Thursday, April 26, 2018

[Insert long scream here.]

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

Car is a 2014 with only 75,000 miles.

Of course, the warranty has expired.

[Insert another long scream here.]

* * *

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

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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

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

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

Fortunately reading Akhmatova is like drinking water.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Did I tell you I planted my peas?

Monday, April 23, 2018

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

So Wish Me Luck.

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

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

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018


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

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


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

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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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