Monday, July 29, 2019

We spent yesterday in Harpswell, hiking along the watery finger known as Long Reach--a fine New England monicker, rough, plain, metaphorical, and exact. It was an outdoorsy weekend, and will meld into an outdoorsy week as I prep for my two nights spent camping with high school writers. The weather will be hot, and the writing activities will involve a couple of ideas I adapted from presentations at this year's Frost Place conference (letter writing, landscape terminology) combined with dictation (from a book about the Inuit whale hunt), choral reading (Lucille Clifton's "blessing the boats"), and numerous interrelated writing prompts. Wish me luck; I'm excited to see how it all works out.

Today Vox Populi is featuring my poem "Epithalamion for Grendel"--a love poem for a monster and his homeland, and the first decent pantoum I've ever written. It's a suitable poem for the opening day of an environmental writing seminar.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

We spent yesterday afternoon wandering among salt flats, through mosquito woods, and then, late-day, kicking our bare feet in the surf of a broad sand beach, stopping at a clam shack for dinner, and coming home at dusk to pull out the bean plants and water the garden and watch Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton bait each other in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That's a movie I do not need to see again. The rest of the day was good, though.

Today I think we're going to take another seaside outing, this time driving north.

High summer in Maine.

Today is our older son's 25th birthday. I wish he were here, but he's halfway across the country riding his bike or working on his video project or dogsbodying for some TV film crew or feeding his cat or catching a train with his beloved. I wish him all happiness. I love him so much.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Unfortunately a snafu arose, and we are not heading to the homeland this weekend. We're both disappointed, but oh well. We will eat the plum cobbler here, and we will find something else to do--maybe an island visit, maybe go to the movies, something.

Yesterday I started reading Margaret Drabble's The Seven Sisters, received two big rejections, listened to the Red Sox thump the Yankees, and made some excellent pork chops (marinated for several hours in lime juice and salt; then pan-braised and served with cold black pepper rice, fresh guacamole, and a big summer salad). I went to a yoga class and did many planks. I started copyediting a historian's ex-dissertation, and I sent a few poems to a journal. I folded towels. I talked on the phone with my son and played cribbage with Tom. I drank one beer and innumerable glasses of ice tea. I picked three cucumbers and slept through a Star Trek episode.

[The Sassy Woodchuck seems to have gone on vacation to someone else's garden; only insects have been eating my plants lately.]

I let the cat out and in and out and in and out and in. I hummed Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," which has been stuck in my head for a week. I worked on a crossword puzzle and flipped through a poetry journal and finished reading Emma for the millionth time. I worried about being fat, and then forgot to worry about being fat. I bought gas for the car, and I whacked some weeds, and I got hot and sweaty. I changed my clothes. I texted my sister. I listened to the lonely whistle of a freight train.

I was the object of affection. I was the person who cleans up cat puke. I filled out college financial aid forms, and I threw away dead flowers. I washed the coffee pot and I opened the windows and I reluctantly put on a bra. I chanted the last stanza of a poem draft and arrived at no final decisions about cadence. I made an appointment to get my car inspected. I ate tortilla chips and said farewell to my neighbor, who has a cat named Atlas and is moving to Scarborough.

I felt old. I threw away a wad of junk mail. I scrubbed the stove and coughed and blew my nose. I felt childish.

I looked forward to going away for the weekend and fretted about leaving the cat. I invented a fake club (Ridiculously-Loud-Vehicle Club for Bros Who Don't Need Pickups Because They Work in Offices and Go to School Part Time to Get Their Degree in Communications but They Have Them Anyway Because Noise Is So Fun!). I thought about Dante.

I went to bed in a hot room. I fell asleep in front of the fan. I dreamed about mysterious elderly couples gathering together in a VFW parking lot among Buicks and potholes. I woke up. I was still me.

Friday, July 26, 2019

We spent last night at the ballpark, a favorite summer-night date. It's one of the good things about where we live: that we can amble there and back from our own house. The walk home through the dusky streets and neighborhoods is as pleasant as the game.

Today, editing and yoga and house-and-garden stuff, and then tomorrow we head north, back to the homeland for a visit, and then next week I'll be camping and writing with high schoolers for a couple of days. So you may not hear from me regularly until midweek.

That poem I've been working on/dreaming about is shaping into something I like. And I've been thinking hard about Austen's Emma as well. Emma is not my preferred heroine: she's too bossy and self-congratulatory, though of course that's her author's point. But the side characters and setting may be among my favorites in all of literature. The descriptions of Highbury street life; the renderings of Miss Bates's chatter; dopy sweet Mr. Woodhouse . . . it's a clinic in comedy, but also in negative capability--a writer's ability to stand outside herself and become entirely what she sees.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

I spent yesterday morning working on a sloppy, unfocused poem draft that I somehow managed to pull into coherence in a way that surprised me. It was a satisfying morning's work, followed by an afternoon of canning, and then a long walk through the neighborhood woods and into the cemetery.

Today I have to go back to editing, but it feels good to have that poem waiting for me in its new dress.

And the garden is singing its high-summer song. I picked the first okra last night, sliced them up, and fried them in cornmeal. Peppers and eggplant and cucumbers are fattening. Cherry tomatoes are gilding. The sunflowers are opening; dahlias are bright.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

After yesterday's rain blessing, every plant has taken a deep breath. Now, in the dim cool of the morning, a mockingbird trills, warbles, squeaks, twitters. Lyric pours from her like water over stone.

I spent yesterday prepping for the seminar I'll be teaching next week, but today I'll mostly be writing and reading and gardening and, in the afternoon, canning a batch of dill beans. I woke up very early today, with the physical sense that my current poem draft was rattling around in my skull. No problems were being solved: just a crackle of image and structure, as if the poem were a bird in a birdcage.

Now I'm drinking black coffee from a white cup and listening to the distant hiss of the highway, the pedestrian chatter of sparrows, the cat picking obnoxiously at the screen door, a city bus sighing to a stop at the corner, the jingle of a dog leash, a car door closing, the murmur of the dehumidifier in the basement--and now here comes the mockingbird again, splashing her song into the lazy air, jaunty and irrepressible.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Yesterday my friend Thomas Rayfiel--a novelist whose work I deeply admire (read In Pinelight! it's so good!), and whose comradeship both heartens and sustains me, sent me a note about Chestnut Ridge. I hope he doesn't mind that I quote him here. His comments make me happy, of course, and very relieved; but even more they make me feel so fortunate to have a reader who zeroed in on a few things I was trying hard to do.
I spent a few nights reading it, unable to sleep, transporting myself to turn-of-the-century Pennsylvania, and forward, and back. I know you have a lot of trouble with the word "regional" but in this case you wear it like a badge of honor. Just a little patch of land on which you perform archeology and memory. I was reminded of one of my favorite books growing up, Richard Howard's Untitled Subjects. What he did for Victorian England you did for a place whizzed by on the Interstate. They should name a Rest Stop after you. I particularly liked [the poem] "Husbands" and, its precursor in a way, "Missionaries." I feel men get short shrift in sympathetic imaginings, these days (I know, I know, there's a lot of inequity to be made up for) and I was moved at your expending the emotional energy to understand aspects of testosterone-based drive and despair.
As the mother of sons, as the reader of Great Books, I've spent most of my life intensely watching men. On good days I tell myself this is a feminist practice. On bad days I wonder what's wrong with me. But to have someone feel grateful for that is a new feeling.

Anyway, thank you, Tom. I'd rather have this note than a book review any day. Which is a good thing since there aren't any book reviews.

* * *

In other news: it looks like I'll be giving an inaugural reading of Chestnut Ridge in Portland, at Longfellow Books, on August 29. I'll keep you posted with more information as things get ironed out. And I could read in your town too--how can we figure that out?

Monday, July 22, 2019

We tried to bypass yesterday's Hot by slowly wandering through the art museum, slowly wandering through a used-furniture store, slowly sipping a beer and slowly watching the Red Sox slowly almost get no-hit by the Orioles. It's amazing how much nothing one can accrue in an afternoon.

I guess the heat is supposed to moderate today, but this morning feels just as torrid as the last two were. I'm still fighting a summer cold, so I'm not exactly sure where heat lethargy ends and illness lethargy begins, but I hope I'll figure out some way to get something done. Next week I've got a two-day teaching gig with high schoolers, and I need to prep for it today. I've got editing to look at. And of course I did next to nothing in the house or garden all weekend, so that's waiting for me too.

I do hope it really will rain tonight. I've been watering morning and night, but the garden is exhausted from the heat, and a good downpour would soothe us all. Cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen; okra is beginning to set; peppers are swelling. Second-crop greens are sprouting and the Sassy Groundhog has not yet completely destroyed the brussels sprouts.

I'm reading Emma and the Inferno. I'm drinking ice tea like it's a drug. I'm changing my clothes three times a day. My hair is a wild mess of curls. All the paperback covers are curling up into cannoli, the playing cards are gummed together, and the toaster belches heat like it's a portal to hell.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

When you live in a house without air conditioning, then indolence is part of the schedule. Yesterday I got up early, did laundry, watered the garden, and then, as the heat settled in, I sat on the couch in front of the fan and worked on a poem and read Pride and Prejudice. This is a book I have read a thousand times, and only now has it occurred to me that Mr. Darcy's pride, superciliousness, etc., are simply the carapace of a very shy man. Being married to a shy man myself, you'd think I'd have identified the symptoms earlier.

After some couch sitting, Tom and I drove into town and spent the afternoon at the bowling alley, where I bowled two games with scores under 100 and one game with a score of 168. I had four strikes in a row! I wish I knew what the hell I was doing and could repeat it. But I am the queen of erratic. After bowling we went looking for more air conditioning and ended up in a coffee shop drinking ice tea and playing cribbage. Then we ventured back into our hot little house, I did some more garden watering, and eventually we took a cab back into town for our dinner-date at Piccolo. It was the first time we'd been there, and it serves excellent central Italian food: extremely fresh ingredients, mild bright flavors, a summer delight all around. Afterward we took a long slow walk home in the cool of the evening, along sultry Back Cove, under the scent of the linden trees, as excitable teenagers shot off fireworks along the shore.

Today we'll have more Hot to deal with. In a few minutes I'll go outside and do the morning watering, and before long I'll have drag myself to the grocery store and solve the conundrum of dinner. We might go to the art museum later. We might go play pool at Ernie's Bar around the corner. Actual useful work can wait for a break in the weather.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Try a Little Tenderness

And today Maine steps into the oven. Here on the northern coast we'll reach 90 today and tomorrow, which is probably not as terrible as where you are, but is terrible enough.

It's my 28th wedding anniversary today. Long ago, in 1991, Tom and I were married on a torrid morning in the Saylesville Friends Meeting House in Rhode Island, and then had a small reception in my parents' front yard. Our entire wedding cost $1,000, which even then was dirt cheap. We were 26 years old-- friends since we were 19, partners since we were 21.

My older son turns 25 next week, so these ages all seem especially tearful to me now.

But today, here we are, still together, in sultry Portland, Maine, in a small hot shabby-sweet midcentury house, peering toward the American dream of what? I'm sprawled out now on two chairs in the gravel-weed side yard, trying to soak in the only possible cool of this coming day, wondering what dreams even mean. That sounds grumpy and pessimistic but isn't meant to be. What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that dreaming turns out to be secondary; the what is finds you and there you are. And if you're fortunate, and I don't know why I have been, the what is has become a habit of care and companionable elbowing, comic talking about the cat, happy-sadness about small beauties; and it all seems to get more precious and poignant as breasts sag and memory spools.

I've been working on a poem-letter to Otis Redding, and yesterday I listened again and again to my favorite Otis song: the live Monterey Pop Festival version of "Try a Little Tenderness." The lyrics are a thin reflection of the performance, which you should listen to, and cry over, and dance to, and cheer, yet even in their inadequacy they are a lesson in the push-pull of what if and now.
Oh, she may be weary.
Those young girls, they do get weary
Wearing that same old miniskirt dress, yeah, yeah
But when she gets weary
Try a little tenderness

You know she's waiting
Just anticipating
The thing that she’ll never, never, never, never possess, yeah, yeah
But while she's there waiting
Try a little tenderness

Friday, July 19, 2019

You know about my whirlwind manuscript--A Month in Summer--triggered this past spring by a series of mid-nineteenth-century diaries. The central character is a Maine woman, an on-again-off-again schoolteacher, who lives with her brother, a small-time farmer. When she's not at school, she's in the kitchen or the garden or the barn, or mending in the parlor. As I wrote these small poems, I sometimes had the sensation I was sewing a sampler or making buttonholes . . . working in tiny stitches, fixing my eyes to the point of a needle.

I mentioned that sensation to my friend Teresa. And she said, "You ought to collaborate with a needlework artist. I think I know someone." So with much diffidence I sent a note to Donna Sharrett, whose stunning work rises from historical styles (e.g., Victorian antimacassars) while incorporating a variety of materials, such as guitar strings and bits of clothing.

What with one thing and another, Donna and I didn't end up talking until yesterday. But when we did, it was wonderful--like suddenly acquiring a new friend. Her engagement with the past, the way in which she steps into her work, her connections with garden and landscape: everything feels so recognizable and sympathetic, yet mysterious. She's not a representational artist, so anything she makes that connects to this collection will be slant, but already she's thinking about using nineteenth-century collars or cuffs, about sewing words into patterns. In these early stages we can only begin to imagine final results, or how they would be displayed: maybe a gallery exhibit or two. But I'm fizzling with excitement, and think she is too.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Well, we got almost no rain yesterday, just sweat and humidity and general discomfort. It looks like I'll need to start watering my garden in earnest.

My cold is no better this morning, and I'm feeling dumber than usual, but I did manage to work on a revision yesterday and begin drafting a new poem. It's possible they're both garbage, but we'll see. I've been getting stacks of rejections lately, so who knows what's what anyway? One blunders on.

On Saturday the temperature is supposed to reach 95--horrible weather for the north, but perfectly appropriate for my wedding anniversary. On July 20, 1991, I got married on Rhode Island's hottest day on record. Maybe that record's since been broken, but the memories remain keen. Tom and I plan to celebrate by spending the afternoon at an air-conditioned bowling alley. We should have gotten married in one.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

I guess it's going to be one of those rainy-not-rainy-thunderstormy-not-thunderstormy-sticky-hair-curling-same-temperature-all-day kind of days. So I will pick beans early, and will not hang towels on the line, and will prepare to spring around the house opening and closing windows  on an emergency basis.

Unfortunately I seem to have caught a summer cold, and unfortunately it's mostly a sore throat, which will take some of the fun out of having a day off from editing. I was hoping to do some writing today, along with some teaching prep and maybe--ugh--book promotion stuff. But it's difficult to be creative with a sore throat. Maybe it will go away quickly and I will suddenly leap into poet action.

In groundhog news: a sighting yesterday, but nothing eaten. In sunflower news: first blooms are opening. In kitchen news: peach cobbler. In Inferno news: I've reached the heretic circle of hell.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sorry I didn't write yesterday. I had a first-thing-in-the-morning meeting with my friend Ian, who directs the Kauffmann Summer Writing Seminar where I'll be teaching in a couple of weeks. (This will be my third year as co-director of this camping/writing trip for high schoolers, though all I do is show up and throw around prompts, while Ian manages the camping, transportation, food, administration, etc. This year I'm excited to borrow/muck around with some notions I learned at the Frost Place (involving letter writing and Barry Lopez's environmental encyclopedia Home Ground) as openings into human engagement with place. I'll let you know how my experiments work.)

And then I came home and worked on the schedule for another future workshop, filled out a form for a third, mulled over emails about a fourth. . . . Maybe-teaching-someday sure takes up a lot of time.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A hot night, and a hot morning, but somehow I did manage to get some sleep last night and am now feeling somewhat less like a double-exposed photograph. So far, so good with the Sassy Groundhog war; that horrible coyote urine seems to be daunting her, and she hasn't eaten anything for the past few days. Now the cucumber is setting fruit, I've picked a few cherry tomatoes, and we ate our first artichoke last night, along with a green bean and rice salad, grilled flank steak, and homemade watermelon granita that was completely delightful. Next year maybe I'll try growing a melon myself.

On a walk the other day, I cadged a book from a free pile--Frances Prose's Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. I've read Prose's essays before but not her fiction, and thus far this one is not bad. It's a good hot-summer-day read, in any case--a nice balance for the Inferno, which I'm still copying out and which is not at all suitable for torrid weather.

I revised two of the drafts I wrote at the Frost Place and sent them out to see what other folks might think. So I'm beginning to step back in to writing, but slowly, as I don't want to distract myself from everything else I need to get done. That's pretty much where I am with poetry right now: I have to keep it under control because otherwise I'll do nothing else but write books. It's a logorrhea problem, maybe.

FYI, Chestnut Ridge is available for purchase, and I am slowly trying to set up readings, etc. I do have a couple of workshops forthcoming--a weekend retreat in midcoast Maine, probably in November, and a revision session in Dover, New Hampshire, next March. I may have a teaching gig in Florida duing the winter, and I'm trying to figure out something for NYC/Jersey City, and I've got steady dates for Monson Arts all through the school year. In other words, obligations are starting to crowd, so now's the time to snag me if you've got ideas.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Okay, I'm beginning to figure out what's wrong with me. It's post-partum book depression, which has sacked me every single time I've published a book so I don't know why I forgot to expect it this time. The pattern is always the same: I publish a book and then become frozen and glum and can't figure out how to promote it in any way, and I start having anxious dreams and every rejection letter feels like a bull moose falling out of an airplane and the last thing I want to do is talk to anyone about anything. I suppose this is why real writers have marketing agents.

I do feel slightly better now that I know what's going on. It's bound to run its course; it always has.

Though of course there's an obvious question: why do I want to publish books if publishing books makes me miserable?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Pounding rain all night, plus broken sleep, plus disturbing dreams about my children = I am not feeling very angel-in-the-house this morning. I usually enjoy a lulling overnight rainstorm, but last night's made me anxious, for no good reason, since my logical brain was pleased to have the garden watered. And disturbing dreams about one's children are no good under any circumstances.

Anyway, it's daylight, finally. And I managed to drag the trash/recycling/compost to the curb between downpours. And I made coffee, and let the ravening cat out. And there's no sign of the Sassy Groundhog.

Last night I made an excellent white chili: poblano and red peppers, fried cumin, cayenne, white beans, a handful of leftover rice, chicken, vidalia onion, fresh corn, topped with guacamole, marigold petals, and cilantro not eaten by a groundhog. So those are the leftovers I plan to have for breakfast, and then I'll go to a yoga class, and then I'll work on a manuscript review, and the day will be busy and fine and I'll forget that in my dreams I lost my son and couldn't find him anywhere.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Yesterday was one of those days when everything I do seems to be proof of my fecklessness. Some days all I do is stumble into door frames and kick table legs, literally and metaphorically. However, I did drive to Paris Farmers Union without getting into an accident and did purchase a bottle of coyote urine, which is something that perhaps you have never done. Apparently groundhogs and other vegetable snackers do not like coyote urine. I know I don't, but we'll see about Sassy.

I managed to move a stack of editing off my desk, so today I'll be reading poem manuscripts and maybe even thinking about my own. Weirdly the temperature is supposed to stay in the 60s, after giving us nothing but high heat for weeks, and I am looking forward to making something for dinner that isn't a cold salad. I may also be getting ready to can: that bean crop is ominously large . . . unless the Sassy Groundhog takes a notion to harvest first.

But what I really need to do is buy a new laptop. Mine is ancient--a 2008!--and is doddery and difficult, and too old for updates, and incites email confusions and misdirections. How I long for a nice little rosewood lap desk, such as Charlotte Bronte describes (but please no drug-addled brother, dying sisters, poisonous graveyard, or beastly book reviewers).

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Have I mentioned my groundhog war?

According to my neighbor, the groundhog has been living under her shed for several years. She's seen it often in the summer, browsing among her perennials but never doing much harm. And last year I saw it too--scuttling here and there among the weeds in my backyard, apparently content to munch on dandelions and plantain and ignore anything better around the corner.

All that changed when the fence fell down between the front yard and the back. One fine day, the groundhog bustled through the gap and discovered Lettuce! It had hit the groundhog jackpot.

This week, the sassy groundhog has eaten a head of parsley, half a Brussell sprout plant, a row of lettuce, and a sunflower. Every time I catch sight of it I rush out of the house, shaking my fist like Mr. McGregor in Peter Rabbit and shouting, You durn beast! Scram! But as I have mentioned, the groundhog is sassy, and so far it's been winning.

Yesterday I put up a temporary fence to replace the one that fell down. I spread red pepper flakes up and down the groundhog's customary pathways (the internet says groundhogs dislike spicy food). So far this morning, nothing new seems to have vanished from the vegetable patch. But I don't have long-term hope.

In better news: look at these beans I grew.

P.S. Argh. Looked out the window. Saw groundhog enjoying pleasant breakfast of cilantro. Saw my cat sitting next to him sociably, like a dinner host. "Hi, Sassy Groundhog! Have you tried the arugula yet?"

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

I've found myself slipping into melancholy over the past couple of days. Nothing's wrong (other than climate change, humiliating governance, children in cruel custody): only, I think, I'm aware of myself as small. Small is not a bad feeling; in so many ways it's how I experience wonder in the world . . . the natural world, of course--trees, mountains, ocean, sky--but also the world of books. I think it's why I'm so driven to copy out Dante and Milton, to reread Woolf and Murdoch and Bronte: I crave the sense of being enveloped, overwhelmed, subsumed into something greater than myself.

But small has pettier associations--as in overlooked by peers; as in not winning a prize; as in having few readers--that recall the chafing power of a fickle sixth-grade popular girl: "Today you're my friend!" "Today you're not my friend!" This is the kind of small that your mother stoutly tells you doesn't matter, but that you, standing alone at recess, experience as the cold shoulder of the universe.

It's not possible, really, to shed that self-flagellating loneliness. Probably Bob Dylan still feels awkward, overlooked, forgotten. Probably he worries that his pants make him look fat. Or that deep down inside people love Keith Richard more than they love him. Or that he doesn't know how to talk to his grandchildren the way their grandmother does.

Sometimes I wonder if my life, writing and otherwise, would be better or worse if I were more go-get-em, less shy and flustered. Is my constant sense of humbleness the best or worst coat in the closet?

Monday, July 8, 2019

The humidity has broken, temporarily, and I managed to get a full night's sleep under an actual blanket. Also I removed the rest of the fiction from the dining-room floor, tore out weary peavines and planted fall crops of chard and salad greens in their place, picked a big dish of baby string beans, mowed and trimmed the front-yard grass, finished Scott's The Jewel in the Crown and started Iris Murdoch's A Fairly Honourable Defeat, and went for a hike with Tom in the Fore River Sanctuary--a marshy preserve on the site of what, in the 19th century, used to be a barge canal from Portland's waterfront north to Sebago Lake.

For days I've been enacting some saggy object in a Dali painting, and it felt great to be peppy again. Today, though, I'm back to desk work. I've got multiple editing projects to finish this week, plus poem manuscripts to comment on, plus teaching to prep for. I never did do any work on my own poems yesterday; I was too excited about no longer being a deflated beach ball. And I never did any housework either, but oh well.

Now a cardinal is singing lustily in the trees, cool air is floating through the open windows, and Bugsy the tiny dog is huffing at my scornful cat. Patches of golden daylilies glow in the morning sun. In the backyard shade, tiny purple spiderwort flowers speckle the dark green. Bees mutter among my neighbor's bright shrubs.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Yesterday's heat was nearly unbearable. It was far too hot in the house to do anything physical, so I caught up on some mending and then decided to start reorganizing the books on the shelves. I imagined that this might be a relatively low-energy task, perfect for a sweltering afternoon. But no. Who knew you could sweat so much from alphabetizing?

Thankfully it did finally rain, though Tom and I managed to get caught in it without umbrellas and came home soaked to the skin.

Also, I only got up to E in fiction, and the dining room is strewn with novels.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

I slept until almost 7 this morning--a rare event. It's peculiar to wake up in full daylight. I'm usually a priestess of grey morning: drinking coffee in half-light, watching the streetlights blink off. Also dealing with the results of the cat's dawn hunt. Ugh. Yesterday he brought home a rat. Not a NYC subway leviathan, but definitely a rat. I've seen no signs of rat infestation in my yard; there's no food trash in the compost; I don't have outside garbage cans. But Ruckus is an enthusiastic rodent killer, and someone in the neighborhood seems to require his services.

Today will be another hot day, with thunderstorms rolling in in the afternoon. Strange to say, after so many months of wet, but we could use the rain. I've had to water every evening this week. I picked our first tiny green beans yesterday, and steamed them to serve in a farro and yogurt salad, along with peas, garlic chives, diced kohlrabi, and dill. We ate them with fresh summer rolls, filled with nasturtium flowers, big handfuls of herbs and lettuce, and bits of rice vermicelli, and dipped in tamari and fish sauce. It was a lovely garden meal.

I am still reading Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown, and am now interspersing it with the Lewis and Clark journals. I haven't done much with the new poem drafts I scrawled into life at the Frost Place, but maybe I will be able to spend some time with them this weekend. Mostly I've been focused on pounding out chapters in my current editing project, which is a long and complicated historical novel and takes up a lot of my head space.

For now it is a pleasure to sit here idly in a summer nightgown, morning coolness washing through the wide-open windows, sunlight glancing off slate paths and the sunflower leaves. Yellow lilies beam in the side garden; the first black-eyed Susans are opening, and the dahlia buds are fat and glossy. Tiny purple flowers float over the bean patch. The tomato plants are six feet high and still growing. Only the peas are getting weary.

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Fourth was, as it often is, a relief. In the midst of a heat wave, when your husband is a day laborer who's been framing a house in full sun, the chance to watch him not get up on a weekday and slog off to work is a vacation in itself. We spent the day idling: a little desultory watering and harvesting; a load of laundry on the lines; a few dishes. A sweet drop-in visit from friends. A midday amble to the bar down the street, where we drank a beer in air-conditioned comfort and played a few games of cribbage. An afternoon nap, and chicken salad for dinner, and then a walk down to the cove to watch the fireworks.

Roses are in bloom now: red and white, just like the fairy tale. The bushes were in bad shape when we bought this place--packed with dead canes; tangled with weeds--and I had to cut them back radically. They survived the ordeal but didn't have the strength to bloom at all last year, so I had no idea what color they might be. It turns out that they are beautiful--especially the reds, which are deep and velvety, though the white rugosa has the sweeter scent. Lilies are also beginning to bloom, and nasturtiums, and fat pink gerbera daisies. The sunflowers and cosmos are budding; the scarlet runners are climbing. Tomatillos are forming on the vines, and they look like tiny Chinese lanterns. We've been eating fresh peas every day since I returned from Franconia, and today I may pick our first green beans.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Signing of the House Contract. I would never remember that date if it weren't also on the Fourth, and I know we spent the day feeling shell-shocked and worried, and also distracted by the fact that there was a giant all-city holiday party taking place outside our apartment windows.

In some way it feels as if we've owned this place for more than two years. But no. Everything is still new.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independence Day. I'll be celebrating it by doing a few things that the White House monster and his cabal are too ignorant or vicious to care about.

Like make a donation to my city's fund for asylum seekers.

Like do some useful physical labor--perhaps spread some of the compost I've been making in the backyard, because why throw things away?

Like plant vegetables--maybe some kale and lettuce seeds for a fall crop, because I like to eat and I like to grow.

Like clean my own house--because I'm proud that way.

Like read old difficult poems--because why should art be easy or neat or new?

Like make love in the afternoon with a person I actually love.

What will you do?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

It's summer now: temperatures in the 80s during the day, in the sticky 60s at night. The bedroom fan hums, and the basement dehumidifier hums, and cold pink wine chills in the refrigerator. We eat salads for dinner and berries for dessert. The cat stretches himself melodramatically across a cool tile floor. The tomatoes grow as fast as radioactive plant overlords.

Upstairs, standing in my dim, north-facing study, I stare out into deep maple shade, at drying laundry, at a neighbor's blooming dogwood tree. For the moment I have nothing to do in this room but edit books--a small recess, after a breathless year of teaching, writing, editing, advising. For the moment I feel strangely one-dimensional. This state of affairs will change, and soon: poem manuscripts will pop up in my email; teaching gigs will roll around on the calendar. But after a week of Frost Place intensity, life seems to have retreated into a manila envelope, and the contrast is extreme. This may sound like complaining, but isn't. Without these plain patches I might lose my mind. Certainly I'd lose my concentration, and my good cheer. Still, I feel a bit of melancholy, a pleasant and peaceable melancholy, as I stand here in my tree-darkened room. I feel like I'm my own shadow.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Thin cloud muffles the sky. The air is humid and heavy. All of the house windows are open, and a vague coolness sifts through the empty rooms. Outside, bluejays screech among the maples; otherwise, the street is quiet, except for the mutter of a next-door air conditioner. It is a summer dawn in a small northern city by the sea.

My days have returned to their old ways. It is pleasant to be home--at my desk, at the clothesline, in the garden, in the kitchen. Late afternoons, I pick peas and strawberries, cut lettuce and herbs, choose new flowers for the vases, make jars of ice tea. For a few minutes I sit and read a novel about India in the deep backyard shade.

At night a fan flutters the pale window-blind. Blue walls retreat into shadow. Under the cotton coverlet I wake and sleep and wake--restless, dreaming. The night moves slowly, and the robins sing early.

Monday, July 1, 2019

I've been writing for a long time, and I've been getting rejection letters for a long time, and mostly I've learned to shrug and let them go. But a few rejections do stand out. For instance, there was the time a publisher told me my essays were too well written to print. And the time a publisher told me that men wouldn't read my work.

Yesterday I got a rejection suggesting that I don't have enough emotion in my poems. Now, I have many flaws as a writer, but avoiding feelings is not one of them. So when I write a poem that seems emotionally frozen, you can be sure I'm doing so on purpose, for a reason. Say: to delineate the inarticulacies of grief. Say: to trace what it's like to be a depressed person. A reader may or may not like a poem or a manuscript. But they aren't accidents, and they aren't evasions.

Artists have their preferences and blind spots, and publishers have their preferences and blind spots, and rejections are a reminder of how subjective our work can be. That doesn't keep me from gnashing my teeth over misreadings and misunderstandings. But it's not a bad thing, either, to get a rejection letter that reminds me You are doing hard work. I guess I'll keep doing it.