Sunday, February 28, 2021

I played around with my sewing machine yesterday, and it works beautifully. After studying the manual, I managed to thread it and load the bobbin, and sew some nice practice seams. Of course I also made plenty of mistakes as I am not particularly good at spatial relations and am trying to re-tailor an apron in an awkward way. I think I spent most of an hour ripping out the seams I'd just sewn. But finding a place to set it up is difficult. The finish on the dining room table is too fragile for a machine, the basement is too dusty, I have no room of my own and no folding table to set up in a public room. Yesterday I used a table in Tom's room, but he needs that for his own work, so I don't think it will be a regular option. Things are pretty cramped here at the Alcott House.

We lost a lot of snow in yesterday's rainstorm, and today the temperature is supposed to rise into the 40s. So this afternoon I plan to make my first venture into the garden: to pull out last season's collard and kale stalks and maybe pour some compost into the cleaned-up boxes. It's too early to rake away leaf litter and such, but I'll be glad to tidy up those stalks and maybe start trimming back some of the autumn flower detritus that I'd let fade in place. I am itching, itching to get back at it: to fill those new shade beds with ferns and Solomon seal, to hover over the little shrubs I coaxed through last summer's drought.

The other thing I did yesterday was to submit poems to a journal editor who actually reached out and requested some from me. The sense of being wanted certainly does improve the submission process. I took the risk of sending him a strange long ironic poem that has been hard to place, and he immediately wrote back and said he liked it, so that was pleasant as well. I like that poem myself, but for many reasons it's not exactly journal fodder. Maybe saying "Descartes parodies aren't super-fashionable" will be enough of a clue for you.

Tonight: roasting a chicken while having a Zoom cocktail hour with my friend Meg. I hope I'm up to the multitasking and don't accidentally baste my laptop.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Yesterday morning involved a lot of talking to sons and not much writing of poems. Somehow I knew I wasn't going to get any writing accomplished. This mock-poetry-retreat week has been a dud. Still, talking to sons is one of my favorite things to do, and I did think about poems while I was working on Frost Place stuff.

Today we're supposed to get snow/rain/snow/rain/sleet etc., and I guess I won't be going anywhere. I might start rehabbing an apron on my new sewing machine. I might roast a chicken. I should enjoy this slow end to February because March will be busy. Two new editing projects are due to arrive mid-month, and I've also got a bunch of poetry events.

I've already told you about my Bootleg Reading Series event, on Tuesday, March 2, 8 p.m. EST. I'm excited to be appearing in such a stellar lineup, and here's the registration link if you, too, want to check out the work of my compadres.

Then, on March 13, 12-3 p.m. EST, I'll be leading a Saturday afternoon generative writing session for Wheaton Writing Academy on "Enacting Anger: Writing Protest Sonnets." This workshop will differ from the sonnet weekend that some of you attended last fall via the Frost Place as we'll be focusing specifically on protest writing. So I encourage you to sign up if you want to play around with prompts for channeling rage and righteousness.

In the interstices, I'll be leading a three-session writing seminar for a small group of high school students, "Say It Loud! New Poets, New Voices," under the auspices of Monson Arts. This is a closed session for one particular high school, but if you're interested in hosting a version of it in your school, please let me know.

But for now, in this Saturday-morning moment, I'm very much enjoying not planning for any of these events. Slowly, a pale blue day is breaking. I hear the approaching rumble of an Amtrak train, and now its clanging bell, and now its Doppler fade to the north. The white cat is curled up next to me in his yellow chair. Upstairs Tom and Paul are sound asleep. I'm drinking hot black coffee. The house is warm and the lamps are bright. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Finally I am caught up with all of my electrical tasks. So today, maybe, might I be able to work on poems? Given the recent pattern of events, I'm not counting on it. But maybe?

We had a lot of wind and melt yesterday, and I spotted some sprouts popping up along my house foundation: tulip and scylla shoots and the tips of garlic. February! In Maine! And green things! This still seems so bizarre to me, though I know our southern coastal weather is entirely different from northern inland Harmony's. I'm not deluded into believing it's spring yet: temperatures are plummeting at night, and we've still got a snowpack. But the tough little plants are stirring.

This morning I'll take my yoga class, and then I'll work on some Frost Place planning. Otherwise, I don't have too many preconceived notions about the day. I do think we'll have minestrone for dinner; I've got a passel of root vegetables kicking around, waiting to be souped. Last night's bean enchiladas came out really well. I filled small flour tortillas with a mixture of kidney beans, corn, hot and sweet peppers, onions, and garlic, plus spices. As the base sauce, I used the roasted green tomato puree I made with last fall's unripened crop. It was perfect: just as good as a salsa verde made with tomatillos. I love being able to rescue so many green tomatoes; ripening is such a crap shoot in Maine.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

I got no writing done yesterday, but I did get a lot of exercise: first, my early-morning core class, then a beach walk with Paul, and finally a late afternoon neighborhood walk with my neighbor. It was a brisk late winter day, temperatures in the high 40s, bare trees and high rolling waves silhouetted sharply against the matte overcast sky. Everywhere, dogs pranced. Near the beach Paul and I glimpsed a pair of red-tailed hawks wheeling and diving. Raptor courting is in full swing.

Today will be another warmish day, but breezier and sunny. Maybe I'll be able to open a window or two, at least briefly, to air out the winter funk. I'm still trying to catch up on my electrical backlog, so I'll be vacuuming and baking bread and going to meetings. And I'll be trying out my new sewing machine! . . . a surprise gift from my dear friend Richard. Paul is quite excited about this new arrival and is itching to learn to use it. So I told him we'd start off by teaching him to make some throw pillows for his future apartment.

What else is going on? I've started rereading Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. I'm relearning a Bach violin concerto. For last night's dinner I sautéed pollock and finished it with a Meyer lemon glaze and also served roasted potatoes and a broccoli, garlic, feta, and tomato salad. For dessert I made orange ice cream and rosemary and lemon shortbread. For tonight I think I'm going to make bean enchiladas. 

Another full day with great electricity!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Of course, my "I'm just going to write this week" plans were shot to pieces by our electrical panic. Instead, I'm behind on all laundry, grocery shopping, vacuuming, and everything else that requires electricity, plus I was completely exhausted yesterday, no doubt from the stress of "what the hell is going on?" Very little has been written.

So it was especially nice to wake up this morning to learn that Vox Populi has published my poem "Song: The Famous Vision of America," which I drafted in one of my Carruth-Kenyon workshops last fall. And I am loving this cup of coffee (made with the aid of an electric coffee grinder and an electric stove), and everywhere-in-the-house heat (thank you, electric furnace trigger), and non-flickering lights and bountiful hot water and a charged laptop and everything. We were incredibly lucky that the terrible poltergeist event did not blow out all of our appliances and electronics. Things could be so much worse right now.

Today is Paul's day off, and he wants to go for a drive together and look at the ocean. So we will do that. In the interstices I will manage to grocery-shop and deal with some laundry, but vacuuming can wait till tomorrow.

Yesterday, as Tom and I were out for a walk, I spotted early snowdrops blooming in a neighbor's yard. As always, the sight filled me with happiness. Nothing ever feels more hopeful than flowers in February, in Maine, in the snow. Especially when your house has not burned down.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Another day, another electrical emergency--

Late yesterday afternoon, just after Tom came home from work, I turned on the dining-room lamp and then walked out of the room. A few seconds later I heard him ask, "What's going on with the lamp?" I walked back into the room and saw it flashing on and off. Just as I was about to speak, I heard the stereo in the back room turn on and off; then the light in the kitchen vent hood started fluttering, the cellar lights started flashing, the furnace began turning on and off, and the refrigerator went dead. Tom was flummoxed: multiple circuits were involved, breakers were tripping, what the hell was going on? Poltergeists? Quickly he turned off everything except for a couple of unaffected lamps, and tried calling our usual electrician, who of course did not answer. So he called another one--someone he works with at his new job--who promised to come over first thing in the morning but said that he suspected this was a problem with the outside power lines and we should call Central Maine Power. Mind you, it was pouring buckets of rain . . . a fine time to be a lineman, a fine time to be hauling a freezer-load of food to my neighbor's house (bless her heart). So we had a cold, dark, pizza-delivery night and a coffee-less morning, and thank goodness for our little wood stove.

The CMP guys didn't show up till 2 a.m., and then they only looked at the meter connection, which they said was working perfectly. But my hero, the new electrician, appeared promptly after breakfast and assured me that everything in the circuit box was sturdy and tight. Still, he could see that the power was fluctuating when he turned on the breakers. So he called CMP and told them that their guys needed to come back and look at the lines running from the pole to the house. And voila! They showed up in half an hour with a bucket truck and discovered a bad connection. As of late morning everything was back to normal, and the problems weren't the little house's fault in any way, and I am much relieved.

But, please, could we stop with the electrical problems? There are few things more stressful than fearing that your house is about to catch on fire.

Monday, February 22, 2021

I slept really well last night--so well that I was shocked when the alarm went off: I was sure it was still 3 a.m. But I woke up without body aches or grouchy malaise, so whatever my little under-the-weather moment was, it seems to have vanished for Monday morning.

Today: I'll get through my 8 a.m. abs class, and then I'll turn to poems--either scratching out new drafts or messing around with the Blood ms--until Paul gets up. That's pretty much my schedule for the week. Two editing projects are scheduled to appear in mid-March, and I know I'll have some class planning stuff to do, either later this week or into next week. But for a few days I'm going to take myself on a mock writing retreat.

Tom spent the weekend installing new lights and switches all around the cellar, so now we can actually see what we're doing when we're down there, plus we can turn the bulbs off and on via conveniently placed switches instead of groping around in the dark to find the teeny little chain pulls. It all seems very modern. Till now, the basement was the most 1948-ish feeling place in the house--low-ceilinged, rough-floored, unfinished, with a scent of grandmothers rising from the stairs. Over the years it's had some terrible "renovations": broken windows replaced with blocks of daylight-killing insulation, some kind of wretched spray foam deforming the walls, and a web of ridiculous amateur electrification mixed up with loops of now-useless landline and cable wires. So Tom has slowly been sorting through all of that. We do not want a finished, extra-living-room type of basement. What we want is a useful working-family's cellar, with dedicated space for laundry and clotheslines, a workshop, canning and storage shelves, and winter firewood piles. But as with everything in the Alcott House, space is at a premium, and Tom's new shop is beginning to resemble a boat, with each bit of wall and floor space tidily planned out for use.

By the way, we did end up cooking outside last night. Tom made a fire on top of the snow in the fire pit, and while it was burning down to cooking coals we had a melodramatic sword fight with some giant icicles and admired the half-moon shining down through the trees. It was perfect, really: we were outside just long enough for fun, and the tuna steaks took almost no time to cook. I served them with Yorkshire pudding and a caramelized fennel salad, and it was a wonderful meal--beautiful on the plate and smoky-delicious to eat. I hope we have another fire pit night soon.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

I had some odd dreams last night about being back in the Harmony house; also, about feeding my horse. (I have never owned a horse.) Unlike most of my livestock dreams, this one did not involve forgetting that I owned livestock/forgetting to feed them for months/having no water to give them. Instead, I seemed to be doing a twice-daily chore, with a cheerful (if funny-looking) horse, in a strange but familiar barn, without anxiety or self-horror. So that was a nice change.

I'm feeling slightly under the weather: tired eyes, a bit stiff and achy . . . no big deal, and probably a combination of too much reading, allergies, my exercise class, and a bad mattress. But it was pleasant to have a rare take-out night for dinner--a barbecue feast from Salvage. It was pleasant to put on my pajamas at 4 p.m. And it was pleasant to sit by the fire and play cards with the boys.

I don't know what's up for today. Some sort of housework, I suppose. We have tuna steaks in the refrigerator, and Tom and I are slightly serious about snow-grilling them in the fire pit. We'll see how serious we stay when dinnertime comes around.

I'm reading a dull Trollope novel (Lady Anna) and wishing for something more scintillating. I'm imagining skating at night, under the streetlights, at Deering Oaks Pond. I'm letting my mind wander away from poems and planning and curriculum. I'm propped in a corner of my shabby couch, the only person awake in the house, and feeling the weight of winter slip forward toward spring, like ice sliding off a roof.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

It's been snowing nonstop for about 24 hours, with no more than an inch or two of accumulation . . . a lovely, lazy, snow-globe storm. Now, as day breaks, the trees spread frosted limbs against a pale-blue sky, and the neighborhood roofs are sugared like gingerbread houses.

I have been busy this week: meetings and plans and phone calls and emails--mostly Frost Place-related as we work on some new projects and as I begin to prep for the Conference on Poetry and Teaching. We've announced our 2021 faculty--BJ Ward, Nathan McClain, and Teresa Carson!--and we've made the decision to be online again this summer . . . sad but necessary, given the slow rollout of the vaccine. Still, the conference went beautifully last year, and I know it will be even better this year, now that we've all become experts in virtuality. Dates are June 26-July 1, and the application will be posted on the website shortly. Please, please, contact me directly if you have any questions.

I realized yesterday that the events tab on this blog is woefully out of date, so that's one of the things I need to update this weekend. I also want to let you know about a change in my forthcoming poetry collection. I had been planning to put together a new-and-selected volume, but the more I thought about that project, the more I didn't want to do it. I don't have a rational reason; it just felt wrong, and unpleasant, and I kept procrastinating. So my sensible friend Teresa asked, "Why are you doing it then?" And I realized that I had no idea. What I really want is to publish the new work I've been writing since Chestnut Ridge. So the publisher and I have agreed that this is what will happen. Jeff is a prince: patient and supportive, and confident in me and my poems. I am very fortunate.

I feel immensely relieved about this decision and, as a result, much more able to work productively on the next manuscript. For the most part it's ready; I just need to tweak it to add a few newer pieces, and now I have a clear schedule for doing that: I have to get it to the publisher by April. So I'm feeling lighter this morning, and downright eager to get started on the final version.

Being a poet and being a teacher: that's what I've been focusing on this week, and everyone's letting me have my way, and I feel a little bit giddy about it. But it's tax time, so undoubtedly I'll be dropping to earth again shortly, with a thud.

Friday, February 19, 2021

 It's snowing lightly--a dust of feathers as I slip and slither down the icy driveway with my compost pail. Upstairs the cat is yowling to get into Paul's room; downstairs Tom is packing his lunch and cooking his breakfast. In the cellar the washing machine churns, and I am pausing here, with my cup of coffee and my to-do list, to consider the crows clamoring invisibly in the pre-dawn gloaming, the books on the table (the poems of Robert Frost, the essays of Virginia Woolf, a collection of historical maps of Canada, some crossword puzzles), the awfulness of my spiked-up bed-head hair, and the distant neighborhood grumble of the garbage truck, which has suddenly decided to pick up trash at 6 a.m. instead of 6 p.m.

Today I'm hoping mostly to focus on figuring out what I want to include in my next poetry manuscript . . . and by mostly I mean "for an hour before Paul gets up." Otherwise, I suppose it will be a regular day of underemployment: trying to get ahead with Frost Place planning, hoping some paychecks will arrive in the mail, listening to Paul explain something-or-other sportsy to me (NFL draft picks, NCAA rankings, the magnificent history of Hank Aaron), washing salt smears off the kitchen floor, emailing people about jobs.

I thought I would be enjoying these Woolf essays more than I am. I've read them all before, but somehow in this curated context they come across as extremely judgy, in ways that aren't particularly charming. However, I do like her description in "Character in Fiction" of "the obscurity of Mr [T. S.] Eliot":

I think that Mr Eliot has written some of the loveliest lines in modern poetry. But how intolerant he is of the old usages and politenesses of society--respect for the weak, consideration for the dull! As I sun myself upon the intense and ravishing beauty of one of his lines, and reflect that I must make a dizzy and dangerous leap to the next, and so on from line to line, like an acrobat flying precariously from bar to bar, I cry out, I confess, for the old decorums, and envy the indolence of my ancestors who, instead of spinning madly through mid-air, dreamt quietly in the shade with a book.

Thursday, February 18, 2021


On March 2 I'll be taking part in the Bootleg Reading Series, a collaborative venture among several presses that are participating in this year's offsite AWP events. I'll be reading under the aegis of Vox Populi, one of my favorite online journals, and my fellow readers include luminaries such as Laure-Anne Bosselaar and Doug Anderson. For more about the event, and to register for a Zoom link, check out the website.

* * *

Today: more Frost Place planning, more writing (I hope), some messing around with my forthcoming poetry collection, and a trip to the grocery store. We're supposed to get a little more snow tonight and tomorrow, nothing major, but I'm afraid it will make our existing ice-walks even more treacherous.

Still, yesterday's cold sunshine was so glossy and bright that I invited it to stream in through the glass storm door for most of the afternoon. The days are ticking, ticking toward spring.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

 This was yesterday's writing prompt:

I propped my book open and stared listlessly at the page of the Georgics where tomorrow’s lesson began. . . . “Primus ego in patriam mecum . . . deducam Musas”; “for I shall be the first, if I live, to bring the Muse into my country.” [Our teacher] . . . explained to us that “patria” here meant, not even a nation, or even a province, but the little rural neighborhood on the Mincio where the poet was born. This was not a boast, but a hope, at once bold and devoutly humble, that he might bring the Muse (but lately come to Italy from her cloudy Grecian mountains), not to the capital, the palatia Romana, but to his own little “country”; to his father’s fields, “sloping down to the river and to the old beech trees with broken tops.” 

—Willa Cather, My Ántonia

And it was a good prompt too: I am so pleased with the poem I drafted, which came to me swiftly and easily, as if it had been waiting for me. I worked on it till mid-morning, and then sighed and returned to my unromantic life; but as I hung laundry and read emails, I hugged my infant poem to my chest, and it gave me warmth.

Yesterday's ice storm was a mess. Twice, I scraped and salted the driveway and sidewalks, but this morning everything has frozen hard again. At least we have heat and power (those poor Texans) as well as a break between storms (my Chicago son says they've had measurable snow for ten days straight). 

Today: my 8 a.m. exercise class; then some Frost Place stuff, and laundry, and floors; and in the afternoon a phone call with Teresa about our Millay reading project; plus ice scraping, if the air warms up enough to trigger some melting.

I'm in a giddy mood, though . . . My thoughts are coursing and connecting, not just in poems but in other ways too. It's exhilarating, these snaps of synthesis and discovery. Body and brain and spirit--alive.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

It's nasty out there already, though so far we've just gotten sleet, no snow. Tom's still in bed, stalling on the ugh-do-I-have-to-drive-in-this-mess decision. I threw the cat out one door and he came rushing in at the other door, horrified. It's a great day to sit by the fire, and the cat had better learn his lesson and behave, or else.

This morning, after I get the sheets started in the washing machine, I'm going to sit down and write. I've got a prompt all ready for myself, so I can step right into the job without dithering about "inspiration." I'm hoping to get at least an hour of writing in, before Paul wakes up and comes downstairs to talk to me about college basketball standings or whatever. Then the rest of the day can sort itself out as needed. Probably I'll do some Frost Place stuff, and I have a meeting scheduled for the afternoon, and eventually I'll have to figure out something for dinner that includes leftover chicken (creamed chicken and biscuits? chicken and fennel curry? chicken tacos?). I need to fill the woodbox, and put clean sheets on the bed, and finish reading My Antonia. My friend Janet just sent me a new book that I want to start: a collection of Virginia Woolf's essays curated around the theme of self. I know I've read all of these essays before, but I'm interested to see what they'll be like in this new context.

Meanwhile, the sleet is tapping, tapping at the panes. I hope you are warm and dry, and holed up comfortably in your blanket nest . . . unless, of course, you're outside with your arms wide open and your face turned to the sky, as the sleet peppers your cheeks and the cold air rushes into your eager lungs. Either choice is excellent, and I plan to be doing both today.

Monday, February 15, 2021

We've got some snow-sleet slop coming in tonight and tomorrow, but today looks quiet, weather-wise, which is good because I'll be driving downtown to get a haircut this afternoon and those appointments are hard to get. I'm on the fence about whether I want to get my hair cut really short or continue with this mid-length stuff. Every winter I hate how it looks, no matter what length it is, so I suppose the style hardly matters. Humidity has downsides, but not for my hair. It loves to be curly in the summer, and I wish it could figure out a way to keep that curl alive in the winter instead of reverting to flyaway droop.

And thus we conclude our Monday-morning vanity talk.

I've got my exercise class at 8, and then a bunch of housework things to do and a few paperwork obligations as well. I'm on editing hiatus till mid-March, so I want to get myself into a writing schedule, though today is not the day for starting that. Mondays are always kind of breathless. As I sit here writing to you, I'm already fretting about laundry and dishes and floors and bathrooms. I did work a fair amount this weekend, on Frost Place stuff mostly, and most of the housework got pushed forward. Plus, Tom was drilling and sawing for two days, and there's no point in trying to clean anything while he's tracking sawdust around the house.

And thus we conclude our Monday-morning maid talk.

In other news: My Antonia is a magnificent novel. I love sketching out new poetry classes to teach. Zoom is making me tired. Homemade spelt pretzels are delicious. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sunday morning. Outside, it's warmer than it's been lately at this time of day. There's a chance of flurries, but the real snow and sleet won't be here till Monday or Tuesday. I've been thinking of the snowdrops, lying in wait under the crust, waiting for their cue to bloom. Often, in late February, I see them in front yards in this neighborhood, and then I kick myself for once again forgetting to plant them myself.

On Friday, during a walk in the cemetery, my neighbor and I spotted a pair of red-tailed hawks slowly drifting and circling in a patch of trees. Hawks begin nesting in late winter, so I suspect they were checking out the real estate. Certainly a city garden cemetery would be a fine place to raise a clutch of ravenous baby birds of prey: plenty of squirrels and pigeons, lots of big sturdy trees. Just a week before we'd seen the barred owl in Baxter Woods across the street. Last year our cemetery hosted a great horned owl nest, which got a lot of birders excited, and of course Central Park is a famously good place for spying on nesting falcons. I guess the raptors are adjusting well to urban conditions.

So many hawks and owls on the move: it must mean that spring is coming. We're already halfway through February, and the days are significantly longer. Really, this winter has gone by faster than I thought it would. I was dreading the dark season, isolated by winter and Covid, but already I am imagining gardens again, and the cat is sunning himself on the front stoop, and the sun is stretching his arms into the sky. By this time next month I could be outside picking up sticks, pruning winter-kill, emoting over the first crocus spikes.

Today, though, I'll be baking soft pretzels: a Valentine's offering to my boys. Otherwise, I don't have too many have-tos. I ended up spending a lot of yesterday working on Frost Place curriculum and planning, and today might involve some of that too. Or my Valentines might have a better idea about how I should spend my time. You'll recall that Tom gave me paving stones for my last birthday. And once I got a chicken house for Christmas. In this family, love-holidays are frequently constructional.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Strange Archives

 from The Animal Book by Dorothy Childs Hogner and Nils Hogner (1942)

The migrations of Gray Squirrels from time to time are remarkable. Movements are sometimes local, sometimes cover a great territory. As early as 1857 one of these enormous migrations was recorded in a document in the House of Representatives. The Squirrels started from Wisconsin in the fall, moved southwest for a month. Large rivers did not turn them from their course. Squirrels were reported swimming for one hundred miles along the Ohio. . . .

Similar movements have been witnessed in recent times. In the fall of 1933 there was a westerly migration to the states of New York and Connecticut. The little animals swam the Hudson or scampered across bridges. Others climbed aboard ferries. . . .

In the early days someone seeing a group of Squirrels crawling onto logs while swimming a river reported that the little Rodents crossed bodies of water on chips of wood with their tails hoisted for sails!

* * *

The previous entry is the first in an intermittent series of posts that will plumb the murky side of my large book collection. The collection is a good deal less murky than it used to be: when we moved from Harmony, I reluctantly shed many of the tattered this-n-thats I'd accrued over the years. But I do have a weakness for the peculiar, and many still remain.

The Animal Book is a family favorite. I bought it from a central Maine Goodwill when the boys were little, and I fell in love with its entirely unscientific tone. Though the book purports to be natural history, and does include many facts about the habits of North American mammals, the prose is both recklessly anthropomorphic and early-20th-century quaint, in the manner of regional pamphlets sponsored by local historical societies cross-bred with pulp novels for church ladies. I often read aloud excerpts from it at dinner, as Tom is equally fond of its unreliable weirdness. Last night, for instance, we learned that "In the dark of night . . . Mountain Lions find Opossum good eating."

Regarding the squirrel excerpt above: I cannot stop thinking about the squirrel document in the House of Representatives. Also, squirrels catching ferries, squirrels sailing down rivers with their tails as sails . . . given the brazen industriousness of the squirrels in my backyard, this seems entirely plausible. Tom has taken to calling them Concord Street Squirrel Union, Local #39. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Yesterday was one of those days when my life surprises me: as if it's saying "look at you doing what you love to do!" It began with a clean kitchen, morphed into a long phone call with a friend about his poetry manuscript, produced a batch of lemon squares midday, and ended up with a Zoom call with two of my favorite people, who are including me in a writing and teaching venture. Along the way I played a game with my son, made dinner for my husband, read The Leopard, submitted the final poem of my collaboration project, and dreamed of gardening.

I think about when I was 25, getting my first rejection letters through the mail . . . how lonely I was, and ambitious, and raw, and full of hubris, and hating my own writing, and devastated at the thought I would never be great. That me would be shocked by the 56-year-old me: how becoming a poet has taught me how to be a more useful plain everyday person, not transformed me into a tortured genius. I think 20-something me might be disappointed by that outcome, though she'd definitely be pleased to see that I'm still with the same guy.

Today: hauling trash to the curb in 5-degree wind. Then yoga, and another Zoom meeting, and then maybe grocery shopping, and maybe a walk with my neighbor. I'm not exactly sure how the afternoon will play out: it depends on weather, mostly. The sidewalks can get so icy around here. I'm glad to have an alternate exercise plan for the winter so I don't have to force myself to slide around on the treacherous pavement.

And I finished The Leopard, which means I also have to choose a new book to reread. I'm thinking maybe I'll revisit Cather.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Thursday already: this week has flown by. I guess the delights of a working oven have served as a kind of rosy soft-focus filter over the daily grind. [Good lord, what a terrible mixed metaphor that is, but I refuse to delete it and instead humbly lay the blade of my figurative goofiness at your feet (hah! there's another one).]

Today I've got a morning meeting about a friend's manuscript, and then the rest of the day is mine. I'll probably sketch out some potential teaching ideas, and maybe I'll also do some writing. It looks as if I'll be on editing hiatus for a few weeks (good and bad news), so I'm scrambling to pull together plans for future work. But I also want to take advantage of this opportunity to concentrate on my own doings.

For now, I'm sipping black French roast in a white cup, listening to the furnace growl, feeling restfully pleased that the week's housework is under control, idly wondering what I should take out of the freezer for dinner, and hoping the sidewalks aren't too icy for a walk later today.

Meanwhile, I have plenty of firewood in the basement, plenty of tea in the cupboard, a solid roof, hot running water, and windows with glass in them. What magnificence!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Yesterday was full of excitement. The most thrilling development: I have an oven again! And not only that--Maytag decided not to charge me for the very expensive parts, even though my stove is no longer under warranty. My guess is that the situation with the oven is analogous to what happened with my car's transmission: the problem was endemic enough to make suave customer service seem like the better option.

So, hurray, stove! And in other good news I also had two separate phone/Zoom calls about potential teaching gigs, from my two very favorite teaching venues. And while I was on one of those calls, I watched a squirrel drag the suet feeder all over the backyard, so that was comic relief. And I finished an editing project, and I baked shortbread and read The Leopard and was proud of the Democratic house managers for taking such a moral and intelligent stance in the Senate.

Today: my  8 a.m. exercise class, and then I've got to prep for a conversation tomorrow about a poetry manuscript I'm mentoring, and then I need to look over some contracts and emails and such, and then I really do think I might begin sussing out the New & Selected. I've also got to shovel snow, and vacuum and mop, and figure out what to have for dinner (potential main ingredients: leftover boiled beef and baby portobello mushrooms). And today is Paul's day off, so we might also go hockey-stick shopping.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Yesterday's snow is shoveled, and now it's snowing again. And it's cold . . . a good day for noodles and broth, which is convenient because I made French boiled beef for last night's dinner and have a beautiful pot of beef broth at my disposal.

This afternoon the stove guy is coming to install the oven part! Just think: after an ovenless month I might be baking again. I can hardly believe the luxury.

In other thrilling news, I think my seed order is on the way. Apparently, thanks to the pandemic, the seed companies have been swamped with orders--so much so that Johnny's, my favorite, has temporarily stopped accepting orders from home gardeners. I was worried that I might not get any seeds this year, and I'm still sure that much of what I wanted will be out of stock. But something is better than nothing.

So today I'll finish up my current editing project, and talk to an author about an upcoming project, and wash sheets, and fiddle with my Accident Sonnets, and host the stove guy. I might practice some Bach on the violin. I might do some research on cold frames so that I can tell Tom exactly what I'd like before he builds me a new one.

I've got a new poem out in Salamander: "Milk Gap," which is a piece I'm particularly proud of . . . one that went places I didn't expect to go in ways that felt new and interesting. Salamander is a print-only journal, but you might be able to find a library copy, if you're interested. I do have an extra copy myself, but mailing things is not that reliable these days. If you're local, I could leave it on the stoop for you to pick up. Just let me know.

I've got a bunch of other poems I could submit, but I haven't gotten around to it. Submitting is dull and mostly unsatisfactory, and I am always procrastinating about it. I think some people feel better after they send out poems, but I'd way rather write poems than send them out. However, it's part of the job, I guess.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Snow to shovel this morning, though I can't tell how much yet. All I know for the moment is that it's another chore to add to my Monday list, along with deal-with-editing-stack and fill-empty-refrigerator. Yesterday morning we did go skating, this time at Capisic Pond, a big neighborhood pond cluttered with families and hockey sticks. It was fun, but the boys now want their own hockey sticks. So maybe we'll try to find a couple.

Otherwise, it was a quiet day. I read The Leopard and cleaned bathrooms and made clam chowder. Tom spent most of the day in the cellar, working on his shop setup. Paul went to work. We watched the Super Bowl with irony and cynicism, rooting for plenty of quarterback sacks and a 0-0 score.

And now I am drinking my small cup of coffee and listening to the furnace grumble. I apologize for not being jam-packed with newsy tidbits and bright ideas. Mostly I am trying to wake up, trying to convince myself to get off this couch and go downstairs and take the dry laundry off the lines, trying to dredge up some enthusiasm for an 8 a.m. abs class. I do kind of feel as if my head is stuffed with straw. Happy slow morning. Probably I'll be clever and brisk again someday.

Sunday, February 7, 2021


Housebound by February and Covid, I am taking pains to remind myself of how sweet my kitchen has become, even in its perpetual state of rehab. On a sunny morning the mixing bowls look bright in their doorless cupboards; the yellows and blues are brisk yet soothing; the countertop is as clean as new paper. Someday there will be cupboard doors, and a task light under the shelf, and a row of utensils hanging beneath it. And it's true: I don't have a working oven. But the room is so charming that I am happy to make do.

There's a scene at the end of Wilder's These Happy Golden Years when Laura opens a door in her new house and discovers the pantry that Almanzo has painstakingly constructed for her. That is how I feel about my kitchen: it's a love-gift from its maker, designed to give me joy. And it does.

Today, we've got more snow on the way. I had hoped to skate yesterday afternoon, but everyone else was busy. And now I'm hoping to skate this morning, but we'll see how the boys feel about it. Or maybe the ponds will be too full of other skaters, or maybe the snow will start earlier than expected. I might just need to go out by myself, sometime during the week.

I spent yesterday puttering among house and desk stuff--washing clothes and writing an artist's statement and reading The Leopard and playing games and going for a walk. For dinner I made braised chicken legs with capers, green olives, and preserved lemon; dill dumplings; and green beans with garlic, baby rosemary, and balsamic vinegar. I thought there would be leftovers, but no. Paul does love those dumplings.

Here's a bit from The Leopard, as illustration of what I was talking about in yesterday's post--about the powerful influence of landscape in the novel. This particular section focuses on the sun, which, in Sicily in the summer, is the landscape.

The sun, still far from its blazing zenith on that morning of the 13th of May, was showing itself the true ruler of Sicily; the crude brash sun, the drugging sun, which annulled every will, kept all things in servile immobility, cradled in violence and arbitrary dreams.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The dawn sky is streaked with bands of lemon and midnight blue, as if someone has been finger-painting behind the vast silhouettes of the maples. It is a lonely sight, even among the crowded, jumbled roofs of a city neighborhood. The sky, like the sea, resists the tamer.

Yesterday I worked on my collaboration poem, and I think it's mostly where it needs to be, unless my painter-partner has some suggestions for changes. I also finished my reading vacation (all of the Little House books in a rapid row), and now I have turned again to Lampedusa's The Leopard. Like McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, like Mathiessen's Shadow Country, The Leopard is a book in which the landscape is the greatest character. I've never been to any of these places--the Great Plains, Florida's Thousand Islands, Sicily--and I don't read these books because I necessarily hope to go there. It's how the novelist makes such intense use of place: that's what draws me.

It's interesting/disturbing/tiresome that these three books are by white men. Of course Wilder's books also make rich use of landscape, but the novels are constrained by authorial prissiness and a child audience. Cather is a better example of a woman writer who treats landscape as an active character. Louise Erdrich, to a degree, can also do it. (I'm not including those books that primarily use landscape as a decorative backdrop or as a palimpsest for human emotions.) I've read a fair number of Native American novels and memoirs lately, and landscape, as such, is not always particularly key to their work. Not that it should be; I'm just noticing. There are lots of writers whose creations arise from people and their stuff--both physical stuff and dramatic stuff. Shakespeare, for instance. It's a perfectly good way to think about art. 

In any case, I do love The Leopard, and I know I've said so on this blog many times. It's a novel I should write about, and maybe someday I will.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Last night I made a beautiful meal: pork loin braised in milk, squares of polenta fried with green onion, and a salad of chiogga beets, spinach, and pecans. It tasted very good and was also a visual delight--the red and yellow beets . . . the crisp golden polenta . . . the bright onions. Looking at it was almost as good as eating it.

Now here we are at Friday again. In a couple of minutes I'll heave myself off the couch and drag the  recycling to the curb. I'll take the laundry off the cellar lines and start a fresh load in the machine. I'll answer some emails and wash the breakfast dishes and clean the ashes out of the wood stove and make the bed and sweep the kitchen floor. Probably I'll chatter with my Chicago son, who usually calls early on Friday mornings. Eventually I'll turn on the computer for my Zoom yoga class. And then I'll try to do a little bit of writing until/unless Paul gets up.

And I'll stop and stare at the vase of pink tulips I bought yesterday. My eyes are hungry for spring.

Nothing ever happens; nothing is new. But I am trying not to malign myself for chronicling the tedium. It is a satisfaction, at least, to have a clean kitchen. And a pretty meal. And folded clothes. Small tokens of what could be called civilization, though it's impossible to use that word without cynicism. A certain sort of civilization, anyway, built on the backs of housewives.

I feel like I've forgotten so many things. How to drive, for one. I had to buy gas the other day, for the first time in months, and I got flustered about the gas pump. I've also forgotten how to be with a group of people. I've been invited to a socially distant, outdoor birthday party to be held later this month. It will be safe, and there will be people I know and like, and I am already terrified. A party? I don't know if I can manage a party.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Yesterday I made my way through about a third of a friend's poetry manuscript and revised two short essays, and now this morning I'm feeling pleased with myself for having made something of the day, even in the midst of uproar.

Today I'll work more on the poetry ms, and I guess I'll probably have to go grocery-shopping as well. Blah. It would be nice to have an oven again. My powers of invention are beginning to wane, and I'm getting tired of stovetop everything.

Oh, well. I am not going to repine over such a minor inconvenience. To paraphrase Alice: I've seen inconveniences compared to which this is an oligarch's yacht. [Yes, the sentence structure is just as awkward in the original.]

No exercise class this morning, so I don't have to rush around trying to get all the house chores done before I torment myself for half an hour. Actually, the torment is getting more manageable. I won't say that I'm having fun, but I am getting stronger.

I'll leave you with one of my Accident Sonnets.

Accident Sonnet #4


Dawn Potter

I tried on a new linen shirt and then

spilled tea on it. I put on my old


clogs and staggered down the stairs. I

stuffed work pants into the washing


machine but forgot to hang them up.

I boiled six eggs and they


cracked. I  let the cat in and I

let the cat out.


Three seagulls circled above me. Their wings

cut the sky like harrows.


It’s one

of those days

when everything

is tinged with blue.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

After a sloppy, sleety day, the weather seems to have calmed down outside. But everything is coated with ice, and I'm glad I don't have to walk any dogs this morning.

Yesterday turned out to be productive: I did end up writing a first draft of that Byron piece, and I managed to do it while sitting in the middle of the living room surrounded by family noise, so that was a success too. Mostly I try not to dwell on my lack of work space. A room for my son is more important than a room for my writing, and the Brontes all wrote on their laps in the middle of the parlor while their brother was having drunken rages upstairs, so what am I complaining about? Still, I do feel wistful about that room of my own. This was the first one I'd ever had, and now I don't have it any more. 

Enough repining: I did, in fact, write anyway, without a room, and who knows? maybe today I'll write some more. I've also got a couple of friends' poetry manuscripts to work on, and that Byron draft to tweak, and my new-and-selected to start collecting. And floors to clean, and laundry to hang, and probably more shoveling to do, blah blah blah.

But it's February! And next month is March! And in March I can start thinking about my garden. I am itching to be back outside, in the thick of planting. This spring I'll be growing potatoes, which I haven't grown since we left Harmony. In the back garden I'll be planting ferns and Solomon seal in the beds I prepared last fall. It will be the best garden yet (unless that groundhog comes back).

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Good morning from snowy-sleety Portland, Maine! It's difficult to tell how much precipitation has fallen because it's been so windy: all night long branches and wires clicked against the house and sleet spun and rattled against the windows. Now, under the streetlights, the landscape is lunar--some places scoured clean, others drifting into dunes.

Today feels a bit like the weekend. Tom didn't set his alarm, so I stayed in bed till close to 6. He does plan to go into work, but not until later in the day, when the storm winds down and he can start shoveling out the worksite. And I'm in no rush because I shipped my editing project yesterday and don't, for the moment, have any other pressing deadline.

I'll get started today on my friend Ian's poetry manuscript, and I may also begin sussing out a piece I need to write for an issue of Teresa's weekly poetry letter. My friend Tom has suggested that I consider writing an essay on why I didn't like Byron, and maybe I will. And I still have revision work to do on the Art in Common Places poem.

I like a snow day.

Monday, February 1, 2021

February 1st! Time really is moving forward, though the pandemic can feel so static. What we're doing on this first Monday of the month is waiting for a giant storm: snow, sleet, bluster, and up to 14 inches of accumulation, all supposedly starting during the afternoon commute. Poor Tom will have to drive in it, and poor Paul will have to walk and bus in it, and I will worry about them.

This morning I'll undergo my 8 a.m. exercise class, and then I plan to finish and ship my editing project, and then I'll run out to the grocery store and gas station before the storm, and then I'll come home and clean the bathrooms. Eventually I'll make something for dinner involving leftover pork, leftover rice, and the dry black beans I'm soaking. And if I'm lucky I'll do a bit more revision on the poem that Kathy (my painter collaborator) and I have chosen for the Art in Common Places broadside.

Monday mornings often feel a bit hysterical, as if I'm trying to rev myself up for usefulness: madly scouring the kitchen sink, stuffing towels into the washing machine, generally trying to behave like someone who hasn't spent the weekend playing board games and rereading favorite children's books. But by this time tomorrow, I'll have finished that editing project and I'll be back in the twilight world of semi-employment: waiting for the next thing to show up on my desk, offering advice on a friend's manuscript, filling the gaps with my own writing and reading.

And the snow will be falling.