Thursday, April 30, 2020

Yesterday turned out to be gorgeous--almost warm, entirely bright. In the afternoon I transplanted pea seedlings, picked up sticks, thinned salad greens, and went for a bike ride. Paul made a lemon meringue pie. The two of us lingered on the front stoop with the cat. I folded towels fresh from the line and even mowed a little grass. For dinner I served fish chowder, toast, a beet and dried cranberry salad decorated with my own garden sprouts: sorrel, radish, spinach, arugula.

Today will be cloudy and colder as we wait for a soaking rainstorm to slowly trundle in from the west. I still hope to get outside, but I'm crowded with inside obligations today: bread baking, editing, more editing, a zoom meeting about Frost Place stuff, copy to write for Monson Arts stuff . . .

I've started reading Margaret Drabble's The Needle's Eye. I'm wondering when I'll write another poem. I'm trying not to feel disheartened by my fits and starts. I plug away at this letter to you--this letter that maybe you're not reading, or maybe reading with a half-eye to the television or your phone, or reading because you feel obliged to but wish I'd stop talking about laundry . . . and any of that is fine, don't think I'm complaining, don't think I wish it otherwise . . . the point of plugging away at this letter is the fact that I'm actually doing it, anything else is frosting . . . but still: communication is such a desperate urge. I don't know what to say, I don't even long to say something, yet I'm propelled forward, I lean toward invisible distracted you and whisper, Hey.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

All this gabble about "opening up the states" is exhausting me. Given the numbers of people who are still dying, such a push is, of course, completely irresponsible. But even beyond the public health risk, I wrestle with a private fear about climbing up out of the manhole. What will it be like to actually start planning for the future again?

Today I'll be working on the Frost Place curriculum, which I guess you could call planning for the future, given that the conference will still be happening this summer and I have to reconfigure it as an online entity. But really the task feels more like planning not to drown. In the meantime, I received an email from the woman who usually cuts my hair, saying that she's tentatively starting to schedule appointments for June and would I like to make one? In a mere six weeks, a person I don't live with might have her hands in my hair? I tried not to shudder. Instead, I answered her cheerfully and penciled in an appointment on my calendar. The date she suggested was wide open.

I think we'll have sunshine today, maybe even a speck of warmth. I'll hang clothes on the line and inspect my various garden plots, and try to retune my mind to the here-and-now. Yesterday I watched a female cardinal bob and hop in the neighbor's dogwood tree. I watched the neighbor children putter with their skateboards and hula hoops and listened to a squirrel lambaste my cat. I braised pork chops in a lime marinade and sipped at a small glass of cognac.

Today, maybe a few new leaves will unfold on the maples. Maybe a pileated woodpecker will swoop and scream among the crowns. Maybe I'll sit on the front stoop with a cup of tea, wrapping my hands around it for warmth, not exactly shivering in the thin northern sunlight.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The rain has ended, mostly, but it's still 39 degrees out there, a miserable temperature for late April. Supposedly the air will start warming this week, but at the moment I have my doubts. Still, the flowers are managing to enjoy themselves. Redbud trees have begun to bloom along the sidewalks, and the tulips are sharp and bright. Probably I'll have to mow grass soon . . . in a winter coat.

I picked up our warehouse order yesterday, which included a five-pound bag of Belgian chocolate chips. Foraging at the wholesaler amuses me. I would never have bought such a thing before, but now I'm taking what I can get--trays of anchovies, ten-pound sacks of macaroni. I haven't set foot inside a building (other than my own house) for more than a month. Still, tonight we're having marinated pork chops, roasted cauliflower, asparagus with ginger, and fresh pineapple for dessert. Clearly, I'm managing.

Yesterday I spent an hour on the phone with my friend Teresa, continuing our slow, intense conversation about Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus. We've just finished the first series and are getting ready to dive into the second. We have entirely different ways of undertaking these poems, but our conversations mesh and enrich, which is very exciting. Teresa is a wonderful partner in this endeavor because she is extremely focused and serious but also indifferent to what other people suggest she should think, unless those people are the likes of Ovid or Homer. I feel so fortunate to have her voice in my head.

This morning: yoga, phone patter with my older son, laundry, editing, cups of tea . . . in the afternoon: gardening, walking, Blake, Rilke, Munro . . . in the evening: dinner prep, a wood fire, music, card games . . . It all sounds very calm and civilized. And so it is, I suppose: a dear little desert island, that also happens to be overrun with thorns and quicksand and poisonous snakes. Not either/or but both/and.

Here's a small poem from my manuscript Blood. It feels relevant to what I was just trying to say.

Ashes are a way to die in action

Dawn Potter

A woman shovels ashes
into a coal scuttle.

Shrieking, the wind
blows ashes into her tangled hair.

Future ashes sigh
and twitch their boughs.

Beneath a bed of ashes
the live coals wink.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Monday morning, another raw dawn. Outside it's raining, spitting snow. The furnace is growling, the cat is washing, Tom is in the shower, and I am compiling my grocery orders and juggling emails about various manuscripts and otherwise strapping my brain into weekday harness.

Tom spent all day yesterday digging and pouring gravel and placing firebrick, and now the middle of our backyard sports a strange contraption that looks like a shipping container but is actually the wooden form for the concrete that will be poured next weekend. Paul and I finished some housework. I baked bread and did some transplanting and reread the first series of Sonnets to Orpheus and made Venetian meatballs for dinner.

My desk is stacked high with editing, which is good but also tiring, as my ability to concentrate on that kind of close, fussy work wavers after a few hours. Copyediting cannot be a push-button, eight-hours-a-day job. It requires too much from the eyes. So I try to do the bulk of it in the mornings, and move to something less vision-rigorous as the day progresses.

Tonight we'll have tofu and Japanese noodles, along with whatever vegetables come in from my warehouse order--asparagus, maybe, or sautéed romaine. I'll keep reading Alice Munro's stories and keep copying out Blake's poems. I'm feeling slow this morning, although I went to bed early and slept  like a millstone and dreamed about a pure white room.

The weeks clamber forward. To no one's surprise, Paul's summer canoe job in Canada has been canceled. Another batch of readings and workshops has vanished. We're trying not to look over the edge of the cliff.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Vox Populi has already published my brand-new poem, "Concord Street Hymn." Maybe I should have let it sit before submitting, but I was excited about spring, and about writing, and so off it went. I've been reading about Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, which he wrote in an unedited burst . . . an impossible achievement that is also occasionally familiar to a non-godlike poet such as I am. Every once in a while the work leaps out, fully formed, bristling with serpents and spears. I don't dare touch it, for fear it would kill me. My manuscript A Month in Summer was that kind of birth.

"Concord Street Hymn" also came quickly, though it was a gentler arrival, one that permitted some tinkering. Still, beginning to end, it was what it was, and preferred to stay that way.

Yesterday I filled plant pots with soil and sowed them with nasturtium seeds. I spread cosmos seeds in the blank areas among the perennials.  I don't know how easy it will be to get bedding flowers this year: pansies and marigolds and such. But nasturtiums are flowing; cosmos are tall; both are dependable and easy to grow. In the back gardens I raked out thousands of pushy maple seedlings and noticed that the perennial slips my mother had given me last spring are coming up strong: lady's mantle, bloodroot, ferns. The vacant lot is beginning to vanish. In the meantime, Tom worked all day on the wooden forms for his concrete fire pit. Today, I think, he might be ready to start pouring concrete, if the rain holds off.

I haven't decided what to make for dinner. I've got some cod in the freezer; also pork chops and ground beef and bacon and tofu and a whole chicken. I'll figure out something. I need to bake bread today, and vacuum, and fetch home a small grocery order: cooking oil and vanilla extract, from a restaurant that's selling off its supplies.

I dreamed last night that I was hosting the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching at my own house, which was also a sheep farm, and a strange undecorated cavern that bore some resemblance to an abandoned basement pub, and participants were sitting around in various peculiar rooms looking exhausted and refusing to talk about poetry, and I kept wondering when I could leave them alone and go to bed . . . though of course in real life I was in bed and ostensibly asleep.

Administrator anxiety dream: "why won't people do anything?"

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Last Friday I was scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers at the annual Plunkett Poetry Festival, alongside two of my most admired poet-friends, Betsy Sholl and Baron Wormser. Betsy was going to talk about Kate Barnes, Baron about Leo Connellan. I would have spoken about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Instead, yesterday evening, I took this photo in Longfellow Square. There's deep poignancy in this vision of the muzzled poet . . . and yet his eyes speak, and his hands. He leans forward in his chair, willing my attention.

The covered face, the deep-set eyes, the eager hands: they capture an actuality--the way in which people on the street continue to communicate the social nature of their humanity--but I also imagine them as a metaphor for the internal struggle to maintain a conversation with myself.

Outside, now, the clouds hang low over the city, but the forecast insists that the sun will break through. I'll hang clothes on the line and weed in the garden, and Tom will putter around with gravel and fire bricks.

I cling to these everyday passions--plants and soil; but also the precise edge, the artifacts of the mind.

The Bridge

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I stood on the bridge at midnight,
As the clocks were striking the hour,
And the moon rose o'er the city,
Behind the dark church-tower.

I saw her bright reflection
In the waters under me,
Like a golden goblet falling
And sinking into the sea.

And far in the hazy distance
Of that lovely night in June,
The blaze of the flaming furnace
Gleamed redder than the moon.

Among the long, black rafters
The wavering shadows lay,
And the current that came from the ocean
Seemed to lift and bear them away;

As, sweeping and eddying through them,
Rose the belated tide,
And, streaming into the moonlight,
The seaweed floated wide.

And like those waters rushing
Among the wooden piers,
A flood of thoughts came o’er me
That filled my eyes with tears.

How often, O, how often,
In the days that had gone by,
I had stood on that bridge at midnight
And gazed on that wave and sky!

How often, O, how often,
I had wished that the ebbing tide
Would bear me away on its bosom
O’er the ocean wild and wide!

For my heart was hot and restless,
And my life was full of care,
And the burden laid upon me
Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,
It is buried in the sea;
And only the sorrow of others
Throws its shadow over me.

Yet whenever I cross the river
On its bridge with wooden piers,
Like the odor of brine from the ocean
Comes the thought of other years.

And I think how many thousands
Of care-encumbered men,
Each bearing his burden of sorrow,
Have crossed the bridge since then.

I see the long procession
Still passing to and fro,
The young heart hot and restless,
And the old subdued and slow!

And forever and forever,
As long as the river flows,
As long as the heart has passions,
As long as life has woes;

The moon and its broken reflection
And its shadows shall appear,
As the symbol of love in heaven,
And its wavering image here.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Tom and I sat on the living-room couch playing cribbage while upstairs our sons gabbled back and forth about some complicated history role-playing game they're immersed in together. Of course one of the sons was on speaker phone from Chicago. But still, there was a strange moment of deja-vu . . . Why, here we are again, perched on a rock in the middle of a river of boys.

I made corn chowder last night, with the last of what I'd frozen from my father's crop, spiced with my friend Angela's shallots and my own serrano peppers. It's lovely, in April, to still be savoring last summer's harvest. All I have left now in the freezer are a few green beans and those serranos. Spring needs to hurry up so I can start harvesting greens.

We continue to be entertained by our foraging skills. Yesterday Tom presented me with a genuine N95 mask. The day before he brought home some beautiful magnolia branches. I've done my part too: I achieved bacon and shaving cream. The best cadge yet: Tom's been offered a pile of patio stones from the hardscape that's getting torn up on his job site. They're in perfectly good shape, but "throw out the usable and replace with the unnecessary" is the kind of big-wig renovation he's working on. So, bit by bit, he'll start carting the stones back here. This is a giant coup for us. We had hoped to start working on our desolate backyard this summer--Tom had even drawn up plans--but our pandemic finances nixed any expenditures on materials. Now here they are, free for the taking! . . . and just in time to go along with Tom's fire pit project.

Today the weather will be cold and possibly rainy, and I will do the things I always do. I've got bread in the oven already. Eventually I'll hang clothes on the cellar lines, and work on someone else's manuscript, and chatter with my sons, and read, and walk. We're considering a splurge on takeout barbecue. I'd like to get my violin out of its case. I need to pick up a grocery order at the warehouse.

The days loop and dance and lag and coil. I'm sending you love.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

4:30 a.m. arrives so quickly. Really, it's a terrible time to have to get up. I am a life-long early-morning person, and I groan when that alarm goes off.

Anyway: I'm awake now.

News news news. Yesterday Paul and I plugged our ears and instead had a Stevie Wonder-Jackson 5-Beyonce dance party in the kitchen.

Today I need to bake bread and wash sheets and haul firewood; and also edit a manuscript; and also weed in the back garden . . .

I am not opposed to the "need to" approach to managing my days. It's like practicing scales: up the fingerboard, and down the fingerboard, and now the harmonic minor, and now arpeggios--a routine of the body, a quieting of the mind.

Daylight slips through the windows. I feel like no one and nothing. A skim of sunrise reddens the roofs and chimneys. What is my task on the planet? A thin breeze flutters the daffodils.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

So remember yesterday's post? When I was writing about writing at a moment when I thought I didn't feel like writing? (Is that sentence even comprehensible?) Well, about an hour later, I opened an email from a friend. It contained a stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Concord Hymn," which my friend, both a poet and a student of military history, had sent to me on the anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle. I stared at the title for a moment. And then I said to myself: Concord Street Hymn . . . because Concord is the street I live on . . . and surely . . . but, wait . . . I have a first line . . .

And thus the dirty dishes sat in the sink, and I scribbled a poem from beginning to end in 40 minutes or so--a poem that made me so happy that I did what judicious poets are never supposed to do and immediately submitted it to a journal editor . . . who wrote back to me that afternoon and, believe it or not, accepted it.

The poet lived happily ever after for the rest of the day.

* * *

This morning, I have tumbled back into the regularly scheduled mud and gravel. We've got another raw, windy day ahead of us, and poor Tom has to spend it all in an unheated building. Meanwhile, I'll be wrestling with someone else's footnotes and fretting about our food supply. The boy is angsty about his future, and the cat blames me for the weather, and the president is a monster.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
--from "Concord Hymn," by R. W. Emerson 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

In Alice Munro's story "Royal Beatings," Flo scrubs the kitchen floor while picking a fight with her stepdaughter. "Oh, don't you think you're somebody, says Flo, and a moment later, Who do you think you are?"

* * *

I had a hard time convincing myself to write anything this morning. One day feels much like the next. Every event is no event at all. Why should you be forced to hear about the latkes I fried for dinner? Why should I complain to you about the maple seedlings in my garden beds?

* * *

Of course, as soon as I drafted that paragraph, I rewrote it . . . revised, recast, edited; argued with it; reconsidered its voice and manner, its syntax, its rhetorical moves. A sensation of pointlessness became paint on a page, a material substance.

For me, this is one of the most bizarre things about being a writer. Even when I don't want to write, and don't have anything interesting to share, the act of saying so catapults me into the practice. I didn't particularly feel like talking this morning, but so what? Now I am.

* * *

Spring continues to flirt like a refrigerator. It is the season of winter hats and bright tulips, wood fires and dandelion greens. Tom wears long underwear to work, and my nose turns red when I hang laundry. Yesterday Tom brought home a load of fire bricks and gravel--step one in his fire pit project--and he and Paul lugged them out of the truck together, laughing and talking, their words indistinguishable from where I stood in the kitchen, but I could hear their easy tenor, their good cheer. Evening darkened. I fried potato pancakes. Men's voices lifted and fell as they stacked bricks and bags. And then, when they were done, they clumped into the kitchen, smiling at me: two of the sweetest faces on earth, eager for lamplight and dinner.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Drunk on spring, I spent most of yesterday in the garden. One of my tasks was to set the tomato stakes you see here. In real life, I won't plant tomatoes till Memorial Day; but now that I've got the bed laid out, I can sow short-season greens between the stakes that I'll harvest before tomato time. I'm a big proponent of succession planting, which allows me to take advantage of seasonal changes to reuse the same beds for multiple crops (and is a huge advantage in weed control). Still, this was the first time I'd thought of planting directly in the future tomato patch. Sometimes I'm slow.

My current biggest animal problem is my own cat, who can't resist digging up freshly prepared beds. So the boxes are protected with this elaborate grid (the panels off an old compost bin), balanced on sticks and rocks to avoid crushing the sprouts. If you squint, you might see a line of radish seedlings. Spinach and bunching onions are also poking through, but they're too small for the camera. Behind them is pea fence. Between them, bare ground, reserved for beans, and an invisible planted row of kohlrabi and fennel.

And, as photographic variety, here are two loaves of bread--a whole-wheat sandwich recipe, with a handful of teff seeds mixed in for texture and nutrition. Teff is the grain used in the fermented Ethiopian bread injera. It's tiny, the size of poppyseeds, and adds a little grit to a light loaf.

* * *

We're all back to work today. I've got a stack of new editing, a stack of correspondence. Paul will have class all day. Tom is making breakfast, packing his lunch. I dreamed last night about a poet acquaintance who had just purchased a house in the shape of a pirate ship. It was an enjoyable dream, much better than the usual ones I've been having, and I feel more or less rested and calm this morning. I'm still reading Roth's Deception, still reading my friend's novel manuscript--in both cases slowly picking my way through sentences; glad to be just a reader, not an editor or an instructor or an opinionator.

I do get tired of being instructed by other writers: told how to look/react/feel . . . about the world, about literature, about their own work. As a teacher and editor myself, I have to assume students and other writers feel the same way about me. It's a conundrum--how do we share our perceptions without bossing other people into accepting them? Sometimes there's no choice: academic copyediting is built around brisk decision making. But that teacher's manual kind of bossiness: when is it ever necessary?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

It's 28 degrees. Roofs and soil and windshields are coated with rime, but the sun is already shining hard, and the forecast claims that we'll see temperatures close to 60 later in the day. I hope so. Yesterday was damp and raw, so I buckled down and finished all of my housework--dusting, vacuuming, mopping, bathrooms--with the hope of saving today for outdoor pleasures.

After I'd finished my chores, the three of us did wander out for a late-day, gloved, hatted, red-nosed amble around Evergreen Cemetery. I know I'm always talking about going to the cemetery, and you might think I'd get tired of it as a destination. But it's enormous: acres and acres of massive trees and winding roads, with ponds and ducks and a big sky. It's our neighborhood version of Prospect Park, without ballfields or a crowd . . . except for the dead.

I've started reading Philip Roth's Deception, which I must have picked up at the Goodwill or out of a free pile and then never gotten around to opening: it feels entirely unfamiliar. Tom is reading M. F. K. Fisher's Consider the Oyster. Paul is reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. All three of us have gotten melodramatically competitive about games. As a threesome, we mostly play contract rummy; as a twosome, cribbage. Scrabble is highly fraught, though Tom is a bad speller so tries to stay out of that fray. When we don't want to think too hard, we play Yahtzee. In all cases, we emote.

Fake drama is notably refreshing. Maybe that's why people love to watch sports.

For dinner last night I marinated pork chops in lemon juice and fresh garlic shoots and then braised them. I served them over farro tossed with butter, sorrel, and chives, with fresh cranberry-orange relish on the side. For dessert, I made hot cocoa with the last of the milk. Tonight we'll have chili with the last of my frozen poblanos, a spinach and grapefruit salad, maybe some cornmeal dumplings or squash rolls. Or maybe I'll use the squash to make a sweet bread for dessert.

Here's a poem that nobody wants to publish. But I like it anyway. 

Love Poem from a Tiny Husband

Dawn Potter

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.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

There's a bit of mild rain out there this morning . . . a few chill drops speckling the steps and the sidewalks. Through the windowpane I glimpse a strip of pea shoots thrusting upward, tulip leaves curling, grass greening, trees buds fattening.

Yesterday I arranged drip hose in the still-empty beds, marking out where my summer crops will stand. I replaced the dryer-vent hood. I hammered in posts and repaired trellis. Tomorrow, maybe, I'll sow carrots and beets and chard.

Tom spent his day off designing our fire pit, which will essentially be a concrete table with a wood grill embedded in it. The plan looks delightful--such an improvement to our currently barren back yard, and a big asset for summertime life at crowded Alcott House. Even if quarantine measures ease, I doubt Paul's Canadian canoe-camp job will run or that he'll easily find another job or internship that will give him housing options. We're a household of three for the conceivable future, and we'll be glad to have a place to sit outside in the hot evenings.

Today I suppose I should do housework, at least until the drizzle quits. I finished reading Welty's Losing Battles and now I'm turning again to Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, which is ruthless and un-cuddly and peculiar and always entertains me. Once I can get outside again, I'll run a few wheelbarrow loads of bark chips out to the front garden to mark footpaths among the beds. It does ease my mind to attend to the simple hopes and dreams of flowers and vegetables. And I love the peripheral world . . . gulls floating overhead, the screeches of children immersed in an inscrutable game, a pair of crows trash-talking in the treetops. In Harmony, in the spring, I felt as if I were working in a broad bowl edged with spruce and sky. Here, everything is jagged, but the sky remains, and the somber maples, as massive as gods, stake their claim to soil and cloud.

As our so-called president incites stupidity and violence; as he lies to us, and bleeds money from our suffering, and flaunts his indifference to our lives: in the midst of this chaos, I am sitting quietly on the grey couch next to my beloved. He is drawing a blueprint and I am writing this letter to you. The furnace clicks on. The cat complains. The kettle boils.

This sweetness. It is so precious and so frail.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The project manager on Tom's job site decided that the crew needed a day off. So Tom is home, and Paul doesn't have classes today, and I'm on a brief editing hiatus as I wait for the production editor to green-light the sample I sent her. We're pleased to be unscheduled together.

My plan is to start reading the manuscript of a friend's novel--not edit, just restfully read. I'll wash towels and hang them on the line. I might lay some irrigation hose in the garden. I might try to replace the dryer-vent cover, which looks like squirrels have been snacking on it. I might go for a distance-walk with my neighbor. For his part, Tom has decided to build a fire pit in the back yard so that he can reprise one of his favorite parts of the Harmony lifestyle: cooking over wood. Apparently this will involve mixing cement and laying fire brick; and unhandy Paul, who is eager for distraction, has jumped on the "let me help!" bandwagon. It will be a good project for them, as Tom is precise and particular without being an ass and Paul is strong and unskilled and okay about being bossed around.

Last night's Cafe Quarantine meal featured that old staple, canned salmon. As a child, I ate a lot of canned salmon, which my mother would mix with crumbled saltines and fry as patties or bake as a casserole. I think it was a holdover from her Appalachian childhood: cheap and shelf-stable, and a single can could stretch to feed a family. In truth, canned salmon is surprisingly palatable, as long as you don't care about delicate texture. I used to buy it when we still lived in Harmony, but after moving down here to the land of fresh seafood, I thought I no longer needed to. However, virus-era cooking is calling out the old skills, so yesterday I served a version of the faithful salmon patties. I didn't have crackers, but I did have leftover mashed potatoes. I combined them with cubed white bread, an egg, a little milk, a can of salmon, and salt and pepper, and sautéed the soft patties in grapeseed oil till they were golden on both sides. I topped them with a sauce of chopped chives, chopped sorrel, and melted butter and served them with braised red cabbage and a green salad. It was an excellent meal--a combination of "what's in the garden?" with "what's on the shelf?" and "what winter storage vegetables are still hanging on?"

Grocery shopping is certainly an anxious adventure these days, and I'm not happy to have my mind so obsessed with hunting down eggs and flour and fresh fruit. On the other hand, I am a natural forager, with an eye always peeled for fiddleheads and mushrooms and berries. Forests and fields are way better than stores, but the hunting prowess does overlap. So far I've been able to construct interesting, varied, nutritious meals from my pickings. If I can't write a good poem during the pandemic, at least I have the satisfaction of setting the table every night.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Early last month, when the pandemic began in the United States, the Frost Place asked staff members if they'd like to share a writing prompt to help people distract and comfort themselves. I agreed, and now I'm offering the prompt to you in case you might be looking for some quiet way to imagine and sympathize with your world, or with other worlds. You don't have to think of yourself as a writer to engage with this prompt. Your response doesn't need to be in verse. There are no obligations of any sort. I'm just offering it, in case you need it.

It's cold in Portland this morning, temperature hovering at freezing. I'm still lighting the wood stove every evening. But spring won't be squelched. Early tulips are budding, and violets are blooming along the house foundation. I can cut a fistful of chives for myself, and have plenty left to offer to my neighbor.

Yesterday was Paul's day off from class, so he made a beautiful walnut cake, and filmed me reading a poem, and did some late-day driving practice with Tom in parking lots and on cemetery roads (someday, maybe, the DMV will open again, and then he'll be ready to take the test). Meanwhile, I wrote answers to interview questions, and gritted my teeth and got filmed, and served as a cake-making consultant, and edited a book about a communist spy, and roasted a chicken, and mashed potatoes, and won a card game.

And last night I got some good news: I've been awarded a $500 grant from the Maine Artist Relief Fund--a welcome speck of compensation for the gig work I've lost and am continuing to lose. It will buy groceries or pay the oil bill. I'm grateful for the aid, and for the Maine Arts Commission, which so quickly organized this emergency program.

Our family economy is an amalgam of art making and physical labor. So when I listen to people talk about the privilege of self-quarantining, I want to point out that class lines are not solid and that notions about professionalism can be poisonous. I may be skilled at advising young writers and composing elegant sentences, but without a functioning gig system those high-toned skills are financially worthless. Tom may be a RISD-educated artist, but his daily job in construction requires him, even at the best of times, to take enormous physical risks. Art collides with essential services. We are fragile, terrified, expendable. No wonder we have nightmares.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Yesterday started out cool but blossomed into a gift--bright skies, sunshine, the garden new-washed and greening. Chives are tall; sorrel is thickening. Radishes, spinach, and peas are spreading their infant leaves. Sage and thyme sprout fresh growth amid last fall's dusty branches. Primula is blooming; so are daffodils and grape hyacinths. Peony shoots stretch their red feathery arms.

Early in the morning I hung sheets on the line, then did some writing and talked to my Chicago son. At 9 I had my yoga class, and afterward I started work on a new editing project. Midday I went out to visit three curbs. First, I coiled through the byzantine streets of Westbrook to obtain 10 pounds of King Arthur flour and 5 pounds of sugar from a restaurant that is selling off its baking supplies. Then I wandered among warehouse roads (an odd clutter of World War monickers: Eisenhower, Pershing, McArthur, Bradley) to get the fruit, butter, and hand sanitizer (the first bottle I've been able to find since this mess started) which I'd ordered from a restaurant-wholesaler-turned-please-just-buy-our-stuff company. Then I stopped at a specialty market to get bagels and salad greens.

At home I texted my neighbor and we met outside to distance-barter some of our loot: she had too much celery; I had an extra grapefruit and a whole watermelon. One fine side-effect of this pandemic is that I've gotten much friendlier with her, now that we're both home all the time. Another is, lord, how I love my yoga class--not so much for the exercise (though that's good) but for redirecting my pinging brain. Just the sound of my teacher's voice is a balm.

Paul spent all afternoon "in class" on the sunny front stoop. I pottered in the garden: weeding, cutting chives, stringing trellis for future scarlet runners. When Tom came home, the two of us went for a bike ride in the cemetery and stopped to listen to peepers and bullfrogs flirting in the duck ponds. For dinner I made penne with spicy tomato sauce and a big salad. We ate watermelon for dessert.

The present tense, the present tense. I tried to stay there yesterday, and mostly succeeded. I tried to concentrate on the sweetness . . . a fresh pineapple on the counter, a spring wind in my hair.

Today I need to record myself reading a poem, for a project that the Maine Women's Writing Center is putting together. I need to answer some interview questions about my work in the archive. I need to call my parents and my sister. I need to edit a manuscript. I need to roast a chicken. I need to I need to.

And the days travel on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Tom, who labored all day in an unheated building while the storm blew and drenched, came home completely exhausted. Then he had to make dinner so I could go to my poetry group meeting. I felt terrible about that, though he never complained. Throughout the session, I could hear him setting the table, chopping vegetables, stirring. I was distracted and disturbed and wishing hard that I was doing those tasks instead of listening to his weary steps.

This is where art cannot save me, or anyone. Clearly, it would have been better to make dinner so that Tom could rest instead of dithering about a poem draft I already knew had problems. True, I did get to listen to other people's good, meaningful work. I did get to experience their personal griefs. I did get to spend time with human beings I like. All that is valuable. But it's not more valuable than making a hot meal for a quiet man who has gotten out of bed before dawn to heave and haul, in wretched chill and damp, all the long day.

So I'm feeling glum this morning--in need of atoning for this error, to him, and to myself. The fact that he doesn't ask or expect me to atone--or even think of my selfishness as an error--is just fuel to my sputtering fire. The other day, I was trying to describe my family role to a friend, and I think it ended up sounding as if I were trapped in some kind of authoritarian housewife vortex. But that's not it at all. I have a peaceful love affair with a man who works too hard. I try to do what I can to ease his home life. I cook and clean and wash. Poems are no way to erase the fearful tiredness in his eyes.

Monday, April 13, 2020

And here are one dozen beautiful eggs, resting in a steel basket on our dining room table.

And here is the dining room, which is also the library, in late-day light.

* * *

Today: A gale whipping into town from the west--rain, wind, maybe downed branches and flooding. So many people in Maine are still without electricity after last week's snowstorm. I fear this storm will be another mess.

But Monday must go on. Tom is upstairs putting on Carhartts, a flannel shirt, workboots. I am downstairs making coffee, stacking clean dishes on the shelves, feeding the cat. It's 5:30 a.m. and already the first raindrops are ticking on the windowpanes.

I have a small editing task to finish up this morning; otherwise, I'm on brief hiatus till the next manuscript arrives, later today or tomorrow. Paul will be in class during most of his waking hours, and I hope to salvage a pretense of solitude and write and read. Tonight my poetry group is zoom-meeting, and the boys will construct something or other for dinner while I gloomily listen to comments on my awkward poem draft. I wish I'd had something better to share. My only hope is that everyone else's drafts will be exciting and thus able to distract me from my own tangle.

But the house is tidy and warm. There are fresh line-dried towels in the bathroom. Tulips are budding in the garden. I think I found a source for flour. I am going to eat whole-wheat toast and Easter eggs for breakfast.

I'll also keep reading a Eudora Welty novel that is feeling more and more like a short story that just won't end (an intriguing craft problem that I wish a fiction writer would explain to me). I am trying not to perseverate on the depravity that is driving a pickaxe through our collective heart. I am trying to imagine what it was like to be William Blake:

The Blossom

William Blake

Merry Merry Sparrow
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Sees you swift as arrow
Seek your cradle narrow
Near my Bosom.

Pretty Pretty Robin
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Hears you sobbing sobbing
Pretty Pretty Robin
Near my Bosom.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter morning.

I woke up to sunlight filtering through the bedroom shade--casting shadow streaks and puddles on the tumbled white comforter, on Tom's crest of hair, on the polished floorboards.

Now, in the living room, a single yellow daffodil rises from a narrow glass jar, its face turned from the light. Pebbles of blue sky gleam in the curtainless windows.

Yesterday I strung a sweet-pea trellis beside the stoop, laid some wire fencing over the garden boxes that cats and squirrels have been vandalizing. I dug dandelion greens, cut a bowlful of sorrel and chives. I sowed grass seed in the barren mudflats of the backyard. We'd intended to move forward with some hardscape this year--gravel paths, a patio, a deck--but there's no money to waste on such things now.

Meanwhile, Tom and Paul rode off on bikes to find someplace to play catch. It's April. There should be baseball. We're wistful.

Today, I'll make a good dinner: grilled flank steak, roasted potatoes, a salad of garlicky broccoli and the spring greens I harvested yesterday, a custard pie. The boys will color the eggs they didn't get around to coloring yesterday. I'll talk to family and friends.

I'm thankful for this small island . . . A needy patch of ground. A little house with doors and windows. The tenderness of a hand in my hair. A white cat purring on my shoulder. An eager young voice.

Easter is a reminder that the world is worth a second look.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Yesterday was cold and spitting rain-snow. I finished my editing by noon and then gave in to weariness. Instead of walking or working in the garden or cleaning the refrigerator, I started a fire in the stove and then sat on the couch under a blanket and finished rereading Northanger Abbey. Eventually I crawled out and made chicory and rice soup (very comforting for tired people), toast, a salad of greens and pears, and brownies. But I never became lively.

If my sinuses were less clogged and I had fewer headaches--e.g., if the allergy medicine would arrive in the mail--I would be less tired. But all shipments are delayed, so I continue to snuffle and wince.

Still, it's a new day, and I do feel peppier, if still clogged, after all that sleepiness. I think there will be sunshine today, maybe daffodils and laundry on the line. We're going to dye eggs this evening, for the first time since the boys left Harmony. Tom is a very arty egg-dyer, so some of them are bound to be beautiful, or at least puzzling.

I'm going to copy out a few Blake poems, and start reading Eudora Welty's Losing Battles. I hope to ride my bike. I don't exactly know what we're having for dinner . . . maybe seafood, if I can order it from the fish market; otherwise, a cobbled-together vegetable something or other.

What is the point of keeping track of this minutiae? I've read a lot of diaries, and I've asked that question often . . . mostly about myself as voyeur. What kind of person finds a stranger's present-tense litany fascinating/mysterious/comforting/shocking? On this blog I assume the other role--the recorder--but I'm always aware (as most real diarists are not) that I have readers. I'm a meta-diarist, the dramatic reenactment of a diarist.

In A Month in Summer, my collection of diary poems set in 1868, I try to parse the interior/exterior worlds of a private writer by alternating between brief prose entries, chore titles, brief poems. I'm interested in the secrets that are never articulated or even admitted. I'm interested in the way in which a mind and body can exist in many spheres at one time. I'm interested in the frame of an invisible world.

Here's a sample:

Mon.—  Bake for brother 3 meat pies 5 loaves. I travel to Rockland tomorrow, spend 2 days with cousin V. Of course Dave grudges my absence, &c.


Rags of sunlight cheer my heart.

I am going to try to write
A little.

I have nothing at stake but my life.

Friday, April 10, 2020

I like most weather, but last night's was awful: a whipping slush gale without one single charm, except for the relief of not being outside in it. This morning the neighborhood is coated with an inch of glop that will undoubtedly melt before noon. We were fortunate in getting so little accumulation: apparently 200,000 people around the state lost power from that ugly storm.

But while the slush was battering at our doors and windows, I had a zoom-date with two of my writer friends, which was silly and sweet and comforting and more fun than I expected, given my horror of video. I made macaroni-and-cheese and a green salad with pears and grapefruit. Tom and I watched part of a disco movie titled "Thank God It's Friday," starring Donna Summer and the Commodores. It was a good evening.

I didn't edit yesterday but instead spent most of it shopping . . . by which I mean texting or telephoning a plethora of small markets, tracking down sources for various staples, succeeding or failing, ordering, picking up curbside bags and boxes. By the end of the afternoon I'd visited four different curbs: Paris Farmers Union (four dozen eggs: my big score!), the Quality Shop (milk and cheddar), Rosemont Market (bread for the freezer, broccoli, oranges, pears), Maine Hardware (dish soap, laundry soap, cat litter). This new version of shopping is time-consuming yet not terrible. I don't like having other people choose my produce for me. I also don't like buying bread that I could easily bake, if I had an adequate flour supply. But our shelves are stocked, the little shops are staying in business, and I haven't set foot inside a store for a couple of weeks.

Today, as the slush dissolves, I'll return to the editing stack, do a little Monson Arts work, fidget with an unsatisfactory poem draft, copy out more Blake, sit by the fire with Northanger Abbey, walk through puddles and mud, make chicory and rice soup.

My poetry group is having a zoom meeting on Monday, and I suppose I'll submit that unsatisfactory draft for discussion, though I don't much want to hear any discussion of it. I already know it's awkward. But I don't currently have any other options. My main writing these days is the pedestrian prose on this blog. It doesn't feel like art, and it's certainly not journalism. My subject matter is dull. Still, I am slogging forward.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

In the shadow foreground is a garden box of garlic and shallots. Behind, a pot of mint, not yet sprouted. Under the sunny tree, spreading blue scylla punctuated with white crocuses.

No sun today. Up north, Harmony is grinding its teeth over a projected 12 inches of snow tonight. Down here, along the moderating coast, we might get a few wet flakes, but mostly rain and rain.

Now, in the morning darkness, a passing train blows its long and lonely horn. Paul is asleep, Tom dressing for work. It will be a quiet day.

Yesterday, as Paul and I walked along the neighborhood streets, a little girl accosted us. "Would you like to do my obstacle course?" she asked. Then, with a mostly appropriate six-foot separation (we tried hard, but children do forget), she showed us the chalk patterns she'd drawn on the sidewalk--little paths and hopscotches and laboriously scrawled instructions such as "High-five a tree."

"Of course!" we said. And so we hopped and high-fived our way down the sidewalk, much to the little girl's satisfaction.

By the way, it turns out that high-fiving a tree is extremely enjoyable. If you have an available tree, I recommend it.

Here's the first poem in William Blake's Songs of Innocence (1789) . . . a poem you might naturally turn to after an unknown child instructs you to hop down a public sidewalk and high-five a tree. It's titled, simply, "Introduction."

Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me: 
“Pipe a song about a Lamb.”
So I piped with merry chear.
“Piper pipe that song again—”
So I piped, he wept to hear. 
“Drop thy pipe thy happy pipe,
Sing thy songs of happy chear.”
So I sung the same again
While he wept with joy to hear. 
“Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read—”
So he vanish’d from my sight.
And I pluck’d a hollow reed, 
And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Yesterday I had a yoga class in the morning and later went for two long walks--an afternoon one with my neighbor (appropriately distanced), an evening one with Tom (appropriately close). Everyone else was outside too: a bike-riding family cluttering up the street like a parade of ducklings, a lonely high schooler dribbling a soccer ball through an elaborate driveway obstacle course, three skateboarding girls keeping an eye out for their mother, a striding grandmother and her scootering little granddaughter, a solemn dog walker, a solitary runner, pairs of whispering lovers . . . From above, the streets and sidewalks and driveways must look like little ant-paths, shimmering with body chatter.

At home, we circle among our rooms, upstairs and down. Chill spring air filters through an open bedroom window. Outside, a mockingbird burbles and trills.

I've been pushing myself to take time each day to copy out poems. As a result, I have some unarticulated thoughts about Rilke and my own semi-intolerable poem draft. Better than nothing better than nothing better than nothing, is what I keep telling myself.

For restfulness, I'm rereading Austen's Northanger Abbey, which is coarse Regency-era stand-up comedy compared to her later, more subtle hilarity. But the tiny old soft-leather-bound volume is so pleasant to hold in my hands.

In the mail this week: a letter from a friend, a gift of shallots for eating and planting, two paychecks, and a Susan Collins campaign flyer (barf). From the sky this week: sun, wind, bluejays, pollen, and the scent of hyacinths. Under the rug this week: cat fur, grit, crumbs, hope, and a rubber band.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The weather yesterday was lovely: sunshine, warmth, daffodils budding, bees humming. Paul decided to have class on the front stoop. I opened a kitchen window and baked Sardinian sheet-music bread (an elaborate name for a  simple olive-oil cracker). Last night Cafe Quarantine served lentil soup with chopped sorrel and fried fennel seed, a cucumber and yogurt salad, and toast. Tonight, we'll have our first cookout: Tom will grill garlic hamburgers over charcoal; I'll make asparagus with fried ginger, a spinach and grapefruit salad.

I finished copying out the first series of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, and today I hope to turn my attention back to Blake. I worked on a poem draft that I don't love, but something is better than nothing. I drew a zany birthday card for my nephew. I am nearing the end of an arduous editing project.

Late in the day Paul and I biked to Rosemont Market to pick up our grocery order. We loaded my basket with lettuce and asparagus and felt very French, cycling through the neighborhoods with our vegetables on display.

Over the phone James and I invented a new trivia method for allowing shoppers into stores. Monday: you must answer questions about 90s bands. Tuesday: you must have detailed knowledge about the geography of Africa. Wednesday: tell us about the 1967 New York Yankees . . .

Paul destroyed me at Scrabble again. The boy is a menace.

Now Tom is making his work lunch, and I am taking a break from writing to throw a load of towels into the washing machine, and our day is lurching onward like a Timex with a clunky second hand. I look back at what I've written in this post, and see that it, too, resembles a cheap watch--the hands clicking ahead, clicking ahead, but never quite matching the clock face. I wonder if narrative is forsaking me. I wonder if blurting out a daily jumble of lists and images is worth anything at all. Maybe yes, maybe no.

Though of course I won't stop. I can't run a mile but I can stack firewood all day long.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Food shopping is becoming increasingly fraught in Portland. Only 75 people at a time are allowed in the large stores, and long lines stretch outside. At Hannaford, curbside pickup appears to be theoretical: I can shop online at its website; but when I try to check out, there are never any pickup times available. Whole Foods reserves home delivery for Amazon Prime members only, which is despicable. The small markets are good at curbside pickup, but they are generally more expensive than the supermarkets and they have fewer items. Still, they are my best option now, and I'm grateful I can walk or ride my bike to fetch a bag of lettuce or a loaf of bread. This morning I ordered 5 pounds of locally roasted coffee beans, and that pleased me as well. But what happens when I run out of cat litter?

Tom is packing his lunch and making his breakfast. It's still unclear how long his job site will stay open, but he presumes he'll be there all week. Paul and I will step back into our "usual" patterns--schoolwork and editing and trying to imagine the future. The day will be bright and warmish, and I'll hang sheets on the line.

I do need to work on a poem draft. I am not writing well, but at least the action of revision will be practice. My state of body and my creativity bear some resemblance to the grief sinkhole I was floundering in during my first year in Portland, when we perched in that apartment by the sea and I burst into tears once every hour. Heavy skin, unexplainable twinges, laborious visions. The garden helps with the body, but the visions continue to plod. And I'm not crying. I haven't cried even once. Maybe I would feel better if I did.

The thing is: we're okay, we're fine, we're even happy. We know how to live solitary lives. We are sufficient unto ourselves. I am good at managing a household. Tom is good at working without panic. Paul is good at school. The anxiety doesn't arise from the situation at hand so much as the miasma of the unknown.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Yesterday was a beauty--blue skies, 50 degrees. Early spring stepped into her glory . . . laundry whipping on the line, neighborhood children shrieking and laughing, walkers stopping by to say hello to my cat and my flowers . . . It was a facsimile of normal, and I was very grateful.

All morning long I worked in the garden. I edged the front flower beds and around the blueberry bushes, and then trundled the cut bits of sod into the backyard, where I used them to fill ruts. I cultivated around emerging bulbs and perennials and weeded out the pushy maple seedlings that are popping up everywhere.

I watched hundreds of honeybees, visitors from a hive up on Stevens Avenue, shimmering among the scylla and crocuses.

Later in the afternoon, my friend Angela called from up north, where the snow is still masking spring--but she was sitting in her 100-degree greenhouse dreaming of summer, and she'd concocted a method for getting transplants from up there to down here--so I will have tomatoes and peppers after all! The two of us crowed and cheered like we'd just rigged the lottery . . .

Oh, the power of growing things . . . the brilliant white and gold of these crocuses, and meanwhile gulls squawk and circle up from the bay, mockingbird spouses flip their sharp tails, a neighbor and I dream of hummingbirds in her lilacs, the cat squints in his patch of sun.

I told you about the terrible grocery store/"I hate you" dream I had on Friday night. That same night Tom and Paul also had nightmares. Tom was in the middle of an art opening when he suddenly realized he wasn't supposed to be so close to people, but he couldn't get away from them. Paul was stuck in a dreadful Zoom conference vortex. By daylight we could all laugh ruefully about how the crisis is manipulating us. But the dread is inescapable.

In the face of such terrors, a morning in the garden, a bike ride, a game of cards feel like a kind of exquisite oxygen . . . which is a terrible metaphor, but I can't think of another way to describe my heightened awareness of everyday gestures. A woman walks by with her dog and tells me what a relief it is to see me back outside, working among the plants. And I believe her. I believe that she is deeply relieved. We barely know each other, but that doesn't matter. This is a time when people say such things to strangers.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Last Saturday, the cat was gracious enough to let me sleep till almost 7. But the honeymoon is over: this morning he started bouncing me at 4:30. I hid under the blankets for another half-hour but finally gave in at 5 and got up. Bed wasn't being that enjoyable anyhow. I'd had a night full of dreams about grocery shopping among empty shelves while talking on the phone to a friend who'd decided to hate me. So relaxing. Hot coffee and a quiet couch are way better than that.

My constant headache is still constant, but my sinus congestion feels some better. Tom will be home for two whole days. This afternoon, if the ground isn't too sodden, I plan to start edging flower beds and weeding out the maple saplings that are starting to sprout in the soft soil. For dinner we'll have either leftover-beef tacos with the genuine Chicago-made corn tortillas I've been hoarding in the freezer or noodle bowls with marinated tofu, blackened cabbage, and pot-au-feu broth. I'll let the boy decide.

Last night I finished rereading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale. Martha Ballard, the diarist that Ulrich studied, has many charms for me. Though I am not a caregiver in the way she was, I so admire her pertinacity: an aging woman falling off her horse, for the hundredth time, as she muddles down a wet lane in the middle of the night, on her way to help a neighbor in labor. How many times did she cross the unruly Kennebec in a canoe and immediately tumble into the mud? Her physical clumsiness and her skilled grace are endearing. And she loved her garden. In May 1809:
Clear part of the day. Showers afternoon. I have dug ground west of the hous. Planted squash, Cucumbers, musk and water mellons East side house. Began and finish a Large wash after 3 O Clock. Feel fatagued. Son Jonathan ploughing our field. My husband workt with him.
Two hundred years later, in Portland, Maine, a day's voyage down the watery lanes from Martha's vanished farm, I dig ground and sow seeds and finish a large wash, as a son and a husband wrestle with their own thorny chores. The contiguity pleases me.

Martha's chaotic spelling is also a charm of the diary. Her own sister was illiterate, but somehow Martha not only learned to read and write but also used those skills to enshrine a private life . . . a very rare action for a woman of her class, in her time and place. Her erratic spelling feels like part of that bravery: a way of stabbing over and over again at language, determined to make it do her bidding. And sometimes it is also very funny. In March 1809:
Son Jonathan sent for his Father & I to dine with him. We had moos meet stakes.
The diary has been a fine choice for pandemic reading . . . close enough to evoke a shared life; distant enough to allow a detachment that is not available to me in our present crisis. But now that I've finished it, I'm turning back to familiar fiction: yet another rereading of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View. Published in 1908, a hundred years after Martha ate moose meat with her family, it will certainly clash in my thoughts with Mrs. Ballard's frontier diary. But I like its farcical prewar English-in-Italy hoohah, especially the misunderstandings: the impossibility of actually saying what one means. No matter when or where we live, we still seem to struggle with our words.

Friday, April 3, 2020

It rained all day yesterday, and it's still raining now--a glorious ticking and dripping and running--and meanwhile the world is greening. Arugula has sprouted; tulips are budding; a sea of scylla flows across the side yard.

Inside, our lives are assuming a pattern. I had a 9 a.m. yoga class in our teeny zoom room. Then Paul took it over and spent much of the rest of the day in class and rehearsal. While he was busy, I was busy too--upstairs in my bedroom editing manuscripts, down on the couch in front of the fire to work on Frost Place stuff, back upstairs copying out Rilke. It's not like being alone in the house, but we are figuring out how to structure a productive life. There's no ignoring the crowd in this little domain, but at least we have rooms and doors. And we like each other.

Cafe Quarantine is soldiering on. For dinner last night I made bacala alla Vesuviana--salt cod simmered in a piquant tomato sauce: capers, onions, lots of red pepper flakes. On the side: Yorkshire pudding and a salad of steamed broccoli, fried garlic, and greens. Tonight we'll have pot au feu--French boiled beef--and maybe a potato salad with coarse mustard, and a tossed salad of cucumber, tomato, and romaine. The chunk of beef is huge; it should last well into the weekend for tacos and such.

Still, I'm tired . . . not just because of the stress you're enduring too, but also because my spring allergies are terrible this year and I've run out of allergy medicine until the drugstore finds time to ship me some more. In the interim, I'm Advil-managing a permanent headache and clogged sinuses. My skull feels like an over-inflated soccer ball; I'm coughing and sneezing; and since I don't have coronavirus, I feel like a public nuisance: not dangerous but alarming.

But it's Friday: Tom will be home all weekend: rain is transforming the earth. What else can I share with you? Maybe you would like to look at this Facebook poetry-month reading series, which includes an awkward video of me reading poems on my bed? I certainly don't want to look at it, though I am reluctantly coming to terms with my new video-based work life.

But I prefer the sixteenth-century song that is always true--
Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

When my boys were young, we listened to the Fountains of Wayne a lot. Like the Ramones, they were one of our family bands: music we played on car trips, music that made all of us cheerful. The Fountains of Wayne wrote sugar-pop hooks about lonely office guys in New Jersey, about a young quarterback imagining his dad watching him on TV, about a kid falling in calf love with his friend's mom. The harmonies were tight; the lyrics were both comic and sad. I taught Fountains of Wayne songs to school kids, back in the days when I was an elementary school music teacher, and my students loved them.

Yesterday coronavirus killed Adam Schlesinger, one of the band's founders and songwriters, who had since made a career as a songwriter on Broadway. He was 52. In his honor, Paul played the Fountains of Wayne album Welcome Interstate Managers as we ate dinner. We sang along with our mouths full. We knew all of the words.

I bought that album at the Borders in Bangor, in about 2004. The boys would have been 7 and 10 years old. Both were with me, and we were excited. When we got back to the car, James unwrapped the CD and stuck it into the stereo, and the song "Mexican Wine" came on . . . a slow ballad intro, the surprising lamenting lyrics: "He was killed in a cellular phone explosion. . . . " And then the intro dropped into a sudden grind of guitar, the song exploded, and all three of us instantly went crazy. We'd been sucked into that old irresistible rock-and-roll joy, and we played the CD over and over again, at top volume, for the hour-plus ride home.

I would never list the Fountains of Wayne among my top bands of all time. I reserve that for the Clash, for Bruce Springsteen, for the Band, for the Pretenders, for James Brown (this is an impossible list to finish). But every time I hear their songs, I'm dialed back into moments of pure sweetness: when being with my boys transcended "I'm your mother/you're my children" . . . when we were just friends soaked in a shared rainstorm of delight. We were singing the songs. We were waiting for the bridge.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Yesterday I had to announce to faculty and applicants that we would be moving the Frost Place Conference on Poetry & Teaching online. This was a really painful decision as the place itself--Frost's barn in Franconia, the vision of the White Mountains--is such an integral element of the experience. But with the world as it is, we can't count on being back to normal by June. And moving online now means we'll have adequate time to figure out tech issues and to completely redesign the curriculum.

So far no applicants have dropped out!  Everyone seems game to try this new venture. The hope is that we'll get even more applicants, now that people know for sure that the conference will be running in this new way. It will be cheaper (no lodging, no catering); you won't need to leave home or family; and we've even got thoughts of extending it into a couple of school-year master classes. As Maudelle, our executive director, crowed: "This is an opportunity, Potter! We're going to make this great!"

Still, writing that announcement cast a miasma of sadness over my day. The Frost Place is one of my places on earth; and since my move from Harmony, when I gave up my land, I have found comfort in remembering that I have a small annual right to Robert's patch of mountainside.

Next year, next year. And in the meantime, something is better than nothing. Something could even be wonderful. I'll do my best to make it so.

In happy news, I had my first online yoga class yesterday, which went really well. Fortunately, I wasn't wearing my glasses so I couldn't perseverate on my appearance. The college student and I have transformed the little back room, home of the TV and record collection and futon couch, into what we're now calling the Zoom Room--our household center for classes, rehearsals, meetings. Those of you who've signed up for the conference will get to visit me there this summer. I'll show you the portrait of one of my cranky ancestors and the elderly deer antlers where I dry fresh herbs. Probably you'll get to meet the famous Ruckus as well. He is quite pushy about attending classes.

Today: no grocery shopping, thank god. That, too, was yesterday's burden. Instead, I'll edit, work on a poem draft, read Rilke, ride my bike, hang clothes on the line, talk to my parents, talk to my Chicago boy. Cafe Quarantine will be serving chicken curry.

And my thoughts will be brushing, again and again, against the final lines of Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo":
                                           For there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.