Wednesday, August 16, 2017

At 3:30 a.m. I got up to drive the boy to the airport; and though I tried to go back to sleep afterward, I was not very successful. I expect nap time will be arriving early today, yet for the moment I feel fine. I wonder why. I suppose it's because I haven't started to think about Trump yet.

Somewhere, in the distance, fire engines are blaring. The island freight barge is beeping down at the landing. Three big mutts are rolling around in the dry grass. A corgi, who imagines she is running, is huffing slowly up a steep hill.

I'd like to say something encouraging here: like, "Maybe it's a good thing our so-called president has finally come out into the open and admitted that he's a white supremacist. Now everyone knows for sure." Or "Maybe the Republicans will finally board that impeachment train now." But who the hell knows what's going to happen next? What's clear is that we are in the jaws of evil.

So I'll give you this small prayer, from Maurice Manning's Bucolics. If you don't know this collection of poems addressed to God (whom Manning calls "Boss"), you should. They feel a bit like reading a modern George Herbert. Whatever you think about organized religion, something to hold is more comfort than nothing.
Boss every morning is a morning
do you ever think about that
everything that stays the same
like rain like grass like you
you're always Boss boss
of the morning boss of my whistle
O boss of my little song

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The fog is lifting and I am feeling mournful. Perhaps it's the effect of the boat horns, those lonely calls through the mist, or perhaps it's merely August: the burnt grass, the weary foliage. I have not been writing much lately. Perhaps the distractions of the nation have undone me, and I should fight harder against them. Or perhaps I am in an August state of mind.

In any case, I am still reading--constantly, perpetually, obsessively, as I always have and likely always will. Presently I am finishing Muriel Spark's The Takeover, and copying out Coriolanus, and dipping into poetry collections by Nikky Finney and Maurice Manning. Something, at some point, will trigger me to write. I try to be patient.

Tomorrow the boy heads off for two weeks on the west coast. On Friday we buy a house. This morning I compose a note to you and wonder what I can say that will make you feel that reading it is worthwhile. I imagine spreading trivialities like margarine, as if they are facsimiles of a richer life. There are days when all art gives me the sensation of falsehood. There are days when I write simply by habit, because it's what my hands tell me to do.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sorry for the late post this morning. It's been one of those days when everything seems to connive at slowness and distraction . . . sticky floors, no bread, no coffee, laundry piling up. It's amazing what happens when I vanish for less than 24 hours and leave two guys to rule the roost. It's also amazing how many groceries a 19-year-old can consume, after having just spent the summer canoeing 900 miles in the Canadian wilderness. Every day we are out of everything.

But do not think I am complaining. It is a joy to be in Boy Land again.

Our gig in Monson went well--though, thanks to the gale-force winds off the lake, I came very close to having more than one Marilyn Monroe/white dress moment. It's hard to hold down a skirt when both hands are busy with a violin.

Today I'm back to editing, and back to driving the boy around, and back to living with existential dread. The dread did lift a bit yesterday, when I looked out into that crowd of central Mainers, with their hats and their beers and their work boots, as they sang along to "The Weight." I had a flicker of hope.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Later this morning I'll be heading two and a half hours north for an afternoon band gig at the Lakeshore House in Monson. After the show I'll drive back to Portland. It will be a long hot day, and I'm tired just thinking about it.

Already, the air is heavy, and the day's heat is flexing behind the morning's mist. I am sick at heart from yesterday's news, but trying, as I imagine you are, to trudge along. I suppose spending an afternoon playing music is not the worst thing I could be doing.

The man who drove the car into the crowd at Charlottesville was born in the same year as my own younger son. For some reason this distresses me, though it is nothing but coincidence. Yet I can't stop imaging that man as a child. And someone fed that child the poisons that spurred him to hatred.
And who’s this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That’s tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers’ little boy! 
--from Wislawa Szymborska, "Hitler's First Photograph"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Last night a small rain fell in Portland, Maine.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Nazis marched by torchlight. At a golf club in New Jersey, an idiot played at destroying the world.

America, America. You break our hearts.

Friday, August 11, 2017

This morning, our Canadian traveler-boy returns home after an overnight bus ride from Toronto. I daresay he will look like Grizzly Adams when he gets off that bus--giant beard, big hair, tanned like a boot, and wild-eyed after a sleepless night.

Given his three months in the wilderness, he may not know that we're on the verge of nuclear war. And here all I thought I would have to do is to catch him up on baseball trades.

Well, anyway. Here we are. Every single thing we dreaded about a Trump presidency seems liable to come true. Will we saved by his stupidity or destroyed by his narcissism?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

We went to visit the house yesterday so that Tom could take measurements of all of the rooms, doors, windows, and the like. In the meantime I wandered around the yard and ambled up and down the neighborhood streets. I have so much grunt work ahead of me: years' worth of weeds, a couple of horrible prickly bushes to delete, choices about badly placed perennials (do they stay or do they go?), and finally planning new beds, new walkways, new patio space, new soil, new plants. The job will take years.

But yesterday Tom scored some free high-quality decking, left over from a renovation project he's doing--enough to repair both the front and back stoops. And I have been researching city compost projects, home compost bins, rain barrels, and such things, plus reading garden book after garden book. Though I have gardened for most of my life, I've never had to start from scratch like this--not to mention that dealing with 40 acres is a different thing entirely from dealing with a city plot. As city yards go, we've got a fair amount of room, certainly more than some of the neighboring houses have. But no one has ever loved it before, and that's what I need to learn to do.

In other news, no one has started a nuclear war yet.

* * *

I am slowly--excruciatingly slowly--continuing with my Coriolanus copying project. Part of the issue is that my Shakespeare omnibus is too big for my copying stand, so I have to crane and contort just to see the pages I'm trying to transcribe. But already I recognize that the politics of the play are unpleasantly resonant with our present-day situation. Shakespeare had the all-seeing eye.

* * *

Brutus. Mark’d you his lip and eyes?

Sicinius.                                                Nay, but his taunts.

Bru. Being mov’d, he will not spare to gird the gods.

Sic. Bemock the modest moon.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Except for the existential terrors of Trump and North Korea, things are going reasonably well in my life. We got news from the bank that our loan has been cleared and that they are scheduling the closing for August 18. Both Tom and I were amazed at how smoothly this all went. We had the hardest time even getting pre-qualified during our first attempt at home buying last fall. Yet this time we sailed through without any bank trouble at all. It's puzzling, but we're not complaining.

A lunchtime we are meeting at the house so that Tom can measure everything for building-permit purposes, and I am going to wander around the yard and consider landscaping issues. By next weekend, I could be making flowerbeds.

On the other hand, we may be immersed in nuclear winter, and all will be moot.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

After last night's reading, Tom and I meandered home along the water. The silhouetted ferry rumbled across the bay to Peaks Island. Televisions flickered behind half-curtained windows. The full moon hid among the silvered clouds. In the bandstand, a dozen young men were blasting Middle Eastern hip-hop, and they were laughing, and they were slowly, occasionally, breaking into a raised-arm, high-stepping dance . . . until the cop showed up and made them be quiet.

And now, this morning, a fragile grey rain percolates into my thirsty garden boxes, washes among the feather-leaves of the honeylocust outside my bedroom window. I am feeling elegiac, for no particular reason. My boys have been on my mind . . . each thriving in his own busy, absorbing world, yet both of them, this weekend, telephoning me from their far places, bubbling into my ear, telling jokes and sharing wonders. Meanwhile, in daily life I have returned to the old days--of being one of two, not one of four. It is such a peculiar change. I'm older and fatter and greyer now, but in some ways this stage of life is a reprise of being 22 years old and deciding to move in with a guy I really like and, gee, I hope it works out. A love nest, an argument nest, a perpetual date night--such close attention to each other after two decades of parental tag-teaming. It's alarming but often very, very sweet.

Anyway, today the rain is falling, Tom is off to build cabinets in the wood shop, Ruckus is clawing the new shower curtain, and I am gazing across the bay at moored sailboats and mist and distant houses among the island trees. We've just gotten word that the house sellers would like to close as soon as possible, so perhaps we'll be homeowners even earlier than we thought we would. That's fine; good, even. We're ready to start this new project of constructing a home for a family of two.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday, Monday, Monday.

The cars bustle, the dump trucks gasp, the joggers slap their shoes bap bap bap on the pavement, the dogs-n-owners rush and lollygag. The adjunct English teacher hikes up the sidewalk in his plaid shorts and Birkenstocks, glaring askance at the motorcycle guy in the well-ironed pink shirt who is joyously revving his engine. According to today's newspaper, one of the world's largest yachts is moored in the bay this morning. It is owned by a Russian oligarch, of course. The cat informs me that he would like to grow up be a Russian oligarch.

Today: more editing, more Coriolanus, and prep for tonight's reading; a long walk, more garden-design study, and something or other for dinner. I'm hoping to hear from my younger son, who should be getting back to his Temagami base camp today. In eleven days we will close on a new house, and nothing else has gone wrong, as far as we can tell. I am itching to start tearing out weeds. In twelve days I will once again be the kind of woman who owns a wheelbarrow and a compost pile.
Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be
willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushrooms, damson, salt
marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue
sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, frog's eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night. 
--from Nikky Finney's "Cattails"

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The fog has lifted, the rain has swept out to sea, and Sunday is dawning blue and gold. I am sitting at a grey kitchen table and wearing a red bathrobe and drinking black coffee from a white cup. On the table beside me are two books: Kenneth Roberts's Rabble in Arms and Nikky Finney's Head Off & Split. Outside the window, an invisible cardinal is singing, singing, singing.

I am feeling so strange right now, at least as regards my unpublished poetry manuscripts. One collection has just finaled for a national contest. The other is under serious consideration at two major publishing houses. Nothing may result; nothing probably will result. Yet I have never been in this position before. It bears some resemblance to an out-of-body experience, and I'm sorry if talking about it with you sounds like crowing. Of course I'm happy, but I'm also non plussed.

Tomorrow evening I'll be reading at the Word Portland series at LFK Bar in downtown Portland. The reading starts at 9, which is when I usually go to bed, and maybe you do too. But if you happen to be awake, you could come down and enjoy an audience full of irrepressible young people. They have charm.

Today I suppose I will do the regular things: housework, laundry, afternoon baseball. If, by chance, the neighbors catch sight of me lugging a basket of sheets up and down the stairs, they will never guess that I have a secret life.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Yesterday I learned that my manuscript Songs about Women and Men is a finalist for the 2017 Autumn House Prize for Poetry. In early September, the contest judge, Alberto Rios, will announce the winner.

Songs about Women and Men was a semi-finalist for the Dorset Prize earlier this year, so I am relieved, overexcited, slightly hysterical to learn that it's crossed the line into final running for another prize. As you know, I haven't submitted to many contests over the course of my career . . . mostly because of the expense but also because I miraculously managed to place all of my earlier manuscripts with non-contest-running publishers. Those days are clearly over, however, so I've had to jump into the horrifying sea.

I dislike the contest and submission-fee models, yet like other poets I cannot avoid the fact that they dominate our publishing opportunities. If I don't enter them, I have little chance of placing a book with a national press. What's made this truth less horrifying is you. When I have been underemployed, transient, depressed, overwhelmed by son emergencies, etcetera, etcetera, your donations to this blog have helped me husband a small fund for promoting my work. Without it, I would undoubtedly have continued to talk myself out of participating.

So thank you. To say that I am grateful is an understatement.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Sorry I missed you yesterday. I didn't get back from my up-north visit till close to noon, and then had to rush out for a haircut, and then had to rush back to deal with the return of the window-fixer guy. And, by then, it was time to make dinner. Strange how a day full of nothing can seem so crowded.

It's been hot in Maine. In Wellington, we sat around in chairs outside a fading bonfire and wondered if Steve was going to have to shoot the porcupine that was ravaging the raspberries. (He didn't.) In Harmony, we drank coffee in the front yard and Sue told me that the girlfriend of the guy who bought our house is expecting a baby. So that made me happy. Another generation of babies will live on my dear land.

Back here in Portland, a sea breeze is floating in sweetly through the window that the window-fixer guy can't quite seem to fix. Tom is eating huevos rancheros and reading the New Yorker, and Ruckus is tunneling under a throw rug. I am drinking coffee and thinking about poems and friendship. In some ways leaving Harmony has cemented my devotion to the people I left behind. We are so glad to see each other. They tell me how much they love me, and I tell them how much I love them. When we lived around each other all the time, we didn't have to do such things. But now the intersections have become precious.

So today I will edit a Juniper Prize poetry collection, and phone my mother, and copy out some Shakespeare, and do some laundry, and go grocery shopping, and take a long walk, and afterward I will pack a picnic dinner that Tom and I will eat while watching a performance of Chekhov's The Three Sisters in the park. I'm thinking of making spring rolls with shrimp and greens and vermicelli and basil. I'm thinking of drinking a thermos of tea and watching the night roll in over the treetops. I'm thinking I should never complain about anything again.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

It was a romantic baseball evening. I saw Kevin Youkilis throw out the first pitch, watched Henry Owens pitch horribly, enjoyed the chatter of the three strangers sitting behind me (little Eddie and his grandparents were having a fine time together), speculated on the workplace frustrations of Slugger the Mascot, spent nine innings cuddled against my sweetheart on a truly wretched aluminum bench, and then listened to Red Sox wackiness on the radio as we circled through nighttime-construction detours and tried to find our way home.

This afternoon I head north for band practice, and I am already bracing for terrible weather. Thunderstorms are forecast, and no doubt, as is my wont, I will hit every one of them. But c'est la vie of the faraway band member. Neither wind nor snow nor dark of night . . . Ugh.

There are a couple of openings left in my Kittery poetry workshop, upcoming this Saturday, so southern Maine/seacoast New Hampshire/north-shore Massachusetts friends: please consider joining us. And by the way, next Monday, August 7, I'm reading in the Word Portland series: 9 p.m. at LFK Bar here in the city. I should have some kind of event poster to link to before long.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I've started a new copying project: a transcription of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Coriolanus. Copying Paradise Lost and The Prelude (among many other shorter pieces) has certainly been good practice, but an entire Shakespeare play will be a massive undertaking, and I hope I can persevere.

This week, I'm back on the Juniper Prize editing train: tackling a second book of short stories, with two poetry collections waiting in the wings. I'm scheduled to teach a poetry workshop in Kittery on Saturday but haven't yet heard if there are enough participants to make it run. Tomorrow afternoon I head north for band practice. Tonight Tom and I are going to a Sea Dogs game. Coriolanus will get a slow start, but at least I've been able to enjoy the opening stage direction:
Enter a company of mutinous citizens with staves, clubs, and other weapons.
Metaphorize and extrapolate as you see fit.