Friday, October 19, 2018

Well, it's got to be said, and I'll get it out of the way now so as not to bore you too much with sports talk.
THE RED SOX ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES! I'M SO HAPPY!
Okay, now, that that's been made clear, I can get back to thinking about books and food.

We have house guests arriving this evening--friends we've known since college--and they love good food and always expect me to go all out, so I've been planning tonight's dinner for months. We'll start with cheese and charcuterie. Then we'll move on to Portuguese seafood stew (with littlenecks, mussels, cod, garden tomatoes and peppers, and homemade pot au feu broth), with a salad of rapini and nasturtium leaves (picked before last night's frost) and two kinds of bread: breadsticks with black sesame seeds, and soft dinner rolls with black pepper and winter squash puree. For dessert: a pear and dried cranberry pie, with ginger whipped cream.

It's not exactly a fancy meal, but my goal was to make much of what Portland has to offer seafood- and garden-wise.  Needless to say: I'll be running that new dishwasher a lot today.

I've started re-reading A. S. Byatt's The Children's Hour. I've been writing. Probably I'll need to rip out some frostbitten plants today. My foot is getting better. The washing machine is still making that bad noise. More poems have been accepted for publication. A car-repair guy removed a nail from my tire. This coffee is delicious.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Downstairs, on the radio, Donald Trump is pretending that he slightly cares that the Saudis slaughtered a journalist in their own consulate. Outside, pebbles of sleety snow dot the roofs and cars and stoops. And now Tom has switched off the radio in disgust, and I can hear the washing machine motor making a new horrible noise that does not bode well for a long and happy life.

On the bright side, the house is warm; the lamps are bright; the books are on the shelves.

Yesterday afternoon I lit a fire in the woodstove and then started a new poem, a sort of fairy tale about an apprentice composer who is writing letters to God. I had no premonitions about this story; it just emerged from my fingers after I randomly chose four words from a child's biography of Beethoven: asked, atmosphere, music, concert. It seems, for the moment, to want to unfurl as a long narrative, and I am wondering what will happen to the young man, where he will walk along the canals, how God might answer him, and what his landlady will do with the butt-end of her dead husband's musket.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I'd started reading Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Well, fairly early in the novel, I'd noted a brief reference to a "butt of malmsey wine." Ah, I thought, here comes Shakespeare, interfering with daily life again. I knew, of course, that this was a reference to Richard III, but the mention was incidental and I didn't get too worked up about weird reading synchronicity, as I am wont to do.

At least not until this morning, when I was sitting on the couch with my coffee, reading the final few pages of the novel, and I stumbled into this:
She leaned forward a little and her smile became just a little glassy. Suddenly, without any real change in her, she ceased to be beautiful. She looked merely like a woman who would have been dangerous a hundred years ago, and twenty years ago daring, but who today was just Grade B Hollywood. 
She said nothing, but her right hand was tapping the clasp of her bag.
"[The dead man was] a very bad murderer," I said. "Like Shakespeare's Second Murderer in that scene in King Richard III. The fellow that had certain dregs of conscience, but still wanted the money, and in the end didn't do the job at all because he couldn't make up his mind. Such murderers are very dangerous. They have to be removed--sometimes with blackjacks."
Why is this sort of thing always happening to me? I mean, I know I read a lot, but I don't remember ever opening this particular Chandler novel before. Certainly, if I did, it made no deep impression. And yet I chose to read it this week, and then RIII leaped out of the shadows, jumped up and down on my rib cage, squashed all of my cigarettes and broke my bottle of bourbon, conked me over the head, and dragged me by my heels into the sage-scented backyard of a Beverly Hills sanitarium, where I woke up three hours later, groggy and disheveled, to discover a gat pointed at my belt buckle. Geez.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Richard III: Assignment (Act II, Scenes 3 & 4)

You'll be pleased to learn that this week's reading assignment is extremely short. And I hope you think the response assignment is fun.

Choose a character mentioned in these scenes and invent a detailed physical description of him or her. Incorporate all the senses: don't just concentrate on the visuals of clothes or facial features, but let us smell and hear and touch this person you are conjuring up. Feel free to put some dialogue into his or her mouth, either yours or Shakespeare's.

Let's aim to share these on Tuesday, October 23.

Monday, October 15, 2018

All you RIII folks: we have a new and fascinating contribution on last Tuesday's conversation post, so check it out and converse accordingly. I'm going to post a new assignment tomorrow morning, but I don't want you to miss this chance to keep talking about the previous one.

Today I'm going out first thing to get a tire repaired (sigh), then later hoping to get ye old foot through another yoga class, and meanwhile editing, editing, editing, of course, and trying to catch up on housework that didn't get done while Tom was touching up paint, fixing door jambs, and installing some shelves and hooks yesterday. He also, miraculously, found a big patch of honey mushrooms in our own back garden. So now I've got a cookie sheet of them parked in front of a furnace vent, hoping to borrow enough heat to dry them out. In Harmony I had racks hung directly over the woodstove, which worked like a charm, but that's not possible here, with our teeny-tiny recessed stove. So I have to depend on modernity to do the job.

I've been reading a book my nephew loves so much that he picked it out for me for my birthday: Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle, which I did not think was great prose-wise but agree had many compelling moments story-wise. Mostly I'm excited about getting to talk about a book with my fifteen-year-old nephew.

Now, as a prose tonic, I'm reading Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Let me share some fine sentences with you:

"He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck."

"It was a nice walk if you liked grunting."

Sunday, October 14, 2018

After a wakeful night, I am now blearily attempting to pretend that coffee will do something or other to rescue me. It's a shame to wreck a perfectly nice Sunday morning with an insomnia hangover, but such is the case.

On the other hand, this is what I found yesterday around the corner from my house, in Baxter Woods:


Honey mushrooms! Damp but delectable! Foraged in the middle of the city! I limped here and there among the rain-heavy trees, damp and cold and clutching my mushrooming basket, as inquisitive dogs bustled over to see what interesting things I might be smelling around the roots of trees. It was very exciting for me, and I couldn't wait to come home and brag to Tom about my haul.

So yesterday I sauted and froze a quart of wild mushrooms. I shelled out my scarlet runner beans for drying. Tom fixed the leak in the bathroom sink and mulled over the possibilities for building a dining-room table. I made eggplant and potato curry for dinner. Tom went out to listen to music and I stayed home to listen to the Red Sox lose. You'd think all this would have led to a pleasant night's sleep, but apparently no.

Anyway, better luck tonight, I hope.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

This morning in dull household news: the furnace kicked on, and I donned a sweater immediately after getting out of a hot shower. Now a small cold rain is pattering down, and I am sitting in my study with my foot up, not putting away the summer clothes as I'd planned to do, but instead staring out the window into the back garden, where the big maples twitch listlessly under the raindrops and a chipmunk grazes alongside the broken-down shed, stuffing his cheeks with seeds. It's a good Saturday to be home.

Downstairs the new dishwasher spits and sighs. Across the hall, in his study, Tom is opening envelopes and shifting boxes and crumpling paper and squeaking his desk chair. The cat paces back and forth between us, annoyed by the rain but pleased by our company.

Last night, for dinner, I made pan-seared opah (a delicious Hawaiian fish that's recently turned up in our magnificent fish market) topped with roasted-green-tomato puree and served with diced and roasted sweet potatoes, wilted rainbow chard, and parsley. For spice, we had the serrano pepper sauce I'd finished earlier in the day. Except for the fish and the oils and the salt and such, everything we ate was either from my garden or my father's--and the only items from his were the sweet potatoes. Even this late in the season, I still cannot get over the wonders of my little urban farm. It has gone a long way to reconciling me to this place . . . though I am softening to the sweetness of the house too: our modest 1940s cape, with its funny doorbell and its old-fashioned basement smell, its pebbled-glass bathroom door and its midcentury formalities: a tidy little dining room, a tidy little fireplace. This is a house that thrives on order, like a gypsy caravan in a child's tale. Its charm increases as everything finds a place. No wonder it was so woebegone when we first saw it, overwhelmed by stuff and stress, harrassed by clutter and dirt and crowds. It needed to be petted and soothed. I feel quite motherly about its nerve-wracked ghost.

I suppose I should update you about my foot. After laughing uproariously at my description of the UPS man incident (as everyone should), the doctor said she suspects I've torn a muscle or a tendon and tells me it will take a month or six weeks, maybe longer, to heal. In the meantime, I can keep doing what I'm already doing: walking slowly on firm ground, elevating it as much as possible. Her diagnosis was no surprise, but it's disappointing to accept that I'll be hobbling for so long, and my vanity is not at all enjoying the appearance of my swollen ankle. Oh, well. I knew awkwardness was bound to do me in someday.

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's a wet and puddly and leaf-strewn Friday morning, and I have just limped in from the slippery dark, where I have been accomplishing that quintessential urban chore: dragging containers to the curb for trash day. Now I am back on the couch with my coffee and considering the number of irritating dreams I had last night, all of which seemed to involve grocery lists. As I am fairly good at making lists and calmly following them when awake, I don't see why my subconscious felt the need to waste so many perfectly good sleeping hours checking lists, and fretting over them, and checking them again, and wandering up and down the aisles of the Hannaford searching for unfindable items. Sometimes brains are really annoying.

This morning I have a doctor's appointment, which, I hope, will shed some light on this limp. And then (as my subconscious made clear), I have to run some errands. And then I'll be back to my editing chair for a few hours. I've also got a kitchen project to finish: homemade serrano hot sauce, which I've never done before. I've just finished fermenting the ground-up peppers for a week, so today I'll strain them and mix them with vinegar, lime juice, and a dash of tequila. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

This weekend I'll post another RIII reading assignment, but till then, feel free to to continue commenting on the current post. You don't even need to have submitted your homework to post! I am an easy teacher.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

. . . and suddenly, with a wild gust of wind, the land returned to autumn. Yesterday's strange heat has vanished. Drizzle is tapping against the panes. We will have rain and rain, all day and all night, and I will bake a tomato galette and light candles for dinner, and the cat will burrow into the comforter.

I did, finally, manage to snag some writing time yesterday afternoon. And I mowed the grass, and went for a walk with a friend, but, still, things are not what they should be with my damaged foot. Perhaps the doctor will have some advice tomorrow morning. It's likely that I am just impatient.

I've been reading Jane Hamilton's novel Disobedience, which I found on the street. I've been trying to write a poem about pretending to be on a train, though I'm not especially delighted with it so far. I received another batch of acceptances, which brings my recent total to eight--a happy surprise. Otherwise, there's not much newsworthy in my small orbit, yet the days are meandering down a broad and pleasant path. I'm interested in the book I'm editing. I'm interested in the book I'm reading. I'm interested in the poems I'm writing. And beyond the word-world, there's a blue bowl overflowing with red and yellow tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter. There's a vase of golden marigolds on the dining-room table. There are clean white pillowcases, and freshly painted walls, and a full woodbox, and Aretha Franklin singing on the hi-fi. There's a man who smiles when he walks through the door.
Who gave thee, O Beauty,
The keys of this breast,—
Too credulous lover
Of blest and unblest?
--from "Ode to Beauty," by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I expected to be heading north for band practice today, but as it turns out I'll be staying home in hot little Portland. Eighty degrees yesterday, eighty degrees today, amid the early dusks and late dawns of a Maine autumn . . . basically, the weather feels wrong, and it's making me tired and edgy. Or maybe I'm just coming down with a cold. In any case, not traveling north gives me time to limp around the grass with the lawnmower, and to limp around the kitchen making sauce with the tomatoes ripening on my windowsills, and to limp into the yard and shake my fist at the squirrels that keep chewing down my clothesline. I've also got editing infinitum, and I still haven't found time to work on the poem revision that's been niggling away at my semi-subconscious.

But, hey, the Red Sox beat the Yankees!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Richard III: Conversation (Act II, Scenes 1 & 2)

As promised, I am late but finally here, and all ready to read your personal reactions to a line in one of these early scenes in Act II. I will add my own to the comments as well, after a few of you post first.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Having my sister here for my birthday was such a treat. She's got a house full of teenagers, juggles multiple jobs, and almost never gets the chance to escape anywhere alone, so seeing her was special. And then there's that guy I married, who made omelets for breakfast and steak for dinner, and washed all of the dishes, and bought me a set of beautiful noodle bowls, and was charming and affectionate and funny all day long. My cup runneth over. Being old is lovely.

Today I'll be prepping for tomorrow's workshop with seventh graders, and editing a manuscript, and, I hope, going to a yoga class if my foot can bear it. For dinner I'm planning to make black bean soup with roasted green tomatoes, and, if I remain enthusiastic, dinner rolls flavored with winter squash puree. I've got a poem collaboration project I want to start working on with a friend; I've got revision ideas for a poem in progress; I need to catch up on my Richard III reading.

But I'm still basking in the sweetness of the weekend. Love is a magical thing. And the knowledge of being loved is strangely humbling.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The small red clouds are fading into gleams of sun. The neighborhood is quiet. Upstairs Tom is beginning to stir. In the back room my sister, on a happy visit, is still silent. Today is my 54th birthday.

My private life is peaceable, my gardening life is swaggering, my political life is enraged, my writing life is fizzing over. It seems that the linking word in these phrases is life--though when I was 16, I wouldn't have guessed that an aging person could feel so lively. It's a nice discovery about growing older: that the world is still so interesting . . . maybe even more interesting than it ever was before.

Today I'll make breakfast with Tom and my sister. Later she will drive home, and he and I will wander off on some little unstructured jaunt suitable for a birthday-celebrator with a damaged but healing foot. I plan to read, and play with my cat, and listen to baseball playoffs, and fold laundry, and do nothing at all spectacular except enjoy being a 54-year-old woman: long married, graying, not as thin as she used to be. But smiling! I want to be one of those old ladies who laughs with noisy children in the grocery store. And militant! I want to be one of those old ladies who backtalks swamp monsters. And busy, and dreamy, and prone to kiss the cat. You can see: I have big ambitions. May the years strut forth on the promenade, and roll down to the sea, and wander through the forest.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A pile of stones: an assertion
that this piece of country matters
for large and simple reasons.
A mark of resistance, a sign. 
--Adrienne Rich
I kept waking in the night and saying to myself, Do not think about Kavanaugh. Do not think about Kavanaugh. Other people report constantly clenching their jaws and crying over tiny nothings. People from faraway states text me, as if I might have some secret insight into why my state's senator, Susan Collins, has chosen to betray her constituents and vote this wretch onto the Supreme Court. I have no secret insight, other than the fact that she has always been wishy-washy and unreliable, with a patina of prim decorum that fools people into imagining that maybe, just maybe, she might not be one more Republican woman under the thumb of the good ole boys.

The other day a friend wrote to me, "It's times like these that make me realize I am, in spite of myself, a patriot. Otherwise I wouldn't feel so bad."

Before bed, as I sat on my couch, nursing the most spectacular bruise I've ever had in my life, listening to playoff baseball and spending time with a man who never had any interest in raping anyone--despite the fact that he grew up in the 80s, when apparently it was a favorite hobby of all healthy males; just ask our swamp-monster-in-chief--I tried to keep my mind steady, my rage in check. It's not that I think rage is wrong, but it's exhausting, and we patriots are running a grueling race.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Late yesterday afternoon, as I was writing an email, I heard the UPS man stop outside, so I bounced down to meet him, turned my ankle on the front stoop, fell into a chrysanthemum, and rolled to his feet. We were both very surprised. Unfortunately, when I turned my ankle I felt a bad sensation, and as I sat there on in the front yard I was not sure that I was going to be able to accept the UPS man's proffered hand to get up. I did, however, manage to stagger to my feet, receive my package, limp into the house, collapse on the couch, and assess the situation.

What I seem to have done is damaged muscles across the top of my foot, which is swollen and stiff and black-and-blue. I am now a hobbler on an ibuprofen diet, but no bones are broken.

I do keep laughing at the memory of my tumble down the stairs onto the UPS man's shoes, and the shocked look on his face, and the way he kept saying, after the fact, "But you didn't have to come outside for the package! I could have brought it to the door!" Comedy gold, I tell you.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The new poems I wrote this summer are starting to find homes. So far I've gotten acceptances for four of them, which feels like a surprising success rate, given the slow machinery of journals' submission-reading process. For the moment, though, I'm not writing any new ones. With two editing projects on my desk and a third in the wings, plus some teaching dates looming, I've had to shunt poem-making to the side. Still, I don't feel as if my ability to write has vanished; more like I'm refrigerating it for later use. This in itself is a good sensation. During my last long writing drought, my body felt as if the poetry ichor had drained entirely away. I was the husk of a poet. Now, even though I'm not currently writing, I feel as if the ichor is pulsing and bubbling in my veins. Yes, the mixed metaphors are running amok here, but so be it.

Anyway, this is all leading to an RIII schedule hiccup. I was supposed to be teaching middle schoolers this Friday morning, but now I'm supposed to be teaching them next Tuesday morning--and when I say morning I mean "crack of dawn, kids have just rolled out of bed and barely have their eyes open, plus the visiting writer has a half-hour commute" morning. Which is to say: I will not be opening the blog for comments until later in the day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Of course I am a terrible photographer, but these pictures might give you some idea of the bookcases in their natural habitat. I know the second one is way too dark, but so was the room, which is currently lit only by a bare bulb in an overhead socket and a clamp lamp stuck onto the side of one of the shelves. When I say everything in this house needed to be overhauled, I am exaggerating only slightly.



Here's a galley-view of the kitchen. On the left, refrigeration! On the right, a dishwasher! We still have no countertops, trim, cupboard doors, or tile grout. But we do have plumbing and a freshly painted green door framing a beautiful tree trunk.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

More than 9 months after we moved into this little house, we finally--yes, it's true, believe it or not--possess fully functioning kitchen plumbing! Gone is the green 5-gallon-bucket "sink drain." Gone is the giant dishwasherless hole in the cabinetry. Gone is the giant dishwasher box/fun cat play area in the living room. Last night ice cubes clunked out of the ice maker in the refrigerator. Water swished among the racks and plates in the dishwasher. I rinsed out a sink without afterward draining a pail. It was luxury living, I tell you.

Yet even kitchen plumbing pales in the face of our new bookshelves. Later today, when there's adequate light, I will try to take a photo of them. If anything, they look better with books. Scanning the spines of all of my old friends, seeing them out in the light again, arrayed in their shabby multicolored glory . . . well, I'd hand-wash dishes all day long for that pleasure. But apparently I don't have to.

Monday, October 1, 2018


This was an early moment during the weekend's thrilling bookshelf-installation project. The shelves are Tom's own design and fabrication: repurposed meranti boards (detritus from someone's fence and deck) between strips of steel, sprayed black.


He's got one more bookcase to finish installing tonight, but I have been given leave to begin unpacking novels before he comes home. I can hardly wait. It has been two years since I last handled my books, and then the moment was entirely sadness--living alone in Harmony, clearing my beloved volumes from the shelves, boxing them up for an unknown future.

Today could be eventful, for I think the plumber is still planning to arrive this morning to install the sink drains and dishwasher and ice-maker hookups. Naturally I am always prepared for plumbing disappointment. But maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. . . .