly Town" from Same Old Story because it explains why I feel so lonely at literary parties. I'll leave it to the gods to make the decision.

On Saturday I will drive home and then go directly to a high school track meet. On Sunday I will play music at Stutzmans' Cafe. On Monday I will teach K-8 poetry all day. On Tuesday I will sit quietly on my stoop and watch the cat roll around in the driveway.

And now I will read this.

Prayer (I)

George Herbert

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
            Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
            The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinners towre,
            Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
            The six-daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
            Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
            Heaven in ordinarie, Man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

            Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloud,
            The land of spices; something understood.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Herbert stanza I posted yesterday seems to have triggered me to begin writing a new essay, which is a relief because I haven't written anything new for weeks and also distressing because composing this essay is making me really sad. I spent much of my waiting-for-my-son-to-finish-track-practice time stretched out in the back seat of my car, where I sobbed over my laptop and hoped that the other kids' parents didn't think I was suicidal or something. If anyone had anxiously tapped on the window, I would have had to wail, "No, no, I'm just writing an essay," and I doubt that would have allayed their fears.

I might work on it again during this morning's track practice . . . after I prep myself for next Monday's K-8 teaching day, after I hammer out a few more copyedited pages, after I buy birdseed and grapefruit juice (grocery lists do supply peculiar biographical data).

Then home again . . . to laundry and bread baking and gardening, and then south to Waterville to host a poetry reading, and then north again, driving through the skunk-scented dark.
My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or starre, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?
Please let the small words stay alive.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or starre, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?

--from George Herbert's "Matins"