Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fog hangs thick over Portland, Maine, and the wet air smells like the sea. Here, in my lamp-lit room, the cat is lying on the floorboards in his silly inside-out position--back feet in the air, head twisted like an owl's; and I am sitting in my accustomed couch-corner drinking black coffee from a white cup-and-saucer; and Tom is upstairs, sighing and heaving himself out of bed; and Paul, who got home from work around midnight, is still sound asleep.

On the coffee table (which is really just a beat-up old chest) are four fat books: Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, a volume of William Blake's collected poems, David Treuer's The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, and Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. In the corner are a violin case and a mandolin case. On the mantel are several large odd stones, a glass swan, a carved stone head, an empty vase, two beeswax candles made by a son's ex-girlfriend, a treasure chest, and a handsome broken clock.

Such is my milieu, at 6:15 on an early September morning, in this year of pandemic and fire and cruelty and protest and indifference and national decay.

Today I will plod through my accustomed rounds: house work, desk work, garden work. I'll cook something-or-other for dinner involving the fresh leeks my friend sent me from up north. I'll pray for rain.

Here's a poem that came out in Vox Populi last year. It's a September poem. I thought it might echo for you.

A Listener Sends Six Letters to God, in Autumn


Dawn Potter

Dear Sir, he wrote at dawn,


I am requesting your kind attention

to a perplexity, which is this:

that I believe I may be hearing

what otherwise cannot be heard,

and I am finding it necessary to become

a vessel for pouring this sound into the atmosphere,

if only I may have your assistance in the matter.

Dear Sir,

I pray you, accept this request

with all seriousness and haste.

Yours most truly,


and, with great care, he signed 


A Friend.




Dear Sir, he wrote at dawn,


Today I trudged down the muddy lanes

that snake alongside the sluggish canal

or suddenly veer away, to writhe

among the narrow houses and shops

elbowing one another against the dingy



He paused. On his pen, a bubble of ink trembled.


You see I am avoiding

what I need to say.

Despite undue haste, I remain


The bubble fell, and blotted.


Your Servant.




Dear Sir, he wrote at dawn,


For three days now I have been writing letters

to you. I trust you know that they are always

the same letters, though my words are different.

I am practicing my scales, and my hands are dirty,

and the piano keys stick in the humid air.

Nonetheless, I am


Here a fingerprint appeared.




Dear Sir, he wrote at dawn,


Last evening, I walked, again,

along the canal and I felt

the crackle of my letter to you

as it lay inside my hat, I felt

the snag of the letter’s fold against

my hair, which, I admit,

is neither clean nor combed.

It was necessary to mail the missive.

The question was:

where were you most likely to receive it?

I chose to drop the paper into a farrier’s mossy well,

and perhaps you now hold it

in your dry, your supple hand.

Reveal to me a sign.

My landlady is importunate.


I am your humble


Here a small hole appeared.




Dear Sir, he wrote at dawn,


In truth I am becoming weary of this chore.

I distrust myself.

Last night, while I was at the piano,

my landlady pounded the butt end of a rusty musket

against my chamber door.

To all appearances, she hates my sonata.

Perhaps you, with your finer ear,

will despise it also. I cannot pinpoint,

in these waning days, what, if anything,

I trust.

Yours, in difficulty,


and now the handwriting became a broad scrawl


One Who Attempts Clarity.




Dear Sir, he wrote at dawn,


Persistence is a reckless master.

This will not be my final missive, it will not.

Maintain your vigilance. Hunt for notes

tied to the highest twigs of trees.

I have torn the sonata into shreds

and floated them in the canal. They

are not the letter I meant to write.

I believe you understand.

A breeze blows across the piano strings

and the machine strums its private tunes.

They are not mine. Perhaps they are yours.


I do not hear my own in any gale.


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