Saturday, October 31, 2020

Well, it's in the low 20s out there, so my flower garden is toast. I'm sad, but also ready to move on. Today, I'll clear out the frostbitten plants, dig up dahlia roots for storage, and do another round of leaf raking. Meanwhile, Tom will install the walkway edging and finish spreading gravel, and then the new beds-in-waiting will be ready for Thursday's soil delivery.

During my walk yesterday I noticed a new sign outside a nearby house: Oysters for Sale. We all love oysters, so when Tom got home I started excitedly telling him, "Oh, by the way: oysters! I was going for a walk . . . " He interrupts me. "You found oysters on the street?" I burst out laughing. At this point in our life, it seems he believes I can find anything on the street. He started making a list of all the things I've brought home: wild mushrooms (from woods, cemeteries, fields, campgrounds), fiddlehead ferns (from woods, lying on the sidewalk), a fresh marijuana bud (also lying on the sidewalk), a grouse (stuck to the grill of my car) . . . Why not oysters too? His confidence in me is very flattering.

Anyway, the upshot of our comic conversation is that we decided to buy some of those oysters for tonight. Here's hoping they're excellent.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Yesterday I stumbled into what I hope will be a fruitful and also fun writing opportunity. An organization known as Writing the Land is actively looking to pair poets with participating land trusts. Right now its focus seems to be New England, mostly Massachusetts, but New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine land trusts are also available for partnerships. 

When I contacted them, they responded immediately, with pleasure. And now I have been paired with a section of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, a glorious area linking the Kennebec River and Merrymeeting Bay to the sea. I'm particularly delighted to be matched with this region because Harmony was in the Kennebec watershed, so the region itself is a link between my old life and my new. Tom, Paul, and I had already begun exploring bits of the area--a visit to Swan Island, a canoe trip on the Muddy River into Merrymeeting--and a good bit of my reading of Maine history has focused on the movement of people from the coast into the interior via the Kennebec waterways.

So I'm excited to have a potential writing project that is also linked to the outdoors, to my own past and future.

If you're interested in this project, I know they're continuing to invite poets. You're a poet. You should apply.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

This morning: dense fog, 35 degrees, and a pitched argument with the cat, who tried to sneak a semi-dead mouse into the house.

It's been a slow week, money-earning-wise, but at least I've been writing. Today I'll bake bread and keep barging forward into my essay. I did finish stacking the new firewood yesterday, well before the rains started, so that's an autumn chore off my mind. We're supposed to get a killing frost on Friday night, and I guess I should plan to spend my Saturday digging up dahlia roots and tearing out dead nasturtiums and marigolds. Good thing my front yard is still decorated with all of that cold-hardy kale.

Covid is spiking again in Maine; and though we are still in far better shape than much of the rest of the country, anxiety is rising. So much pit-of-stomach dread: terror about the election, terror about the virus; and a deep and growing distrust of a large portion of humanity, which has repeatedly revealed itself as both stupid and indifferent.

Stacking firewood, clearing out a garden, kneading bread dough, wiping down counters, sweeping a hearth, making a bed, fluffing a pillow, writing a line.

I embark on my daily rounds. I watch the rain fall. And when a pileated woodpecker lands on my neighbor's walnut tree, I feel as if I've won the lottery.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Paul and I moved a chunk of the firewood pile after lunch, and then Tom and I stacked most of the rest of it before dark, so this morning I have only a couple of barrow loads left to haul out of the driveway before the rains move in.

Snow is forecast on Friday, and we haven't even had a frost yet. But in Maine this is always a dicey time of year. Twenty-three years ago I went into labor on the night of the first sleet storm, and at 4 a.m. on October 28, 1997, my dear second son was born. Today that infant is a bearded six-footer, an ambitious theater artist who trudges back and forth to his shitty line-cook job without much complaint; struggling every day to make the best of a bad situation; creator of comic cat songs, famous eater of mayonnaise sandwiches; a loving son, paddling his canoe along the lonely rivers.

And so today, after I stack the rest of the firewood and crank out a few more paragraphs of my essay, I'll be making a birthday cake.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Drizzle and fog all day yesterday, but today will be drier. We're getting a load of firewood dumped in the driveway first thing this morning, and this afternoon I'll begin moving and stacking. I need to clear out the driveway wood quickly, because next week a truckload of garden soil is arriving to take its place. I guess it's wheelbarrow season. Good thing I have a new sidewalk.

Fortunately (I guess), my desk work has slowed to a trickle. Yesterday I wrote a few rough essay paragraphs, and this morning I'll try to chisel out a few more. I know how I want to shape the piece, but for some reason my progress is slow. Distractions, I suppose: conversations, fretful and infuriated, but also funny and hopeful, spanning the petty and the tragic . . .  With my poet sister Teresa, shaking our disbelieving heads over Byron the unreliable narrator. With my neighbor Valerie, confabulating with me about how to increase our shared quince crop. With my honorary niece Lucy, cutting kale in the rain and laughing about kittens. With my faraway mother and father and sister and son, desultory chat about baseball and laundry and birthdays and recipes and weird rashes and and and.

Well, I should stop fiddling with this letter to you and go find money to pay the firewood guy. And then I should make fresh coffee for Tom to take to work, and run a load of laundry so that Paul has a clean mask for work. And then I should sit down and write about what it felt like to meet a particular poem for the first time, at a moment when I was not quite a poet myself but wondering if I could become one. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

It will be a chilly day--temperatures not getting out of the 40s, and maybe some cold rain to go along with them. Yesterday was cool too, but bright. Tom spent all day on the island, and I spent all day mopping floors, sewing, carrying firewood, making chicken stock . . . a city-farmwife kind of day.

Today I'll go back to my desk. I've got editing/manuscript consultant work on the way, but none of it has arrived yet. So I'll start that essay on Baron's poems, consider a draft of my own, maybe begin thinking about my embryo New & Selected. In the afternoon Teresa and I will talk about Byron. I do love working on poems on a Monday morning, when the house is bright and clean and all I have to worry about is words.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Yesterday's accomplishments: baking two beautiful fat oatmeal loaves and discovering a new way to cook kale. I also finished Greene's The End of the Affair (not recommended:  misogynistic cynicism basted with Catholic apologism, plus a highly unlovable main character), made progress on my mask sewing, hauled bags of sticks to the curb, started rereading a comfort book (Alcott's Little Men: didactic, yes, but in a wholesome nineteenth-century-progressive way that I find extremely cozy), and sat on the back stoop drinking tea and keeping Tom company while he finished setting the paving stones.

Now Tom has rushed out of the house, on his way to catch a ferry to Peaks Island, where he's going to spend the morning taking pictures at an old WWII fortification known as Battery Steele. And I am sitting here contentedly in my red bathrobe, not leaping into laundry and housework (though I will before long), watching the new morning filter through the window screens and listening to the clock tick.

I am enjoying the advent of fall . . . the chill mornings, the purring furnace, the lamplight and the firelight. I have a freezer full of vegetables and a basement full of firewood. Winter will be so hard and lonely, snow and cold and this endless pandemic, but the Alcott House has charms and improvements: a new fire pit, new garden beds, a new kitchen counter and backsplash, now a new walkway. There's more to do on it: Tom has ordered some steel landscape edging, and when that arrives he'll dig it into the ground and finish spreading gravel against it. Then I'll take over: layer the broad empty space between gravel and stone wall with a thick bed of fallen leaves; spread a truckload of fresh soil on top of it. And a reclaimed Shed Patch will sleep under its blanket, waiting for an early spring planting of ferns and Solomon's seal.

Still, it's hard not to keep lapsing into sadness. I worry about the people I love--both those who are close and those who are far away . . . lonely, sad, frustrated, as you are, as we all are; treading water in a stagnant pond. I list my small delights as a way to remember them, because it is too easy to not even notice they exist.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Yesterday turned out to be more scattershot than I'd hoped: possibly my brain was tired from all of the intense poem concentrating. Eventually, though, I settled down and got started on a sewing task I've been avoiding--making a set of new masks. We've been using the ones we have for so long that they're starting to wear out. I don't have a working sewing machine, so I had to search for a pattern that would be easy to hand-sew--e.g., something other than the pleated ones, which have thick layers of material that are a challenge to punch through. It turned out to be easy to find a simple pattern for a shaped mask, so I dug into my box of fabric scraps and cut out all of the pieces yesterday, and now I have a basketful of sewing to keep my hands occupied during baseball games.

Today I think Tom is planning to finish the new walkway, and I am planning to dust and run errands, and Paul is planning to sleep late on his day off. I might get started on that essay I didn't get started on yesterday. Or I might go on a long walk and not think about poems. I'm feeling vaguely achy from yesterday's flu shot . . . nothing major, but maybe enough to shift me out of diligent writer mode into stare-at-the-sky mode.

Friday, October 23, 2020

This morning I'll drive over to the East End for a flu shot, and then I will no doubt return to picking and scratching at my new poem draft. The piece has been my number-one distraction for days now, and I really do think it's getting somewhere. The voices are both funny and terrible--one of my favorite combinations to hone--and I'm also absorbed in balancing the weight of cultural, historical, and geographical references . . . not too many, not too few, and all should have a kind of thickness--that is, they should work broadly over time and space and theme . . . but without clubbing the reader in the head.

A thing I discovered this week: Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis have exactly the same cadence.

Last night I crisp-fried coho salmon in olive oil, lime juice, and cilantro, and it was one of the best things I've eaten in a long time. Plus, the salmon was absolutely beautiful--the skin a delicate shifting grey, freckled with pink. I do love our seafood market. We ate the salmon alongside scallion cornbread and a caramelized fennel salad; it was a fine meal.

I've started reading Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. I spent quite a while yesterday with Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Today I'll begin sussing out an essay on two of Baron Wormser's poems: "Mulroney" and "Jerry Lee Lewis at Nuremberg." I'm pretty well caught up on yard work for the moment; yesterday I did a first-pass leaf raking--a temporary situation because we have many more leaves to fall. I bagged up windfall sticks and branches for the city compost truck and made space for the cord of green firewood arriving on Tuesday. Such sweet and balmy autumn air . . . and we still haven't had a frost! This southern lifestyle is strange.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Yesterday's weather forecast (partly sunny) was nothing at all like yesterday's actual weather (all-day drizzle and fog). So, after an early morning walk through the mist, I lit a fire and spent much of the rest of the day in a corner of the couch expanding a 10-line draft into a 3-page narrative poem. I am delighted with it: I figured out how to purvey a few lively characters, construct a structurally eloquent arc, and embed a useful trope (misunderstood vocabulary) for dissecting the connections/misconnections between children and adults. There's still lots of work to do--narrative poems always require much chiseling and sanding--but I feel like ten thousand bucks . . . like I paddled across a big river . . . like I climbed a steeple. Such days are few and far between, and this one was magnificent.

I hope I'll find a bit of time today for the aforementioned sanding and chiseling. At the moment, the fog and drizzle is still going strong, but I plan to go for an early walk anyway. Yesterday's was so productive: golden wet gingko trees, polka-dotted dogs, cemetery murk. Such are the joys of temporary joblessness . . . I don't have to save my best hours for editing but can waste them enthusiastically.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

 Like many other poets in Maine and beyond, I was stunned yesterday to learn of the death of Lee Sharkey, long-time co-editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal, a founder of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and a devoted poet, teacher, and activist.

I became acquainted with Lee when Beloit accepted a poem that later appeared in my first book, Boy Land. This was my first major journal acceptance, and in the ensuing years Lee and her co-editor John Rosenwald accepted several other pieces. Lee almost always included editorial suggestions with her acceptances, often radically large suggestions--significant reorganization, sizable cuts--that felt shocking but, in the end, always improved the piece. She was an excellent editor, and when she and John invited me to join the Beloit editorial board, I was flattered beyond belief. I worked with them for several years before deciding that I preferred the teaching rather than the journal end of the poetry spectrum. But the time I spent watching Lee at work was an important point of growth in my apprenticeship to the art. Just as important, I watched her relationship with other poets, not least the interns who worked on the journal, several of whom have climbed far since then--Jacques Rancourt, Nate Fisher, Julia Bouwsma. Lee mothered them, and challenged them, almost in the same breath. She was a model, as a poet, as a mentor, as a citizen. We will miss her greatly.

* * *

Yesterday I finished my firewood project, managing to fit almost all of the dry logs into the basement stacks. I also finished my editing pile, so this morning I have nothing to do but read and write. I'll tackle Byron, and a poem draft, and maybe begin writing an essay about a couple of Baron Wormser's poems, which will be part of a celebration of his work in Teresa Carson's weekly poetry letter. (If you want to be added to her email  list, let me know.)

Paul goes back to work this afternoon, so I guess our days will return to whatever normality this normality is. His birthday is coming up next week and I long to give him a theater and a play to direct and an apartment to call his own. That's what he wants, but it's not what he can have. All he gets is a line-cook job and a mattress on the floor in his parents' house. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon working on firewood: tossing logs from the outside stack into the wheelbarrow, tossing the wheelbarrow load through the basement hatch, fitting the logs into a neat stack in the gap under the stairs. In the modest autumn sunshine, under the flickering stained-glass light of the leaves, I felt briefly as if I were back in Harmony, trudging across the clearing with my barrow, shoulders and thighs taut with wood-weight. My task here in Portland is tiny in comparison with what I used to do, but it still exacts a sturdy patience.

I'll finish filling up the basement stacks today, and Paul and I are also considering a jaunt to an orchard. First, though,  I'll do some editing, and read some Byron, and continue on with a poem draft. The World Series starts tonight. I've almost finished reading Treuer's The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. I've got a pork roast to braise, poems I ought to submit to a journal but probably won't, laundry to fold, an upcoming weekend workshop to plan, Frost Place ideas to cogitate, a new walkway to skip up and down . . .

I've been looking at the photo I posted yesterday--the one of Tom laying paving stones--and thinking: Look at all that green! None of it existed when we moved here. The Hill Country and the Lane were nothing but sunburnt weeds and tree roots and rocks, and piles of wet trash, and dog shit. There's so much left to fix, but sometimes I forget how much we've already repaired.

Monday, October 19, 2020

If you read yesterday's postscript, you know that things did not go as planned. Paul's trip ended early after a thwart broke on the canoe. The morning was calm enough so that the boys were able to get back to the landing, but they knew better than to take the risk of paddling in rough conditions with an unstable boat.

So back they came, and I'm glad they were smart, though everyone is disappointed. Still, Paul was cheerful, and Tom and I were cheerful, and we spent a pleasant-enough evening together eating sausage-and-peppers and watching endless sports on TV.

I did get my bulbs planted yesterday: garlic in the Terrace Bed; tulips and daffodils in the Hill Country; crocuses in the Garment District; daffodils along the back fence lines. And Tom worked steadily on the new walkway in the Shed Patch, until he ran out of sand. Next weekend he'll lay the final two stones and spread gravel, install metal edging on the right side (a deck will eventually be on the left, replacing those temporary stairs and wrapping around the back of the house), and then I'll start preparing the soil for a new garden bed--which will be mostly ferns, I think.

I so enjoy watching Tom work. He is precise and quiet, a problem-solver, skilled and smart, with a sharp eye and instinct, and he is very strong, despite his small frame. He is why we can live like we do--on relatively little money, in places that require much upkeep and restoration.

No worries about that canoe thwart. He can fix it.

Today: some early morning editing, and then the housework and groceries I didn't take care of yesterday, and then I'll start throwing firewood through the basement hatch. There's a new load of green wood arriving in a couple of weeks, so I have to get a move on with the old.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

After yesterday's soaking rain, the fallen leaves smell like strong tea, and sunlight glitters through a scrim of gold--from the ash trees, from the neighbor's feathery black walnut--and sparkles up from the carpet of wet orange-yellow-red-brown rippling over grass and garden.

It feels strange to be a couple alone without a kid in the house. I do hope Paul is having a wonderful time up north on the lake, and is staying semi-warm and -dry, but his adventure is a little holiday for us as well. Yesterday morning Tom worked on photos in his study, and I worked on a poem draft in my little bedroom corner, and then I cleaned the basement, which sorely needed it. So now we have a place to stack firewood, and my inside clotheslines are ready for use, and many, many spiderwebs have been removed. Then, in the afternoon, we went on an outing to Home Depot to buy sand and gravel for our walkway project. Later we took a neighborhood walk, and then played cards and ate potato pancakes and listened to the Dodgers game and watched a terrible movie from the 80s called Lost in America. It was a highly non-adventurous day, but cozy . . . just the two of us ambling through our little projects together.

The walkway will be today's undertaking--mostly Tom's, but I will be on call to help lug the giant paving stones into place. When he doesn't need me, I'll be planting bulbs: garlic in the terrace garden, lots of crocuses and daffodils in the backyard. This week I'll probably also buy a bag or two of tulip bulbs, to scatter through the front beds.

I might get to housework, but if I don't, I can finish it during the week. My editing burden has lightened, now that I've turned in the first big batch of manuscript; and with no boy asleep around the corner, I can vacuum and clank buckets whenever I feel like it.

Two and half days alone in the house. What a novelty that will be.

* * *

Two hours later update: Phone call from Paul. Canoe broke. Headed home.

Long, deep sigh.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

There are still two open spaces available for my November 14-15 virtual writing retreat, "New England Bards." The session I led in early October went very well, and I'm excited to reprise it. Please consider joining us, as I think you will find it both engaging and restful--that's specifically how I've designed it. Cost is only $150, there will be plenty of off-screen time for writing and reflection, and you can be working at any level--from experimenting newcomer to established poet. If you've been longing for a community of open-hearted colleagues, I'm here to welcome you.

* * *

Today, in my small northern city by the sea, the rain is pouring, pouring, and doughty Paul is getting ready to embark on a four-day wilderness canoe trip with a friend from high school. I admire their undaunted glee, but personally I am very glad I'm not going along. Cold wet canoe-camping doesn't sound so alluring to me. I will be happy to stay under cover, drinking an extra cup of coffee and watching water-trails sluice down the windows and hanging around in my bathrobe till mid-morning. I ought to be cleaning the basement on this wet day, getting it ready for firewood storage, and maybe I will, eventually. Who knows? I'm happy to be indecisive.

Yesterday was busy: I spent a chunk of the early morning working on plans for possible future Frost Place programs--some extension activities that could be available year-round to interested participants. The faculty for 2021 will be stellar . . . and I dearly hope we'll be able to meet in person next summer. Nonetheless, being forced to figure out virtual teaching approaches has had a silver lining: off-site meetings are so much easier, and Zoom gives me a whole lot of flexibility in creating distance-learning options . . . these writing retreats, for example, as well as professional development sessions or structured reading groups.

So that's been exciting. I do love trying to figure out how to do my job; and as far as poetry teaching goes, my job is to guide writers into self-confident self-questioning. That's what Baron Wormser did for me, when I first began working with him . . . as an apprentice poet weeping at his kitchen table because I would never be Keats. He was patient, he was inexorable, he was convinced of my worthiness, and he helped me see my powers--and to trust them, while also questioning them, constantly. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

The garden is in its last beautiful throes. We still haven't had a killing frost, but the plants are weary, and the maple leaves are slowly shrouding them. Here you can see kale and fennel and collards, a few remaining marigolds and cosmos and zinnias and nasturtiums, with the massive street trees in the background. It all looks very soft-focus because it is. 

The Garment District, and possibly my last day of laundry on the outside lines. The clothes don't dry well this time of year: too much shade, too much damp, even on a sunny day. But I've always loved the sight of clean clothes in a light wind. 

Long ago in the spring, I planted this morning glory vine over the front handrail, and it did not bloom until this week. 

If you need any kale or collards, come and get them. Mine are more or less decorative at this point, as I have so much in the freezer already. They'll be rampageous till snow falls.

Soon I will have to fold up the little chairs and table, but for now they still decorate the Lane, alongside the boxes of late lettuce and cilantro.

On the other side of the house, in the Lurk, a new pathway appears among young arugula. I tossed the seeds just as a way to hold the new soil till it freezes, but the plants also make a pretty ground cover.

Baby Koji the Japanese maple survived the drought and is now preparing for dormancy, under the watchful branches of his very large aunts.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

I turned on the furnace this week, for the first time this season . . . just in the early mornings, to cut the chill, but I can't stop being amazed by the miracle of central heating. Those 20-plus years in the woods, with nothing but a wood stove for heat, seem to have permanently readjusted my attitude toward "everyday" conveniences. Sometimes I just stand in the kitchen and stare at the sink, the stove, the dishwasher, the lights, the refrigerator and think: I'm living in a fairy-tale palace . . . instead of where I really live: in a small, mid-century, working-class house, with a long history of many bad renovations.

Today will be a mish-mash of editing and meetings and dealing with Paul, who is excitedly packing for a four-day canoe trip, which means spreading his supplies all over the house and running back and forth to show me how cleverly they fit into his gear and asking me where ____, ____, or ____ is, and if he can borrow ____, and so on and so on. He is having so much fun that I don't have the heart to say Stop Bothering Me.

Yesterday was warm and bright, October in its glory, and in the afternoon I sat outside at the little table and talked on the phone to a dear, dear friend from Harmony--we raised our children together, saw each other all the time for years and years--and to have her kind voice in my ear was balm and pleasure.

And then I cooked steaks for Tom and me (with leftovers reserved for working Paul), along with mashed potatoes and chard and a salad, and we listened to the Dodgers decimate the Atlanta baseball team.

I'm still hanging on to my "calm but not becalmed" mantra. Still trying to frame the brightness in the world. It's so hard, but I'm trying, I'm trying.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Tom forgot to set his alarm this morning, so after a gasp and a flurry I'm finally able to sit down in my couch corner to write to you.

Yesterday's rainstorm was drenching, but today will be shiny and bright, and I'm looking forward to getting outside and congratulating my garden. I did manage to finish my first-pass edit through that giant project I've been working on, but already bits and pieces are returning to me from the author, so my sense of accomplishment was short-lived. In the afternoon I also found some time to do voting researching--reading up on all of the referendum questions and down-ballot candidates--and then had the great satisfaction of filling in the little bubbles next to BIDEN-HARRIS for president/vp and GIDEON for senator. May humanity win and the monsters retreat to the fens.

This morning I need to grocery-shop and then I've got an as-yet-unscheduled meeting to work out . . . and maybe I'll snatch some time to look at poem drafts or even, possibly, start thinking about the New & Selected.

I've been re-reading Alice Munro's The View from Castle Rock with such enormous pleasure. She never fails me. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Yesterday was hectic: three different meetings, plus editing, plus writing up Frost Place materials, plus talking with potential faculty members. But I got a lot done, and received delightful responses to the faculty invitations (hurray!), and my poetry group loved the poem I wrote during my writing retreat. So overall the day was a success, if also rather hair-on-fire.

Today it is supposed to pour rain morning till night, and I have no complaints about that. I'll be back at my desk, trying to finish up my giant editing project, and rain will sluice and spatter, and tomato sauce will simmer in the kitchen, and a wood fire will purr in the stove.

I keep trying to hang onto the notion of calm but not becalmed. Small beauties, routine comforts, warmth and lamplight, an engaged mind. I don't know how else to get through these weeks before the election.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Our day on Swan Island was completely beautiful. The bikes did not fall off the car. Nothing at all went wrong, except that I found out that I need more air in my bike tires. 

At 9:15 we caught the tiny aluminum ferry from Richmond for a two-minute ride across the Kennebec to the island. And then we spent the day biking, hiking, and lying in the grass.

The island was a farming community, beginning with white settlement in the eighteenth century and ending in the 1940s, when the last owners sold their land to the state. Before then it was a central part of the Wabanaki's seasonal migrations between coastal and inland home sites. Though I was hoping for some historical information about that presence, there seemed to be no Wabanaki relics on view. But several houses still stand, abandoned, though vaguely shored up to keep them from falling entirely to pieces.

The sensation was elegiac: a chilly autumn day, a lonely road, an empty house. There were a few other day hikers, a few campers, but mostly the place was very quiet. We walked through woodland and across fields. We sat on an old hay wagon and drank hot cider. And then we caught the 3 p.m. ferry back to the mainland and came home and ate tuna melts for dinner.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Yesterday turned out to be so busy: I cleaned bathrooms, washed floors, baked bread, did four loads of laundry, made a beef stew, and cut down plants in the garden, while Tom pried up old asphalt and then pounded it with a mallet to turn it back into gravel, which he'll use as a base layer for the new walkway. It was brute labor, but now we don't have to haul anything away to the dump. Meanwhile, Paul worked a long shift in the pizza kitchen, and the cat lay around in various leaf piles and relaxed.

So today is recreational. We're heading north this morning for Swan Island, though I'm feeling a little nervous about our bike rack, while trying to remember that it doesn't take much for me to get nervous and probably everything will be okay. The day will be cool, but we'll have a thermos of hot cider with our lunch.

I've spent so much time lately in the salt marshes that a riverine environment will be a novelty. I hope there will be eagles to watch.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Today will be a this-n-that day . . . garden laundry housework groceries bread baking . . . and we'll also begin to suss out the new walkway to the shed. There are various obstructions to ponder--ancient asphalt, giant tree roots--not to mention Tom's obsession with square corners and perfect leveling. (I am happy-go-lucky in that regard.) We've also got to plan for tomorrow's outing to Swan Island. Paul, unfortunately, has to work, but Tom and I will be catching a 9:15 ferry over the Kennebec, which means we'll have to leave Portland bright and early, with our bikes and our picnic lunch . . . which means I'll have to re-figure out how to attach the rack to my car.

But for the moment, it's Saturday morning, and I'm enjoying doing nothing. Shortly I'll need to take stew meat out of the freezer, to thaw for tonight's dinner. Shortly I'll need to start stuffing sheets into the washing machine. There's no rush. I'm still feeling the residual ease of my birthday: a calm that is not becalmed; an attentiveness without dread.

For months I have struggled with myself: as a family member, as a worker, as a poet, as a citizen. Somehow, this week, that struggle has softened. Nothing in public life has gotten better. But I wrote two poem drafts last weekend. I talked to my friends. I had a birthday, and people sent me love. I learned that I've got a new book to plan for. A couple of published poems have gotten attention. It's been a rich week, in my small world.

Now, at the foot of our little street, a freight train slowly rumbles past, wheels squealing on rails. In the dining room the cat is noisily licking up his breakfast. My boys are abed. A trembling V spans the small sky: Canada geese are flying south.

Friday, October 9, 2020

A cold morning here . . . 36 degrees, with warnings of patchy frost, though I doubt we'll be the first in town to get it, given how close we are to the cove. I haven't turned on the furnace yet, but that time is coming soon.

Paul had yesterday off from work, so after I finished editing, we went down to the Fore River Preserve and walked along the old canal, which has now returned to salt marsh and tidal creeks. It was a gusty day, cool and bright, with the red leaves rattling in the breeze, and we were in high spirits, noses to the wind like hunting dogs. He is good company, my boy: easy and kind, and funny and high-strung, and in love with the earth.

Then we came home and listened to all of our baseball teams lose, and ate oven-fried chicken for dinner, and then the three of us sat on the couch under a blanket and drank hot cider.

In the meantime, the White House is imploding, terrorists are plotting against a sitting governor, and--good news--the poet Louise Gluck wins a Nobel.

I also had a small bit of good news yesterday: the Maine Review nominated my poem "In Praise of Boring Sex" for the Best of the Net anthology. I've received a couple of Pushcart nominations in the past, but never this one. So I'm pleased . . . especially given how hard it was to publish that piece.

Today: yoga and editing, tomatoes to cook down, trash to drag to the curb, America to treasure . . . the real America, our homeland, grand continent between the seas, beautiful and flawed. Which is to say: vote.

Thursday, October 8, 2020


Yesterday might have been the best birthday I've had in years . . . and I always love my birthday. It wasn't an exciting, event-filled day, and I had to make my own birthday dinner because everyone else had to go to work. But all day long I felt like I was floating in a bubble of affection. My boys were smiling and cheerful. My sister and my parents and my in-laws all phoned. Messages from friends and family kept pouring in. Mid-morning, a bouquet of flowers arrived--a gift from my parents. And in the late afternoon a little rainstorm poured down its gifts.

So today, after a deep and dreamless sleep, I woke up feeling strong and capable, buttressed by all of you, ready to step forward into my work day, ready to learn how to be 56 years old at the tail end of this year of dread.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

 Well, today is my birthday, and I am 56 years old.

It's a good time of year for a birthday. Autumn is painting trees and sky, yet the temperate air lingers, and the garden still clings to its treasures. The radio waves are filled with playoff baseball, and the neighborhood children shriek up and down the street, inventing their mysterious games ("At our house we're the Blueberries; at your house we're the Carrots").

This weekend Tom and I are going on a small outing--taking our bikes up to Swan Island in the Kennebec. But today the boys have to go to work, so I am making my own birthday dinner. I've decided on baked rigatoni, with a lamb and mushroom ragu. And I'll make some sort of cake, though I haven't picked out a recipe yet. Along with cooking, I plan to spend my day reading Byron and Alice Munro, working on some poem drafts, going for a long walk, listening to the Rays beat the Yankees . . .

For the moment I'm sitting peaceably on the grey couch, next to my white cat, who is pretending to be sweet, though he just spent an hour trying to murder some little beastie hiding under the outside recycling bin. There's a small wind gusting among the leaves. Rain is forecast for the evening, and I will light the wood stove and open a bottle of red wine.

Cheers to you all--

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Yesterday was a day like most of my days. I finished editing one chapter and started editing another. I baked bread and caught up on laundry and did some garden cleanup. I revised one of the poems I wrote over the weekend. I chit-chatted with Paul, and talked to my parents on the phone, and fried up a batch of salmon-and-potato cakes for dinner, and lost a cribbage game to Tom.

Given the insanity in the White House, dull daily life here at the Alcott House feels ever more precious. Trump's selfishness and indifference are on naked display: he is willing to kill everyone, even his family, even the entire government, just to keep that TV camera pointing at him. What does he care about the rest of us--the ants at his feet? The answer is: nothing. So are we supposed to feel sorry for him because he got sick? He did everything wrong: he got sick because he took no precautions, and he infected many, many people around him. He still doesn't care. How can anyone be so low?

Tom and I haven't laid eyes on our parents, sisters, or nephews since last winter. My friend Betsy's husband died of Covid in a nursing home. You have your own stories of loss and isolation and distance. It's his fault. It's all his fault.

I don't know why I'm wasting space telling you this: You already know; I'm not tearing the blinders from anyone's eyes. Maybe, though, it's important to remind ourselves that our small civilized spaces really are a barricade against the venal, the traitorous, the corrupt, the cruel. Melania doesn't care about those "fucking Christmas decorations" at the White House. Fine. Why should she? The White House is a hellhole. But Paul and I have already decided where we're putting our tree this year: in the dining-room window, where it can greet him as he walks up the dark and snowy streets after a long shift at the pizza joint.

Hearth and lamplight. A smile of welcome. O save us, love.

Monday, October 5, 2020

So: I wrote a pair of drafts over the weekend, and spent hours talking deeply about poetic craft, the work of two major poets, how attention to their work reveals our own artistic histories. It was indeed a retreat, a respite, a circle of ease and intense feeling. I am so grateful to the participants who entered into this virtual space with me.

And now it's Monday again, and I'll climb back onto the editing train, with my new drafts tucked under my hat. I am tired but also energetic, as if I've come back into possession of myself.

I've got bread to bake and plants to water, sheets to wash and sauce to freeze. The little errands swell, but the poem drafts are alive and waiting for me.

And, in the meantime, while I was writing and reading and talking, my boys were outside making a surprise for me. "Look out the window," they said when I stepped out of the Zoom room for lunch, and I saw a giant wrapped birthday present sitting in the driveway. When I tore the paper off, I found a stack of big bluestone pavers: Tom is going to make the path I've been wistfully hoping for, in the muddy desert between shed and house--the one I've been imagining, with beds of ferns bowing on either side.

To quote the poem I shared yesterday: "Call it tenderness. / / There it is. Singing."

Sunday, October 4, 2020

I woke up to learn that Vox Populi has published my poem "Soul," dedicated to Otis Redding, so that makes two elegies in a row you're getting from me, if you count yesterday's thoughts about Bob Gibson. And I wrote a poem yesterday too . . . I sat outside in the peaceable air, and wrote a poem about the mailman. Just as I'd hoped, the writing retreat I'm leading is also turning into the writing retreat I'm experiencing. It has been such a deep pleasure to spend time with these poets and their poems.

We'll be working together again this morning, and then, in the afternoon, I'll fade back into my usual life . . . cooking tomato sauce, tearing out the sunflowers that the squirrels are ravaging, watching a little football with my son.

But I'm so grateful for these rich hours with the poets. I'm so grateful to feel like a poet myself. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

In a few hours I'll be entering the writing huddle--a day and a half spent with the poems of Carruth and Kenyon and the curiosities of working poets. I am so looking forward to it.

Outside, at first light, the world is cool and damp . . . leaves plastered to cars and sidewalks after yesterday evening's rain, dahlias bunched and bowed but still blooming brightly in the gray dawn.

I learned this morning that the great pitcher Bob Gibson has died--one of my all-time favorites, whom David Halberstam writes about so eloquently in his book October 1964, detailing that year's World Series between Mickey Mantle's aging Yankees and the young, diverse Cardinals--a team with Tim McCarver and Lou Brock and Curt Flood and Bob Uecker and the amazing, scary Gibson . . . which also happened take place exactly at the moment when I was being born.

Here's a little poem I wrote about that series. It doesn't mention Gibson, but I wish it did.

October 7, 1964

Dawn Potter 

On the day I was born,

three Dixieland bands were playing

in the left-field corner of Busch Stadium,

and Bob Uecker, the Cardinals’ backup catcher,


was shagging balls, the World Series

was about to commence, Bob was about to snitch

a tuba and start catching pop flies in its bell,

the crowd was about to clap and cheer,


the irate tuba player was about to charge Bob

two hundred bucks for wrecking his horn,

and I was nothing, the bliss


of my father’s dream, the mirror

of my mother’s . . . and even still

nothing began again.



Friday, October 2, 2020

Well. Just when you thought the public shitshow couldn't get any shittier . . .

* * *

I am sitting here on my gray couch, with my black coffee, my white cup and saucer, my red bathrobe, trying to write you a note, trying to move forward into my day--to prep for tomorrow's class, to catch up on some of the housework I won't have time to get to over the weekend, to take a little time to myself as recompense for working all weekend. Instead, I am rattled and jittery, naturally feeling a whole lot of "serves him right," but also so anxious about everyone else in the monster's physical orbit--specifically, Biden . . . What a fucking mess.

* * *

Yesterday was all about dignity, at least on my small demesne. I spent much of the day talking back and forth to the publisher of my next book, making plans for turning in the manuscript, figuring out who would be involved in choosing poems. I made four quarts of sauce from the tomatoes I grew in my little urban kitchen garden. I felt as if I were doing what I was put on earth to be doing: finding words, finding sweetness.

* * *

But the national chaos poisons us all.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Tom came home early yesterday because the gale had knocked out power in Cape Elizabeth, where he was working. It was a big storm: my yard was littered with branches--none were huge, but most were full of wet green leaves. Trees have only just started to change colors here on the north's southern coast, so the high wind was a little alarming--the way it was ripping and tearing through the laden boughs--but the rain was a marvel. When the sun came out in the afternoon, the plants were glowing with relief.

Last night I roasted a chicken and served it with roasted rosemary potatoes, kale stewed in broth, and a salad of arugula and golden cherry tomatoes. There's still a lot of meat left on the bones, so I think I'll make a chicken-and-preserved-lemon risotto this evening. At some point during the day I'll need to cook down another batch of tomato sauce for the freezer; those bushels of unripe fruit are reddening fast.

The garden is still full of greens: kale, collards, chard, arugula. Except for basil, the herbs are also going strong, especially the cilantro. New spinach is coming up, but the squirrels keep digging in the rows, so that crop will probably fail. The zinnias and dahlias are furiously blooming.

I shipped out a batch of editing yesterday and am on the downward slope to finishing my first pass through that manuscript. I spent some time talking back and forth with the publisher about my forthcoming New and Selected. I prepped for this weekend's writing retreat. I took a zig-zag walk through the rain-wet neighborhood, admiring puddles and bowed maples and sodden asters. I listened to a ridiculous amount of play-off baseball, and gnashed my teeth as every single team I was rooting for lost. I texted my Chicago son about the horrible presidential debate. I listened to my younger son chatter about the play he's reading--Matthew Lopez's The Inheritance, which reworks the themes of Forster's Howards End, and which he saw in New York last winter, before all hell broke loose, and adores. I drank a beer and played cards with Tom.

Yesterday was a good life.