Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve Letter

Today is the last day of 2016, and it has been a strange year all around, both personally and generally. I am not going to reprise it here: you already know what happened and more or less how you feel about it. I, like you, have fears and forebodings about the coming days, but the future is always a darkened lamp. So we will wait and wonder, and in the meantime proceed along our allotted paths--lurching and staggering at one moment, dawdling at another, clumping through a rainstorm, then running till our lungs burst.

Today I sit on a gray couch in a gray-lit room on the last day of December. A sheen of sunrise glints on the dormered roofs of the houses across the street. Slow walkers and their dogs wend their way downhill to the bay. The cat, after a night of enthusiastic bothering, is curled up on the yellow chair like a sweet postcard pet. I don't know if this is exactly where I want to be, but it's where I am. The truth is that I am no longer lonely, no longer counting the hours till bedtime, no longer forgetting to bother to eat, no longer stuffing blank time with crossword puzzles and meaningless housework. So things are better than they were, even if I continue to feel intermittently detached from place and purpose.

January looms, and I will be busy. I am editing yet another book about the cultural Cold War (there are so many!). I will be working with a couple of writers on their manuscripts. I'll be driving back north for band practices and for visits with friends. On the day of the inauguration, I'll be sharing poetry-teaching skills with Smith College students--which I take as a sign of hope. I have spent my adult life trying to construct a balance between art and duty, both personally and communally. I succeed occasionally . . . but perhaps most often when I spend time with teachers. If anyone can thwart Trump's long-term legacy, it will be these young people who light a trail for the even younger ones.

The underground railroad follows many routes. It halts for the passengers who wait in secret shabby stations. The cars fill, and the train keeps moving through the night. I love the faces, silhouetted in the windows. I love the steady thrum of the engine. Keep faith in the words, in the colors, in the echoes, in the twists of the body. Hold them close. Set them flying.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Sorry about the late post, but I've been shoveling snow. Apparently even when you live in a place that has a parking-lot plower, it's easier to just shovel out the space yourself rather than try to find a usable spot on the street and wait for the guy to show up. Portland was only supposed to get a couple of inches of snow from yesterday's nor'easter, but what we really got was two inches of snow, followed by three hours of torrential wind-driven rain, followed by five inches of soppy wet beautiful snow obscuring a secret layer of ice. Good thing I found Yaktrax in my boot size at the marine-supply store down the street. Otherwise, I'd still be outside lying on the pavement.

I hear that Harmony got fifteen inches of snow.

Already kids are sledding down the hill across the street. Yesterday during my walk I met a friendly little boy who was carefully filling his family's recycling container with snowballs. I hope he's getting a chance to use them today.

Here are some photos of the neighborhood this morning.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A circle of streetlight glitters along the northern edge of the invisible bay. A lone strip of pallid cloud hems the horizon. Shadow islands, cloaked in trees and stone, loom black on black in the unlit morning. Snow is on the way.

* *

I have been reading Lucille Clifton and John Updike. Tom is reading Roberto Bolano. Paul is reading E. L. Doctorow. James is reading Philip Roth. His girlfriend is reading bell hooks. His best childhood friend is reading an appliance repair manual. I can't stop thinking, What magic! How I love them all.

* *

The doll house smells of toast and butter. The little cat, silhouetted in the window, watches the tree limbs quiver.

* *

No one sits on the park benches. No one waits for the bus.

* *

"these failures are my job" --Lucille Clifton

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I got up at 2:30 a.m. to take the Chicagoans to the bus station. So now they have vanished back into their everyday lives, and Tom, too, has gone back to work. The doll house is very quiet, with an aura of spacious repose. But in a few minutes I'll wake Paul and we will drive up to Freeport to get my violin bow rehaired and to buy him some new snow boots before tomorrow's storm.  And then we'll come home, and launder all of the visitors' sheets and towels, and reinsert ourselves into our own toils and devices. I will begin working on my next editing assignment. He will begin figuring out his internship schedule. Plain life is poised to commence, and perhaps I will allow myself to start imagining the place I have left.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The doll house is draped with sleeping young people . . . sofa, floor, mattress, sleeping bag. Ruckus, thanks to a Christmas miracle or perhaps social exhaustion, dozed sweetly till 7:15, and is still mild-mannered and squinty. Last night's rainstorm has blown through, and today's sunlight is a damp gray-blue--a not-quite mackerel glint, more like the color of a Civil War reenactor's clean but linty uniform, recently unpacked from a cedar chest. The rustiest garbage truck in the world has paused at the stop sign. A beatnik walking three dignified dogs is meandering down the snowy-grassy slope toward the bay. Tom is sitting up in bed drinking coffee and reading a Bolano novel. C'est la vacance en Portland.

Monday, December 26, 2016

I have been awake since 3, thanks to the restless cat, and I am wondering if I should begin a "writing in the middle of the night" project, given that I anticipate many more restless cat incidents. His itchiness isn't surprising; more surprising is that it's taken this long for it to kick in. I knew his transition from indoor-outdoor country cat to indoor city cat would be traumatic for all of us. Though I try to take him outside on his leash, he is so terrified of the city noises that all he wants to do is rush back inside again. So he's bored, and he's bossy, and that means I have to be awake when I don't want to be awake.

Today, at least, he'll have some distraction. James and his girlfriend will be with us again; my Vermont family will troop in; James's best friend from Harmony will appear; Ruckus will be coddled and petted and made much of; and the kids will all stay up late with him and take me off the hook (maybe).

What I need to do now is drink coffee and clean the house and then go shopping to fill the refrigerator for all of the hungry young people en route to the doll house. But I'm also realizing that I need to start imagining myself as a poet again. That's not too convenient today. I'll have to remember to resurrect the sensation at 3 a.m.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve was nearly ideal. After Tom and I took long walk before breakfast, he installed a new counter in the doll kitchen, and then, with Paul, we trudged around in the rain in search of Christmas dinner ingredients. Everyone has decided that the Harbor Fish Market might be the best store in the world. We came home, took naps, vacuumed up cat hair, played cribbage, and then slid down the icy sidewalks to Empire Chinese Kitchen and a miraculous dish of kale and house-made rice noodles, which Paul loved so much that he ordered it twice. After dinner, we continued our festive sliding, staggering down to the wharfs to admire the decorated tugboats and then lurching toward home alongside a path decorated with narrow gauge train cars, and stacks of barnacled docks, and the bronze statue of a well-dressed but unlabeled seventeenth-century gent behind a chainlink fence, and the squeaks of half-asleep seagulls. At home we discovered that our upstairs neighbors were having a party, which was fine as long as we were in the living room drinking hot chocolate and playing Yahtzee, but became oppressive when we tried to go to sleep, as their Katie Perry-emitting speakers were located directly above our bed. I lay awake reading Rabbit Redux and listening to the bass lines of middle-aged top-forty hits until midnight, when, like magic, the speakers ceased and the guests vanished. If only Ruckus hadn't gone haywire at 4 a.m., I would have enjoyed a good night's sleep. But cats being what they are, he chose to celebrate the season by threatening to push my computer off my desk.

Anyway, here we are, on Christmas morning, slightly wild-eyed and mostly awake, preparing for a day of puttering up and down streets and among pantry cupboards. A year ago, this is not where I thought I'd be. But here I am. And I'm doing okay.

Joy to you and everyone you love or wish you loved better. May you tolerate irritation with charm and low blood pressure. May you temper celebration with sadness, and sadness with sweetness, and sweetness with comic relief. May you resist second helpings of dessert. May no special holiday glassware break, and may no cats walk through your rising bread dough. May you hope for the best even as you call out evil by name. May that not involve arguing with your father.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve morning. The first cars are sifting down the promenade. The dark is beginning to fold its cloak in the east. The cat and I are wedged together on the gray couch. The coffee is black and hot. The bedroom clock ticks, ticks, ticks.

This morning Tom and Paul and I will amble down to the waterside to buy our Christmas dinner. We've decided to start with little plates of this and that: olives, cheese, smoked fish, and anything else that strikes our fancy. Then we'll have a salad and Tom's homemade noodles with butter and lots of Harmony-grown garlic. And we'll finish with Reine de Saba cake--one of my favorite Julia Child classics. Tonight, instead of cooking, we'll stroll downtown and eat Chinese food at the Empire.

We made all of these decisions at about 8 p.m. last night. This has been the most underplanned holiday of my life, yet so far everything has fallen casually into place. After eight months of loneliness and worry, I'm imagining that Christmas, that classic American stronghold of stress and overeating, might actually be a day of unstructured peace. A morning walk by the water, a game of cribbage, Curtis Mayfield on the stereo. A few mild cooking projects, shared. A nap. A glass of good cider.

Of course this is also the definition of privilege. The privilege of food and heat and refrigeration and a toilet and clean running water. Of not cowering in rubble. Of not clutching a dead child in my arms.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What a happiness it is to have my family here, all of us under the same borrowed roof. For six months we have not laid eyes on our older son; we've never gone so long without seeing him. Now here he is, asleep in the living room, with his charming sweet girlfriend; and our younger son is asleep in Tom's study, and Tom has just kissed me goodbye and gone off to work. And new snow is sifting down onto the morning dog walkers and the city buses and the clanking dump trucks and the Subarus. And I am going out to buy sleds this morning so that later we can all play on the hill beside the bay. And after that we will eat fish tacos made with the amazing fragrant corn tortillas that James and Terranae brought us as a Christmas gift from their Chicago neighborhood . . . yes, fish tacos cooked on my very own functioning stove.

Tomorrow the travelers will borrow my car and drive off to spend the holiday with assorted grandparents and aunts and uncles. So Christmas proper will feature just the three of us. But the next day the Chicagoans will return, along with another big family contingent, who are trekking over from Vermont (if the weather allows) to see us in our new digs. If all goes well, on Monday night we'll transform into that annoying noisy party of eleven, the one that hogs all the space at the restaurant and asks too many questions about the food. It will be lovely.

Three weeks ago I still had no idea where I'd be spending Christmas, or who would be with me, or whether I'd be able to think about celebrating at all. It is a relief--more than a relief: a blessing--to feel myself relaxing into this easy cheerfulness. At the same time I can't stop thinking of Aleppo and all of the other places in this fractured world where easy joy has no meaning. That's the conundrum of happiness: I cannot ignore an equivalent awareness of my selfishness and self-satisfactions. Yet there it is. Joy. Like a diamond dropped in a mud puddle. I lean down and pick it up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

News, with a plethora of seasonally appropriate exclamation marks:

1. The well in Harmony finally passed the water test!! Now all we have to do is set a closing date. The torment is almost over.

2. My essay "The Humanity of Trump Voters" was the Times Literary Supplement's number-one most clicked-on article of 2016. Crazy. Or perhaps, Crazy!

3. The stove is getting fixed today!

4. My older son's plane just landed in Boston!

5. Ruckus the Cat allowed me to sleep in till 5:15!

6. The sky is blue! The bay is bluer! Dogs are dancing along the sidewalks!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It looks like I'll be able to quickly join the Telling Room's teaching-artist roster (after jumping through a few simple hoops), and that is good news. The organization offers a decent hourly wage, and it focuses on in-school residencies, often in collaboration with other writers, which means that I will not only learn more personally but will also be able to share a wider array of ideas with my Frost Place teachers. Plus, the Telling Room administrators do all the grunt work of setting up the residencies, which means that the teaching artists can focus their energies on curriculum development and actual student interaction, not on writing begging letters to schools. I'm sure there will be kinks and quirks to work through, but on the whole I'm excited about getting involved.

After yesterday's meeting I slid-skipped back home along the icy sidewalks, stopping only to fill my backpack with bread, day-old pizza slabs (99 cents each! such a bargain!), and salami. Tomorrow the stove-repair guy will be here, just in time for the arrival of my older son and his girlfriend, and maybe, just maybe, I will be able to cook something for the holidays--a batch of shortbread, a pot of mulled wine, maybe even a doll-sized cauldron of minestrone. Today I am actually going Christmas shopping, and I think I can manage to get everyone a single small gift. The holiday will be a tiny celebration to go along with our tiny tree and our tiny kitchen. But no one in the family will be living alone in a boarding house that smells of sadness and Hot Pockets. No one will be staring out the window into silence and ice and wondering how to kill the hours of the day. No one will be far away in a midwestern city, feverishly working another tedious overtime shift at Macy's or NBC. No one will be hunched in a badly lit dorm room at 2 a.m., high on caffeine and anxiety and trying to finish that damn paper about Richard III. Instead, we will all be crammed into a little apartment, trying to sleep late but tormented by a bouncing bored cat who enjoys opening presents that aren't his, making too many pots of coffee, going for walks to look at other people's Christmas lights, trying to figure out where to hang up our wet bath towels, complaining when the hot water runs out, talking about this and that, listening to whatever music Tom decides we should listen to on the stereo, and so on and so on. Just imagine family life in the doll house, when the dolls are too tall to fit easily and you have to take off the roof to cram them into the chairs and beds.

Monday, December 19, 2016

I'm heading out soon to the Telling Room, a brisk 25-minute walk away from the apartment. Living within walking distance of anything is such a novelty, but now I live within walking distance of many things.

There has been much I've dreaded about moving away from Harmony, but the idea of driving less and walking more has made me happy from the beginning. I don't even like to drive yet have nonetheless spent thousands of hours of my life behind the wheel. But of course when I imagined city walking, I forgot to imagine winter city walking: slush-puddles, clogged drains, nor'easters, and icy hills. I also have no idea how long it will take me to get anywhere.

Still, there's the rhythm, the chance to see the world slowly, the random interactions with people and dogs and trees. And if I fall down on the ice, someone will be around to help me up. In Harmony no one would have seen me for days.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Yesterday my window views featured rosy-faced sledders and bouncing dogs and a beautiful Currier and Ives snow. Last night the snow changed over to freezing rain, and this morning there is slush and muck and flooded storm drains and gloomy people who can't get their cars unstuck.

Already Tom has vanished into the world--off to the wood shop to build closet shelves and a teeny-tiny kitchen counter. I will wash our breakfast dishes in the doll's sink and then navigate through the slush to the grocery store.

Yesterday, though, we were home together all day, except for a brief foray to the bakery for bread (another teeth-gnashing purchase: I can't bake bread if I don't have a functioning stove). The living/dining room is now mostly arranged, and here are a couple of pictures from different angles. Somehow Tom the Design King has figured out how to make a little crowded room seem almost airy . . . though the very tall ceilings do help. If I were a better photographer, you would have a better grasp of the arrangement.

In and among unpacking and arranging, I also managed to copy out a few Lucille Clifton poems. They are just right for my state of mind: tonic and often scratchy but mostly very short, so that I can harness my shifting attention into tiny bursts of concentration. Tomorrow morning I'll be talking to the program director of a local student writing collective about the possibility of working for him as a teaching artist, and I've got a couple of new editing projects waiting in the wings. My band has set a mid-January gig date, which will take me back north to the homeland, and the following week I'll be driving down to Massachusetts to teach at Smith College. So I'll be falling into new-old ways of doing my same old work. I'm trying not to agonize about the still-unresolved water issues at the Harmony house. I am trying to focus on the fact that an island in fog is floating outside my window.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

6:30 a.m., Saturday. Snow drifts through the half-darkness. Always, there is light in this city--streetlights, buoys, docks, cars--and when we arrived I feared this constant twilight would keep me awake. But no: I have slept like a teenager every night I have been here.

Now I am sitting on a gray couch beside a window, looking down at the cars hissing through the skim of snow. In the front bedroom Tom yawns and sighs. In the back bedroom Paul pulls the blanket over his head and sinks into another bout of dreams. In the distance a train hoots.

If we had a working stove, I could almost say we were living regular lives. Yesterday I vacuumed and dusted and unpacked boxes and did three loads of laundry. Then I walked a mile to Micucci Grocery and bought red wine and ravioli and a jar of sauce . . . the first jar of sauce I have ever purchased. It was painful to buy someone else's sauce, even though it was store-made and I've eaten it on Micucci's pizza slabs plenty of times.

Tonight I''ll experiment with cooking ravioli and sauce in the microwave. I've never bought sauce, and I've never lived with a microwave. So many new things.

Two crows have swung through the snowy dawn to land on the telephone wire outside my window. Three crows. Four crows. Now they are preening and scratching and hunkering down fatly on their roost. They're small in size; maybe they're a brood of juvenals, but their voices are deep. A pack of young folks hanging around, hoping for fun, or inspiration, or snacks.

Friday, December 16, 2016

This is my Christmas tree . . . which is actually a small lavender plant. I am ridiculously pleased with it. The color is kind of a dusky green-gray, and the scent is modest but heavenly, and it's decorated with earrings and pins and strands of beads from my jewelry box. At the top is a tiny birchbark and sweetgrass canoe, which an Ojibway artist gave to Paul last summer as a thank-you present for being her son's camp counselor. Inside the canoe (though he he doesn't show up in this bad photo) is a Santa pin I got for Christmas when I was six. Through the doorway behind the tree you can get a glimpse of the doll's kitchen. Really, you're getting more than a glimpse. That's practically the whole kitchen.

Here's another bad photo for you. I don't know why all my pictures list to the left today. Anyway, this is the view from the living room into the bedroom. At the front is a little hallway, just big enough for a bookcase on either side. On the floor is a catnip rat, arranged artistically by Ruckus. Beyond is the bed (our bedframe in Harmony was a built-in, so we're currently sleeping on the floor like college students). Beyond that, in front of the radiator, is my stand-up desk. And beyond the window is the street, the park, and the sea. So as I type, I'm also looking outside at a very cold woman looking at her watch and waiting for the bus. Behind her is a long sledding hill that no one is using because the temperature is below zero and all the children had to go to school anyway. At the bottom of the hill is a scrim of bare trees, and then a crackle of salty ice floating on the margin of the blue bay.

The bus still hasn't arrived. The woman is still cold.

But here's a better picture of Santa in his canoe . . . as long as you don't mind the blur. It's a good thing I went into writing instead of photography.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

This is the view from my bedroom window. I still cannot quite comprehend the magnificence. Of course I'm also dealing with a doll's kitchen that doesn't have a functioning stove. But still: there's this.

Today, the temperature will be moderately tolerable--a high of 25--but tonight it will drop to low single digits. Up in Harmony it's forecast to fall below zero, and I am trying not to worry about the pipes. Please, dear fates, don't make me suffer through any more water emergencies.

I feel bad that my posts here have been so unpredictable, time-wise, but now that Tom doesn't have to leave for work until just before 8, we have been lingering over our coffee, looking at the map to figure out the names of the islands in the bay, watching a mob of seagulls argue over a bag of french fries, guessing which of our missing possessions are in which badly labeled box, and so on. And then I have to wash the breakfast dishes in the doll's sink, which takes a long time because there's no counter space and I have to climb up and down a ladder to put things away. Eventually I will fall into some sort of predictable pattern, but I haven't found one yet.

But I no longer have to climb over a giant photo printer in order to reach my desk. I now know where my socks are located. I might even have found a tiny bit of room for a tiny, tiny Christmas tree.

And yesterday, when I went for a walk, everyone smiled at me. Either they were all naturally friendly people or I had a particularly comic expression on my face. Anyway, I smiled back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Well, here I am again. I did not think my hiatus would last for so long, but we did not have an Internet connection until yesterday afternoon, and thumb-typing on a phone is torture. I can barely spell my own name that way.

But now I am living in Portland.

The apartment is still a jostling crowd of boxes and tables and stereo equipment. Workers are arriving today to install a new rug in the second bedroom. The stove turned out to have a gas leak so is currently unusable. But a clock is ticking on the mantle. A little cat is curled up on a yellow chair. The collected works of William Shakespeare rest in a bookcase. A son sleeps behind a closed door. My favorite Mason jar holds a bouquet of fresh parsley. The dishes are clean on the shelves of the doll's kitchen. The sheets are churning downstairs in the laundry room.

Out the back window I see houses and cars and icy sidewalks and no-parking signs. Out the front window I see the cold blue of Casco Bay, its cluster of piny islands, the curve of Falmouth to the north, old Fort Allen to the east. I see a long horizon of bright winter sky.

Directly under the front window, a backhoe is digging out a tree stump. A city bus creaks and sighs to a halt. A dog refuses to give up his Frisbee.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks and ticks.

Friday, December 9, 2016

I woke up thinking, Today is my last day of living alone. Tonight Paul and Tom will drive up from Portland, and tomorrow we will begin loading the U-Haul.

Last night my friends Angela and Steve invited me to dinner. If you read my book Tracing Paradise, you might remember Steve from the chapter "Killing Ruthie." He made us oven-braised rabbit ("Where's this from, Steve?" "Oh, from across the road."), fried potatoes, and broccoli. Steve said that when he visits me in Portland, he'll bring a couple of squirrels to cook. I love to imagine that I will be the kind of person who eats squirrel in a small apartment kitchen overlooking the sea.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Because, in my life, no day would be a real day without a water emergency, the gods decided that yesterday would be a great day for the pipes at the well head to freeze. So the plumber and I sacrificed my hair dryer to muddy necessity, and its little hot motor whirred away in a sloppy pit until after dark, when I decided to take the risk of trying to prime our well pump.

According to past experience, priming the well pump has always involved the complaining sounds of frustrated men and a large amount of spilled water in the basement. I knew that there weren't that many things involved in priming a pump: a hole, clean water to pour into the hole, the pump switch on the breaker board. Yet somehow the interacting variables of these three simple elements made people prone to yelling and despair. Even the plumber refused to undertake the task. Still, I had nothing better to do other than wish I had running water, so I called my friend Norris and asked for over-the-phone instructions. And they worked. I primed the pump all by myself! Without yelling! And with minimal water spillage!

Look at me: a woman who can prime the pump that scared the plumber away. I wonder what amazing thing will happen today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My packing anxiety is transforming from "how do I get all of this stuff into the boxes?" to "how will I get all of this stuff out of the boxes?"

I'm also having thoughts about shifting from forty years of No Dishwasher, to twelve years of Dishwasher, to a new life of No Dishwasher. I can already feel the use-the-fewest-dishes-possible approach influencing my kitchen behaviors. What I wonder is whether my dirty-dish stacking ability will return as quickly? Or my make-the-most-of-no-counter-space ability? I learned to cook osso buco in a kitchen with no sink. But young people can do anything.

When I was a little girl visiting my grandfather's farm out in western Pennsylvania, one of my favorite projects was to take the trash to the quarry. Grandpop would hitch the loaded wooden sled of trash to one of his big old Farmall tractors, my sister and I would climb up on the tractor frame behind him and stand clinging to either side of his seat (oh, the joys of being ignorantly unsafe), and he would drag the sled out to the rock quarry in the middle of his hayfield. Then the three of us would fling all the trash into the quarry. Smashing bottles was the best, but oil cans and other old metal also made satisfying noise, and even tossing bags of plastic trash was fun. The lure of this evil pleasure has revived in me, now that I live in a home with a giant dumpster parked outside the back door. After decades of responsible recycling, I am now reliving the joys of throwing all of the crap into the same maw. God may strike me down.

Monday, December 5, 2016

I know I will be posting only intermittently this week. Today I'm on the road for work, and then the rest of the week will be a downward slide toward departure . . . with the unpleasant but distinct possibility that I will also have to schedule in a 12-hour roundtrip to bring my son home from college. Of course we'll be glad to have his young man muscles home for the move, but the end-of-the-semester timing is not good.

In addition, we're still dealing with water problems, though a solution does seem at hand. One excellent side-effect of yesterday's Take Our Stuff party was a chance to talk with all of our jerry-rigging friends about how they solved their own water problems. When half of your closest friends in town don't even have wells but use complicated self-invented spring-water piping systems, there's sure to be plenty of useful talk about bacteria.

Another lovely moment yesterday involved clothespins. Now that we have to put so much of our stuff in storage, I have gritted my teeth and forced myself to shed some of my daily, much-loved yard items. In that spirit, I set my basket of clothespins out on the Take Our Stuff bench. But simultaneously, two of my friends converged on me and said in horrified tones, "Dawn! You're not giving away your clothespins? You can't do that. You need to put those into storage! Good clothespins are irreplaceable!" . . . at which point I fell into tears and clutched the basket to my chest. They were right. Some things are too important to lose.

It has been such a gift to live among people who understand the emotional power of clothespins.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I guess I'm glad I wrote that BDN piece. My novelist friend Tom thinks that Harmony is only now beginning its work as my muse, but I'm not so sure. It's already done an awful lot of muse-dancing in my life. Maybe its job is done. Maybe my newspaper essay was the footnote. But who knows? Art is a mysterious mistress.

Anyway, today, is a cutting-loose ceremony. The giant dumpster has arrived. The yard is arranged with "take me, friends, I'm free!" objects. The aforementioned friends will arrive with beer and chicken and pickup trucks. We will stand around a campfire in the cold and discuss "water problems I have had" and "did you get a deer yet?" and "I was so sorry hear about your brother" and "does anyone need a gallon of bar-and-chain oil?" and "does that lawnmower still work?" and "how many baked potatoes should I make?" and "I have no idea why we still own this" and all of the many other questions and comments that are likely to arise around a Sunday-morning campfire in December.

It will be lovely and I will cry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Bangor Daily News essay is out . . . yet another published piece with a title I didn't write. And I'm not sure that house in the photo is actually in Harmony. The rest is accurate, though.

I'm not too coherent this morning. I shouldn't even be awake, given that I didn't get home from the Sugarloaf gig till 2:30 a.m. But a bossy cat yowled in my face, and that was the end of sleeping. I'll try to be chattier tomorrow.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A couple of days ago, as you may remember, I told you that a reporter at the Bangor Daily News contacted me to ask permission to quote from my TLS essay and to encourage me to contribute a response piece to her forthcoming article. Yesterday I heard from her again, suggesting that loss as it relates to geographical place might be a good theme for a personal essay.

I didn't have any trouble writing that piece: it took me an hour to finish, from conception to final draft. Apparently I have some feelings about loss as it relates to geographical place.

Here's one small bit from it. I will share the whole piece with you once it comes out.

Although every human deals with loss, the pain of losing or leaving a geographical homeland is not a universal sadness. Many people thrive on change, on hopeful ventures into the unknown, and it’s been hard to explain to faraway acquaintances why I have clung to a place that can be so hard and lonely, that is so distant from the lives that they have built in cities and suburbs and university towns. Yet as my friend Angela points out, some of us thrive on hard and lonely. Some of us see hard and lonely as true life. 
Angela has lived in Wellington for longer than I’ve lived in Harmony. Her house is off the grid; so for her, every drop of water, every ray of sun matters—not romantically but practically. But even for country dwellers with electricity and a septic system, a rural homeland often doesn’t connote beauty or relaxation so much as a physical and emotional engagement with difficulty and duty. As I once wrote in a poem, “we don’t think / ski but shovel, don’t think flowers but floods.” Trouble sustains us, even as it breaks us down.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

As soon as I finished writing to you yesterday, I went downstairs into the basement and discovered that a hot water pipe had developed a pinhole leak and was spraying water everywhere.

This was the low point of my day. Things did get better. I cried. Then I called my friend Steve, who helped me figure out how to temporarily stop the spray. Then I called Tom and wailed about how much I hated everything involving home ownership. Then I called the plumber, who came over within an hour and charged me less than I thought he would. If nothing else, the incident proved that I'm still far too good at over-emoting. You'd think all these years up here would have taught me a more useful version of stoicism.

Anyway, the sour taste of plumbing was erased when my Chicago son called and said that he's coming home for Christmas . . . which means we'll be cramming two more people into our little apartment, but who cares about space when we can all be together: five adults squashed into three rooms, eating takeout Chinese food for a holiday meal because the kitchen's too small for a feast and taking a long walk by the sea afterward? The vision makes me so happy. I will give everyone wine and cannoli as gifts, and we will make the cat learn to love his leash, and I will buy one of those tiny Christmas shrubs carved out of a rosemary plant and decorate it with paper cut-outs and half a string of lights, and the cat will not tip it over.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finally I have given up on my terrible faux-sleep and gotten out of bed. All night long it rained and snowed and sleeted and sleeted and rained and snowed, and now under lamplight a dense crust glints from the car, the driveway, the fence rails, the tarps weighted with old shingles, the garden hose we used to flush the well. In two weeks I will not be the person shoveling the stoop. Today I still am.

On Friday, my band Doughty Hill will be performing at the Rack on Sugarloaf Mountain in Kingfield, 9-12:30 p.m. I'll get home from that gig at just about the same time I got up this morning. It will be very confusing. But even without that monkey wrench, my sleep cycle is consistently strange. One night I sleep like the hibernating dead. The next night I wake for good at 2 a.m. The next night I dream and dream and dream. The next night I can't get to sleep till 2 a.m. The next night I'm too hot and keeping waking up and drowsing off, waking up and drowsing off. The next night the cat pushes a glass of water into the bed. The next night I sleep like the hibernating dead. Etcetera. You can't exactly call me an insomniac. It's more like being an improv sleeper who's lost control of her sketch.

Maybe, when I live in the city, I will get up in the black hours and look out at the streetlamps and the sea fog and watch headlights track patterns across the walls. Maybe I will listen to the garbage trucks bang before dawn. Maybe it will be comforting to realize that I am not awake alone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yesterday, three interesting things happened. First, I got an email from the director of the Smith College Poetry Center inviting me back to the college to lead a January term session about teaching poetry in K-12 settings. It was good news to learn that the faculty liked what I did with that class last year.

Then a reporter from the Bangor Daily News called. She was working on a long story about Maine's dwindling rural towns and wanted to know if she could (1) quote my TLS article [how did she find it?] and (2) coax me into writing a contributor's response to hers. I read her article this morning, and it's really beautiful. I was thrilled to discover that a young reporter is writing so sensitively about this situation.

Finally, as I was sweeping floors, I listened to an interview with Bruce Springsteen, which Tom had listened to on Saturday and then told me I had to hear. He was right: I'm not sure when I've last heard such a dazzling interview. My urge to write a fan letter is strong.

Today the weather is supposed to be a sloppy mess, but I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to sit in a yellow chair and read a manuscript. I'm going to keep flushing chlorine out of my pipes. I'm going to imagine what I might write next.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Only one more lonely Monday to go. This time next week, I'll be on the downward slide to gone. Already the kitchen cupboards are nearly bare: three drinking glasses, three coffee cups, three plates linger behind the blank glass doors. Shelves are empty. Bedrooms are stacked with boxes. Outside, piles of roofing trash wait for a dumpster. I feel as if someone else, someone not at all like me, inhabits this skeleton dwelling. Someone like me would never walk so calmly past a pile of trash in her yard.

Today's tedious project is to finish flushing the chlorine out of the water system. The cold water is in good shape, but the hot water still smells like a swimming pool. As I run water recklessly from the taps, I'll also be starting a manuscript-consultation project, and considering the embryonic angles of another political essay, and stuffing things into boxes, and copying out a few Clifton poems, and filling out change-of-address forms, and comforting a clingy cat, and imagining making dinner for Tom every single night of the week. That will be a pleasure for us both.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

We're home, and steeling ourselves for a day spent digging in the cold rain.

Last night I had a long and convoluted dream about going through closets and trunks to find a prom gown to wear, but all of the ones I'd packed away were marred with spots and drips, as if I'd been cooking Christmas dinner while wearing them. Interestingly, however, they all fit perfectly, even though I did appear to be 50 years old and dateless.

It was a better dream than the one the night before, when I was trying to rescue Ruckus and Tom, who had both fallen into the well.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A dim morning. Everyone else in the house is still asleep. A pair of cardinals flutters at the wet feeder. A fat gray squirrel burrows into a heap of millet. Across the way, Robert Francis's little cottage is dark, though a white car sits in his driveway. The wraith of Emily Dickinson flits in the fog.

I am making coffee and a composing a hire-me letter to a writing center in Portland. As of today, I am still getting responses to the TLS essay, and now I am wondering if I need to compose a follow-up piece . . . perhaps a personal reaction to my worries about the ways in which political hatreds dilute our humanity and our liberal ideals.

We'll see. First, I have to take my son shopping for dorm food. Then tomorrow I have to go home and chlorinate my well. Will the house-selling tortures never end?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

I feel thankful for many things, not least you.

Thank you for your thoughts, your questions, your disagreements; for your patience, your comedy, and your outrage.

Thank you for caring about words and not-words.

All hope is not lost when you are the angels.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This afternoon I will drive to Portland to pick up Tom, and then we will keep heading south to Massachusetts and his parents' house. This will be our first holiday without our older son, who will be staying in Chicago with his girlfriend. But the college boy will be with us, and one son is way better than no sons at all.

The college boy is a vegetarian, and I am responsible for his Thanksgiving main dish. So he and I decided on this recipe from a recent New York Times feature on vegetarian holiday dishes: Savory Bread Pudding with Kale and Mushrooms. Yesterday I precooked the kale and the mushrooms, grated the cheeses, and cut the bread into cubes; and tomorrow I will quickly assemble and bake it without (I hope) interfering too much with my mother-in-law's cooking schedule.

Last year Tom and I hosted a giant family Thanksgiving here in Harmony. We ate in Tom's shop at a long improvised table. There were candles and Christmas lights and kids playing whiffleball in the yard. But never again. Yesterday I threw my dahlia bulbs onto the compost pile. I took down my birdfeeder and added it to the storage pile. No more morning birdfeeder musing on this blog. No more hanging laundry in a spring wind. And now Tom is trying to sell the lawnmower. Everything I do is vanishing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

More snow last night, and the cat is disgusted. But at least he gets to go outside and make his own decisions about it. The poor boy doesn't know that he's about to become an indoor city cat, in a tiny apartment; that his only opportunities to play outside will involve an embarrassing harness and leash. Still, as a cat raised by a poodle, he may grudgingly come around. She spent the last years of her life training him to enjoy family walks and other un-cat-like sociable activities. For a cat, he's pretty gregarious, so it may be just me who's embarrassed by the leash. I never thought I'd turn into one of those eccentric ladies who ambles around town with her cat. It's hard to predict what the fates have in store for us.

It also never occurred to me that, at the age of 52, I'd be reliving the housing choices of my youth. But paring down for the apartment is turning out to be a fun his-n-her activity, in a hectic, foolish, snap-decision kind of way. ["Hey, we don't have a dishwasher, so let's only pack the plates that are too delicate to put into a dishwasher!" "Hey, we could store kitchen equipment in your stereo cabinet!" "Hey, I'm going to make the cat a giant box castle out of all of these packing materials!"]

Of course, the housing choices of my youth did not involve a 180-degree view of the Atlantic Ocean, so there is that difference.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Snow before daylight. Tom's tire tracks in the wet dark. In unlit rooms, the silhouettes of boxes, tall and squat, loom like small cities.

Yesterday Tom measured all of our furniture. This evening, in Portland, he will measure the apartment, and then he will draw a blueprint of the rooms, cut out scale-sized furniture, and play-furnish the apartment. Everywhere we've moved, he's drawn a picture. I find this pattern lovable. But I am the kind of person who never measures anything.

Over the phone yesterday, my older son mentioned my TLS article. His voice sounded skeptical, so at first I thought he was suggesting that I'd misrepresented something. He lives in Chicago with his girlfriend, who is a black woman. They have a different demographic on their minds now, and different fears.  But no; he didn't think I'd misrepresented anything. What I'd written was so obvious, he said to me. Do people really need to be told this stuff?

Snow before daylight. I am reading Updike's Rabbit Is Rich and copying out the poems of Lucille Clifton. They make an odd yet tonic pairing.

Thanksgiving is on the horizon. I still don't know where I'll be for Christmas. I can't buy any presents yet because I don't know where to ship them or store them. I dreamed last night that the apartment stairs were filled with Great Danes and greyhounds, hulking and silent under the overhead bulb.
What has he done, he wonders, as he waits to receive the serve, with this life of his more than half over? He was a good boy to his mother and then a good boy to the crowds at basketball games, a good boy to Tothero his old coach, who saw in Rabbit something special. And Ruth saw in him something special too, though she saw it winking out. 
--from John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich
have we not been good children
did we not inherit the earth

but you must know all about this
from your own shivering life 
--from Lucille Clifton, "1994"

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The irony behind this week's blare, of course, is the fact that I'm moving out of Harmony in less than a month. Though the timing is so completely accidental, I can't help but feel as if the election and my response to it have contrived to become the inevitable finale to a meandering two-decade-long opera. My house is littered with boxes. My books are going into storage. My clotheslines sag. My garden is fading into grass. Slowly I am saying good-bye to the small residues of my sons' presence: the swing with a name painted on it, the hammered-together forts. In the meantime, I am shouting a loud aria in the Times Literary Supplement.

Tom said to me last night, "But you must be happy that people are responding, that what you said matters to so many of them." Yes, of course. That's a shocking and enormously gratifying result. God knows, I'm not used to having a readership of such size. At the same time I did not quite imagine the depths of the chasm. I had gotten myself accustomed to provinciality, which is narrow-minded, yes, but also a comfort of workaday details and loneliness and individual interactions. The fact is that people hate each other. And some of that hate comes from progressives. This is a hard pill to swallow.

A few of you have wondered if the TLS article might have any good effect on publishers' interest in Chestnut Ridge, my poetry ms about Appalachian Pennsylvania. I suppose it's possible, though I'm inclined to assume that it won't. Interestingly, my article has gotten almost no response from my poet-colleagues. My guess is that many of them didn't get past the title.

I spent yesterday choosing which books to leave out of storage. Since I'll be living down the road from the public library, this was an easier job than it might otherwise have been. So far, this is what's on my list:
the complete William Shakespeare
the collected short poems of Hayden Carruth
the complete Robert Frost
the complete Lucille Clifton
Updike's four Rabbit novels
Grimms' fairy tales
The Chicago Manual of Style
Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace
I'm not done yet. Clearly I need more women, more people of color. Something about this list feels so characteristic of me, in a way that does not make me either proud or content. Yet here it is. And here am I. And here is Harmony  . . . which just showed up in the form of a large man in an orange hat and a big white pickup. Yes, at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, Harmony people do appear unannounced in a driveway to say, "I hear you got a old riding mower you're giving away for scrap." Why, yes. We do.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

I've spent three days now responding to readers' many, many reactions to my TLS essay. On the one hand, I'm glad to know that the essay has gotten people to talk to each other and to share their own stories and struggles. On the other hand, I feel a certain despair, which I can't quite put into words. I know, now, that some progressives see me as an apologist or a sell-out. I know many people are judging my essay on the title alone (which, as I noted in yesterday's post, was not even my choice). I'm trying to stay patient and civil and honest. I'm trying to respond to all skeptics and to acknowledge my own weaknesses. But I'm weary. Doing this work makes me very, very uncomfortable. It also makes me feel pretty lonely. In the blare of a progressive Facebook feed, there aren't many other posts like mine. Lots of people want me to sign petitions against Trump's cabinet appointees and the electoral college. Lots of people share links about the Trump University lawsuit, Clinton's popular victory, and dire incidents of racism and xenophobia. All of this is vital and horrifying information. It is also repetitive information, cycled again and again among the same group of people.

Some of us are writers, and some of us are not. But if you are a writer, I urge you to consider how your specific situation and history might expand this conversation, open up these repetitions, clarify the complications. I know that individual perspectives are being lost and overlooked. I fear for those lost voices.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Times Literary Supplement published my essay yesterday, and immediately I was inundated with Facebook responses. Many were positive; many were not. I fielded dismay from straight-line progressives who were completely unable to fathom why anyone would vote against their own self-interests. I received responses from people who believed that any defense of my neighbors' humanity was perforce a defense of bigotry and racism. I heard from people who saw examination of my community's flaws as arrogant. I dealt with people who told me these problems were all my fault because I'd voted for Trump . . . as if I would have ever done such a thing! I actually heard from one person who said that he didn't believe this voting demographic even existed.

There was more nuanced commentary, of course. And there were plenty of respondents who were either dealing with similar complications in their own lives or were open to recognizing that they exist.

I tried to write back to everyone who had questions or shared disbelief or skepticism. I put out a lot of fires, but a couple of them continue to smolder. I found it particularly difficult to engage productively in conversations about bigotry and racism, in large part because their victims have every reason in the world to see those problems as clear divisions between right and wrong. A discussion about ambiguity doesn't protect their loved ones from getting killed.

I think it's important to note that I did not choose the title of the essay. In fact, I did not know that the TLS had called it "The Humanity of Trump Voters" until I saw it in print. Immediately I knew how angry that would make some people, and I wonder if the editors deliberately chose to invoke that discomfort. On the other hand, they may not have realized exactly how many American progressives do not want to consider the humanity of Trump voters.

When I sent the TLS link to my 19-year-old son, his response was "Strikes at the heart of liberal elitism." His wording made me laugh. Like so many young people, he loves an Excalibur solution. Also, he is a liberal elite. What makes him different is that he was born and raised in Harmony, Maine. According to 2000 and 2010 census data, 939 people live here. The median age is 49. The average household income is $29,500, and 20 percent of families live below the poverty line. The racial makeup is 98 percent white. Among residents older than age 25, 3 percent have a four-year college degree. In the 2016 election, 65 percent voted for Trump, 33 percent for Clinton. Despite disbelief, this demographic does exist.

I stand by what I said in my essay: a significant portion of "our fractured American electorate resides in the places that educated Americans are least likely to visit."
The fact is that generations of people live in those shabby towns you drive through on your way to somewhere better. And Donald Trump’s victory means that you might need to learn who these human beings are.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Update: So, the TLS article is now online.
It seems that my unfashionable subject matter has suddenly become topical. I am amazed to tell you that the Times Literary Supplement is planning to publish the essay I wrote last week about the rural white working class. Who knew that this would be part of the fallout of a Trump presidency? Pardon me while I grind my teeth into powder.

Yesterday I was feeling overwhelmed by a sense of paranoia about what, apparently, I am destined to do these days: that is, talk to people who don't want to talk to each other. Such conversations are anguish--full of missteps and errors, wormholes into rude or flippant or furious reactions. Still, as a naturally clumsy person, I'm used to falling into tar pits. If you're the kind of person who enjoys superstition, you could blame it on the fact that I'm a Libra and thus cannot stop second-guessing everything. Those goddamn scales get me into a lot of trouble.

I've never felt afraid up here before. I've felt like a weirdo every day, but I've always had the sense that people forgave me for my peccadilloes--all of those books everywhere, no TV in the living room, awkward small-talk during Little League games, plus she gives our kids hot cocoa that doesn't come out of those little Swiss Miss packets. The day after Trump was elected, Tracy at the garage gently washed my car windows without being asked. I took it as a kindness, maybe even as a conciliatory gesture. Probably I was wrong.

Mary, who runs the transfer station, told Tom how sorry she was that we were moving. "We will all miss you," she said. But she said that before the election. Now, who knows?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reading Geoffrey Hill's "Respublica"

In light of recent events and our collective state of mind, I thought it might be appropriate, and perhaps necessary, to consider the ambiguities of Geoffrey Hill's short poem "Respublica." The poem is available online here, so even if you have not otherwise been involved in our group Hill-reading project, you have the option of stepping into this conversation--publicly here, privately with me, or inside your own head.

"Respublica" reminds me that radicals and reactionaries often borrow parallel metaphors of revolution and righteousness. If you want another big "r" word, you can throw romance into that list as well. I find this co-optation both painful and maddening. I also find it difficult to parse the narrator's opinion about such blurred borrowings, which makes the poem both more interesting and more disturbing. Thus, I think the poem does offer a opening into a conversation about the vagaries of overthrow: into what Hill calls "the strident high civic / trumpeting of misrule." I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I am relieved to tell you that Tom and I have finally found a place to live in Portland. I am amazed to tell you that this is the view from the front window:

Thanks to a gallery connection of Tom's, we lucked into an affordable second-floor apartment on the Eastern Promenade. The apartment has one gorgeous room, a couple of perfectly fine rooms, and a terrible tiny kitchen. But it has space for a version of our stuff, and space for a few visitors, and space for Ruckus, and once I spent a year cooking in a kitchen that didn't even have a sink so this kitchen is 100 percent better than that one.

Amusingly, the most beautiful room in the apartment is our bedroom. It has a fireplace, and a view of the sea, and a deck with room for chairs and flowers, and a window seat. I said to Tom that we will have to be like Colette and entertain in our boudoir. It would not be fair to keep visitors out of that room.

I know we can't limit ourselves to three rooms forever, but already the prospect of living in a place this beautiful makes us feel as if we're going on vacation for a year. I suppose after twenty years in the ugly town it's okay to take a break and pretend that we're the kind of people who are accustomed to living in Victorian houses by the sea. My north-country Puritan conscience thinks otherwise, but I'm working to squelch him.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tom and I drove down to Portland yesterday to look at two apartments. Harmony was quiet when we left. A couple of trucks were parked at the C & R store. The gas station was closed. The town had fallen into its usual Sunday torpor. There was nothing alarming, nothing different.

About 50 miles south of Harmony, just beyond Augusta, we stopped at a rest area to buy coffee. As we languished in the interminable Starbucks line, I eyed the various comers-and-goers milling toward the bathroom doors, the Burger King, and the convenience mart. I wondered to myself, How many of you voted for Trump? I saw groups of guys in deer-season garb. I saw groups of heavily made-up middle-aged women in yoga pants and leather jackets. I saw families in Christian-splinter-sect kerchiefs and long homemade skirts. I saw twenty-year-old girls with acne and fake eyelashes. I saw fathers in camouflage-print Crocs. I saw doting mothers with adorable babies. The answer was obvious as soon as I asked myself the question: Most of these people voted for Trump.

There was also one black man with dreadlocks sitting alone at a plastic table.

I felt an internal fear rising. What would I do, what could I do, at this precise moment, if a stranger in this cavernous room needed me?

In Portland, though, the atmosphere was entirely different. The first neighborhood we visited, the West End, was a sort of miniature bustling version of Park Slope, Brooklyn: women walking Airedales, small boys bouncing basketballs with their hipster dads, headphoned college girls swathed in bright neck scarves. Almost everyone was white, but all exuded an aroma of "we are nice liberal well-educated white people doing self-absorbed things on a sunny Sunday afternoon."

The second neighborhood we visited, the Eastern Promenade, was hushed, in the way large houses beside a beautiful city park often seem to be. The atmosphere was ponderous and patient. Henry James might have been writing a novel inside one of those houses. There were people in the park, walking beside the sea, lying on benches beside their greyhounds, but they were more separated from one another, more private. The watching houses, the expanse of grass, the lapping bay seemed to muffle human sound, to reconfigure space.

I felt an internal fear rising. What would I do, what could I do, if I allowed myself to live in a place like this? Would I become a better friend to humanity or a lazier, more self-satisfied one?

Already it is clear that the Trump presidency will be the worst in American history. The decisions of my private life feel fraught with portents.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

This morning Tom and I are driving down to Portland to begin looking at apartment rentals. So far we have lost a bidding war on two houses, and very few new homes have come on the market during the past week. We need to be out of the Harmony house by the end of December, which gives us almost no time to go through all of the inspection and closing rigmaroles of a Portland purchase, should we even be able to make one.

So renting has become our option, but magically a couple of available and even affordable apartments have materialized, thanks to one of Tom's gallery connections. On paper they seem almost too nice for the likes of us, and I expect something will go wrong, because that has been the pattern of the whole ordeal. Still, the skies are clear and the winds are calm and I'm a little bit less sick than I was yesterday, so who knows? Maybe we'll sign a lease.

I imagine myself walking around Portland in my Carhartt firewood-hauling coat and red wool work hat, both of them still stuck all over with bits of bark and lichen, as the popular young men with their shovel-shaped beards head off to their day jobs at the mead brewery. When I moved up to Harmony, I immediately started dressing more glamorously in public--tights and heels and cute short skirts and big shiny earrings--as a way to cope with the grimness of my surroundings. It's conceivable that I'll find myself doing exactly the opposite in Portland. Or maybe I'll just relax and be normal. That could be interesting too.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Conversation: A Celebration

Last night I received a remarkable email, forwarded by the editor of Vox Populi, the online journal that reprinted my little essay "Letter from a Red County," first posted here a few days before the election.

The email was from a psychology professor at a Pittsburgh university, who, like many teachers around the nation, spent most of this past Thursday talking about the election results with his students. "To prime the pump," he began by sharing with his classes two Vox Populi essays about contrasting ways in which progressive voters have tried to deal with their relationships with Trump-voting friends. One of those essays was about locking horns with an old college friend over the issue. The other essay was mine. The professor wrote, "Almost half my students reported that they had lost Facebook 'friends' as a result of the election, and several reported acute conflicts with family members and real friends." The essays, he believed, helped them begin to "[talk] about how they had negotiated these conflicts, what feelings they were left with, etc." The kicker is that the email was addressed not to the editor or to either of the essayists but to all of the colleagues in his department, with the suggestion that they, too, considering reading them and using them as the basis of classroom discussion.

Freedom of speech. The power of conversation. A terrible head cold. The sweetness of Tracy at the town garage, who washed my filthy car windows without being asked. The sweetness of my friend Sue who wrote to thank me for being brave when I thought I was just being careful. The sweetness of my husband, who slept on the couch so I could hog the bed and cough all night. The sweetness of a famous poet who told an editor at a London journal that I am "a wonderful American writer and poet" and encouraged him to publish my writings about the election aftermath. The sweetness of being an American. This is our country, goddammit. Let's keep singing.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Good Morning, Résistance

This has been a terrible week politically, and it hasn't been that great domestically either. Tom and I lost a second house-bidding war, and I've been sick for days with a massive head cold. Nonetheless, yesterday had its bright spots. Mid-afternoon, my son called home from college to tell me that he's been obsessively reading Emily Dickinson poems and that they've really been helping him cope. So score one for poetry, and for the brilliance of Dickinson's mind, and for a young man who turns to female intelligence for aid in a crisis.

The other bright spot was a small Facebook interaction with some of my Harmony neighbors. It began with this post of mine:
It's been so painful to watch our young people weep. Yet I'm proud to know they feel such passion, that they carry their ideals with honor. Their hearts are the future of our nation.
In response, two townspeople left edgy anti-liberal responses--nothing overtly cruel, but certainly both were defensive, dismissive, and politically partisan. It took me all day to decide how I would respond to their comments, and finally this is what I came up with:
My post didn't mention party affiliation or whom I voted for. That's not my primary concern here. What I see at this moment is great pain among the young people I've watched grow up and come to know as a teacher and an advocate. I know you both love your kids, and that you know what it feels like to see them suffer. That's what I'm looking at now. We live in the same town. We've shared a lot of joys and pains together. You know how Harmony people hold our children in our hearts . . . all of them--no matter what their political leanings might be. Love to all of you and yours.
Quickly, both of them responded: "And to yours." "And love to your family."

Then one wrote a longer response:
To me this is a learning thing and how you handled it. Maybe a way to help them is to explain election come and go. Sometimes your person win sometimes they don't . That is why it is important to vote. There is never a reason for violence and hate speech. And that this great Country build on all kinds of people and all the citizens over eighteen should vote how they like.
Okay, I know that this exchange will fix none of the horrors of a Trump presidency. But I did feel as if I had managed to respond to my neighbors in a way that allowed them to look past their partisanship and speak to me, a well-known local liberal "elite," in a humane and affectionate way . . . and even to acknowledge that they could learn new ways of engagement.

So now, through the malaise of my head cold, I say, "Good morning, Résistance! What's your super-power today?" Yesterday I won a social media face-off. Who knows? Maybe today I'll even figure out how to buy a house.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Since the election, I have experienced an unprecedented outpouring of love and solidarity from so many people in my life and beyond. Some came from my closest and dearest; some came from strangers; and it billowed from so many directions yesterday . . . though, to be honest, there were also many places I avoided entering. For the moment I cannot read newspapers or listen to radio talk. I am avoiding all Internet news sites. I feel as if I am trying to cope with being poisoned.

One other thing has happened: I spent all day yesterday writing a political essay that expands on some of the issues I began considering in my short essay about my Trump-voting friend. I hope to finish it and share it with the Vox Populi editors later today. One of the most despicable men on earth is about to be president of my country, but at least I'm grateful that his horribleness is pushing me to talk as loudly as I can.

Who knows what will happen over the next four years? The best we can hope for is an embarrassing monkey show. The worst . . . is so much worse.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This is the morning that I did not want to greet.

But the Americans spoke, and some Americans were louder than others. They decided to replace our first black president--an elegant, urbane, thoughtful man--with a nouveau-riche lout, racist, and sexual predator, a liar and a bully backed by the Klan, a narcissist manipulated by his reactionary shadow-masters, a reckless leering sideshow itching to start a nuclear war.

Dark days lie ahead.

Like most of the rest of you, I hardly slept last night. But I did push myself to go to bed, to at least try to rest, because I can't lose my strength. I can't lose my courage.

And when I woke this morning, the first sentence I read was "I love you." In the pale hours of the morning, my younger son, devastated at the results of his first presidential election, beside himself with panic and fear, miserably ashamed of his people, sent me that balm.

Donald Trump, I dare you to come between me and those words.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

For the first time in my life, I voted by absentee ballot, so I won't be standing in line at the Harmony School today. I won't be dropping my pencil-marked ballot paper into the ancient wooden ballot box, guarded by the town clerk's tottering elderly husband. No one will call out "Democrat!" or, worse yet, "Poet!" when I walk into the school library. I feel sentimental about missing out on my final Harmony voting experience.

Still, absentee ballot voting was also fun. Paul and I voted together at the kitchen counter as he fizzed over with excitement about his first presidential election. It was a different kind of sentimental pleasure, and one I was happy not to miss.

So today, instead of driving to the polls, I will be driving to the vet to buy tapeworm medicine for the cat . . . which, in its own way, will be an appropriate metaphoric denouement for this wretched electioneering season. And then tonight I will attend an old-hippie election party, which will also be exactly appropriate for my final vote in Harmony. We will gather in a little house off the grid in the woods of Wellington. We will watch the returns on a TV powered by a generator. We will fret and (please God) cheer and then all get tired and have to go to bed before the West Coast results come in.

My friend David, who is Canadian, sent me a note this morning, which ended with this wish:
Best to you, your people and your country.

I share this hope with the rest of you . . . my people, my country. As the Declaration of Independence reminds us, let us, as a nation, "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." In other words, please, Americans: don't screw this up.

Monday, November 7, 2016

                     How we squander our hours of pain.
how we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year--, not only a season
in time--, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil and home.

--Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Tenth Elegy"

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Today's issue of the Portland Press Herald features my poem "Disappointed Women." The stanza breaks are wonky in the online link, so I'm reprinting it here.

Disappointed Women

They lived in filth. Or were horribly clean.
They piled scrapple onto dark platters.
They poured milk and ignored the phone.

They arranged stones on windowsills.
They filled lists and emptied shelves.
They dyed their hair in the sink.

One stored a Bible in the bathroom.
One hoarded paper in the dining room.
One stared at Lolita and stirred the soup.

When I say emptied I mean they wanted to feel.
When I say filled I mean they wanted to jump.
When I say bathroom, dining room, soup I mean

I washed my hands.
I sat at the table.
I ate what they gave me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The essay I posted yesterday, "Letter from a Red County; or, The Election: A Love Story," has been picked up by Vox Populi for wider distribution today. I am moved by the thought that the editors of a national outlet believe that an election-week story of ambiguity and restraint is worth disseminating.

Of course there is evil in the world, and we must acknowledge it and fight it. Often that means identifying particular human beings who are embodying or promoting evil. But we also have to live with our neighbors after this election is over. Most Trump supporters are not "deplorables." They are confused and confusing. They are human beings, with small hopes and fears, with large hopes and fears. Labels hurt, and they divide. They are a form of bullying, and we should not stoop so low.

I think that many fervent partisans see argument as the only righteous response. If we don't argue or promote or proselytize or battle, then we are weak. I don't agree. I think, sometimes, we need to mute our voices. We need to step away from any sense of ourselves as educated, elite, clear-thinking. We need to "live within," not always "live against." It's painful, yes. But it may also be a moral necessity.

I am amazed, and not amazed, at some of the responses this essay has garnered on Vox Populi's Facebook links. Clearly Republicans do not have a monopoly on cruelty. It seems to me that progressives need to take a good, hard look at our own flippancies, assumptions, and inhumanities.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Letter from a Red County; or, The Election: A Love Story

Let me tell you about my friend.

She helped me raise my babies, at a time when I was lonely and overwhelmed and bewildered and not at all good at being a mother. Since then, she has suffered deep grief over the murders of three of her family members, a horror perpetrated by her own son-in-law. She has reacted to those deaths with nobility and grace. She has been on a mission to provide local police departments and domestic-violence shelters with funds for basic necessities for victims of similar terrors. But she is not comfortable with the label of activist. She is a gentle person--frail, self-effacing, sweet, and wryly comical, a woman who loves birds and flowers, Christmas cards and potluck suppers. And she is brave. The last time we went for a walk together, we saw a bear. We laughed and made big eyes at each other and then turned around and went home. She wasn't scared, so I wasn't scared. And yet the bear could have broken her, with an accidental swipe.

My friend also has a Trump sign in her front yard. The sight is painful, horrifying, almost obscene: akin to imagining Michelangelo's David spray-painted with a swastika.

The town I live in is the sort of place that would make good fodder for a long-form New Yorker exposition of rural white working-class angst. Jobs have vanished, patriarchal structures are eroding, opioid addictions are ravaging families. There is misery; there is disbelief; there is deep loneliness. Someone must be to blame.

New Yorker articles make good reading. But I happen to live here. And my friend has a Trump sign in her yard, and we cannot talk about it. We cannot. Our friendship is predicated on a pivot of love: on "I see you, and you see me." Argument does not enter into this realm.

My friend is not aware that New Yorker articles even exist. She does not read poems. She does not really read anything at all, except during Bible-study class. What my friend does is to bring me a small dish of homemade custard, because she knows I am living alone. She presents me with a dress, once worn by her dead daughter. She muses over the details of my sons' babyhood. She shows me where the peregrine falcon is nesting.

I am voting for Hillary Clinton, and I sincerely hope she is victorious. I believe that Donald Trump is a menace to our nation. I see this election as a stark choice. But friendship is also a stark choice. When we commit to loving our neighbors, we commit to difficulty and ambiguity. That in itself is a stark choice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The problem with writing to you is that I have to think of something to say. My life is currently subsumed by trying to move. So I write down my hopes, and then I tell you they've been dashed. I write about my trees, and then I tell you that someone is likely to cut them down. I feel like middle-aged Rapunzel--still stuck in the tower but with her hair sheared off and her exhausted old prince asleep at the bottom of a well.

I realize that, in the larger scheme of fate, the attempt to shift from one place to another is a non-story. Other people seem to do it without difficulty. But that is not the case with our move.

We will end up somewhere, but at this point I do myself damage by any public hoping. Middle-aged Rapunzel is a bad gig. It also makes a boring story.

So I am going to take a hiatus from writing these notes to you. I can't imagine you're enjoying them anyway. I'll try to be back in a few days, or a week. Love to you all.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Yesterday we made an offer on a house. It's in a neighborhood of South Portland called Knightville--a peninsula of land that is a three-minute drive across the Casco Bay Bridge from downtown Portland. The house is a five-minute walk from the waterside, a fifteen-minute walk from a public beach. It is on a corner lot on two quiet residential streets. The houses are modest but not new; most date from the 1940s and early 1950s.

Portland and South Portland were originally connected by what was known as the Million-Dollar Bridge, which opened in 1916. The view above is from a postcard published shortly after the bridge opened. Versions of that bridge persisted until 1997, when the Casco Bay Bridge replaced it. Previously, traffic from Portland had whizzed straight through Knightville, and car-culture shopping sprang up around the highway: strip malls and auto-parts stores and fast-food restaurants. But the new bridge is positioned further east into the bay, hugging the side of the peninsula, and what was formerly just a roadway has became pleasant . . . or at least it's working on becoming pleasant. Knightville is still in flux: the car-culture stuff clings, yet there is also a town center now, with store fronts and a busy coffee shop and a place that sells Labrador retriever art (don't ask) and a persistent little dive bar and a shop that sells sew-on patches for your Boy Scout uniform or your Harley-Davidson attire and a junk store that has a copy of Boswell's Life of Johnson in the front window and a really good taco place. People walk around in the little downtown with their dogs and their plaid shirts and their strollers and their rundown shoes and their cigarettes and their phones and their girlfriends and their motorized wheelchairs loaded with a surprising amount of toilet paper. It was comfortable to sit at a formica table and eat sloppy tacos and watch them go by.

The house we made an offer on was built in 1952. It has two bedrooms upstairs, a miniscule bathroom, a long sunny living room, a dining room, a tiny 70s-renovated kitchen that is terrible but temporarily adequate. There is hardly any closet space but a fair amount of attic storage. The doors have glass knobs. The one-car garage smells pleasantly of grandparents. The basement is finished and dry and has a half-bath. The corner lot is oddly shaped and landscaped with tedious yew hedges. If I can get rid of them, there will be plenty of room for me to plan an intensive garden. The place is clean and sturdy but slightly dollhouse-like. The streets will be safe for Ruckus. Tom is formulating his kitchen reconstruction plans. I am sharpening my sword for those yew hedges. As soon as we saw it, we thought we might be able to be happy there.

In the picture below, Knightville is at the top of the photo. The house we're hoping to buy is located just where the trees begin. We'll find out later today if the seller will give us a counter-offer. Everything could fall through. But maybe it won't.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

So it seems we are on the "we're moving to Portland train" . . . again. Tomorrow morning we will rush down to look at houses together. Today we are poring over maps of neighborhoods, squinting at Google aerial views, wandering through strange wide-angle photos of interiors shot as if all the rooms are 1,000 feet long and slanted inwards like an LSD dream. Unfortunately the house with the secret bathroom hidden behind a bookshelf-door is located next to an interstate on-ramp, though I'm not too sorry that the one that appears to be furnished entirely with guitars and skateboards has already been sold. And when will Tom stop hoping that the cheapest, ugliest, dirtiest houses will turn out to be gems? Ugh.

Anyway, we're both slightly optimistic about one of the places we'll be looking at--enough so that I've been figuring out how long it will take us to walk to the beach from the house (16 minutes) and how easy it might be to remove the old-lady yew hedges from the yard (not very). I've also started thinking about the implications of the street name. We seem to have a predilection for the last names of British war-hero statesmen.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The rain is drumming down on Harmony, and I have been awake since 4:30. Yesterday morning we signed house contract number 2 and then immediately stepped back into oh-my-god-soon-we-will-have-nowhere-to-live anxiety. Please, Portland, produce a home for us.

At least Tom will be here tonight and we can be fidgety together.

In the meantime, I will have tea with a friend, and ship a manuscript to an author, and try to solve some Frost Place questions, and wash sheets and towels, and make a pie, and listen to rain and rain and rain.

The woodstove will click and sigh. The cat will wash and complain. The poems of Rilke will lie splayed open on the kitchen table.

Today is my younger son's nineteenth birthday . . . the first we have ever spent apart. At least this year he won't be losing a playoff soccer game to Ellsworth, as he has for two birthdays in a row. Instead, he'll be plotting his Halloween costume. Last I heard, he and his housemates were all planning to dress up as dads: coach dad, lumberjack dad, nerd dad, hippie dad, couch-potato dad. There are many options for a dad posse.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Andrew Lang's The Crimson Fairy Book was originally published in 1903. My Dover reprint includes reproductions of the illustrations that appeared in that original publication--you know the sort, those crowded ink drawings of girls with overflowing hair and draperies twining around their ankles, those baby-faced boys with pointed shoes and come-hither skin, and those exquisitely toothed monsters. And everyone, even the monster who is getting strangled, appears to be swooning with desire.

It is interesting that adults at the turn of the century thought these kinds of pictures were appropriate for a children's book. Not that I'm complaining. I loved them when I was young, and I love them now. Still, I mean, really . . .

In addition to being full of naked boys tied to horses, each of these illustrations has a caption, and those captions themselves are as a good as a tale. For instance:
The Faithful Servant turns to stone. 
She lived happily in her Nest. 
The Prince lets out the Hairy Man. 
The Boy who could keep a Secret. 
The Witch loses her Iron Nose. 
The Bald headed Man on the Mountain.
This would be a fine writing prompt: to invent a new tale based only on an illustration and its caption. Maybe I should try it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Poor Ruckus got beat up by his Nemesis, a giant black and white ex-tomcat who looks like a Marine and whom Ruckus hates passionately. Now he is moping on the hearthrug, trying to avoid going outside. I guess it is pretty humiliating to come home with a grass stain on the side of your head.

It's been cold here . . . not winter yet, but it feels imminent. I kept the woodstove going all day yesterday, and drank hot ginger tea, and imagined snow. The grass is covered with leaves but I have not raked them. I am trying to detach from the land, trying not to care so much. But I still woke up this morning with a clutch in my heart.

At least I don't have to deal with a Nemesis, lurking in the shrubbery, waiting to cuff me into a tree trunk.

I copied out some Rilke last night, while Ruckus and I were watching the baseball game. You might not think that Rilke and baseball would blend, but they make a rather comfortable combination. I've also been reading Andrew Lang's The Crimson Fairy Book, which I'd forgotten I'd left out on the shelf in case I found myself in an all-my-books-are-packed reading emergency. Fairy tales as the readers' version of an ambulance: it makes sense to me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Well, we received another offer on the house yesterday . . . this time from one of my former students, a lifelong Harmony kid who is apparently ready to move out of his parents' place. It's a fair offer, and I think we will probably accept some version of it today or tomorrow. In another burst of synchronicity, I also received a phone call from the mortgage lady at the bank who, after examining Tom's detailed explanations (oh, the paperwork torments of being self-employed), has decided that we qualify for a larger mortgage. So maybe we will not have to move into a hole in the ground after all.

And here I sit, allowing myself to begin looking at Portland real estate ads again.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Family Matters

Dawn Potter
[This essay was first published in the Sewanee Review (winter 2016).]

Long after Sylvia Plath extinguished herself in a whirlpool of despair, illness, theater, and vengeance, her husband, Ted Hughes, tried to describe the ecstatic, suffering anxiety that was a central element of her personality:

Searching for yourself, in the dark, as you danced,
Floundering a little, crying softly,
Like somebody searching for somebody drowning
In dark water,
Listening for them—in panic at losing
Those listening seconds from your searching—
Then dancing wilder in the silence.

I think about him, battered relic of Plath, composing those lines so many years after the fact; still struggling against her terrible allure, against his own rash and fumbling failures as her dance partner. The powers-that-be, it seems, saw fit to inflict him with a lifetime spent facing the music—though he hobbled onward, grievously damaged yet wielding his vocation to the end. If not sustenance, poetry was at least a few scant drops of water in the wasteland.
Nonetheless, “the living, writers especially, are terrible projectionists,” wrote Adrienne Rich. “I hate the way they use the dead.” She, widow of a man “who drove to Vermont in a rented car at dawn and shot himself,” had cause to know. But despite numerous exemplars, drama is no prerequisite for household sorrow. Mere tedium will do. In an 1855 diary entry, Jane Welsh Carlyle lamented, “The evening devoted to mending; Mr C’s trousers, among other things! ‘Being an only child’ I never ‘wished’ to sew mens trousers.” Her emphases are inscrutable. “My Man-of-Genius-Husband,” she called Thomas Carlyle. And yet “we aggravate one another’s tendencies to despair.”
Standing outside, watching, is not necessarily what these writers did, for they, too, had the run of the house. Yet some inner door was always locked. Speaking of Anne Sexton, her daughter Linda said, “I always lived on that brink of fear that she was going to fall apart and really kill herself.” Meanwhile, “talking to Linda was like talking to her own soul, Sexton remarked.” On either side of a cracked window, the glass shimmered, distorting the moonlight. The mother lit another cigarette and wrote,

Oh, little girl,
my stringbean,
how do you grow?
You grow this way.
You are too many to eat.

Children and parents, parents and children. Listening to the radio, I hear a woman ready herself to climb sixteen flights of stairs to carry supplies to her elderly parents, who refuse to move down to her fourth-floor apartment, even though a storm has devastated the city’s power grid. “It is what it is,” she says, resigned. I turn off the radio and open a biography. “I hope,” writes Charles Dickens to his youngest disappointing son, “you will always be able to say in after life, that you had a kind father.” I close the book and scroll through the day’s news. Colm Tóibín points out, “You have to be a terrible monster to write. . . . Someone might have told you something they shouldn’t have told you, and you have to be prepared to use it because it will make a great story. You have to use it even though the person is identifiable. If you can’t do it then writing isn’t for you. You’ve no right to be here.”
            I often tell middle and high school students that art is power. At their age, they are usually still surprised by this idea. “Artists can possess,” I tell them. “They can manipulate; they can lie; they can extract vengeance; they can kill.” I pause. “Once, in a poem, I killed my children.” These words are half a joke. In the poem, it was more as if one son had never been born.
            “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique,” wrote James Baldwin. “All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story, to vomit the anguish up.” And it is terrible, terrible, when what we love is also the anguish we vomit up. For how many slow hours did Rainer Maria Rilke linger in the Jardin des Plantes, suffering alongside the suffering beasts, before he began to understand how to invent “The Panther”?

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

“Writing is not therapy,” I tell my puzzled students. “Often, you feel worse after you finish a poem.” On the whole, this is not what they are expecting from art.
            Nor are they expecting the ruthlessness of creation: the melodrama, the exaggerations, the false fronts and manufactured views. Robert Lowell tried to explain its workings.

Caged in fiction’s iron bars,
I give this voice to you
with tragic diction to rebuke the stars—
it isn’t you, and yet it’s you.

Listen to the shame and hubris in his words, the helplessness, the gasping clutch at glory. But the you of the poem, sitting alone in her twilit room, no doubt heard something quite different, and perhaps it drove her to close the windows and turn up the television volume to drown out the sound.
Even when the you flits outside the margins of the work, her shadow staggers under its weight. Robert Frost imagined his wife, Elinor, as the “ideal reader” of nearly all of his poems. “Each book was written . . . ‘for love of her,’” and her death staggered him. “I’m afraid I dragged her through pretty much of a life for one as frail as she. Too many children, too many habitations, too many vicissitudes. And a faith required that would have exhausted most women. God damn me when he gets around to it.”
Yet had she stayed alive, Frost would not have thought twice about adding more stones to his wife’s load. “You have to be a terrible monster to write,” said Tóibín, for selfishness walks in monstrous tandem with guilt and invention. Infuriated by her philandering husband, exhausted and grieving, Plath nonetheless furthered her own ends, making specific, deliberate use of the crisis, ruthlessly dramatizing its characters and events.

And I, love, am a pathological liar,
And my child—look at her, face down on the floor,
Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear———

Forty years later that child recalled, “She used every emotional experience as if it were a scrap of material that could be pieced together to make a wonderful dress.”
Jealousy, scorn, defensiveness, bravado, indifference: all and more may drag a family of obsessives to their doom.  “There are many families in which nobody writes poems,” said Wislawa Szymborska, “but once it starts up it’s hard to quarantine.”

Sometimes poetry cascades down through the generations,
creating fatal whirlpools where family love may founder.

As Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s estranged son Hartley wrote after his father’s death,

I have been cherish’d and forgiven
    By many tender-hearted,
’Twas for the sake of one in Heaven
    Of him that is departed.

Because I bear my Father’s name
    I am not quite despised,
My little legacy of fame
    I’ve not yet realized.

And yet if you should praise myself
    I’ll tell you, I had rather
You’d give your love to me, poor elf,
    Your praise to my great father.

Despite their honor and modesty, the words do not quite hide the fatal whirlpool. But even well-loved, well-matched partners, friends, parents, children carry the burden of one another’s art. Writing to Jane Kenyon, Hayden Carruth mused, “Meanwhile, the rain falls beautifully. The murmur on the roof is musical and variable.  I am in the bedroom so I can hear it, and Joe-Anne has finally stumbled out of bed and gone to work. She’ll be back in a couple of hours. We—all of us—are burdened by history, no doubt of that, but the burden is not so great that we can’t respond to the same events when they recur in the present, the rain, the sunset, the opening of the day lilies. And I suppose that’s a boon.”
            Kenyon’s husband, Donald Hall, who watched her die of leukemia, later spoke of how he and his wife had learned to exist together. “Each member of a couple is separate,” he said; “the two come together in double attention. Lovemaking is not a third thing but two-in-one. John Keats can be a third thing, or the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or Dutch interiors, or Monopoly. For many couples, children are a third thing.” For these two poets, poetry was naturally a third thing, but of necessity it could not be the only one.
For years we played [ping-pong] every afternoon. Jane was assiduous, determined, vicious, and her reach was not so wide as mine. When she couldn’t reach a shot I called her “Stubbsy,” and her next slam would smash me in the groin, rage combined with harmlessness. We rallied half an hour without keeping score. Another trait we shared was hating to lose. Through bouts of ping-pong and Henry James and the church, we kept to one innovation: with rare exceptions, we remained aware of each other’s feelings. It took me half my life, more than half, to discover with Jane’s guidance that two people could live together and remain kind.
. . . though kindness is no savior.
“Dearest,” wrote Virginia Woolf, in the suicide note she left for her husband Leonard, “I want to tell you that you have given me complete happiness. No one could have done more than you have done.” But “complete happiness” is not enough to save a life. Watchers are left to evoke the ghosts. Recalling her sister Olga, Denise Levertov said, “Now as if smoke or sweetness were blown my way / I inhale a sense of her livingness in that instant.” There’s a fragrance of a pleasure in such heartbreak: “poetry,” as Frost mused, “has a vested interest in sorrow.” The will to display those sorrows, as if they “could be pieced together to make a wonderful dress”—this is what drives the sentences down the page, what drove Levertov to patch and burnish her grief. “I had flung open my arms in longing, once, by your side, stumbling over the furrows—”

Oh, in your torn stockings, with unwaved hair,
you were trudging after your anguish
over the bare fields, soberly, soberly.