Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Clearly, I don't have enough to fret about, so the Fates have decided to pull a muscle in my back. Now I am hobbling around the house like a poorly designed robot, and Tom had to spend his last free day at home mowing all of the grass that I am unable to mow. Why did this even happen? I have strong muscles in my back, and I was lifting a small light cardboard box out of a hatchback--i.e., I was barely bending over to do an undemanding task. But as a result of this stupid injury, I have to deal with sympathetic remarks from my son such as "Do you feel old?"

The temperature is supposed to climb to 80 degrees today, and I will not be weeding or mowing or carrying a laundry basket. However, I can still edit manuscripts and bake bread and teach poetry to middle schoolers. And I'm determined to be cheerful. My gait may resemble the Ancient Mariner's, but I refuse to be a crabby old lady.

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.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Strips of sunlight paint each tree trunk, bright lines, a gilded army. A titmouse investigates the empty birdfeeder. The baby crows fall silent. Saturday morning.

Today I will sing "Amazing Grace" at a funeral. Today I will put gas into my car and eat rhubarb pie. Today I will cup my palm over Tom's knee as we watch our son caper across the stage in a dull play.

Everything wanders into the same story.

Friday, May 20, 2016

At the urging of my son's girlfriend, I've just spent an hour or so transcribing my recipe for French country boules, which uses a liquid levain base that I find much more stable and manageable than the traditional stiff sourdough starter is. Let me know if you are interested in the recipe or if you want some of my levain base. You can make your own levain at home, but it does take a while to establish from scratch. So if we're likely to see each other in the future, you might want a jar of mine.

* * *

The temperature is supposed to be 75 degrees here today, but I'll believe it when I see it. This spring has been miserably cold and weirdly dry. What we really need is three days of soft 60-degree rain. Then I might consider planting more seeds. For the moment, why bother?

* * *

Today I will be baking the first rhubarb pie of the season. I will be making a giant macaroni salad. I will be tossing steamed fiddleheads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I will be cleaning the bathroom and hanging sheets on the line. And when Paul and I get back tonight, after his play, Tom will be home, and the dog will be so happy, and we will be so happy.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

One of the things I have to learn is how to live by myself.

I have never lived alone. First, there were parents; then roommates, lovers, a husband, children. It has seemed natural and sweet for the children to grow up and leave. It has seemed terribly unnatural to find myself single.

This singleness will be temporary, but its duration is uncertain. I don't know what I will do with the hours. I don't know how to avoid getting sick of myself.

As a writer, I have thrived on compression: moments carved out. The idea of having endless time is terrible, but perhaps it will be a good thing. Perhaps I'll figure out a way to make the days stay alive.

This morning, before the thunderstorms and the blackflies arrive, I'll walk down to the stream to pick fiddleheads. Then I'll begin editing a new manuscript: a biography of the poet Richard Wilbur. I'll wash the kitchen floor and start composing a short talk about the poems of Kerrin McCadden. I will cut up a pineapple. If the thunderstorms haven't arrived, I'll mow some grass or sow some some Swiss chard seeds. If the thunderstorms have arrived, I'll make tea and read Margaret Drabble's novel The Ice Age. I'll bake a potato for supper. The evening will draw in.
I can hear little clicks inside my dream.
Night drips its silver tap
down the back. 
--Anne Carson, "The Glass Essay"

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Finally I am beginning to crawl out of my hole of weariness . . . though I am also beginning to think I might have been ill. Both Paul and Tom report similar bouts of extreme exhaustion, and neither was up for two nights with a sick dog.

I need to break out of this pattern: I've got a bunch of reading to do for the Frost Place conference, my friend Marie has just sent me a gift of Celan translations, dandelions are invading the herb garden, the grass grows and grows, I have to perform at a funeral this weekend, my son's final high school play opens on Friday, fiddlehead season is fleeting, I have a second graduation celebration to plan. Etcetera.

But here I sit, alone, wrapped in my red bathrobe, drinking black coffee, reading Alcott novels, not leaping forth into a busy life. Sometimes the body says, Stop.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

This afternoon I'll be working on a flash-fiction exercise with middle schoolers, so I thought I'd hunt for a few relevant examples to share with them. No luck. The Internet is rife with (1) sex- and profanity-filled flash fiction and (2) lousy flash fiction. I'd be better off composing my own examples, which is what I'll probably end up doing during class.

In the meantime, allow me to complain about the weather. Cold, wind, snow showers . . . what month is this supposed to be anyway? I'll be mowing grass in mittens and a down parka.

And then there are my poor dog's digestive woes. Sigh. Someday I'll get enough sleep again.

Weave Magazine has published a review of the most recent edition of The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. The author, Anthony Frame, kindly remarks that "the anthology . . . serves as a useful introduction to a number of poets who may not yet be quite as known [as "Alicia Ostriker, Rita Dove, Dean Young, and Jane Kenyon," etc.] but who certainly should be, such as Dawn Potter and Yona Harvey." This comment is both flattering and depressing. I wonder how Yona Harvey is feeling about it. Here are a couple of her poems for you to read.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A robin is singing so loudly. He is even drowning out the baby crows.

The azalea has burst into extravagant bloom. The temperature is 34 degrees. My son has graduated from college.

That robin is still singing--sweet-shrill, piercing, insistent. Listen to me listen to me listen to me.

I am listening but I am tired, tired, tired. At 11, 1, 3, 5, the dog woke me up. She was thirsty, she was confused, she had to pee, she had to pace, where is Tom, where am I, wake up, wake up. Meanwhile, the cat attached himself to my knees like a vacuum-powered leech.

Today will be bread baking and rain and a track meet and groceries and working on Frost Place stuff. Today will be this endless robin and a ticking clock. What shall I do with my self?

Recommended recipe: Freshly cut fiddleheads, lightly steamed and drained, combined with cubes of drained, pressed, stir-fried tofu, freshly cut green onions, roasted cherry tomatoes, hot pepper flakes, sesame oil, tamari and served over cooked farro. Paul and I ate it last week, and tonight we're eating it again.

Recommended reading: Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins--sentimental, didactic, transcendental, and strangely invigorating. I have no idea why her children's novels make me feel better, but they always do.

Recommended listening: The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." A song that never grows old . . . and here's an enjoyable version involving costumes that look like a home-ec project.

Friday, May 13, 2016

This morning Paul and I will drive across town to pick up James's childhood friend Sam, and then the three of us will head south to drop off the yowly pets at the vet's office, then further south to Portland to fetch Tom, and then the four us will keep driving south, south, to Massachusetts. And there we will intersect with all of the family and friends who are coming from hither and yon to celebrate James's graduation from college. It will be a scene. We will laugh and cry and behave awkwardly, and James will be embarrassed and overwrought and also very pleased.

In the meantime I have packed nothing except for joke gifts. This must change pronto, and so must this headache. I have, however, already done other important duties: for instance, warning my mother about the possibility of loud student protests at the ceremony. ("Graduations are so boring! It will be fun, Ma! It will be sociological!") I have taken phone messages from J, who wants me to bring him some sourdough starter. (Sourdough starter? Graduation? Moving out of your dorm? How do these things mesh?) I have lined my pretty blister-causing sandals with moleskin. I have scrubbed off the weird sticky spots on my windshield.

I have no memory of what I wore to my own graduation. I do remember we had a student protest, though . . . against our commencement speaker, Drew Lewis, who had just helped Reagan fire all of those air-traffic controllers. I do remember that I won a fellowship from the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacturing, and Commerce . . . presumably for being arty since I certainly showed no promise in manufacturing or commerce. I do remember that my boyfriend had just broken up with me and I feared that everything wonderful in my life had come to an end. Acquiring a fat silver medal stamped with Prince Philip's head was not a solace for being dumped. Thirty years later, I'm not exactly sure where that medal is, and I haven't laid eyes on the ex-boyfriend since. Things have gone along okay without either of them.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Good things:

The boy did not miss the bus.

I remembered to schedule an oil change.

I've almost finished copyediting a difficult manuscript.

The blackflies aren't too bad yet.

The Vagabond's Notebook is close to being ready for the printer.

The dog-cat tag team did not wake me at 3 a.m.

The Red Sox have scored 40 runs in 3 days.

One son is graduating from a college he loves.

The other son has been accepted into a college he loves.

I planted about a thousand dahlia tubers yesterday.

The lawnmower is not broken.

Hard things:

Suddenly I'm not living full time with my husband.

My dog is old and frail.

I may never pick chanterelles in my woods again.

I appear to be the only static element in a vortex of other people's changes.

What helps:


Reading books.

Keeping my house tidy.

Walking down to the stream to look for fiddleheads.

Picking daffodils.

Staring out the window.

Listening to the baby crows scream for breakfast.

Wearing my red bathrobe.

Counting on your patience.

Writing a word or two.

Telling jokes over the phone.

Looking forward.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Such a happy morning! Among the many stresses of this spring has been my younger son's angsty college-application experience. First, there were the rejections, one after the other. Thus, for the past several weeks he's been bravely coming to grips with the facts: anticipating his future at a college he doesn't want to attend, working to make the best of it, to create a plan B for himself, to imagine an alternate path, to see the bright side. None of this has been easy for this boy, who has always been melodramatic and self-excoriating. I was proud; I was anxious; I was so sad for him.

And then, miracle of miracles, he was notified yesterday evening that he's been accepted off the wait list and will be going to a school he loves. I feel as if I have just shed a thousand pounds of despair.

If a parent is only as happy as her saddest child, count me as euphoric.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A friend in Australia writes to remind me to "feel both sadness and happiness, because both make life." An friend in Alberta writes to say,  "Rain . . . finally arrived up there [in Fort McMurray]. Corner maybe finally turned." A friend in Maine writes to tell me she's "loving [my] yellow and white kitchen!" My mailbox overflows with hope, sweetness, melancholy. A gift.

Now leftover potatoes are heating in the oven. The poodle twitches in a bar of sunlight. The unquiet house murmurs to itself. At random I open the poems of George Herbert and read this stanza of "Miserie":
Oh foolish man! where are thine eyes!
How hast thou lost them in a crowd of cares!
Thou pull'st the rug, and wilt not rise,
No, not to purchase the whole pack of starres:
There let them shine,
Thou must go sleep, or dine.
"Or dine"? What an unexpected ending. True enough, I suppose. But I still long "to purchase the whole pack of starres." Probably you do too.

Monday, May 9, 2016

. . . to continue yesterday's thoughts about meaning:

Should a reader's reaction equal an author's intent? Does a stated didactic purpose damage or enhance art? Does offering a list of meanings manipulate or empower a reader?

What I love about Nabokov is that he doesn't allow me to answer these questions with any kind of certainty. What I dislike about so many literary commentators is their smug assumption about either-or rather than both-and. "I am prescient about the value/lack of value of [work of art]. Therefore, you are an idiot."

But enough of such talk. What's really distracting me, just now, are these flowers.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Outside my open bedroom window, a nestful of baby crows is screeching for breakfast. There must be five or six of them, all cawing at relentless top speed. They sound like adult crows on helium.

Around their tall treehouse, the sky is dull; the air is cool and damp; the forecast is showery. I will plant carrots, beets, leeks, and dahlias; bake sourdough bread; reread Nabokov's Pale Fire. The baby crows will eat and sleep and shout. The parent crows will hunt and fret.

By this time next week my oldest nestling will have graduated from college, though he used to be a terrible early-morning screecher, a 4 a.m. riser with the lungs of Mick Jagger. These days I'm still up at every morning at that hour, but now with an elderly half-blind incontinent poodle who will fall down the stairs if I don't shine a flashlight for her. The next stage, I guess, is getting up at 4 a.m. to fall down the stairs myself.

I can feel Nabokov, that king of anti-coziness, lying in wait for my next paragraph, hoping to trap me into pouring on the sentimental syrup . . . O Time, O Youth, O My Chubby Babies. How gleefully he excavates the lives of silly middle-aged American women. You'd think we had nothing better to do than love our homes and our children.

. . . which he himself loved passionately.

The complications of our duty: something drives the crows forward through the damp air, something within and beyond the shrieks of their young.

The centerpiece of Pale Fire is the long poem titled "Pale Fire," written by the fictional poet John Shade in the last few days before his death. Shade is a Frostian figure, both comic and heroic. But immediately after his death, the poem and its "meanings" are overtaken by its editor, a ridiculous and terrible man named Dr. Charles Kinbote, who turns out to be the deposed king of a small Eastern European country. Kinbote's liner notes manipulate the poem into an epic of nostalgia for his lost country, yet the poem itself is different nostalgia altogether: a tale in rhymed couplets circling around an aging couple who have lost a well-loved child to suicide.

Nabokov plays ruthlessly with the notion of meaning . . . what we ourselves think we mean, what others read into our words; lies and truths, small and large. What does it mean when an old man obsesses about the beauties of youth? What does it mean when a husband hides his bottle of brandy from his wife? What does it mean when a tyrant believes he loves his country?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Home again, and thankful for no place to go, no part to play.

The poodle is clinking down the stairs; black coffee is steaming in my cup. I have been working with words intensely for the past two days, and the poems I offered to the students--poems by Whitman, Atwood, Joudah, Nivyabandi--are still sifting through my mind, but quietly now.

The theme of many of these conversations was place . . . places we have left or cannot leave, places that others have left, places that we have forced others to leave, place as a construct of time, of geography, of morality, of body.

In her poem "Cell," Margaret Atwood writes:
              The lab technician

says, [The cancer cell] has forgotten
how to die. But why remember? All it wants is more
amnesia. More life, and more abundantly. To take
more. To eat more. To replicate itself. To keep on
doing those things forever. Such desires
are not unknown. Look in the mirror.
It clings with me, this sense of devouring that is also an element of devotion and self. "We'll eat you up, we love you so!" as Maurice Sendak puts it. I didn't think to quote Sendak in class, but now I wish I had. Not that it matters: the students understood anyway.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Greetings from the take-out coffee cubicle at the Littleton (N.H.) Coop. Here I sit in limbo, having finished my work at one school, anticipating my work at a second. On Wednesday evening, when I arrived in the White Mountain region, the peaks were masked with cloud.  Yesterday I was too busy working inside a classroom to notice the out of doors. This morning, though, I see that the sky is blue blue blue, with the mountains crisply outlined in the clear air. It will be a beautiful drive home.

I am feeling uplifted because I have just finished reading Whitman aloud to an assembly of high school students. And they listened. As I told one of the teachers afterward, I try, even when (especially when) surrounded by teenagers, to throw my heart out on the table for everyone to see. Doing this is difficult and embarrassing and clumsy, but I do it anyway. All I can say is that I wish some teacher had done it for me when I was a teenager. When one of my college teachers did so, I was transformed. Bob Butman, you funny, serious, heart-led man, long dead now but not forgotten: thank you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Already this morning I've driven 60 miles, rushing the boy up to the high school for his crack-of-dawn AP English test, then rushing back home to deal with the rest of my life. In a few hours I'll get back into my car and drive a couple of hundred miles west into the New Hampshire mountains. One undeniably wonderful thing about moving to Portland will be hacking a massive chunk of this wearisome driving out of my life.

I am looking forward to seeing New Hampshire, though . . . the first greening of the mountains; fog and damp light; the clean scent of brook water. And I'm also leaving home today with sense of having done a bit of work on my own grief about deserting this place. A poem arrived, not quite leaping fully formed from my head but nearly so . . . syllables tumbling in a predestined pattern down the page, images cohering, surprises synthesizing on cue. Writing it felt both inevitable and entirely strange . . . which is to say, it felt right.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Yesterday's long rain was dank and raw but it still did good work, greening the grass, swelling the tree buds. Midday I walked out into the garden and saw that pea shoots were finally pushing through the soil. Now the last heavy-headed daffodils are beginning to open, and a few violets are unfolding in the grass. It might be possible to hang sheets on the line today. It might be possible to plant a few more seeds.

I spent most of the rainy day working on class plans, but I also did a better thing: I started a new poem--and so today I have two embryos (this poem and the essay I began 10 days ago) to cogitate over and fiddle with. I like the dangling prepositions in that last sentence; they replicate the state of my writing mind . . . direction without detail, sound without substance. I wonder is the house where I am living.

My friend Ruth wrote to tell me she has been teaching a Tu Fu poem to kindergartners. "It is XXVII, 'Far Up the River.'  Little Fiona, an ethereal creature with a very pronounced lisp, suddenly said, 'The words are just floating like a river. They are so pretty, we could dance to them.'"

The words are floating just like a river.

Last week, I taught kindergartners too. This is the poem the children wrote together:
White clouds are moving in the sky
and the sun is shining like a big fire.
In the blue sky the hawk leaves his wings still
and then flaps them again.
A huge straight oak is budding.
My friend is swinging.
i hear laughing, squeaking, cars going by.
Ants are crawling in the short green grass, eating crumbs.
Having just read a Nikki Giovanni poem with me, they were very firm about the importance of keeping the i lowercased.

And the hawk description--they spent so much time hunting for words to describe the movement of its wings. To sit back and let that happen is one of the things I have learned about working with very young students. It is always, always tempting to put words into their mouths. And the problem is that they usually let us do it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Day 1 of Tom's new job, day 1 of a week of showers and clouds, day 1 of figuring out how to figure things out.

In Iris Murdoch's novel The Black Prince, her character Arnold, a prolific, successful novelist (his plot summaries sound rather like the summaries of Murdoch's own novels), tells his friend Bradley, a very different sort of novelist (ascetic, spare, not at all prolific): "I believe that the stuff has some merits or I wouldn't publish it. But, I live, I live, with an absolute continuous sense of failure. I am always defeated, always. Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea."

Both Arnold and Bradley are entirely unreliable, both as narrators and as people who understand themselves. So once again, Murdoch has written something that sounds like a plausible artist's statement yet might also be seen as a self-serving excuse for imperfection, or maybe even just plain old ignorance. The problem for me, as I am rereading this novel (and I have read it many times before), is that I keep trying to apply this stuff to myself, and then mistrusting my response, and then mistrusting Murdoch. I think she is mocking me. As a puppet master, she is beginning, in my head, to resemble Ivy Compton-Burnett and Flannery O'Connor and Muriel Spark--a Macbethian trio if there ever was one.

Perhaps reading Murdoch is not the best choice for me right now, or perhaps it's the perfect choice. I feel I have no way of knowing. I am trapped in a slough of self-ignorance.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

For two mornings in a row, I was up and out of the house without time to write to you . . . and that's likely to happen again later this week, so be forewarned. This time we were taking a fast trip south to celebrate the screening of my older son's 20-minute feature film--what the school calls his Division 3 project, the culmination of his four years of work at Hampshire College. It was lovely moment, filled with nerves and pride--so many friends and family members celebrating with him, and all of us so extremely happy and proud of him . . . and in two weeks we'll do it again for graduation proper. And then he will step off into his new life.

Among the other pleasures of the visit was the unexpected road trip I took with my son's closest childhood friend, who wanted to come down for the screening but had no car. So he and I spent 10 hours or so in the car together, chattering about all kinds of stuff, singing along to albums, discussing World War I history and local politics and ex-girlfriends, and on and on. It was entirely charming to spend so much time with a young man I once used to refer to as my "third son."

But it's also good to sit still, for the moment anyway, before I'm off again midweek, this time to teach for two days in New Hampshire: Thursday at the White Mountain School and Friday at the Lisbon Community School. The White Mountain School is also hosting a reading on Thursday evening that is free and open to the public; so if you're in the area, please do come give me a hug. I've been in need of them lately.