Sunday, January 31, 2021

And this morning we're down to four degrees. I am grateful for this thick bathrobe and this hot cup of coffee; and the cat, who foolishly bounced outside into the rime, is grateful that I have opposable thumbs and could immediately reopen the door for him.

Yesterday was exceedingly lazy. We played board games; we took naps. I suppose I should hop-to-it more effectively today, but I could be talked out of that. It remains to be seen if skating will happen. 

Tomorrow night we're supposed to get snow--only the second accumulating storm of the season. This has been an odd winter: too dry, really, which doesn't bode well for planting. The garden could use a snowpack.

I dreamed last night that I lived on a steep mountain, so steep that the road beside my house was almost perpendicular, and the surface was wet and rutted, like gravel roads are in early spring. A stranger--maybe innocent, maybe someone more threatening--was trying to get a ride up the mountain, and I kept telling him that my car couldn't go any further than my house, that the road was too bad. But he kept smiling and pressing, smiling and pressing, and I was nervous and unwilling.

That was the entire narrative of this dream, and I woke up from it marveling how my brain is able to synthesize so much into these odd nighttime sojourns I take. The sense of knowing that a particular action will be a mistake. Of being pushed into that action unwillingly. Of an inability to discern between friendliness and threat. I'm not especially interested in dreams as code: the Freudian notion that they stand for something else, and that this something else is mostly sexual. What intrigues me is the narrative of character, intent, morality, distilled into these tragicomic, post-logical skits.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Seven degrees this morning, the coldest cold we've seen yet this winter. In Harmony I would have been stoking the stove in a bone-chilled house. In Portland I listen to the furnace kick on. It's easier, but I do miss the stove as the center of life, the magnet. So much work--all that tree cutting and dragging and trimming and splitting and stacking and hauling. But for so many years nothing was more important than that fire, not even water. We could haul containers of water from elsewhere, if we had to--and we often did. But we could not stay alive in that house without the stove.

And now we live the city life. I take exercise classes instead of hauling wood and shoveling shit and mowing acres of grass. It's disheartening, even though I know my aging body couldn't have kept up the strain.

Still, there are benefits . . . like the leisure to just be outside without having to do work. Last Saturday we went for a windy walk along the old Sebago canal bed. Today I doubt we'll venture far. Our plan is to try to go skating tomorrow morning, but it will be too cold today to enjoy the ice. If I had a functioning oven, I'd bake something. However, I don't, so I'll drink a lot of tea instead, and read, and probably dust, and hang out with my boys, and eventually make pork chops for dinner.

Last night, while I was cooking shrimp and making potato salad, I listened to Beethoven's third symphony, the Eroica. The night before I listened to Otis Redding. I'm beginning to consider keeping track of what I'm listening to, as I keep track of what I read, in case I happen to notice any intriguing links. I do love a random trajectory that turns out to be less random than it seems.

Friday, January 29, 2021

It's cold out there, as I just discovered while wrangling the recycling bin to the curb in my slippers and nearly killing myself on the icy driveway. I'm glad to be done with that chore, and back to sitting on the couch with my coffee.

We're in for a cold snap this weekend--so cold that I think it will be unpleasant to skate, at least on Saturday. I don't know what I'll do instead, now that I've finished my seed order and the Bills are done playing football for the season. No doubt Paul will unearth another sports project--college basketball, I expect--and I've got a couple hundred more pages of Lonesome Dove to devour. Unfortunately I'm reaching the point where my favorite characters are about to start dying, so that might slow me down a little.

This morning, before yoga, I'm going to work a bit on my Accident Sonnet revisions and read some Millay. Probably I'll edit later in the morning, or maybe I'll just take the day to do poet stuff. Fridays are good for that.

I feel bright-eyed this morning, but kind of unmoored, as if anything could happen. And yet the future will still be laundry and cooking, like always.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Thursday morning already! For some reason this week is flying by. Certainly I'm getting stuff done: I'm well on the way to finishing my current editing assignment, and I've been reading steadily and voraciously, a joy I mostly lost during the trumpdemic. Less doom-scrolling, more hard exercise, stress-related digestive issues vanishing, concentration levels increasing: I feel like I'm shedding some kind of horrible locust carapace. Honestly, I feel so much better that I worry about what I was like before, when I thought I was coping.

This morning, I'm going to start with Millay, first thing, before I go to work. I do have all of my usual house chores to juggle, and I also need to run some errands in the afternoon, but I think my brain is in a good state for poems today. Almost I am feeling that small rise, that April-wind sensation, the shiver of hearing a chickadee's first spring song: I want to lift my nose into the air, like a horse or a dog, and then roll in the new grass. I know it's January in Maine. But I'm coming back to life anyway.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Portland got a sprinkle of snow last night--just a dusting, but enough to make the quality of light entirely different from what it was at this time yesterday. For here, in the land of streetlights, the nights are never pure darkness: there are always circles of glimmer, and they reflect and refract off the new snow, spinning bands of white into a Van Gogh sky.

I went for a walk with my neighbor yesterday; and while we were in the little patch of trees known as Baxter Woods, I glimpsed a low sweep of wing, and then the wings rose and settled and they were a barred owl, perched on a pine branch, eyeing us complacently. In Harmony we had so many barred owls: their "who cooks for you?" cries were a regular night sound, and we saw them often in our trees. (Unlike other owls, they often hunt during the day.) But I had never seen one here in the city, and I was so extremely happy to sight this one. My neighbor was also thrilled, and we stood for a long time just watching our owl turn her head and fluff her gray feathers. 

You can see her in the center of the photo, half-camouflaged among the branches.

Anyway, two good things: fresh snow and a barred owl. And I made good progress on my editing project. And I put together sushi bowls for dinner that turned out really well: sushi rice (hot short-grain rice whipped with sugared vinegar) topped with sesame broccoli, pan-fried tofu, and a carrot-miso sauce. I was very pleased with that meal.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Another cold morning, and I hope this means that the skating ice will be restored by the weekend. We've only gotten a chance to go out once so far, and I'm anxious to keep relearning. Snowshoeing, my Harmony staple, is not so fun in a city . . . not mention that I'd need snow in order to do it and Portland doesn't have any. So we're dependent on the pleasures of frigid walks and frozen ponds.

Today maybe I'll go for one of those frigid walks, after I put in my editing time. My new three-mornings-a-week exercise schedule has been noticeably helpful, both conditioning- and mood-wise. Endorphins are no myth, and I always come away from my abs and yoga classes feeling brighter and more focused. These past four years--and especially these past nine months--have been so brutal: every little increment of success feels enormous; and as a non-athlete and an abhorrer of gyms, I'm proud to be sticking with my plan.

For the moment, though, I'm equally pleased to be sitting quietly on the couch and enjoying a slightly slower morning. I've got some emails to write and some house stuff to do, and then I'll read some Millay poems before beginning my editing day. I've been looking forward to Millay, after that slog through Byron. 

Slowly, slowly, the days are getting longer and spring is drawing nearer. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

A cold, dark Monday morning, and another busy week looming. Already I've put away clean dishes, made coffee, tidied the downstairs rooms. As soon as I finish this note to you, I'll take down yesterday's laundry from the cellar lines and start today's laundry in the machine. I'll make the bed and scour the sink and wash breakfast dishes and wipe down kitchen surfaces and sweep the kitchen floor and empty the recycling bin. Then at 8 I'll do my abs class. Then I'll take a shower, put in another batch of laundry, and get to work on my editing project.

I'm listing these morning chores as a reminder to myself that housework is indeed real work. In that entire list of morning jobs, only three are non-house-related: writing this note to you, exercising, and editing. And none of those house jobs are frivolous. All involve basic cleanliness; it's not like I'm floor waxing or curtain starching every morning before I "start work."

And I live in a house without little children! And my son does his own laundry and helps with the midday dishes and the vacuuming. And Tom washes the dinner dishes every night.

My point here is: . . . well, I don't know what my point is. Just, housework is real work, and I work for love, and every once in a while I think I should acknowledge that.

* * *

The three of us went for two windy, cold walks this weekend, one with our dear homeland friend Lucy. And I had a zoom cocktail hour with another dear friend, the poet Meg Kearney, which was extremely sweet. And sadly Paul's football team lost their game, but that was to be expected. And I read a chunk of Lonesome Dove and worked on my seed order and cooked steaks for dinner and did not write any poems at all.

Today I'll need to move forward with my poet-painter collaboration: at least suggesting some possibilities for poems that we could use for the broadside. And I'd like to get started on my Millay reading. But mostly I ought to edit.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The cat, in a shocking oversight, allowed me to sleep till 7 a.m. this morning. So I woke up to sunshine and blue sky and a cold Sunday morning wind.

Yesterday the three of us went on a long, blustery walk into the Fore River Sanctuary, where tidal creeks snake among the salt marshes, where remnants of ice bulge and crack like doughnut glaze over the hummocks of dry grass. It was cold and we walked fast, and we saw airplanes and heard cars and trains and barking dogs, and yet I felt oddly alone, poised on this slim strip of land, among these ancient mud lanes, filling and emptying with the tides.

The day was quiet: all three of us at home, none of us dead-set on getting stuff done. But this morning I need to grocery-shop, and then we've got a walking date with a friend, and later I've got a zoom-date with another friend. And of course there will be football, though Paul will have to sling pizzas while his team is (probably) losing the AFC championship.

The days slip by, as a fox crosses a city street at midnight . . . a narrow shadow, swift and intent, vanishing into the darkness of a garden.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

We got a little snow last night--those fat slow flakes that look like scraps of paper fluttering down through the darkness. I watched them bumbling against the window as I worked in the kitchen: making skillet cornbread, and chicken with lemon and capers, and guacamole. I miss the oven, of course, but we're doing fine without it. Downstairs Tom was moving his tools onto his new workshop shelves. Upstairs I was listening to the Flaming Lips, and the Jam, and Burning Spear on my stylish new Spotify account. The night before I was all Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald, but I like a change. Paul and I are considering co-rewriting a scene from Romeo and Juliet in which all of the characters are from an imaginary California and the soundtrack is 2010s girl pop: Katie Perry, Carly Rae Jepsen, and such. So we've been having silly hilarious kitchen dance parties with "Teenage Dream" and "Call Me Maybe." We pretend we're studying for work.

Yesterday was busy, in a make-no-money kind of way. James phoned at the crack of dawn because it was his day off but his brain has been trained to start work at 6 a.m. so he thought he'd call his mother instead. We emoted about the election for a while, and wondered about Biden's long-term Canadian pipeline plans, and agreed about how pleasant it feels to mistrust a policy while being confident that the president isn't hellbent on destroying the republic. Then I did yoga for an hour, and then I hung out with Paul, and then I spent the rest of the morning in a poet-painter collaboration meeting, and then Paul and I went for a walk and talked about his grad-school plans, and then I cleaned the basement and Paul went to work and Tom came home and I already told you about the snow and the songs.

Friday, January 22, 2021

I've written 14 Accident Sonnets, each containing a sonnet's typical 14 lines, and the set ends with one extra coda line. This 14/14/plus-1 frame feels like it could be a final shape. The poems were composed between January 6 and January 21, 2021, the two weeks spanning the putsch and the inauguration. So while they are most definitely personal poems (e.g., [perhaps of interest if you attended my Zoom talk on Tuesday], the "I" character is enacting a voice very close to the poet's, but of course there's rampant dramatizing and fictionalizing to create that illusion), the political situation seeps in everywhere.

Today I'm scheduled to have a Zoom meeting with my painter-collaborator and the organizers of the Art in Common Places project: a check-in to see how the project's going. My feeling is that it's going really well . . . surprisingly well. I've been shockingly productive, and Kathy, my collaborator, has also been painting like crazy. Officially we have three weeks left to work, before our final combined piece is due. That feels like more than enough time to narrow down our choices for public display (the broadside) and to work on revising the whole as a coherent piece.

So a new year, a new president, a new poem cycle. Gosh.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

 Welcome to a new era!

I did not watch any of the inauguration yesterday. I am not naturally attracted to visual pomp, and I was also nervous about what might go wrong; so while I checked in regularly to make sure everything was okay, I otherwise just tried to go about the day's business. I'm glad the young poet did so well, and eventually I'll watch her performance. I'm exceedingly glad that our new president went right to work, rescinding T's egregious executive orders. I'm delighted that our new vice president has sworn in the new senators. And I did cry a little. A woman vice president. Finally. Finally.

This morning, I will not be checking the news every five minutes. After four years on high alert, I am going to start weaning myself away from perpetual alarm scanning. Today I'll work on my copyediting project. I'll work on some Accident Sonnets. I'll talk to Teresa about our next reading project (Millay's complete poems). I'll make some headway on Lonesome Dove, which I've just started. I'll prep a lamb and mushroom stew for dinner. (Stovetop recipes are now my new normal, and lamb stew meat cooks faster than beef does.) I'll call my mother. I might text my neighbor and see if she wants to go for a walk.

All of these activities sound just like the things I was doing during the Trump regime. But I was asking myself yesterday: what is it that feels so different, personally, now that Biden has taken the reins? And I realized that for four years I've been constantly aware that, to Trump, I am nothing. No money. No beauty. A tiny house. Books and poems and physical labor. I barely register as human on his scale. But suddenly that's changed. Biden has no idea who I am, and I will never meet him. Nonetheless, I know that he would acknowledge me as a vital person. He would acknowledge that what I love is worthy of love.

It's incredible how much that knowledge has affected my sense of dread and fear.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Yesterday's plan: Poetry presentation finished, and crossed off my list. Today's plan: Getting rid of Trump. FINISHED. And crossed off my list.

I am loath to jinx anything, given what we went through at the Capitol, so please, fates, please. Don't let anything go wrong.

We'll be lifting a glass of prosecco tonight. And I hope that bells will be ringing, cars will be honking, and that you, wherever you are, can let your shoulders soften and your jaw unclench.

Imagine if we were looking at another four years of Trump. Imagine.

* * *

In non-presidential news, my kitchen stove is in a bad way. Apparently, when the heating element blew (a normal occurrence), it also shorted out the electronic relay panel (an occasional occurrence), which is a part that costs $300, is not in stock at the repair shop, is backordered at the supply center, and will be available who-knows-when. So for the next several weeks (or months?), we will continue to have no working oven. Things could be much worse: the stovetop is fine. But oy, that repair bill.

And the poetry talk went fine, I think, I hope. A lot of people came, which was amazing. And some of them I didn't even know.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Tonight's the night of my Poetry Society of NH presentation on creating characters in poetry: 7 p.m., EST. If you'd like the Zoom link, please contact Jimmy Pappas at I think I'm prepared for it, but of course I had to wake up with a jolt at 3 a.m. just to make sure. Sigh.

Stove guy is coming this afternoon, so here's hoping that trouble finally gets sorted out. Otherwise, today will be a regular work day: copyediting, tweaking the presentation, wrestling with Proust, and so on. I'm trying not to worry about the inauguration, but in this era it's hard not to take doom for granted.

Oh, stop it, Dawn: enough of the doom wailing. Tonight we'll be talking about how we can take charge! How we can learn from the masters; how we can experiment with new ways of seeing and expressing! It will be fun! You should come! You don't need to write poems. You don't need to regularly read poems. And I guarantee that Trump will not be there.

Monday, January 18, 2021

And it's Monday morning again.

Yesterday was quiet. Tom was on the island all day, and Paul and I puttered until he went to work. I reamed out a closet and cleaned a bathroom. We went for a walk and played a game and watched some football. I made salmon and scallion risotto for dinner.

Today I'll be copyediting an academic journal; prepping for tomorrow's talk; trying to sweet-talk the appliance guy into showing up ASAP; panting through planks and squats in my abs class. The weather forecast looks eh: maybe rain or snow, not much of either. I think I'll cook a pot of beans for dinner.

The Accident Sonnets are still showing up, still awkwardly.

The news is terrifying.

At first light, the gulls, airborne, sail in from the bay.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

 . . . and, yes, yet another kitchen stove debacle: I'm preheating the oven to bake bread, and suddenly there's a loud pop, and the lights dim, and the oven fills with smoke . . . argh . . .

After the smoke cleared and the oven cooled down, Tom figured out that the heating element had suddenly burst. Why would that happen? No one knows, but the bread dough went into the freezer and dinner plans were immediately revamped, and tomorrow morning I'll be on the horn to the appliance guy yet again.

Oh, well. Otherwise, yesterday was pretty placid, at least for me. I worked on my seed order, and read a murder mystery, and watched some football. Tom was busier, cutting boards and building his shop wall all day; and this morning he's already getting ready for part 2 of his active weekend: heading off to catch the ferry to Peaks Island to take pictures at the old WWII bunker. He's been working on this photo project off and on for months, and the relatively mild temperatures are giving him a last chance this season to spend some time there.

Back here on the mainland, I will muddle around with my own stuff . . . apparently going to the grocery store to buy bread, probably also cleaning bathrooms, ordering flower seeds, working on some poems, hanging out with Paul till he goes to work. I'm sure P will be in a very good mood now that his irrepressible Bills have trounced the Ravens and are headed to the conference championship game. I never expected New York State football to be a highlight of pandemic family togetherness. But here we are.

In other news: I wrote two more Accident Sonnets yesterday. One of them might be a keeper.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

No family ice skating this weekend: we're supposed to have rain and wind all day long. So my plan is to finish ordering my garden seeds and finish cleaning out the last couple of kitchen cupboards and then late in the day watch football with Paul. In the meantime Tom will be working in the cellar, "building the wall," as he tells me--that is, walling in the quarter-section of the basement that will be his shop.

Now it's 5:30 a.m., and I'm sitting in my usual couch corner, drinking coffee and listening to the comfortable slosh of the washing machine. The furnace is humming, the boys are sleeping, the cat is rampaging outside, the clock is ticking in the kitchen, and I am un-rushed and un-scheduled. When I finish writing to you, I'll turn my thoughts to a fresh cup of coffee and a new Accident Sonnet. Rainy Saturdays are sweet.

I finished the week by shipping one of my editing projects to the author, so I'm feeling somewhat less harried. Once Tuesday's talk is over, once Biden is safely inaugurated, maybe I can stop clenching my jaw.

This is the last weekend of Trump's presidency. Please, fates, give us some peace.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Zoom link for my Poetry Society of New Hampshire talk is now available: Tuesday, January 19, 7 p.m.. Please contact Jimmy Pappas at to receive the link. My topic is "Inventing Character in Poetry" and I'll be focusing specifically on first-person inventions--possibly the most difficult and complex because they require the poet to exist inside a body and mind that may or may not resemble the poet's own. We'll be discussing three sets of poems, and each set will include a writing prompt so that you can try out the ideas on your own.

* * *

This morning I'll be taking a yoga class, and then I'll turn my attention to editing an academic journal and eventually writing a few more Accident Sonnets. I'm glad it's Friday. Tom's had a long week: working outside mostly, doing heavy framing work on an addition. Weather is hard on carpenters. Paul's back to slinging pizzas four nights a week, and I'm plowing into scholarly articles about medieval manuscripts, and altogether we are tromping heavily through the hours. Thank goodness for hot tea and clean sheets.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Yesterday afternoon, after spending the morning going back and forth between two editing projects, I drafted three more Accident Sonnets. I really don't know what I think about these poems, but they are occupying me. I am taking them seriously. I feel as if they are work.

Today: more of the same, I guess . . . at least more of the editing, and I'm hoping for poems as well. But who knows what news the day will bring? We are at the mercy of history. 

Earlier this week I was writing to a friend who is drafting a poem about the putsch, encouraging him to experiment, in his next drafts, with language that enacts the violence that he is trying to capture. And since then I've found myself returning, in my mind, to this disturbing and difficult aspect of the art: in order to create outrage in the reader, to capture the outrage of a situation, we must, with our words, evoke and participate in that outrage. This same friend remarked, too, about the shame he endures at being the kind of person who feels the need to look so intently at the violence of events. Shame is a heavy load to carry.

For whatever reason, I am fortunate enough not to feel shame about my need to document and replay and re-feel, via words. Maybe I am too obsessed by the task to pay attention to shame. When it comes to words, my first urge is to give them all the room they need. Nonetheless, I recognize the strange horribleness of that urge. I recognize my ruthlessness. I understand how, for some people, for many people, it might feel like a tumor or an infection.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

I roughed out the lecture yesterday: poems and prompts and general topics. So that is done, thank goodness. And I tackled a chunk of editing on two different projects, went to the grocery store, cleaned the floors, and even managed to play a game with Paul before he went to work. In short, I'm getting more done this week than I expected to, given the state of the union.

Today: gritting my teeth through my 8 a.m. abs class, and then editing, and then tackling a few more Accident Sonnets. I brought a sample of them to my Monday-evening poetry group, and the other members seemed intrigued with the project, which I guess is the best one can hope for at this rough stage.

I've committed to three exercise classes per week--two abs and one yoga. Physical engagement feels necessary; building strength feels necessary. And as much as I love my mind, I need to give it a breather now and then. Because mostly I drive it hard. Teresa and I are gearing up to start our next reading project: the collected poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. I'm finishing Swann's Way, resting with Gaudy Night, planning on Lonesome Dove, which somehow I've never read before. I've been revisiting poems by Zbigniew Herbert. I feel kind of a desperation sometimes: I must keep reading . . . I must never, ever, ever stop.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

I got more done yesterday than I thought I would, so that's something. This morning, after I finish the article I'm editing, I've got to turn my focus to next Tuesday's Poetry Society of New Hampshire lecture (and when I get a link to that event, I'll share, in case you're interested). My plan now is to present pairs of poems (canonical and contemporary), talk about how the "I" works in them, and then offer a writing prompt for you to experiment with at your leisure. We'll see if I can manage it.

I'm overwhelmed, no question. My mind is zinging in a thousand different directions: two editing projects, the lecture, the Florida collaboration, the ongoing fallout from the Capitol putsch, and and and.

Out of every hundred people

those who always know better:

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

[from "A Word on Statistics" by Wislawa Szymborska. I daresay you'll want to read the rest of this one, but I won't break copyright laws and reprint it all here.]

Monday, January 11, 2021

Monday again. I'll be back at my desk, juggling two editing projects plus trying to prep for next week's Zoom lecture, plus trying to keep up with my poem-painting collaboration project, plus trying to catch up on all of the housework I did not do over the weekend, plus being terrified about the news, plus trying to stay sane.

At least the ice skating was lovely. Tom was so pleased with his skates, and Paul got a new pair too, and the three of us spent the morning on Deering Oaks Pond re-learning how to be on blades. 

What more is there to say? I don't know that there's much.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

 If you haven't read Nancy's poem, posted in yesterday's comments, you should. It is a raw depiction of the pain and division in rural white America . . . one that I recognize from my two decades in Harmony . . . one that I am sure is being enacted there as we speak. I am grateful to her for finding a way to frame words around a terrible moment.

In this national crisis, we wait, helpless, unable to close our eyes. I mostly hate using we in this way, as if I have the right to speak for everyone. But now it simply feels like an observation.

In the meantime, today is Tom's birthday, and Paul and I bought him a pair of ice skates, and we are going to take him pond skating this morning.

In the meantime, Paul's football team won its game and he is very relieved.

In the meantime, I walked among the gravestones in the cemetery, and a cold breeze blew and the sky was the color of saucepans and gulls circled overhead and a very small child with a very small scooter cried because he couldn't keep up with his brothers.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

So far I've written six Accident Sonnets . . . most of them while sitting in the middle of the living room and being interrupted by people and news. But I'm trying to make interruption a quality of the poems; I'm not trying to be deep or kind or eloquent; I want these pieces to be an accident of existence, to bump up against accidental feeling and thought, to assume their shape accidentally. All have 14 lines but some are narrow, some are wide, some are a combination, some have stanza breaks, all are irregular, none so far are rhyming. All have been composed during the insurrection and in its immediate aftermath . . . an accident of historical overlap.

Today is Saturday, and I am going to go for a long walk this morning, and then I am going to order seeds for my garden, and then I am going to watch the Bills game with the boys. Tomorrow is Tom's birthday, so I've also got a few celebration plans to finish concocting. For dinner: probably something with shrimp in it. I hope I'll also write another sonnet or two, maybe during the game. Football poetry could be interesting.

I hope you're hanging in, managing to keep yourself together, finding some way to cope.

Friday, January 8, 2021

I don't suppose you're finding it easy to work. I know I'm not. My shoulders ache, my jaw aches: my body is carrying so much tension, and I am struggling to concentrate. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I gave up and went to bed for a while. I thought I might read a Dorothy Sayers novel--something plain and predictable--but all I did was close my eyes. And actually I felt a lot better afterward. I made sausage tacos for dinner; we played cards by the fire. Enjoying a family card game without checking the news on my phone: that felt like a real success.

Oddly, though, I also wrote two poem drafts: one first thing in the morning, the other late in the afternoon. I think I mentioned that I'm taking part in Art in Common Places, a Sarasota-based project that pairs a poet with a painter, who together will create a collaborative broadside that will be posted around the city. The painter I'm working with is named Kathy Wright, and she and I have six weeks to create our collaboration. In conversation, we've decided to work with the theme accident, and our shared touchstones are the number 14 (I'm writing sonnets) and the notion of abrasion.

So yesterday I wrote Accident Sonnets #1 and #2 . . . each  is 14 narrow lines, composed in plain-speak: nothing flowery, letting the awkwardness flow . . . two drafts that are accidents of expression, at a moment when I feel nearly silent.

I've said so many times: Writing poems is not therapy. But it is work. It is active thought. It is a groping stretch toward the future.

Maybe you don't think you can write at this moment. But maybe you're wrong. I was. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

In the light of subsequent events at the Capitol, yesterday's post is naive. Painful to read, even. Possibly I should erase it. On the other hand, one of the furies that beset me, as I watched the insurrection unfold, was the way in which Trump strangles joy--repeatedly, and with cruel pleasure.

So I am not going to forget my relief--the wash of optimism that enveloped me after the Georgia victory.

At the same time, we knew something terrible was coming. And by "we" I mean anyone with eyes open--not just regular Americans but most certainly members of Congress, the cabinet, his staff, his family. The man is a lunatic, a narcissist, a perpetual liar, a sadist. He has been inciting violence throughout his term in office, and has been grooming a cross-section of dregs to respond. And respond they did: stupidly, incompetently, hideously . . . a veritable reflection of their puppetmaster.

And so the Confederate flag waved in the Capitol yesterday. A man in an idiotic bull costume posed for a photo, revealing the Klan symbol tattooed on his stomach. A "protester" fell 30 feet off a scaffold. Another accidentally tased himself. A grinning fool stole a lectern. And a woman was shot in the chest and killed.

If black or brown people had dared to invade in such a way, hundreds would be dead, beaten, jailed. But the white guys get to post selfies to Instagram, get told that they're "loved," get to stop for a burger on their way home.

Of course Trump should be removed, immediately. He should have been removed years ago.

A message to Maine senator Susan Collins: why, no, it seems that he has not "learned his lesson." If you had possessed a spine during the impeachment proceedings, we wouldn't be in this position today.

Yesterday, when the news broke about the breaching of the Capitol, Paul was in our back room watching, of all things, a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. When I showed him the headline on my phone, I could see his mind start to jolt. Watching a play about insurrection during an insurrection . . . Maybe it's a strange coincidence. Maybe it's no surprise at all.

This is America, after all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021


I was steeled for disappointment, and I woke to hope. Thank you, citizens, for saving our nation. Stacy Abrams, you are a wonder and a miracle. No one has done greater work this year.

I could sing, and maybe I will.

Now everything today feels brighter. I've got my 8 a.m. exercise class to endure, and then I'll spend the rest of the morning editing. Somehow I managed to forget to bake bread yesterday, so I'll need to rectify that. And Paul and I have some birthday-shopping plans for Tom.

But Georgia! I'm giddy with joy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

I am a person with a new haircut, and the future feels so rosy  . . . at least until I wash my hair and the beautiful style vanishes and I'm back to my usual stick-up-every-which-way. Still, even a mop is better than those terrible water-buffalo horns.

I don't know how you put-together people do it: nice hair, nice makeup, nice fingernails. I somehow never figured any of that out.

Well, enough, of this fancy talk. It's back-to-work week, and I spent yesterday answering emails and dealing with scheduling and generally trying to sort myself out. Occasionally I looked in on Paul, who was watching a National Theatre production of The Cherry Orchard (and who was subsequently pleased to discover that his review of the production almost exactly matched the opinion of the Guardian's theater maven). I put Byron back on the shelf and ordered a copy of Millay's Collected. I did not manage to get any exercise and was annoyed with myself.

Today: editing and bread baking, interspersed with more schedule planning and email answering. It's ridiculous how much time that can take up. No wonder people have secretaries. I've been invited to be a regular contributor to Teresa's newsletter, which will mean writing an essay at least every other month. Several people have asked me to mentor their poetry manuscripts. Plus teaching; plus editing. I have got to create some semblance of order on my calendar, or I will never figure out how to get anything done.

But first things first--make coffee for Tom's work mug, tidy the rooms, start the laundry, order fish and groceries . . .

So much juggling. I used to believe this would end when the boys grew up. Apparently not.

Monday, January 4, 2021

And another Monday rolls around.

Tom will head off to work on a house in Falmouth, Paul will be home today: I've decided to focus on a batch of poetry-related obligations this morning, and then get a hair cut, and then talk to Teresa about Byron, and at some point try to shoehorn in some vacuuming. 

I still feel kind of discombobulated from the holidays: with so many on/off days, I haven't quite figured out how to slip back onto the tracks. That's a big part of freelancing: not only knowing how to make myself get to work but also being deft at shifting and compressing tasks and schedules. I am pretty good at all of these skills, but on this first Monday of a new year I'm reeling a little. I'll figure out how to buckle down, but I'll be glad to have another cup of coffee while I'm doing so.

Yesterday I made a slow-cooked lamb ragu. Tonight I'll probably marinate chicken breasts and then stir-fry them with bok choy. For later in the week I'm planning soft-shell tacos with the leftover chicken; and if there is no leftover chicken (one never knows in this house), I'll get some fish. I'll likely make split-pea soup at some point.

Another day, another dinner. The round of cooking is endless . . . day in, day out. Not that I'm complaining. As chores go, making dinner is enjoyable enough. But my work days are long: we tend to eat on the late side, so I'm in the kitchen every night till close to 8. I like setting the table in our window-dark dining room: cloth napkins, cloth placemats, tidy silverware, two candles lit every night. I like the formality: sitting down together, unfolding our napkins, gazing thoughtfully into the flames. Often our meals are very quiet. A small parenthesis of ritual. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Yesterday's kitchen-cupboard cleanout bonanza went more slowly than I'd hoped, but I did manage to wash and reorganize all of the dishes and cookware. That leaves me the pantry and spice shelves as well as the under-the-sink space to finish . . . plus all of the regular housework. Blah. I guess we'll see what actually gets done, because I also need to grocery-shop: the only vegetables in this house are carrots. Already Sunday is shaping up to be one of those days.

Ah, well. At least the cat let me sleep till 6 a.m. At least we have money in the account to grocery-shop with. At least we haven't had any electrical emergencies for, like, 10 days.

Tomorrow I'll start stepping back into my work: editing a manuscript, prepping for a lecture on character in poetry, prepping for a weekend poetry retreat, beginning a 6-week collaboration with a painter for Art in Common Places . . . also, blessedly, getting a haircut. According to the boys, my hair currently resembles a water buffalo's horns. These housemates of mine sure do know how to make a girl feel pretty.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

It's nasty in Portland this morning--clots of snow/sleet/rain mashing down from the clouds--and I'm glad none of us has to go anywhere today. Unfortunately, however, I do have to drag the recycling etc. to the curb, an unattractive proposition that I'm postponing by writing to you.

My resolution for the day is to undertake a deep clean in the kitchen. With no cupboard doors, things quickly get grimy and dusty in there, so I'm going to unload each shelf, wash down the space, wash all of the dishes stored there, wipe down all of the bottles and boxes that live there, and thus slowly make my way through the entire room. I am not looking forward to this job, but a crappy-weather Saturday is probably as good a day as any. And now that Tom has given my new phone a new Spotify account, I'll have something to entertain me as plow through the shelves.

Speaking of plowing, I'm making progress on Swann's Way. I'll definitely finish it, but I can't say I've enjoyed it. The love affair between Swann and Odette is driving me nuts. He is such a sap, and she is such a bitch, and the pair of them are so unlikable that I'm finding Proust's depiction of obsession barely tolerable. I can't wait to be reading something else.

Let's ring in the new year by admitting we don't like something we're expected to like (or that we expected ourselves to like): I'll start with Proust, and throw in pomegranates, French New Wave movies, the couch in the back room, the poems of Wallace Stevens, Cadbury Creme Eggs, flannel sheets, Leonard Cohen songs, anything written by Scott and Helen Nearing, and long underwear.

Friday, January 1, 2021

And so this is 2021 . . . first light spreading into the blue-black sky. The bare arms of maples cut silhouettes against the dawn. Below them a clutter of roofs and chimneys huddles against the thin chill of January. Everything is quiet, not even a dog or a walker passing by.

Last night, waving sparklers, the neighborhood kids ran shrieking up and down, up and down, up and down the street, wild and rapturous. Our household of three sat in the dining room, eating Chinese takeout, watching the children dash past the windows, and I thought about the ways in which we humans borrow from other people's joy, enrich ourselves with other people's happiness. I suppose this is part of what it means to be communal animals.

For everyone, a central sadness of 2020 has been loneliness. The struggle with and against loneliness has framed all of our lives, whether we've been obeying scientific best practices or flouting them. And for far too many, loneliness is now permanent. Death, the great isolator, has locked the gates.

The next few months will be dark. A new year is not a new world. So last night, as I watched the kids skipping and shouting with their sparklers, I wondered how to push myself to keep borrowing sustenance from our stock of communal joy: to pay attention to a baby's laughter, to a bright wind, to the foolishness of cats. I want to stop overlooking these tiny moments. I want to treat them as saviors.