Monday, May 20, 2019

We got back to Portland from Vermont mid-Sunday afternoon, and immediately I started transplanting. While Tom had spent the weekend helping my dad cut down trees, I spent it trekking to the local nursery and then moseying around my mother's flower gardens as she kept encouraging me to dig up various shoots and sprigs. As a result I ended up with maybe 25 plants: all of my hot-season vegetables plus various shade and sun perennials. It was a garden bonanza.

The timing was good as today we'll see our first temperatures in the 70s as well as high humidity and thunderstorms, and all week the nights are forecast to be mild. Still, I managed to wake up at 3 a.m. filled with anxiety about all the things I need to get done at my desk, in the house, in the garden, at the Frost Place, in workshops I'm supposed to teach, with house guests who will be here in a few weeks, on my next trip to Vermont (to pick up the college boy). Ugh. I don't know why my brain can't leave me alone.

I've been rereading the collected stories of Jean Stafford, which continue to be both wonderful and strangely dated (which I don't mean in a pejorative sense at all). I'm still goggling and gulping over my diary-poem project. I feel fizzy and a little overwhelmed, and I wish that didn't lead to insomnia, though it always seems to.

Friday, May 17, 2019

We're heading out today for a weekend in Vermont--a work visit, helping my parents with their garden and woodlot chores. It's not everyone who packs a chainsaw and a come-along for a weekend away, but apparently we do. You probably won't hear from me for a couple of days, but I should be back to my regular doings on Monday.

This morning I'll finish up my 8-week poetry class, deal with various paperwork things, do a rush load of laundry, and reread my new manuscript a few hundred times. I can still hardly believe it exists.

If any of you friends might be willing to glance at it and offer your opinion, I'd be grateful.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

So it seems that I have the first draft of yet another manuscript.

Yesterday I compiled my diary poems into a 60-some-page document. To be clear, these poems aren't Whitmanesque. They are tiny--most no longer than four lines each--and are interspersed with prose fragments. The amount of text on each page is negligible. Nonetheless, I can hardly believe I've compiled an entire manuscript in such a short period of time.

For the moment I'm calling it A Month in Summer, and it's broken into weekly sections, each of which is broken into seven days. Every day includes an exterior entry (a prose record of events, conversations, complaints, etc.) and an interior entry (a verse record of a state of mind). It's set in midcoast Maine in 1868, and is the voice of a woman, an occasional schoolteacher, who lives with her brother, a farmer.

Undoubtedly I will revise it. But for the moment there it sits, a fat stack of paper on my desk--record of a whirlwind.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Big moments in freelance: I realize it's okay (1) to say no when school employees I don't know ask me to teach a class for free; (2) to say no when I've gone out of my way to explain to a client that the way in which they're producing their journal means that it will inevitably be filled with errors, and then that client offers me a job proofing the next issue, which they have continued to produce in exactly the same error-filled way; (3) to be amazed when, after I've been hemming and hawing and wondering if I'm charging too much for a service, people say Yay! and pay me exactly what I hemmed and hawed over.

Issue 1 may seem like the smallest one, but over the years it's been by far the most difficult to negotiate. When I first began working in classrooms, I was grateful for any chance to practice and learn, though I also did this at a time when my children were young and I would have been volunteering in their classrooms in any case. Occasionally other schools and organizations would ask me to do something poetry-related, and mostly I said yes. It seemed impossible to get paid in central Maine to do that work, and I needed the practice. I was flattered at being noticed, and also nervous and humble about my skills. Flash-forward 15 years, and I find myself continuing to struggle with the right and wrong of the matter. Is it right for me to spend several hours working in a local school for free, when I don't know the kids at all and the school system has a budget for visiting artists? Maybe yes, maybe no. In any case, I have to talk myself through saying no.

Of course I always think: Maybe there was a kid in the room who needed a poet. Most likely there was; there almost always is. So I continue to be guilty, even though I always feel a strong wave of relief at having had the wherewithal to politely decline. It is hard to think of oneself as a professional when people don't want to pay you for the work you do . . . or maybe don't want to pay you is the wrong construction. It's often more like if you love your art, of course you'll give it to us for free. That's the rub. The kids don't know one way or the other about whether I'm being paid. But the schools do, and the teachers are often embarrassed and regretful about the matter. And that puts me in the position of having to make them feel better because their employers are taking advantage of both of us. It's a mess.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

This morning, a slow cold rain.

Last night Tom and I went out to see a 1947 noir film called Out of the Past, starring a very young Robert Mitchum . . . who looked shockingly like Ted Hughes. That resemblance had never occurred to me before. Poet noir.

On these dark heavy days the flowers and trees seem to hold a sort of glowering light. Their own green fire.

I'm still writing.

Monday, May 13, 2019

It was a long weekend of labor, and my back is weary, but I'm pleased to have the wood stacked, the tree saplings cut out of the stone wall, and two Red Sox wins accomplished as I worked. Today I return to my desk: mostly editing a poetry ms, but also choosing among cover possibilities for Chestnut Ridge and beginning to sketch out intros for Frost Place readings.

I've started reading a novel I've never read before: Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, set in an unnamed city in India in the years surrounding Partition. I picked it up in the Goodwill because something about it seemed attractive, and now I'm dreaming about the characters, which is always a sign of reader commitment.

Otherwise, nothing new here except for dirty fingernails, blisters, a few bruises, and a hankering to get back to my diary poems.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

"Conversations and jokes together, mutual rendering of good services, the reading together of sweetly phrased books, the sharing of nonsense and mutual attentions."

This is Robertson Davies's translation of a passage from St. Augustine's Confessions, which Davies borrows (in his novel The Rebel Angels) to describe both a good class and a good marriage. Really I think the motto might serve to describe, in the ideal, almost any benevolent communion: friendship, parenthood, playing music together. Even the marathon of moving two cords of wood from a pile in the driveway into a neat stack behind the shed might be considered the "mutual rendering of good services." For the job is now done: the stove-wood is covered; the kindling is collected in baskets and pails; the bark pile is raked against a fence corner; the odd-shaped chunks are heaped for summer fires on cool evenings; the neighbors have made their friendly comments. . . .

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Because it's Saturday, the cat felt that he had to hoick me out of bed way too early. So here I am, limp and bleary, staring out the window at the two cords of rain-soaked firewood I'll need to spend the rest of the day moving. Tom and I had a very comic conversation last night, in which we realized that our finely honed firewood-moving system was no longer going to work for us here. In Harmony one of us would run the splitter (mostly Tom but sometimes me and, later, both of the boys), and then the rest of us would take shifts stacking as quickly as we could. Everything was set up right outside the woodshed, so the stacker could work as fast or faster than the splitter. Now, however, we have to haul this firewood from the driveway, carry it around the back of the house, and then stack it against the shed. Moreover, we have no woodshed, so we have to stack it in the open air, without walls to automatically hold it--which means we have to make solid criss-crossed row ends, which Tom (with good reason) does not trust me to do skillfully. So who moves the wood, who stacks it, who runs the wheelbarrow, what will the pace be like? These may seem like unimportant questions, but two decades of GET THE WOOD IN NOW have trained us to treat the task like an assembly line. When my son phoned and I explained our dilemma, he laughed but also immediately understood it. There was never any messing around when it came to getting that wood under cover.

But at least the weather will be beautiful and springlike. In Harmony we seemed to always be doing this crazy marathon in November, trying to beat the snow, or maybe not quite beating it so getting our gloves soaked with snowmelt, and then having to take turns thawing out in the house because we were losing feeling in our hands.

Friday, May 10, 2019

A slow rain this morning, and I am waiting for a truck to dump two cords of firewood in my driveway: the first firewood I have ever purchased. For more than two decades we heated a house entirely on what Tom culled from our forty acres. It's amazing, really, how perfectly that piece of land kept us warm, and yet the woods remained beautiful, even pristine, for all of our tenure there. The year revolved around wood: finding it, cutting it, getting it out of the forest, cutting and splitting it, stacking it, carrying it into the house, stoking the stove.

The little stove here in the Alcott House is hardly more than decoration: nostalgia-warmth, not a life protector. And a Saturday spent stacking firewood is only a pale reflection of the anxieties of heat.

I miss that world; I don't miss it.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

It was a cold night, but our neighborhood escaped the frost. Now sunbeams slant through maple-tree lace, two little dogs on the sidewalk strain at their leashes, tulips prick their sharp noses skyward, and I turn away from the headlines with loathing and fear.

This will be a day of small poems, of sharp stones, of folded sheets. Metaphors are blisters on the hand.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Here's how the garden boxes are coming along: arugula up, bok choy seedlings thriving. Beyond them is the new flower garden.



Peas are thick; radishes and lettuce are sprouting; strawberry plants are peeking out among the tulips. Eventually there will be a cucumber under that trellis.


Sun today, patchy frost tonight. I've written seven little diary poems thus far, and later today I'll trudge off to the archive in search of more material. I've been doing classwork/writing/editing manuscripts/writing/cleaning bathrooms/writing/weeding/writing . . . the little poems are seeping into everything.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The tiny diary-poem drafts are bursting forth, but so quickly that I'm suspicious. Still, I've now shown them to four different people, at least one of whom is not a fan of my writing, and all declare that I need to keep at it. So for now, the diaries and I will stay in harness.

The day is dawning blue, but rain is supposed to move in later this afternoon . . . a chance to catch up with housework, boil chicken stock, fiddle with new drafts. As my younger son pointed out over the phone yesterday, the whole family is on a creative binge. Tom is printing photographs; Paul is writing a play; James is working on a video installation; I'm writing persona poems. Art-making is a dominant gene in this family.

Monday, May 6, 2019

I did zero housework this weekend, other than laundry, so I guess I'll be catching up on that all week. But two whole days without rain: I couldn't resist spending them outside. I weeded, put in a few seedlings, sowed many kinds of seeds, moved some firewood, relaid a stone path, chit-chatted with neighbors, wandered acquisitively through a nursery. Meanwhile, Tom began measuring and cutting for the new kitchen spice cupboards. In Harmony he built us a beautiful shallow spice cupboard against the back of a chimney. These will tuck into the turn of a corner cabinet, so they involve much persnickety fitting. But he is nothing if not a persnickety fitter.

Today: back to the desk. I've got a stack of poetry manuscripts for copyediting, prize winners in a big contest. But the sky is waxing blue already. It's going to be hard to stay inside.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

I ended up planting yesterday: not only beans but also most of my flower seeds--cosmos, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and some ornamental grasses.

The tulips are glorious this year; I never had nice ones in Harmony, so these are a surprise and a delight, and I can't resist spreading them all over the house.


But the gray skies continue to cling. Spatters of rain erupt and pass. The weather is so odd, such perpetual cloud. Perhaps this is what it's like in the Pacific Northwest, but I don't know: I've never been there.

In between my gardening stints, I'm still devouring novels. I feel like a bottomless novel pit, which is to say I'm reading like a book-drunk 12-year-old. Just like always, being a novel pig is both embarrassing and magnificent.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The green is becoming intense. Against the foggy sky enormous Norway maples crane their lacy arms. Single bright daffodils rise from a sea of scylla leaves. My eyes can't stop drinking in color.

But it's still cold. Windows are shut tight, and we've lit fires in the wood stove every evening this week, and I go for walks in hat and gloves. I'm anxious to plant beans and sunflowers, but the soil is too dank. So I just wander from window to window, staring out at the empty beds.

I've been reading a fat Robertson Davies trilogy: a reader's version of guzzling a dozen doughnuts at a sitting. I don't know why I'm glutting myself on busy, plot-driven, character-spewing novels while writing tiny spare poem drafts, but it seems to be the way to go, at least for the moment. I think my mind is weary: so much teaching and planning; worry over whether classes are going well, or will go well. The Frost Place conference is looming, I'll be co-directing another high school writing seminar this summer, my third 24PearlStreet poetry class begins in July, I'm teaching a day-long master class in Portsmouth in June, I'm starting to work out details for a three-day residency at a midcoast writing center for late fall, and then there's the giant Monson Arts project. . . .

I'm so grateful to have these opportunities, but they are a mountain too.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Another glowering morning in the 40s. For weeks we have been trapped in this chill cloudbank, yet somehow spring continues to unfold. Along the side streets redbuds are bursting into bloom. Much to my surprise, the sweet pea I planted last summer has re-emerged: I had no idea it was a perennial. Columbine rises in a swirl of tender leaves; the hydrangea and lilies are bright with new growth. I planted all of these last fall, so it's sweet to watch them take hold.

I spent a chunk of yesterday afternoon at the archive filling a notebook with diary source material. Here's hoping I have enough to play with for a few days. I'm happy to be writing again, but unsure about what this material will ultimately mean to me. It's like having a cupboard full of ingredients that don't quite add up to a cake.

Anyway, I should stop worrying.

Today: teaching and writing in the morning; a yoga class at noon; errands; an afternoon in the garden; an evening in the kitchen. A life of small things.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Rain again. It doesn't feel much like May out there. I'd like to plant beans, but the soil is nowhere near warm enough for that. Still, the trees are budding, the grass is green, there's no snow, and I don't always need to wear a hat. This is Maine, after all. I can't expect a Philadelphia spring.

Classwork in the morning, and then I'll set yeast dough rising for cinnamon buns (college boy care package) and walk up to the archive to spend more time with my diary mis-copying project. I spent an itchy and unsatisfying afternoon yesterday not figuring out how I might handle these pieces in any sort of future collection. In some ways that's jumping the gun, I know; but I want to open myself to any possible narrative or dramatic options, and for now everything feels muddy and impossible. So I guess I will force myself back into the present tense and just chug along with the individual drafts. They seem to be finding themselves without trouble.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


In a cool spring the tulips stay crisp and sharp for a long time. I planted a lot of bulbs last fall, and most of them seem to have survived the squirrels. And in the gardens I'm resurrecting along the driveway, tulips squelched by years of neglect are suddenly appearing. Not all will bloom this spring, but their leaves are a sign of hope.

Today I'm teaching in the morning, but the rest of the day belongs to me. It's been months since I've had a long stretch of unstructured alone time, and yesterday's poem experiments felt like being six years old and eating candy before breakfast--greedy, joyous, and illicit. I've got a stack of editing on the way, so I'd best hurry up and gobble as much sugar as I can before the manuscripts arrive.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

I stole some time yesterday afternoon and starting playing with the material I'd gleaned from my visit to the archive last week. In the library I'd been copying out sentences from an almost unreadable 1868 diary; and as I worked, my brain automatically kept filling in words that I couldn't quite read. As a result, I found myself inhabiting the syntax, grammar, tone, and style of this diarist's writing, but surprising myself with strange imagery or peculiar adjectives, which nonetheless seemed to reflect the writer . . .  even clarify her in some way.

So yesterday, as I fiddled with this hybrid material, I found myself stitching my copied sentences into small poems that sound like sort of like dejected sewing samplers. I'm beginning to get excited about the possibilities of this mis-copying project, and very sad about the life of this lonesome diarist.

On another subject: just to be fair, I thought I'd give you a glimpse of the ugly backyard. Here is my compost pile, some old two-by-fours that will go under the future woodpile, and some scraggy weeds.


And here's the clothesline. I appear to be the only person in the neighborhood who hangs out clothes.


Monday, April 29, 2019

Today will be one of those doctor's-appointment-at-an-awkward-time, hard-to-get-work-done days, but at least it will be sunny. It might also be the first grass mow of the season, but we'll see what transpires with the rest of my hours. Already this morning I've been rapidly trying to design a possible weekend writing retreat, planning for the class I'm currently immersed in teaching, cogitating about the Monson sessions, organizing my Frost Place thoughts, and I haven't even gotten dressed yet.  If things stay this busy, I may soon be showing up in your classroom in my red bathrobe. Please make sure the coffeepot is full.

Progress of spring: Tulips opening, as are a few scant daffodils. Compost pile turned and raked. Old collapsing firewood racks torn apart. Fence no longer falling down. Wildflower seeds planted along the backyard edges.  Dahlias roots planted along the front sidewalk. Male cardinal caroling Cheer Cheer in an ash sapling. Poem brewing behind my eyes, under my fingers, along the ripples of my throat.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

I spent yesterday planting sprigs of creeping thyme among the stones of the newly unearthed front walkway, edging and reshaping the front flower beds, and then moving blueberry bushes so that they now line one side of the walk. The discovery of this walk has entirely changed our notion of the front gardens, mostly in a good way, though digging it up was garden bootcamp. Still, it's gratifying to be a 54-year-old woman with enough stamina and strength to spend all day lugging rocks, wood, and sod. Homesteading may not be an elegant sport, yet it's not an amble in the park either. Apparently, I don't require 40 acres of forest in order to be covered in mud.

Today, housework. And then I'll go outside and consolidate the compost pile and start preparing a spot for the two cords of firewood that will be arriving in a couple of weeks. This slow, wet, cold spring is aggravating as far as planting goes, but it's giving me plenty of time to do my less delightful chores.

The dates are set for my upcoming 24PearlStreet class: Revision and Re-Vision: An 8-Week Master Class on Generating and Revising Poems, beginning on July 8 and running through August 30. There is a discount available: Through May 17, you can get 15 percent off tuition with code EARLYSUMMER. After May 17, you can get 10 percent off with code SUMMER19.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Such a wild night . . . gale, pelting rain, jolts of thunder and lightning from dusk till dawn. My bedroom felt like a twig nest at the top of a spruce tree.

Now, in the faint morning, the world beyond the sodden window screens is pale and scrubbed. But when I let the cat out the back door, a warm breath of air stirred, and everywhere birds were singing insatiably.

The day looms, unplanned. The gardens are mud. A small pond lingers under the clothesline. The stones on the newly discovered front walk are washed clean, and gulls are circling and shrieking over the cove.

I should walk down to the marsh edge and watch the egrets stand on one leg. I should stomp in a puddle. I should crouch on a garden path and marvel at the pea shoots bursting through the clods.

I should.

Friday, April 26, 2019

I had many chores on my to-do list yesterday. One chore that was not on my list was "excavate the front yard to see what's going on with these randomly placed slates tangled with weeds that are so difficult to mow around." Nonetheless, instead of planting or raking or moving firewood, I spent about four hours scraping, peeling back sod, filling the wheelbarrow with 10 loads of detritus, and covering my hands with blisters, all for the sake of this:


Yes, it appears that many years ago Fred Flinstone laid a broad front walkway, which like so many things on this little property was subsequently ignored and forgotten. Now I can't say I'm in love with Fred's design strategy, but it's what I've got to work with. So I'm going to buy many flats of creeping thyme, fill the mud gaps with them, and voila: we'll have a slightly less awful front path.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Finally, sunshine! I'm hoping to snatch most of the afternoon to edge beds, go plant shopping, sow seeds, dry laundry, before the rains ramp up again tomorrow. Already the Neighborhood Brats are pouncing and rolling in the bright morning air. Squirrels are shinnying up fenceposts, and a flock of robins mines for worms in the fresh wet soil. I am itching to get outside.

In other news: the administrators at 24PearlStreet have asked me to lead another 8-week poetry masterclass, beginning in late summer. I'll keep you posted about dates, in case you might be interested in spending a few intense weeks with me honing your craft.

Otherwise, same old, same old. I'll be making falafel and pita all evening. I'll be digging in the dirt all afternoon. I'll be mucking around with words all morning.
And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that's gone astray, and is lost. 
--from D. H. Lawrence, "The Enkindled Spring"

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

I told you a month or so ago that I've been asked to design and lead a student writing program in Piscataquis Country during this upcoming school year. The organization I'll be working for is Monson Arts, a new arts center in central Maine that offers month-long residencies, shorter workshops, and community programs. The director is Stuart Kestenbaum, who led Haystack Mountain School of Crafts for many years and also happens to be our state poet laureate.

I've known Stu for a long time, and taught for him occasionally at Haystack. But this venture is a different kettle of smelts. His vision for the experiment is an intense mentoring situation for twenty young writers and twenty young visual artists. He wants the atmosphere to be anti-classroom: that is, for students to exist inside art as vocation, not art as school subject. He doesn't want me to write out a detailed curriculum or meet state learning goals. He wants me to show students what it feels like to be a poet.

The painter Alan Bray will be leading the visual arts branch of the endeavor. Alan was born in Monson and still lives locally, but his work is internationally renowned. Working alongside him on this project is a huge honor.

So there you have it: an amazing, impossible job. My heart is racing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Here, in the land of rain, the dandelion greens grow thick in the front yards and thus will be harvested for dinner. Radish, lettuce, peas are sprouting. So are maple seedlings: the beds are littered with their jaunty flags.

Today: editing, a phone conference about a job, and then I am walking up to the archive to sit with other women's stories for an hour or so . . . to frame a space for thought, to let someone else's words filter into the structure of my worry, to smell the strike of a match.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Easter was a quiet day. I went for a long walk in the fog and then cleaned the house. Tom worked at his desk and then went for a long walk in the drizzle. I listened to baseball on the radio and folded towels. For dinner I made rack of lamb, roasted potatoes and asparagus, chocolate angel-food cake with strawberries. We sat under a couch blanket and watched Brief Encounter.

The slow rain continues--spatter and lull, spatter and lull, as sea fog tumbles over the rooftops. Street lamps blur the air like paintings. A poem draft is rising in my throat.

Outside the kitchen door, white flowers glow against stone. A white cat hunches on the stairs. The day holds its breath, but the birds are already singing.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Ghosts rise from the sodden earth, and the air is weighted with mist. It is Easter, it is a spring rain, it is a comma splice in the sentence of the year.

There are no children in this house anymore . . . no eggs or bunnies or jellybeans for breakfast. And I was never much of a churchgoer. Still, I am shaken, always, by spring. Life transparent over death. The wrench of return. The shock of color, of scent. The pagan roil of breath and bone, stalk and leaf.

I want to say more, but spring is a stark season. Sentiment is a luxury; she will not stomach such babbling. She requires her pound of flesh. The dead lamb in the straw, streaked with its mother's blood. The deserted egg rotting in the nest. The season demands its silences.

Spring is a Greek play, vivid and inexorable. The sap rises in our limbs. In frenzy, we murder our sons.

Easter is the church's gilding. Now the proscenium glows, and the scrim blurs. It is easy to forget the gods. But there they are. And they shrug.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Yesterday was an unexpected weather gift: warm, humid, rainless. While Tom painted trim in the kitchen, I walked to yoga; I walked to the market. I planted kohlrabi and fennel seedlings. I composed a lesson on poem revision. I finished editing a book chapter. Later I sat in my new courtyard and drank tea and read a book. I listened to a baseball game and made dinner.

Now the showers have finally moved in, but the air is still heavy and warm. This will be a good rain.

I've got a poem out today in the Maine Arts Journal--one featuring a minor character in Beowulf.  I was sad when I wrote it, and it makes me sad again every time I reread it.


Friday, April 19, 2019

We're entering a long stretch of drizzle and fog, with no sun forecast till next Wednesday. I was planning to spend the afternoon in the archive, but maybe I should plant instead. It's hard to tell how easy it will be to work outside this weekend.

For now, no rain, but the air is weighted with wet, and swales of fog drape the roofs and steeples. Island weather.

I'm feeling slightly out of sorts, both restless and tired. I haven't yet shaken that cold, or else it's morphing into allergies. In any case, my skull feels kind of like how the sky looks.

But the tulips are budding. White crocuses gleam against black soil. Dogs pause on their walks, lifting their muzzles to breathe in the rich stink of spring.

Today I'll be teaching an Elizabeth Bishop poem, editing a few footnotes, maybe beginning to mull comments on a Euripides translation. I'll look up from my desk and down into my muddy backyard-- at my three hopeful pots of pansies, at the fat woodchuck grazing on last fall's maple seeds, and then beyond, into a clutter of other yards, cars, roofs, porches, and beyond again, to the freight train growling and rumbling north. Sometimes it is hard, still, to remember I need to live here.

Thursday, April 18, 2019


. . . and here is the new courtyard with its first load of gravel--actually marble chips. I've got more ground prep to do before I can spread chips over the entire area, but already the difference is startling. Just days ago this place was a wasteland. Tom's going to build a planter to set where the driveway meets the gravel, and I'll put some kind of annual grass in it to serve as a screen. But last night we drank our first evening beers in our new sitting room, and even in its raw and exposed state it was sweet.

Today: work as usual, but this evening I have a reading around the corner at the Burbank Library on Stevens Avenue, 6:30-8 p.m., featuring a few contributors to Balancing Act 2: An Anthology of Poems by 50 Maine Women. Stop in if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I've been mulling over a new research project: a delve into the archives of a few local, more or less unknown writers in hopes of developing an imaginative response to their creative lives. I'm thinking of the project as an extension of a small poem I wrote a couple of years ago, the one titled "Disappointed Women." It's going to have to be a slow project, as I won't have much time to loaf around in the library that holds these materials. But there's no rush either. And the project may morph into something else altogether. Who knows?

Anyway, I'm enjoying the sensation of a new mystery.

Today will be cool and sunny, and Tom and I are going on a gravel-shopping date after work. He has gotten just as interested in our little courtyard as I have, and has decided that we can afford some gravel to finish the groundwork. Such is middle-aged romance: an evening spent studying bags of rocks at Lowes. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

I've never been to Paris, but I've been to Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster and St. Paul's, and to the great churches of Rome. Walking into these ancient vaulted places, I always, immediately, felt the enormous emotional pressure they exert . . . an active, startling, wrenching olio of history, faith, awe, and private tale. Pregnant with my first child, I sat in Canterbury Cathedral with my mother, and we wept as an orchestra and chorus went through a dress rehearsal of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. To be inside such greatness--place synthesized with music . . . to have this small unknown child with us: the tears poured down our faces.

All this is to say, O Notre Dame.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Here are two views of this weekend's reclamation project: a new bed carved from a driveway waste area. We are working to transform this dead zone into a small courtyard. Eventually there will be a deck wrapping from the side of the house to the back. Eventually there will some kind of hardscape path instead of packed dirt and shards of asphalt. Eventually I'll reclaim the rest of the vacant ugliness fronting the stone wall. But this is what we've manage to accomplish for a total of $100. The wood of the boxes was scavenged from a job site. The brick edging was left in the yard as junk. The only thing I bought was the soil. We are working on the cheap in this yard, but every wheelbarrow-load helps.

I'm going to plant sedum and speedwell and various other shallow-rooted rock-garden plants in the new bed. Beneath it lies a mess of ancient driveway and some giant tree roots, so my choices will be limited. But already the improvement is startling.





Sunday, April 14, 2019

Yesterday morning, I ventured out to mall-land and bought four folding chairs and a small table. As soon as I set them up in the yard, Jack and Ruckus each climbed onto a chair and sat facing each other across the table as if they were waiting for tea. Eventually they left and I was allowed to sit down.

Given that we previously had zero places to sit in the yard, this feels like a significant advance. Now that I live in a place without blackflies or deerflies or clouds of mosquitoes, I'd like to loaf around and enjoy it even when I'm not actively hanging laundry or digging out weeds. The front yard has a patch of grass and full sun and no privacy. The backyard is bare dirt with deep summer shade and no privacy. Given that privacy is not an option in either yard, I plan to get used to doing without it. But the only way to deal quickly and cheaply with the ugly backyard is to decorate it like a dorm room (e.g., with the backyard equivalent of India-print wall hangings and posters of Joe Strummer and milk-crate bookcases). In other words: lots and lots of flowers in movable pots, a table made out of a wire basket, and chairs artfully faced away from the tumbledown shed.

Yesterday I planted the first of my garden boxes: lettuce, arugula, beets, and carrots. The one next to it will have kohlrabi, fennel, and chard, but I'm once again out of cat-barrier panels so I need to wait till I acquire more before I put in any more seeds. That means I'll be back to dirt moving today, and maybe some rock moving. Meanwhile, Tom's been finishing the trim in the downstairs bathroom and caulking and doing other prep for painting. But we did manage to walk around the corner to the new neighborhood taco restaurant last night, and then mosey down to Back Cove for a look at the evening tide. The air was soft; daylight lingered; we strolled arm in arm chattering about this and that. Happy spring to you too.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

It's drizzling presently, but temperatures are already in the mid-40s and are forecast to climb into the misty 60s: a fine Saturday for reducing a mud pile. I, however, am recovering from an insomniac night so am not full of enthusiasm about hard work. Perhaps the coffee will mend that attitude.

For now I'm sitting in the darkened living room, watching day unroll through the clouds. Specks of color dot the brown yard: crocuses, scylla, hyacinths, spikes of daffodils, sprawling tulip leaves. Buds swell on the trees and shrubs, and a haze of green rises from beneath the dead grass blades. Everything is still very new.

I've been reading a Robertson Davies's novel, copying out the Inferno, working to keep up with teaching and editing--not writing much, though I'm hip-deep in words. I ordered two cords of firewood this week: the first firewood I've ever bought. I listened to baseball games on the radio and imagined summer stretching before us like a long fairy tale. I've been feeling vaguely cranky and unsettled: some combination of political dismay, rejection letters, and broken sleep, but also a seasonal urgency: sap running, the heft of a shovel in my hands, shoulders arched under a weight of stones, the musk of wet earth.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Last night I dreamed that my friend Angela and I were hoboes riding the rails. Clearly my sleep-brain is in a silly mood. I should stop trying to figure out why and just enjoy it.

I made noodle bowls for dinner: ramen, homemade stock, oven-fried tofu, diced zucchini, fresh ginger, soy-marinated egg. They were quite lovely . . . not least because I topped them with my first garden harvest: slivers of garlic shoots.

You are long-suffering about my lousy photographic skills, so let me inflict a few more on you. Below is one of the new garden boxes, flanked by pea trellis. This box will contain warm-season plants--mostly peppers. The things that look like tapeworms are irrigation hose.


Here is a nice photo of my neighbor's garage. Below it, under the tree, are the other two garden boxes and my mud pile. I'll plant things in these that can thrive in mixed sun and shade: greens, carrots, beets.


This is the worst picture of the bunch: shot from the side garden into the backyard. The gap is where the fence fell down over the winter, but it turns out that I like having a path from front to back, so I don't care. The strange metallic strips in the foreground are cat barriers; Jack and Ruckus are far too enthusiastic about digging up newly planted beds. The trees in the background are my clothesline posts.


It's hard to take pictures of early spring that make it look as good as it feels. Everything is bare and plain, mostly browns and greys. But the garden feels clean, too, as if anything is possible. No bugs, no droughts, no weird powdery fungus or sadistic invasive weeds. You could call it a northcountry Eden.

Thursday, April 11, 2019


Tom has been teasing me about my pile of mud. I retorted that I can spend my $100 on what I like: teach poetry, buy mud, what's unreasonable about that? And it's very fine mud, the best sort of mud. I bought 2 cubic yards of it--enough to fill three big garden boxes, with leftovers to spread around as pancake makeup in the yard desert. I'm quite pleased with my mud, though moving it is heavy work . . . say, the sort of work you might pay $100 to do in a gym.

Today, finally, we should get some sunshine. Most of the snow glop has melted, but barely. Plants, soil, air are dank and stiff, all in waiting for a bit of warmth, all of them ready to soften and unfold. Maybe I'll get a load of laundry on the lines this morning. Maybe, mid-morning, I'll step on to the front stoop and see a blur of green grass knitting into last year's dry thatch.

I dreamed last night that I was teaching a class of young men in a prison, and we were all laughing and happy about what we were writing, and I kept asking myself, How is it that this is going so well? What mistakes am I not making? What mistakes am I about to make? Somehow, in the same dream, I also knew that a press had accepted my current poetry manuscript. So there were these two things that were going really well: a difficult teaching situation and getting published. It was an anti-anxiety dream, I guess. But why would I have it? That kind of dream doesn't replicate facts any more than an anxiety dream does. Perhaps my sleep-brain was encouraging me . . . though mostly, like a cat, my sleep-brain doesn't feel the need to be nice. It tends to rely on scratching, biting, and ignoring me. I wonder what came over it. Maybe I changed its food or something.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

All day and all night chunks of ice have been sliding and crashing off the roof. It's warm but it's cold; it's snowy but it's rainy; it's spring but it's winter. Mid-sleetstorm, a flock of robins appeared and began cherry-picking all of the earthworms out of my new pile of soil. The robins are fat and fluffed and seem relieved to have discovered something edible in this white town.

Last night I made a funny yet delicious meal. For a while now I've been planning to reprise my granny's green bean recipe. This is straight Appalachian garbage food--exactly how we've all learned not to cook--and yet I have powerful happy memories of shoveling these beans down after a long day among the cows and the tractors. I had two bags of frozen green beans from last year's garden, and I decided to cook them granny-style. First, I softened some diced onion in some chopped bacon. Then I added the beans, covered them with water, brought them to a boil, and then let them simmer on the back of the stove for about an hour and a half. The result, of course, is mush . . . delicious salty mush that tastes exactly like Scottdale.

In the meantime, however, I've also been teaching myself how to make injera--that beautiful sour bread served in Ethiopian restaurants. It's quite simple, if you can find teff or teff flour and if you give the batter a few days to ferment. Anyway, I cooked up some injera and served it with granny's beans, and the combination was perfection. Granny would have been shocked, but squishy green beans bear a great deal of resemblance to squishy Ethiopian greens, and the injera soaks up the juice and salt beautifully.

If you're looking for other clash-of-cultures dishes, I also recommend latkes with guacamole and mangoes with maple syrup.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

We expected a mostly-rain storm but ended up with a mostly-snow storm. Now everything is coated in a layer of wet white cement. It will melt today, but for the moment the garden looks grim. Not that the snow will hurt the peas and greens I planted on Saturday: they love this kind of weather . . . cool, dank, mucky.  But this isn't the most charming moment to get a truckload of new soil dumped onto my driveway, and that's what's on the schedule.

Spring in Maine, even here in the temperate south, is jam-packed with teenage highs and lows. Ice! Hyacinths! Frostbite! Daffodils! Still, in Harmony, school was canceled yesterday; they got a real snowstorm, not our gloppy sleety skimcoat. I am aware of the luxury of my complaints.

So today: a morning of editing neatly at my desk; an afternoon of wheelbarrowing loads of soil through mud and slush.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Housework all morning, yardwork all afternoon, and then a trip into town for poutine and beer. It was an excellent Sunday. I moved the last of our firewood into the basement, lay drip hose in the garden, washed floors, dusted glassware, and hung out towels. Today will be rain and snow and snow and rain, and now the seeds I planted can swell and the firewood I moved can stay dry. The crisp towels will hang in the bathroom, the dishes will shine, and I will not have to worry about any of these chores while I'm teaching and editing this week.

Tom and I are still not exactly healthy. We're both still coughing, and he's slow-moving, but progress is being made, in a tortoise-like fashion. If you have this cold too, I'm sorry. It's a slow-mover that will take a giant bite out of your month.


Sunday, April 7, 2019


Pea trellis up, peas in the ground, and strips of hardware cloth laid to discourage the enthusiasms of the Neighborhood Brats (otherwise known as Ruckus and Jack), who just can't resist digging up a freshly planted row. On the other side of the trellis, I planted four short rows of arugula, lettuce, spinach, and radishes. Tom is working on final placement of the new garden boxes, and as soon as I get soil delivered I'll start planting in them. I hung laundry, pondered yard design, read some Iris Murdoch, split chunks of two-by-fours for burning, yanked out baby maple trees, started seedlings in the house (lupines, yarrow, kohlrabi, fennel), cut two hyacinths for the dining-room table, coughed and sneezed, watched a basketball game, and invented a delicious salad of beets, roasted asparagus, and pumpkin seeds. It was a good day, and I'm hoping for another one before the rains arrive tomorrow.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

For various reasons yesterday's class felt like an adventure in improvisation, but I think it went well enough: participants wrote three drafts in two hours, read and talked about poems from China and Burundi, thought about sound and time and transitions and structure and geography and memory. Afterward I did eat an entire bag of potato chips in the car, but fortunately that kind of lapse only happens about once a year.

Today Tom is still sick, I'm still coughing up crud. Although there's a shimmer of snow on the ground, temperatures are forecast to rise into the mid-50s today, and I will be planting peas and greens.

It feels good to have a sunshiny weekend at home ahead of me. On most afternoons this past week, I've spent an hour or so in the windy cold, moving stones, laying paths, raking leaves, pruning herbs and roses, piling sticks-- all for the sake of sun and warmth and finally getting seeds into dirt.

                            O love
open. Show me
my country. Take me home. 
--from Wendell Berry's "Homecoming"

Friday, April 5, 2019

Well, the aforementioned sloppy little draft found its footing and became a poem that surprised me very much. This week, in my online poetry class, students are focusing on readings and prompts around the topic of "Framing Emotion," and that, coincidentally, is what I figured out in this new piece. Perhaps their drafts and conversations gave me a push toward the unexpected in my own thoughts.

Sometimes teaching can be really helpful creatively.

I'm on the road again today, this time to the Plunkett Poetry Festival in Augusta, where I'll be leading a two-hour session on place and on using words as transferrable power. And then I'm coming straight home to make dinner for poor Tom, who is now trapped in the throes of the monster cold.

It looks like I might be planting peas this weekend. Hurray!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I was able to spend a bit of time with my own poetry projects. I copied out some of Dante's Inferno. I stirred a sloppy little draft. I didn't accomplish much, but I felt awkward and refreshed. Afterward I went for two long walks and finished raking mulch off the garden beds. I had the sense that someone had poured a batch of new blood into my veins--garden-wise, poetry-wise. Everything was bare and muddy; the wind whipped and sang, and I lifted my nose into it like a bird dog.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Finally I have shifted into that most delightful of illness phases, convalescence. Yesterday morning I feared I might have a head cold forever, but this morning I feel hopeful, rested, unclogged, and delicate. My husband no longer shakes his head ruefully when he looks at me, but I still feel the vague aura of sickness, something akin to the scent of an occasional breeze blowing in from a cow pasture. Anyway, barring the lingering coughs and chokes, I'm on the mend.

I spent yesterday trying to catch up on chores that required neither intelligence nor stamina--e.g., buying storage bins at Target and pressing the button on the doctor's portal that signs me up for a shingles vaccine. Somehow I also managed to take a non-blurry photo of the cluster of scylla blooming so brightly in my front garden. Happy cold early spring from the coast of Maine, dear friends . . . where clumps of aged snow fade alongside a few bright-faced flowers, and the wind cuts like a dull kitchen knife, and eider families bounce and bob in the ripples on the bay.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

I'm still sick. Yesterday I did manage to rake some leaves and hang some laundry. I made chicken stock and sewed on my dress and ran some errands, but I did it all at half-speed, amid coughing and sneezing and sighing and squinting and blowing my nose. I feel like I'm half-human, half-slime mold. On the bright side, the timing is good: I've got a slight respite, work-wise, so can enjoy my life as a rotting mushroom without guilt.

Ugh.

Anyway, I've got time to read, if I could understand what I was reading. Last night Tom asked if I'd like to play cribbage, and I told him I couldn't pay attention long enough to get through the game. I'm significantly dumber than usual, and all I wanted to do last night was sit on the couch and watch cartoons.

Thus, I will turn to my far more intelligent children for news and comedy. Believe it or not, my younger son has managed to pick all four teams in the NCAA men's final four. Among the millions of people who make brackets on the ESPN site, he is in the top .046%. Did I mention he also goes to art school?

And my older son pulled off an extremely fine April Fool's prank. My phone rings, the ID comes up as "Unknown Caller," and I of course let it go to voice mail. Later, when I check the voice mail before deleting it, I hear a grainy version of a song . . . and wait, it's my least favorite song of all, the Eagles's "Hotel California," and now it's turning into a clip from The Big Lebowski, the moment when the Dude asks the cab driver to change the station because "I hate the fucking Eagles" and then he gets tossed out of the car . . . and now I know this has got to be a son playing a joke on me. It was a good one, and cheered me up considerably in my mushroom gloom.

Monday, April 1, 2019

My day in Bangor went well: a full class, very engaged; and then an evening with a dear Harmony friend. But this head cold has been less charming. I thought I was getting better, and now this morning I feel as if I spent last night under a street sweeper. It's amazing how bad a cold can make a person feel, and yet it's such a minor illness.

Ah well. I'm glad to be home moping on my own couch.

Tom spent yesterday building garden boxes for me, which of course are far more beautiful than most garden boxes because that's the kind of person he is. Now we can't decide where to put them. Originally we'd planned on the front yard, but then we accidentally discovered that they improve one of the cesspit areas of the property considerably. There's a strip of ex-driveway--broken asphalt, lingering gravel--that we haven't known how to handle. But if you cover it up with garden boxes. . . .

Today I'd hoped to hang laundry on the new lines, and to rake out the rest of the gardens, and to take a trip to the store for soil. But my head is going to have to be a new head if I'm going to accomplish such things. Perhaps, with another cup of coffee, it will be.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Up, finally, after a congested coughy snorey night infested with unpleasant dreams. Bleck.

I'll be back on the road today--teaching in Bangor all afternoon, then spending the night with a northcountry friend. This head cold is making me stupid; I hope it won't show too much during class.

Tiny blue scylla is beginning to bloom in my front garden. The garlic shoots are sturdy. Daffodils are pointing along the house-edge. Tulip leaves unfold, uncurl. A dim haze of green flutters in the roots of the brown grass.

A big short-tailed possum scuttles across the backyard and into the neighbor's garage.

I sit in my red bathrobe in a darkened living room, drinking black coffee. My sinuses swell against my cheekbones. My nose feels like an elephant seal's. Fortunately it does not yet look like one.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The squirrel-proof clothesline is up. Now I just need to wait for a few rainy days to pass through, and then I can celebrate my inaugural spring washload. In the meantime, there's always housework to do and garden paths to lay. I'm feeling somewhat squelched under the pressure of a brand-new head cold, so I'm not organizing my energies too well. Plus, I need to drive to Bangor tomorrow morning, and then teach all afternoon, and then be a tolerable houseguest all evening. Here's hoping that the head cold stays home.

Anyway, today: classwork, and then yoga (if I can breathe through my nose), and then maybe that aforementioned garden path, if the rain behaves itself. Last spring, as a quick measure, I used some old floor tiles as stepping stones in my new beds, but they are ugly and now crumbling, so I'm slowly replacing them with stones from the reclaimed side yard . . . an early spring chore before the plants start taking up space and time.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

After a long weekend of late nights, early mornings, and two time-zone switches, I think I've managed to reset my internal clock, though it did require sleeping through the alarm. Now I'm groggily peering though the downstairs windows . . .  thinking mostly about coffee but also a little about George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, which I'm rereading because the volume was the perfect size to bring on an airplane and also because I adore it, though lately I've given up rereading the ending because it upsets me too much.

I'm back on the classwork train--online poetry class in full swing, Saturday's essay workshop to prep, next Friday's poetry workshop on the horizon--but I have a brief editing hiatus. Yesterday afternoon I went out into the barren muddy back yard and began to mark the borders of perimeter beds--using old bricks, broken limbs, rocks. The future beds are layered with last fall's leaves, and now I am beginning to sprinkle them with the compost I've been saving all winter. My plan is to sow shade wildflowers and plant some annual seedlings as I gradually build the beds into viable ground for perennials and shrubs. I can't do much more back there until Tom gets the deck built, but something is better than nothing. Meanwhile, scylla is budding in the front gardens, the first lily sprouts are up in the side garden, and I am getting excited about my second spring here. What I need to do today is buy squirrel-proof clothesline. No more clothes in the mud. I've had enough.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

On Monday, our last full day in Chicago, we went to the zoo and the conservatory, ate Ethiopian food, played pool, listened to a jazz quintet at the Green Mill, once a favorite hangout of Al Capone. It was one of those slow busy days, filled with long saunters, watching and wondering, getting cold and getting warm, walking first with one person and then another, a friendly desultory ease. My son's partner is as simple to love as he is.

And then yesterday, after riding on every kind of transportation except for boats, magic carpets, and dragonflies, we finally bumbled up our Portland back stoop, greeted our annoyed cat, ate dinner from our understocked fridge, and watched a Hitchcock movie under our couch blanket. The visit to Chicago was so sweet; I cried, as always, when I parted from my son; but being home is its own denouement, and it should be.



Monday, March 25, 2019

Sunday in Chicago: Blueberry pancakes accidentally spiced with hot sauce. A walk through a foggy glass city. An invisible neighbor practicing the tuba. Teeny-tiny dioramas of the ancient Egyptian embalming process. The best banh mi sandwich I've ever eaten. An addled man urinating against a giant mural of Frieda Kahlo. An elegant glossy theater containing a play about angry drunken steelworkers. Spatters of cold rain. A family at midnight in a dive bar, drinking surprisingly good beer and shouting happily at each other over a dreadful jukebox soundtrack of death metal.

Monday in Chicago: Me getting up too early because I have to work. Wishing for more coffee. Listening to traffic and trains. Watching the clouds scud over the churches. Blue sky.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

After getting up at 3:45 a.m. and subsequently spending many hours spent sitting in tight plane seats on the tarmac and not going anywhere (because of broken bathrooms, another plane hogging the gate, etc.), we finally managed to arrive in Chicago. And now, after a giant taco dinner and a long night's sleep, I am staring out of my older son's third-floor into a wilderness of roofs, facades, steeples, scaffolding, crosses, mysterious metal things that might be old cisterns, and beyond them the glass and steel monsters of downtown. The flatness of the landscape is apparent even from up here; the view through the wavy window glass almost seems to be two-dimensional.

I don't know what we'll be doing today, but apparently there will be big waves on Lake Michigan, so maybe we'll go look at that. There's been talk of the aquarium, museums, a plant conservatory. Tonight we're going to the theater to see Lynn Nottage's Sweat, which I've looking forward to seeing for a long time. If you haven't heard about this play, you should check it out. My younger son, the apprentice director, calls Nottage the best playwright working today. He's quite excited we're going to get to see her work onstage. I wish he could be here with us.

Friday, March 22, 2019

My desk is clearing, thank goodness. Just a few more project-threads to snip, and then I can leave for Chicago with a cleanish conscience.

I appreciate all of your enthusiasm about my new gig. The funny thing, of course, is that what for me is great money is, for real employees, spit in a bucket. However, I refuse to let my spirits be dampened by comparisons. In my world getting paid for anything is not so easy.

Today I'll do some online-class prep, write an intro for the student poems completed during my recent high school residency, go to yoga class and the grocery store, watch a little tournament basketball, wash clothes, pack suitcases, read a Trollope novel, take a walk. It will be a mild-mannered day, unlike tomorrow. If you don't hear from me anytime soon, don't worry. But I'll try to check in by Sunday.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

After a day of editing and errands, I went for a long saunter through the neighborhood and into the cemetery. Everywhere, puddles: the wet scent of melt: handprints of sunlight on headstones: sloppy streaks of sun along the sidewalks: a burst of snowdrops in a shaggy garden.

I'd just gotten an email offering me a miracle job. Would I create a year-long writing residency for high school students at a new arts center in central Maine? The plan is that I would lead bimonthly day-long sessions for a cadre of kids from the homeland . . . and get paid very well to do so.

When I lived in Harmony, I couldn't give away my services for free. For the most part English departments were suspicious, defensive, indifferent. Now I will be getting real money to create a class for young writers, who will be bused to the arts center twice a month to work with me. There will be a parallel program for visual-arts students.

I can barely keep myself from crying. Here I am in Portland, finally able to do work in the homeland. That's ironic, but also deeply emotional. To get a note from an artistic director that closes with "I think you'd be the perfect person . . . " All those years of driving kids back and forth from school, listening to their hopes and dreams and foolishness and half-baked plans and tears and laughter. All those years of being a mother in the backwoods. It turned out to be job training, I guess.

Anyway, a new page. A new experiment.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I'm really enjoying my monthly poetry group. As you know, I was nervous about accepting their invitation to join. After all of my years as a solitary, I had a hard time envisioning what regular group review might be like for me. But as it turns out, the group is both useful poetry-wise and nourishing friendship-wise, and I've relaxed into being a more social poet than I ever was before. I know the success of these things depends entirely on the temperament of the members. Not every group is going to be able to combine rigor with open-heartedness. So I've been lucky to fall into these hands.

I'm editing hard this week, trying with all my might to get this project done before flying west. If the footnotes behave, I may manage it. But it's also a week of appointments--dentist, haircut, niggling phone calls and paperwork . . . those itchy necessities that take bites out of a day.

Students continue to sign up for my classes; Frost Place applications are starting to show up in my email. In stray moments I'm sewing on my dress and reading Trollope, a little sugar and cream to slip in around the edges of all of this prep. I want to write. I want to work in my garden. But I have to wait.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A couple of weeks ago a former student asked if I'd be interested in leading a private master class for a poetry group in southern New Hampshire. She said each participant would chip in to pay my fee, they'd arrange a meeting space in a local library, and we'd work out preferences for class content beforehand (e.g., workshopping, writing prompts, or a combination). I said yes! of course! and now I've got this fun date marked on my calendar for June.

But it made me think. This method seems like an affordable way to gather people who want to spend a day together talking about poems. So if you have been wishing for a face-to-face poetry day, and you have a few friends who might want to participate, let me know. Obviously distance, meals, lodging would add complications, but they're solvable. How can we make this work for all of us?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Another entry in Dawn's foraging-from-the-fish-market chronicles: Last night I made a salt cod salad for dinner. It did involve some planning: two days of soaking the cod in multiple changes of water; then boiling it for 10 minutes, cooling, and breaking it into chunks. I mixed it with sauted rapini, garlic, and cherry tomatoes; preserved lemon peel; a diced pickled hot pepper, and capers. The cod was excellent--the perfect base for future summer salads mixed with this and that from the garden. And cheap!

Today, I'll be back to editing and syllabus planning, and eventually I'll undertake some extreme vacuuming to clean up after all of this trim installation. Tom's still got a threshold to urethane and fit, and then a batch of door trim to put up inside the bathroom. But that's the only ugly framing gash still glowering downstairs. Given that five doorways open into the kitchen and hall, this trim project has made a huge difference in the house . . . a giant step forward toward done.

I doubt I'll have much chance to write this week--I've got so much work to muscle through before leaving for Chicago. I do have a poetry-group meeting tomorrow night, though, so that's something, I've been feeling Merwin's loss deeply, pondering his long apprenticeship to the art, his deep sense of obligation to place. He has been a model for all of us, in those ways.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Garlic, tulip, hyacinth, and crocus shoots are poking through the rimed earth. The shrubs I planted last fall--blueberries, hydrangea--are greening. The snow is melting rapidly from the bed of iris and lilies I laid out along the driveway. In the barren backyard mud season has arrived, and I watched a flicker scream wick-wick-wick-wick from the tip of a Norway maple. All day long gusts whipped leaves into eddies. I raked out flowerbeds wearing a winter hat and gloves. Early spring in Maine is a long drink of ice water.

Inside, Tom has almost finished putting up the kitchen trim. It's beautiful, even in its unpainted, uncaulked, scatter-spackled state. He's carefully cut and fit the pieces to replicate the original 1940s trim in the other rooms. This is such a funny little house: a workingman's cape that is both a throwback to its Puritan forebears and a mid-twentieth-century miniature. Watch any noir movie and you'll see a version of our pebble-glass bathroom door, maybe in the detective's office or in the jewelry store before the heist. It's strangely timeless, strangely modern.

It was a good day yesterday. We gossiped with both of our boys on the phone. I sewed and read poems and worked in the garden, and then in the evening lit a fire in the stove, reheated minestrone, hugged the cat. Happiness is so small, so easy to step on.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

I spent yesterday afternoon in my study working on the syllabus for my 24PearlStreet poetry class. Outside, little kids raced up and down the sidewalks on their scooters, chattering and shrieking. It was a lovely sound of spring, and I think their happiness made my syllabus better too.

I've broken the eight-week class into two sections: four weeks focused on creating new work, four weeks focused on revision. Each week will center on a theme. The creation weeks will move through this pattern: generating first words, framing emotion, following sound, discovering character. The revision weeks will concentrate on honing word choice, constructing space, digging for details, finding closure. I think each of those categories will allow me to consider a number of craft issues but also, I hope, help students see how such technical concentrations coalesce into larger movements within a draft.

Anyway, I'm excited about experimenting with this structure. We'll see how it goes.

Today I've got to read poems for a contest, and thoroughly clean the house, and figure out what to do in Chicago. This time next week we'll be flying west to see our young ones!

Friday, March 15, 2019

And so we wake up to yet another mass shooting, another furious annihilation, another rampage crushing eloquence and faith and community.

It's impossible to write anything that frames the hole of wordlessness in my chest.

Meanwhile, here on sedate Concord Street, neighborhood organizations are posting anxious social media warnings of the "we never thought we'd see it here" sort because someone found a needle on the sidewalk two blocks up from my house. Of course it's here. What makes these people think that a street composed of cute well-kept houses equals immunity?

Meanwhile, rich parents cheat to get their children into college, while my Pell-Grant kid washes dishes in the dining hall and worries that going to the infirmary will cost too much money.

Meanwhile, tiny plants struggle to sprout in a cold wind. The first robins hop over the snow crust.

I send my love to you. Send me some back.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Woke up to a few blots of snow, but I can already hear the roof melt dripping from the eaves. The air smells wet and new, like someone has just let the south wind out of a box.

I spent yesterday morning with Euripides, then sewed a sleeve onto a dress, then went out for coffee and a walk with a writer friend, then bought two mackerels and a pound of salt cod, and then came home and fried up those mackerels. I served them on a bed of chard (from last summer's garden), alongside pilaf with basmati, whole-wheat orzo, fresh chicken broth, and basil (from last summer's garden) and roasted fennel with muscat grapes. It was an amazingly delicious meal. (The salt cod I'll deal with over the weekend because tonight I'm going to do something or other with corned beef.)

Mackerel is such a good deal. Two small ones are perfect for two people. They fit into a frying pan and are relatively easy to turn. The bones aren't too thorny, and the flavor is moist and mild but not bland. And they are cheap. Every time I buy them I feel wise.

This morning I have to bring the cat to the vet for his annual shots and such. He will scream his head off in the car, and purr and flirt as soon as we arrive. Thank goodness the vet is only 10 minutes away. In Harmony I had an hour drive filled with nonstop hysterical shrieking. Another plus of city life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

My high school visits are done, for the moment, and I'm back on home time. I hope to finish up the Euripides' translations today and then glide into syllabus planning. 24PearlStreet tells me the poetry master class will definitely run, though there's still space if you're thinking about joining us. However, my Bangor essay workshop and my Augusta poetry workshop are now both full.

There's been a lot of melting this week, and the tulips and hyacinth shoots in the bare patch by the house are looking happy again. Most of the yard is still covered in snow, but the piles are shrinking fast. Middle schoolers race down the sidewalks, crashing and stomping through puddles of snowmelt. The cat has managed to find the only muddy spot in the yard and has now tracked most of it across the kitchen floor. Last night in my dreams I lugged armloads of hay to goats and cows, worried about barn cleaning, hoped I hadn't forgotten to feed anyone, fretted over thinness and shabby coats. Teaching, writing, caretaking: they seem to be all tangled up in my subconscious.

Last night, while I was sewing on my dress and cooking dinner, Tom made the casing and sill for the kitchen window. Every little step of renovation enchants me. Instead of raw lumber and bare insulation, we suddenly have a pale simple frame: so clean and smooth, so precise. He is stunningly good at what he does.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Today is my last day of high school. Much as I've enjoyed the kids and the teacher, I'll be glad to delete that drive from my life. I never did like cars.

Last night Tom and I went out for Chinese food and a nice old-fashioned showing of Double Indemnity, the sort where something goes wrong with the reel in the middle of the movie, and the actors' voices start sounding like they've been swallowed, and Fred McMurray hops backward down a train aisle on crutches, and all the lights in the screening room come on, and a gaggle of young men fret and bustle around the projector, and the movie reel spins whap whap whap as they fret, and audience members giggle and take advantage of the hiatus to go to the bathroom. More movies should be like this.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cutting and fitting trim is a slow project, but Tom got a lot of it done this weekend. Most of the raw, spiderweb-prone, 60-year-old framing that had been leering from around the kitchen and hall doorways is now hidden . . . though there's still the window to do, and all of the top boards across the doorways, and all of the edging along the floor. Someday we'll even have a cellar door, and countertops, and cabinet doors. But do not think I am nagging. I am still excited about having plumbing.

It was a good day to go nowhere. Though the rain tried hard to take control of the storm, we ended up with a couple of inches of sodden snow, enough for me to shovel while Tom was working on the trim. Let's hope this is the last of it. Today the temperature is supposed to climb into the forties, and the snow will start melting in the sunshine, and I'll be driving to school for a student reading celebration, and it's time for spring to settle in for good.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

First 6 a.m. of a new season. A slate sky, etched with bare branches, jutting chimneys, a jumble of roofs.

Yesterday was a bright, balmy, spring-is-coming day. Close to the house, where the snow has melted away, I found a hyacinth in bud; I uncovered peony shoots. Even though today's forecast is for sleet, rain, snow, the week promises a stretch of sunshine and mild air. I think we're crossing into new territory.

Tom and I had a good Saturday. He bought boards for the kitchen trim, and then we drove out to the Eastern Prom and walked along the bay into town. We stopped for a cup of coffee, we bought croissants to eat on our walk, we went to the fish market. Then we drove home and Tom went to work on his trim project and I went to work on my sewing project. I made chicken stock for the freezer. Tom played Rolling Stone records. We ate seafood salad for dinner and watched Chinatown for the thousandth time. It was a companionable day.

Today will likely be more of the same. I can't do much housework or concentrate on deskwork when the kitchen is a construction zone, and the weather will be nasty. So I'll sew and play with the cat; we'll listen to music and talk about this and that in the interstices between the hammering and the sawing. It will be boring and friendly, and we will both enjoy ourselves.

A long marriage is a strange thing, don't you think? So predictable. So refreshing. So disappointing. So surprising. So happy. So aggravating. So comfortable. So itchy. Who knew?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

I slept until almost 6 a.m., a triumph after a week of insomnia. Such a novelty to wake up to the sounds of neighbors being awake before me.

Now a gull flips past in the white sky. The air is very still. I am sitting in my corner of the gray living room, drinking black coffee from a white cup and saucer and considering with pleasure the unstructured day ahead of me. I want to walk by the water. I want to go to the fish market. I want to sew the neck facing onto a dress I'm making. Meanwhile, Tom is preparing for another plunge into renovation land: putting up trim in the kitchen and hallway. It will be that kind of weekend: sawing, hammering, admiring.

I've been rereading Kate O'Brien's That Lady, a tragic historical romance that I loved passionately when I was in my twenties. I've been roasting a chicken and making biscuits and gravy . . . I loved gravy passionately when I was in elementary school. Nostalgia Friday, I guess. Read a sad book about a beautiful Spanish aristocrat. Eat hot bread with sauce. There are worse ways to spend an evening.

Friday, March 8, 2019

I just got the good news that my Bangor essay workshop (March 30) is full and that my poetry-for-teachers workshop in Augusta (April 5) is almost full. Almost a dozen people--including several newcomers--have reserved space at the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, and applications aren't even formally open yet. This all seems very positive, and not just for me personally. It feels like a sign that people everywhere are eager to read and write together.

Even the high schoolers are excited. Yesterday, during performance practice, one shy young man offered to read his poem in front of the class so that they could critique his delivery. What he did was blow them away . . . he delivered a poem full of emotion, using voice and body language that reinforced that emotion, and the class was floored. After weeks of work, the students were suddenly discovering how the synthesis of page and presence can change everything. It was a glorious moment--for the poet, for the audience, for the teachers.

Often, as a visiting artist, I have doubts about what kind of impact I'm making. I sweep in, put on my poetry show, and sweep out. All I can do is hope that a bit of the wonder sticks. Yesterday, I felt like maybe it was going to.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

There's a thin blue sky this morning, the color of a husky's eyes. It's 3 degrees out there. Inside the cat is humped sweetly on his chair and I am sitting by the dark fireplace wishing I had enough firewood left to start a blaze now. In Harmony, on these cold mornings, that was always the first chore. But town life is different, so I am saving my last wood for evenings. I sometimes think these evening fires are what has reconciled me to living in the city. Spending a year in that apartment without a wood fire: it was like an empty place at the table. Firewood was such a massive part of our lives up north. Cutting, hauling, splitting, stacking, filling woodboxes, stoking the firebox . . . day in, day out; day in, day out. No matter what else was happening in our lives, we had to remember the stove.

My week of teaching every day is going well. The drive is long, but the roads are clear and fast, and the kids are cheerful and engaged. The residency ends next Tuesday, and then I'll be diving back into editing and beginning to seriously prep for my 24PearlStreet poetry class. If you're thinking of signing up for it, feel free to send me a note with any questions, ideas, or preferences. I want to create a workshop that's as useful as possible.

In the meantime: I'm reading Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head; cutting out a pattern for a shirt; keeping up with meals and errands and laundry; not writing much, given my current work schedule, but I can feel the words sifting and sighing in the dark. They're waiting for me.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

It's cold outside. I won't say I've lost my spring optimism, but I will say that digging seems farther away than I'd like. I'm itching to be back in the garden . . . to learn how the iris and lilies I planted last fall survived the winter, to lay out my new garden boxes, to scrape back the mulch around the garlic sprouts, to breathe in the scent of thawing soil.

Instead, I'm slipping on the ice and listening to the furnace burn up our paychecks.

But I will not repine. Good stuff is happening, despite the furnace. I'm still immersed in my high school poetry residency. Lots of people have signed up for the workshop-for-teachers class I'm leading in Augusta early April. I've been invited to teach a poetry master class in New Hampshire in June. I'm leading an afternoon essay workshop in Bangor at the end of March, and that, too, looks like it's filling. I hope, hope, hope that my poetry master class for 25PearlStreet will run, but I won't know the class size till we get closer to the start date.

The fact is: for the first time ever, I'm actually working steadily as a writing teacher. It's a blip on the chart, no doubt. But it sure feels good.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Yesterday's snow, while indubitably snow, also felt like spring. It was a glittering, fat-flaked storm followed by bright blue sky and running gutters and snowballs plopping from trees. Though my son tells me it's 5 degrees in Chicago, he can't squelch my optimism. A month from now I'll be digging.

I've got a new sonnet sequence up at Split Rock Review, which you might like to read if you're in the mood for some fiction about arson. I feel itchy about calling these poems sonnets because they don't rhyme even though I know how to rhyme and often do. But the form is the form, and we can pretend the arsonist burnt off the rhymes.

So I'm off to teach poetry to kids today; I'm copyediting a new translation of the Bakkhai; I ought to wash a floor. That about sums up my rubber-band life. But as Jane Austen points out in Persuasion:
She ventured to hope that he did not always read only poetry, and to say that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.
Good thing I have that floor to wash.

Monday, March 4, 2019

This was supposed to be the first morning of my go-to-school-every-day, last-push-of-the-high-school-residency schedule. But no. I have a snow day. So I guess I'll be editing instead, and beginning to prep for my 24PearlStreet poetry master class. And shoveling. At risk of betraying my childhood self, I am kind of wishing I were just going to school. The residency is two-thirds done; the kids are really engaged; today was the last day my co-teacher could be on the job with me. But c'est la vie en March.

I spent the weekend rereading Jane Austen's Persuasion, and adoring it all over again. Remember that it was published in 1817, soon before Austen died. And now think about the writer who could insert this declaration into the mouth of her female heroine--a gentle, non-pushy woman who is speaking to her beloved's best friend about whether men or women are more constant in their love. It's a feminist trumpet blast, one that also echoes with the strange meta-implications that arise when a novelist suggests that people shouldn't trust books.
Captain Harville: "I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say about woman's inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman's fickleness. But, perhaps, you will say these were all written by men." 
Anne Elliott: "Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."

Sunday, March 3, 2019


I am now a cook with a grouted kitchen floor. No more food stuck between the tiles! My mediocre photo-taking skills are not capturing how pretty the finished floor looks, so you'll have to take my word for it.


We also now have art in the dining room--two big prints from Tom's canning-and-freezing series--and you can see a glimpse of a Hopi rug hanging in the hallway.

Tom's got only two more interior doors to rehab: dining-room closet and cellar. Countertop is on the way this spring, along with (I hope) a deck so that we'll have a place to sit outside this summer that isn't the front stoop. Someday the kitchen will have trim and cupboard doors. Someday the living room will have shelves for Tom's records and stereo. Someday we'll have upstairs storage space, and better closet options for visitors, and a bathtub that works. Someday we'll have a not-falling-down shed, and decent exterior siding, and a backyard that isn't bare dirt. Someday.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Yesterday my online essay workshop wrapped up. It was a lovely first foray into that teaching environment, and I'm looking forward to starting the next one: 8 weeks of poetry, beginning on March 25. Sign up! It will be so fun! Just ask the essay writers!

This afternoon I'll be reading with a group of other women poets at Alumni Hall at the University of New England's Portland campus, 3-5 p.m. In the meantime Tom will be grouting the kitchen floor--yet another exciting homeowner development.

In other news: sauce bolognese, hot black coffee, Jane Austen's Persuasion, a crossword puzzle, four daffodils, a dissatisfied cat, a red bathrobe, a stopped clock.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Last night's reading was packed for the launch of Betsy Sholl's latest book, House of Sparrows. The crowd in the bookstore was no surprise because Betsy is, deservedly, one of the most beloved writers in Maine. She is a former state poet laureate, but is also a local presence: a friend and supporter to all. So it was a joy to see a standing-room-only crowd prepared to celebrate her.

Betsy is a member of my poetry group, and naturally most of us were there to support her. My friend Linda and I came together, and as we were drinking our plastic cups of wine and talking about this and that, we saw the bookstore door open and in walked (as quietly as one can with a bodyguard) Governor Janet Mills. Betsy did not expect her; there was no hoopla. Just one poet stopping in to listen to another poet.

Meanwhile, our ex-governor, Paul LePage is making headlines this week, defending the existence of the Electoral College because otherwise "white people will not have anything to say." This is the same man who, when he was planning his first inaugural celebration, refused to invite the sitting poet laureate (Betsy) to read a poem because, he claimed, no one wants to hear that stuff.

The political schizophrenia is hard to exaggerate. But, blessedly, we are, for the moment, in more humane country. There was something extraordinarily touching about the governor's appearance: that after a long day of policy and polemic, despite a long drive back and forth from Augusta to Portland, what she wanted to do most on a Thursday evening was to listen to poems.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sorry about no post yesterday. My high school session got switched to the morning and then compressed to 40 minutes, so instead of calmly writing to you, I was leaping out of bed and flying down the highway and putting on the double-speed poetry show. Today, though, I'll be working from home, editing and focusing on essay-class stuff, and then this evening I'll be going to my friend Betsy Sholl's book launch (which is at Longfellow Books in Portland at 7 pm, if you want to go too).

But I do have some news for you: spring is here. Right along the house foundation, where the afternoon sun blazes, tulips and hyacinths and crocuses are poking their tips through the leafmold. Everywhere else, the yard still has snow cover. The wind has been fierce, temperatures are grim, and the windchill has been well below zero. But the flowers will not be stopped. Down the street I spotted snowdrops opening in someone's bare front garden. It's not even March yet; in Harmony it's still the dead of winter. But the magic of the seaside is at work in Portland.

Of course last night it snowed on top of the poor little sprouts. But they'll pull through.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A home day, thank goodness. I've been craving alone time, though, truly, it's been fun to be so sociable. My teaching residency is going well, and I like my co-teacher. The central Maine party weekend was of course a joy, and I'm beginning to feel more relaxed with my poetry group. We're hanging out a bit more, gossiping and kvetching, not only talking about work. But I love days of quiet. They're like cold water in July. Tom and I had an excellent quiet day on Sunday: together, but also busy and solitary, as the rain splashed the shingles and leaked through the basement window. Today I'll work, walk, write. The wind is still gusting like an infant hurricane. I want to stride straight into the gale.

Monday, February 25, 2019

 Monday again, and I'm back on the treadmill: teaching, editing, driving, errands, plus a poetry group meeting tonight. I'm not complaining, just being a pep-talking introvert. I have to work myself up into engaging with the kinds of stuff the rest of you deal with all the time. I wish I could do it as elegantly as you do.

Fortunately the weather forecast looks okay (i.e., no snow on the days I have to drive to school), and my teaching plans feel organized, and the house is clean, and I'm reading books I love, and I have a decent poem draft to bring to our meeting tonight. Tom spent yesterday framing and hanging artwork, so our walls are beginning to look less bare. I sewed and listened to part of a Red Sox spring training game on the radio--always a lovely harbinger of change. I am itching to dig and plant, though we're not even out of February yet. But soon!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Last night, after a busy expat weekend--walking and talking and gossiping and eating and looking at art--Tom and I went into town, sat at the bar of the Sicilian pizza place, drank beer, ate big slabs of cheesy tomato delight, and watched college basketball. I never quite believed that my beloved northcountry friends would figure out how to find us down here, yet they did, and they do, and they are. The snowpack is deep up north, but here in the variable Portland climate, grass is peeking through ice; there's a scent of thawing earth. We picked out way through ice and puddles and snowcrust, and the winter-bound visitors celebrated their brief foray into spring, before heading back north into 6 more weeks of winter.

Today I need to catch up on schoolwork that got postponed for partying. I need to gird my loins for a week of driving and teaching and poetry events. A big new editing project has dropped on my desk. I'm rereading Fowles The Magus, for the millionth time, and trying to make progress on my second apron so that I can move forward into cutting out the material for my shirt. I have to clean the house. But my seed order has arrived! The cardinals are singing; the chickadees are piping their mating songs. Real spring is around the corner.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A dim Saturday morning. I've been thinking about John Fowles, about Dante, about a sad poet comrade who's afraid he's not a poet.

The furnace rumbles. My white cup shimmers with black coffee. Next door a young blond woman walks up her driveway in bedroom slippers.

Today some of my oldest friends and I will linger along the chilly bayside, will eat split pea soup and gossip, will say goodbye.

Today I will stand alone at my kitchen window and stare into a brief snowscape rick-racked with tiny animal footprints.

Sometimes I don't know what to do with myself. Sometimes I know exactly what to do with myself. How can I tell the difference?

Once, long ago, my kindergarten son invented the title of a book he meant to write. Three Clowns in a Meadow. I hope I get to read it someday.