Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Yesterday was one of those days when the phone would not stop ringing, and 95 percent of the calls involved real estate, and everyone was in a lather, and then I had to take a "break" and drive to the bank to talk about mortgages, and now this morning I have to tidy up for a house viewer instead of editing a book about Richard Wilbur. [As a side note: Tom and I have discovered that selling this house requires a peculiar mix of arithmetical logic plus homey comforting chat so it's a good thing we're tag-teaming on the project.]

In sentimental news, Ruckus found the collar of his dead dog friend and went to sleep on it. In happy news, my college boy is making friends and admiring his professors and working on a monologue from Uncle Vanya for his theater audition. In musical news, my band has just been hired to play at Sugarloaf this winter. In mental improvement news, nothing to report; creative work still pending; possibly someday I will be brainy again.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

After several nights in a row of waking up at 2 a.m., I finally managed to sleep through an entire night. Consequently I woke up confused and incompetent. After three attempts, however, I did figure out that, in order to make coffee, one must use both grounds and water. Let us hope that the rest of my day is not so challenging.

Given my accruing level of tiredness, I was unable, yesterday evening, to read anything more complex than New Yorker articles about TV shows that I have never watched. Even listening to baseball seemed too complicated. I ate chicken noodle soup, washed the dishes, and then sat on the couch and tried to watch one of those TV shows I'd been reading about, but the dialogue was too snappy and I couldn't understand anything the characters were saying. At this point the telephone began ringing; friends were calling me up to chat about selling the house and taking Paul to college, etcetera, etcetera, which was extremely nice of them, but I had entered a zone of stupidness, and, dear friends, if you are reading this now, I apologize for anything lumpy I said to you.

Thankfully, Ruckus decided to stalk into the room and inform me that it was bedtime. Sometimes a bossy cat with cold feet is the only route out of a static situation. Otherwise, I might still be on the couch struggling with dialogue.

Monday, August 29, 2016

I am back in the lonely saddle again, preparing to fill my long hours with reading, writing, editing, copying Rilke, and maybe packing . . . for while I was voyaging in Vermont, we received an offer on the house. So if all parties can work out an agreeable compromise, Tom and I will finally be able to take steps toward finding a place to live together in Portland.

In the meantime, limbo continues.

Today's projects include editing the Richard Wilbur bio, going to the bank, and boiling chicken bones to make stock for freezing. The darkness is very muggy this morning, but the forecast claims that autumn will be slipping in. Through the open window I can hear the crickets squeaking their end-of-summer song, and somewhere nearby a pileated woodpecker is cackling.

* * *

Poetry-group members: Has everyone received his or her Geoffrey Hill collection yet? I believe we've been waiting on just one more person; and when she's ready, we'll get started.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I have returned from my long whirlwind trip to the far southern corner of Vermont, and now my youngest child has launched himself into a new life. Considering how much practice time he's had away from home--on wilderness canoe voyages, 6 weeks at Brown last summer--he was surprisingly anxious. And when the time came for me to leave campus, he was was close to tears.

Since then he has texted me several times and telephoned once. Everything is going well, he likes his roommate a lot, he's almost finished reading Julius Caesar, and he can't wait to start his classes. But I still hear the wistfulness in his voice. My older son lit out for the territories, but my younger son is not finding the adventure so easy. All will be well, but this moment is a rather choked-up one.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

The state of Maine received stunning and wonderful news yesterday: after landowner Roxanne Quimby transferred the deed of more than 87,000 acres to the U.S. government, President Obama announced an executive order creating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. When I first moved here more than 20 years ago, talk was beginning about Quimby's hopes for a new national park, but there was much local nastiness. One of the founders of the Burt's Bees cosmetic company, she had used her earnings to buy up large swaths of timberland, pissing off paper companies and irritating hunters and snowmobilers who felt they had rights to use the property. "Dump Roxanne" bumper stickers proliferated on pickup trucks. But as milltowns in the region have begun to die, it has become clearer that conservation is really their only economic hope. And so little by little Quimby and her son Lucas St. Clair, who is now the face of the project, made their case for its protection.

This is Wabanaki country, Thoreau country, Audubon country. Its 87,000 acres are the giant version of my tiny 40-acre plot: running water, vernal pools, massive trees, lichens and stones and teeming animal life. I cannot tell you how jubilant I am about this. And our horrible reactionary governor is powerless to stop it.

If you're wondering about how the cretin and his cronies are taking the news, well, here's a headline in today's Bangor Daily News: "LePage conservation chief: 'Swampy woodlands' should not be a national monument." Go ahead and tell that to this moose, you moron.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For the past several weeks my garlic harvest has been curing in the barn, and yesterday I cut down the bundles and trimmed up the heads for storage. It was a beautiful crop: fifty-plus heads, fat and white and firm. Under normal circumstances I'd now separate out about a third of the crop for seed, but I have no idea where I'll be next spring so I cannot plant garlic in October. This makes me a bit melancholy. A friend fighting cancer once told me that seeing her garlic sprout in April was how she knew she'd managed to stay alive.

Ah well.

I looked at the news this morning: a morass of earthquakes and bloodbaths and racism and Donald Trump. But I have reliable heat in my house. And my cat hasn't run away from home again. And Paul and I will hug Tom at an early-morning diner breakfast on Friday. And my sister will meet me in Vermont and we will spend a giggly night together after we unpack Paul. And I have figured out an alternate route to the college so I don't have to drive over the bridge that scares me. None of this is fair, and it all makes me cry, and it all makes me angry, and it all makes me ashamed, and it all makes me wonder what grace demands, and what travesties loom, and where, and why, and when.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Today will be another running-around day, mostly for the sake of getting out of the house while the propane-company employers install a Rinnai heater in my living room. With this expense, we will cross another line: we will no longer own a house entirely heated by wood.

Other than the uglification factor involved in adding a boxy white heater to the living-room decor, I am relieved about the change. If we sell the house, we will need to have backup heat so the buyers can get a mortgage. If I live alone in the house, I will need to have backup heat because Tom hasn't cut any wood for the winter. Last year's leftovers won't get me through January.

Yesterday I taught the boy how to sew on a button. I read about a sadistic commander's horrific regime on Australia's Norfolk Island at the turn of the nineteenth century. I copied out some of Rilke's Duino Elegies. I made curried coconut soup with lemongrass. I mowed grass and picked dahlias. In the evening I closed the windows and put on my thick red bathrobe. Autumn crept through the cracks, and the boy played the piano in his room. In a few days I will be back to living alone, but at least now I know what I'm facing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Buckets of rain, and Tom's headlights driving away into the wet dark. Another Monday.

* * *

I didn't write to you yesterday because I was distraught about my cat, who'd been gone for 24 hours . . . the longest he's every vanished. But just as I was steeling myself to accept the likelihood that he'd been eaten or run over, he reappeared at the back door, snarky and insouciant and demanding brunch. So the little jerk is back, and I am relieved and exasperated, in equal parts.

He went to bed in the recycling basket, and the rest of my day improved considerably. Tom and Paul had the good idea of canoeing out to the point for a picnic dinner, so I made BLTs and corn salad and brownies and then sat queenlike in the middle of the canoe, shrieking slightly as we tipped and wobbled across the choppy lake. Tom, who usually paddles stern, formally gave up that spot to Paul. He joked that it was a Harmony bar mitzvah: "Now, son, you are a man. Steer us through the waves." And Paul did.

It is nice to be bossed around by your kid when your kid really knows what he is doing.

Here's what we saw just before sunset.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I've mostly spent this week focusing on Paul . . . i.e., trying to cram an entire summer's worth of getting-ready-to-leave-for-college into the space of two weeks. But I've also starting working on Frost Place plans for next summer, and that has been both exciting and elegiac, given that my dear Teresa Carson has retired from her position as associate director. There will be big changes in 2017, yet I have confidence that our program will keep climbing and striving.

I have to say that it feels good to write those words "I have confidence." We had such an extraordinary session this past summer, and I know that some of that success was due to radical changes I made in scheduling our visiting faculty. It's always tricky to take over a program from another person; and when that person is a charismatic, as Baron is, the trickiness is intensified. So it's taken me a few years to figure out how to create my own version of the conference he began, how to adjust it to my own personality and to the ever-changing needs of our participants and the world in which they teach.

So as this difficult summer draws to a close, I look back and wonder why I spent so much of it in tears. Both of my boys are thriving. My husband is content in his new job. My beautiful old dog died graciously and gracefully. Two really nice young people are thinking about buying my much-loved house. My esteemed colleague Teresa is happily retiring into the next stage of her life. I wrote some poems that aren't terrible. You are my friends. I play in a band. My cat bosses me around. The dahlias are in bloom.

Friday, August 19, 2016

I suppose I ought to get out of my chair and frantically tidy up the house for the real estate agent who's dropping by this morning. Then again, there's nothing I can do about the fact that we need a new roof, so I might as well let myself enjoy this hot coffee. I am hopeful that the agent's visit will be the penultimate step in the "will they make an offer?" drama that's been keeping us up at nights. But who knows? I've never sold a house before; it's all a mystery to me.

I've been busily cooking for boys, weeding in the garden, accumulating dorm-room supplies, mowing grass between raindrops, and reading about crime in Georgian England. Did you know that "impersonating an Egyptian" (i.e., a gypsy) was a capital offense? So were "cutting down an ornamental shrub" and "appearing on a high-road with a sooty face." I am learning a lot from this Hughes book.

Yesterday I asked the boys (two of the least criminal types you'd ever hope to meet) whether they agreed with the author's generalization that "crime is, was, and always will be a young man's trade." They thought for a moment and then said yes.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Notes from my home: Two 18-year-old boys frying eggs and chattering and listening to Spotify and reminiscing about high school and teasing each other and nervously comparing future college roommates, and all of a sudden one cries out, "I love music!"

* * *

Thanks to everyone who chimed in about Hughes's Fatal Shore. It seems that I have gotten lucky. Here, for instance, is are the opening paragraphs of the book. When I read it aloud to my son, he got very quiet, and then opened his eyes wide, and then said, "Wow."
In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonize Australia. 
Never had a colony been founded so far from its parent state, or in such ignorance of the land it occupied. There had been no reconnaissance. In 1770 Captain James Cook had made landfall on the unexplored east coast of this utterly enigmatic continent, stopped for a short while at a place named Botany Bay and gone north again. Since then, no ship had called: not a word, not an observation, for seventeen years, each one of which was exactly like the thousands that had preceded it, locked in its historical immensity of blue heat, bush, sandstone, and the measured booming of glassy Pacific rollers.

* * *

Notes from my home: . . . and now the other boy shouts, "Want to hear the greatest key change ever?? Listen to this! . . . " [Quickly messes around with his iPad and pulls up Arcade Fire's "Every Time You Close Your Eyes." Both boys and I instantly get very excited about the key change.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

After a night of drenching rain, the air is sodden and cool. Water still runs from the trees; silvered asparagus ferns bow into the sunburnt grass. If I knew how to speak in the language of prayer, I might say something about supplicants and blessings.

Have all of you who are interested in reading the Geoffrey Hill poems together now acquired a copy? If yes, let me know here and we will begin plotting our mode of conversation.

I am also wondering if anyone of you might be familiar with this book--The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding, by Robert Hughes. It is a history of Australia's colonization, published in 1986, and the back cover has blurbs by a startling group of readers, including Arthur Schlesinger, Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag, Peter Matthiessen, and William Shawcross. I found it at the Goodwill and have no idea if it will be worth reading, but I thought I might give it a try.

Meanwhile on Monday, my son was sweeping Faulkner, Sam Shepard, Lysistrata, and Frederick Douglass into his own Goodwill basket and jubilantly telling me he'd just gotten a text from his new college roommate, "who says he loves drawing and literature!" He is so joyful. I am so fortunate.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In its fall issue the Beloit Poetry Journal will be publishing my poem "John Doe's Love Letter" as well as a long essay I wrote about Christina Hutchins's poetry collection Tender the Maker. It will be the first time I've ever had prose and poetry appear simultaneously in the same journal, and the moment feels important. What I mean is "privately important," of course: it won't make much difference to readers one way or the other; but for me, this will be the inaugural public acknowledgment of the stylistic split that seems to have become embedded in my writing production.

Many great poets of the past--say, the mid-twentieth-century lions such as Carruth, Wilbur, Lowell--also wrote essays about poetry; but no one thought of them as essayists first or even as essayists also. They were always poets first. That has not been my experience. Certain magazines will only take prose from me; others will only take poetry . . . despite the fact that both sorts of journals publish many different genres. So I've had to ride this divide, and not only as a writer but also as a teacher.

Last week Baron told me I would have been a better-known writer if I had been working 40 years ago, which is a depressing thought but also a comic one. "If only I were an old, old lady now, I would be famous." There's a Monty Python skit waiting in the wings.

Monday, August 15, 2016

During the next couple of weeks I'll be reprising the demanding, multifaceted role of She Who Drives the Boy to [Fill in Place Here] as well as the more precise character roles of She Who Watches the YouTube Video So They Can Figure Out How to Repair His Bike; She Who Fills the Empty Maw with Fresh Fruit; and She Who Sings Along with Broadway Soundtracks. These adjustments also require me to mow grass at 6 a.m., return to constant bread baking, and spend all my evenings commenting on a variety of Olympic sporting events [including sports we don't like but watch anyway, while discussing how annoying they are: e.g., water polo, beach volleyball].

Do not think I am complaining. Rilke will bide his time till I get back to him.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Due to popular demand, I will share the following anecdotes about my son's Canadian canoe-camp job. Please be warned that they are not in chronological order and may be slightly inaccurate due to parental distraction.

* The camp's island, Garden Island, is right next to Bear Island, which is Ojibway land. It seems that all of the local tribes have softball teams and regularly play each other. They also play the camp staff every summer. As Paul describes them, the Bear Islanders are the Yankees of the league--once formidable, now aging--and on his first at-bat P managed to cover himself with glory by hitting a home run into the woods.

* Thirteen-year-old girls spend a lot of time making up songs about young male counselors.

* Northern lights over a northern lake are spectacular. Pot lasagna is delicious. In the United States wilderness canoers drink Tang and eat fried Spam, but in Canada they drink Gumperts and eat fried Klik.

* Portaging with little boys is hard because they are too small to carry anything heavy. Introverted camp counselors snag time for themselves by doing a lot of reading in public. Paul recommends Don DeLillo's Libra.

* There is a laundry hierarchy. Campers wash their clothes in buckets with scrub brushes. Counselors use the Amish washing machine (basically a hand-cranked wringer-washer). The people in charge use an electric agitator. At this camp, the people in charge are referred to collectively as The Brass. I have been trying to imagine how the Frost Place would be different if people referred to Teresa and me as The Brass.

* The base camp is on Lake Temagami in northern Ontario. According to Wikipedia, "the lands surrounding the lake are part of the Canadian Shield, one of the largest single exposure[s] of Precambrian rocks in the world which were formed after the Earth's crust cooled. Part of Lake Temagami lies in the Temagami Magnetic Anomaly, an egg shaped geologic structure stretching from Lake Wanapitei in the west to Bear Island." When Paul wakes up, I will ask him what more he can tell me about the egg-shaped Anomaly, which certainly seems to imply the presence of aliens. I wonder if they play softball.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

I spent Thursday night in Vermont with some of my favorite people in the world. We talked urgently about art and memory and being alive, and I woke up to the sight of tomatoes ripening in a tiny backyard garden. I drove home through downpours. I ate stir fry with a chattery large son and a cheerful regular-sized husband. I sat under a couch blanket and watched Olympic sports. I fell asleep with the cat. I woke and slept and woke and slept to the sound of hard rain.

Now here I am again, with my black coffee and my solitude, listening to the clock tick and rainwater drip off the roof. Through the wet window I watch finches complaining about the empty feeder. Upstairs, and behind doors, the beds are weighted with sleeping men.

I read new work in Vermont, some of the John Doe poems I've been slowly, slowly producing during these past fraught months, and Baron told me they felt strong and startling. And then, when I came home, I learned that one had been accepted for publication. So that is a small something, and Baron's encouragement is a large one. He has never shied away from telling me he doesn't like what I'm doing, when that's the truth.

So I guess I will continue to scratch away at these uncomfortable little poems. I have been such an awkward poet during the past few months: working in jerks and lurches and blots, like a quill pen on bad paper. But if that's the rhythm, then I need to make the most of it.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

from The Third Elegy

Rainer Maria Rilke

Mother, you made him small, it was you who started him;
in your sight he was new, over his eyes you arched
the friendly world and warded off the world that was alien.
Ah, where are the years when you shielded him just by placing
your slender form between him and the surging abyss?
How much you hid from him then. The room that filled with suspicion
at night: you made it harmless; and out of the refuge of your heart
you mixed a more human space with his night-space.
And you set down the lamp, not in that darkness, but in
your own nearer presence, and it glowed at him like a friend.
There wasn’t a creak that your smile could not explain,
as though you had long known just when the floor would do that . . .
And he listened and was soothed. So powerful was your presence
as you tenderly stood by the bed; his fate,
tall and cloaked, retreated behind the wardrobe, and his restless
future, delayed for a while, adapted to the folds of the curtain.

trans. Stephen Mitchell

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Note to people who want to take part in a group poetry-reading project: My copy of Geoffrey Hill's poems arrived yesterday; please let me know when you acquire yours so that we can figure out when to begin reading them together.

Note to people who live near Strafford, Vermont: It's supposed to be 90 degrees in Vermont tomorrow, so wouldn't you like to hang out with Baron Wormser and me at our Town House Forum reading? It will be much cooler than hauling hay or digging potatoes or whatever else you had in mind.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I cannot understand why my garden is still alive. We have had so little rain this summer that I think the plants must be surviving on morning dew. But I've been picking bowls full of green beans and raspberries. The cilantro is thick and lush, and the second crop of lettuce is slowly getting large enough to harvest.

Tomorrow my younger son comes home from his Canadian wilderness job, and Thursday morning I drive to Vermont to read with my friend Baron. Little Ruckus the cat has been grieving hard for his dog, but he seems to be feeling better now that I have spent five days lavishing him with kisses and conversation. He is a cat who likes a chat and a cuddle. Cuddle is not my favorite word yet it is pleasant as an action.

The weather is cool this morning, but temperatures are supposed to climb back into the 90s later in the week. I was so tired last night that I went to bed at 8:30, without copying out any Rilke or even pausing to imagine myself as a poet. I am stringing these thoughts together without notable transitions because that is how I feel this morning. The black coffee in my white cup is almost too hot to drink. However, I do feel slightly more like a poet than I did last night.

I need to fill the hummingbird feeder early, before the sunshine kicks in and the wasps go on sugar patrol. I need to pay some bills and mow grass. I need to finish editing chapter 4 of the manuscript I'm working on. I need to maunder around with Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Wives and Daughters, which, by the way, would be an excellent comparison-contrast pairing with Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Friends who have to write papers about 19th-century English lit: allow me to suggest them as a topic.

Presently it is 7:15 a.m. I hear an engine slicing through the air and a robin roistering in a tree. The kitchen clock ticks, ticks, ticks, ticks. Everything around me is tidy and clean, freshly painted and washed. The windows are open and coolness pours in. There are vases of flowers--dahlias, sunflowers, black-eyed susans--on the tables, on the woodstove, on the shelves. Bundles of sage and tarragon hang from a line, drying for winter dinners. I am surprised to be alive in the midst of this modest beauty. I hope that Tom and I will construct it again, in some form, in Portland, because it gives me great happiness.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Such a week this has been! First, my dog dies. Now, suddenly, we seem to be on the cusp of selling our house. Of course there is many a slip between lip and cup [a fine old idiom, especially pertinent to anyone who has tried to teach a calf to drink out of a bucket] . . . which is to say I am preparing for disappointment. But for the moment I am basking in the memory of watching two bright sweet young people fall in love with my trees. To this point, I have not allowed myself to believe that I could leave this place with peace in my heart. But maybe I will.

Tom and I both slept badly last night, I suppose because we're both keyed up. It has been a complicated week for him too, not least because he couldn't be around to say goodbye to Anna. I think that hurt him, to not have any moment of farewell. And now the two of us are shifting into the intensity of passing on the only home we have ever owned.

Yesterday evening we sat in the gloaming by the fire pit, toasting marshmallows that we didn't really want to eat, watching our tree shadows. Sometimes I feel like the Lorax, the way I go on about my trees. Other times I feel like Thoreau. If you could see them, maybe you would know what I mean.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Saturday with poetry in central Maine

Episode 1: While you are standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, the man you love wanders off to the pile of old books that some local charity is trying to palm off for 75 cents apiece. He sorts through the 1970s science textbooks and ratty Grisham paperbooks and spiritual-ish self-help manuals and discovers . . . a first edition of Gregory Corso's 1960 The Happy Birthday of Death. He sweetly hands you this volume as you trundle over to see what's what. Then the two of you drive off to the lumber yard to buy siding for the barn.

Episode 2: People are coming over with the realtor to look at your house, so you and the man you love decide to take a drive to Kingsbury Pond. He goes swimming and you sit beside the dam and kick your feet in the water and watch the little children who are trying to ride a giant inflatable orca but mostly tipping over onto their heads. Afterward you and the M.Y.L. discreetly sit under a tree in a cool breeze and drink a bottle of beer and count ducks and labrador retrievers and reminisce about your own old departed dog. Eventually you decide that the people looking at your house should be gone by now, so you drive home to make dinner. But the people are still there, and they seem amazed and enthralled by the property, which is very startling. They have many questions to ask, and then the young woman says, with awe and intensity, "I noticed that you had a book of Rilke's poems on one of your tables." As you say to the M.Y.L. afterward, if all goes well this would certainly be the first time in the history of Harmony, Maine, that Rilke has ever helped to sell a house.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thanks, everyone, for your kind thoughts about dear Anna. She was a black standard poodle, smaller than most, with a big smile and enormous affection for everyone she ever met. We all love our pets, but usually that love is a family matter. Every once in a while, though, I've come across a dog whose love and goodwill combines with a kind of graciousness that extends out into the larger world. Anna was that sort of dog, and yesterday, after she died, I began getting notes from many people who were grateful for the sweetness she had extended to them. Most touching were the comments from the young adults who had grown up with my sons, who recalled her as a constant of their childhood--a dear face welcoming them into the house. It means so much to me to know that they have treasured her goodness and her open heart.

When we move to Portland, we will get another dog, and we will easily learn to love it. But Anna was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. We will not see her like again.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Just so you know, I did ask the vet to euthanize Anna yesterday morning. She and I agreed that Anna had become so frail and confused that the extra burden of these seizure-like episodes was just too much stress for her to handle.

Over the course of my life, I have made this decision for many animals, and it never does get easier. I did write about it, once, in a chapter that ended up in Tracing Paradise. In that essay I tell the tale of having to ask my friend Steve to shoot my sick goat. And coincidentally or not? . . . Last night Steve and his wife Angela swept me off to their house for dinner so that we could all raise a glass to dear Anna. It is a privilege to have friends who understand the duty and the pain, but who can also summon the necessary joys of a wake.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I was dealing with two sick animals overnight . . . an ancient dog having a episode of anxiety and confusion, a cat having his annual grumpy feverish reaction to a vaccine. As a result I slept on the couch so that the dog wouldn't fall down the stairs in the middle of the night, and grumpy cat had the entire bed to himself.

We're getting closer and closer to the moment when I'm going to need to make the god-decision about this dog; but as soon as I think, "Now's the time," she pulls herself out of her spiral and goes back to being graciously feeble. At midnight, she stood with her head in a corner, unable to bring herself to lie down, unable to figure out what to do with her legs or her worries, and I sat on the floor with my arms around her, crying a little, wondering how the two of us were going make it through the long night. But we did. I carried her outside and let her stand in the cool grass for a while, which seemed to revive her. And then she walked back inside, on her own volition, and I pretended to watch Netflix while she figured out how to sit down on the rug beside the couch and remembered how much she enjoyed hanging out together in the evenings. And gradually she lay down and fell asleep, and gradually I did too.

We'll see what today brings. Anything could happen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

from Rilke's "Third Elegy"

It is one thing to sing the beloved. Another, alas,
to evoke that hidden, guilty river-god of the blood.

* * *

Red-headed finches whirr back and forth, back and forth, from the lilac tree to the feeder that hangs beside the open window. Last night my son called from Chicago, elated about his new apartment, his new neighborhood, his newfound skill at parallel-parking a panel truck on a city street. I sat next to the cat on the couch and ate a lovely Indian dessert made of thick yogurt and pistachios. I went to bed and tossed and turned all night, dreaming of melodrama. Somehow every incident felt connected.

Perhaps it's because I'm writing again. Over the course of ten days I have finished two poems and a long essay about poetry. I'm steadily copying out the Duino Elegies. I've found a pattern for my time; finally, the ability to work has returned to me.

Today I'll edit a manuscript, and deal with college-financial aid stuff, and tidy the house for the realtor, and take the howling cat to the vet, and go to band practice. But somewhere, in the interstices, I will still be a poet. I cannot tell you why this matters so much, but it does.

* * *

P.S. In case you were wondering, the Amazon review glitch on my Vagabond page has been fixed, which means I can now get teary-eyed over this lovely comment about the book. Such a reader is an amazing gift. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I wanted to let you know that I'll be reading with my beloved friend Baron Wormser in Strafford, Vermont, on next Thursday evening, August 11, at 7 p.m. The event is a summer reading series called the Town House Forum, and organizers often book fairly famous writers, so my presence here will certainly be a curiosity. If you're local and like biography, you might also like to know that this Thursday, August 4, the series will feature Jay Parini, author of bios about Frost and Vidal, who will be reading with Wendy Moffat, author of a bio about E. M. Forster. I wish I could be around to listen to that one myself.

Let me see: what else is new? The real estate agent has set up two house showings this week, so apparently someone somewhere has gotten around to reading the advertisements. My green beans and raspberries are thriving despite the drought. I have still been copying out Rilke's Duino Elegies, but I am also rereading Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand, which is all about taking weird drugs that send the protagonist back into the machinations of medieval Cornwall. The novel is not much like Rilke's poems, but it does remind me, as I wrote in one of the chapters of The Vagabond's Bookshelf, that du Maurier is far more sympathetic to landscape than she is to people.

Poetry-group readers seem to have reached a consensus about the poetry of Geoffrey Hill, so let's take Tom's advice and acquire copies of the 1992 edition of the New and Collected, which still seems to be readily available. Then we can work out how we'll manage the conversations. I'm still hoping that we can work out a way to take turns leading the talk.

I suppose I should gather my robes about me and go off to edit a book. No summer holiday for me this year. Oh, well.

Monday, August 1, 2016

And here it is, Monday morning again.

Sitting on the stoop before dawn, I can smell autumn in the air--a vague and dissipating fragrance, but a presence nonetheless.

The earth is so dry here. We need five days of slow rain. Cicadas are scratching, scratching, and grasshoppers rattle in the weeds. The slant of sunrise is low against the horizon.

My garden is a riot of phlox and dahlias, hydrangeas and coneflowers, black-eyed susans and bee balm. The sunflowers are covered with enormous buds. The bean plants are laden. Raspberries glow like wine.

And now the old dog is shuffling into the kitchen, and the coffee pot is empty, and the singing thrush has fallen silent.

I open my copy of Rilke's "Fourth Elegy" and read, "Who has not sat, afraid, before his heart's curtain?"