Tuesday, June 30, 2020

It poured rain all of yesterday . . . inches and inches of rain: a miracle. This morning everything is sodden: the sky looks ready to let loose again at any moment, but a robin is singing and singing in the gloom, and the garden glows, almost seethes, with a kind of inner green fire.

Day 4 of the conference: yesterday we had our final guest faculty talks and presentations. Today, the participants continue to present their sample lessons in the morning, and then we'll spend the afternoon listening to them read their poems. Tonight I'll be reading, and you can access it at this Facebook Live link if you're interested.

I feel like things are going well; I hope the participants feel that way too. I'm learning a lot, having to do this on-the-spot virtual dance. It's clumsy, but it has its weird charms now and again.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Well, here I am again. And it's Monday and it rained all night and it is still raining! This is the first adequate rain we've had for months, and the garden is drinking deep, the cat is furious, and my night brain kept pinging awake, off and on, off and on, confused by the strangeness of the downpour.

All weekend, Tom and Paul managed the house while I taught in the back room, but this morning Tom goes back to work, so I'm preoccupied with laundry and dishes while also fretting about lesson plans. At 3 a.m. my syllabus seemed like the stupidest idea ever. Probably that was just 3 a.m. talking, but I'm a little jangled about it. So I've got to spend some quiet time with it in the light of day.

Yesterday's session went well, I think. I always love the participants' presentations; It gives me a lot of joy to hear their voices and ideas, to hear everyone else's reactions. I really, really miss the barn and the mountain and the porch, but colleagues are a solace, even in this strange forum.

Tonight's Facebook Live reading will feature faculty member Angela Narciso Torres.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Good morning!

Day 1 of the conference is in the books; and while there were definitely tech wobbles, I think it went as well as it possibly could have, under the circumstances. Participants were engaged, enthusiastic; they spoke with deep thought and feeling about our poem of the day (Frost's "Tree at My Window"), and clearly they felt joyful about being together.

Still, so much has vanished: not only the place, but also the easy contiguity of a collective: meals and casual conversations and little interactions on the porch or in the kitchen. It's hard not to feel sad about these losses.

This evening's reading will feature our faculty member Didi Jackson. Here's the link to the Facebook Live event.

And now I'm going to drink a cup of coffee and go for a bike ride, and then drop back into conference mode. Talk to you tomorrow, I hope.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A quick note, as my hair's on fire this morning. The conference will be hosting faculty readings every evening as Facebook Live events. You don't need to have a Facebook account to join. I'll leave links to those readings here, in case you are interested in watching. In the meantime, here's a general invitation to all of them.

Tonight's reader will be Kerrin McCadden, associate director of the Conference on Poetry and Teaching. I'll leave a specific link here later today.



As far as I can tell, the above link will work for Kerrin's reading. If I learn anything different, I'll let you know. The learning curve on this stuff is large. . . .

Friday, June 26, 2020

Tomorrow I enter Conference Time. I hope to write to you during the week, but we'll see. Yesterday I had faculty meetings, tech meetings, hated the way I looked on screen, etc. This morning I've got to set up online templates for writing assignments on a platform I just learned to use yesterday. So wish me luck. Oy.

Otherwise, though, I'm going to try to have a quiet day. Paul and I are going to go for a walk, and watch the Brits bake patisserie, and order takeout for dinner. I think a journal is going to accept the sonnet I just wrote, so that's cheering. I've started reading Michael Cunningham's The Hours, which I found in a free box. I bought a dress that fits.

This morning, the neighborhood is very quiet. A few sparrows are singing. Somewhere, on a cross street, a bicycle murmurs past. Jack the cat trots briskly from his yard into mine. A squirrel eats a nut on a fence, as if he's miming a Beatrix Potter illustration.

from Walking to Work by Frank O'Hara

                         . . . I'm becoming
the street.
               Who are you in love with?
      Straight across the light I cross.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Yesterday evening I learned that a poet-friend's husband contracted Covid in his nursing home, has since been hospitalized with a high fever, and meanwhile she's in the midst of Zoom-teaching a poetry residency, and, good lord, do not let me complain about anything in my life. She lives pretty close to me, so I'm sending my large son over to help her manage some of her yard work while I'm immersed in my own conference. At least Paul and I can do a little bit more than nothing. But not much more.

Except for that sadness, yesterday was weirdly productive. I wrote--and, I think, finished--a sonnet triggered by the phrase "God's waiting room" (apparently a common epithet for Florida) and George Herbert's "Prayer (I)." I cut down old plants--chamomile, arugula, sorrel--and dead-headed peonies and salvia and did some weeding. (We were supposed to get rain, but not a drop fell. Everything is dry dry dry.) I had a Frost Place meeting; I wrote a lot of emails; I made mango sorbet.

Today: the meetings continue, the garden watering re-commences. I'd like to harvest some sage for drying. I don't have any idea what I'll make for dinner. My sonnet is still luring me in, like a siren.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Fog squats on the city, shrouding us in her skirts. Every surface in the house is clammy. Paperbacks curl. Palms stick to banisters. Salt swells and clumps in its dish. Fans whirr, burnishing the stolid air with a skim of breeze. We have no air conditioner. The Alcott House is old-fashioned summer.

This morning I'll mess around with a new poem draft--a sonnet I'm slowly shaping--and do a bit of work in the garden before my Zoom meetings start up again. Yesterday I walked up to the cemetery twice to look at the owlet: a giant baby perched high in a white pine, that Paul and I have taken to calling Owlbert. I spent an hour with my conference staff, who are the best people and are going to make this experience easy and fun and complex and poignant and serious and comical and surprising and rich, despite distance and wonky Internet connections. I made black beans and rice and sat in the evening sunshine and drank two glasses of rose and felt lucky.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Yesterday I spent all afternoon in meetings, and that will be the story for today as well. But I'm also going to take a yoga class and, I hope, spend some time outside. Apparently there's a great horned owl nesting in the cemetery, and I'd like to get a look at it. But the forecast is unsettled--maybe showers, maybe not--so I might just have my nose pressed up against the window. Not that I am complaining about rain: lord knows we need it desperately, even in dribs and drabs. 

I've been picking a few peas, a few strawberries, a bowlful of chard. Last night I made lazy macaroni, tossing it with whatever, and it came out well, because how could it not at this time of year? Fresh herbs, fresh greens, fresh onions.

Teresa and I have begun our Blake project, and I've been reading Garth Greenwell's new new book Cleanness, which is sort of a novel and sort of a set of linked stories and is completely beautiful. Garth is such a stunning craftsman. He handles a sentence with the confidence and aplomb of Henry James, and I don't know anyone who writes better about sex, while also revealing such greatness of heart.

Paul is still applying for jobs. Tom is still plodding off to the work site. I am sitting on the couch in a welter of poems and notebooks and screens and power cords. In the distance, I can hear a mockingbird sing.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Yesterday was so much cooler than expected--though still very humid--and then, late in the afternoon, a thick fog rolled in from the bay and we spent the evening in island time. The boys were outside by the fire pit, and I wandered in and out from kitchen to yard. The maples dripped with mist; the roofs were blurred and vanishing. Paul grilled carne asado. I made roasted potatoes with cilantro and new peas, and baked a plum flan. The air was heavy and strange, an underwater haze, a lungful of sea.

This morning little has changed. Fog squats on the town. The ocean has come calling, and the dampness is like a wet woolen veil.

This week will be five days of pants-on-fire conference prep, and then Saturday I enter the dome, and you will probably hear from me only sporadically until the following weekend. This week I'll also be trying to manage household loose ends, before handing the reins to the boys. It's not going to be easy to run a conference from a location in which I customarily serve as janitor, cook, and laundress.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sorry about the late post this morning. I was up and out early for a peony-walk with a friend at the local Audubon preserve. And then I came home and talked to my son on the phone, and cleaned bathrooms, and started bread rising, and picked a few strawberries, and called my dad. And now I am sitting, finally, and I thought I'd say hello and How about those K-Pop kids and their TikTok prank?! They made my day . . . and I say that even though their prank probably made less of a difference than they thought it did. The importance, and the delight, lies in the fact that these young people mustered their own form of collective power to make a statement against the hideousness that is a Trump rally. I want to hug them all.

Meanwhile, my lovely family is inventing pretend ways to "help out" while I'm running the Frost Place conference in the back room, as in: "Hey, Dawn! How about Tom and I start a band and rehearse while you're on Zoom? We'll cover entire Fleetwood Mac albums, death-metal style! We'll call ourselves the Gnu Plague!"

See what you'll be missing if you don't sign up quick?

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Yesterday was just a crazy mess. First, I had a freak bleach accident in the laundry and damaged a bunch of clothing. Then I managed to send out the wrong document to an entire mailing list. I ended the day by stumbling into a hearth brick and probably not breaking but certainly injuring a toe, which is now a hideous purple-black. On the bright side, I did not dent the car or lose a lot of money. Nor did I give anyone food poisoning. But good lord.

Surely today will be calmer. It won't be any cooler, though. Maine is in a serious heat wave, and there's no rain in sight. For last night's dinner I coached Paul through breading chicken breasts, and I did manage to make some fresh peach ice cream without destroying anything. Tonight we'll stuff grape leaves with rice, lemon, green onions, and a fistful of garden herbs. Maybe I'll make a big shrimp salad and some cheese wafers to go along with it.

Before I leave you for the day: Here's a passage from Toni Morrison's novel Love. I think it's worth mulling.
All around the world, traitors help progress. It's like being exposed to tuberculosis. After it fills the cemetery, it strengthens whatever survives, helps them know the difference between a strong mind and a healthy one; between the righteous and the right--which is, after all, progress. The problem for those left alive is what to do about revenge--how to escape the sweetness of its rot.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Yesterday I got a lot of Frost Place prep done, mostly while sitting outside in the cool-ish shadows of early morning. My big accomplishment was writing out the play-by-play for a brand-new revision workshop, which I hope will be a fun activity for participants as well as a new way to think about experiential learning. That is the most boring sentence ever, but honestly one of the biggest problems with teaching revision (both directly to students and to the teachers of students) is the hurdle of making it seem (1) fascinating in and of itself rather than a tacked-on chore and (2) like a way to tap into a student's power and agency rather than serve as pure teacher-pleaser ("what more can I discover"? versus "what do you want me to change?"). Revision lessons can also make teachers very anxious. They may hate the sensation of serving as judge and arbiter of someone else's personal revelation; they may doubt their own competence in poetry; they may feel torn between freedom and structure. Given this baggage, the revision workshop at the conference is always a bit fraught and hairy, so my goal this year is to open a new a few new shady corridors, for all of us.

If you are interested in joining us, it's not too late. I'd love to have you.

Today I'll be turning my attention to schedule tweaking, Zoom instructions, faculty bios, and other administrative nitpicking. The weather will be hot, a great day to hang sheets on the line, chain-drink ice tea, and make another batch of pineapple ice cream.

Wishing you shade and sweetness--

Thursday, June 18, 2020

I spent much of yesterday reading, but I did also mow grass and wash sweaters and do some grocery shopping and plant a flat of bok choy. Today, however, my brief holiday ends, and I'll be going back to work on Frost Place curriculum and such.

We're entering a stretch of hot weather, and everything is so dry. I have been watering and watering, and longing for rain. So far the Alcott House farm is hanging onto life, but I've had to be vigilant. I suppose, in a way, it's a good thing that I can't go anywhere, because my garden would surely die while I was gone.

Last evening, as Tom and I were sitting at the little table in the Lane, playing cribbage against a scrim of tall garlic, I couldn't stop thinking about how odd it is: that I live here, that we live together, that we have raised a family, that we have done work. I guess it was a Talking Heads moment: "This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife." And then: "How did I get here?"

Time is a folded tablecloth. Time is a burr in a dog's coat. Time is a tear in a lettuce leaf. Time is a painting of air.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

It felt good to have such a peaceful day. I read a lot, cleaned the refrigerator, went for a long walk with my neighbor. Paul repaired the canoe seat, and Tom came home with a cooler full of free fresh mackerel, courtesy of a fisherman on his crew. So we sat around the fire pit playing cards, and then the boys grilled the mackerel, and I made pilaf and a Greek salad and strawberry ice cream. Not the dinner I had envisioned, but an even better one.

Today will also be quiet, I hope. Maybe I'll do some writing. Maybe I'll hand-wash some sweaters. Eventually, I'll shred the leftover grilled mackerel into salad.

The weather is turning hot, and I am watering furiously. My few peas are fattening. Strawberries are pink. Tomato plants are growing like magic beanstalks, six inches taller every morning.

Here's a small poem from my 1860s diary manuscript:
Skimming Cream 
A cloudless sky, a slight breath of air— 
I have gained a knowledge of the world.
But I am very tired of books.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On his way home from work yesterday, Tom ordered the Corian for our kitchen counters. He's timing delivery for when James gets here in early July, so he'll have plenty of son aid in carrying, sanding, fitting, clamping, and so on. This is an exciting development: real countertop instead of plywood and random slabs of stone. Who knows? Someday we might even have cupboard doors.

Another yesterday event: I shipped out the last copyedited file sitting on my desk. This means I am now manuscript-free until July. Thank god. Work has been such a slog this spring--a dust storm of dense, complicated, needy projects and an olio of gratitude/anxiety about working at all.

I'm going to take a couple of days "off" before diving into final Frost Place prep . . . by which I mean I'll be taking part in meetings, sending emails, etc., but I'm going to give myself a break from actively writing curriculum, composing talks, and such. Today I'll attend a yoga class. I'll go for a bike ride. I'll make bread. I'll clean the refrigerator. I've started reading Toni Morrison's Love, and I'll also get back to my friend's novel. Tonight's dinner will be noodle bowls with freshly made chicken broth and big handfuls of garden herbs.

Here's to a quiet day in the sun and the shade.

Monday, June 15, 2020

I woke up in the early hours to the scent of skunk wafting through my open bedroom window. Something got sprayed, but it was not my cat, who was snoozing comfortably in the curl of my knee. I guess we can call that a good start to Monday.

I worked hard all weekend--in the garden, in the house, plus a long hike--so this morning I am a little stiff but also very well rested and ready to attack the one remaining chapter in my editing stack. I don't know how long this one will take to finish (if it's anything like the others in the collection, it won't be easy), but best-case scenario: I'll be done by Wednesday and can take a day or so off . . . at least mostly off . . . before entering the final countdown for the Frost Place conference.

I don't know if that will mean writing. I don't really understand where or what my writing life is at the moment. I feel, in so many ways, that this is not a time for me to talk. It's a time for me to listen and pay attention, to stand in solidarity but keep my mouth shut.

Yet of course I'm a writer, so I write. Something comes out. It may be highly unimportant; it may be the most useless drivel ever. Blah blah blah garden blah blah blah dinner. Or it may be its own version of a chronicle.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Greetings from the gardens of Alcott House. I spent all of Saturday weeding, watering, moving soil, trimming, and sowing. Except for my dreadful pea crop, things are looking pretty good.

Unlike the edible peas, the sweetpeas are strong and healthy, and the blossoms are just starting to open. I have planted them in the Parlor Bed and trellised them over the handrail beside the front door with hopes that the handrail beside the Library Bed will have morning glories on it later this summer.

[Apparently I somehow managed to get my finger in a couple of these photos. My skills with a camera do not improve.]

Looking up at the Eastern Terrace: You can see in the foreground red-veined sorrel and strawberries, chamomile behind them. On the left the garden box at the edge of the Breadbasket: it has new plantings of scallions, radishes, kale, and collards. The purple behind them is a clump of salvia in the Library Bed.

Another view of the Eastern Terrace. In the Lowlands in front: catnip and my neighbor's iris. On the terrace proper, strawberries, with chamomile and tomato stakes behind them.

A sidewalk view of the Breadbasket: In the front, young zinnia and dianthus seedlings, which will thicken and spread. Behind them, a future hedge of sunflowers and okra. A cucumber under the wooden trellis, a row of green beans, a row of terrible peas, an artichoke, and a few succession sowings of salad greens.

The Red Walk, with thyme in bloom, and side glimpses of Concord Plain and the Breadbasket.

Ruckus looking handsome on Concord Plain.

The Lane: Garlic and shallots are huge and healthy in the front box. The rear box contains carrots, beets, lettuce, and cilantro. The pots are nasturtiums, mint, and a geranium. The cat is Ruckus, who was trying to be in all of the photographs.

Harmony iris and a white rugosa blooming in the Hill Country. Lilies in front are budding, and will bloom soon.

The newly expanded Lantern Waste bed: The thick middle row features pink dahlias. Behind, them ornamental wheat and cosmos. In front, euphorbia and and sedum. Scarlet runners are climbing the light post.

The first summer we moved here, I transplanted this weedy little peony from the Hill Country into the Library Bed. It did nothing much for three years. Then, this summer, it suddenly bloomed. Turns out it's a beautiful unusual variety, called a Japanese peony, with a single circle of petals instead of a crinoline fluff. The color is pale pink, and the flower bears considerable resemblance to a rose, with a strong wonderful scent.

I spent some time yesterday harvesting chamomile flowers to dry for tea. These self-sowed plants have been a joy this summer: bright and full, bobbing in the breeze.

Another view of the Eastern Terrace: young tomato plants, interspersed with salad greens. Various herbs along the terrace edge. My neighbor's pink blossoms framing them.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

I did a chunk of editing in the morning, then spent the afternoon in the kitchen, baking two loaves of oatmeal bread and a plum upside-down cake. Dinner was salmon patties, a tian of baby chard, carrot and cilantro salad, and fresh greens.

Paul has been applying for jobs, and keeping me apprised of the comic possibilities. Would you perhaps like to be a writing assistant for WWE fight scripts? Or an understudy for Wally the Green Monster, mascot of the Boston Red Sox? The entertainment industry offers many career paths.

Today I have a load of fresh soil to move out of my driveway. I also ought to do a lot of weeding. The air feels cool and fresh this morning; I think it will be a beautiful day to garden.

Teresa and I finished our Rilke project yesterday, and now we are moving on to Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, which I know very well and T knows less well. (The Rilke sonnets were the opposite: T knew them better than I did.) Then after we finish Blake, we're going to move on to a poem that neither of us knows well at all: T suggests Byron's Childe Harold. I think reading Byron is a brilliant idea, and I can't wait to get started. (We may be the only two people on earth who are all of a-flutter over the idea of reading Childe Harold. But that is why we love each other.)

Friday, June 12, 2020

The past couple of days have been cool, if humid, but now the air feels thick and summery. My new haircut is all of a-curl, and the garden glows a tropical green in the early morning light.

I finished up my residency-app judging yesterday, so that's one more desk job to tick off the list. And I felt safe about my haircut, too, which was another plus to the day. Today there'll be more Zoom meetings, more editing, a Rilke phone call with Teresa, a truckload of soil delivered for the new flowerbeds. 

I'm still cradling my finalist news like an invisible baby. Probably it's wrong to feel so joyous about it. But I do. There has been so little joy in our communal lives; maybe that's why the private ones seem extra bright.

Do you remember the Rilke sonnet I posted yesterday? To me, it still feels like a personal message delivered straight from the divine--a prescription for living, along the lines of Whitman's instructions in the preface to Leaves of Grass, that passage that begins "This is what you shall do."

Rilke holds my face in his two hands and he tells me:
In this night of fire and excess, stand
as magic power at your senses’ crossroads,
be the meaning of their strange encounter.
And I say to him: Okay. I'll try.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

This Reine de Saba cake was one of several good things that happened yesterday. The best news was that James's Covid test came back negative. Also, I bought pants that fit and are actually cute, and Paul marinated and grilled chicken breasts for dinner. Plus, I got an excellent night's sleep, and it's raining. But the swooniest thing that happened was the email announcing that I'm a finalist for a major, major poetry prize. I'm not supposed to announce any details on social media, so I won't mention the name of the prize or which manuscript made the cut. And of course I'm sure I won't win; I never win anything. But this is by far the highest-profile short list I've ever been on. I can hardly believe it. [As confirmation of how exciting this is: so far I've told two poet friends the news, and both responded with "Holy shit!"]

Today I've got two Zoom meetings in the morning and (gasp) a haircut appointment in the afternoon. Yes, I'm going to wear my new cute pants and actually go out into the world for selfish purposes. I can hardly wait.

Oh, I forgot the other wonderful thing that happened to me. This poem:

Sonnet 29

Rainer Maria Rilke

Silent friend of the many distances,
feel how your every breath enlarges space.
Amid the rafters of dark belfries
let yourself peal. Whatever feeds on you

is taking strength from such fare.
Know every path through transformation.
That one experience at the core of your sorrow?
If drinking is bitter, become wine.

In this night of fire and excess, stand
as magic power at your senses’ crossroads,
be the meaning of their strange encounter.

And if the earthly should forget you,
say to the silent loam: I flow.
To the rushing water speak: I am.

[from Sonnets to Orpheus, trans. Edward Snow]

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Two good things: I did find a bit of time to work on a poem revision yesterday. And so far the vegetable seedlings I bought are surviving drought and pestilence.

For some reason (for all the reasons?), this has been a hard week. My older son got a Covid test yesterday--not because he is symptomatic but because he's been at protests in Chicago and is concerned about carrying it to us when he comes east. States continue to relax public health protections, even as cases are rising again. Americans' boredom with the pandemic feels like just one more nail in our social coffin. And meanwhile the righteous anger rises, and the ruthless take advantage of that call to scalp and hamstring.

Here at home, we stutter on. Paul applies for jobs and combs through recipes. Tom hammers and saws and lugs and fits. I scrape away at manuscripts. Everything and nothing. That's what this time feels like.

I started rereading Iris Murdoch's The Bell.  Paul and I pruned a lilac together. Tom beat me at cribbage. I listened to a podcast about the making of the film version of The Last Picture Show. I chopped onions and peppers for chili. Tom and Paul fussed lovingly over the webcam they're setting up for my Frost Place conference. Family life, in all of its dull pedestrian sweetness. And yet we are treading water.

Here's a little poem.

Two on the Sidewalk in Front of Catholic Charities

Dawn Potter

What’s your problem what’s
Your fuckin problem?

She gropes for his hand.
She clutches air.

[from Blood]

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Last night I slept like a hibernating bear in January (good), then woke up at 3:30 with a headache that made my skull feel like a sloshing fishbowl (bad).

Fortunately coffee, ibuprofen, and antihistamines are improving the situation, as is the cool summer air sifting through the screens.

Yesterday I broke down and bought bean, cucumber, and okra plants, and a few flats of annual flowers, in hopes of reviving my sorry-looking front garden patch (aka the Breadbasket). Between the extreme dryness and whatever voracious invisible insects have been marauding among them, I have not been able to get my own seedlings to thrive. Let's hope these new arrivals are big enough to withstand the conditions. I'm almost afraid to look at them this morning.

We really need a soaking rain--several days of it. But today all we'll get is cloudiness. I've got editing to do, per usual, and I'd like to snatch some time to work on a few poem revisions. I've got to figure out how to hook up a web cam for the upcoming Frost Place Zoom marathon. I need to go to the bank and probably to the grocery store (ugh). The little chores feel like giant chores. The giant chores feel impossible.

Yesterday's poetry group meeting was good, though: strong drafts, precise conversation. The precision was a help. It's funny how structured thought can help a mind relax. Maybe I should take up calculus or Ancient Greek.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Our mantle might suggest that we're decorating for a wedding, but really this was a peony rescue mission. The bush was massive this year, and a thunderstorm trounced it. Believe it or not, there's another big vase of rescued flowers in the kitchen, and the bush even has a few blooms left on it.

Here's a close-up of chamomile in flower, just before I started harvesting for tea. I don't love the taste of chamomile, but it is a good soporific.

Yesterday I made sandwich bread and mango ice cream and injera and guacamole, and cleaned the house, and tried unsuccessfully to achieve a full night's sleep. Thus the interest in chamomile.

In the meantime, I'll be back to editing today. I have a poetry group meeting tonight, which I hope I can stay awake for. Paul says he's making spicy Thai shrimp soup for dinner.

This letter to you is jerky and disjointed, but so am I this morning. I feel like a human grocery list.

But the flowers are soothing.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

We got some rain yesterday--not a lot, but enough to smash the peonies (as expected) and to give everything a mild drink. Before the downpours started I pulled out or pruned various greens that were going to seed, thinned beets and carrots, planted succession crops of carrots, arugula, and lettuce and fall crops of kale and collards. My peas are disappointingly thin this year, and some insect keeps eating the beans. But the greens look pretty good, and so far the groundhog has not popped up to destroy them.

I've been tearing through books lately: Mary Karr's The Liar's Club, Toni Jensen's From the Hilltop. More slowly: Rilke, and my friend's manuscript. Now I'm taking a brief rest with Barbara Pym's Excellent Women. Tom wants me to cut his hair today, which could be a huge mistake, but he's getting desperate.

These are all such small things.

* * *

              when you send the rain
              think about it, please,
              a little?

[from "Untitled" by James Baldwin]

Saturday, June 6, 2020

It's another dense and sticky morning: fans running, windows open to catch the last of the night's air. I'm glad it's Saturday, and I can sit quietly here in my nightgown, not cleaning up after breakfasts, not rushing a load of laundry into the machine.

Paul spent all of yesterday afternoon making tiramisu. I mowed grass and watered the garden and harvested the bolting spinach. Tom came home early and we cooked our first meal in the new fire pit: steaks and skewered vegetables. Now and again the three of us would wincingly check on Trump news from the homeland. The pathos of the photographs is considerable and painful.

Today we're forecast to get thunderstorms and hail. I think I'll cut a few bouquets of peonies so they won't all be smashed in by weather. Yesterday I submitted my residency application recommendations and made progress on the academic journal I'm editing. It's a relief to finally feel like I'm getting caught up on my desk work.

And Trump is out of Maine. And nobody got hurt, despite the guys patrolling downtown Guilford with AR-15s.

Friday, June 5, 2020

A heavy, sticky morning. But already, in the pre-dawn gloom, the vigilant bluejays are awake, and denouncing the cat. Somewhere a small dog shrills.

We aren't going to Guilford today, but we're all tense about the situation. I talked with a Monson friend last night and we invented dream banners and carvings in fields along the route from Bangor to Guilford. But in real life roads will be closed, and the monster won't bother to look out the window of his helicopter.

Kids I taught to sing Woody Guthrie songs? Some of them will be holding Trump signs.

I'm trying not to brood. But I am brooding.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Tom and Paul went downtown to the protest yesterday, which was huge (for Portland) but very peaceful. I would have gone too, except that Paul had bread in the oven and I'm softhearted. However, it's looking less and less like we'll go up to Guilford. I'm reading that roads will be closed, and the whole thing seems increasingly mysterious and ominous.


I need to stop fretting about the monster and return to the here-and-now: I'll try to get to my yoga class this morning.At some point James will call with a Chicago update. I finished an editing project yesterday and hope to finish a second today. Some insect is eating my green beans and they look terrible. We got a speck of rain yesterday. Paul made a really good batch of ciabatta. I'm behind on my Rilke copying project. Iris are beautiful in gardens around the neighborhood. Bluejays were patrolling the lilac outside my bedroom window and screeching at Ruckus through the screen.

The following poem is by no means straightforward memoir, and the speaker is not a replica of me. Nonetheless, there are moments when both overlap.

Quaker Ladies

Dawn Potter


They had soft, wrinkled hands, those tender Friends.
From their perch on the facing bench,
they rested their dim eyes on hippie mamas

layered in ponchos and peace signs, on bearded professors
breathing noisily in the yogic manner, on bored teenagers
scratching at bits of loose paint on the seatbacks.

Crossing their swollen ankles, blinking like tired cats in sunshine,
the ladies smoothed their navy-blue skirts over their sensible laps.
Now and again, as the tongue-tied hour unrolled,

they emitted a modest snore.
But afterward, amid battered chairs and short stacks
of Chips Ahoy and plastic cups of tea,

while the hippie mamas shrilled No Nukes songs
and plotted vegetarian potlucks,
a lady might take one of us small ones aside and chide gently,

“Thee mustn’t run upstairs during First Day School.
Thee mustn’t shout in the burial ground during Meeting.”
In the same moment she would reach out for our grubby hands

and bunch them up between both of hers,
a shy apology for her humble, dogged, civilizing mission.
We needed to learn how to behave,

so at little parties our Friends would let us melt slivers
of American cheese on saltines in their tiny old-fashioned gas ovens
while they timidly discussed the world of the infidels.

“That Rush Limbaugh on the radio,” a lady whispered to me
when I was eight and she was eighty,
“I don’t think he is a nice man.”

I had no idea who Rush Limbaugh was,
but I nodded wisely,
until the saltines starting burning up in the oven.

Quickly we snatched out the remains and tipped them 
into the sink, and then we giggled a little at our incompetence.
Soon enough, someone else would smell disaster.


In the old days,
my mother’s days,
the seas were chock-full of peaceniks—
hippie Friends canoeing into submarine
christening ceremonies and waving
Save Our Planet signs until the Coast Guard
tipped them into the bay.
Meanwhile, their kids lurked at home with an elderly

stepdad. While he napped we played Space Invaders
on the den TV and snitched roaches out of parental ashtrays.
Perhaps that’s when the evil slipped in---
during those afternoons of gleeful selfishness.
Because now, when a jerk corners me at the counter,
strutting and opining—oh, Lord, how he opines
[“Him and myself go way back.”

“That’s a girl who knows how to have a good time.”]
—the fact is
I want to kill him.
I peer through the store window.
Outside, the sun flings heat at the battered sidewalk,
and two men in hard hats stand beside a yawning hole.
Nothing in that still-life seems willing to rescue me
from my machinations.

How could a good Quaker baby, brought up to eat
soybean casseroles and vote for Ralph Nader, 
nurture the hate that gnaws at me now—
now that I’m as dried out as the heaps
of road dirt humped beside this intersection?
I’ve reached the age when most of my ilk
have lapsed into a do-gooder’s torpor,
serving up Christmas dinner for the homeless,

crooning the oldies at nursing homes,
penning sweet poems about spiders.
Instead, I’m considering the pleasures of shoving
this maggoty customer into an asphalt chasm,
stealing a backhoe, and burying him alive.

Peaceniks are always washing their hands.

William Penn owned twelve slaves.

Put that in your pipe, Mother,
and try not to choke.

[a portion of this poem appeared in Balancing Act II: An Anthology of Poems by 50 Maine Women (Littoral Books, 2019)]

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Dim morning, a faint rain. Soil as dry as sand.

The trees stand silently against the ashen sky.

We begin our day: make breakfast, pour coffee, pack lunch, sort laundry. In two hours, Tom will be building a house. I will be checking typos. Work crawls on.

On the mantle, a sheaf of peonies reclines, pale and flustered. The room is shadowy. Outside, a bluejay screeches at the cat.

Cordova, far and lonely. 
Black pony, full moon,
And olives in my pocket:
Although I know the roads,
I'll never reach Cordova. 
[from "The Rider's Song" by Federico Garcia Lorca]

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Yesterday the so-called president announced that he'll be coming to Maine on Friday to tour a plant in Guilford that makes the medical swabs being used for Covid tests. Guilford is very close to Harmony, where I lived for so many years, and to Monson, where I still teach. So I am appalled. In the midst of such anguish and unrest, not to mention the terrible management of our public health emergency, this monster decides to drop in on poor rural America and flash his bad credit.

The governor has asked him, point-blank, not to come to Maine. And of course he may get scared off and decide to retreat back into his bunker. We are seriously considering driving up as a family to take part in protests against his visit, though I suspect figuring out the timing of his arrival will be difficult. I don't know what we'll end up doing, but I am so angry.

Big demonstration in Portland yesterday, where the police here are behaving responsibly enough, as far as I can tell. Chicago is a mess of looting, and my son stayed up all night listening to the police scanner and trying to track activity by the sound of sirens. He is anxious to be part of a peaceful protest, equally anxious to have nothing to do with the looting chaos, which seems to involve a distinctly different group of people. He'll call me this morning and update me on whatever he knows.

Deep breath, deep breath.

Monday, June 1, 2020

June 1, and the temperature is 39 degrees. It feels like the first day of Frost Place conference week out there: which is to say, freezing cold in summer. Northern New England is a crazy place.

I'm feeling somewhat more pulled together than I was yesterday: still full of grief and dread about the state of the nation and its people, but I worked in the garden and hung out with Paul and went for a long walk with Tom and made the best crab cakes I've ever eaten. The actions of my body were a sort of tonic, though a tonic is no solution, nor even a statement. But as far as a statement goes? Well, I'm not convinced I have the right to make one.

So Monday morning, the first day of June: I'll keep doing what I know I can do.  I'll read and I'll listen.