Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year's Eve, last hurrah of a hideous year. And yet there have also been wonderful things.

First on my own list: my three boys, of course, who have been patient and brave and loving and funny and resourceful, despite disappointments, fear, and frustration.

Also, the garden: asleep now, but a three-season source of joy and curiosity and hope and dirt and meals, not just for me but for my neighborhood . . . flowers as conversation, flowers as change. Plus, the new walkway that Tom laid, the new garden beds ready for spring, Koji the Japanese maple and the infant shrubs . . . so much to look forward to in April.

And the cat: Ruckus the Vain, Ruckus the Bossy: super-domestic short-hair big-mouth, fount of silly stories, hogger of yellow chairs, major trigger of family comedy routines. 

And the kitchen: so many advancements! . . . countertop, tile backsplash, spice cupboards. A lot of happiness can arise from incremental renovation: I adore every little addition.

And new friendship: especially getting to know my neighbor, a fine gardener, a busy lawyer, a good baker, smart and funny, who is now my pandemic walking partner.

And the mixed blessings of Zoom: On so many levels I hate Zoom (eye exhaustion, social awkwardness, the distractions of hopeless vanity, the boringness of much Zoom programming, etc., etc.). But it has also opened teaching doors for me that will stay open. And it has actually allowed me to lose weight and gain strength over the course of these pandemic months, thanks to my yoga and exercise teacher, who is cheerful and gentle and persistent, and early on began offering $5 classes from her house across town.

And the poets: How the poets have stepped up! Friendship, urgency, collaboration . . . My reading projects with Teresa, for instance. And the drafts that my friends have written, the wrestling they've done. 

And my own mind: Yes, I clean too much these days. And I struggle to focus. I work ridiculously hard to pay attention to Proust and Byron and Dante; none of that is coming easily. Nonetheless, the workings of my mind comfort me . . . a way to remember, "Here I am."

And the successes: I was a finalist for the 2020 National Poetry Series. I have a New & Selected forthcoming next year. Beloit published a large chunk of my diary manuscript. Vox Populi regularly features my poems. These are satisfactions. They don't matter as much as most of the other things on this list, but they don't not matter either. 

Maybe you should make your own list. I'm finding it soothing, and also revivifying, as I buckle my sword belt for 2021. 

Sending love, friends--

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

It's cold outside--down into the teens this morning--and these days Tom is mostly working outside, framing a new structure as a stiff winter wind blows off the bay. I hate that he has to spend his days in such miserable conditions, though he is stoic.

Meanwhile, I dither at my desk.

Yesterday, before striding off to make pizzas, Paul helped me un-Christmas the house--boxing up decorations, lugging the tree outside, sweeping up the needle mess. I miss the lights, but as always the house feels so roomy and spare without the tree. I like the sensation of an airy new start.

Paul has to work on New Year's Day, so we're planning our special meal for the night before . . . Chinese takeout: a no-cooking-dinner treat for me. And probably we'll play some games, because we are a game-playing trio. And undoubtedly I'll go to bed hours before midnight.

Reading-wise, I'm still working my way through Proust. But I haven't written much, other than these daily letters to you. I'm feeling a numbness creep over me. The future is shadow, the present a distraction: scrub the counters, fold the towels, correct the commas, boil the water.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

For Christmas, Tom's parents gave Paul a subscription to the National Theatre's online archive: filmed live performances of Chekov, Shakespeare, and more, from England's most famous theater company. So yesterday afternoon we watched Euripides' Medea, a play I know pretty well (having recently edited a new translation), and Paul and I are still twitching from the experience . . . so powerful and terrifying and beautiful and hideous . . . like a nightmare turned into song.

And then last night I had one of my regular repeated dreams: in which I try to remember to feed and water my barn animals, but then almost forget, and then remember again, and then forget, and then remember . . . and on and on till I wake up. This time I had a small shed of goats and chickens.  Sometimes I have feedlots crowded with steers, or stanchions full of milk cows. I don't think I've ever had horses. But always the commonality is that I have lapsed in my responsibility to care for them.

So: an early-morning mind flickering with Medea and a herd of thirsty goats. Welcome to the draggle-tail end of 2020.

On the bright side (sorry, Patriots fans), the Bills trounced New England, and the Bills are Paul's favorite team, and he gets very excited about them, so naturally I root for them too because I am an affectionate parent. Not that I really care about football . . . but then again I didn't really care about Hot Wheels and Legos either. A parent does what she has to do.

Today: more editing, and then un-decorating the tree (Medea got in the way of that yesterday), and I really need to go for a walk, and I'll make chicken curry for dinner, and read Proust, and maybe I'll submit some poems someplace, and definitely I'll do some laundry, and probably I should bake bread, etc.

Wish you were here.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Tom is heading out to work early this morning (lumber delivery to supervise), and I was insomniac on the couch for half the night, so life is feeling a bit twilight zone around here. But I've "woken" to discover that the monster decided to sign the Covid bill after all, so that's a small relief. I guess as long as he can make us nauseated and afraid, he feels like he's getting his money's worth.

Today I'll attempt not to think about how much I hate him. Instead, I'll get back to my desk work, and wash sheets, and probably go grocery shopping, and maybe, in the afternoon, ask Paul to help me take down the shedding tree and put away the ornaments.

My January nerves are beginning to twitch: I've got a class and a lecture to plan, and a manuscript to finish editing, and an artist collaboration to begin sussing out. All are good, and some even pay, but naturally their deadlines are smack on top of each other. For the moment, I'm hoping to focus on getting the ms under control. It shows all signs of being a semi-easy job, which is about the best one can hope for in the copyediting business. After spending most of the fall wrestling with a dense and gnarled translation, I'm relieved to have been assigned a simpler project.

Probably, after I finish drinking this cup of tea, I'll manage to feel a bit more enthusiastic about life. It's remarkable how debilitating insomnia can be. Sunday was really pleasant--low-key, friendly, and I even got stuff done. Plus, Tom and I managed to carve out some version of a date together while Paul was downtown making pizzas. But this morning my brain insists on sulking and glowering, flaunting the chip on its neurological shoulder, all because it didn't get its full complement of sleep. What a baby.

Still, even my cranky brain can't help but enjoy the heat wafting from the furnace vents, the scent of Earl Grey steaming up from my mug. I'll coax it into cheerfulness, eventually.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

As of yesterday, I, like so many Americans, lost my unemployment benefits, thanks to the indifference of the Republican Congress and the malice of the president. I remain far, far better off than so many other people are: Tom continues to work full time as a carpenter; I continue to patch together part-time jobs. But my income is more uneven than ever. I earn at least $1,000 a month less than I did last year, with no hope of restarting my regular classroom work until the beginning of the next school year. And my editing jobs are also thinning, as university budgets are slashed and press staff are furloughed or laid off. Meanwhile, our son Paul, a minimum-wage cook, is now working only 12 hours a week because of budget cuts and pandemic curfews . . . and because he donated some of his hours to employees who were in immediate dire need. In our household of three adults, only one of us has a reliable paycheck.

I am not repining. But I am angry, not so much for my own sake as for the sufferings of millions of people with young families, no income, unpayable bills; for the artists who took the risk of following their dreams and are now screwed; for the many, many Americans walking the tightrope of survival.

Life did not have to be this way.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

 Sorry to be so late this morning. After the cat got me up, I unexpectedly fell asleep on the couch--hard--and became entangled in a dream in which I was determined not to get off the couch, even though the person who seemed to be in charge of me (a woman from Harmony I barely know) kept reminding me I was a criminal so I might want to change my ways.

Anyway, what with having to foil this annoying caretaker and cling to my unrepentant criminality (I wonder what I did?), I was unable to wake up again, until the vestiges of my conscious mind suddenly remembered that today is our holiday trash day, and I'd better get up pronto if I want to get those stinky oyster shells out of the basement.

So that is the tale of why I am only now sitting down to drink coffee and write to you.

Our Christmas was lovely, lovely. Though the rain poured all day, the wind was less severe than forecast. And though Tom did have to stand on a ladder in the rain to mend the blown-off shed roof, he happily found a piece of plywood that was almost the perfect size to patch it. Tom bought Paul a Goodwill plate in the shape of a football. Paul gave Tom a new phone that, because of various Amazon shipping snafus, he hilariously acquired for free. I bought them both a guide to great canoe spots in southern Maine. Paul gave me a board game called Wingspan, with beautiful art and a complicated ornithological theme. Tom gave all three of us a gift certificate to our local fancy restaurant, to be cashed in later for a post-Covid celebration. I gave Tom a new bicycle seat because his old one feels like sitting on a Tupperware container.

We spent our day figuring out how to play my complicated board game, and cooking Hungarian cabbage rolls, and watching football, and Zoom visiting with family, and going for a long walk together in the rain. Really, it was a lovely day, barring the sadness of family distance--especially poor James alone in his Chicago apartment. But his busy little kitten mugged for the camera, and his tiny tree was exceedingly sweet, plus he just got a promotion at work. (Now he gets to be the person who claps the easel before the camera rolls, just like in those movies about making movies. As my sister pointed out, "Hey! You're Scooter on The Muppets!")

Today will be laundry and leftovers, and probably some more game playing, and if nothing in particular gets done, that's all right with me. Dragging trash to the curb may have been my dutiful high point. To celebrate Boxing Day, Ruckus will sit in boxes, and I may box up some cabbage rolls for the freezer, and Tom might box in the walls of his new shop space, and no one will watch boxing on TV. May your day be similarly varied.

Friday, December 25, 2020

 . . . and here I am, with electricity!

Merry Christmas to all who are out of bed too early because of cats, or children, or windstorms, or indigestion. Merry Christmas to all of you who are still asleep, with your cups of coffee growing cold on the night table and your dogs hogging the blankets. 

Here in Maine, it's 51 degrees at 5:30 a.m., and rain is sluicing down. Ruckus has already dashed outside into the storm twice, lured by the strange breezy warmth. Still, despite the temperature, I started a fire in the wood stove. In Portland I don't usually allow myself morning fires because our wood supply is limited and, after all, we do have that bougie appliance known as a furnace.  After two decades of constant stove stoking, I've changed my ways. But today, in honor of Christmas, I am giving myself a treat. And now I am ensconced in my corner of the grey couch, listening to the wind roar and the rain spatter, and watching the small red-gold flames lick at the logs and kindling.

Across the street, lamps are already on and Christmas stockings are undoubtedly in full swing. Last night the kids were capering in the dark as their parents lit big outdoor lanterns and arranged a row of them in the high snowbank along the street. It was so beautiful that I had to go outside in my apron and thank them. Despite the hardships of this year, there we were, neighbors, Dickensian in our cheer, standing in the snow  and the candlelight, and wishing each other joy.

There is terrible sorrow everywhere, so much anxiety and dread and fury. The virus of grief manifests in breath and blood-beat, in dark forebodings at midnight, in petty quarrels with the people we love best.

But those lanterns in the snow, those dancing children! And now, my little wood stove, groaning and clicking as it heats. And the wind roaring, and the rain pounding. I am here, they tell me. I am alive. I love being alive.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

 Christmas Eve, and thanks to the stupid cat I am awake too early.

Now he is crouching, slit-eyed, on the kitchen stool: tail switching, ears back, ready to eat Santa as soon as the sleigh arrives. And if Santa doesn't get here soon, he'll eat me instead.

This morning, first thing (if the cat doesn't eat me), I need to pick up our seafood order at the fish market: 2 pounds of littlenecks, a dozen oysters, half a pound of picked crab. Paul is taking charge of cooking the clams, Tom's dealing with the oysters, so the crab is my culinary responsibility. Yesterday I made baguettes, and for tonight's appetizer I'll slice one into rounds, toast them in the oven, and spread each with mashed avocado. Then I'll top the toasts with crab tossed in lime juice and pepper and garnish them with slivered kumquat.

In other words, my cooking chores today are short and sweet. I'm not even making dessert: Paul ordered Tom a key lime cheesecake baked by the nuns of New Skete, New York, so that's what we'll be enjoying after dinner.

Starting tonight, Portland is supposed to get slammed with heavy rain and 60 mph winds. If you don't hear from me, assume that my power is out. But I'll be thinking of you. And here's an early gift, a poem, dedicated to my poet-friend Kerrin McCadden . . . a love lyric via my memories of playing with a Fisher-Price barn and house set.

Love Poem from a Tiny Husband

Dawn Potter


                        for Kerrin McCadden


Some mornings your giant cracks open

the roof latch of your Fisher-Price house

just to watch you dream. You gaze into her eyes

as you roll gently on your yellow plastic couch.

If you had arms, they would swing like a child’s.


You are an apple core, a thumb.

Carefully, your giant snaps off your fireman’s helmet,

snaps on your baseball cap. Next door,

the barn moos. White chickens tilt in the loft.

Your dog’s legs bend every which way.


Crowd them into the house, your giant croons.

Let every kitchen shelter a horse.

Soon she will rise into the sky and steam west.

Every day, it’s her job to visit a character in a book.

Yours is to sit backwards in the bowl of your tractor,


pondering the hillocks of carpet.

This is how you earn your keep.

For now, though, you bask among her strong fingers.

At her command, you sway on your invisible feet.

No one is luckier than you,


for you adore a woman who invents all of the stories.

And when those stories are done,

your dear giant kisses the top of your round head,

tucks you into bed at noon,

and invites you to sleep for the rest of her life.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020


On December 22, I waded out into the snowy garden and cut collard greens for dinner. It doesn't take much to excite us these days, and we were all very pleased to eat them, and marvel about them. I served them alongside sirloin medallions, roasted plum tomatoes, and brown rice, which Tom and I ate together in the dining room and Paul ate an hour later in the living room, after he'd tromped home from work.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and like much of New England we're forecast to get a giant wind and rain storm for the holiday, with power outages, trees down, etc. This year just won't let up.

Oh, well. I am determined to make the best of what we have to work with. If we end up eating bread and carrot sticks for meals, so be it. At least we have a wood stove and running water, and running water is more than we had in Harmony when the power was out.

Today Paul will mix up brioche dough for a babka, and I will undergo my abs class and then do some editing, and probably we'll play Scrabble, and I'll go for a walk with my neighbor, and eventually I'll make polenta and roasted Brussels sprouts for dinner. I'll read Proust, and Tom will try to solve the crossword puzzle, and Paul will sneak up behind us and play some loud walrus noises on his phone . . . 

Family life in the time of Covid.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Yet another household incident! When Paul tosses his bag of dirty laundry down the stairs, the drawstring snags on the thermostat and yanks it out of the wall. We fiddle around with it uselessly, discovering only that when the wires are attached the furnace won't turn off, and when they aren't attached we have no heat. At this juncture, "no heat" seems like the better choice, though not a long-term solution. I am overwrought: yet another burden for Tom, spending money, blah, blah, blah. But he needs to know, so Paul texts him . . . and Tom, of course, because he is our household god, responds calmly, assures Paul that replacing a thermostat is no big deal, buys a new one after work (it costs $20), and installs it before dinner.

I tell you: that man is golden.

Yesterday Paul and I cleaned the house and I endured the grocery stores, so today, with those chores out the way, I'll get back to my desk work. I'd like to think I'll find a chance to write, but I doubt it. Maybe I can pretend that reading Proust is some kind of substitute. My lack of private space is wearing on me. I can't even teach Zoom classes at a desk; I sit on a couch in the den, with my papers and books spread all over the cushions, because that's the available room with a door. Teaching from bed is my only other option.

Ugh. What's come over me? I am going to stop complaining right now. I mean: I have a thermostat! And a brand-new 220 outlet for my stove! And Paul and I have invented a new word, glube, which we define as a combination of glue and lubricant, a terrible substance, the exactly wrong solution for every problem.

Monday, December 21, 2020


. . . and here are the pierogi, filled and sealed and ready for the freezer.  From start to finish, the job took me an entire morning. But even though it was a fiddly many-stepped project, none of the steps was particularly difficult. I'm hoping the cooking goes as smoothly.

Except for laundry and scads of dishes, I did almost no housework this weekend. Instead, I cooked: cookies on Saturday; pierogi, ice cream, a roast chicken on Sunday. Paul promised to help me clean today, and I know, first thing, I'll need to grit my teeth and go food shopping. The editing may have to wait till tomorrow, or at least till the afternoon, because I cannot bear the thought of being trapped in the usual holiday ratpack at the grocery stores. Today will be my stock-up day for the rest of the week.

Tom gave me an early Christmas present yesterday--a beautiful rosemary plant, trimmed to resemble a little tree--which he couldn't hide in his truck (too cold) or in his study (home of our only pencil sharpener). Paul promptly named it Baby (as in Rosemary's), and she is now sitting comfortably in the front window. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

I didn't get started on the pierogi yesterday because I ended up immersing myself in cookie baking instead: thumbprint cookies filled with lingonberries and sour cherries and gingerbread cookies shaped with our various silly cutters. This morning I'll turn my attention to pierogi, and I probably ought to cram some housework into my day as well. Even with such a reduced Christmas celebration--no traveling, no gatherings--the pressure of the season is building.

Plus, we keep having household scares. On Friday, our smoke/CO detectors kept going off for no apparent reason and, because they're hardwired, we knew it couldn't be a battery issue. So for a while we were in a "do we have a carbon monoxide problem?" panic, until Tom suddenly remembered he'd been framing his new workshop space near the cellar detector and had probably gotten sawdust into it, which might have been  triggering the sensor. Sure enough, vacuuming out the dust solved the problem. But ugh.

Though I haven't written much lately about the general stresses of being an American, these household issues have felt like some sort of linked localized eruptions: a rash triggered by a larger disease. That is a completely illogical analogy. Of course they have nothing to do with each other, any more than my friend's cancer diagnosis has anything to do with Covid or a treasonous president. But maybe you have felt something similar in your life . . . a fragility; a skin too easily punctured.

I keep writing here about luck and gratitude: for Tom, for my boys, for my family and friends, for my circle of poets, for my books, for my house, for the sturdiness of my own aging body. That gratitude is real, yet asserting it is also a way of whistling in the dark.

I am not, on the whole, a brave person. And these are dreadful times. And I wake in the night thinking of all of the suffering people. And I excoriate my helplessness. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Saturday morning. The cat clawed me out of bed at 5:30 a.m., for no reason in particular . . . certainly not because he wanted to go out. He hates snow and cold, but he does like to boss me around, so here I sit, unwillingly upright, listening to him crunch cat chow. Oh, well. It could be worse. It could be 3:30 a.m.

I mailed Paul's last Christmas package yesterday, and then went to the Eastern European market and bought Hungarian meats, Polish farmers' cheese, some Latvian smoked fish, a jar of Lithuanian lingonberries and another of Hungarian cherries. Today I think I'll use some of that bottled fruit as filling for thumbprint cookies.

I'd like to go for a walk, but I expect the sidewalks are still full of snow. Yesterday morning, on my way to fetch my car from the mechanic around the corner (new headlight), I ended up having to walk in the roadway of a busy street, and then, when I finally spotted some open sidewalk, I slipped on hidden ice and fell down in front of a bunch of work guys. Thanks to yoga and general springiness, I bounced right back up, but I do have a whopper of a bruise on my left kneecap.

In addition to making cookies this weekend, I might get started on the pierogi; and if all goes well, they'll sit in the freezer till Christmas. I was pleased to find the farmers' cheese, which is traditional in Poland, though most American recipes substitute cheddar and I was prepared to make do. As a rule, I am not the ravioli maker in this house; that's Tom's forte. But pierogi dough has somewhat different ingredients, and I'm in the mood for learning something new. So wish me luck.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Eighteen inches of snow! When we were forecast to get six to ten!

Delivery vans kept getting stuck in front of our house, the neighborhood children were shrieking and sledding from dawn till dark, the local cats were disgusted . . . it was a real old-fashioned New England snowstorm.

Shoveling epics such as this one are much better with a strong 23-year-old in the house. Even still, the three of us spent a long time last night clearing the driveway and walkways, and there will be more to do today, now that the plows have finally gone through.

So I'll be out there again, trying to drag the recycling bin through the drifts, trying to thaw out my car so I can ship a last Christmas package and then drive to the Eastern European market to buy Hungarian sausage.

At least I got a lot of editing done yesterday, while we were snowbound. And Paul baked a gorgeous babka, and Tom prepped the basement for new wiring, and the cat hid under a blanket and sulked. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

On the twelfth day before Christmas, just before dawn, snow is falling thick and fast in the little northern city by the sea. The lights of Alcott House gleam into the dark morning, and when I open the kitchen door to coax the cat outside, a burst of flake feathers my face. The crystals are as fragile as dust in the deep cold.

The boys are both asleep. Bad roads are keeping Tom home today, thank goodness, and Paul wasn't scheduled to work anyway. It looks like I'll be the only one on the clock. So I'll edit this morning, then fill out Christmas cards, maybe finish watching Fiddler on the Roof with Paul, eventually braise a chuck roast with mushrooms. In the interstices I'm reading Proust, finishing up Byron, getting myself ready to start a new project with Teresa: a study of Millay's collected poems. And we've been playing so many games: Scrabble, contract rummy, cribbage. Life in the burrow is crowded but also cozy and sweet-tempered.

We're all getting excited about our Christmas meal projects. I ordered the seafood for our Christmas Eve dinner: a dozen oysters, some picked crab, two pounds of littlenecks. Tom is going to make oysters Rockefeller, I'm going to make some crab appetizers, and Paul's going to cook spaghetti with clam sauce. And for Christmas: a Hungarian friend's recipe for cabbage rolls, homemade potato and cheese pierogi, and Paul's babka. The house should smell like Slavic heaven.

So this snow . . . I'm happy to see it. I am like a little underground animal, like Rat or Mole or Badger in The Wind in the Willows: wrapped in a dressing gown, holding a hot cup of tea beside a crackling wood fire, as the drifts pile against my front door. Where else would I rather be?

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Looks like Portland will be welcoming its first big snowstorm tonight and tomorrow: the giant mess that's forecast to sock the mid-Atlantic and southern New England states is now supposed to clip southern Maine too. We're forecast to get up to 10 inches and a blustery gale, and I do hope Tom won't have to drive to work in it and the three of us can stay home together and enjoy the view.

This morning I'll undergo my abs class, and then I'll get started on my new editing project. Paul will be doing some Christmas baking, and I'm going to try not to get too anxious about the various responsibilities that are looming in early 2021 . . . that Zoom talk for the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, a collaboration with a Florida painter, a new class for the Frost Place, online visits with Maine school kids . . . all wonderful and exciting and exactly what I like doing, but there's so much planning involved and I start to doubt myself.

Anyway, I'm going to try to let Christmas keep me calm. No traveling in terrible weather. No twelve-person feasts to produce. Just the three of us, and a cat, and a Christmas hedge.

Tonight, for dinner: Leftover chicken stir-fried with bok choi; marinated eggs; udon; garlic broth. Homemade eggnog ice cream with a slice of Emily Dickinson's black cake.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

It will be cold today, the coldest we've seen so far this season:  highs in the 20s and, at night, a plummet toward single digits. I suppose this means my arugula is well and truly dead, but the salad garden certainly had a good run this year--fresh greens from April to December, without a greenhouse or even a cold frame. And the kale and collards are still hanging on.

I finished that manuscript review yesterday. Today I've got meetings in the morning and the afternoon, and tomorrow I'll climb down into a new editing hole. But, on the bright side, I did have a long conversation with the director of Monson Arts yesterday, who is working to set up some teaching opportunities for early 2021. I know the Frost Place is also planning to host some more online workshops. So maybe I won't be perpetually chained to grammar pedantry.

Nonetheless, I'm feeling a little disheartened this morning. Last night's Zoom poetry-group session was weird, mostly because my wifi was acting up, so commentary kept being truncated in strange and unnerving ways. The conversation felt errant and ominous, as if everyone else knew something I didn't. It was like being surrounded by high school backbiters, and yet in real life these are good and friendly people, and the problem was entirely technical.

So this morning, without reason or logic, I'm cloaked in that old familiar social-outcast feeling, and I wish it would go away.

Monday, December 14, 2020

 Monday morning, and back to work.

Today I'll be finishing up my manuscript-review job. My next editing project finally arrived yesterday, so I'll be back in the editing saddle as well--if not today, then soon. I do have a bunch of meetings scheduled for this week, which will complicate matters. The freelance life is so confusing. I seem to have all the time in the world, until I have none.

Tom spent yesterday framing his new workshop space in the basement. In Harmony he had an entire building with loft for a workshop: his own wood stove, endless lumber storage, a huge amount of space for multiple projects. His city space will be tiny, but at least it will be something. And with dedicated shop space he can finish making the kitchen cabinets, start working on the living room cabinets or a bathroom vanity, maybe even build us a bed.

In the meantime, I did housework, and baked Russian tea balls, and read Proust, and watched some football with Paul before driving him to work. For dinner we had stone soup (aka minestrone made with refrigerator leavings), and Tom and I ambled around the neighborhood to admire the Christmas lights. And then Paul came home and the football began again.

There was nothing scintillating about the weekend, but it was companionable. Tonight the boys will make dinner while I'm in my poetry group, and I'll listen to the murmur of their cheerful voices through the closed door. As always, I'll feel my dread lift. I'm lucky, lucky.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

We're still living happily-ever-after with our kitchen stove: bread is baked, sprouts are roasted, and the scent of melting plastic has vanished from our home. Today I might make some Christmas cookies; I haven't baked any at all this season, and perhaps I should celebrate the fact that I managed to successfully ship five big packages in the midst of a rainstorm and a pandemic. The process of mailing things has become ridiculously difficult.

So Christmas-present shipments are done, and now I can turn my attention to our home party. Paul has decided that we should have theme meals, so we are planning an Italian-style seafood Christmas Eve (oysters, crab, clams) and a Polish-style Christmas Day (golabki, pierogi, babka). Paul will take charge of the clam sauce and the babka, Tom will handle the oysters, I'll do the golabki and pierogi, and we'll all hope for the best.

So, by the way, my son is a good man. At dinner last night he told us that he'll probably only be working three days a week from now on, because he asked the manager to give the rest of his hours to the cooks who are struggling to pay rent or feed their families. I do love him so.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Let me reprise the kitchen stove odyssey: The day before Thanksgiving, our kitchen stove started tripping the circuit every time I used the oven and burners at the same time. So cooking the big meal was dicey, but I got it done. Early the following week, a young repairman arrived, turned on the burners and oven, went downstairs to look at the fusebox, and told me he could hear a noise in the box and that this meant there was something wrong with the connection there. He charged me some money and departed. I texted all of this info to Tom at work, who tracked down the electrician, who showed up late in the day and tightened the connection. "Fixed?" you ask. We thought so, and so we returned to our old-fashioned oven-and-stovetop cooking habits. But more was in store. On Wednesday, smoke and foul odor began emanating from the back of the stove. I called the appliance store again. Appliance store owner said guy cannot come out till Monday. I began some mild whining. Appliance store owner relented and made her husband show up on Friday. Show up he did: he pulled the stove away from the wall, unplugged it, and instantly discovered char and melted plastic on the prongs. "It's your outlet that's bad," he announced, and kindly did not charge me . . . given that his employee maybe ought to have pulled the stove out and unplugged it in the first place. However, it was now clear that we should not use the stove at all. I texted Tom with all of this information, and Paul and I began making plans for surviving for the weekend without a stove. We don't own a microwave, but Paul unpacked an electric kettle from his dorm-room days, and we found a panini maker and a waffle iron in the back of a cupboard. Our meal planning took on a comic tinge (e.g., Brussel sprout waffles), but we figured out how to make do.

So Paul went to work, and I thought about frying bacon in the panini maker, when Tom (the hero of our story) walked in after a long day spent trying to jack up the corner of a cantilevered building, climbed down into the gap behind the stove, took apart the outlet, confirmed that it was full of char, studied it, climbed out of the stove hole, drove to the hardware store, acquired another 220 range outlet, installed it, plugged in the stove, pushed it back into its cabinet cubby, and went off to take a shower.

And the family warmed up yesterday's leftovers in the oven, and they all lived happily ever after.

So let's offer a virtual cheer for the doughty Handyman, our household god, who labors all day and then returns to solve our emergencies with nary a stomp or muttered expletive. A gutter collapses, a tree falls, an outlet smolders . . . never fear; he'll figure out what to do next. He's a marvel.

Friday, December 11, 2020

A cold morning. Appliance guy is supposedly showing up again today, for round 2 of what's-wrong-with-my-stove. Yoga class at 9, a poetry manuscript to edit, presents to wrap.

Last night, for dinner, I made coq au vin, even down to the little braised whole onions, which was not only heavenly but also conveniently did not require an oven. 

I keep forgetting to mention that I've got a few events coming up in early 2021. The first is on January 19, an online talk I'll be doing under the auspices of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. My topic will be "Inventing Characters in Poetry," and I'll be focusing on how poets fictionalize their speakers, experiment with points of view, and imagine new voices. I'll discuss a handful of poems that illustrate how various poets have chosen to create speaking characters in their poetry, with examples stretching from Dante up to the present day. It will be a free evening event, open to all, and I'll share the Zoom invitation as soon as it's available.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Yesterday afternoon closes with an irritating yet comedic moment. Paul decides to reheat some chicken wings in the oven and notices a bad melting-plastic smell and coils of smoke rising up from the vents. Ick. We turn off the oven instantly. But a problem remains: I have two loaves of bread ready to bake. So I call my neighbor, who says, yes, she'll be delighted to bake them for me. Out the front door I go, sliding down the icy sidewalk with two bread pans in my hand. There's a street football game going on: Miguel, Mike, and little Miles throwing and catching long passes, plus Miguel's dog, who instantly forgets football and becomes entranced by the bread pans. Slip-slide I go down the sidewalk, with a dog bouncing at my side, football in the street, Valerie opening her front door to accept the bread. It is a funny neighborhood moment.

But then, five minutes later, my phone rings. Valerie, in disbelief, tells me she can't get her oven to turn on. It seems we have a kitchen stove pandemic. So slip-slide I go again, down the sidewalk to fetch back my unbaked bread. "Throw it in the freezer," said Tom, so that's what I do, and the results will be revealed someday.

In the meantime, my oven. Argh.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

I did sit down to work on that manuscript job yesterday, but then technical glitches arose and I had to return it to the author for repair . . . which left me with time to tinker on my own drafts . . . which tinkered up pretty well, so I sent them to a journal editor to see what he would think . . . and he accepted both within hours. As the Brits say, I'm chuffed.

So this morning: back to the errant manuscript job, plus supervising Paul's Christmas baking project, zooming a Frost Place meeting, soldiering through an ab class, and somehow I have got to get out of the house and go for a walk, even though the sidewalks are glare ice. That's a very sloppy sentence, but it's enacting just how I feel about this to-do list.

Hey, by the way: I do not think I have ever promoted a product on this blog before. But let me tell you about Maine Grains polenta cornmeal, freshly ground in my homeland stomping grounds of Skowhegan, Maine. This is the best polenta meal I have ever had the pleasure to use. It thickens beautifully, somehow manages to be both silky and textured, and tastes amazingly fresh. I stirred up a batch last night; then poured it onto a board and let it cool; then sliced it into pieces and  transferred it into a  baking pan of melted butter and chopped scallions; then sprinkled parmesan on top; then crisped it up in a hot oven. It was divine.

I also baked turmeric-and-pepper chicken wings and a fruit salad. That was a pretty good meal.

Reading news: I started Proust again!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Bathrooms clean, surfaces dusted, floors mopped, sheets washed, driveway-ice broken . . . plus I lost a Scrabble game by 100 points. Lord, that boy is good. I have spawned a monster.

Today I'll be back in the poetry saddle: beginning work on a friend's manuscript, trying to sort out various event-scheduling issues, etc., etc. I'd like to think I'll be looking at my own new drafts too, but we'll see what the household bustle allows. I think both of the rough sonnets I produced over the weekend have potential, and one even feels as if it's reaching toward rhyme, but pursuing that thread will require a silence that I don't currently have access to. On top of everything else, I'm expecting a pack of electricians to show up any day now. After fixing the stove issue, they made a vague promise to reappear shortly and finish hooking up the kitchen wiring, replace the old wiring in the living and dining rooms, fix some outlet issues upstairs, and install new heavy-duty lines for the wood shop Tom will be building in the basement. In other words, Paul and I will be holed up in the back room for a day or two. I'd been hoping this all could have been done in the summer, when we would have left the house, opened all the windows, etc., but, unfortunately, this is where we're at.

For the moment, anyway, things are calm. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Today I'll be playing catch-up on the pile of chores I didn't do over the weekend: laundry, dusting, bathrooms, et al. This week I've got to get started on my next work project--a deep edit of a friend's poetry collection--but I may wait till tomorrow, after I've swept up the detritus and idled my brain a bit.

The weekend was rich and generative but also exhausting, as progress always is. I've got two new drafts to fidget with, and I've also got burbling ideas for future retreats. But my eyes are weary, and my concentration is frayed, and a day spent cleaning floors and breaking ice out of the driveway doesn't sound terrible to me.

I'm close to finishing Woolf's The Years, and my plan is to take a dive into Proust next. I've always struggled with him, but maybe this time I'll figure out how to worm my way into his pages. It took me years to love Woolf, and now I can't get enough of her. I keep hoping I'll have a similar epiphany with Proust.

And I've got the eternal Byron to read . . . and I've got those comic books to finish drawing, those Christmas boxes to pack . . . 

Paul's work hours have been cut, for pandemic reasons, so he'll be home three days a week now. We shrink down again into our burrows, sustained by Scrabble games, baking projects, and comic videos of walruses. So grateful for company; so cramped and distracted by never being alone.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

After a Zoom hiccup, yesterday's writing retreat mostly settled down and behaved itself, though as the day wore on into evening, there were flickers and brief power cuts from the stormy wind. Here in Portland, we had rain, then sleet, and now a couple of inches of sodden snow coats the roofs and streets.

The retreat itself went well, I think, I hope. The conversations were rich, and the poems people wrote were stunning--such good and complex work. I was pretty happy with my own draft too.

I'm tired this morning, but in a good way. And I can't stop rereading my new poem.

[That's Ruckus's author photo up there. Yesterday, as soon as I got up from my Zoom seat, he stole it and pretended to be me.]

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Life is slightly hair-raising in the world of poet-tech this morning as I try to juggle the various mysteries of who's lost what link or hasn't signed in to which application. This is definitely a down-side of virtual meetings, and I fret about losing precious class time because of the muddle. Also, I can't solve any of this myself because I'm not the program administrator: all I can do is relay confusion.

Plus, New England is forecast to get a massive rain/snow/wind storm today and tonight, so power outages are likely.

Ah, well. Clearly the best thing for me to do is have another cup of coffee and let the clock tick.

Anyway, the poems are ready! The prompts are ready! 

Friday, December 4, 2020

I dreamed last night that I burned a hole through the dining-room table and was trying to figure out how to break the news to Tom. I was so glad to wake up and discover I hadn't really done that dumb thing.

Now I'm sitting in the living room with my coffee, thinking about sonnets and scheduling, listening to the closet door open and shut as Tom gets dressed for work, wondering when the snow will start falling tomorrow, considering the possibility of making borscht for dinner tonight. . . .

I did manage to work on a poem revision yesterday, though I'm not particularly happy with it. There's something wrong with the ending that I can't quite fix . . . a chime that rings false. And not I'm not sure the poem as a whole is worth the wrestling. Sometimes they just aren't.

Nonetheless, it felt good to sit with my own work for a few hours, especially with a Zoom weekend looming. I'm always a little antsy about these events--not nervous exactly, but keyed up: wondering if I've chosen the wrong poems to discuss; worrying about misreading someone's draft, or talking too much instead of drawing the participants into the conversation, or forgetting some important discussion point, or inventing a prompt that no one likes.

At the same time, I do enjoy the jump-off-the-deep-end aspect of teaching. I plan, but don't overplan. My favorite class are the ones that begin and end on time, but within that structure feel informal, wide-ranging, surprising; full of tangents and questions and interruptions . . . an infinite conversation, a complex communal act, that inexorably leads to a need to speak privately to oneself.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Stove guy declares, "Not my problem! Call the electrician!" Electrician won't answer the phone. Upshot: ugh.

Fortunately, the other parts of yesterday were less aggravating. The abs class was actually (dare I say it?) fun. I managed to grocery-shop without spiking my anxiety level. I got close to turning in the final files of a very long and arduous editing project. I went for a brisk walk, and I colored a comic book, and I read Virginia Woolf's The Years. I drank tea with my son. 

This morning, after I submit those editing files, I'm thinking I might do some writing . . . if Paul sleeps late. If he doesn't, the house will suddenly fill with sound and movement and my writing window will slam shut. 

It's okay, I'm not complaining, I love him dearly and his pandemic presence has been rich and surprising, and a huge comfort to me. He's not where he wants to be, but he makes the best of it, and his cheerful patience is tonic . . . especially given that he was not a cheerfully patient child but a famously melodramatic thrower of fits. 

Look at him now, though, rapidly becoming a crossword-puzzle king--

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

I don't know what's new. The days just go on and on. I spent time yesterday prepping for my weekend sonnet class. I collected branches from the windstorm, and noticed that the gale had done a fair amount of damage to the roof of the rotting backyard shed. I fetched a grocery order and I sautéed hake. I finished setting up the Red Phone. I unpacked a box of Christmas gifts from my sister. None of this is at all noteworthy, but my son's eyes did gleam with a little-boy shine when he caught sight of the packages under the Christmas hedge.

In scavenging news: Tom brought home a very heavy, expensive faucet set from a bathroom he's demolishing. And I found a stack of old roof slates in a free pile on the street. So now we have a faucet for a hypothetical sink and edging for an actual garden bed.

In poetry news: I'm going to undertake a broadside collaboration project with a Florida painter; I ought to start doing some actual planning for my nascent new & collected; I'll be starting a big manuscript-review job next week; I am always dissatisfied with myself.

Today: hosting the stove repair guy! editing a preface! running errands! reading sonnets! mending a shirt! picking kale! reading Virginia Woolf! suffering through an 8 a.m. abs class via Zoom! watching afternoon football with my son! pretending I like football! plugging in the Christmas lights! reading Byron! walking down the street! coloring in a homemade comic book! lugging firewood! sweeping up pine needles! playing cribbage! hanging laundry in the basement! The glories never cease--

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

What a wild night we had! A massive wind and rain storm flung itself at the coast, whipping at windows, howling through trees. It's still dark outside, so I have no idea what damage we've incurred. But the paper says trees are down all over the region, 100,000 households are without power, snapped power lines have sparked fires in the West End . . .

We were lucky, though: everyone safe at home; house snug and warm; chili for dinner and a Christmas tree to decorate. Our power never even flickered. Tom shimmed up the sagging tree, Paul draped the lights, and we all hung ornaments . . . those familiar, shabby ornaments: a family story, retold year upon year.

Paul took a photo of the finished product and sent it to James, who libeled our tree as a "Christmas hedge." Still, that's an accurate description of this ridiculous bush looming among the books. The tweaky little point on her head is especially comical. But she's ours, and we love her anyway.


Monday, November 30, 2020

We did get our Christmas tree yesterday morning . . . up at the high school, at the end of our street, where we bought her from some goofy young hockey players and their fundraising moms. She's a real porker--tall and fat and blocking all light from the front window--and for the moment she's sagging in the dining room, waiting for Tom to trim her into a semblance of straightness. 

Paul has today off, so our plan is to decorate tonight. Back in Harmony, of course, we always had the very worst sort of trees--shabby, skinny, weak-waisted little spruces that we cut out of the back forty. But now that we're city slickers, we are wrestling with this Bigfoot. Do we even have enough lights to cover her? Nobody knows.

There's cold torrential rain forecast for today. I think I'll make chili for dinner. In the morning I'll do some editing; in the afternoon I'll talk to Teresa about Byron; in between times I'll mess around with housework and press on with my comic-book project. No poem writing till I get those books done. Still, they're a creative endeavor . . . of a sort.

Anyway, I've got my sonnet workshop coming up this weekend. I'm confident I'll be able to write then.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

For years I've been drawing cartoon birthday cards for my nephews: they love the silliness, and I love making something special for them. So this Christmas they get fancy versions: actual small comic books.

Making them is fun. I am by no means an artist, but I can rough-sketch and I can tell a silly story, which are good-enough skills for the project. My hero is Cat of Action, and I have just finished inking in the tale of his adventures in space, on the Yarn Planet, where he was hit on the head with a radioactive tuna, became tangled up in yarn, and plummeted to Earth. The next episode will take up his fight against his nemesis (Bluejay) as well as reveal his undercover persona (Construction Cat). It's all very dumb but I am trying to maintain a Flash Gordon sensibility and am including plenty of inside jokes about my own cat, which my anthropomorphizing family will appreciate. 

Today I'll be coloring in the book and maybe getting started on the next one. Tom has offered to print off a handful of copies so that I can share them with the whole family. A ridiculous Christmas present; but given the year we've had, why not make people giggle? 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Yesterday I was surprisingly productive, despite the holiday haze. Though nobody answered the phone at the appliance store, I managed to go to my (virtual) yoga class and muscle my way through my editing stack. I sat at the dining-room table and worked on the comic books I'm drawing for my nephews, and at dusk Tom and I ambled through the neighborhood to check out the Christmas lights. Tom made turkey hash for dinner, while I wrestled with Red Phone setup (current state of affairs: WiFi works; cell service does not). And then we ate our meal while watching Footlight Parade (1934), a wacky Busby Berkeley musical starring, of all people, a tap-dancing James Cagney, who behaves exactly like a gangster even when he's not playing a gangster.

I've got no particular plans for today, other than to solve the Red Phone problem, draw some more comics, simmer a vat of turkey stock, and finish reading David Copperfield. I'm hoping we'll get our Christmas tree soon, but the timing for that is up to our man with the pickup truck.

Next weekend I'll be on the clock again, leading a sonnet-based writing retreat with last summer's Frost Place participants, so I don't mind moseying through this weekend. Plus, it's a treat to have Tom home for four solid days. I do like him.

Friday, November 27, 2020

The kitchen stove managed, with coddling, to hang in long enough to roast a miniature turkey. I carried a plate of turkey and stuffing over to my neighbor, who lives alone, and she gave us a tin of freshly made buckwheat shortbread cookies. The day's biggest football game was canceled because players have Covid. The extended-family Zoom event ensued without serious mishap. We have a pile of leftovers in the refrigerator, very handy for lockdown. And Tom had to wash a lot of dishes. So I guess that's the 2020 version of a successful American Thanksgiving.

Today I'll be phoning the appliance repairman first thing, and dealing with a stack of editing work, and dragging trash to the curb, and trying to figure out why the kitchen floor is so sticky, and catching up on Byron (who is beginning to drive me crazy with his lack of focus), and and and. Tom will be home today, but Paul has to work tonight. I doubt I'll get any of my own writing underway, what with all the comings and goings and bits and pieces and chores and demands, but who knows? What I'd like to do is spend some time outside. After days of rain and heavyweight cooking, I've contracted a severe case of house-bloat.

I think I'll try to make time for my yoga class. And I'll try to sit outside with a notebook. Probably the editing stack can wait till Monday; nobody's going to look at files before then.

It's so easy to wind myself up into a tangle. But, hey, I kept my promise and did not lose my temper over that dicy stove.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving morning. Here in my small northern city by the sea, a cold rain is sluicing from the eaves, pattering against windows, freezing up on sidewalks and streets. Upstairs the boys are deeply asleep. Downstairs the cat and I have curled up in our respective corners, and I'm listening to the clock tick, the furnace grumble. Last night my brain had misty adventures among old piers and seaweed and briny tidepools, and a whiff of dream-salt still clings to me this morning. I wonder what I was doing out there in the mudflats.

Paul and I got a lot of cooking done yesterday . . . before the kitchen stove started acting up. I made a pumpkin tart, simmered and strained giblet and leek stock for gravy, and baked two loaves of whole-wheat bread; Paul made cranberry relish and cut up a white loaf into stuffing cubes. But while I was making dinner, the stove got cranky. I think we can limp through today, but it's possible I may be calling my neighbor to ask, "Um, would you like to roast a turkey?" Another thing to be thankful for: I'm pretty confident she'd say, "Sure!"

It was snowing when I went to the meat market to pick up my turkey. A short line of customers waited in the small shop, all of us masked and carefully separated, but still I felt a holiday cheerfulness: the busy, friendly shopkeepers; the good-humor of the customers, hugging their birds. Even in these dark days, we mustered up a Dickensian glow. And meanwhile a pale snow fell; and when I stepped out of the shop with my little turkey, I lifted my face into the sharp prickle of flake and felt happy.

This will be the tiniest turkey I've ever roasted--just 11 pounds. As long as the stove keeps working, we  should have no trouble getting her done in time for our silly Zoom dinner. Tom is in charge of setting up the webcam in the dining room and arranging the three of us like a sit-com family. James, in Chicago, says he is planning table decorations for his barbecue-chicken Zoom feast. We'll see what my in-laws and sister-in-law's family come up with. The event will be comical and awkward, but everyone is game to make the best of what we have to work with. And if my stove dies, cheese sandwiches and pie will make a fine meal. I hereby declare that I refuse to lose my temper. 

Better days ahead! Happy Thanksgiving to you all! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

I slept horribly last night; the lights in my brain just would not click off. As a result, I'm feeling more slug-like than expected: not entirely ready to leap into feast prep. Perhaps another cup of coffee will increase my pie excitement.

At some point today I'll have to pick up the turkey from the meat market. I've got that pie to bake, and probably another batch of bread to mix up as well. Turns out that Paul has to work tonight, which is a little disappointing, but at least he definitely has tomorrow off. He's going to grind up the cranberry relish before he leaves, and maybe start the giblet stock and cut bread cubes for stuffing. We've studied our turkey recipe, made a plan for tomorrow's side-dish tasks (Paul: sprouts; Dawn: potatoes), and scheduled our oven use accordingly. Thanksgiving is pretty much the only time I find myself wondering what it would be like to have two ovens. But I am certainly thrilled to have fully operational kitchen counters for this meal. Let the spills commence.

Weather-wise, we've got rain and maybe a little snow on the way . . . so it will be a comfortable, indoor holiday: wood fire burning all day, football murmuring in the back room. I wish James could be here. I wish we could be with our parents and sisters. But we do the best with what we have to work with, and I am very fortunate to have my cheerful housemates. Plus, Tom's parents have planned a Zoom dinner and card party for all of us, which will be goofy and glitchy and very fun. I'll bring a plate of turkey over to my neighbor; I'll light a lot of candles; maybe I'll even dress up a little.

Tending the flame . . . keeping the dread at bay . . .

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

After a day of pelting rain, rolling thunderstorms, and street rivers, Portland has returned to dry land. I went nowhere yesterday. Instead, I spent the day cleaning bathrooms and floors, washing sheets and towels, baking bread, reading David Copperfield, and playing games with Paul.

Today I'll be back to my editing desk, briefly, and I also hope to read some Byron and go for a walk. Otherwise, I'm just hovering before the Thanksgiving preparations begin. Tomorrow Paul and I will make cranberry relish and pumpkin pie, cut up bread cubes for stuffing, fetch home the little turkey from the meat market. It is fun to have Paul so involved; he is gung-ho for a feast.

And it was such a relief to hear that the monster's administration has finally signed off on the Biden transition. Re Biden's eminently respectable cabinet picks: I don't care how stodgy some of them are (and some of them are not stodgy at all). I'm just so relieved at the idea of having government officials who won't be focused on picking pockets and hiding crimes. And think of it: the architect of DACA leading Homeland Security! a climate change leader! a woman as defense secretary! Please, please, let the times be a-changing.

In short, I'm entering our holiday moment with a glimmer of hope about our democracy. But I have deep forebodings about the virus. I fear this next month will be brutal. Stay in your burrows, dear friends.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Anyone who has spent time trying to text me knows all about the long saga of Dawn's Terrible Phone--an ancient device that barely texts, supports almost no apps, refuses to load maps, freezes whenever I try to scroll, etc., etc. I can make calls (usually) and receive emails (usually), but otherwise the phone refuses to comply. I hate phones and don't want to spend money on them, so it's big news that, this weekend, I put in an order for a new (by which I mean refurbished) phone . . . in bright red, because for some reason that model was $25 cheaper than the other. I tell you, things will be modern around here when the Red Phone arrives.

And that wasn't the only grown-up purchase this weekend: Tom and I actually bought furniture! . . . a set of six early-1950s steel and bent wood dining-room chairs that Tom spotted on Craigslist and became misty over. After he hemmed and hawed a bit about whether or not he should give in to his crush, we drove down to Ogunquit yesterday afternoon to try them out, and now we have these:

They are almost the same age as our house, and it's such a novelty to have real dining-room chairs instead of the plastic kitchen chairs we bought two decades ago in Harmony, our solution for something little boys couldn't stain or break.

So it was an activity-filled weekend, what with our beach date, and the two trees cut down (the back garden now looks like a mini-logyard, with a teeny brush pile and a teeny tree-length pile), and the chair shopping, and the phone ordering. I did zero housework, but that's okay: it's pouring rain outside now, and I am not sorry to spend some of it dusting and mopping.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Paul now works during the day on Saturday, so with some open time to ourselves Tom and I decided to spend the morning together at Higgins Beach in Scarborough (pictured at the top of this blog). It was a beautiful mild day . . . surfers were tumbling in and out of the waves, dog parties raced in circles on the sand, a little two-year-old boy shed all of his clothes and trotted back and forth after his older brothers. Imagine: butt-naked at the beach, in November, in Maine. I found a lovely bouquet of seaweed, which I brought home to dry. In David Copperfield, which I've started rereading for the many-hundredth time, small David spends the night in Mr. Peggotty's houseboat, in a little room with a bouquet of seaweed in a blue mug. That's what I want in my room now.

David has been a joy again, as always. Thinking about Pip (of Great Expectations) and David, those two exquisitely drawn boys-to-men: in a way they're forks of the same character. David, so innocent and trusting, so devoted to anyone who has been kind to him, so easily manipulated. And Pip, trying to shed his past, trying to pretend that he no longer needs it, trying to be what he is not.

Today I'm going to go for a walk with a friend; then I'm going to make some book paste and repair some old hardcovers; and then I'm going to start working on the comic books I'm drawing for my nephews for Christmas. In the meantime, Tom and Paul are planning to take down a couple of teenage maple trees that are encroaching on our shed. They've been waiting for exactly the right time to do it: leaves gone, no snow, garden boxes empty (because they'll have to drop them directly into the Lane).  Looks like today is the day. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

With another lockdown looming, I've been working hard this week to build up supplies . . . food, cleaners, bathroom needs. This morning I'll make another run--for shampoo and such--but we're already basically ready to huddle in our burrow. I'll also be picking up an order from the fish market: steamers for tonight; Arctic char for tomorrow night; hake for the freezer. Next week's turkey feast is well timed too. I can box up leftovers for meals, bones for stock. I've got canned salmon, lots of dried beans and macaroni and rice, plenty of flour and yeast, oils, butter, coffee, tea, plus storage fruits and vegetables: oranges, apples, lemons, beets, carrots, leeks, celery, endive, potatoes, onions, garlic, a yard full of kale, plus the arugula and some herbs are still hanging on. But I should acquire a cabbage today: no lockdown is complete without a cabbage.

I'm back to being obsessed with the food chain. But I'm also back to being glad I know how to stockpile. For last night's I dinner I cooked lamb patties topped with cherry tomato salsa, and served them with stuck-pot rice (a lovely, crispy way to cook rice), cucumbers in yogurt, and homemade chocolate ice cream. It felt good to reach into freezer and pantry, and feel confident that I have the skills to keep the comfort going for my boys . . . as long as we can keep earning. We already know that my unemployment support will fizzle, thanks to Republican indifference. I hope other work opportunities will find me, but things are slow now and I can't help but worry.

Anyway, we carry on. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday again: trash day, yoga-class day, pick-up-food-from-the-warehouse day; also rake-more-leaves and yank-out-frostbitten-garden-stuff day.

I spent all of yesterday morning working on my sonnet syllabus, and I think I'm in good basic shape now for the upcoming class. I plan to talk very little about meter and rhyme, to focus instead on other kinds of pressures moving through the poet's mind and hand. I want us to think about sonnets as enactments, not simply as formal patterns or as exercises in logic. What internal combustion makes a poet need to write a sonnet? 

* * *

Now I'm sitting quietly in my couch corner, letting my brain drift among the poems I read yesterday. Through the closed windows I hear the mutter of city traffic . . . an airplane, the highway, the train . . . In the house the clock ticks, the furnace growls, the cat sighs in his sleep. Sound, persistent as a drip: marking day and night; month, season, and year. A life.

* * *

Sonnet in Search of Poems I’ve Never Written


Dawn Potter

I’ve been meaning to write about a patch of mossy

frogs’ eggs in a vernal pool, about a single contrail

chalking a blue November sky, about the glossy

covers of biographies, about the tortuous tale


of an ant city under a scarred sidewalk, about two

lazy landscapers blowing leaves into a neighbor’s yard,

about falling in half-love with someone else’s youth,

about gobbling pie without a fork, about the barbs


of terrible hedges, about the anxiety of gifts, about my feet,

about the murmur of a radio, about leftovers congealing

in a pan, about oxen, about the loneliness of husking sweet

corn under the stars, about this sad white ceiling.


            But maybe I don’t need to bother inventing.

            Maybe you’ve already imagined this ending.

[first published in Vox Populi]

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Good car news: only the battery! . . . an instant fix, a small bill, and Tina the Subaru is back to business again--although Paul opines melodramatically that she has contracted Carvid-19 and may end up on a ventilator.

It is cold here: 17 degrees now; yesterday a high of windy 30. My neighbor and I went for a long blustery walk on the trails, and hardly anyone else was outside, despite the bright sun. I came home red-faced and hungry, happy to greet a wood stove and a cheerful son proffering a hot cup of tea. Paul had the day off, so I'd decided to make him one of his favorite meals: baked beans. That was a luxury too--an all-day slow oven, the scent of molasses coiling into the air. The fragrance of a storybook New England winter: wood smoke, baked beans, and a sharp wind.

Yesterday I ended up with more dribs and drabs of editing than I expected: as I was telling my neighbor, I'm at the stage with this project of having 10 minutes of work 20 times a day. But this morning I'm editing-free, so I'll be turning my entire attention to sonnets. I'm looking forward to a sweet few hours.

Otherwise, I don't know what I'll be up to. Yesterday I put in a big curbside order at the wholesale warehouse. Early in the pandemic, before masks became a thing, I was using this service weekly. Then, what with masks and my garden, I stopped. But the Covid spike and fewer fresh vegetables are pushing me back into the old ways, and I am stocking up on storage vegetables, freezer meats, and pantry supplies. I will still need to venture out for perishables, but my goal is fewer and faster grocery trips.

Here's a picture of my bean pot. About 50 years ago my mother bought the old girl for pennies at a church rummage sale in Rhode Island. When I was a kid, she was our cookie jar, but then, at some point in my early housekeeping years, my mother gave the pot to me. I assigned her to her old job, and she has been faithful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Yesterday was going along fine . . . until my car died in the parking lot of the dentist's office, and I had to call AAA, and Paul had to walk two miles to work instead of getting the ride I'd promised him, and Tom had to come fetch me. Battery? alternator? electronic sensor problems? Who knows? But please, please, let it not cost a pile of money.

On the bright side, I did try out a recipe for spicy curried cauliflower soup, which turned out to be excellent. And I do live with beloveds who shrug, roll with the situation, and don't lose their tempers. Sometimes I think that is the secret ingredient to happiness.

Also, I think the time has finally come: I need to write a poem titled "Tow Truck Drivers I Have Known."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The temperatures are dropping precipitously this week . . . down into the 20s tonight, the teens tomorrow night. The winter garden is still producing kale, collards, arugula, cilantro, and a few other hardy herbs, but time is running out. I feel lucky to have had them for this long--almost Thanksgiving, and still eating fresh salads. I wish I had a little greenhouse so I could keep them going all winter long, but that's not likely to happen. Too many other renovations on the list.

Today: editing, vacuuming, going to the dentist . . . it will be that kind of day. I'd like to take a walk, if the hours allow. I feel a melancholy slipping over me. I suppose it's a winter sadness, this slow floating into the holiday season, when normally I would be planning to travel to see family or to pick up a son at school, planning to figure out how to cram my tiny dining room with chairs. I don't always love the crush of the holidays, but the thought of my older son, alone in Chicago, is painful.

Every day, the virus creeps closer. Every day, I hear of yet another person who has tested positive. Every day, Tom gets up and goes to work, Paul gets up and goes to work. Their simple fortitude is humbling.

[And] I, the desk-servant, word-worker— 

. . .  hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

 the close of day, how I fall down then.


                --from "Emergency Haying" by Hayden Carruth


Monday, November 16, 2020

The weekend writing retreat was so good, in so many ways. Camaraderie, deep feeling, new friends; the excitement of talking in complicated, unexpected ways about what we were reading; and such rich first drafts. I wrote two myself: one ragged, one surprisingly fluid. And the drafts the participants created were stunning. It was such a heady, wonderful weekend.

I'm tired now, of course, as I always am after teaching. It's a high-energy sport, for sure. I think there must be different sorts of teachers, the way there are different sorts of runners. I am a sprinter: striving for full concentration, full attention, full presence at all moments. But probably most sensible teachers are marathoners, who have figured out how to husband their strength for the long haul. How else could they do this work every single day?

I have an editing stack on my desk, but I won't look at it till tomorrow. Today I need to catch up on house stuff; I've got a couple of meetings, paperwork to deal with, the usual accumulations . . . But returning to the everyday feels okay, now that I have two new poem drafts buttoned up in my pocket.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

So far, so good with this weekend's writing retreat. I've got a lovely group of participants . . . compelling conversation, rich drafts, and so different from the tone of the retreat I led in October, though we're using the same poems and prompts. I love that.

We've got another session this morning, and then I'll turn over the back room to Paul so he can watch football and I can go for a walk. The wind is supposed to pick up today, with crazy gusts tonight. I've got a new poem draft to play with; maybe another will rise up this morning. I'd like to walk in the wind and think about them.

My next weekend writing retreat will be in early December: a get-together for this past summer's Frost Place conference participants. I'm going to focus on the sonnet, and I need to get to work on designing that syllabus. But I've got thoughts already . . .

It is such a relief to be teaching again. I have missed it so much, in these months of isolation.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Heavy fog this morning, and 32 degrees, but the sun is beginning to break through. In a few minutes, I'll hoick myself off of this couch, get dressed, and go outside for a quick pre-work walk through the shrouded neighborhood. I'm looking forward to a weekend of poems, but a weekend of sitting will not make my recovering hip flexor very happy.

Yesterday I was invited to take part in an AWP reading: a collaboration via Zoom among several small presses and journals. So that's something to look forward to . . . a way to actually enjoy an AWP event, which I was never able to do in person because I was always so stressed and overwhelmed by the crowds.

Zoom can sometimes turn out to be a plus: who knew?

Well, I need to get off the couch now and go get myself ready for a day of reading, talking, thinking, writing, listening. I am full of delight at the prospect. I hope you have something equally sweet in the offing.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Family health has returned, I'm happy to say. I did bake my black cakes, which came out beautifully this year. Now they are refrigerating comfortably in their brandy bath, and I am turning my thoughts to the weekend. This morning I'll prep for the writing retreat, which mostly means doing yoga, rereading poems and my syllabus, digging the webcam out of the closet, and taking deep and calming breaths. In addition to all of its other pleasures, the last session helped me write two decent poems; I'm hoping for that again this weekend, so I want to be in an oxygen-rich state of mind.

I think we'll be getting some rain this afternoon. Certainly the weather has turned colder. I will bake bread and fill the wood box, and read Byron and Iris Murdoch, and tickle the cat, and laugh with my sons, my dear sons. What a gift they are, in these dark days. In any days. My older son, for instance, has invented a public persona for our incoming Second Gentleman, which involves a four-year-long junk-car restoration project taking place in the driveway of the V.P. mansion. Our patter about this project is greatly amusing us.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Everyone in this household has been sick with some kind of galloping intestinal bug. I was up half the night but am feeling more or less normal now. Paul was well enough to eat ice cream at midnight, and Tom is currently sipping coffee. So presumably we're all on the mend.

My plan was to make Emily Dickinson's black cake today, and I think I'll be healthy enough to face it. I'd been hemming and hawing about whether I should make cakes this year, but the fan base insisted. Given that I am otherwise completely unprepared for Christmas, baking is probably a good idea. At least I'll have one gift to send.

Otherwise, my time will scuttle along in its usual way: reading Byron, reading Murdoch, editing manuscripts, washing clothes, raking leaves. I'm pleased that my intestines are behaving themselves again. I'm admiring the pale grey sky glimmering through the neighbors' bare maple tree. I'm still hanging on to hope about our democracy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Today will be our last unseasonably warm day: after a bit of rain, we're scheduled to drop back into real November temperatures. The weather has been so alluring, though--windows open, laundry drying on the lines, and all the while leaves falling, falling, falling . . . a faint constant shift and rustle, like the sound of carpenter ants eating a house.

I raked leaves for a while, and then I sat out in the Lane, sewing and squinting in the modest sunshine. Next door, the high school girl crouched on her front stoop and listened to her Zoom class while her old dog snored in the driveway. Little Ruckus sat across from me, perched tidily on his own chair, like we were having a tea party. Chickadees and nuthatches fluttered back and forth to the feeders. Everything was shadowed with gold.

I'll be reading Byron this morning, and working on some editing; later, braising a brisket for dinner; probably checking in with my Chicago son, who is in the throes of Covid/job anxiety. Life is not easy for either of my boys right now.

It will be a good weekend to have another writing retreat. And there are still a couple of spaces open, if you want to join us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

 In The Nice and the Good, Iris Murdoch writes:

There are mysterious agencies of the human mind which, like roving gases, travel the world, causing pain and mutilation, without their owners having any full awareness, or even any awareness at all, of the strength and whereabouts of these exhalations. Possibly a saint might be known by the utter absence of such gaseous tentacles, but the ordinary person is naturally endowed with them, just as he is endowed with the ghostly power of appearing in other people's dreams.

I read this passage immediately after waking from a dream in which I'd been assigned to write Joe Biden's inaugural poem. In the dream I was busily creating a long, drawn-out piece of galloping doggerel in which every stanza ended with some version of the line:

Roy Scheider's empanadas on Chesapeake Bay

When I woke up, I had a hard time remembering who the hell Roy Scheider was, and then it came to me: he played the shark-hunting police chief in Jaws. Well, I guess that explains the presence of Chesapeake Bay. Empanadas, I know, arises from a comical advertisement on the Cincinnati Reds baseball radio station, in which a very midwestern woman asks listeners if they would like "try something a little more advainturous"  (i.e., "empanaidas") at some local chain restaurant. After hearing this, Paul and I spent several days saying "advainturous" and "empanaidas" to each other every chance we got.

So back to Murdoch's "gaseous tentacles." They don't always have to be ominous or soul-destroying, but they do tangle with our rational lives. How would I feel if I were invited to write an inaugural poem? Terrified. Honored. Unworthy. But also excited. In this silly dream, the idea of poetry became an exaggerated exercise in "Casey at the Bat" cadence and the weird nocturnal collisions of memory. It was driven by sound, and details fell into place around the sound. That's pretty much how I compose in real life, though with less obvious absurdity. I'm fascinated by the way in which my approach to poem writing remains consistent, even in dream logic.

This ridiculous dream, this "mysterious agenc[y] of the human mind," forces me into a sort of clarity: how can I speak? which words will find me?

To date, I have received no phone calls from Dr. Biden suggesting that I might like to write an inaugural poem. But if I do, what will I find myself writing?

Monday, November 9, 2020

One sign of my relief over this election? The fact that I let the housework slide this weekend. I did not dust or vacuum or mop. Instead, I worked outside on my dirt pile, took a long walk with Tom, watched a football game with my son, drank beer beside a campfire, read an Iris Murdoch novel . . .  

Of course, the tension is ramping up again, with the Monster's baseless-lies campaign, his cronies' refusal to cooperate or be gracious, the pettiness and the threats; and maybe my housework anxiety will ramp up alongside it. Clearly my brain sees housework as a way for me to exert agency at a time when the world otherwise feels out of my control. And I don't deny that allowing myself this sensation of control has helped to steady me, as annoying as it might be to my over-cleaned housemates.

We had a strangely warm weekend, and the warmth will continue into the first half of the week. I'd like to ride my bike, except that I've got a flat tire that Tom keeps forgetting to pump up. So I'll walk instead, and do some editing, and try to catch up on Byron, and watch the little birds discover the feeding station I've set up in the back garden. This weekend I'll be leading the second session of my "New England Bards" writing retreat, so I'll spend time reacquainting myself with its centerpiece Carruth and Kenyon poems. And I will finish the housework . . . ideally, in a low-key, easygoing way.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

We did it we did it we did it we did it.

The rock that's sitting on my chest for four years has shifted. It's not gone--the pandemic is its own stone--but the weight has eased.

Portland, Maine, is celebrating hard: downtown is crammed with people waving signs and dancing and playing music and honking horns.

Here at the Alcott House, we lit a campfire and cooked hamburgers and sat outside in the dark under the shadow maples. When Paul got home from work, we lifted a glass of Prosecco.

The joyousness feels like the end of a war. Victory Day. I know the Monster has plenty of time left to inflict damage, and that he will inflict it. But we'll get through these last months. We have won.

I thought I would have so much to write to you this morning, but I don't.

I was close to tears, at the sight of Kamala Harris in her suffragette white.

And Joe Biden's favorite poet is Seamus Heaney. 

* * *

Compose in darkness.   
Expect aurora borealis   
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure   
your hands have known.

--from "North" by Seamus Heaney

Saturday, November 7, 2020

As the election glacier continues its slow devouring crawl, I sit here in Portland, Maine, on a Saturday morning, recovering from an extra-long sleep and watching the sun-shadows quiver on my neighbor's leaf-strewn driveway.

I got most of that giant dirt pile moved yesterday: now I've got two brand-new garden beds waiting for spring, and I still have enough soil left to make one more small backyard patch. I also talked for a long time to both of my sons, and went for a walk in the cemetery with my neighbor, where we were delighted to spot this:

My election tension is ebbing, though I'm still anxious and longing for an official call. As distraction, I'm rereading Iris Murdoch's The Nice and the Good and nibbling away at Byron's Childe Harold. I even did a little revision on a poem. For dinner, I made calzones filled with bacon, kale, sun-dried tomatoes, and mozzarella. And I finally won a cribbage game.

Next weekend I'll be back in the teaching saddle, but this weekend is relatively formless. Maybe I'll sit outside and try to make real headway into my Byron homework. The weather is so mild and sweet. All of these sentences I'm writing seem plain and heavy, like thick slabs of whole-wheat toast. But being an American is exhausting.

Friday, November 6, 2020

The root canal continues, but there is hope, there is real hope. I mean, Georgia! When this race is called I am going to burst into tears, fall on my knees, I'll be shrieking and singing. It's my mother's birthday: can she have a new president for a gift?

Today: yoga, I hope, and then I'll work on moving my dirt pile into the new garden. But I'm also sure I'll be on the phone with James, pacing around the kitchen with Paul . . . if anything, my boys are even more obsessed by these returns than I am.

Elections workers are American heroes.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Watching these election returns is like undergoing major surgery without anesthesia. It is excruciating. At the same time, I have become increasingly heartened by how capable and assured the elections officials have been . . . undeterred by the beastly behavior of the Trump campaign: just continuing to count and count and count.

Here in Maine we're sad; it felt like we really had a chance to get rid of Susan Collins, but no. Paul and I have talked extensively about why she keeps getting reelected; our speculations center around her persona of Nice Maine Lady, and District 2's deep distrust of anything smacking of "from away." Yes, they reelected a Democratic congressman, but he is a military vet who looks exactly like everyone's helpful grandson. Collins's opponent, Sara Gideon, was not born in Maine, is Indian-American, has the teeny little voice of a Valley Girl, lives in posh liberal Freeport . . . you get the picture. Once again, the Maine Democratic Party has made the mistake of believing that coastal liberalism can overpower the intense conservatism of the rest of the state.

Anyway, despite our Collins disappointment, I woke up this morning feeling like we have a presidential chance. Please, Fates: please make it so.