Thursday, April 28, 2016

In "Spring 1967" Hayden Carruth writes, "Rain / soaks the fish-scale snow, the bloom / of beer cans emerges beside the road. / Another spring."

No rain or snow here, though. Our beer cans bloom in the dry ditches, among the blackened fronds of last year's goldenrod, the bleached labels of cigarette packs, the stubbled shards of gravel and chipped asphalt.

"You laugh," says Hayden," "calculating the nostalgia / of people fifty years from now."

Oddly enough, it is fifty years from his "now," and I am still laughing at the nostalgia of those people of the future. Laughing and not laughing.

* * *

The weather in Harmony has been ridiculous--low 20s in the morning, mid-40s in the afternoon, and a chill breeze all day long. In addition, the soil is dry, dry, dry . . . not a spring shower to be seen, and it's nearly May.

As a result, I've done very little planting (some lettuce and radishes, some peas). Spring garlic shoots and rhubarb and sorrel and green onions are only half-visible. Asparagus is dormant, grass is brown, tree buds are silent, daffodils are withering in the cold. I've given up hanging out laundry because my hands get too stiff. So tomorrow, as we head south for stage 1 in my older son's graduation festivities (the screening of his film), I'll be hoping for portents of real spring. Even 50 degrees and a south wind will do.

* * *

In "Thaw," Hayden writes,
fuzzed snow browning in lastyear's haystubble the pasture's winter-starved moss
lionskin flung rumpled, moist, eaten, crushed eyes in the mage-fur
of old leaves
Wet is the optimal word in images of northern spring: snow, rain, snow, rain, thaw, damp, rot. So this year's dryness is unnerving. My friend Sue and I walked down through the woods to look at the stream, which should be a torrent of snowmelt. But instead it is brown and feeble, barely filling its banks.

* * *
Stones, brown tufted grass, but no water.
It is dry to the bottom. 
--from Hayden Carruth's "The Ravine"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It felt good to finally get yesterday's news off my chest. It also felt good to receive so many sweet responses--here, by email, by phone call, by Facebook message--and so much encouragement about the rightness of our decision to leave Harmony. I told Tom that letting everybody know is a way of pushing myself not to back out of our agreement, but also it's a way of asking you to read my ambivalence as as neither timidity nor capitulation. I think it's something different, something both complicated and simple: a struggle to act my age.

* * *

Rivers run, and springs each one
Knowe their home, and get them gone:
Hast thou tears, or hast thou none?

--from George Herbert's "Businesse"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


The time has come for me to share this news with you: Tom has taken a job in Portland. At some point this summer we will be putting our home in Harmony on the market, and when it sells, we will be moving south.

I am, as you might expect, deeply ambivalent about the change. My land is so enmeshed in my identity that I am barely able to envision myself as myself without it.  But do not worry: I am not going to wail to you about this. I know that a move south into a thriving cultural life will be, in so many ways, the best thing for us both as a pair and as individuals . . . and I try to hold on to that rationalization even as I know I cannot stop grieving. We will be closer to the ocean, closer to our families, closer to our jobs. Our life as a pair will no longer center around children and firewood. We will be able to listen to music and go to readings and look at pictures and buy decent parmesan cheese without driving hours and hours to get there. I will have a new garden to plan.

Nonetheless, I feel as if every day I spend in Harmony is an elegy: the last dandelions, the last pileated woodpecker, the last fiddleheads, the last chanterelles. Who I will become inside when I transform into a woman who spends her days in a small northern city by the cold sea? I am not yet able to imagine myself as that woman.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Portland reading was shockingly wonderful. To begin with, the space was packed . . . so many people out on a Friday night to hear poems. And there was an even stranger thing: I knew so many of them. What an odd feeling. And then I read "Mr. Kowalski," which felt good in my mouth and in the air, so that was a fine relief.

So here I am, now, back in the north . . . a music gig this morning, housework in the afternoon, and teaching all day tomorrow. The essay that made me cry is still making me cry, but not with such vigor. That's for the best.

"There is a kind of despair involved in creation which I am sure any artist knows all about." Iris Murdoch put those words into the mouth of a completely unreliable narrator, her character Bradley Pearson in The Black Prince. Bradley also declares that "men truly manifest themselves in the long patterns of their acts, and not in any nutshell of self-theory." These remarks all sound reasonable, except that Murdoch proceeds to show us how ridiculously mistaken Bradley has been about himself and his motivations. Nabokov's Lolita and Pale Fire do similar work, I think. The lesson here is: Do not make pompous artist statements.

Still, our acts do manifest patterns, whatever those patterns may imply. I am writing an essay that makes me cry, and this is not the first time I've cried over what I'm writing. But the fact that I cry has nothing to do with whether or not the essay will turn out to be crap. Something else must also be at work, something beyond raw feeling, and I think it involves a certain detachment . . . a doubleness, an inside-while-outside sensation. Or maybe that's just me. I'll stop now before the pompous artist statement starts to swell.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Later today I head down to Portland, where I'll be reading at the Beloit Poetry Journal's Maine Poetry Gala, held at Space Gallery tonight at 7 p.m. Other featured poets include Jeffrey Thomson, Betsy Sholl, Martin Steingesser, and Elizabeth Tibbetts.

The magazine's editors asked us to read a poem that's been published in Beloit, so I've decided to read a section or two from "Mr. Kowalski," a long poem about violins and failure and the Holocaust that I have not revisited very recently. It will be odd to say the words aloud again.

And probably I'll read something from the Chestnut Ridge manuscript because I know Betsy Sholl likes those poems. Or maybe instead I'll read "Ugly Town" from Same Old Story because it explains why I feel so lonely at literary parties. I'll leave it to the gods to make the decision.

On Saturday I will drive home and then go directly to a high school track meet. On Sunday I will play music at Stutzmans' Cafe. On Monday I will teach K-8 poetry all day. On Tuesday I will sit quietly on my stoop and watch the cat roll around in the driveway.

And now I will read this.

Prayer (I)

George Herbert

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
            Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
            The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinners towre,
            Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
            The six-daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
            Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
            Heaven in ordinarie, Man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

            Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls bloud,
            The land of spices; something understood.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Herbert stanza I posted yesterday seems to have triggered me to begin writing a new essay, which is a relief because I haven't written anything new for weeks and also distressing because composing this essay is making me really sad. I spent much of my waiting-for-my-son-to-finish-track-practice time stretched out in the back seat of my car, where I sobbed over my laptop and hoped that the other kids' parents didn't think I was suicidal or something. If anyone had anxiously tapped on the window, I would have had to wail, "No, no, I'm just writing an essay," and I doubt that would have allayed their fears.

I might work on it again during this morning's track practice . . . after I prep myself for next Monday's K-8 teaching day, after I hammer out a few more copyedited pages, after I buy birdseed and grapefruit juice (grocery lists do supply peculiar biographical data).

Then home again . . . to laundry and bread baking and gardening, and then south to Waterville to host a poetry reading, and then north again, driving through the skunk-scented dark.
My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or starre, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?
Please let the small words stay alive.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My God, what is a heart?
Silver, or gold, or precious stone,
Or starre, or rainbow, or a part
Of all these things, or all of them in one?

--from George Herbert's "Matins"

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It's raining this morning--gently, gently. Patches of green infiltrate the bleached grass, and robins hop ceremoniously among the worms. Yesterday I planted lettuce, arugula, cilantro, radishes. So much remains to be done.

Outside the kitchen window, the little finches cling to the bars of the wet feeder. Rain drips and spatters, from roof edge, from budding branch, from dry needle. Inside, a clock ticks. A man sighs. A cup rattles in a saucer. There is something waiting, some future.

I've been thinking about that Amy Lowell poem, "Patterns," which I shared with you a few days ago. For some reason I cannot get her images out of my mind. Is she cracking the mirrors of Sidney and Raleigh and Marvel? The poem does cling, and with an Elizabethan adhesiveness.
And the splashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

Monday, April 18, 2016

School vacation week opens today, which means that I will be spending many "spare" hours carting the boy back and forth to school for track practice. School vacation does not actually mean school vacation.

Yesterday I planted peas, as frogs anxiously garrumphed in the pond and a band of crows made an extraordinary racket in the spruce trees. At odd moments I've been rereading Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart and find myself thinking about her descriptions of spring in 1930s London, which is so like and unlike spring in 2016 Harmony, Maine.
You must be north of a line to feel the seasons so keenly. On the Riviera, Portia's notions of spring had been the mimosa, and then [her mother] unpacking from storage trunks her crushed cotton frocks. Spring had brought with it no new particular pleasures--for little girls in England spring means the Easter holidays: bicycle rides in blazers, ginger nuts in the pockets, blue violets in bleached grass, paper-chases, secrets, and mixed hockey. But Portia . . . knew nothing of this. She had come straight to London . . . One Saturday, she and [her friend] Lilian were allowed to take a bus into the country: they walked about in a wood near the bus stop. Then it thundered and they wanted to go home.
 Emily Dickinson's 1859 version in (in poem 64) is a bit more familiar:
The Robins stand as thick today
As flakes of snow stood yesterday--

Sunday, April 17, 2016

from Patterns by Amy Lowell

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

* * *

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a book report about Amy Lowell. Afterward, I made a pink construction-paper cover embellished with snatches of her poems. For some reason, as a 10-year-old, I had a feeling for her. I think I must have liked the jeweled imagery, the formality of the pacing, the melodrama of poems such as "Patterns" (1917), with its brocade and prefigured romance and, later, its broken heart. Read the entire long poem, and you will understand that I probably had no clear notion of the eroticism and the misery, not to mention the shadow of the Great War,  underlying the piece. But children know that other worlds exist, and they are always on the lookout for doors.

* * *

In my garden the daffodils are not yet blowing, but the bright blue squills entrance and devastate. There is no other blue like theirs.

* * *

from Patterns by Amy Lowell

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,

Saturday, April 16, 2016

 Bangor last night . . .

. . . and now, this morning in Harmony, I am the only person awake, despite being the last person to return home. Here I sit at a card table in a freshly tiled kitchen, marveling at the renovational madhouse around me: refrigerator hogging a third of the living room, huge sheets of concrete board blocking the doorways, dust and detritus littering the floors, and in the middle of it all a teenage boy fast asleep on the couch.

Today--eventually--will be a washing floors, shifting furniture, dragging away trash kind of day . . . once I recover from staying up so late.

I hope to also try to reclaim my mind. Digging in the garden may help. Reading the poems of George Herbert may help.

Or they may not. The mind is a fey beast.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sorry for such a late post. Though I am not the house renovator, I keep getting sucked into the kitchen tile project, most often as a persistent gawker but also as a pet bouncer/distracter or, when the grout situation allows, as speedy busgirl/dishwasher/lunch maker. Still, it's amazing how much time gawking requires.

At the moment the house is ringing with the mellifluous sounds of Sam Cooke, the pets have decided to go snooze, and I am considering whether I should take a nap alongside them or go outside and work in the garden. The nap is not laziness but a necessity: I won't get home from tonight's gig until at least 1, probably later. And since I am a person who regularly goes to bed at 9 and gets up at 5:30, I need to figure out how to make myself go to sleep in the middle of the day. Otherwise, there will be trouble.

Maybe I'll see a few of you tonight.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Stuff Going On

I spent much of yesterday afternoon working on Frost Place business, and I am feeling so cheerful and confident about this summer's Conference on Poetry and Teaching. Not only will the guest poets be stellar--Rich Villar, Kerrin McCadden, and Afaa Michael Weaver--but applications have been brisk. It looks like we will have many new faces at the conference, and this is very good news.

If you have been considering coming to the Frost Place this summer but haven't gotten around to applying, you might want to make your move soon. We are open to teachers at all levels, in all venues, as well as former teachers, future teachers, workshop facilitators, and general lovers of poetry. The only requirement is an eagerness to make poetry part of whatever work you do in this world.

* * *

Tomorrow night, Friday, April 15, my band, Doughty Hill, will be playing at Nocturnem Draft Haus in downtown Bangor, 8-11 p.m. Nocturnem may be the best pub in the city, and we're very excited to be performing for its fifth-anniversary celebration. So if you're in the neighborhood, stop by and visit.

* * *

Next week, I'll be involved in two literary events.

First, on Thursday, April 21, I'll be helping to introduce poet Wes McNair and novelist Monica Wood at the Two Cent Talks reading series in Waterville. The readings begin at 5:30 p.m., at Common Street Arts, with dinner afterward for anyone who cares to linger.

Second, on Friday, April 22, I'll be a featured reader at the Beloit Poetry Journal's Maine Poetry Gala, at Space Gallery in Portland, 7 p.m. I'm pretty happy about this, and I look forward to seeing a few of you there.

* * *

Finally, in the local annals of Stuff Going On: The garlic has sprouted. Frogs were belching in the pond for about half an hour yesterday, until the temperature dropped again. The elderly poodle won't stop wandering across Tom's newly laid kitchen tile. I am thinking about reading Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon. This has been a hard spring. You can't always get what you want. Line-dried shirts are a solace.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beside my feet, the cat is washing himself--slosh, slosh, slosh. It is amazing how loud a washing cat can be; also, how wet he can sound while looking perfectly dry. A cat is a mysterious and obnoxious being. This one likes to rush into the house for a hug and then rush outside to kill a junco. To make me stop working and do his bidding, he pulls a book off the shelf and then stares at me threateningly. He likes to ride on left shoulders only. Right shoulders are, in his view, the work of the devil. He also enjoys going for walks with the dog and admiring his reflection in puddles and biting the hand that feeds him. It is hard to understand why anyone would house such a beast, and yet he is adored by all. An acquaintance recently posited that his relationship with his pets is a version of Stockholm syndrome. This seems entirely plausible.

But enough with the cat chatter. After a couple of days of rain, this morning's sky is clean and blue, and the yard is striped with sun shadows. Tom will be tiling the kitchen floor today, so the house is topsy-turvy--refrigerator in the living room, kitchen stove off limits, a makeshift bridge to the bathroom.

Topsy-turvy is a word that reminds me of Mary Poppins. (I mean the books, not the movie: the Mary Poppins of the books is rude, snappish, and self-centered; as illustration, see the above description of my cat. The Mary Poppins of the movie is Julie Andrews.) Topsy-turvy implies an Edwardian sort of mess: problems with Cook or the gardener, perhaps; or Papa's slippers missing from their unusual place by the gas fire; or foreboding issues concerning drains and the laundry copper and nursery tea. As Mary Poppins of the book threads her way through these various manifestations of topsy-turviness, she exudes a reliable mixture of arrogance, blame, magical distraction, and lies. Everyone loves it. (Mary Poppins of the movie smiles and sings songs. Dick Van Dyke loves it.)

Sadly, I do not have anyone to march me to the park, make the carousel horses come alive, go on an adventure with me, and then accuse me of fabrication when I mention how much fun we had. How easy it is to be cozy about tyranny. I devoured those books when I was young. And I am devoted to this stupid cat.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Yesterday I received this email from a stranger:
I recently wrote an essay on emotional intelligence in Fanny Price. Yours was the lone positive voice ("In Defense of Dullness" article) so I wanted to thank you.
The writer was referring to my essay about Fanny Price (the main character in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park), which appeared several years ago in the Sewanee Review and has since been popping up in academic research databases such as JSTOR. I guess anything can pass as scholarship.

But don't you think my correspondent's discovery is intriguing? Am I really Fanny's only public fan?

The timing of the email was fortuitous as I've been rereading the essay myself. Last week, as I combed through the proofs of The Vagabond's Bookshelf, I was reminded again of the strange responses of the Experts to Austen's novel. Q. D.  Leavis, a tyrant of mid-twentieth-century British literary criticism, disliked it intensely. Vladimir Nabokov, on the other hand, was merely supercilious about it.

Faced with such august complainers, I found myself worrying, yet again, that I'm not smart enough to argue with them. I kept asking myself, "Do I sound stupid?" I went through exactly the same contortions when I tried to write about Paradise Lost. But in all such cases I eventually say, "The hell with it," and go ahead and write whatever I feel like writing. On the whole, I think I'm lucky to be able to fall back on this readerly insouciance, slapdash as it can be. As my editorial day job makes clear, there's a lot of timidity and anxiety in the academic world, much of it related to precedent, theory, and status. Things could be a lot worse. For instance, I could be trying not to get fired.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Spear-Danes Thank Beowulf for Killing the Monsters

Dawn Potter

Eight horses—
heads tossing throats pulsing with sweat
bridles glinting a streak of sun black grey
pied chestnut hooves thudding clattering
a lurch quick shiver of mane
forelock tail cascade of muscle
trembled nose trembled lip
and the hot breath the wild almond eyes—

For you, says the king.

All for you.

* * *

This fairly new poem has had numerous titles. For a long time I simply called it "The Gift," but that didn't make the allusive context clear at all. I'm not satisfied with this version, but at least you have a better chance of comprehending the reference.

At some point in April, the CavanKerry Press blog will be reprinting the poem as part of its Poetry Month celebration. Today I thought I'd share it with you. I wish I could give you eight horses instead.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Cold sun and a Saturday.  Maybe I'll hang some clothes on the line, or try to mend the snowplow damage in the yard, or prune something or other, or experimentally dig, or carry a few hard-budded daffodils into the house in hopes of coaxing a bloom. With a prospective high of 45 degrees, the day will not exhale the balmy breath of springtime, but I might be able to pretend.

Whatever I do today, it will not involve working at my desk. There's been far too much of that lately.

Friday, April 8, 2016

This afternoon I'll be motoring down to the University of Maine at Augusta to lead a poetry workshop for high school teachers, with a public reading to follow in the evening. [Tomorrow afternoon poet Richard Blanco reads. Here's a schedule, if you're interested in the timing of everything.]

* * *

Last night's driving wind and rain have dissipated, and this morning's new world is brown and muddy and dripping. In April, every day is a different season.

Last night I dreamt of grocery shopping and dog food. What does this mean?

A shimmer of sun gilds the glass swan in the kitchen window. I want to wear my new rose-colored blouse today. I want the sound of a baseball game to comfort my shadowy drive home.

Flocks of little birds--juncos, sparrows, goldfinches--rise and settle and and swirl and rise . . . in the grass, in the pines, in the bare lilacs. If I could, I would write a poem.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Snow last night, but at least the temperature has risen to thirty. Ten degrees in April is hard to take. Last week I planted a few lettuce seeds in the greenhouse, but as of yet nothing has sprouted and the garden soil is still too frozen to dig. I could begin pruning rose bushes and grape vines, but nothing about this weather is luring me outside. And did I tell you about the tree that fell on my raspberry patch? Already the growing season is done for.

Changes, changes. Yesterday, as I was reading the proofs of my forthcoming Vagabond's Bookshelf, I was surprised to note how much my prose style has shifted since I wrote the essays in that book. A primary difference is sentence length: these days I seem to be writing shorter sentences . . . but of course my version of a short sentence is still another writer's long one. Though I've been tempted to edit them down, I've mostly let the long sentences stand. I've found myself thinking of them as a diary of my style, just as the subject matter is a diary of my reading life. "Certain readers speculate that, when Dawn Potter was in her forties, she was reading far too many Henry James novels, and thus her expository prose was disproportionately affected."

By the way, I appreciate your many reactions, both in the comments and in private notes, to yesterday's post. I think the topic must be a sore spot for many of us. We're lonely; we think we don't want to be lonely; we can't wait to be lonely again.

And Tu Fu readers: Don't forget to do your part.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What Is a Literary Community?

Yesterday I received a note from a friend:
Do you ever . . . find the idea that writers have to try to be part of the local "literary community" if they want to be successful just tiring and one more kind of daunting thing to do?
I answered her this way:
Yes, I do. Networking has nothing to do with writing. "Literary community" is either (1) a social scene, (2) free mentoring for apprentice writers, or (3) a way to get people in power (employers, publishers) to notice you. All can be rewarding, but they also take you away from actually doing the solitary work of being a writer.
Since writing that response, I've been thinking more about the concept of literary community. I mean, what is it, really? I've talked before about my distaste for the way in which pundits tend to toss around the word community--telling us about the evangelical community, the addiction community, the advertising executive community--as if the term is simply a cozy synonym for group. But the issue goes beyond the connotations of usage. What value does a trade-association approach have to those of us who are trying to make art? Who benefits from it, and who does not?

My recent stint at the AWP conference in Los Angeles certainly made me remember how alien such an approach is to me personally. Instead of going to panels and readings, I spent my free time by myself--riding a bus to Santa Monica, idling beside the players' entrance behind the Staples Center so I could watch the security guards pass around a box of cookies. Ostensibly, the writers were "my own kind." So why was I more excited about catching a glimpse of a few damp Dallas Stars players boarding their airport bus? (Do I pay attention to hockey? No, I do not.)

The fact is that most of the people at AWP were not my own kind. They rushed hither and thither--posing for selfies with friends and idols, promoting programs, laughing together over dinner. Amid these networking frenzies, I feel like a freak. I have never craved to be a player in any sort of literary social scene; I've never even been tempted to join a writing group. A woman once told me to my face that she reads this detachment as a holier-than-thou attitude to the larger fellowship of writers. Maybe that's true. My only defense is that I need to be lonely.

And yet I do long for a community in the more fundamental sense of the word--as a way of communing. That version of community exists for me at the Frost Place and in singular relationships with a handful of individual artists and readers, some of whom I've never met. Our correspondence may be spotty and sporadic; but when we speak, we hear each other. It exists for me among my boys, among my animals, among a few souls both alive and gone--people who may have never picked up a book, let alone read one of my poems, but who offer and receive a necessary love.

I want to comfort my worried friend; I want to tell her that her power to grow as an artist lies in her fidelity to her own fire. What fuel sparks that flame? What crushes it? The answers are both simple and infinitely complex. Anyone who claims that Emily Dickinson was a hermit doesn't comprehend the tangled, sloppy social web known as family life. She was no Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walt Whitman, with their expansive national friendships, but she ran back and forth to Evergreens and up and down the kitchen stairs. She talked when she needed to, and people answered her. And her poems thrived.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Beside me, a red begonia blooms against a window. Beyond it, under a clean blue sky, cold fingers of sunlight stretch across the bleached grass. The temperature is ten degrees. It is spring.

Today I will continue editing a scholarly manuscript about Thoreau and begin checking the first proof of my own unscholarly reader's memoir, The Vagabond's Bookshelf. I will be thinking about the workshop I'll be teaching on Friday and remembering the grapevines I ought to start pruning. I'll be driving to pick up my son after track practice and listening to the Red Sox play their opening-day game in Cleveland. I'll be shopping for eggs and coffee, and I'll be cooking black beans and rice for dinner. It will be an ordinary day.

I wonder, I wonder, what will happen to me?

The first, the last, the ancients and the never-born . . . where are they now? Under a clean blue sky, cold fingers of sunlight strain across the bleached grass, across a fat parade of robins, across scattered shriveled leaves, letters from a lost autumn. There are too many trees to count.

My son is reading Faulkner, I am reading Fowles. The comma is a necessary erratum, but I cannot tell you why. Nor can I explain the flicker of snow still patching the sun-spattered moss.

A few weeks ago my friend Angela said, "I love living here because it is so hard to live here."

No, and yes, and always. And always: why?

Monday, April 4, 2016

After nearly 24 hours spent in travel and delays--including howling winds and the worst airplane landing I have ever experienced--I managed to find my way back to Harmony, Maine. Promptly, the power went out, so we spent the evening playing Yahtzee and eating homemade pizza by candlelight as the winds continued to howl and the fact of Los Angeles became evermore implausible.

I'm standing at my desk now, at the other end of the continent, with a cat on a chair and a dog on a rug, with a clicking woodstove and a view of naked branches and bare cold grass. Outside are the cries of woodpeckers and doves and distant logging machines. It's like I have never been anywhere at all.

* * *

Tu Fu readers: Peg has offered some compelling thoughts on, among other things, what does or does not constitute a successful poem. What is your response?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Day 4: The Trip to California

I spent yesterday afternoon riding the bus back and forth to the beach at Santa Monica. I also spent a few hours in Santa Monica itself, but the bus rides absorbed the bulk of my free time. I liked them. Most of the passengers spoke Spanish and seemed to be on their way to or from work. There were sleepy children, and a very funny young woman who was telling us that she was just out of rehab, and a regal crazy man with white dreadlocks who talked to himself in lines that might have been from a Ginsburg poem.

On the beach little children did what little children have always done: screamed, splashed, jumped, dug holes, hauled water, collected stones. On the pier a guitar player dressed as Jesus performed Nirvana-like songs. Ice-cream carts jingled. Tour buses hissed to a stop. Ragged men slept in patches of dirt beside the road. The mountains glowered over the condominiums, over the strip malls, over the curl of sea.

Today I will work all day at the book fair. At midnight I will board an airplane and fly east into the morning. Nevertheless, the night will be long.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Day 3: The Trip to California

I saw friends yesterday . . . my college orchestra stand partner who is now a novelist, a friend who is the new editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal, a friend who is the development director at a small press, a friend who is the assistant director of an MFA program. I watched the young people and admired their hair colors. I identified a few famous-ish people by their name tags and was surprised to learn that they looked like that.

I walked back to my hotel and ate ceviche and Chex party mix in a revolving bar, as the sun set over the invisible sea and the mountains frowned like Easter Island statues and the glossy buildings shone with sort of urban alpenglow amid the traffic of helicopters and airplanes.

This city is a strange place . . . everything feels too glossy, too large. And yet there are those glowering, implacable mountains. I tried to explain how I felt to Tom last night, during a phone call. His response was "That's why punk rock had to happen."

I will have this afternoon off, though, and my plan is to take the bus to the Santa Monica pier and look at the Pacific. How could I go from Maine to California without making some acquaintance with this other ocean?

In the meantime, imagine me sitting on a bed in a hotel that feels like a cruise ship to a person who has never been on a cruise ship but has only (1) watched The Love Boat and (2) read David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."

According to the hotel, I may purchase this bed and its accoutrements for $1,895.