Friday, June 22, 2018

Today I'll be heading west for my annual week at the Frost Place. Naturally, the forecast is stormy, for the ghost of Bob Frost knows that wet feet and moldering dankness always make a poet stronger.

Blog-wise, I'll mostly be incommunicado this week, though there's a chance you may hear from me now and again, depending on how busy/exhausted I am and whether or not Bob's internet connection is functional. Given our national shame, I suspect conference participants and faculty will be communally revealing a fair amount of emotional struggle, and weariness, and anger, and general glumness of spirit. I know it will be my job to acknowledge and listen and react and support and initiate conversations that offer strategies for persistence. I am girding on my sword, but the sword is heavy.

You have a sword that is just as heavy. But put it down for a moment. As a fortune cookie recently told me, "Go take a rest; you deserve it." Close your book. Go outside. Find a quiet spot to sit. Lean your head back and look up into the branches and the sky. Watch the clouds shift. Listen to the jays squawk. Thank your lungs for their faithful work. Admire the skin of your hands. Hum along with your heartbeat.

I am lifting my glass of blessings to you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Yesterday I wrote to Susan Collins about the border situation and, though the action felt pointless, I tried to convince myself that it wasn't. What else can I do but scream?

Yet simultaneously I am taking great domestic pleasure in Tom's most recent house upgrades. Clean paint and sensible shelving have transformed an awkward bedroom closet into tidy shoe storage. A stack of kitchen drawers now stows away the mess of silverware, measuring cups, kitchen towels, aluminum foil, etc., that had been cluttering up the counters since our move. This morning I can't stop opening and closing the drawers and admiring their contents. What a beautiful scoop! Look, there's my biscuit cutter!

Do not think I have overlooked the chasm between my homely emoting and the tragedy of the families at the border. How dare I be happy about my small comforts? Oh, those sobbing children.

This is the conundrum that you are wrestling with as well. I know the gap is obvious. I know you've already thought about it. I suspect you have a similar sense of frozen helplessness, which is itself a horror. What seems natural is to snatch up a crying child and carry her back to her parents. But I have no agency, and that lack of power feels monstrous.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thunderstorms last night, and the Ruckus got caught in the rain and came home with his hair sticking out every which way and smelling like an old sock.

This morning, tales of children separated from their parents plaster every news source. They're actors, Ann Coulter claims on Fox News.

Because there are no better actors than three years olds caged away from their mothers.

The cruelty and the lies. The pretense that seeking asylum is illegal. The purposeful fracturing of families.

Meanwhile, I am laughing about my cat, and sitting in a quiet room, and planning my work day--and how can one mind grapple with the horror and the anger and peaceful and the quotidian? And with knowing, without doubt, I would have died if someone had tried to take my boys away from me.

This post is fractured because America is a humiliation and America is hope, and lives go on and lives halt, and we live in the present and in the past, in ourselves and out of ourselves, and it all happens simultaneously, and I'm only a poet so I don't have the first idea about how to solve it . . . except: where is the kindness?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Today will be a scorcher, and I'll be spending it at a training session with a group of Telling Room teaching artists. After that I'll be shopping for ceviche ingredients and hoping I'll manage to get my laundry off the line before the thunderstorms start.

As I was delving into a box of books yesterday, I came across a book that we acquired somewhere along the line. It's titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and was first published in 1853. The author, Charles McKay, is, according to the 1932 foreword of this edition, "a narrator, not a diagnostician," and "no preventative is anywhere suggested." In other words, he just enjoyed telling the tales of various moments of public craziness.

My favorite chapter title, hands down, is "Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard." Even better is the chapter's epigraph, which quotes Hudibras: "Speak of respect and honour / Both of the beard and the beard's owner."

I can't wait to learn more.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Yesterday was hot, today will be hot too, but for the moment, the house is sated with last night's coolness. Outside a cardinal is singing and singing, and through the window I'm watching Bugsy the puppy bury his nose in my dahlias.

I didn't get a lot done yesterday: for some reason I felt kind of logy and half-sick. Maybe it was the clouds of pollen, or maybe I have a mild virus. Instead of industriously replanting my garden, I sat on the couch reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and drinking iced tea. But later Tom and I put together a beautiful beef salad (tamari-marinated grilled sirloin sliced thin, grilled onions and red peppers, cooked farro, sliced cherry tomatoes, huge handfuls of chopped parsley, basil, cilantro, garlic scapes), and we listened to some Lou Reed and then to some baseball, and I got excited about the prospect of kitchen drawers, which are almost ready to install.

Today I'll try to be more productive.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Well, we're back to being child-free for six weeks. Early this morning the boy headed out for his summer trek into the Canadian wilderness, and now I am washing sheets and towels and trying to figure out where to stow all of the stuff he left behind.

Today the temperature will climb into the 80s, I'll be going for a walk with a friend, and then, if it's not too hot, I'll begin to prep the garden for my week away at the Frost Place: e.g,  tear out the bolting lettuce and sow new seeds, stake the tomatoes, harvest sage for drying . . . and so on and so on. At the moment, however, I'm feeling pretty lazy. If I had a deck, I expect I'd be lounging on it.

Has anyone read Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I've just started it, and it's not at all what I expected. I'm also not sure how I managed to get away with never reading it before. Maybe because I had the impression it was some sort of feel-good Christmas story--not my favorite genre.

Friday, June 15, 2018

In case you're wondering where I've been: On Wednesday I drove up north for band practice, so I was en route back to Portland at the time of day when I'd usually be writing to you. I stayed, as usual, with my friends in Wellington, and then late yesterday afternoon Paul and I went for a walk around Back Cove with their daughter, who lives in Portland . . . and, when she pulled into the parking lot, she happened to be on the phone with my older son, whom she'll be visiting in Chicago this weekend. It just struck me as so comic, all this overlap between our families. We're not actually blood relatives, but we can't seem to get out of each other's hair.

Not that I'm complaining.

* * *

In actual news: I managed to finish all of my Frost Place faculty intros--thank goodness--and now all I have left on my list is to prepare for a small talk on the last afternoon of the conference. If I can catch up with editing today, that would also be a relief. On Monday and Tuesday I've got to spend two training days at the Telling Room, on Wednesday I'll be going north for band practice again, and then on Friday I'll head over to Franconia. So my days are cramped and crowded, and I'm already breathless.

For the moment, however, I'm lounging on the couch in the dim living room. I'm drinking black coffee, and the scent of wet morning is wafting through the open window. Crows are shouting and the neighbor children are lingering outside on the sidewalk, waiting for Bugsy the puppy to finish smelling a rock in my yard.

A few poetry things are distracting/exciting me. One I can't tell you about yet, but another involves the possibility of releasing an audiobook version of Chestnut Ridge alongside the print version. A college friend who is an actor and an audiobook reader was intrigued by one of my poems and suggested the idea, and the publisher has gotten quite interested in the prospect. This is new territory for me, so I'm wondering if you, as readers/listeners, see it as a good idea.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dear person who contacted me with the idea that I should promote her LSAT tutoring company:

When you Google the phrase "standardized tests," and you end up on the blog of a writer who is dissing their entire existence, it might behoove you to read what she has to say about them before asking her to market your product to her readers.

Moreover, if you are trying to convince people to buy your LSAT prep services, you should not suggest that taking those classes will help them get into medical school. This may make them the teeniest bit suspicious of your credentials.

Sincerely,

The person who who wrote this blog post


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I think yesterday's radio thing went fine; I hope it did; but really I have no idea what we sounded like through the aether. In any case, I still haven't gotten over how quickly I can drive to Portsmouth from here . . . in under an hour instead of more than three. Up in Harmony, "slightly under an hour" was how long it took me to drive my sons to high school.

Today will be hot, and I will be upstairs in my cool dark study editing a novel and writing Frost Place faculty intros. For some reason, my writing speed has slowed to a crawl, and these intros are taking me forever to finish. But I'm halfway there.

Monday, June 11, 2018



I took a lot of photos for you yesterday afternoon, but this is the only one with decent light. I'd just watered my front-yard kitchen garden, and everything looked so fresh and bright . . . except for the shadows creeping into the frame. This is a bed of mixed leaf lettuce with arugula behind it. On the advice of an edible-landscape book I've been reading, I've decided to let some of my vegetables flower, and as a result I now have these beautiful stars bowing over the pied lettuces.

Two separate groups of walkers stopped by yesterday to compliment me on my garden. I am proud and pleased at how well it's looking, though there's still so much to do. My brassicas (rapini, bok choi) are suffering from insect damage, so yesterday I bought a flat of marigolds to see if their odor might chase a few bugs away. Cats keep walking through freshly planted rows, and squirrels are digging in the back yard. On the whole, though, this first season has been a success (so far). I am harvesting all the lettuce and herbs we can eat, and I just cut a beautiful kale plant that had wintered over and had then transformed into a tall and gorgeous yellow-flowering border display. The leaves I trimmed from that single plant fill a gallon bag.

Now the peas are coming into flower, and any day I expect to see the first garlic scapes. . . . My life is so much better now that I have a garden again.

* * *

P.S. Radio show update: Writers in the Round, live 6-7 p.m., and here's a link to the live stream. Any poem requests?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

It’s cold where you are,
And the sky is failing all across America.
Why were you smiling
That afternoon so long ago?
I can only think we must have been happy.
Somehow that helps.
We are still here, after all,
And it is the same world.

[from "One World" by Joe Bolton]

Saturday, June 9, 2018

On Thursday Tom and I walked into town to watch a collaborative performance by the jazz bassist William Parker and the dancer Patricia Nicholson. Tonight we're going to see the Skatalites play at a bowling alley. On Monday we went to a friend's reading at a bar. On Wednesday I drove up north for band practice. Who is this person with a nightlife? I don't recognize her.

At least Friday was more familiar. I spent the day revising a few poems, working on faculty intros for the Frost Place conference, grocery shopping, watering my garden, opening doors for the cat, and hanging out with young people.

Next week the whirlwind continues. I forget if I mentioned that I'm scheduled to be reading poems on Writers in the Round, a weekly show on Portsmouth community radio. That will be on Monday evening; and as soon as I have more listening details, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, the ballad of the house: Dusting and weeding. Laundry and vacuuming. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Today, finally, the chill will break. Already I have opened the windows, and now the sounds of a cloudy summer morning are pouring through the screens . . . the scream of a pileated woodpecker, the clank and squeal of an early freight train, the yap of Bugsy the short-legged puppy as he scuttles down the sidewalk with his child.

I am rereading John Fowles's The Ebony Tower and thinking about forests and tales and chivalry, and wondering if Fowles was successful in creating a 1970s-era version of Marie de France's lais and knowing that he is not. Like so many male writers of his generation, his perceptions of women are fatally flawed, and yet he is clearly compelled by their mystery, and I find that compulsion both endearing and incredibly irritating. Sometimes--and, really, what I mean is constantly--I wonder why I return to books by Milton and Dickens and Roth and Updike and Fowles and so on and so on: I am always arguing with them. I suppose most other feminists would tell me I shouldn't even give them the time of day. And yet.

Ah, well. We are what we are. And I am a poet who loves the western canon but cannot stop talking back to it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The weather is still so cold and damp. The temperature barely hoicked itself out of the 40s yesterday, two nights in a row we've had woodfires, and the furnace keeps trying to kick on. Nonetheless, I discovered flower buds on my tomato plants yesterday, so it seems they're at least pretending to feel summery.

Later this afternoon the boy and I will head north for band practice and friend visiting. (Wish my transmission luck.) Till then I'll keep beetling away at Frost Place and editing tasks and, I hope, turn my thoughts to my own work. The laundry essay has been parked: for some reason prose and I are not presently speaking to one another, but I do have a poem draft to inspect. Yet the house is in an organizational uproar, so I'm feeling unsettled. Tom is cutting a new closet into his study walls, and his desk stuff has wandered downstairs to the living room, which has meanwhile also cluttered up with the boy's musical instruments, books, teacups, blankets, etc. I don't work well in a messy house, though I guess many other writers do. So I'm struggling a bit, even as I'm happy to have my family so close and busy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The morning is dim and cool and sodden and very green. Tiny bright maple helicopters have fallen en masse from the trees, and now they coat driveways and stoops and bare-dirt yards. Dormant bean and lettuce seeds are bursting into leaf in the wet garden rows; heavy peony blossoms bow down to mud.

Yesterday afternoon I lit a fire in the stove as the housebound cat flounced from window to window, glowering at the rain. Meanwhile, my son lay under a blanket rereading one of his favorite books from middle school. It was that kind of summer day.

Now I am sitting in my darkened living room as cloud-light filters through the closed windows. Rain is falling again, and I am drinking black coffee from a white cup. Tock-tick, tock-tick, says the clock on the mantle, as if it is suppressing hiccups. Tom turns on the radio, and a newsman's voice bubbles into the quiet, into the ether, into the crannies of my skull. He is trying to tell me what to listen to, I am trying not to listen,  but how can I help it?

Radio Man: "A South Portland man was arrested last night after lighting a fire on his kitchen table, trying to get his roommate to move out. The roommate fled."

Tom: "I guess it worked."

And the air smells like toast.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Yesterday, as I was working in the garden, my neighbor appeared and asked if I'd like to go plant shopping with her. Naturally I was overjoyed at the invitation, and the two of us spent a delightful hour prowling through the offerings at O'Donal's Nursery. My neighbor is a serious flower gardener, with beautiful perennials and well-designed beds, whereas I am a kitchen gardener who likes flowers but has almost no experience with landscape design. But beyond the gardening, I was happy to to hang out and start to get to know her better.

Then, later in the day, Tom, Paul, and I walked over to a local crawfish boil, where we sat in the slightly chilly sunshine listening to a band play Stevie Wonder covers as we tried to figure out how to get crawfish meat out of the shell.

I still haven't gotten over the fact that, in a city, you can easily engage in such activities while still getting all of your house- and yardwork done. In Harmony we would kill an entire day running basic errands in Bangor. There was no such thing as taking a lunch break to go listen to music and eat shellfish.

Today, rain rain rain . . . I hope. And back to my desk job. And probably lugging the boy around to gather the gear he needs for his summer trek.

In between driving back and forth to Vermont and managing home stuff, I've been rereading Larry McMurtry's Duane's Depressed, and having mixed feelings about it. I used to like it more than I do now, though I still like it quite a bit. But this time through, I'm getting distracted by what feels like excess repetition. Maybe that's important, given that the subject is depression and depression is heavy and repetitive. Yet as a plot strategy it's imperfect.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Well, the boy's dorm-room stuff is crammed and stowed, the boy and his cat are romantically reunited, I have been suborned to watch highlight videos of cute animals, and this morning I came downstairs to discover that the freezer door had been left open all night. Which is to say, the old days are upon us again.

Now I am sitting on the couch thinking about yard work and groceries, feeling anxious about desk work, and wondering how I'm going to manage to get everything done before I go to the Frost Place. . . . I know I am fretting needlessly, but somehow this trip to fetch Paul has served as a ceremonial advent into summer, and now the season looms with all of its demands and busyness: multiple band gigs, two writing conferences, books to edit, gardens to weed.

It will all be fine, it will all be wonderful, but I am girding my sword and already it's heavy.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Greetings from humid Massachusetts, where, last night, I woke to the sound of a deer eating the ferns beneath my open window.

Today the boy and I and our overloaded car will chug back to Maine, and I will then begin to tear out my hair as I struggle to find storage places in our little house for all of his dorm-room stuff.. Fortunately transmission #3 seems up to the challenge of getting us home.

But I'll call you for a ride if we break down.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Outside, our neighbor's cat, Jack, is waiting impatiently for Ruckus to emerge from a bush or behind a garage. The two have become sudden friends, though Ruckus is, unfortunately, the bossy overbearing pal and Jack is the humbler, more anxious one. He is constantly peering through our doors, wondering if Ruckus can come out and play. Meanwhile, Ruckus pretends he doesn't notice or jumps out at Jack from around corners.

Still, as cat relationships go, it's a friendship, and I am amused by the way they crouch under bird feeders together, prowl among the garlic fronds, play-bat in the grass, and recline tail to tail pretending to ignore one another.

In other dull news: supposedly my car will be fixed today--hurray for transmission #3!--and on Friday I should be able to fetch the boy from college as planned. He's halfway through now, which seems impossible. Didn't he just leave home yesterday? Do all parents feel this way?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Spring is such an odd season in northern New England. It waffles back and forth between winter and and summer but rarely settles into any stretch of sweet moderation. I recall the springs in Philadelphia, where I went to college, as long and intense, an affectionate respite before the summer's humidity kicked in. But spring here is hard to depend on. Yesterday was hot; today will be 15 degrees cooler; the soil is drying out, but the nights are chilly. The small plants are struggling, and my transplants are peaked. No amount of watering seems to cheer them up.

Oh, well. At least the clothes are drying well, and I had the pleasure this morning of unfolding a crisp, clean kitchen towel smelling of air and sun.

Now that my classes are over, I am starting to reconfigure my days. My current editing projects all involve poetry and fiction, and now I have to allocate time to reading faculty collections and writing introductions for Frost Place poets. My college son will be coming home for a few weeks, and the patterns of our household will shift accordingly. The schedule says summer, even if the weather does not.

Yesterday, at the request of a kind poet, I sorted through my Chestnut Ridge poems and submitted a batch for the journal she edits. Most, if not all, have already appeared here on the blog, but otherwise they have gotten no press.

It's a kind gesture, and it adds to my welling hope for the collection and its poems . . . and I mean hope in a complicated yet grateful way. Nothing will change for me acclaim-wise; that's not what I'm trying to say. More, I'm basking in a sense of grace, a sort of aroma of celebration from people I admire and respect. That's an awkward metaphor, but I can't think of a better one. And anyway, I'm an awkward person. I'll embrace my ungainliness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

My email inbox was filled with sadness this morning--friends in the midst of change, struggles with age and despair, dissatisfaction with the paths of their lives. So now, on this dim post-holiday morning, I am feeling a bit like blotter paper, damp and stained with spilled ink. I wish I could be helpful, but all I know how to say is "Yes, it's hard," and "Keep talking to me." Perhaps those are the only possible responses anyway.

I'll be back at my desk this morning, copyediting a poetry collection, sorting poems for an invited submission, hoping to hear from the transmission guy about my car.

But the weather will be warm; I'll be able to open all of the windows; the cardinal will sing and sing in the dense maple shade. The photo at the top of this blog is the view up into my tree cathedral. Below is packed dirt and ugliness, but look up and there is glory. That description sounds like a silly metaphor for something or other, but in this case I speak the simple truth.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Yesterday may have been cold and dank, but I still hung my very first load of Portland laundry out on my new clotheslines. Of course it's still hanging there today because there was no way those towels could dry quickly in this weather. I don't care: I was happy to look out the window this morning and see them twitching in the vague breeze. I can hardly believe that I haven't hung laundry on the line for more than a year.

In other surprising news, Tom and I saw a pileated woodpecker in our yard. That was a shock: who would have expected to see the pterodactyl here in the city? In Harmony spring always meant cold laundry and the scream of the pileated in the clearing, so I take his appearance as a friendly omen . . . though Tom takes it, more sensibly, as an omen that there might be something rotten in our trees.

We did manage to buy a trimmer yesterday, a battery-powered one light enough for me to handle easily, so today I'll finish whacking down the mess of goldenrod and other assorted weeds along the stone wall. Hidden under them are few sad patches of lilies and at least one frail little peony. But basically I'm just going to have to start over with that eyesore.

Today's on-the-couch reading: Margaret Drabble's The Witch of Exmoor. Today's dinner: something involving leftovers from last night's chicken kabobs. Plus bread baking and more lovely laundry hanging, rereading my manuscript, grass mowing, a long walk, and afternoon parade noise filtering among the trees and houses.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It will be a cool green Sunday here in Portland. We need a day-long rain but I don't think we'll be getting any. So I'll spend some time this morning rearranging my irrigation hoses, and then I'll run all of the errands I didn't run yesterday.

As it turned out, going nowhere felt like the right thing to do. I sat on the couch and finished Far from the Madding Crowd. I did some desultory laundry. I listened to baseball. I worked on the acknowledgments page for Chestnut Ridge. I studied recommendations for battery-powered string trimmers.

I've been thinking about the Hardy novel, of course. It struck me last night, as I was eating dinner, that a great theme of Far from the Madding Crowd is the power of self-respect. Gabriel, though cast down, never loses it. Bathsheba loses it and regains it. Boldwood and Troy lose it permanently and spectacularly. Hardy makes clear distinctions between notions of self-satisfaction (which everyone but Gabriel exhibits at some point) and self-respect (which only Gabriel steadily maintains). The book is not so much a love story but almost an Austen-like examination of marriage as a contract in which both parties contribute value to the partnership. In this case, niceties of class play no role in the matter; the balance point is usefulness. Bathsheba may be impulsive, but she's an excellent farmer. Gabriel, too, is an excellent farmer, and his steadiness balances her flightiness. There was no such balance her in relationships with Boldwood and Troy.

[If you haven't read the book, then this nattering is meaningless. I could apologize. Or you could read it.]

Saturday, May 26, 2018

According to the thermometer, the temperature was 86 in Portland yesterday. Yet here in this neighborhood of enormous maples, the weather was perfect . . . a warm wind, dense green shade, a torrent of birdsong with a trickle of city noise beyond. Even our ugly backyard had its charms, and the cat and I enjoyed an hour there with a glass of wine, two lawn chairs, and a Thomas Hardy novel. Tom, for his part, spent the evening tooling around Casco Bay in his boss's boat, so he had an equally fine summer celebration.

But enough of this weather talk: you are probably wondering how you got so lucky to know a woman who's gone through three transmissions in the space of a month. After much driving and fretting, the repair guys managed to get my car to replicate Wednesday's scary moment in Waterville. Flaw in the replacement transmission, they agreed. So now another is on order, with arrival scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday. The previous transmission was a low-mileage used part with a three-year warranty, and this will be another one like it . . . which is to say, I won't be paying for anything. But really: this story is getting silly.

I'm so grateful for your good cheer about Chestnut Ridge. Already two poets have agreed to write blurbs for the cover, and that is a huge weight off my mind because I hate to ask people to write blurbs. I'm considering cover photos, starting to finalize acknowledgments, and thus far it's all been a pleasure. This book has been floating for so long.

Today: more warm weather, some thunderstorms, baseball on the radio. Transplanting chard and bok choi. Acquiring a cucumber plant. Buying a string trimmer to deal with the mess of weeds along the stone wall. Best of all: putting up a clothesline.

Friday, May 25, 2018

I am so happy to announce that Deerbrook Editions will be publishing Chestnut Ridge in 2019. I am also relieved and grateful. You know how long this book has been hunting for a home--so long that I thought it might never find a landing place.

The weight off my shoulders is significant. It's funny how heavy an unpublished manuscript can become.

Now, this morning, as I stand at my desk in my green-shadowed study, waiting for the heat of the day to kick in, I am also feeling a sense of quietude that is linked, as so many things are, to my loss of the Harmony land. Although Chestnut Ridge is not set in Harmony, it was the last big project that I completed there. All of it was written at my desk in our bedroom, up the steep stairs, next to the window overlooking the autumn olive hedge and the overgrown mock-orange. I will never write another word in that room, yet every book I have published was born there.

The next manuscript, Songs about Women and Men, is a transitional collection: some poems from Harmony, some from Portland. Somehow that makes everything different, at least to me.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

. . . and the transmission saga continues.

I was an hour north of Portland, driving at 70 mph, when my car said "clunk," the transmission felt as if it had slipped into neutral, and I fortuitously managed to pull off onto an exit and call AAA to tow me home.

Apparently all is not well with the replacement transmission. But at least it is definitively covered with a warranty.

Still: ugh.

On the bright side, I slept in my own bed. And I have plenty of time to clean the house before tonight's dinner party. The question is: what party food can I buy within walking distance of my house?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Philip Roth is dead. At some point I hope to write a fuller reaction to that loss, but I have to teach this morning and then rush north for practice this afternoon, so my elegy will have to wait. Suffice it to say that my readerly relationship with Roth's work has been complicated and slightly obsessive and marked by both irritation and admiration. In other words, he has been an influence in all sorts of ways, and in fact bears a certain resemblance to John Milton in the way in which he has, despite my aggravation and resistance, wormed his way into my life.

Roth = Milton. That alone is a thought worth exploring.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The sky is gray this morning, but the air over Goose Cove is clear and fogless. A lobster boat bobs in the glassy water, and beyond it lies Swan Island, an indistinct strip of vegetation and modest hills.

Yesterday we hiked up North Bubble, across to Conners Nubble, and then back along carriage trails and down alongside Jordan Pond. During the summer this particular section of Acadia will be thronged with visitors, but at the moment it is still relatively quiet. Often, when we visit Mount Desert Island, we avoid the eastern sections of the park altogether. But there's a reason visitors love these places: they are visually intense . . . long vistas of mountain and sea, cliffs hugging blue lakes, waves crashing against sharp rocks. In Acadia, the postcards of Maine come to life.

Still, the peaceable view from this cottage is more lovable. We've been coming to this quiet house on the cove for a long time . . . for at least 15 years, maybe more. Our little boys roamed the muddy beach. Our young poodle rolled ecstatically in horrible-smelling fish innards. Our friends in the main house came down to the cottage every evening for dinner.

Now the boys are grown up and far away. The poodle is dead. But our friends still come down for dinner. The bond still vibrates. I don't have my Harmony land anymore, but there are places--this cottage, Robert Frost's porch--that weave into my life story. I am lucky.

And by this evening we'll be back in Portland--doing laundry, buying groceries, getting bitten by the ireful cat. The life story goes on.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Blurred view of Frenchman's Bay, while the photographer was sitting on a rock, eating a ham sandwich, and being lightly rained on.

Later the photographer returned to the land of wi-fi and discovered that her poem "The Maine Woods" had been published in the Maine Sunday Telegram. The poem is somewhat less blurry than this photo is.

Sunday, May 20, 2018



Greetings from Goose Cove, which is blanketed in mist this morning.  Beneath the fog lie one or two anchored lobster boats and a breakfasting loon. The tide is shifting noisily, a pebbled surge, but there are no dramatic rocks and breakers here. All that is on the other side of the island.

This is the view from our bedroom window, and from our little dining table, and from our screened porch. The air is cold, and a raw dampness seeps from the clouds and the shore. It is a good morning to light a wood fire and drink coffee and copy out Akhmatova poems.

Yesterday afternoon we managed to get in a four-plus-mile hike along the carriage trails that circle Witch Hole Pond. I wish I could regale you with the legend of Witch Hole, but nobody I ask seems to know anything about it. Here is a lousy photo of Duck Brook, which carves out a gorge alongside the trail, and another photo that shows one of the fancy bridges that the island's erstwhile owner, John D. Rockefeller., Jr., had built along these trails. This urge to fancy up the wilderness is called rusticating. You may find that term ironic. Nonetheless, the bridges and carriage trails are impressive.



As you can see, spring is not well advanced here at Acadia. The leaves on the trees are small, and in general winter shades prevail. Here and there a few violets bloom on the verge; an unknown-to-me purple-flowered shrub occasionally brightened the wayside. But mostly the colors were grays and browns and staid greens.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thanks to dear friends, we're off to spend a few days in a downeast cottage by the sea. I fear the cat sitters will have their hands full with a housebound Ruckus, who will not be delighted to be stuck inside while we're gone. I hope to write to you, but I'm unsure about the current state of the cottage's internet connection, which in the past has been wonky and intermittent.

Unfortunately I've begun this weekend by losing the book I was reading. I think I left it in a coffee shop. If anyone is loafing at Arabica on Commercial Street, keep an eye out for Far from the Madding Crowd.

My goals for this weekend are Read, Walk, Visit, Cook, Stare at the Ocean, Sleep.  It would be nice to include Write in that list, but I'm not expecting it. The weather will be cool and rainy. I will be lugging a fat volume of Akhmatova's poems and whatever novel I dig out of the boxes. The mountains will loom out of the mist. The sea will crash against the rocks. The forests will glow with the rich phosphorescent green of spring. The bugs will be annoying. The gulls will scream. I will be squinting through binoculars and trying to identify blurry swimming objects. Here's hoping I can figure out what I'm looking at.

Friday, May 18, 2018


This is the view from my bedroom window--a bit blurry because of the window screen, but you get the idea. These lilacs are not mine but my neighbor's, and I am like Rapunzel's mother--fervently desiring what's on the other side of the fence. Everything in her garden is stately and established, whereas almost everything in mine is a messy wilderness, bare earth, or tiny and new.

I spent yesterday weeding, planting, and reading Thomas Hardy. It was all very bucolic. My neighborhood is ridiculously beautiful just now, and I wish my garden could keep up with the glories. But people have been so kind. Yesterday I planted some gift ginger and hosta, which will be foundations for my future shade garden. My mother loaded me with plants from her favorite Vermont nursery. My friend up north is babysitting a cranberry saved from the Harmony garden. A friend in New Hampshire is nurturing lupines grown from Harmony seeds. I am basking in their garden affections.

Still, I don't think I'll ever create a classic city plot. I want clotheslines and a woodpile. I want vegetables among the flowers. I imagine berry bushes and grape arbors. Maybe they will happen.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

This is a hectic week. Even as I pull things together after my long ramble with my son, I'm prepping for a weekend with Tom up at Acadia. It will be a social whirl of Frost Place friends, Maine writer friends, and old family friends, plus the pleasures of mountains and sea in the springtime. I'm excited but I'm also kind of exhausted, and I hope I can manage to do everything that needs to be done.

My plan is to devote most of today to outdoor chores. The weather will be beautiful, and I have seedlings to plant and garden beds to weed and maple saplings to murder. I've begun rereading Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd and thus I am feeling sentimental about lambing season, which in real life is hardly a sentimental subject but a long exhausting round of blood, dirt, pain, and often death. Hardy doesn't overlook those actualities, but for whatever reason my nostalgia is.

I spent yesterday afternoon working with my high school students on the final revisions of their poems and, as always, was overwhelmed by the richness of their imaginations and their experiences. Every single student in the class produced tremendous work. All of them took the task seriously. And afterwards, I walked home along the violet-edged streets, under the blooming dogwoods, alongside the fading tulips and the budding lilacs.

I live here now. And that notion is still so strange to me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Greetings from Portland, Maine, where I have landed again after a week of rambling. It was so good to spend a week with my boy, but I'm still glad to be back in my own bed. It's funny how attached one can get to a particular set of pillows and sheets, even to an ancient and familiar mattress.

Today I'll immediately be rushing back into work stuff: Frost Place and editing matters, and then an afternoon in the classroom, but I hope to find a chance to potter in the garden. My mother bought me some seedlings to plant, I have a new crop of weeds and maple sprouts to wrestle, the lawn patch is hairy . . . the usual situation after a few spring rains and a week in absentia.

While on my travels, I finished Lincoln in the Bardo, which I ultimately liked a great deal. Now I need to dig out something else to read from the boxes in the dining room.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Yesterday started out in Vermont, where my two of my nephews comically pretended to be waiters and cruised around the living room taking orders for Mother's Day breakfast, and ended in Massachusetts, where my third nephew comically gave himself a Participation Award for coming in last in a card game.

In the middle, I had a sunny two-hour walk and lunch with my own sons. It's been a long time since we've all been in the same place, though we were sad we didn't also have Tom there with us.

Now I am lying in bed staring out into spring forest. The pale green maple leaves are bright against the dark conifers, and somewhere a bluejay is squawking.

I apologize for forgetting the link to the essay I posted yesterday, but it's there now. I've gotten more response than I expected to the piece, which makes me happy, of course; but rereading it this morning has also reminded me of the melancholy I lived under when I was writing it. I was so homesick.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

I'm just about to hit the road again, but I wanted to quickly share this link to my essay "Lost Time," which has been posted today in Vox Populi. If you've been following my Uncle Paul/Vietnam project, you may be interested.

Talk to you soon. . . .

Saturday, May 12, 2018

This morning I woke up in frost-bitten Vermont to an email from Subaru:
Hello Dawn,
You are receiving this notice because your reimbursement in the amount of $4,354.95 has been processed and will arrive within 7 days.

Ah, the power of imploring! Thank you all so much; I would never have believed that writing a letter would have resolved the issue so thoroughly.

This morning's email was a fine complement to our cheerful road trip. Yesterday I moseyed around a plant nursery with my mom while my dad and my son went to a cider tasting. We had a lovely loud dinner with my sister and her family, and then played rude and riotous Parcheesi. Today we will watch my nephew compete in a track meet, and tomorrow little Tina the Subaru with a Free Transmission will chug us down the road to our next destinations.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I spent yesterday going hither and thither with the boy . . . hiking along the salt marshes, carting stuff to the Goodwill, that sort of thing. It feels so good to just hang out together. A phone call can never replicate casual elbow-rubbing

Today I've got a bunch of going-away prep to accomplish, a class to teach, and then a small dinner party to host for J and some of his childhood friends . . . a tiny crush of young people loudly eating fried chicken and macaroni salad. What could be better? Then tomorrow we embark on our visit-everyone-in-the-family tour. Ahead of us are card games, pie, cheering on a nephew at a track meet, and being in the same room with both of my boys on Mother's Day.

So you'll hear from me only sporadically over the next week. In the meantime, leave me a note here and tell me what you're reading and/or writing about these days.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Waking up in the morning with a son in the house = happiness.

Outside, I can see the fog hanging low over the neighborhood, one of those early morning mists that will burn off within an hour. Already the sun is shimmering, diamond-like, through its upper reaches.

Things that give me pleasure this morning (in addition to having a son in the house): Looking at the tidy arrangement in our newly painted and shelved linen closet. Drying my hands on a non-threadbare kitchen towel. I am not hard to please.

I'm continuing to move forward with Lincoln in the Bardo, finding a slow reading rhythm. Yesterday, in high school, I taught my very favorite Akhmatova poem. And oh yes!--here's some big news for all of you supportive you-should-write-a-letter-to-Subaru friends: The company's customer service tells me that my car should have been covered under an existing extended transmission warranty. Ergo, the service guy at the local dealer screwed up when he told me there wasn't one. Right now Subaru is reviewing my bill, so keep your fingers crossed because it seems possible that I may be reimbursed.

Monday, May 7, 2018

It's a rushing-around day today: first housework, then school prep, then teaching, then grocery shopping, then meeting my son at the airport, and then finally the holiday will begin.

So, in a quick response to Ruth, who spoke of trying to read Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo: It seems to me that one must don the poetry hat to read this novel. The structure feels quite familiar: it's what I did myself when working on the factual-imaginative histories that form my collection Chestnut Hill. I expect, because Saunders is a novelist, he is also manipulating innumerable plot devices, and those will likely become clearer at I get further into the book. But for now I'm coasting, as I would with poems.

This book is also reminding me of Sondheim's musical Assassins--another factual-imaginative history, very episodic and surreal even as it borrows solidly from American history.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Crabapples, forsythia, azaleas are in bloom. I have none of these plants in my garden, but that is the beauty of the city: everyone's yards are open for looking. Yesterday I weeded, bought a cucumber trellis, and planted cucumber seeds underneath it. I also planted leek seedlings, a tarragon plant, some basil plants, and some lemon grass. In the meantime, Tom installed the screen door and chainsawed some ugly little ash trees that were annoying both us and our neighbor.

This morning, before rain, I'll be bagging up brush and stacking firewood. In the afternoon, during rain, I'll be doing housework. Tomorrow evening Number 1 son arrives for a week-long visit, and we are excited. It is a terrible thing to go for months without laying eyes on one's own child.

I finished reading Tree of Smoke, which turned out to be an excellent novel with a less-than-stellar ending. Then I took a small break and reread a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel. And now I have turned my attention to George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo. Have any of you read it?

Friday, May 4, 2018

I'll be playing music tonight in South Portland, at the Sea Dog Brewing Company, 8-11 p.m.--sitting in with the singer Troy Youngblood, who recently moved to Maine from Florida and has a huge and amazing blues voice. Sunny Stutzman will also be sitting in, on sax and harmonica. It will be an improvisational night as we don't regularly play together, but it will be fun. You should come hang out; Troy's voice will amaze you.

Until then, I'll be devoting the day to bundling together various loose ends. Yesterday I shipped my giant editing project to the author, so I have a bit of breather before tackling the next manuscripts. Today I'll be sorting out Frost Place stuff, running a few errands, prepping for class next week . . . that kind of thing. On Monday our Chicago son will fly into Portland, and after spending a couple of days here, he and I will head out on a mother-and-son-visit-the-family road trip. I'm so looking forward to spending all this time with him, but I've got to get myself organized.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Yesterday, during my high school poetry class, the lead teacher opened the session with 10 minutes of free-writing from this prompt: "Today I am. . . . " I am often not inspired by prompts; in fact, I often actively despise them. But in class I always try to make myself go with the flow, so I sat down and opened my notebook and started writing. This is what came out.
Today I am having a hard time not running out to my garden every 5 minutes to see what's growing. I am so excited to be planting again. Already my peas are up and yesterday we had baby lettuce at dinner, and now my tulips are in bloom, and there is a cardinal nesting in a neighbor's lilac bush, and I am so relieved to have my hands in the dirt again--and yet when I walk back into my house and pick up a book or a pencil, even that interior world feels richer now, as if the dirt under my fingernails is a kind of magical powder and the words dance and the thoughts cohere and suddenly being a writer makes sense--I don't feel like I have to explain, "Oh, I used to be a poet, but then the poems disappeared"--no, here they are again--gifts like sunshine and spring and a cat blinking his eyes in a warm wind and the scent of hyacinths and the sound of that cardinal singing his joy.
Now, this all sounds very nice and hopeful, but it is not entirely true. I have no evidence that the cardinal is nesting in a lilac bush, though certainly he and his mate are nesting somewhere in the neighborhood. And that coy declaration about becoming a writer again, and feeling all happy about dancing words and such: that is . . . well, not entirely bosh, given that I did construct a decent poem draft this week, but I am in no way living the ethereal writer-life that my prompt response claims.

Why did this semi-specious paean burst from my pen? Why do such fabrications force themselves into the air? I can't say that my response was a lie--I am happy to be gardening; I am writing more productively than I was; a cardinal does sing in my back yard--but there is considerable embroidery.

If I were trying to revise this passage in an essay, I would take stock of my exaggerations and think about how to mold them into a response that would be more complex and less directly sentimental. At the same time, of course, I would be creating/re-creating a persona, which, in essays as in fiction, means that I would be deliberately highlighting and eliding and otherwise manipulating your gaze. So in that sense, this first draft is simply a rough outline of the kind of control a non-journalistic writer exerts over explorations of memory and reaction.

Still, there's a raw falseness that I find unnerving, and I meet it in nearly every first draft I produce. I wonder if you, too, have some version of this experience.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Today the temperature is supposed to hurtle into the mid-80s, and to celebrate Tom and I are going to a baseball game after work. In the meantime, I'll be teaching, working on Frost Place stuff, waiting for editing instructions, planting a sage seedling, and opening all the windows.

I've been copying out Akhmatova's poem cycle "Requiem," which is a brutal delineation of how it felt to be the mother of a son imprisoned during Stalin's terrors. I've been reading Johnson's Tree of Smoke, which is an epic set in the chaos of Vietnam. Somehow my reading has been co-opted by dread. Yet I'm drafting my own quiet poem about ghosts. It feels watered-down, immaterial, to be a writer without a tragic subject. It feels like an accidental stroke of fate to be a living, un-terrified body.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Before I got into bed last night I stood at the bedroom window gazing down into the empty street flooded with full-moonlight and cloud shadow. The angled roofs, the brilliance of the light, the velvet dark--all were shockingly beautiful. But there was also an intense brevity. Everything--my watching, the moon's arc, the threads of cloud--was in motion. And I realized, for the first time, that where I live now--this tidy neighborhood of tulips and bicycles--might now and then erupt into a wild land.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Yesterday's reading/performance was lovely--low-key, gentle, filled with emotion. The program alternated between musicians and poets, and I recollected once again how vibrant the music life is in Portsmouth. There is an intense songwriting circle down there, and many of its members are involved with the Writers in the Round program. If you are a poet or a songwriter who is at all interested in exploring the crossovers between those arts, I encourage you to consider signing up for the group's Star Island retreat. There's more than a little Frost Place heart in this gathering. You will feel at home.

Today I'm back to work, though I'm close to the end of my current, very complicated editing project. I think it will be a cool day, with passing showers, though at the moment the sun is shining. Everywhere in Portland tulips and daffodils are opening, and down in Portsmouth the forsythia is in full glory, and I have a permanent allergy headache. Not that I care. I am all for flowers.

And maybe I'll get my car back, with her expensive young 17,000-mile transmission. Gah.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Yesterday I planted seeds: sunflowers, nasturtiums, love-in-a-mist, cosmos, zinnias, calendula; also rapini, burgundy beans, scarlet runners, chard, kohlrabi, and bok choi. Thus ends my spring planting season, bar a few more herb plants and any irresistible flower seedlings I come across. I've saved space for tomatoes, peppers, a cucumber, and basil; and once we finish cleaning out the backyard, I'll sow some wildflower seeds out there.

Today, I'm off to a reading at the Durham Community Church in Durham, New Hampshire, 2 p.m. A number of musicians will also be performing, and I think I'm going to get to play fiddle backup for a song, in addition to reading some new work. Maybe I'll see a few of you locals?


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Another wet spring night, which I spent reading on the couch beside a wood fire, half-listening to the Red Sox lose a game, then half-listening to Tom watch a movie in the other room, half-watching the cat snooze upside down on his chair, then floating drowsily up to bed, scissoring into crisp cotton sheets, and then time telescoped, and now it is now.

In this morning's bare dawn, fog drapes over houses and street. But the rain has stopped and Ruckus has already hopped out to prowl the sodden yards.

I hope to start planting in my new garden plot today; I need to prep for tomorrow's reading; I should borrow Tom's truck and go grocery shopping.

Yesterday I started a bad poem that seems to be going nowhere, as if my brain has gotten stuck in the wrong gear. Ah well. At least I managed to make cookies for the guys at the library. At least I watered my plants. At least I've been copying Akhmatova's poems and reading Johnson's novel. At least I cooked dinner and talked to a son on the phone and hung out with Tom. But sometimes I do feel as if art has forsaken me.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Today is the day I will learn how to take the bus into downtown. Having no car is a great way to quit procrastinating about such things. And I've worked out a ride to Sunday's reading, so for the moment I'm managing without too much trouble. It's a whole lot easier in town than it was in the country, that's for sure. Rural dependency on machines: I know I wrote about that in my Milton memoir. It's one of the many ironies of the bucolic.

Yesterday I learned that Vox Populi will publish my essay "Lost Time," so that was much better news than transmission failure. I haven't been sending many things out lately, so maybe this will encourage me to start doing so again. Or maybe not. I don't seem to be full of enthusiasm about submitting, though I am planning to read some new work on Sunday.

I'm getting more and more attached to Johnson's Tree of Smoke. I still can't get over how good he is at capturing the nuances of individual voices in dialogue. Great novelists amaze me.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

[Insert long scream here.]

Transmission is shot. Repair and replacement will cost $4,000.

Car is a 2014 with only 75,000 miles.

Of course, the warranty has expired.

[Insert another long scream here.]

* * *

Okay, let's change the subject. I'm reading on Sunday with Jeffrey Harrison, Ellen Taylor, and a number of seacoast musicians and songwriters at the Durham Community Church, 17 Main Street, in Durham, New Hampshire, 2 p.m. I'd love to see you there. [I hope your cars work.]

Last night the rain poured down, and it's still coming down this morning, but I have a new pile of dirt heaped on top of my new garden bed, so imagine me outside in the wet, happily raking and not thinking about my car. [Sob].

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

So, the bad news is: poor little Tina the Subaru was towed from the garage to the transmission shop. I await further word. Sigh.

The good news is a warm spring rain and company for dinner. And I can walk to work this afternoon.

I've been reading Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke and I can't decide how I feel about it. The characters are amazingly vivid, so that is a wonderful thing. But there's something about the chronological structure of the novel that is confusing. Even though the sections are clearly labeled with dates--1963, 1964, 1965--the later sections can feel like flashbacks to something that has already happened or been mentioned in earlier sections, which perplexes me. Of course Johnson did this on purpose, but my brain hasn't figured out why. Anyway, I am plowing ahead, on the assumption that everything about the Vietnam War was chaotic so why shouldn't the timeline of a novel about the war also be chaotic. Still, if there's any novelist out there who's read this book, I'd love to hear what you have to say about its construction.

Fortunately reading Akhmatova is like drinking water.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Downstairs the radio news is earnestly describing Melania Trump's plans for setting the dinner table. Apparently she's having the Macrons over for a meal. No one will have a good time.

Meanwhile, here at Alcott House, the cat is campaigning to go outside. I expect him to hire lobbyists at any moment.

The sun is shining, the day will be warm, and I will be spending most of it inside at my desk. But at least the windows will be open as I dread the car mechanic's phone call.

I've started reading Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke. I'm still immersed in Akhmatova's poems.

Last night I made potato pancakes with guacamole--a fine combination that I highly recommend. Tonight: seafood risotto and carrot-lemon salad, with, if I'm lucky, a few gleanings of tiny lettuce sprouts.

Did I tell you I planted my peas?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Today will be a day filled with things nobody wants to do, such as Take Car to Garage and Hope I Don't Get a Terrible Phone Call Later This Morning, and Convince Maytag to Send Someone Over to Fix the Burner on the Stove for Free, and Hope That I Don't Spend Two Hours on Hold When I Call the Insurance Company.

So Wish Me Luck.

I've also got my endless editing job, and a batch of curriculum planning for my high school poetry residency, and all of the housework I ignored over the weekend when I was outside doing all of the yardwork. . . .

Well, every member of the bourgeoisie has to have a Monday like this once in a while.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these lines from an untitled Akhmatova poem, dated "Spring 1917":
The mysterious spring still lay under a spell,
the transparent wind stalked over the mountains,--
and the deep lake kept on being blue,--

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Spring arrived yesterday--cool, breezy, but certainly spring. I spent the entire day outside: first, at the nursery buying plants; then home putting them in; and then, for the rest of the day, bagging brush, wheelbarrowing leaves, and generally trying to make something out of nothing in the dead zone of the back yard. Meanwhile, Tom reamed out the rickety shed, hauled crap to the dump, yanked out a prickly bush with a come-along, and discussed chainsawing some ash and maple saplings that are growing in all the wrong places. Right now, we are still in destructo mindset: we can't improve the back yard until we get rid of the random tree growth and deal with our own construction detritus and the garbagy leftovers of the previous inhabitants.

But the front yard is coming along nicely. I'm still waiting for soil for the new bed, but yesterday I planted a small parsley and rosemary hedge, planted a small lavender hedge, hauled rocks for a miniature retaining wall along the sidewalk, planted mint in a beautiful blue pot, and wedged some creeping thyme into the crevices of a stone wall. My peas are in, and I have planted beets, arugula, cilantro, dill, lettuces, and radishes. The garlic shoots are glowing, and tulips are budding. Yesterday, I had a long talk with my friendly gardening neighbor, who tells me that this area of town is well known for its rich soil and easy growth. After twenty years spent gardening in a hard climate and on fir-shaded ledge, I don't know if I can handle such ease. Good thing I have an ugly back yard to keep me from swooning.


This isn't much of a photo, I know, but I'm not much of a photographer. Still, maybe you can see the outlines of what's to come in this bed. There will be a hedgerow of shrubby herbs along the right side; the green visible in the center is my garlic; the other patches of green are tulips planted by a previous occupant. At the back is the blue pot of mint. At the front, where you can just glimpse the terracing, are more tulips, some lavender, and, if the seeds sprout, a row of black-tipped ornamental grass. On the left, beside the foundation, are hyacinths and tulips and, eventually, I think, there will be dahlias. Closer to the front is a new bed waiting for a soil delivery. It will mostly be vegetables, with screens along the walkways of low sunflowers and ornamental grass.

Anyway, that's the dream plan. We'll see if the squirrels and the weather and the insects and my dedication to weeding will allow some version of it to come alive.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Some excellent news yesterday: Allan Monga, the young asylum seeker from Zambia who won the Maine state Poetry Out Loud competition, triumphed in his lawsuit against the National Endowment for the Arts and will be going to D.C. for the nationals. The judge was firm in his decision, citing a Supreme Court case verifying that all children, no matter what their immigration status, have the right to a full education. He compared Allan's situation to one of a soccer player who would be allowed to play on the school team but not allowed to compete in the championship. He then asked, "Is this what we as Americans stand for?"

I feel so happy about this, not least because I had my teeth gritted in preparation for the decision to go the other way. As I've said before, I understand that a poetry-recitation contest is a tiny blip in the broader tale of misfortune, disenfranchisement, rejection, and unfairness. But of course I took it personally, having been a state judge and thus responsible for the decision that brought Allan to this point. He deserved to win, he did win, and now he will move on to the next level.

Yesterday was altogether an immersion into the conversation of poetry. In the morning I had a long quiet visit with Baron Wormser before he headed home to Vermont; in the afternoon I sat with the guys in our community writing project and listened to them talk about each other's writing, share thoughts, make jokes, ask questions, wonder about their purpose in life. And then one of them, an asylum seeker from Angola, shouted, "I want to open a center for everyone, and I would call it Come In!"

Yes, we all agreed; yes, we all laughed. Yes. That's the place we need to be.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Yesterday was one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong and then everything seemed to go right, so who knows what to think?

First, Chestnut Ridge got a big rejection from a major poetry publisher that had held it for more than a year and then wrote me a letter filled with praise about it but declining it anyway. Then I started my car (I was up north in Wellington), and all the dashboard lights started flashing like crazy, as if everything under the hood and all the wheels and even the cruise control had broken, but why and how since all it had been doing was sitting quietly all night?

Anyway, I took the risk and drove the two hours home anyway, without consequence, so apparently there's some kind of computer malfunction but not imminent meltdown.

And then, when I got home, I spoke to another publisher, who very kindly asked me to send him the ms of Chestnut Ridge. So that was comfort.

And things got better yet: I spent the evening listening to my friend Baron read at Longfellow Books, and then Tom and I had a late dinner at our favorite Portland restaurant.

So all in all, I guess it was a good day rather than a bad one . . . though once the car goes into the shop on Monday, I may feel differently.

But poor Chestnut Ridge: always a bridesmaid, never a bride. I am finding it hard to believe it will ever settle down.

* * *

P.S. There was also this good news: a poem I thought a journal had forgotten to publish actually turned out to be in the journal. Thank you, Green Mountains Review, for removing one worry from my day. The poem is called "Eight-Track Tape Player," and it's dedicated to my sister.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

So much sun this morning! The roofs are glints of light, shards of glitter. The phoebes flit and flicker along the fences. Rush-hour traffic grumbles along the main ways, as cats tread purposefully across this quiet offshoot, with its shadowy bare-armed trees, its gardens of dead leaves--an old-fashioned suburban cloister, its nest of houses rising out of time--from 1890, from 1920, from 1940--and its scattering of bike riders, dog walkers, hustling bus catchers, fervent schoolchildren.

Last night I roasted a chicken, mashed potatoes, and made gravy--a meal fit for an anachronism--and already this morning I've ground coffee, fed the cat, plumped up couch pillows, stacked clean dishes, made the bed. I live in time and out of time; my small tasks fade into the invisible rounds of story. Louisa May Alcott grinds the coffee; Emily Dickinson feeds the cat; Phillis Wheatley makes the bed.

Who lives in this house anyway? Am I myself, or am I these ghosts? There is a detachment. There is a pressing-on. There is this doddering pattern of staying alive.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

This morning we woke to fog and silence, which was a relief. Yesterday's rainstorm turned out to be much more than rain. It was a full-force gale, and it howled for hours. Trees whipped and tore against the sky; garbage cans sculled down driveways; buckets of water poured from the clouds.

This morning, though, things are serene, if sodden. The neighborhood is draped in an islandy mist; and should you be into mud wrestling, do consider locating your event in my backyard. But no branches came down on the cars, and the squirrels and birds are up-and-at-it, prowling and singing and chattering and chasing each other through my garden.

Happy spring, I guess.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Yesterday morning I did manage to make progress on my essay, and I copied out a number of Akhmatova poems as well.  Accomplishing that work was a good feeling. And Akhmatova is clearly the poet I need to be reading now, to the point that I've started propping her poems up around my room so that I can see them while I'm editing and doing other non-writing tasks.

Those poems are miracles of faith to the imagination, yet as clear as birdsong. I want to write like that.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Yesterday I did manage to do everything I hoped to do outside: clear away branches, finish raking out the side yard, cut out maple saplings, wrestle my way around the world's meanest rosebush. I still don't have much idea about what's in this area of the yard, other than a sea of scylla and a few daffodil and tulip prongs. But at least now I'll be able to see the growth.

I also weeded in the cultivated beds, where my arugula and lettuce and radishes have sprouted, the garlic looks eager and healthy, and the hyacinths are in full regalia. If only we could get some steady springlike weather: I'm perfectly happy with regular rain, but this morning's freezing rain is just ugly.

Still, the birds are starting to arrive, despite the weather. Yesterday I watched a nesting crow anxiously patrolling the backyard. I saw a pair of phoebes and a pair of titmice flitting here and there among the rocks and roots, and a single enthusiastic wren inspecting the crevices in the stone wall.

Clearly today will not be a gardening day. I suppose it will have to be a housework one, but I'd like to carve out some writing time. I have thoughts about the laundry essay, and I suppose I ought to take a look at my manuscripts and see what I can do to improve them before embarking on another round of submissions. Sigh.

I could also sit beside the fire and read a Virginia Woolf novel. That would not be a waste of time.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

We had a day of spring yesterday, but by tonight we'll be back to winter, with snow, sleet, and freezing rain forecast into Monday. It's very difficult to get anything accomplished in the garden, but I have faint hopes of doing some weeding and stick collection today, before the glop moves in.

Anyway the Red Sox are winning, and that serves as a facsimile of spring.

Though waking up to the notion that Trump is in charge of a war in Syria is not a good feeling. Waking up to the notion that Trump is in charge of anything is not a good feeling. [Understatement of the century.]

* * *

I've been thinking about the definitions of being useful . . . in particular, how much of my work--editing, teaching, mentoring--requires me to restrain my personal ambitions and pride . . . really, such restraint is a necessity in all facets of the work I do outside the privacy of my own writing. Perhaps this is one reason why I find Trump and his cronies so unbelievably coarse and gross and sickening: because they have no comprehension of any need for self-restraint in service of another's voice. Unless it's Putin's.

* * *

I have begun rereading what has become my favorite Virginia Woolf novel: The Years. It suits my Akhmatova project as well . . . two writers with such an ability to concentrate on those points of synthesis, when past and present become fused.

* * *

For some reason I'm feeling a bit glum this morning. Maybe it's Trump's fault. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe I'm recovering from all my passionate upset about Allan Monga's Poetry Out Loud disqualification. Maybe I wish someone would say yes to my poor floating manuscripts.

* * *

But, hey, I have a house to live in. I have flowers in my garden. After yesterday's session with the homeless writers--listening to them tell their stories of loss and dismay and worse--I know I should be happy all the time.

Friday, April 13, 2018

On Wednesday, while I was on the road, I learned, via my friend Gibson Fay-LeBlanc (Portland's poet laureate), that Allan Monga, the young man who won this year's Maine state Poetry Out Loud competition, had been disqualified from competing on the national level because of his immigration status. By the time I got home yesterday, both of Maine's major newspapers had posted articles about the situation. Allan and Portland Public Schools are suing the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation for civil rights violations.

The newspaper articles will give you the gist of the story, including information about Allan's and his school's good-faith efforts to make sure he was qualified before competing. Lawyers have taken this on as a pro bono case, so it seems to me that everyone is quite sure that they have grounds for this action.

Allan is a teenage refugee from Zambia. He is not in the country illegally. Moreover, he has been issued a social security number. He has worked steadily at clarifying his status, and any delays in final paperwork are the fault of the system.

As a judge at the competition, I feel strongly that Allan should be allowed to compete at the nationals. We were not aware of any immigration questions, but the powers-that-be allowed him to compete, and he won fair and square.

But wait, there's more: I discovered from the article in the Bangor Daily News that Allan learned that he would not be allowed to compete at the nationals during the state finals. This means that I, as a judge, was working under false pretenses and that the arts commission staff knew that our final decision was moot, even though we as judges did not.

I am irate about this.  No one at the arts commission has ever spoken to me about what really was going on. I had to find out about it from the newspaper.

On one level, this mess may seem tiny: a poetry-reciting contest; what could be more petty? Yet Allan's situation is emblematic of our nation's larger cowardice and its dismissal of the richness of our future. Likewise, these administrative deceptions put all of the participants into extraordinarily uncomfortable positions.

Here are some contacts, should you care to make your voice heard about this matter: the chairman of the NEA (chairman@arts.gov); the head of civil rights at the NEA (griffinm@arts.gov); a general contact for POL (mail@poetryoutloud.org); the Maine coordinator of POL (mainepolcoordinator@gmail.com).


And here's a link to one of Allan's recitations at the state finals. Clearly, he knows something about poetry's fire.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Everything's just as it was: fine hard snow
beats against the dining room windows,
and I myself have not changed:
even so, a man came to call.

[from Anna Akhmatova's "The Guest" (January 1, 1914), translated by Jane Kenyon]

* * *

Today, our whirlwind visit with our college boy ends, and I'll be lugging him back to school. It's been a good visit--one involving many windy seaside walks, innumerable serious and not-so-serious conversations, enthusiastic baseball listening, the gleaning of childhood detritus, and much eating of seafood. I'm sad to relinquish him but glad to listen to his excitement about what he's learning and experimenting with and figuring out in his composition and directing classes. In my life anyway, there is no joy like the joy of watching my sons become fascinating and complicated men.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

We seemed to have dropped into a refrigeration weather pattern. The plants have retreated into stasis, the breeze is steady and cold, and the temperature never rises out of the 40s. Still, Paul and I enjoyed our walk on the beach and along the marshes. We saw no migrating birds, but we did find some beautiful sedimentary stones, striped and rough to the touch. We looked into an empty crab shell and noticed that whatever animal had eaten it out had decided to leave the eye stems. We watched a big seagull lug off an enormous quahog.

I have been rereading Laura Ingalls Wilder's By the Shores of Silver Lake and noting her discussions of laundry . . . more fodder for my slowly unfolding essay. These mullings over the historical minutiae of housework are conflicting strangely in my mind with the distractions of the news: FBI raids, talking-head meltdowns, presidential tantrums. The horrible gaudiness of our current political moment does not have much to do with hanging up clean shirts in a stiff wind. Yet the horrible gaudiness is mesmerizing.

Monday, April 9, 2018

I hurried home from Wellington yesterday morning, then hurried out to the markets, and then my travelers appeared. I raked some leaves off the crocus sprouts around the stone wall, baseball started chattering on the radio, the cold sunshine beamed, and I was getting ready for our little house's first dinner party . . . a crowded table surrounded by dear young people plus Tom and me. I made them bouillabaisse with Casco Bay mussels and scallops, and I got to use all of my favorite little glasses and plates and created an unholy stack of dirty dishes for poor Tom to wash, and now the house is full of daffodils and tulips and it's Monday again and there is a boy asleep in our back room.

Today I'll work while he sleeps, and then I think the two of us may drive down to Wells and hike along the estuary. Or maybe we'll walk to the map library at the university. Or maybe he'll decide to plug in his piano keyboard and do his composition homework. Any of this would make me happy. I'm just so glad to have him here for a few days.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

This afternoon I'm heading north for a gig, and then tomorrow I'll be rushing back to greet my college boy, who'll be home for a whirlwind "spring" break. It is nice to imagine that the temperature will rise above 40 degrees, but I doubt it. This gig I'll be playing is advertised as a Spring Fling, and we're supposed to wear Florida clothes and play Jimmy Buffett songs and and such, and I am, like, ugh. It's a good thing I love the guys in my band because I do not love Jimmy Buffett songs.

In meantime, here I sit comfortably in the gray living room. Snow fell yesterday, and the wind howled all night, but things seem to have calmed down now. Most of the snow has dissolved into plain wet, and the clouds should clear out. And there will be baseball on the radio for my drive north, so that will help me pretend that the weather is balmy.

I tell you: there are some things I will not do for money, and one of them is wear a Hawaiian shirt on stage. I have already informed everyone in the band that I draw the line there. Also, I will not play any Eagles songs. You may ask, "Why Jimmy Buffett but not the Eagles?" And all I can say in my defense is that the Jimmy Buffett songs sneaked up on me.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Last night was the final session of my essay class, and I'm sad that it's over. The participants, their work, my own opportunities for reading and thought and conversation: the entire experience was so absorbing. I think it was a successful workshop, but it has also prompted me to cogitate about how I could have made it better and more useful, which is, I suppose, why teaching, like writing, always remains compelling.

Anyway: now a day of space has opened back up in my week.

This morning I am turning to one of the copies of Akhmatova translations that just arrived, and I'm reading the first words of Jane Kenyon's introduction to her translation of twelve poems: "As we remember Keats for the beauty and intensity of his shorter poems, especially the odes and sonnets, so we revere Akhmatova for her early lyrics--brief, perfectly-made verses of passion and feeling."

Then she quotes these lines:
With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down
the stalks, one pressed hard against another.
In that image I feel as if I am lifted into the life of a Tolstoy novel, where the physical world, and physical engagement with that world, have such an intense influence on the way in which the novelist's characters expand into both self-knowledge and a broader humane knowledge embracing time and geography and community and the inner private flames of yearning and hope. But all Akhmatova has done is to transcribe the details of a single moment. The miracle of poetry is its mystery.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

And the sun goes down in waves of ether
in such a way that I can't tell
if the day is ending, or the world,
or if the secret of secrets is within me again.

[from Anna Akhmatova's "On the Road," translated by Jane Kenyon]

* * *

Yesterday, in the midst of school, a poem draft began unrolling itself in my notebook. I am almost afraid to hope that the long embargo might be lifting.

This morning has dawned bright and cold and windy. This evening will be the last night that my essay class meets, and we will have a small reading celebration. In the interstices, the quotidian world.

But perhaps words are rising; perhaps silence is turning toward something, toward somewhere.

I am trying to keep the door open.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Rain and rain and rain: a beautiful sound in early spring. Even in the dim light of dawn  I can see that the remaining snowpiles have melted away overnight, and I know the small plants are opening their arms in the darkness. This is the perfect rain . . . mild and steady, a long drink for the dormant earth.

I lit a fire in the stove last night, and we listened to baseball and ate roast lamb. It was a good evening to be home. But today, when I walk to class in the rain: that will be good too. I think my sap is running. Why else would I feel so awake and eager?

I've been chipping away at my essay, reading Akhmatova, editing a difficult manuscript. I've been raking leaves and piling twigs and uncovering plants. The jobs seem parallel.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

This is a relatively quiet week for me. I'm not on the road till Saturday, and my teaching responsibilities are low-key. So mostly I'm editing and working on my essay and doing housework and thinking about Frost Place stuff and hoping that the weather will allow me to get outside and work in the garden. Yesterday there was snow for much of the day--a meaningless constant flurry that did not accumulate. Today the sky should be clear for a while, but rain is scheduled to move in later in the afternoon. In the garden, pale pink hyacinths tremble on the cusp of blooming. A few purple and yellow crocuses have appeared, and the tulips and daffodils are in leaf. Alongside the driveway, a mass of scylla is sprouting, and some has even spread even into the dead zone of the back yard. It must have been planted a number of years ago to be so hardy and well established now. I'd like to know who that lover of spring flowers was.

And my arugula seeds have sprouted! With tonight's warm rain, I expect to wake up to see greening grass and swelling lilac buds, and perhaps my radishes and spinach and dill will be thrusting their first leaves through the wet soil. I'm still waiting for a load of compost to arrive, so much of my planting is on hold for the moment. But I still have lots of twigs to pick up and leaves to move, so that's what I plan to do today.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The other day, a poet acquaintance made reference to "old-fashioned" communication platforms "such as blogs." Of course this made me laugh, because of course it's predictable that I would turn out to be comfortable communicating in a social-media manner that attracts the fewest number of readers.

Which leads me to my periodic dither: why not give it up? Perhaps one of these days I will throw up my hands and cry, "Enough," and you eight readers and I will make a pact to send postcards to one another.

Tom and I ended up spending most of our lovely mild Easter wandering around the Wells Estuarine Research Reserve, which we discovered by accident after running out of trails at the Rachel Carson Refuge. If you haven't been there, you should make the trek. The trails wind alongside a remarkable variety of terrain: freshwater bogs, saltmarsh, vernal pools, and open ocean. In a few weeks it will be a significant bird-migration pitstop, and I'm hoping to get back to see that in action.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

I have been dreading this weekend. No children at home means no little Easter rituals, and though both boys have been out in the world for a few years now, I found myself, during this season of Lent, missing them so intensely. Somehow Easter, in my mind, would inevitably be the pinnacle of that loneliness. I did not want to plan for the day, though I knew I needed to do something to foil my expectations.

But as is so often the case, things aren't turning out the way I feared they would. Yesterday Tom and I went for a long walk down to Capisic Pond and listened to the birds sing and sat on a bench labeled "Harvey" and "Polly." Then we went out and bought a grill and some charcoal and some flank steak and some vegetables, and we planned an Easter cookout.

For twenty years in Harmony, Tom cooked over hardwood in his self-designed fire pit. Then, for a year in the apartment, we did no outdoor cooking. So even though buying a grill may seem like a boring suburban activity (and it is), it also felt like relinking ourselves to our history of cooking together. I don't suppose the city of Portland will ever condone a giant wood fire in our backyard, but now we can still make flame-roasted peppers any time we feel like it.

Once, a long time ago, during a particularly late and obnoxious winter, Tom built a fire in the snow, cut flowers out of paper, stuck hotdogs on sticks, and all four of us went outside in our winter boots and pretended it was summer. This Easter is not the same story, but it might belong in the same album. Despair, you've been foiled again.

In other wonderful Easter news, I have just discovered that there will be a sea of sky-blue scylla billowing alongside our driveway. My cup runneth over.

By the way, according to the Bingo Bugle (a free paper all about the bingo lifestyle, which Tom snapped up at Pat's Meat Market), this is my horoscope for the week: "Your love of harmony keeps you leaning towards the sweet side of life." No kidding.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thanks to the insomnia troll, here I sit in the dark, stupidly drinking black coffee at 4:30 on a Saturday morning. Only the cat is pleased about this.

Through the windows I see rainwater glittering on the cars and the pavement. Yesterday I walked coatless and damp all around town: up and down busy wet Congress Street, in and out of crowded markets and the bank. It felt like the first true day of spring. Today there will be sun, and I have high hopes for my radish seeds. This is just the sort of weather that convinces them to burst.

Still, despite these cheering thoughts, I'd rather be asleep now.

Yesterday I worked a bit on my laundry essay; I did some classwork; I spent an hour at the library talking to a young woman about her hopes and dreams and fears. I read The Maltese Falcon and marveled at the evanescence of slang. I thought about the poems of Anna Akhmatova. I lugged home bags of groceries. I arranged tulips in vases. I cooked chicken and peppers and crushed up avocados into guacamole. I listened to David Price pitch a good game for the Red Sox and comfortably ignored/intersected/overlapped/engaged with Tom, as the whim took us. All the while, my thoughts kept turning back to the young woman in the library . . . not just her but the other people who trickle in and out of that writing project. My tame and modest days are the days that some of them desperately desire, that others desperately flee, that still others cannot conceive of as a possibility. Once a week I finish up my conversations with them and return home to this plain life--to what a friend labeled yesterday, with a certain amused irony, as my wholesome life. What an outdated, even embarrassing, word wholesome is: connotations of cheese and lettuce sandwiches on brown bread, and going to bed early, and washing dishes, and sewing on buttons, and packing lunchboxes, and going for walks along suburban streets, and reading old Dashiell Hammett novels because the slang is enjoyable.

When I was a teenager, I was constantly humiliated by my boringness. Or what I perceived as my boringness. At the same time I was obsessed by my obsessions. Now, in my early fifties, I am demonstrably the same person, but with fewer stabs of shame. Though shame never disappears.

Friday, March 30, 2018

They didn't bring me a letter today:
He forgot, or went on one of his trips;
Spring's the trill of silver laughing on the lips,
I see the boats in the harbor sway.
They didn't bring me a letter today . . .
This is the first stanza of a brief untitled Anna Akhmatova poem dated 1911. The translator of this version is Lyn Coffin, and I am currently waiting for two other translations to arrive: one by Jane Kenyon, the other by Judith Hemschemeyer.

I think what I love above all about Akhmatova's poems is the way in which so many of them live simultaneously in her terrible Stalinist present and in the timelessness of fairy tales. They are so extraordinary in their mythical geography and their medieval cadence, in the way in which the characters reflect both the speaking twentieth-century narrator and the ancient storytelling voices of poets such as Marie de France and Christine de Pisan. Here, for instance, is one of Christine's 14th-century lyrics:
It is a month today
Since my lover went away.
My heart remains gloomy and silent;
It is a month today.
"Farewell," he said, "I am leaving."
Since then he speaks to me no more.
It is a month today.
The two poets are not only telling the same tale but offering it to us in a similar mode: both speak directly of their loneliness, of being caught in a web of waiting, but both also accept that role. Their task is to long for their lover and to be patient. Whether or not the lover returns is immaterial to this narrative. The waiting is all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

This afternoon I'll be teaching a class, and then I'll be driving north for practice. These days I can make it all the way to Piscataquis County before dark, which is good because the central Maine asphalt roads are a hideous collation of frost heaves. But they're passable, at least. The gravel roads are morasses of mud and ruts, and I'll probably be walking a half mile under the stars in order to get to bed tonight.

Here in Portland, snow clings to north-facing yards and shady corners. My front garden is one of the few that is entirely clear. Juncos and woodpeckers flit among the trees, and I am waiting impatiently for the crocuses to bloom.

I am kind of dreading Easter, though. I have no plans, no children to cook for. I need to find a way to distract myself from all the things I won't be doing: coloring eggs, baking hot cross buns, filling baskets. For some reason, the hole seems large this year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Yesterday evening, before dark, I walked around Back Cove with a friend whom I've loved since she was three, and we talked about men and politics and ducks and parents and movies and how terrifying a screaming rabbit sounds at night in the woods. Every few weeks this friend texts me and asks me to go for a walk with her, and I can't tell you how much pleasure that gives me. Just being sought out by a young person: it is sweet to me, in this era of loneliness for my boys.

From my study window, I can see the tips of lilies sprouting in a neighbor's yard. From the bedroom window, I glimpse the swelling buds of another neighbor's lilac. I wish my backyard could give them an equivalent hopefulness, but it remains blank and ugly.

I am listening to Tom fry an egg in the kitchen. Beside him, the radio news drones on and on, like a single-minded eel slipping through a river of garbage. And now Tom turns off the radio, and the sudden gap of silence fills with the dim roar of morning traffic and, closer, a sparrow chirping among the local maples.

The blue walls of my study reflect a chill and watery light, a pale north-facing dawn. At random I open the poems of Anna Ahkmatova, and she tells me:
The souls of all my loved ones are on high stars.
It's good there's no one left to lose,
And I can cry. The air in this town of the tsars
Was made to repeat songs, no matter whose.