Thursday, December 31, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending love, friends--

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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

Meanwhile, I dither at my desk.

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Wish you were here.

Monday, December 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2020

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

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

Life did not have to be this way.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2020

 . . . and here I am, with electricity!

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Love Poem from a Tiny Husband

Dawn Potter


                        for Kerrin McCadden


Some mornings your giant cracks open

the roof latch of your Fisher-Price house

just to watch you dream. You gaze into her eyes

as you roll gently on your yellow plastic couch.

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


You are an apple core, a thumb.

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

snaps on your baseball cap. Next door,

the barn moos. White chickens tilt in the loft.

Your dog’s legs bend every which way.


Crowd them into the house, your giant croons.

Let every kitchen shelter a horse.

Soon she will rise into the sky and steam west.

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

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


pondering the hillocks of carpet.

This is how you earn your keep.

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

At her command, you sway on your invisible feet.

No one is luckier than you,


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

And when those stories are done,

your dear giant kisses the top of your round head,

tucks you into bed at noon,

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


Wednesday, December 23, 2020


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

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

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

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

Family life in the time of Covid.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

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

I tell you: that man is golden.

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2020


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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2020

 Monday morning, and back to work.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2020

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2020

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2020

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

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

In the meantime, my oven. Argh.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

Reading news: I started Proust again!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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

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

For the moment, anyway, things are calm. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

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

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

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