Saturday, August 24, 2019

I'm feeling much more rested this morning. And the heat finally broke, so the air is cool and dry, and the sun is shining, the sky is clean and blue, birds are cooing and chattering and clacking and cheeping, and the day altogether promises delight.

I don't know what we'll do today. It's the boy's last weekend at home, so he may have an idea. Or he may not. The grass does need mowing; the house, as always, needs re-sprucing. But I'd be happy to go for a long walk instead. So far this week I've taken a 4-miler around Back Cove and a 3-miler to Hadlock Field, and with the weather so sweet, I'm ready for more.

I'm also ready to take an editing breather. My current project is complicated and demanding and very, very slow, and I'm looking forward to not thinking at all about endnotes for two days. Next week at this time I'll be on the road to Vermont, college senior in tow. Next year at this time I'll have zero children in school. What a strange notion.

Friday, August 23, 2019

After a morning spent editing in my room, and an afternoon spent walking around the cove with my son, and a dinner hour spent making summer rolls and potato salad, I went downtown with my family to listen/dance to the Garifuna Collective from Belize; and the day from beginning to end was dense and sweaty and sticky and hot. Today is supposed to be cooler but so far it feels just the same as yesterday. We are going to a baseball game tonight, which is the correct thing to do in this kind of weather. And I am going to a yoga class this morning, which is less correct weather-wise but undoubtedly good for me, though I wish I'd slept during the night when I was supposed to and not through the alarm when I was not supposed to. I've got that wild-eyed, jangled feeling common to people who almost miss dragging the trash out in time for the garbage guys to pick up.

Anyway, I'm awake now.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Yesterday was one long thunderstorm: it started pouring midday and pretty much kept that up till well after dark. In the meantime, with Paul's encouragement and aid, I took the plunge and decided to make puff pastry. The project took all afternoon, and I was nervous, but all worked out well, and now I have dough for three shells in the freezer, and leftovers from a beautiful little free-form peach tart on the counter.

Tonight we are going downtown to listen to a Brazilian band. The rest of the day we'll spend being extremely hot. After all that rain, Portland feels more or less tropical, though I think the weather is supposed to moderate later in the week. I did waste a lot of time in the kitchen yesterday, so I should try to concentrate on actual paying work today.

I'm still reading Le Carre, still editing, still not writing poems . . . feeling the creep of this fall's teaching storm approaching, beginning to mutter to myself about next week's reading, staring at the insanity of our so-called president. My blood runs cold.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The boys went to a movie last night, which meant that I was home alone for the first time in a while. I did nothing special, other than breathe the night air and stare out into the dusky street. Sometimes there's a spaciousness to solitude.

Days, I'm still striving to keep up with an unwieldy editing project, in between visiting with my kid and managing house and garden stuff. For the moment, poetry has taken a seat in the corner. That's nothing new: summers were always a writing dead-zone when I had children at home full time. So I'm not exactly worrying about poems, but I'm aware of their silence, and it makes me restless.

And the boy is restless too . . . happy to loaf and spend time with us; bored and impatient about not being where his own work is. It's a standard late-summer feeling.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

We got a bit more rain last night, and today is forecast to be dry and hot. I guess that means I can hang laundry on the line for the first time in days.

Nothing much new is happening around here. The boy is working on plans for the play he's directing this fall, and interspersing that with watching Irish sitcoms. I'm editing and running up and down stairs doing house chores and chattering with the boy. Everything feels like it's a bit of a muddle, including the sentences in this paragraph, but that's home life.

This time next week I'll be annoying you by fretting over my 8/29 book launch. Be happy the future is not here yet.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Fog. The air is sodden, and ponderously still. Against the milky sky, the houses look like they've been cut out of cardboard. Somewhere, in the silence, a jay is screaming.

I'm feeling sad . . . the sadness of the world, dusting its wings. Lost children and melting glaciers. Truth and poison.

The rooms in this house are scattered with people I love. The vases overflow with sunflowers. My fortunes weigh upon me. I should never complain about anything.

Outside, somewhere, that jay is still screaming. Shriek. Pause. Shriek. Pause. His throat-song is harsh and relentless.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of crashing rain. Now, at first light, the neighborhood is shrouded in fog as thick as the spider webs in a barn. It's beautiful and ghostly and very, very wet.

Last night's downpour was the most rain we've had since June. My garden looks kind of slapped around, but I'm sure its roots are pleased. And I managed to go back to sleep, even after slogging up and down stairs closing windows at whatever a.m. the torrents began, and I woke up again at a reasonable Sunday-morning hour without a headache, so my roots are pleased also.

I don't know what we'll be doing today. I ought to wash some floors. I want to keep reading this Gothic Iris Murdoch novel I've acquired. I should probably try to figure out a couple of things about my new MSWord update before I try to use it for work tomorrow. I'm semi-immersed in sorting out various rising-college-senior family-event scheduling-hoohah this-n-thats, though I've passed along the "pick the Air B&B" project to Tom, who likes to look at pictures of other people's houses.

Today is my parents' 57th wedding anniversary. It's also the third anniversary of our purchase of the Alcott House. Three years ago today, Tom started ripping out a kitchen, and I started ripping out a weed garden. Things are much quieter around here today.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

I am stumbling through the awkward new world of modern computing. Though everything has apparently transferred from my old computer, I've spent so many years without updates that I can't get into most of my files and sites without undergoing download purgatory. Plus, all the screens look different, and I can't navigate without tripping over myself. On the bright side, when I type something, it stays where I put it instead of jumping up or down three lines and showing up in the middle of another sentence.

Anyway, enough of this boring talk.

I've spent most of the past three days trying to be a useful but not bossy comforter to my friends who were in Portland for a dicey surgical procedure. All went well, and they are heading home today, and I was glad to have been a staff and a support. But I'm also kind of tired.

Now I'm ensconced on my comfortable shabby couch, listening to a boat horn hoot in the distance, wishing I could get rid of the headache that's been plaguing me for days, marveling at the suppleness of the keyboard on this new lap desk, trying not to think about the housework I have to catch up on today, reading an Iris Murdoch novel I've never read before: The Unicorn, first published in the early 1960s. The sky is overcast; with luck we'll have rain.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Yesterday I enacted the role of emotional-support dog for a dear friend whose husband was having surgery. And then I came home, excitedly opened my new computer, immediately discovered that it had been improperly refurbished, and then spent more than two hours on the phone with ten or twelve incompetent customer service reps who should have immediately issued me a replacement but instead maundered and blathered and made me repeat the same information a thousand times and foisted me off onto other departments, until final one man acted sensibly and got me connected to the returns department--which then acted as if this were my own cavalier choice rather than the company's fault from beginning to end, which then led me, finally, to lose my temper and screech at him, which then led him to . . . drum-roll . . . offer me a $100 credit for company products, NOT a deep discount on the product I'd already purchased . . .

Which explains why I'm late writing to you because first I had to fire off a stern letter to corporate headquarters.

In other news: I had a poem in the newspaper.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

We did get a bit of rain last night, a pleasant wetting as we went out for dinner last night with beloved friends from up the coast. Unfortunately they are in town for surgery today, so I will be spending today and tomorrow at their beck and call, maybe in the interstices figuring out my "new" computer, which is supposed to arrive today, but probably mostly sitting in waiting rooms texting dinner-prep instructions to the boy . . . who made the most gorgeous loaf of challah yesterday afternoon, and will not need many pointers from me.

In the meantime, the usual: e.g., laundry and editing. The cucumbers are beginning to pour in; I wish you were here to eat a few with me, maybe with a bit of fresh mint and yogurt. And the August insects are singing their poignant end-of-days songs.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

It's a dark morning, with thunderstorms looming . . . or not: the forecast is coy. Whatever the future, the air is, for the moment, leaden and still. Here and there a knife-edge of sun cuts through the cloud, but to no particular effect. I might as well be wearing a marble toga: in this humidity I feel as heavy as a Civil War monument. Just call me Victory. Or Defeat.

I've got lots of editing to do. I suppose I'll also get beaten again at Scrabble. Apparently, I've reared a monster. Teach a boy to spell and he'll trounce his parents repeatedly.

I'm still reading Pamuk's Snow. I haven't worked at all on poems this week: between editing and mothering, I've been busy. I did pick our first big tomatoes--four gorgeous heirloom slicers that tasted like Eden.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Yesterday I finally did what I've been needing to do for over a year: I bought a replacement laptop. I've had my current one since 2008, it can no longer be updated or stream video, and it eats batteries. The trackpad is recalcitrant and, worst of all, the text I type in tends to jump around and appear in the wrong places--really, really not ideal for a copyeditor. On the advice of my savvy older son, I ordered a refurbished MacBook Pro--only a year old but several hundred dollars cheaper than a brand-new one--and it should be arriving on Wednesday. I understand that this is a boring post, but remember that I'm a writer who hasn't had a new writing tool for more than a decade: a new lapdesk feels like a big deal. Also, it was this, or a replacement air-conditioning compressor for my car. They cost about the same and I can only afford one. If you ride with me, you will have to be hot. Sorry.

Yesterday I also managed to do a bunch of outside things that I've been putting off because of the extreme heat: for instance, hack out the ugly weeds along the curb. As I did this unattractive job, I kept getting accosted by neighbors. One wanted to know where I got my hair cut; another stopped by to have a pleasant chat about books. I still can't get over how friendly people are around here. Maybe that's a normal thing about neighbors, but the neighbors I had in Harmony were blackflies and a creepy guy who claimed to be an ex-bounty hunter and was rumored to sneak around staring into hippies' windows to see if he could catch them getting stoned.

I also picked these beauties: baby carrots, baby beets, and fat radishes.




Sunday, August 11, 2019

I slept late this morning--till almost 7!--and now the day is fully day: cloudless blue sky, shadow fingers under the trees, cats lurking companionable on a sunburnt patch of grass. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong, and I've got a giant son asleep in the back room. Upstairs Tom is reading a Bolano novel in bed. I'm sitting on the couch beside the open windows as a cool wind sifts into the spare and tidy room: A shabby couch and a shabby chair. A wooden box for a coffee table. An old victrola in a corner. Two lamps. Two old metal baskets turned into narrow shelves. We are not rich in furnishings, unless you count books and records.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is now back on the shelf, and I've started rereading Orhan Pamuk's Snow. I have no desperate plans for the day--probably some yard work, certainly some laundry, of course much pleasure in my boy.

I think of my small modest American life: privileged, greatly privileged, in comparison to so many lives around the world and under my nose . . . running water, a roof and heat, calm and apparently safe. But I also think of the life of someone like Jeffrey Epstein: large, hubristic, selfish, manipulative, destroying. Also an American life. I hate to think that we have anything in common. But we do.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Number 2 Son will be coming home today, after an overnight bus odyssey from Buffalo--no doubt smelling of campfires and with leaves in his hair. I'll be so glad to see him. I'd best make up bed his first thing this morning, as I expect he'll be collapsing directly into it, leaves and all.

Outside the air is very still, and cooler than it has been. At the end of the street an Amtrak train is chunking by. Along the sidewalk the sunflowers smile. They are seven feet tall and covered with bright faces--a hedge that laughs.

Tom says my entire garden is comic, though he assures me this is a compliment.

Last night we ate pork chops marinated in lemon and garlic; Yorkshire pudding; corn salad with cucumbers and cherry tomatoes and poblanos and cilantro. On top of the salad I sprinkled a handful of crisp-fried okra. We meant to watch The Bride of Frankenstein afterwards, but I got too sleepy.

For the past couple of days I've been reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which turns out to be have been set in southern Maine. It was published in 1903 and I have a 1904 edition in pristine condition, though I can't remember where I acquired it. I read a library copy as a kid. It's sappy and sentimental and not nearly as good as The Secret Garden or Anne of Green Gables, but I'm still enjoying it. I have great fortitude when it comes to sappy and sentimental.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Yesterday, down at the Laudholm Reserve in Wells, my bird-watching friend Sue and I had the rare and stunning experience of standing next to a flock of piping plovers, which have long been highly endangered. I've seen plovers down there before, but only a handful scuttling back and forth at the water's edge. A large section of the beach is marked off as nesting area, and apparently this year 150 chicks survived in the state of Maine--a banner year, but also a figure that clarifies exactly how fragile these plovers are.

This is not my photograph, but it will give you an idea of the surprise we had at seeing a sudden large flock of these delicate little birds. Many were congregating beside us on a spit of rocks as small bursts of others would wheel in from over the water. They camouflage well against the stones and sand, so it was hard to estimate their number, but we think there may have been at least a hundred.

Probably this was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. We were so fortunate.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

It's diaspora social week in Portland: one north-country friend was here overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, another will be visiting this afternoon, and Son Number 2 returns from his Canadian canoe odyssey this weekend. Plus, it actually in fact no kidding did rain last night! . . . not nearly enough, but something is better than nothing.

Now I'm awake far too early because that damn cat decided to rip some stuff up at 4 a.m., and then got his claw stuck and wailed and yowled and sobbed and carried on until I got up and unhooked him. Lord.

But anyway the coffee tastes good, and a small rain is still raining, and last night Tom and I went out for dinner and then walked in the wet fog along the marinas and made personal comments about boats, and this afternoon my friend and I will take our binoculars to the saltmarsh and look for egrets and ibis.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A good day: I moved a giant editing project off my desk and then spent the rest of the day hanging out with a friend, making pesto, going for a long walk, drinking rose, welcoming a favorite young person, enjoying a noisy impromptu dinner. . . . It's so sweet to sit outside in the shade drinking ice tea and trimming green beans and stripping piles of basil and talking about this and that with a favorite person.

Today, maybe a bit more of the same, and then back to the next giant editing pile. Thunderstorms are still in the forecast, but I'll believe that when I see it.

I'm glad to be reading Wharton's House of Mirth. The character of Lily Barth seems to be shaping up as complex and not altogether sympathetic, which I like. She's a trained gold digger, on the hunt for a rich husband, but seems to be having second thoughts about the project.

I'm also mourning Toni Morrison, a writer who had a massive influence on me when I was a teenager--especially her novel Song of Solomon. I was overwhelmed, mesmerized, ignited by her language. And reading Beloved about killed me. I was a new mother by that time, and the notion of having to murder a child to save it was like a stake in my heart. Along with Updike's Rabbit, Run (which has a terrible scene of accidental baby drowning), Beloved is a tale too close to my bones. Someday, I might be able to reread it. I know it's worth a few more nightmares. That's the thing about Morrison's work: the tragedies are the masteries.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Still no rain. I dread the sight of the water bill. But I did pick the first two big tomatoes yesterday, and used them in one of our favorite summer dishes--corn salad (with purchased corn, of course: the gardener at the Alcott House regretfully draws the line at a corn patch).

I've started reading Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, which oddly enough I've never read all the way through. You'd think Wharton would be a regular of mine, but for some reason younger me did not fall in love. (Older me recalls that younger me may have been in more of a Henry James zone at the time.)

In other news: car passed inspection (phew); friendly ex-neighbor scared the bejeezus out of the cat by honking at him; weird beetles are annoying me; Sassy Groundhog has disappeared (not my fault!); new poems are coming along; people tell me they plan to attend my book launch (phew, but naturally I'm pessimistic and expect that the only two attendees will be reluctant family members); several people have expressed interest in reviewing CR (very thrilling to habitually non-reviewed me); and I hope to spend this afternoon making masses of pesto with one of my dearest friends (must write pine nuts on grocery list).

Monday, August 5, 2019

Some garden photographs, because anything I might say about this weekend's massacres is what you are already saying to yourself; because I went out last night to watch the band Tal National from Niger and wondered if someone might stop by to murder us all; because loving life is what I can do . . . yours, theirs, mine; tended lives, wild lives.


Sunflowers on the left; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant straight ahead; herbs and greens in the foreground.


 Cucumber trellis, parsley, radishes, dill, arugula, marigolds, sorrel, sage, thyme, rosemary, tarragon.


Another sunflower bed, fronted with cosmos.


The plain-faced little house, with its wild tomato eye patch. You can see the Fred Flinstone front walk, now moderated with creeping thyme.


The house peeking out coyly from behind the sunflowers.


The side garden. I don't know why those flowers in the pot look like Sideshow Bob.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Ugh. No rain, of course. The ground in my backyard is so dry that it's cracking. I'm mostly keeping the garden alive, but the nasturtiums are writhing and wilted, and the artichoke is yellowing. The tomatoes, however, appear to be bionic--6 feet high, glossy-green, and loaded with fruit. They love heat and humidity and can absorb moisture through their leaves. Still, nobody else's neighborhood tomatoes look like these. I think they are monsters.

I worked on a poem yesterday, did some mowing and watering, grocery-shopped, served on that publishing panel I told you about, marinated a flat-iron steak, made a potato salad. . . . Today I guess it will have to be housework. I've got stacks of editing to do, but I'm not going to think about that till tomorrow.

In boring marketing news: I'm tentatively reaching out to people who might consider reviewing Chestnut Ridge. I hate to be a pest, but reviews would be a novelty and a delight. Most literary journals do consider reviews; there are also online review sites. If you have thoughts about the book, I'd be grateful for a few public words.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Another torrid morning, but suddenly the forecast is hinting at the thin possibility of thunderstorms this afternoon. What a relief that will be-- (unless they are all hail and wind and smash and wreck, in which case they can just stay away). This morning I'm serving on a "how to get your book published" panel [Q: do you know how? A: um.], and then I guess I'll be puttering in the garden until the fabled storm arrives/I find something else to do. I've been picking eggplants (beautiful Rosa Biancas, shaped like softballs and striped lavender and white), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, okra. The bounty of summer, slightly dry and wan.

I did a lot of writing while I was away camping with the high schoolers; now I've got at least three new poem drafts to type out and ponder. Used to be I rarely wrote while I was teaching, and I still don't when classes are large and I've got to coax yakkers and cynics. But it's been good to dive in when I can. While most of what I write in these public settings isn't worth keeping, the act itself is rich. And I do love to surprise myself. And young people do love to watch a teacher fall down a rabbit hole . . . as well they should.

Friday, August 2, 2019


 I haven't bored you with too many house-and-garden shots lately, so I thought maybe you wouldn't mind pictures of my current favorite flowers. These are from a sunflower mix advertised as relatively small in height but currently towering over my head. I like them because they're branching varieties, and the blooms keep coming.


These are cosmos, a deep purple-red variety that I've gotten quite fond of. They enhance the alphabetization of any library.

I am wasting a shocking amount of water on this garden, but we've had zero rain for weeks, and there's none looming in the forecast. Despite my assiduous care, the plants are stressed. The fall crops are tiny; the new blueberry bushes are sad.

Thursday, August 1, 2019


The weather was broiling, the mountain hike was panting and slow, the bugs were enthusiastic, but look at these young writers! It was such an honor to spend a couple of days in the woods with them, and with co-teacher extraordinaire Ian Ramsey (on the left, beside me) and photographer Brian Beard (who took this and other wonderful pictures). This was the third year of the Kauffmann Environmental Writing Seminar, and next summer we plan to open it to students outside of Maine as well. It's free and camping equipment is provided, so if you know high school writers who would thrive in this kind of setting, start planning with them.

And now I'm home again, in my hot little house, and poor Tom is suffering terribly from having to build a house in this heat, and my garden is gasping and thirsty. No rain, no rest, no cool nights. It's a hard stretch.

Monday, July 29, 2019

We spent yesterday in Harpswell, hiking along the watery finger known as Long Reach--a fine New England monicker, rough, plain, metaphorical, and exact. It was an outdoorsy weekend, and will meld into an outdoorsy week as I prep for my two nights spent camping with high school writers. The weather will be hot, and the writing activities will involve a couple of ideas I adapted from presentations at this year's Frost Place conference (letter writing, landscape terminology) combined with dictation (from a book about the Inuit whale hunt), choral reading (Lucille Clifton's "blessing the boats"), and numerous interrelated writing prompts. Wish me luck; I'm excited to see how it all works out.

Today Vox Populi is featuring my poem "Epithalamion for Grendel"--a love poem for a monster and his homeland, and the first decent pantoum I've ever written. It's a suitable poem for the opening day of an environmental writing seminar.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

We spent yesterday afternoon wandering among salt flats, through mosquito woods, and then, late-day, kicking our bare feet in the surf of a broad sand beach, stopping at a clam shack for dinner, and coming home at dusk to pull out the bean plants and water the garden and watch Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton bait each other in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That's a movie I do not need to see again. The rest of the day was good, though.

Today I think we're going to take another seaside outing, this time driving north.

High summer in Maine.

Today is our older son's 25th birthday. I wish he were here, but he's halfway across the country riding his bike or working on his video project or dogsbodying for some TV film crew or feeding his cat or catching a train with his beloved. I wish him all happiness. I love him so much.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Unfortunately a snafu arose, and we are not heading to the homeland this weekend. We're both disappointed, but oh well. We will eat the plum cobbler here, and we will find something else to do--maybe an island visit, maybe go to the movies, something.

Yesterday I started reading Margaret Drabble's The Seven Sisters, received two big rejections, listened to the Red Sox thump the Yankees, and made some excellent pork chops (marinated for several hours in lime juice and salt; then pan-braised and served with cold black pepper rice, fresh guacamole, and a big summer salad). I went to a yoga class and did many planks. I started copyediting a historian's ex-dissertation, and I sent a few poems to a journal. I folded towels. I talked on the phone with my son and played cribbage with Tom. I drank one beer and innumerable glasses of ice tea. I picked three cucumbers and slept through a Star Trek episode.

[The Sassy Woodchuck seems to have gone on vacation to someone else's garden; only insects have been eating my plants lately.]

I let the cat out and in and out and in and out and in. I hummed Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," which has been stuck in my head for a week. I worked on a crossword puzzle and flipped through a poetry journal and finished reading Emma for the millionth time. I worried about being fat, and then forgot to worry about being fat. I bought gas for the car, and I whacked some weeds, and I got hot and sweaty. I changed my clothes. I texted my sister. I listened to the lonely whistle of a freight train.

I was the object of affection. I was the person who cleans up cat puke. I filled out college financial aid forms, and I threw away dead flowers. I washed the coffee pot and I opened the windows and I reluctantly put on a bra. I chanted the last stanza of a poem draft and arrived at no final decisions about cadence. I made an appointment to get my car inspected. I ate tortilla chips and said farewell to my neighbor, who has a cat named Atlas and is moving to Scarborough.

I felt old. I threw away a wad of junk mail. I scrubbed the stove and coughed and blew my nose. I felt childish.

I looked forward to going away for the weekend and fretted about leaving the cat. I invented a fake club (Ridiculously-Loud-Vehicle Club for Bros Who Don't Need Pickups Because They Work in Offices and Go to School Part Time to Get Their Degree in Communications but They Have Them Anyway Because Noise Is So Fun!). I thought about Dante.

I went to bed in a hot room. I fell asleep in front of the fan. I dreamed about mysterious elderly couples gathering together in a VFW parking lot among Buicks and potholes. I woke up. I was still me.

Friday, July 26, 2019

We spent last night at the ballpark, a favorite summer-night date. It's one of the good things about where we live: that we can amble there and back from our own house. The walk home through the dusky streets and neighborhoods is as pleasant as the game.

Today, editing and yoga and house-and-garden stuff, and then tomorrow we head north, back to the homeland for a visit, and then next week I'll be camping and writing with high schoolers for a couple of days. So you may not hear from me regularly until midweek.

That poem I've been working on/dreaming about is shaping into something I like. And I've been thinking hard about Austen's Emma as well. Emma is not my preferred heroine: she's too bossy and self-congratulatory, though of course that's her author's point. But the side characters and setting may be among my favorites in all of literature. The descriptions of Highbury street life; the renderings of Miss Bates's chatter; dopy sweet Mr. Woodhouse . . . it's a clinic in comedy, but also in negative capability--a writer's ability to stand outside herself and become entirely what she sees.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

I spent yesterday morning working on a sloppy, unfocused poem draft that I somehow managed to pull into coherence in a way that surprised me. It was a satisfying morning's work, followed by an afternoon of canning, and then a long walk through the neighborhood woods and into the cemetery.

Today I have to go back to editing, but it feels good to have that poem waiting for me in its new dress.

And the garden is singing its high-summer song. I picked the first okra last night, sliced them up, and fried them in cornmeal. Peppers and eggplant and cucumbers are fattening. Cherry tomatoes are gilding. The sunflowers are opening; dahlias are bright.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

After yesterday's rain blessing, every plant has taken a deep breath. Now, in the dim cool of the morning, a mockingbird trills, warbles, squeaks, twitters. Lyric pours from her like water over stone.

I spent yesterday prepping for the seminar I'll be teaching next week, but today I'll mostly be writing and reading and gardening and, in the afternoon, canning a batch of dill beans. I woke up very early today, with the physical sense that my current poem draft was rattling around in my skull. No problems were being solved: just a crackle of image and structure, as if the poem were a bird in a birdcage.

Now I'm drinking black coffee from a white cup and listening to the distant hiss of the highway, the pedestrian chatter of sparrows, the cat picking obnoxiously at the screen door, a city bus sighing to a stop at the corner, the jingle of a dog leash, a car door closing, the murmur of the dehumidifier in the basement--and now here comes the mockingbird again, splashing her song into the lazy air, jaunty and irrepressible.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Yesterday my friend Thomas Rayfiel--a novelist whose work I deeply admire (read In Pinelight! it's so good!), and whose comradeship both heartens and sustains me, sent me a note about Chestnut Ridge. I hope he doesn't mind that I quote him here. His comments make me happy, of course, and very relieved; but even more they make me feel so fortunate to have a reader who zeroed in on a few things I was trying hard to do.
I spent a few nights reading it, unable to sleep, transporting myself to turn-of-the-century Pennsylvania, and forward, and back. I know you have a lot of trouble with the word "regional" but in this case you wear it like a badge of honor. Just a little patch of land on which you perform archeology and memory. I was reminded of one of my favorite books growing up, Richard Howard's Untitled Subjects. What he did for Victorian England you did for a place whizzed by on the Interstate. They should name a Rest Stop after you. I particularly liked [the poem] "Husbands" and, its precursor in a way, "Missionaries." I feel men get short shrift in sympathetic imaginings, these days (I know, I know, there's a lot of inequity to be made up for) and I was moved at your expending the emotional energy to understand aspects of testosterone-based drive and despair.
As the mother of sons, as the reader of Great Books, I've spent most of my life intensely watching men. On good days I tell myself this is a feminist practice. On bad days I wonder what's wrong with me. But to have someone feel grateful for that is a new feeling.

Anyway, thank you, Tom. I'd rather have this note than a book review any day. Which is a good thing since there aren't any book reviews.

* * *

In other news: it looks like I'll be giving an inaugural reading of Chestnut Ridge in Portland, at Longfellow Books, on August 29. I'll keep you posted with more information as things get ironed out. And I could read in your town too--how can we figure that out?

Monday, July 22, 2019

We tried to bypass yesterday's Hot by slowly wandering through the art museum, slowly wandering through a used-furniture store, slowly sipping a beer and slowly watching the Red Sox slowly almost get no-hit by the Orioles. It's amazing how much nothing one can accrue in an afternoon.

I guess the heat is supposed to moderate today, but this morning feels just as torrid as the last two were. I'm still fighting a summer cold, so I'm not exactly sure where heat lethargy ends and illness lethargy begins, but I hope I'll figure out some way to get something done. Next week I've got a two-day teaching gig with high schoolers, and I need to prep for it today. I've got editing to look at. And of course I did next to nothing in the house or garden all weekend, so that's waiting for me too.

I do hope it really will rain tonight. I've been watering morning and night, but the garden is exhausted from the heat, and a good downpour would soothe us all. Cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen; okra is beginning to set; peppers are swelling. Second-crop greens are sprouting and the Sassy Groundhog has not yet completely destroyed the brussels sprouts.

I'm reading Emma and the Inferno. I'm drinking ice tea like it's a drug. I'm changing my clothes three times a day. My hair is a wild mess of curls. All the paperback covers are curling up into cannoli, the playing cards are gummed together, and the toaster belches heat like it's a portal to hell.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

When you live in a house without air conditioning, then indolence is part of the schedule. Yesterday I got up early, did laundry, watered the garden, and then, as the heat settled in, I sat on the couch in front of the fan and worked on a poem and read Pride and Prejudice. This is a book I have read a thousand times, and only now has it occurred to me that Mr. Darcy's pride, superciliousness, etc., are simply the carapace of a very shy man. Being married to a shy man myself, you'd think I'd have identified the symptoms earlier.

After some couch sitting, Tom and I drove into town and spent the afternoon at the bowling alley, where I bowled two games with scores under 100 and one game with a score of 168. I had four strikes in a row! I wish I knew what the hell I was doing and could repeat it. But I am the queen of erratic. After bowling we went looking for more air conditioning and ended up in a coffee shop drinking ice tea and playing cribbage. Then we ventured back into our hot little house, I did some more garden watering, and eventually we took a cab back into town for our dinner-date at Piccolo. It was the first time we'd been there, and it serves excellent central Italian food: extremely fresh ingredients, mild bright flavors, a summer delight all around. Afterward we took a long slow walk home in the cool of the evening, along sultry Back Cove, under the scent of the linden trees, as excitable teenagers shot off fireworks along the shore.

Today we'll have more Hot to deal with. In a few minutes I'll go outside and do the morning watering, and before long I'll have drag myself to the grocery store and solve the conundrum of dinner. We might go to the art museum later. We might go play pool at Ernie's Bar around the corner. Actual useful work can wait for a break in the weather.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Try a Little Tenderness

And today Maine steps into the oven. Here on the northern coast we'll reach 90 today and tomorrow, which is probably not as terrible as where you are, but is terrible enough.

It's my 28th wedding anniversary today. Long ago, in 1991, Tom and I were married on a torrid morning in the Saylesville Friends Meeting House in Rhode Island, and then had a small reception in my parents' front yard. Our entire wedding cost $1,000, which even then was dirt cheap. We were 26 years old-- friends since we were 19, partners since we were 21.

My older son turns 25 next week, so these ages all seem especially tearful to me now.

But today, here we are, still together, in sultry Portland, Maine, in a small hot shabby-sweet midcentury house, peering toward the American dream of what? I'm sprawled out now on two chairs in the gravel-weed side yard, trying to soak in the only possible cool of this coming day, wondering what dreams even mean. That sounds grumpy and pessimistic but isn't meant to be. What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that dreaming turns out to be secondary; the what is finds you and there you are. And if you're fortunate, and I don't know why I have been, the what is has become a habit of care and companionable elbowing, comic talking about the cat, happy-sadness about small beauties; and it all seems to get more precious and poignant as breasts sag and memory spools.

I've been working on a poem-letter to Otis Redding, and yesterday I listened again and again to my favorite Otis song: the live Monterey Pop Festival version of "Try a Little Tenderness." The lyrics are a thin reflection of the performance, which you should listen to, and cry over, and dance to, and cheer, yet even in their inadequacy they are a lesson in the push-pull of what if and now.
Oh, she may be weary.
Those young girls, they do get weary
Wearing that same old miniskirt dress, yeah, yeah
But when she gets weary
Try a little tenderness

You know she's waiting
Just anticipating
The thing that she’ll never, never, never, never possess, yeah, yeah
But while she's there waiting
Try a little tenderness

Friday, July 19, 2019

You know about my whirlwind manuscript--A Month in Summer--triggered this past spring by a series of mid-nineteenth-century diaries. The central character is a Maine woman, an on-again-off-again schoolteacher, who lives with her brother, a small-time farmer. When she's not at school, she's in the kitchen or the garden or the barn, or mending in the parlor. As I wrote these small poems, I sometimes had the sensation I was sewing a sampler or making buttonholes . . . working in tiny stitches, fixing my eyes to the point of a needle.

I mentioned that sensation to my friend Teresa. And she said, "You ought to collaborate with a needlework artist. I think I know someone." So with much diffidence I sent a note to Donna Sharrett, whose stunning work rises from historical styles (e.g., Victorian antimacassars) while incorporating a variety of materials, such as guitar strings and bits of clothing.

What with one thing and another, Donna and I didn't end up talking until yesterday. But when we did, it was wonderful--like suddenly acquiring a new friend. Her engagement with the past, the way in which she steps into her work, her connections with garden and landscape: everything feels so recognizable and sympathetic, yet mysterious. She's not a representational artist, so anything she makes that connects to this collection will be slant, but already she's thinking about using nineteenth-century collars or cuffs, about sewing words into patterns. In these early stages we can only begin to imagine final results, or how they would be displayed: maybe a gallery exhibit or two. But I'm fizzling with excitement, and think she is too.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Well, we got almost no rain yesterday, just sweat and humidity and general discomfort. It looks like I'll need to start watering my garden in earnest.

My cold is no better this morning, and I'm feeling dumber than usual, but I did manage to work on a revision yesterday and begin drafting a new poem. It's possible they're both garbage, but we'll see. I've been getting stacks of rejections lately, so who knows what's what anyway? One blunders on.

On Saturday the temperature is supposed to reach 95--horrible weather for the north, but perfectly appropriate for my wedding anniversary. On July 20, 1991, I got married on Rhode Island's hottest day on record. Maybe that record's since been broken, but the memories remain keen. Tom and I plan to celebrate by spending the afternoon at an air-conditioned bowling alley. We should have gotten married in one.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

I guess it's going to be one of those rainy-not-rainy-thunderstormy-not-thunderstormy-sticky-hair-curling-same-temperature-all-day kind of days. So I will pick beans early, and will not hang towels on the line, and will prepare to spring around the house opening and closing windows  on an emergency basis.

Unfortunately I seem to have caught a summer cold, and unfortunately it's mostly a sore throat, which will take some of the fun out of having a day off from editing. I was hoping to do some writing today, along with some teaching prep and maybe--ugh--book promotion stuff. But it's difficult to be creative with a sore throat. Maybe it will go away quickly and I will suddenly leap into poet action.

In groundhog news: a sighting yesterday, but nothing eaten. In sunflower news: first blooms are opening. In kitchen news: peach cobbler. In Inferno news: I've reached the heretic circle of hell.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sorry I didn't write yesterday. I had a first-thing-in-the-morning meeting with my friend Ian, who directs the Kauffmann Summer Writing Seminar where I'll be teaching in a couple of weeks. (This will be my third year as co-director of this camping/writing trip for high schoolers, though all I do is show up and throw around prompts, while Ian manages the camping, transportation, food, administration, etc. This year I'm excited to borrow/muck around with some notions I learned at the Frost Place (involving letter writing and Barry Lopez's environmental encyclopedia Home Ground) as openings into human engagement with place. I'll let you know how my experiments work.)

And then I came home and worked on the schedule for another future workshop, filled out a form for a third, mulled over emails about a fourth. . . . Maybe-teaching-someday sure takes up a lot of time.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A hot night, and a hot morning, but somehow I did manage to get some sleep last night and am now feeling somewhat less like a double-exposed photograph. So far, so good with the Sassy Groundhog war; that horrible coyote urine seems to be daunting her, and she hasn't eaten anything for the past few days. Now the cucumber is setting fruit, I've picked a few cherry tomatoes, and we ate our first artichoke last night, along with a green bean and rice salad, grilled flank steak, and homemade watermelon granita that was completely delightful. Next year maybe I'll try growing a melon myself.

On a walk the other day, I cadged a book from a free pile--Frances Prose's Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. I've read Prose's essays before but not her fiction, and thus far this one is not bad. It's a good hot-summer-day read, in any case--a nice balance for the Inferno, which I'm still copying out and which is not at all suitable for torrid weather.

I revised two of the drafts I wrote at the Frost Place and sent them out to see what other folks might think. So I'm beginning to step back in to writing, but slowly, as I don't want to distract myself from everything else I need to get done. That's pretty much where I am with poetry right now: I have to keep it under control because otherwise I'll do nothing else but write books. It's a logorrhea problem, maybe.

FYI, Chestnut Ridge is available for purchase, and I am slowly trying to set up readings, etc. I do have a couple of workshops forthcoming--a weekend retreat in midcoast Maine, probably in November, and a revision session in Dover, New Hampshire, next March. I may have a teaching gig in Florida duing the winter, and I'm trying to figure out something for NYC/Jersey City, and I've got steady dates for Monson Arts all through the school year. In other words, obligations are starting to crowd, so now's the time to snag me if you've got ideas.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Okay, I'm beginning to figure out what's wrong with me. It's post-partum book depression, which has sacked me every single time I've published a book so I don't know why I forgot to expect it this time. The pattern is always the same: I publish a book and then become frozen and glum and can't figure out how to promote it in any way, and I start having anxious dreams and every rejection letter feels like a bull moose falling out of an airplane and the last thing I want to do is talk to anyone about anything. I suppose this is why real writers have marketing agents.

I do feel slightly better now that I know what's going on. It's bound to run its course; it always has.

Though of course there's an obvious question: why do I want to publish books if publishing books makes me miserable?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Pounding rain all night, plus broken sleep, plus disturbing dreams about my children = I am not feeling very angel-in-the-house this morning. I usually enjoy a lulling overnight rainstorm, but last night's made me anxious, for no good reason, since my logical brain was pleased to have the garden watered. And disturbing dreams about one's children are no good under any circumstances.

Anyway, it's daylight, finally. And I managed to drag the trash/recycling/compost to the curb between downpours. And I made coffee, and let the ravening cat out. And there's no sign of the Sassy Groundhog.

Last night I made an excellent white chili: poblano and red peppers, fried cumin, cayenne, white beans, a handful of leftover rice, chicken, vidalia onion, fresh corn, topped with guacamole, marigold petals, and cilantro not eaten by a groundhog. So those are the leftovers I plan to have for breakfast, and then I'll go to a yoga class, and then I'll work on a manuscript review, and the day will be busy and fine and I'll forget that in my dreams I lost my son and couldn't find him anywhere.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Yesterday was one of those days when everything I do seems to be proof of my fecklessness. Some days all I do is stumble into door frames and kick table legs, literally and metaphorically. However, I did drive to Paris Farmers Union without getting into an accident and did purchase a bottle of coyote urine, which is something that perhaps you have never done. Apparently groundhogs and other vegetable snackers do not like coyote urine. I know I don't, but we'll see about Sassy.

I managed to move a stack of editing off my desk, so today I'll be reading poem manuscripts and maybe even thinking about my own. Weirdly the temperature is supposed to stay in the 60s, after giving us nothing but high heat for weeks, and I am looking forward to making something for dinner that isn't a cold salad. I may also be getting ready to can: that bean crop is ominously large . . . unless the Sassy Groundhog takes a notion to harvest first.

But what I really need to do is buy a new laptop. Mine is ancient--a 2008!--and is doddery and difficult, and too old for updates, and incites email confusions and misdirections. How I long for a nice little rosewood lap desk, such as Charlotte Bronte describes (but please no drug-addled brother, dying sisters, poisonous graveyard, or beastly book reviewers).

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Have I mentioned my groundhog war?

According to my neighbor, the groundhog has been living under her shed for several years. She's seen it often in the summer, browsing among her perennials but never doing much harm. And last year I saw it too--scuttling here and there among the weeds in my backyard, apparently content to munch on dandelions and plantain and ignore anything better around the corner.

All that changed when the fence fell down between the front yard and the back. One fine day, the groundhog bustled through the gap and discovered Lettuce! It had hit the groundhog jackpot.

This week, the sassy groundhog has eaten a head of parsley, half a Brussell sprout plant, a row of lettuce, and a sunflower. Every time I catch sight of it I rush out of the house, shaking my fist like Mr. McGregor in Peter Rabbit and shouting, You durn beast! Scram! But as I have mentioned, the groundhog is sassy, and so far it's been winning.

Yesterday I put up a temporary fence to replace the one that fell down. I spread red pepper flakes up and down the groundhog's customary pathways (the internet says groundhogs dislike spicy food). So far this morning, nothing new seems to have vanished from the vegetable patch. But I don't have long-term hope.

In better news: look at these beans I grew.


P.S. Argh. Looked out the window. Saw groundhog enjoying pleasant breakfast of cilantro. Saw my cat sitting next to him sociably, like a dinner host. "Hi, Sassy Groundhog! Have you tried the arugula yet?"

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

I've found myself slipping into melancholy over the past couple of days. Nothing's wrong (other than climate change, humiliating governance, children in cruel custody): only, I think, I'm aware of myself as small. Small is not a bad feeling; in so many ways it's how I experience wonder in the world . . . the natural world, of course--trees, mountains, ocean, sky--but also the world of books. I think it's why I'm so driven to copy out Dante and Milton, to reread Woolf and Murdoch and Bronte: I crave the sense of being enveloped, overwhelmed, subsumed into something greater than myself.

But small has pettier associations--as in overlooked by peers; as in not winning a prize; as in having few readers--that recall the chafing power of a fickle sixth-grade popular girl: "Today you're my friend!" "Today you're not my friend!" This is the kind of small that your mother stoutly tells you doesn't matter, but that you, standing alone at recess, experience as the cold shoulder of the universe.

It's not possible, really, to shed that self-flagellating loneliness. Probably Bob Dylan still feels awkward, overlooked, forgotten. Probably he worries that his pants make him look fat. Or that deep down inside people love Keith Richard more than they love him. Or that he doesn't know how to talk to his grandchildren the way their grandmother does.

Sometimes I wonder if my life, writing and otherwise, would be better or worse if I were more go-get-em, less shy and flustered. Is my constant sense of humbleness the best or worst coat in the closet?

Monday, July 8, 2019

The humidity has broken, temporarily, and I managed to get a full night's sleep under an actual blanket. Also I removed the rest of the fiction from the dining-room floor, tore out weary peavines and planted fall crops of chard and salad greens in their place, picked a big dish of baby string beans, mowed and trimmed the front-yard grass, finished Scott's The Jewel in the Crown and started Iris Murdoch's A Fairly Honourable Defeat, and went for a hike with Tom in the Fore River Sanctuary--a marshy preserve on the site of what, in the 19th century, used to be a barge canal from Portland's waterfront north to Sebago Lake.

For days I've been enacting some saggy object in a Dali painting, and it felt great to be peppy again. Today, though, I'm back to desk work. I've got multiple editing projects to finish this week, plus poem manuscripts to comment on, plus teaching to prep for. I never did do any work on my own poems yesterday; I was too excited about no longer being a deflated beach ball. And I never did any housework either, but oh well.

Now a cardinal is singing lustily in the trees, cool air is floating through the open windows, and Bugsy the tiny dog is huffing at my scornful cat. Patches of golden daylilies glow in the morning sun. In the backyard shade, tiny purple spiderwort flowers speckle the dark green. Bees mutter among my neighbor's bright shrubs.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Yesterday's heat was nearly unbearable. It was far too hot in the house to do anything physical, so I caught up on some mending and then decided to start reorganizing the books on the shelves. I imagined that this might be a relatively low-energy task, perfect for a sweltering afternoon. But no. Who knew you could sweat so much from alphabetizing?

Thankfully it did finally rain, though Tom and I managed to get caught in it without umbrellas and came home soaked to the skin.

Also, I only got up to E in fiction, and the dining room is strewn with novels.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

I slept until almost 7 this morning--a rare event. It's peculiar to wake up in full daylight. I'm usually a priestess of grey morning: drinking coffee in half-light, watching the streetlights blink off. Also dealing with the results of the cat's dawn hunt. Ugh. Yesterday he brought home a rat. Not a NYC subway leviathan, but definitely a rat. I've seen no signs of rat infestation in my yard; there's no food trash in the compost; I don't have outside garbage cans. But Ruckus is an enthusiastic rodent killer, and someone in the neighborhood seems to require his services.

Today will be another hot day, with thunderstorms rolling in in the afternoon. Strange to say, after so many months of wet, but we could use the rain. I've had to water every evening this week. I picked our first tiny green beans yesterday, and steamed them to serve in a farro and yogurt salad, along with peas, garlic chives, diced kohlrabi, and dill. We ate them with fresh summer rolls, filled with nasturtium flowers, big handfuls of herbs and lettuce, and bits of rice vermicelli, and dipped in tamari and fish sauce. It was a lovely garden meal.

I am still reading Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown, and am now interspersing it with the Lewis and Clark journals. I haven't done much with the new poem drafts I scrawled into life at the Frost Place, but maybe I will be able to spend some time with them this weekend. Mostly I've been focused on pounding out chapters in my current editing project, which is a long and complicated historical novel and takes up a lot of my head space.

For now it is a pleasure to sit here idly in a summer nightgown, morning coolness washing through the wide-open windows, sunlight glancing off slate paths and the sunflower leaves. Yellow lilies beam in the side garden; the first black-eyed Susans are opening, and the dahlia buds are fat and glossy. Tiny purple flowers float over the bean patch. The tomato plants are six feet high and still growing. Only the peas are getting weary.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Fourth was, as it often is, a relief. In the midst of a heat wave, when your husband is a day laborer who's been framing a house in full sun, the chance to watch him not get up on a weekday and slog off to work is a vacation in itself. We spent the day idling: a little desultory watering and harvesting; a load of laundry on the lines; a few dishes. A sweet drop-in visit from friends. A midday amble to the bar down the street, where we drank a beer in air-conditioned comfort and played a few games of cribbage. An afternoon nap, and chicken salad for dinner, and then a walk down to the cove to watch the fireworks.

Roses are in bloom now: red and white, just like the fairy tale. The bushes were in bad shape when we bought this place--packed with dead canes; tangled with weeds--and I had to cut them back radically. They survived the ordeal but didn't have the strength to bloom at all last year, so I had no idea what color they might be. It turns out that they are beautiful--especially the reds, which are deep and velvety, though the white rugosa has the sweeter scent. Lilies are also beginning to bloom, and nasturtiums, and fat pink gerbera daisies. The sunflowers and cosmos are budding; the scarlet runners are climbing. Tomatillos are forming on the vines, and they look like tiny Chinese lanterns. We've been eating fresh peas every day since I returned from Franconia, and today I may pick our first green beans.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Signing of the House Contract. I would never remember that date if it weren't also on the Fourth, and I know we spent the day feeling shell-shocked and worried, and also distracted by the fact that there was a giant all-city holiday party taking place outside our apartment windows.

In some way it feels as if we've owned this place for more than two years. But no. Everything is still new.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independence Day. I'll be celebrating it by doing a few things that the White House monster and his cabal are too ignorant or vicious to care about.

Like make a donation to my city's fund for asylum seekers.

Like do some useful physical labor--perhaps spread some of the compost I've been making in the backyard, because why throw things away?

Like plant vegetables--maybe some kale and lettuce seeds for a fall crop, because I like to eat and I like to grow.

Like clean my own house--because I'm proud that way.

Like read old difficult poems--because why should art be easy or neat or new?

Like make love in the afternoon with a person I actually love.

What will you do?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

It's summer now: temperatures in the 80s during the day, in the sticky 60s at night. The bedroom fan hums, and the basement dehumidifier hums, and cold pink wine chills in the refrigerator. We eat salads for dinner and berries for dessert. The cat stretches himself melodramatically across a cool tile floor. The tomatoes grow as fast as radioactive plant overlords.

Upstairs, standing in my dim, north-facing study, I stare out into deep maple shade, at drying laundry, at a neighbor's blooming dogwood tree. For the moment I have nothing to do in this room but edit books--a small recess, after a breathless year of teaching, writing, editing, advising. For the moment I feel strangely one-dimensional. This state of affairs will change, and soon: poem manuscripts will pop up in my email; teaching gigs will roll around on the calendar. But after a week of Frost Place intensity, life seems to have retreated into a manila envelope, and the contrast is extreme. This may sound like complaining, but isn't. Without these plain patches I might lose my mind. Certainly I'd lose my concentration, and my good cheer. Still, I feel a bit of melancholy, a pleasant and peaceable melancholy, as I stand here in my tree-darkened room. I feel like I'm my own shadow.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Thin cloud muffles the sky. The air is humid and heavy. All of the house windows are open, and a vague coolness sifts through the empty rooms. Outside, bluejays screech among the maples; otherwise, the street is quiet, except for the mutter of a next-door air conditioner. It is a summer dawn in a small northern city by the sea.

My days have returned to their old ways. It is pleasant to be home--at my desk, at the clothesline, in the garden, in the kitchen. Late afternoons, I pick peas and strawberries, cut lettuce and herbs, choose new flowers for the vases, make jars of ice tea. For a few minutes I sit and read a novel about India in the deep backyard shade.

At night a fan flutters the pale window-blind. Blue walls retreat into shadow. Under the cotton coverlet I wake and sleep and wake--restless, dreaming. The night moves slowly, and the robins sing early.

Monday, July 1, 2019

I've been writing for a long time, and I've been getting rejection letters for a long time, and mostly I've learned to shrug and let them go. But a few rejections do stand out. For instance, there was the time a publisher told me my essays were too well written to print. And the time a publisher told me that men wouldn't read my work.

Yesterday I got a rejection suggesting that I don't have enough emotion in my poems. Now, I have many flaws as a writer, but avoiding feelings is not one of them. So when I write a poem that seems emotionally frozen, you can be sure I'm doing so on purpose, for a reason. Say: to delineate the inarticulacies of grief. Say: to trace what it's like to be a depressed person. A reader may or may not like a poem or a manuscript. But they aren't accidents, and they aren't evasions.

Artists have their preferences and blind spots, and publishers have their preferences and blind spots, and rejections are a reminder of how subjective our work can be. That doesn't keep me from gnashing my teeth over misreadings and misunderstandings. But it's not a bad thing, either, to get a rejection letter that reminds me You are doing hard work. I guess I'll keep doing it.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The bone-weariness is beginning to lift. Yesterday I managed to get the front gardens into shape, and today I'll catch up on vacuuming and floor washing, and maybe do some work in the side and back gardens, if the thunderstorms allow.

During the week I've been gone, the tomatoes have grown a foot, the peas are loaded with pods, beans are in flower, the strawberries are ripening. Last night we had a beautiful summer seafood feast: ceviche made with scallops, mahogany clams, and polpo, tossed with lime and cherry tomatoes, plus garden fennel, green onion, and cilantro, and served alongside a roasted potato salad, a rosato, and a viewing of The Thin Man.

I've got a stack of poem drafts to transcribe from my notebook, and maybe I'll get to that today; or maybe I won't. It turns out that Tom and I are glad to see each other . . . I mean, of course we are; but sometimes a  reunion feels especially dear. Which is to say: stuff can wait.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Last year, I came back from the Frost Place Writing Intensive blazing with the will to write. Vievee Francis had unclogged something in me--that blob of grief that had been silencing me since the move from Harmony--and since then, for the entire year, I've been a faucet. Turn me on and the water gushes out and overflows the sink. I've written most of two manuscripts in a year, plus many other uncollected/uncollectable poems. Hundreds of poems. In truth, I've had to purposely turn off the faucet, or at least reduce it to a trickle when I've been editing and teaching, so I can focus on paying tasks and/or avoid killing myself by overwork.

All this is to say that I came into this year's Writing Intensive with my bait bucket full of fish. I expected to write fluently, I expected to be wriggling in my seat, I expected to be hunting for kraken. And I did all of that.

This year's class was led by Maudelle Driskell. Taking a class with her is like taking a class with a crocodile. She clamps hold of your leg and she won't let go. Every person in the room went home with a chunk of flesh missing. She ran us a through a few drafts, and then she flung out individual assignments: To the person who writes lovely, first-person fishing poems, "You! Write from the point of view of a princess!" To the person who writes patient, forgiving poems: "You! Write about the ugliest nastiest thing you can think of!" To the person with formal dexterity: "You! Write a prose poem!" To me: "You! Write something sexually explicit!"

Now Maudelle knows I am not a prude. More importantly, I know I am not a prude. But I certainly have not been writing sexually explicit work . . . and on purpose. I've liked retaining a few wordless things in my life. And of course writing about sex drops any other, invisible, non-writing participant into the boiling water. So where does one draw the line, when it comes to privacy? . . . blah blah blah, too bad. Maudelle scrunched up her nose and lanced me with her beetle-eyed stare. "Get to work, Potter!"

So I wrote a poem about anal sex. I had to concentrate all of my attention on delineating a fraught physical act via two invented yet familiar characters. I had to jettison the cogitator, the observer, and concentrate on the doer. The experience of writing this draft was weird and difficult and wonderful, and the poem will probably be a keeper. I'm excited about it, excited to have been pushed down this murky well. Maudelle knew what she was doing when she bossed me around. I'm beyond grateful.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Home in my own bed. Home on my own couch.

It's been a beautiful, intense week, in so many ways . . . dear voices, ardent skies, tales of trees and translation, but also hands to grip as we ventured into foul alleys and pools of lead.

I feel, as I always feel after a week at the Frost Place, both wrung dry and filled to flood.

How did I get so lucky?

Monday, June 24, 2019

At long last I am checking in. It appears that Robert Frost chewed through the wifi connection here at the house, so even if I'd had time to talk to you, I wouldn't have said a word. All is repaired, however, and I am here to tell you, Sometimes it doesn't rain in New Hampshire! This is the first conference for years where we haven't spent most of the week cold and wet. Of course it's forecast to rain tomorrow; we'll get our proper dose of misery. But for the moment: sunlight, and forest, and field, and white iris, and mountains, and poems, and eager hearts. The beauty rends.

Friday, June 21, 2019

I'm off to the Frost Place today so will be in only sporadic touch for the next week. Wish us all luck with the damp and the mosquitoes and the prowling grouchy ghost of Poet Bob.

It's been pouring rain all night. Tom and I dozed off under a couch blanket in front of a wood fire, just like it was March. This morning the garden plants look drunk, and they probably are. When I went out earlier, to lug the compost to the curb, the air felt like a locker-room after twenty-five showers. Sticky door weather. Clumped-up salt shaker weather. Moldy bread weather. Crazy hair weather.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Well, I have vacuumed out my car so that poets may ride in it without flinching. And I have printed all of my paperwork, and I have set aside a box of new books for sale, and I have watered the houseplants, and I have dealt (organically, if not kindly) with an invasion of biting red ants in my herb garden. Today, on the final slide to the Frost Place, I need to plan my reading, gather up some backlist books for donation, decide what clothes to pack in my suitcase (always an awful hour), and trim yard weeds--undoubtedly in the rain.

I feel, as I always feel, as if I'm forgetting something important. In my dreams last night I was a party planner for a very odd wedding, a job that required me to sew mother-in-law outfits that bore a certain resemblance to Goodwill upholstery and also had a pompom fringe swinging from the waistband. Possibly the scenario was an allegory.

For now, I am happy to be doing nothing--neither dreaming nor packing. My sinuses are stuffed with pollen, the air is grouchy with impending rain, and this cup of hot black coffee is the best thing on earth.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A dense, myopic fog blurs the neighborhood this morning. Taillights blear; softened bricks erase into cloud; blossoms seep like paint. I watch a dog and her walker pause on the sidewalk. When I look up again, they have vanished, swallowed by mist.

Island weather. A fine morning to eat leftover soup for breakfast, to wear an old sweater, to restart the dehumidifier in the basement, to read a damp paperback novel, to walk down to the shore.

Speaking of soup, let me tell you about it. Fresh chicken stock, fried onions and carrots, leftover picked chicken, a handful of bow-tie macaroni, a can of pinto beans, salt and pepper. At serving, topped with coarsely chopped tomatillo salsa, a spoonful of plain yogurt, a handful of minced cilantro. Served alongside toast and ice water and a big green salad. An on-the-spot invention I will certainly invent again.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The boy has whirled off into the sunrise. Now, on this dim morning, the house ticks; the mild air hums and trembles; squares of daylight cast mute glimmers over chair arms, over scratched floorboards and scarred books.

Outside, the sky whitens. Threads of cloud finger the Norway maples, leviathan trees, wearing their crowns like gods.

A screen door slams.

A fluster of sparrows spins upward, and falls.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Tomorrow morning P sets out on his Canadian canoe idyll; on Friday I leave for the Frost Place. I think we're both mostly ready for our adventures . . . though I'm never quite sure.

Today will be hot and humid, and I have to mow grass and wash sheets and read some Dante, and hang out with my son, and then go to a school event in the evening for the kids I taught this winter. The garden is swelling: peas in flower, beans in flower; second crops of greens burgeoning; strawberries setting fruit. I am awash in duty.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

I got to lead a very fun poetry revision workshop in Portsmouth yesterday (though it would have been even more fun if I'd slept the night before). The participants were all members of the same writing group, so they had a long familiarity with each others' personality and writing style. It was interesting to step into this ongoing relationship, stirring the waters a bit but also benefiting from their existing ease with one another.

I like to lead these kinds of workshops "cold"--which is to say, I don't want to read the poems beforehand and construct heavily annotated teacherly reactions. I want everyone in the room to be equals: all of us first-time readers of a new draft, all finding our paths into it, often awkwardly, often second-guessing ourselves, positing one possibility and then another, because that's how revision really works. I think of it as a way to model a pattern of mind--"how to be a reviser" rather than "follow my precepts, student." As I say every year at the Frost Place, my goal as a teacher is to teach myself out of a job--to bring poets into confident engagement with their own minds and their own work.

This method of teaching is tiring, for sure, because it requires intense concentration in the moment, not just on the draft under study, but on the poet's personality and on the temper of the communal responses. What, in a particular poem, should be singled out in this context for a 10-minute conversation? How can that conversation honor the richness of the draft while being forthright about next steps? How can I allow room for multiple possibilities--for the poet's own creative growth--while offering a structural security ("you might try this, or this, or this")? These are the on-the-spot dances I like to do. But it's exhausting work, and I did come home last night looking and feeling like a flayed rabbit. Thank goodness for a real night's sleep and a slow morning after.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Yesterday was yet another day of pouring rain, fire in the woodstove, endless hot tea, and two sweaters, along with fist-shaking at whatever insect keeps beheading my okra seedlings. On my desk: a dense historical novel in need of copyediting. In the kitchen: Venetian meat-and-potato balls and a bowl of fresh greens. In my lap: Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land.

Tomorrow I'll be leading a poetry revision workshop in Portsmouth for much of the day. A week from now I'll head west to the Frost Place. I'm in a bit of a fluster . . . not a big one, just the usual Oh, golly, I need to pull myself together, don't I?

For the moment I'm staring out into the cool dense foggy green of a Casco Bay June. The sea is invisible but feels very close. The sky is a wet afghan hung over two chairs, the houses prim little islands on asphalt shoals. Peonies loll against drainpipes. Peavines gobble the trellis; tomato plants lurch up their stakes, hungry as teenage boys. Summer is a greedy season.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

I got word yesterday that the advance copies of Chestnut Ridge are ready! So I will definitely have them at the Frost Place, and maybe a few for other folks too.

* * *

This week's food discovery: roasted pumpkin seeds are excellent with hot-smoked salmon that's been flaked into fresh-picked greens and halved cherry tomatoes and then tossed with olive oil, lime, and a handful of garden cilantro.

* * *

The vases are filled with peonies. The skies are filled with gulls.

* * *

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The peonies exploded into bloom in yesterday's warm soaking rain, and then the rain immediately smashed the heavy heads into the ground. C'est la vie with peonies, every single year. I did manage to tie them up, however, and to corral the peavines which are swelling over the trellis like radioactive superheroes.

Number 1 Son took a bus to Boston early in the morning, and I cried, of course. It has been so exceedingly sweet to have both boys at home. Thankfully I still have Number 2 Son to enjoy for a few more days before he departs for Canada. And then I'll be rushing into Frost Place time, so I won't have the leisure to mope for long . . .  though I bet I'll still manage some woe. How I love these boys.

Today: editing, and then grass mowing and weed trimming, and probably a mid-afternoon break for Scrabble, which for some reason has become the game du jour during this boy visit. Tom was home all day yesterday because of the rain (not good weather for framing a house), so we now possess a linen-closet door and a non-leaking toilet. And now the cat is yowling outside the front door because he wants to bring a semi-live mouse inside. The answer is no.

Monday, June 10, 2019

A long sweet ballpark afternoon, a walk home under summer skies, boys splintering off briefly to visit with friends, Sicilian pizza and asparagus salad for dinner, a noisy family card game afterward . . . the weekend has been a delight. This morning I'm feeling a bit sun-drugged, as one does after a hot day at the stadium. Boys are asleep, my in-laws are heading home, Tom is getting ready for work, and I am trying to catch up on emails and laundry. We're forecast to have another hot day, and I don't know what the boys and I will do with it. Our plan is to go to the movies this evening, but otherwise we may just putter. Tomorrow Number One Son heads to New Hampshire, and I'll go back to editing, prepping for the Frost Place, prepping for a weekend workshop, etc., etc. In the meantime Boy Land continues on.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Tom and his parents spent yesterday at Winslow Homer's studio. The boys and a childhood friend climbed a mountain in western Maine. I walked and ate barbecue with old friends who were passing through town. Then we all reconvened for tapas and chatter on Munjoy Hill. The day was easygoing and sociable, the sort of summer day I used to read about in books.

Today will be brunch around the corner and a minor league baseball game in the sunshine, and then something or other for dinner . . . maybe a big pot of macaroni, maybe take-out pizza; who knows? In the meantime, here I sit on the couch, listening to the toilet leak, because nothing's perfect.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Boy Land is sleeping, upstairs and down.
The cat's on the lawnchair, the mouse on the town.
Sunshine is streaking the waves on the bay.
Summer is coming, it's coming today.

Friday, June 7, 2019

My Chicago son will arrive at midday, my in-laws at midafternoon, and then, as my father-in-law says, "We'll have Christmas in June!"by which he means three generations in the same place at the same time--something that doesn't happen so often anymore.

Thus this morning, after snatching a yoga class, I'll rush off to buy groceries, then rush to the bus station to fetch my exhausted all-night-traveling son, and then putter around finishing a lemon tart, prepping chicken with olives, and basking in Boy Land.

The sun is shining, and soon I'll open all the windows and hang a load of laundry. Salvia, chive flowers, columbine, iris are beaming from vases. The cherry table is polished. The new cellar door is delightfully closed. I've got a bed to set up for the traveling son: a thick new mattress, line-dried sheets. I feel happy that the house is so cheerful, the garden so green and vigorous and tidy. A cardinal is singing singing singing in the maples. The white cat blinks. The men I love are sleeping and waking.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Another rainy dawn . . . pouring pouring pouring, over cars and trees and sidewalks and chimneys and gardens. The forecast claims the storm will clear out shortly and we'll have a rare weekend of sunshine and warmth. But that is hard to believe.

This morning I'm taking my car to the garage around the corner to find out why the a/c is still not working right. I've got student poems to read, an editing project to finish up, and then a lemon tart shell to prebake and a house to clean before my company starts arriving tomorrow.

I'm still slowly revisiting Richard Ford's Independence Day, but mostly I'm spending my free time in Boy Land, where I'm listening to loud playlists and being trounced in Scrabble. Warning: This is what happens when you encourage your children to read.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Applications are still open this week for the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. Do make a snap decision and join us. Often our participants are neither classroom teachers nor poets; but they are people who feel deeply, who crave intellectual and emotional communion with colleagues, and they find these bonds with the participants who return year after year. If you have any questions or curiosities, please contact me.

* * *

Finally, after days of terrible sleeping, I enjoyed a full night of unconsciousness, so this morning I'm feeling far less lizardy. I did manage to finish a big editing project yesterday, and I think maybe that shifted the invisible hammer of doom that was hanging over my head and jolting my synapses at 3 a.m. In any case, I'm grateful.

Now I'm sitting with my coffee in front of a small recalcitrant fire, trying to avoid turning up the thermostat on this damp gray rainy morning. Today will be student-poem-reading day, and taking-the-boy-to-the-dentist day, and probably bathroom-cleaning day. Today and tomorrow are forecast to be wet, but then things should clear up for our big family weekend of art, food, and minor league baseball.

I received the first printer's proof of Chestnut Ridge yesterday, and I am exceedingly pleased with how it looks. If all goes well, copies will be available at the Frost Place, though the timing is tight and slip-ups may happen. I'm feeling optimistic, however.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Home again, after two days packed with driving and not enough sleep. But now there's a boy in the house, and that's a big plus. So laundry today, and lots of desk work, and some errand running; and steak au poivre for dinner, and baseball on the radio, and the boy's playlists singing in the kitchen.

The garden is flush with salad greens: arugula, spinach, lettuce. I can pick parsley by the handful now, and garlic chives and sorrel. Peas are thick, strawberries in flower. Even the okra is up--my first ever shot at growing this beautiful tall plant with its fig-shaped leaves and huge creamy flowers. The only vegetable letting me down is the cucumber, which refuses to germinate. I guess I'll have to buy a seedling.

I should have the Chestnut Ridge printer's proof in my hands later today. I've got so much editing to do, a batch of poems to read for a student, teaching gigs to prep, and more house guests arriving on Friday. Somehow I'll figure it all out.

Sunday, June 2, 2019


 A few photos before I hit the road this morning: This is my tomato bed, stakes newly installed. Note the stylish bark pathways.


Peas have climbed halfway up the trellis and are as thick as weeds. Strawberries are setting blossoms.


Backyard grass is regenerating. Not exactly a lawn but it kind of looks like one if you're not wearing your glasses.


 Woodpile. Broken-down shed. A little piece of Harmony in Portland.


Garden boxes thriving. Second crops planted. Turning a driveway into vegetable plots was an excellent idea.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

I'm getting ready for a flurry of family. Tomorrow I head out to fetch Younger Son home from college, spend the night with my parents, then drive back home with the boy. Next Friday Older Son flies in, in-laws drive up, and we'll have a weekend of art, food, movies, and minor league baseball. In the meantime I've got work to do, of course, though all I'll really want to do is hang around with my boys. My blog appearances are likely to be intermittent, but I'll try.

Today will be all garden all of the time: mowing trimming weeding transplanting thinning. I'm more or less caught up on housework, I ran a thousand errands yesterday, I got my car's air conditioning fixed, I undoubtedly forgot something else along the way . . .

Anyway, happy Saturday! Hope yours is a breath of clean wind--

Friday, May 31, 2019

Chestnut Ridge, available for preorder

Adrian Blevins writes:
William Faulkner is famous for mining “his own little post stamp of native soil” for what he called “the old universal truths.” In Chestnut Ridge, Dawn Potter is following Faulkner’s wise path, giving us a polyphonic portrait of southwestern Pennsylvania in an impressive range of voices, pitches, and forms. She starts with the region’s tragicomic history—“the undiagnosed roads littered with sorrows”; “the pale and ruminating / heifer”—moving gradually through time to the present. All along, mining the full possibilities of persona, our intrepid author takes possession of her own origins as melancholic witness to a bygone America whose history it would be a terrible mistake to lose. This sad, moral, and really smart book is essential reading for anyone interested in hearing a master poet sing an indispensable bereavement song.

Betsy Sholl writes:
Dawn Potter’s rich and remarkable Chestnut Ridge gives us voices and artifacts tracing the development of southwestern Pennsylvania, from 1635 to 2013--from missionaries to racial conflicts, mining disasters to the way changing times can leave us adrift.  Potter makes history alive and compelling.  These poems hold up a mirror to the way assumptions and pressures shape our lives, as they trace how the land changes from wilderness, to commercial venture, to the aftermath of industry. It’s hard to know what to praise more:  Potter’s deft and supple forms, the rich empathy through which she creates the voices of others, or the way her poems make the past alive in all its complexity.   In a time when history and truth are under attack, these poems are not only beautiful and profound, they are utterly crucial.

Books available in late June . . . preorder here.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

I've been thinking about trees lately . . . how, in large and small ways, and wherever I live, they seem to have an outsized effect on my days. In Harmony that was no surprise. We lived on 40 acres of old-growth timber, mostly pines, firs, spruces, tamaracks, interspersed with smaller hardwoods--maples, cherry, poplar, ash, birch--and cedar along the streambed. Our acreage was just one small patch in the enormous stretch of woodland that cuts across northern New England, into New York, up into Canada . . . the Great North Woods, the forest king. Every time I cut anything from the garden, I had to pick pine needles out of it. Every spring I tore pine saplings out of the cultivated beds. If Tom needed to side the barn, he cut a tree for boards. We heated our house for more than two decades on culled trees, without doing any damage at all to the woods. The trees were our skyline, our fort, our weather. They surrounded us, and we were small.

Now I live in the city, but still, the trees have not ceded their power. Instead of mammoth white pines, we now have mammoth Norway maples. They loom dangerously over the houses . . . huge, beautiful, crowns of shade and green, and terrifying in a wind storm. Every time I cut anything from the garden, I pick out bits of maple flowers and maple seeds. Every spring I tear maple seedlings out of the cultivated beds. The trees are glorious and unstable. They surround us, and we are small.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Yesterday was one of those surprising days when I got a good-sized paycheck in the mail but the guy at the garage said I didn't need a brake job. Imagine! Money not spent on the same day it was acquired!

Plus, I got a lot done at my desk (a chunk of novel-editing, two Frost Place intros drafted), and I washed the floors. That's what happens when pouring rain keeps me out of the garden.

Today will be cloudy and cool, but the downpours are over for the moment. I lit a fire in the stove last night, and I may again tonight. But the plants look happy nonetheless. I think my chard and kohlrabi grew twice their size overnight, and soon I'll need to stake the tomatoes. The peas are climbing the trellis; the beans are thick. Columbine buds are unfolding. Thyme flowers blaze between the stones, and the backyard is pretending to be a lawn. After I finish my desk work, I'm going to the hardware store to buy a hummingbird feeder.

Last night, as dark was settling over the neighborhood and the rain was sluicing down, I stood at my study window staring out into the backyard. The green was so intense; my eyes drank it in, greedy for every drop. I don't love this little patch in the same way I loved my Harmony woods. But I'm learning to love it for itself.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

On the spur of the moment, Tom and I decided to take the ferry to Peaks Island and spend a few hours walking along the beach road. Peaks is one of the Casco Bay islands, the closest to mainland Portland, a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown. Though it's technically just another city neighborhood, it feels like a different place entirely: beach cottages, rocky ledges, grasslands, even an oldish forest in the center of the island. And yet it's so easily accessible: just a cheap short boat ride away.

After strolling and climbing on rocks and staring out to sea and looking at eiders nesting on spits, we came back to town and ate fried clams, then drove home and took a nap, then did nothing much for the rest of the evening except listen to a baseball game. It was a fine summer play day.

Today will be less fun: there is nothing enjoyable about having to take my car to the shop to discuss a brake job and a reluctant air conditioner. And it's going to rain again, and get chilly again, and I still haven't managed to vacuum, and I've got a stack of desk work and no idea what I'll be making for dinner.