Thursday, August 31, 2017

I want to remind you Portland-area locals that I'll be leading a 10-week poetry master class for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance this fall, beginning on September 14. At least I'm hoping I'll be leading it because if we don't get enough sign-ups, it won't run. And since I'd really like it to run, I'm begging you wafflers to go ahead and take the plunge and register so we can hang out for 10 weeks together.

I realized lately that this will be the first Labor Day Weekend in approximately 20 years that I won't be staffing the Harmony Fair's exhibit hall. I did, in fact, get an invitation to serve as the vegetable judge, but I've got to drive the boy to college, so I had to say no. I thought I'd feel more melancholy than I do about missing the fair, but maybe 20 years spent breathing dust and shouting over the roar of truck pulls is long enough. Instead, I will be hauling boxes out of a Vermont storage unit, lugging a "portable" keyboard up dormitory stairs, and exchanging wan smiles with other students' similarly laden parents. And then I will embrace the boy and drive away to eat a peaceable dinner with my in-laws. On the whole it will be better than arguing with a crabby old man over why his head of garlic didn't get a blue ribbon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A small wind twitches the feathers of the honeylocust outside my window. The morning is dark, as if rain lurks in the clouds, though the forecast claims otherwise. Like you, I am melancholy about Texas and Louisiana, drowning in those torrents rushing down and down and down from a chaotic sky; and, perhaps like you, I've been thinking about those scenarios in which nightmares become fact: when the storm does destroy your home, the man in the van does kidnap your child, the speeding car does kill your lover . . . how we may take precautions, avoid risk, sink into existential dread, yet we cannot prepare ourselves for fate.

A small wind twitches the feathers of the honeylocust outside my window. A black-haired youth, shoulders slumped, strides down the sidewalk and out of sight. A tiny dog sits patiently as his owner checks her phone. The minutiae, the unimportant moments, gather and dissipate. We live and die in our cloak of forgetting. Yet the red bicycle is still chained to the post, as it has been for the past week. What happened to its rider? Who possesses the key?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It's another cool morning in Maine. The little sailboats moored in the bay all point their noses toward the west, as if they're a herd of cows grazing in a field. Cars swish up and down the streets, and a woman strolls along the sidewalk with a cat slung over her arm.

Son Number 2 came home last night and immediately devoured most of a pan of lasagna. Tom has taken to calling him Twelve Thousand Calorie Boy. I guess canoeing for a thousand miles gives you a certain amount of leeway in food intake.

Today the compost people will be delivering my truckload of soil, but instead of raking out garden beds I will be at the mall (ugh) trying to figure out if we can get Twelve Thousand Calorie Boy's phone repaired before he goes back to college.

One of these days I will be a poet again.

Monday, August 28, 2017

I woke up with all the windows wide open and the air temperature outside my comforter hovering at 50 degrees. How did summer disappear so suddenly? I guess I'd best remember to shut the windows before I go to bed.

Tom and I started off our day yesterday by shopping for paint. Then he began prepping the upstairs walls, and I turned my attention to the back yard, which is a desert of neglect overhung by three enormous gorgeous maples. The yard beneath those massive trees is a big square of dirt interspersed with a few ugly prickly weeds, its fence lines cluttered with rotten tarps, old hammocks and chairs, empty cans of Silly String, and miscellaneous windblown trash, all mixed in with last year's leaves and a couple of semi-stacked cords of firewood. My only goals were to separate the leaves, brush, stones, and garbage into piles and to restack the firewood more intelligently. No beautifying will be possible till next spring, but at least I can try to make the space more usable as a staging area. And I'm happy to say that after an afternoon's labor we now have a tidy woodpile and a discreet and useful compost-bin/leaf-mulch arrangement behind the shed. All the disgusting trash is stored away inside the shed for next Saturday's dump trip, and this afternoon I can start moving another lopsided stack of firewood from the middle of the driveway (Why is it there, you ask? I have no idea) and rake out whatever nasty junk is hiding behind it. There will be plenty.

In the interstices I'll be catching up on doll-house housework, editing a book about the spiritual influences of 19th-century American writers, and eventually fetching Son Number 2 from the airport. So I will leave you with this hilarious passage from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, in which Thomas Cromwell jokingly tells Anne Boleyn what would have been in store for her had she married a northern lord. Reading this description feels like reading a 16th-century article from the National Enquirer.
"My lady," he turns to Anne, "you would not like to be in Harry Percy's country. For you know he would do as those northern lords do, and keep you in a freezing turret up a winding stair, and only let you come down for your dinner. And just as you are seated, and they are bringing in a pudding made of oatmeal mixed with the blood of cattle they have got in a raid, my lord comes thundering in, swinging a sack--oh, sweetheart, you say, a present for me? and he says, aye, madam, if it please you, and opens the sack and into your lap rolls the severed head of a Scot."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Strange to say, I completely forgot to write you a note yesterday morning. Friday I was still up north, sleeping off the after-effects of a freezing-cold gig alongside the windy shores of Moosehead Lake. But I have no excuse for not writing yesterday . . . only the distractions of garden design. I have been sleeping terribly of late, waking up at 2 a.m. to fret over "what do I need to do next?" and "don't forget to order ____" and "how do I find a person to ____?" and so on and so on. None of this is anything I need to worry about at 2 a.m., but my brain is an idiot.

In any case, here I am today, ready to share boring stories about paint chips and the price of a truckload of compost. I have been laying newsprint weed barriers, and digging out saplings, and reaming out ugly old misplaced perennials and spreading bags of fresh soil, and laying drip hose for irrigation. I still can't touch half of the front yard because the sewer pipe guys have yet to rip it up. But once I get my truckload of compost delivered for the terraced bed, I can lay a few flagstone paths and begin some fall planting.

You won't be surprised to hear that I have done no writing, no copying out of Coriolanus or dreamy perusal of poems. My life revolves around editing, housework, gardenwork, and room painting is on the horizon. I read a bit of Wolf Hall every day; the reading light is never turned off, of course. But it is so good to have dirty hands again.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

This afternoon I will head north for a gig in Greenville. Thus, today will also be the first since becoming a homeowner that won't involve any visits to the new house. I feel a bit anxious about getting behind on my work there, but in truth I've accomplished a lot since last Friday. My primary focus has been an existing bed in the front yard. Some previous owner created it, even going so far as to construct a terrace with a retaining wall. I suppose that person also planted perennials in it, but there are no signs of them now. The bed's been ignored for half a decade, and whatever was originally imagined has vanished into a mess of weeds and saplings.

During this week's hot afternoons, I have been upside-down in that bed, ruthlessly ripping and pruning in order to reach some semblance of soil level. There's no way to completely dig out the roots, so my next step will be to create a weed barrier. For that I'm going to use layers of plain newsprint, purchased by the roll at the art-supply store down the street. (Earthworms love paper, so the newsprint will do double-duty as weed blocker and soil amender.) Then I'll water it well, and then I'll cover it with a load of fresh compost. And then it will be ready for a new life.

But I'll also need to work around the fact that one of these mornings an excavator will be showing up to cut a trench through the front yard and replace our sewer pipe. That's holding my enthusiasm in check. Also, this weekend I'll probably have to start painting rooms. I'm sure I'll be excited about fresh paint too, yet I feel kind of mournful about putting the garden on hiatus.

So now you have the bulletin from Transcendentalist House . . . a name that does not roll off the tongue, so perhaps I should call it Alcott House or maybe Emerson House. Thoreau House would surely be inappropriate: isn't that the one I left behind?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It seems that Paul LePage, Maine's governor (who dreams of being Donald Trump when he grows up), is claiming that 7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy. This is just about the stupidest assertion possible. According to a response article in the Bangor Daily News, about 73,000 Mainers fought for the Union, so now I am wondering if the guv is confused about (1) the difference between Union and Confederacy and (2) where the comma goes in a big number. I mean, come on: as the Bangor Daily News article avers, during the Civil War, no one was more staunchly Unionist than Maine. And while about 30 Mainers are on record as fighting for the Confederacy, most of them were college students, so it's not clear if they were even from the state.

I am so tired of "I want it to be true; therefore, it is true" politics. And in this case, I'm also appalled that our governor is impugning the history of his own state. The vast majority of Mainers were not treasonous. Those who fought did so because they wanted to preserve the nation, not break it apart.

In western Pennsylvania, the KKK burnt crosses to terrify my Polish immigrant ancestors. In central New Jersey, my Dutch and Quaker forebears owned slaves. My family history is not either-or. It's both-and. I am all for facing up to history, and to our faults and errors in grappling with it. I believe we carry the weight of our family's past, as well as of our larger social, political, and cultural pasts. I believe we need to admit to the evil therein. But in the case of "7,600 Mainers fought for the Conderacy," LePage is inventing a treachery that did not exist. If I were the descendant of a Maine Civil War veteran, I would be livid.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A small glimpse into the history of fake news . . .

Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor, has put his signature first on all the articles against Wolsey. They say one strange allegation has been added at his behest. The cardinal is accused of whispering in the king's ear and breathing into his face; since the cardinal has the French pox, he intended to infect our monarch.

When [Cromwell] hears this he thinks, imagine living inside the Lord Chancellor's head. Imagine writing down such a charge and taking it to the printer, and circulating it through the court and through the realm, putting it out there to where people will believe anything; putting it out there, to the shepherds on the hills, to Tyndale's plowboy, to the beggar on the roads and the patient beast in its byre or stall; out there to the bitter winter winds, and to the weak early sun, and the snowdrops in the London gardens.

[from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall]

Monday, August 21, 2017

My recommendation is: if you want to meet new people, smear yourself with dirt, put on your ugliest hat, and arrange yourself in an upside-down weeding position in the front yard. Neighbors immediately appear.

But as I suspected, everyone is relieved to see someone tackling the local weed-pit. They all showed up smiling.

This morning I'll be back to work in the doll-house: mostly editing but also doing some Frost Place planning. In the afternoon I hope to celebrate the eclipse by being upside down in the garden bed again.

Tom has made no more shocking house discoveries, unless you count a myriad of terrible electrical connections. He has, however, unearthed a potentially beautiful fir floor beneath the hideous kitchen tiles. Given the number of screw holes in the floor, he may not be able rescue it, but we're hoping.

Have I remembered to tell you that the house is on Concord Street? The address makes me feel very transcendental.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yesterday Tom hauled a thousand pounds of old kitchen to the dump. Among other less-than-excellent discoveries, he noted that there appears to be zero insulation in our house's exterior walls. Zero. Not even a snuff bottle or an old newspaper. I guess I will be wearing many sweaters this winter.

But our spirits are still mostly high. We walked from the house to downtown for lunch, and it only took us about half an hour to get there. The neighborhood is pleasantly not filled with tourists, which makes a nice change from the beauty spot we currently inhabit. I managed to assemble two compost bins and a wheelbarrow without asking Tom for any help, and cutting myself only slightly in the process. We drove out to our storage basement and liberated garden tools, a chainsaw, a come-along, a small table, and two chairs from storage. So now we can yank out shrubbery and afterward sit down and rest.

I haven't met any neighbors yet, but I hope that happens soon. I hope they like me. I hope I can finally start razing a flower garden this morning.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thank you--you know who you are--for your little notes of affection about the new house. Everything went perfectly at the closing, despite my irrational fears about having brought along the wrong amount of money, and 45 minutes after closing Tom was tearing out the old kitchen.

I did not do any gardening as it was pouring rain all day. But I did buy a wheelbarrow and work gloves. And I spent several hours wandering from room to room, trying to imagine new paint colors, re-sanded floors . . . actually, mostly not even thinking about those sensible things but simply looking out the windows and existing in the space. The neighbors have beautiful gardens: our yard is the local eyesore. There is a daunting amount of work to do, and I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning filled with worry. That's just night fears; in daylight I know I can manage it.

And yesterday I felt so peaceful listening to Tom tear out cabinets. I looked at the street in the rain. I went upstairs and stood in my tiny future study and wondered what books my eyes will light on as I lift my eyes from my writing. I leaned in the doorway of our bedroom and pictured how the morning shadows will fall on the bed. I went downstairs and stood in the big empty dining room and imagined a table set for a party and the scent of fresh bread lingering in the hallway.

Today, if things dry out a bit, I hope to begin work in the front flowerbed, which is a mess of weeds and jerusalem artichokes run rampant and baby maples trying to gain a foothold. With luck I may be planting bulbs in a few weeks.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Yesterday I received a message from a young woman I have known since her infancy--a smart, lovable, loving girl who has dealt with a fair amount of adversity but somehow has managed to rise above it and to thrive. She graduated from a central Maine high school last spring and will be attending a state university this fall. And she is heartsick about the events in Charlottesville and beyond. Her letter to me was essentially "What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?" She told me she was reading books, talking to people, trying to find her footing. But would any of that matter?

My first reaction on reading this note was to feel an overwhelming sense of humility and panic that this young woman would see me as any kind of resource in this moment of crisis. What can I, a middle-aged white woman, say to her? I share her privilege of skin color and birthright citizenship; I speak an educated East Coast vernacular and live in a cocoon of books and dreams. But of course, as you mothers and fathers and teachers know, being the grown up in the room means you have to step up and figure out how to help that young person in need.

Anyway, this is what I wrote back to her. If I should say more, please offer me some advice, and I will pass along your thoughts to her.
I think starting with books is a good idea. Learn all you can about the history of slavery in this country, the history of the civil rights movement, and so on. For instance, so many of these Confederate statues that Trump loves were put up in the 1950s as a backlash response to civil rights activities. So they aren't old Civil War-era pieces; they're direct in-your-face confrontations to freedom-seekers, and that's not history that most of us know. When you get to college, make a point of joining Black Lives Matter discussions; show by your presence that you're an ally. Volunteer with new-immigrant support groups. . . . The biggest thing is that you care, that you know our nation is in a dreadful spot, that you recognize how vital it is that we, as white people, do everything we can to stand up for the people who have not shared our easy privilege of skin color. I love you . . . because you are crying about this and because you are so brave.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Last night I had a beautiful little dinner party with two women writers--people I've known casually for years but am now getting to know better as both writers and friends. I am relieved to feel my homesickness lifting, to be relaxing into some semblance of a social life, to be looking forward rather than backward.

During the evening, my son sent me a note from California, telling me that the first thing he did after arriving in Los Angeles was to accompany his girlfriend's family to a plant nursery to buy a mandarin orange tree for their backyard. This struck my northwoods boy as hilarious.

Here in Portland, outside my bedroom window, a tow-truck driver is chaining up a wounded red minivan. A chilly breeze sifts through the doll-house, though the temperature is forecast to reach 80 later. I have a day of editing and errands before me. But I am doing none of those things yet, only staring dreamily out at the boats moored on the placid bay, only listening to the tow-truck driver crank the minivan onto his flatbed, only smelling the remnants of toast and coffee, only thinking of disconnected words.

Tomorrow we will close on our new house and life will take a turn.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

At 3:30 a.m. I got up to drive the boy to the airport; and though I tried to go back to sleep afterward, I was not very successful. I expect nap time will be arriving early today, yet for the moment I feel fine. I wonder why. I suppose it's because I haven't started to think about Trump yet.

Somewhere, in the distance, fire engines are blaring. The island freight barge is beeping down at the landing. Three big mutts are rolling around in the dry grass. A corgi, who imagines she is running, is huffing slowly up a steep hill.

I'd like to say something encouraging here: like, "Maybe it's a good thing our so-called president has finally come out into the open and admitted that he's a white supremacist. Now everyone knows for sure." Or "Maybe the Republicans will finally board that impeachment train now." But who the hell knows what's going to happen next? What's clear is that we are in the jaws of evil.

So I'll give you this small prayer, from Maurice Manning's Bucolics. If you don't know this collection of poems addressed to God (whom Manning calls "Boss"), you should. They feel a bit like reading a modern George Herbert. Whatever you think about organized religion, something to hold is more comfort than nothing.
Boss every morning is a morning
do you ever think about that
everything that stays the same
like rain like grass like you
you're always Boss boss
of the morning boss of my whistle
O boss of my little song

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The fog is lifting and I am feeling mournful. Perhaps it's the effect of the boat horns, those lonely calls through the mist, or perhaps it's merely August: the burnt grass, the weary foliage. I have not been writing much lately. Perhaps the distractions of the nation have undone me, and I should fight harder against them. Or perhaps I am in an August state of mind.

In any case, I am still reading--constantly, perpetually, obsessively, as I always have and likely always will. Presently I am finishing Muriel Spark's The Takeover, and copying out Coriolanus, and dipping into poetry collections by Nikky Finney and Maurice Manning. Something, at some point, will trigger me to write. I try to be patient.

Tomorrow the boy heads off for two weeks on the west coast. On Friday we buy a house. This morning I compose a note to you and wonder what I can say that will make you feel that reading it is worthwhile. I imagine spreading trivialities like margarine, as if they are facsimiles of a richer life. There are days when all art gives me the sensation of falsehood. There are days when I write simply by habit, because it's what my hands tell me to do.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sorry for the late post this morning. It's been one of those days when everything seems to connive at slowness and distraction . . . sticky floors, no bread, no coffee, laundry piling up. It's amazing what happens when I vanish for less than 24 hours and leave two guys to rule the roost. It's also amazing how many groceries a 19-year-old can consume, after having just spent the summer canoeing 900 miles in the Canadian wilderness. Every day we are out of everything.

But do not think I am complaining. It is a joy to be in Boy Land again.

Our gig in Monson went well--though, thanks to the gale-force winds off the lake, I came very close to having more than one Marilyn Monroe/white dress moment. It's hard to hold down a skirt when both hands are busy with a violin.

Today I'm back to editing, and back to driving the boy around, and back to living with existential dread. The dread did lift a bit yesterday, when I looked out into that crowd of central Mainers, with their hats and their beers and their work boots, as they sang along to "The Weight." I had a flicker of hope.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Later this morning I'll be heading two and a half hours north for an afternoon band gig at the Lakeshore House in Monson. After the show I'll drive back to Portland. It will be a long hot day, and I'm tired just thinking about it.

Already, the air is heavy, and the day's heat is flexing behind the morning's mist. I am sick at heart from yesterday's news, but trying, as I imagine you are, to trudge along. I suppose spending an afternoon playing music is not the worst thing I could be doing.

The man who drove the car into the crowd at Charlottesville was born in the same year as my own younger son. For some reason this distresses me, though it is nothing but coincidence. Yet I can't stop imaging that man as a child. And someone fed that child the poisons that spurred him to hatred.
And who’s this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That’s tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers’ little boy! 
--from Wislawa Szymborska, "Hitler's First Photograph"

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Last night a small rain fell in Portland, Maine.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Nazis marched by torchlight. At a golf club in New Jersey, an idiot played at destroying the world.

America, America. You break our hearts.

Friday, August 11, 2017

This morning, our Canadian traveler-boy returns home after an overnight bus ride from Toronto. I daresay he will look like Grizzly Adams when he gets off that bus--giant beard, big hair, tanned like a boot, and wild-eyed after a sleepless night.

Given his three months in the wilderness, he may not know that we're on the verge of nuclear war. And here all I thought I would have to do is to catch him up on baseball trades.

Well, anyway. Here we are. Every single thing we dreaded about a Trump presidency seems liable to come true. Will we saved by his stupidity or destroyed by his narcissism?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

We went to visit the house yesterday so that Tom could take measurements of all of the rooms, doors, windows, and the like. In the meantime I wandered around the yard and ambled up and down the neighborhood streets. I have so much grunt work ahead of me: years' worth of weeds, a couple of horrible prickly bushes to delete, choices about badly placed perennials (do they stay or do they go?), and finally planning new beds, new walkways, new patio space, new soil, new plants. The job will take years.

But yesterday Tom scored some free high-quality decking, left over from a renovation project he's doing--enough to repair both the front and back stoops. And I have been researching city compost projects, home compost bins, rain barrels, and such things, plus reading garden book after garden book. Though I have gardened for most of my life, I've never had to start from scratch like this--not to mention that dealing with 40 acres is a different thing entirely from dealing with a city plot. As city yards go, we've got a fair amount of room, certainly more than some of the neighboring houses have. But no one has ever loved it before, and that's what I need to learn to do.

In other news, no one has started a nuclear war yet.

* * *

I am slowly--excruciatingly slowly--continuing with my Coriolanus copying project. Part of the issue is that my Shakespeare omnibus is too big for my copying stand, so I have to crane and contort just to see the pages I'm trying to transcribe. But already I recognize that the politics of the play are unpleasantly resonant with our present-day situation. Shakespeare had the all-seeing eye.

* * *

Brutus. Mark’d you his lip and eyes?

Sicinius.                                                Nay, but his taunts.

Bru. Being mov’d, he will not spare to gird the gods.

Sic. Bemock the modest moon.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Except for the existential terrors of Trump and North Korea, things are going reasonably well in my life. We got news from the bank that our loan has been cleared and that they are scheduling the closing for August 18. Both Tom and I were amazed at how smoothly this all went. We had the hardest time even getting pre-qualified during our first attempt at home buying last fall. Yet this time we sailed through without any bank trouble at all. It's puzzling, but we're not complaining.

A lunchtime we are meeting at the house so that Tom can measure everything for building-permit purposes, and I am going to wander around the yard and consider landscaping issues. By next weekend, I could be making flowerbeds.

On the other hand, we may be immersed in nuclear winter, and all will be moot.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

After last night's reading, Tom and I meandered home along the water. The silhouetted ferry rumbled across the bay to Peaks Island. Televisions flickered behind half-curtained windows. The full moon hid among the silvered clouds. In the bandstand, a dozen young men were blasting Middle Eastern hip-hop, and they were laughing, and they were slowly, occasionally, breaking into a raised-arm, high-stepping dance . . . until the cop showed up and made them be quiet.

And now, this morning, a fragile grey rain percolates into my thirsty garden boxes, washes among the feather-leaves of the honeylocust outside my bedroom window. I am feeling elegiac, for no particular reason. My boys have been on my mind . . . each thriving in his own busy, absorbing world, yet both of them, this weekend, telephoning me from their far places, bubbling into my ear, telling jokes and sharing wonders. Meanwhile, in daily life I have returned to the old days--of being one of two, not one of four. It is such a peculiar change. I'm older and fatter and greyer now, but in some ways this stage of life is a reprise of being 22 years old and deciding to move in with a guy I really like and, gee, I hope it works out. A love nest, an argument nest, a perpetual date night--such close attention to each other after two decades of parental tag-teaming. It's alarming but often very, very sweet.

Anyway, today the rain is falling, Tom is off to build cabinets in the wood shop, Ruckus is clawing the new shower curtain, and I am gazing across the bay at moored sailboats and mist and distant houses among the island trees. We've just gotten word that the house sellers would like to close as soon as possible, so perhaps we'll be homeowners even earlier than we thought we would. That's fine; good, even. We're ready to start this new project of constructing a home for a family of two.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday, Monday, Monday.

The cars bustle, the dump trucks gasp, the joggers slap their shoes bap bap bap on the pavement, the dogs-n-owners rush and lollygag. The adjunct English teacher hikes up the sidewalk in his plaid shorts and Birkenstocks, glaring askance at the motorcycle guy in the well-ironed pink shirt who is joyously revving his engine. According to today's newspaper, one of the world's largest yachts is moored in the bay this morning. It is owned by a Russian oligarch, of course. The cat informs me that he would like to grow up be a Russian oligarch.

Today: more editing, more Coriolanus, and prep for tonight's reading; a long walk, more garden-design study, and something or other for dinner. I'm hoping to hear from my younger son, who should be getting back to his Temagami base camp today. In eleven days we will close on a new house, and nothing else has gone wrong, as far as we can tell. I am itching to start tearing out weeds. In twelve days I will once again be the kind of woman who owns a wheelbarrow and a compost pile.
Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be
willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushrooms, damson, salt
marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue
sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, frog's eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night. 
--from Nikky Finney's "Cattails"

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The fog has lifted, the rain has swept out to sea, and Sunday is dawning blue and gold. I am sitting at a grey kitchen table and wearing a red bathrobe and drinking black coffee from a white cup. On the table beside me are two books: Kenneth Roberts's Rabble in Arms and Nikky Finney's Head Off & Split. Outside the window, an invisible cardinal is singing, singing, singing.

I am feeling so strange right now, at least as regards my unpublished poetry manuscripts. One collection has just finaled for a national contest. The other is under serious consideration at two major publishing houses. Nothing may result; nothing probably will result. Yet I have never been in this position before. It bears some resemblance to an out-of-body experience, and I'm sorry if talking about it with you sounds like crowing. Of course I'm happy, but I'm also non plussed.

Tomorrow evening I'll be reading at the Word Portland series at LFK Bar in downtown Portland. The reading starts at 9, which is when I usually go to bed, and maybe you do too. But if you happen to be awake, you could come down and enjoy an audience full of irrepressible young people. They have charm.

Today I suppose I will do the regular things: housework, laundry, afternoon baseball. If, by chance, the neighbors catch sight of me lugging a basket of sheets up and down the stairs, they will never guess that I have a secret life.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Yesterday I learned that my manuscript Songs about Women and Men is a finalist for the 2017 Autumn House Prize for Poetry. In early September, the contest judge, Alberto Rios, will announce the winner.

Songs about Women and Men was a semi-finalist for the Dorset Prize earlier this year, so I am relieved, overexcited, slightly hysterical to learn that it's crossed the line into final running for another prize. As you know, I haven't submitted to many contests over the course of my career . . . mostly because of the expense but also because I miraculously managed to place all of my earlier manuscripts with non-contest-running publishers. Those days are clearly over, however, so I've had to jump into the horrifying sea.

I dislike the contest and submission-fee models, yet like other poets I cannot avoid the fact that they dominate our publishing opportunities. If I don't enter them, I have little chance of placing a book with a national press. What's made this truth less horrifying is you. When I have been underemployed, transient, depressed, overwhelmed by son emergencies, etcetera, etcetera, your donations to this blog have helped me husband a small fund for promoting my work. Without it, I would undoubtedly have continued to talk myself out of participating.

So thank you. To say that I am grateful is an understatement.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Sorry I missed you yesterday. I didn't get back from my up-north visit till close to noon, and then had to rush out for a haircut, and then had to rush back to deal with the return of the window-fixer guy. And, by then, it was time to make dinner. Strange how a day full of nothing can seem so crowded.

It's been hot in Maine. In Wellington, we sat around in chairs outside a fading bonfire and wondered if Steve was going to have to shoot the porcupine that was ravaging the raspberries. (He didn't.) In Harmony, we drank coffee in the front yard and Sue told me that the girlfriend of the guy who bought our house is expecting a baby. So that made me happy. Another generation of babies will live on my dear land.

Back here in Portland, a sea breeze is floating in sweetly through the window that the window-fixer guy can't quite seem to fix. Tom is eating huevos rancheros and reading the New Yorker, and Ruckus is tunneling under a throw rug. I am drinking coffee and thinking about poems and friendship. In some ways leaving Harmony has cemented my devotion to the people I left behind. We are so glad to see each other. They tell me how much they love me, and I tell them how much I love them. When we lived around each other all the time, we didn't have to do such things. But now the intersections have become precious.

So today I will edit a Juniper Prize poetry collection, and phone my mother, and copy out some Shakespeare, and do some laundry, and go grocery shopping, and take a long walk, and afterward I will pack a picnic dinner that Tom and I will eat while watching a performance of Chekhov's The Three Sisters in the park. I'm thinking of making spring rolls with shrimp and greens and vermicelli and basil. I'm thinking of drinking a thermos of tea and watching the night roll in over the treetops. I'm thinking I should never complain about anything again.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

It was a romantic baseball evening. I saw Kevin Youkilis throw out the first pitch, watched Henry Owens pitch horribly, enjoyed the chatter of the three strangers sitting behind me (little Eddie and his grandparents were having a fine time together), speculated on the workplace frustrations of Slugger the Mascot, spent nine innings cuddled against my sweetheart on a truly wretched aluminum bench, and then listened to Red Sox wackiness on the radio as we circled through nighttime-construction detours and tried to find our way home.

This afternoon I head north for band practice, and I am already bracing for terrible weather. Thunderstorms are forecast, and no doubt, as is my wont, I will hit every one of them. But c'est la vie of the faraway band member. Neither wind nor snow nor dark of night . . . Ugh.

There are a couple of openings left in my Kittery poetry workshop, upcoming this Saturday, so southern Maine/seacoast New Hampshire/north-shore Massachusetts friends: please consider joining us. And by the way, next Monday, August 7, I'm reading in the Word Portland series: 9 p.m. at LFK Bar here in the city. I should have some kind of event poster to link to before long.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I've started a new copying project: a transcription of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Coriolanus. Copying Paradise Lost and The Prelude (among many other shorter pieces) has certainly been good practice, but an entire Shakespeare play will be a massive undertaking, and I hope I can persevere.

This week, I'm back on the Juniper Prize editing train: tackling a second book of short stories, with two poetry collections waiting in the wings. I'm scheduled to teach a poetry workshop in Kittery on Saturday but haven't yet heard if there are enough participants to make it run. Tomorrow afternoon I head north for band practice. Tonight Tom and I are going to a Sea Dogs game. Coriolanus will get a slow start, but at least I've been able to enjoy the opening stage direction:
Enter a company of mutinous citizens with staves, clubs, and other weapons.
Metaphorize and extrapolate as you see fit.