Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I seem to have lucked out: other than a mildly stiff left arm, I have had zero reactions to my first Pfizer vaccine. In fact, I felt so peppy yesterday that I went on two walks, plus hauled and spread 200 pounds of gravel. No aches, no malaise, nothing.

So this morning I'll be back to my normal schedule: exercise class, hanging laundry, editing. The temperature is supposed to reach 60 degrees today, and I'd like to get another batch of seeds planted before the rains come in tonight. I need to sit down with Paul and make our Easter dinner shopping list.

I've been re-reading Iris Murdoch's The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, and I brought it along with me to the vaccine clinic, so as to have something to do while waiting around after my shot. Two separate people commented on the fact that I was carrying a book. Nurse 1: "Is it a mystery?" Me: "No, it's a novel by Iris Murdoch written in the 1970s." Nurse 1: [look of semi-horror]. Me: [politely defensive] "I like to read." And later, in the waiting area, Nurse 2: "Oh, my goodness, you have a book!" Me: [eyes bulging] "Yes."

Question: Is carrying a fat hardback around in a public place like carrying a boa constrictor?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Yesterday's meal was a season opener: on March 29, I harvested our first measurable home-grown greens! This is always a banner day for me, and it came especially early this year. The top photo is a mixture of chives, garlic chives, garlic shoots, and sorrel, which I used to garnish beef stroganoff. The second is wintered-over kale, arugula, and spinach, mixed with (obviously) store cherry tomatoes. 

Today will also be a banner day as I am getting my first Covid vaccine this morning, at the clinic set up at Scarborough Downs racetrack. I'm excited, but prepared to be ill. If necessary, we will have grilled-cheese sandwiches for dinner, and then I will lie on the couch and look at a basketball game . . . unless the Electrical God isn't done cursing us.

If I don't get ill, then I'll return to my editing chore, and then I'll haul a little more gravel for the Lane, and I'll prep a garden bed for planting carrots, beets, and baby cabbage.

Oh, here's some exciting house news: Tom is starting to plan his next project--building our deck! When we bought the house, it had a rickety stoop outside the side door, which was too dangerous to use, so Tom demolished it immediately. Since then we've had temporary stairs into the kitchen. The new deck will wrap around the house, from the back door into the back yard, with stairs at either end. This will give us not only an outdoor sitting and eating space but also allow us to move forward with the backyard design--specifically, laying paths and creating beds around them.

I'm really pleased about the deck. I know we still need kitchen-cupboard doors, but with spring on the way I'd way rather expand our outdoor options. One huge advantage of living in the city: very few biting insects . . . no black flies, manageable mosquitoes. Sitting outside on a summer night is a real pleasure, and we haven't had a good place to do that.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Last night I thought I wouldn't be writing to you this morning. In the early evening, as I was watching the Michigan-Florida State basketball game, the breaker suddenly tripped in the back room, and the screen went blank. "[Expletive]," I said. The power seemed fine everywhere else, so clearly we had problem different from the last big rainstorm/electrical crisis situation.

Tom went downstairs to look at the box, and discovered, to our horror, that water was leaking into it from the outside. He called the power company, which refused to deal with it, even though the fault was the seal around their own meter connection. Then he called our electrician, who told him "Pack it with a shit-ton of silicon on a dry day," which was sensible but currently there was a heavy rainstorm, so first things first. Tom went outside and taped up the gap, and then we spent last night in the dark, eating Sichuan takeout and playing Yahtzee and listening to the rain pound. Have I told you how much I love my wood stove? And my calm, handy partner? Although I also loved hearing him yell at the power-company guy. Oy.

Still, I think I'm developing chronic trauma about electrical problems. As soon as Tom told me about the water in the box, my stomach started hurting. And I still feel pretty anxious. Here's hoping I can get back on track and have a useful day.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Here are my pea poles, and a view of my neighbor's house, which is much cuter than mine. Last year's pea crop was a bust, so I'm hoping that a different variety and a new growing situation will help.

And this is my potato plot: three big grow bags, each with a different compact variety. They don't look as good as Tom's wooden planters do, but they don't look terrible either. And we can move them around if we need to. For now they're sitting at the head of the lane.

Friday's rain and Saturday's sun brought out so many flowers. The crocuses are particularly thick and vibrant this year; I think they've slowly been spreading in the revitalized gardens. I love these buttery ones best.

We've got another batch of rain coming in this afternoon--good timing for my freshly planted potatoes. I don't know what I'll be up to. I definitely need to do the grocery shopping I avoided doing yesterday. I probably ought to clean the bathrooms. Tom and I might set forth on yet another gravel-shopping expedition. It seems likely that I'll watch some basketball. I do look forward to staring out the windows at the wet gardens.

Yesterday I got a note from a poet I greatly admire, writing about my Accident Sonnets, speaking about their "candor" and their "emotional shaping." Given that they were created under such awkward, uneasy, unconcentrated conditions; that I could not find quiet space, in my head or my life--and that I decided not to even try to manufacture any facsimile of work-peace--I feel especially tearful about this kind of praise. They were a mess to make, and a mess to live. But perhaps that is their point. The poet is always the last to know such things.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

I slept well last night but am still feeling a bit tired and stiff. You'd think I'd gotten the vaccine, not Tom. For whatever reason, my body needed an off-day, so I gave it one yesterday--skipping my exercise class, for the first time since December, and taking a small nap in the afternoon. We had an all-day rain, so that made resting easier.

Today the sun is supposed to come out, though the air will be cool, and I am going to prune roses. The rain brought out the daffodil shoots, and hyacinths are budding, and crocuses are everywhere. I am anxious to spend time with them all. And my seed potatoes have arrived! I need to get more soil before I can plant them, so that's an errand for today, along with grocery shopping and driving Paul to work. Unfortunately he has a day shift, so we won't be able to watch our favorite basketball team together. We are on the Loyola Chicago bandwagon, mostly because their star looks like someone's goofy, out-of-shape dad but is in fact extremely good. Also he is learning to play the harmonica and is terrible. We find this charming.

Tom is pleased because he finally has a weekend when he isn't (1) working for someone else or (2) doing our taxes. Maybe he will watch the basketball game with me.

What else is going on? I don't know . . . um, let's see, I drafted a poem titled "Pandemic Field Notes" for a land-trust-related anthology, worked on my editing chore, talked to my mother on the phone, invented a vegetable soup, beat Tom at cribbage, mopped the kitchen floor, forgot to make a vet appointment for the cat, watered my houseplants, ate some leftover macaroni-and-cheese, changed the bedsheets, read an Iris Murdoch novel, thought about Frost Place planning, threw the cat outside because he was clawing up a chair, talked to my Chicago son on the phone, drank a lot of tea, despaired over my unruly hair, wore an ugly sweater, dragged trash to the curb, made up anthropomorphic stories about birds with Paul, and wished I had cake.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Yesterday, I answered the phone, and there was Teresa, asking, Can I publish your Accident Sonnets in my Friday newsletter, because I am celebrating Dante's birthday this week, and I think your sonnets are like a journey from Inferno to Paradiso?

And I said, Yes, of course, and Do you really think so? and Gosh, I never thought of that, and Oh.

And ever since then I have been thinking to myself, Someone on this earth thinks that my poems belong in the same sentence as Dante's.

If you subscribe to Teresa's poetry letter, you'll see what she has to say about Dante and about my poems. But if you don't, you can still have the poems.

Accident Sonnet #1

 So we went shopping

for skates because

ponds are big and we

can skate with our masks

off and we can breathe

the air without terror,

and because the sound

of blades slicing ice is

the ring of steel against

stone, of might against

Might, and because we

are afraid of dying

and so tired, so very,

very tired.

Accident Sonnet #2


the sign said it said

nothing it said nothing

could save us now now

nothing could save us

satan has us in his

clutches satan has us

the sign said in his

clutches the man

holding the sign stood

at the corner he stood

holding a sign that said

satan and the cars 

the cars they did not 




Accident Sonnet #3


Behold these images

of summer pasted into

the catalog I found stuck

to the bottom of the recycling

bin. I flip through the stained

pages but cannot recall what it

feels like to be bare-armed and warm,

smiling at strangers clustered on a

dock at sunset, chattering about

dogs and children, laughing

into the eyes of a beautiful

man, brushing sand from

his feet, cupping his

unmarked face. 


Accident Sonnet #4


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.



 Accident Sonnet #5


I thought for a change

I would write a happy poem and

Look! Here I am, writing

about the conversation I just


had with my son.

We were talking about the cat

and we were using our special

funny talk-like-the-cat voices


which is a thing we do

in this family, we are very

committed to comic relief,


and it was sweet because,

for, like, five minutes we

forgot to be scared.



Accident Sonnet #6


i’ve been reading such

hard books lately 

proust and byron it’s

like eating nothing

but brown rice

and kale and


finally today i said

the hell with it and

lay on the couch

under a blanket

and read about


lord peter wimsey being judgy about

claret while stalking a murderer and

for some reason this was better but why



Accident Sonnet #7


It’s Saturday morning in early January 

in Maine and the faraway sun is grinning

behind a scrim of cloud and I should

be outside to say hello, and I meant


to be outside by now, but somehow I am

still sitting here on the couch doom-

scrolling the news because I’ve realized that

half the insurrectionists look like


my middle-aged cousins and the other

half look like my ex-students, like the kids

my own kids went to school with. What’s


the right thing to do with recognition

software that lives inside my own life?

I am a crime.

Accident Sonnet #8


In my son’s room which used to be my study until 

Covid made him move back in with his parents

music is trickling from beneath the door, something

sad and twangy, and I am lying on my bed

trying to write poems because I don’t have a room

of my own anymore, don’t even have a desk, don’t

even have a chair, and as I lie here on this mattress


on the floor and watch a no-sun afternoon

grimace through the window my son is lying

on his mattress on his floor and trying to write

a statement about why he wants to

go to divinity school, and I’m thinking why

don’t we have any real beds? and his music sighs

under my door like every hard answer.



Accident Sonnet #9


I’m not looking out the window

but I can hear the street the

neighbor kids shrieking at

each other and now their

boots pounding up and down

the sidewalk they’re shooting

nerf arrows at each other again

or playing some inscrutable

game involving a hula hoop

and a character they call Mr.

Orange and before long

somebody’s going to be

crying and I bet

that will be me



Accident Sonnet #10


Seven years ago I lived in the woods

and seven months ago I was amazed

by a white peony in my city garden

and seven weeks ago I almost caught

the house on fire as I was roasting

a turkey and seven days ago I witnessed

a semi-failed putsch in the capitol of my


woebegone nation and seven hours ago

I was lying on the floor trying to recover

from an abs class and seven minutes ago I

had not yet written this poem and seven seconds

ago I thought this poem was bad and when I was

seven I climbed into the notch of a maple tree 

and wondered who on this earth could I possibly be. 



Accident Sonnet #11


Saturday morning and it’s pouring rain

in Maine where it’s not supposed to rain

in January and I am sitting in a corner

of my couch squinching my mind away

from bad news trying to pretend that today

will be super-relaxing so calm and productive

and probably I’ll look younger also.


Meanwhile the clock ticks and the furnace

hums and the washing machine sloshes

and the twenty-first century slips and slides

along its dented rails and you: What are you

doing right now? Are you gazing through

a windowpane into the sodden dark? Are you

yearning over the strangeness of love?



 Accident Sonnet #12


I’ve been dreaming lately,

dreaming about birds,

about watching birds scatter

like spiders through

the rooms of my house;

dreaming that my older

son is younger than

my younger son;

dreaming that I

mistakenly married

my junior prom date;

and when I wake up

I am shocked and What

the hell, Time?



 Accident Sonnet #13


Two weeks ago I wrote my first acci-

dent sonnet, it was the day the yahoos

stormed the capitol and our future felt

dead and my son was watching, of all 

things, Coriolanus on TV, and, lord,

how do we acquaint ourselves with terror?


And then yesterday one president was

airlifted into oblivion and the other

got to sit down at the big desk and start

erasing evil and I was too afraid to watch

in case something exploded but the only

thing that exploded was relief, I felt

like a milkweed pod, I felt

like a busted dam.



 Sonnet 14: Accidental Hymn 


And here I am again, praise-singing

hot cornbread and the poems of Keats

and the blisters on my hands, the ones

that sprout after a day spent shoveling


semi-frozen April soil because I am so

ecstatic about spring, about the shriek

of the crested woodpecker dancing from tree to tree,

about the radish seeds I’m dropping into the wet


black earth, about our planet rolling so swiftly

on its axis: and now the man I’ve adored

for thirty years is getting out of his pickup after a long 


day of hammering and here I am again, running up

to him and crying The crocuses are up! and here he is

laughing, saying Show me.

[first published in Teresa Carson's poetry newsletter, La poesia della settimana, March 27, 2021]  

Thursday, March 25, 2021

I slept hard last night--not so much like a log; more like a rusty Packard parked in the woods. And Tom also slept hard, so much so that he fell asleep on the couch and forgot to come to bed and set the alarm, and now both of us are now groggy and confused.

Tom has an excuse, because he got his first Covid vaccine yesterday afternoon, though he says he feels fine, except for a sore arm. I don't know what my excuse is.

I did get my first seeds planted yesterday: peas, cilantro, arugula, lettuce, radishes. And now it's drizzling lightly, with a steadier rain forecast for tomorrow. This weather is ideal for a vegetable farmer.

Today I'll be editing again, and then teaching in the afternoon. Today we'll be talking about feelings . . . why poetry is so often the conduit for strong emotion, and how various contemporary poets have chosen to frame it. We'll look at poems by Kim Addonizio, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Casey, and the kids will write three drafts, and our hour together will fly.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

First planting day!  With rain coming in tomorrow, now is the time. So I'll undergo my exercise class and my editing work in the morning, and then after lunch I'll carry my seeds outside and get to work. Peas and radishes, lettuce and arugula, maybe some green onions too. I'm short of seeds, so I'll be mixing in some of last year's batch, doing my best with what I have to work with. Any day now, my seed potato order should be arriving; I've got to buy ferns and other shade perennials for the new beds I made in the fall, some strawberry plants for the little side extension. Prune roses, cut down last year's ornamental grasses to make room for new growth . . . so much to do, and it's still only March.

In other news, young bullies massacre innocents. In American massage parlors and grocery stores. On Myanmar streets.

And Portland, Maine, is blanketed in fog.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

 I dreamed, last night, that I was trying to run some sort of poetry class in an ancient dark filthy kitchen that somewhat resembled the one in my grandparents' mountain farmhouse. But as in Through the Looking-Glass, every time I tried to concentrate on whoever was sitting in the shadowy edges of the room, those images would slide away from me. I turned and turned, trying to invent writing prompts on the fly, trying to figure out who was in the room with me, and meanwhile strange dusty grease-ridden implements trembled in the low rafters, and the air was a brown haze, like someone had been frying hamburgers for 50 years without ever opening a window.

I woke up, as the old books say, hag-ridden. The ghosts have risen, revealing my little sphere of influence as a bauble and a fraud.

I know this dream will wear off. But it was unsettling--to be conquered, after so many years, by the dirt and inertia of my own past. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

My plan yesterday was to lure Tom and his pickup into a gravel-shopping date to Lowe's, which I did, except that Lowe's didn't have any of the right kind of gravel, so I had to be content with five bags of organic garden soil. But with that refreshment, my garden boxes are now tidied up and ready for planting. The rest of the vegetable garden is also neat and ready: beds raked, herbs trimmed. Later this week I'll set up pea fencing and sow radishes and arugula and peas, and the growing season will officially begin.

Today, though, I'll be back to my desk--editing in the morning, planning for my high school class in the afternoon--plus cleaning the bathrooms I ignored over the weekend. At least maybe I can open a window in the bedroom while I work.

Paul has given a month's notice at his pizza job: step 1 in moving toward his retrieved life. He's also asked for Easter off, and the three of us are going to spend it together having a Greek Easter-themed day: grilled lamb, tzatziki, baked feta, calamari salad, retsina, and such.

I've been immersed in Wilson's Odyssey translation, which is a swift and compelling read, as well as in Diane Seuss's sonnets, likewise swift and compelling, though in a very different way. My head is stuffed with poetry.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

My first crocus bloomed on the first day of spring, and a beautiful first day it was--warm, faintly breezy, a bright blue sky, the trees bustling with birds. Paul and I watched a pair of courting tufted titmice flit back and forth among the highest twigs, singing their sweet call-and-response flirtation. I head crows and mourning doves and cardinals and a hairy woodpecker and a pileated woodpecker.

And I heard most of them from the comfort of my Christmas hammock, a gift from James, who remembered how much time I spent in his when we were up at Baxter last summer. The only place I have to hang it is among my clotheslines, but it is surprisingly pleasant to float among the towels and work pants, to blink up into the massive bare trees, listening to birds, cocooned away from the city.

Today I plan to coax Tom into taking me to Lowe's and buying fresh gravel for the Lane. And I've got grocery shopping to do and bread to bake, a bike to ride and a hammock to loll in. No planting yet, but soon--

Saturday, March 20, 2021

 In the middle of the afternoon, as Paul and I were watching college basketball, a banner floated across the TV screen announcing that Maine was speeding up its vaccine schedule. Within an hour I got a text message telling me that I'm eligible to make an appointment. So on March 30 I'll be getting my first shot, at the mass-vax clinic  at Scarborough Downs racetrack. Tom can now also make an appointment, and Paul will be able to get his by mid-April.

The Biden team has done unbelievably good work with this rollout. It's the most impressive government action I've ever witnessed. I am beyond grateful.

Slowly, slowly, the stones are slipping from my shoulders. In particularly happy family news, Paul has been offered a theater gig for next January: to serve as assistant director for an off-Broadway production at the Mint Theater. It's a short job, but it's real work, and at a prestigious venue, where the staff already knows and likes him. (He had a fellowship there during his junior year.) If he can parlay this into other gigs, he'll be on his way.

So this morning I'm feeling as calm and hopeful as I've felt for a long, long time. Now the sun is beginning to reach its fingers across the roofs and yards, the temperature is starting to rise, and today spring will burst open. Purple and yellow crocuses are budding, eager for a breath of warmth. I've got a load of towels churning in the washing machine, and in a few minutes I'll haul them outside to the lines, and while I'm hanging them in the cold morning air, a cardinal will sing and sing.

The times they are a-changing.

Friday, March 19, 2021

I worked two different jobs yesterday--editing upstairs in my bedroom in the morning, zoom-teaching downstairs in the back room in the afternoon--and for some reason the situation struck Paul and me as funny: that the stairs were my length of travel.

Anyway, the class went well . . . though it made me very sad to see the kids on screen fully masked, unable to share their smiles.

Today, I've got a bit of an editing break while press personnel take a look at some samples I sent them. So I'll vacuum, and do yoga,  maybe work outside if things dry out any. We had a cold rain all yesterday afternoon and into the evening, and I'm eager to hunt for brave new growth. 

Reading-wise, I've been immersed in Emily Wilson's introduction to the Odyssey--which must be at least a hundred pages long and is full of information about archaic Greece, speculations about authorship, thoughts on what the play suggests about women, slaves, and other underclasses, an examination of geographic anomalies in Odysseus' travels, and so much more. It's entirely fascinating.

Oh, by the way, people are steadily signing up for the teaching conference . . . and lots of them are newcomers. This is very exciting, though I worry that some of our regulars may miss out on a place if they don't hustle. It looks like we're going to have a very interesting variety in teaching level, which is always an eye opener for everyone. I do love to watch grad-school faculty and primary-grade teachers start figuring out how much they can learn from one another.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

I edited in the morning, did some cooking midday, raked in the afternoon; which is to say, I managed to get more done than I feared I would. Outside, in the sunny corners, a few crocuses are beginning to bud up; and under the leaf litter I found daffodil shoots.

Today, we're supposed to get a spot of rain, which should move the growing along. I'll return to editing in the morning, then teach my high school class in the afternoon, go for a walk in the rain, make corned-beef hash for dinner.

I've finished The Mayor of Casterbridge. Now I'm reading Emily Wilson's intro to her Odyssey translation.  And today I'll probably also start Seuss's Frank.

For some reason these sentences I'm writing are coming across as rather dry and distanced, but I myself don't feel that way. I'm content enough--sitting here on the couch with my coffee, the only person upright in this sleepy house, planning out the hours: work and chores and study and rest.

It is a privilege to not be afraid. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The editing pile has finally appeared on my desk, so this morning I'll start back to work. I know I should be happy about having a regular paying job again, but my three-week stint of being a full-time moon-around-the-house poet was certainly charming.

So for a few hours today I'll be teetering between editing an academic manuscript and coaching Paul through his cooking projects. And then, I hope, I'll be outside raking flowerbeds.

I'm almost finished with The Mayor of Casterbridge, which I'm liking so much on this read. Till now, I've always staunchly clung to Far from the Madding Crowd as my favorite Hardy novel. But I might be beginning to waver a bit: Henchard is such a complicated character, and the evocation of the town feels nearly medieval.

After this, I'm going to turn to the Odyssey, and to Diane Seuss's sonnets. At least I hope I will. The problem with freelancing is that the empty plate becomes the full plate so suddenly, and I begin to doubt my ability to keep up with anything.

One thing I do know: I have to maintain my exercise commitment. I haven't missed a class since December, and I don't want to lose any ground. For whatever reason, it's come to feel really important to have a small span of time every day when my thoughts calm and I think only about the work of my body.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Yesterday's high temperature was 19 degrees with a brisk wind: straight-on winter in spring lighting. Even my garden enthusiasm wanes in such weather. So instead of going outside, I revised poems and submitted poems to journals and talked about poems with my friends and, in short, didn't do much else besides poem stuff. It felt a little like eating candy all day.

Today, grocery shopping and a Frost Place meeting and maybe some outside chores, if the wind abates. Paul and I have filled out our March Madness brackets and are looking forward to a spell of basketball excitement. And he's decided we should cook an Irish dinner tomorrow night--something we've never done before. I have spent a lifetime being indifferent to Saint Patrick's Day, but these days we'll take any excuse for a party . . . though I draw the line at green beer.

Teresa and I are considering setting aside our Millay project, temporarily, and embarking on an Odyssey reading together, using Emily Wilson's new translation. Though we are very much enjoying the Millay, we're allured by the thought of wallowing in Homer. Between the two of us we probably own ten different translations of the Odyssey . . . a weird addiction to share, don't you think? So the idea of reading this new version together has got us all het up.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Happy birthday to Ruckus the Cat, who is nine years old on the ides of March. He attempted to spill the coffee for his birthday, but I foiled him. Then he snagged my sweater and felt better.

I thought I'd be starting a new editing project this morning, but it hasn't arrived yet, so I guess I won't be. I've got plenty to do without it: an afternoon call with Teresa to talk about our Millay reading; an evening online meeting with my Portland poetry group. Yesterday afternoon, during a zoom-visit with my friend Meg, we decided to read Diane Seuss's new book of sonnets together. So that's one more poetry social to add to my life.

It's cold this morning--10 degrees--but I still might get outside and do some raking or prune the roses today. As I discovered yesterday, raking is actually a little easier when the ground is frozen. Amid bursts of snow flurries, I cleaned out a few beds and boxes in the Lane and raked leaves in the backyard. I'm sure the neighbors think I'm nuts, but I do love early spring chores. Everything seems possible.

I spent a good bit of my indoor time working on a poem draft I started during Saturday's workshop. Turns out I'm pretty happy with where it's going, and I think I'll share it with my poetry group tonight.

Otherwise, what did I do? Drove Paul to work, baked bread, cleaned bathrooms, read The Mayor of Casterbridge, played cribbage, heated up leftover seafood stew for dinner, talked to my friend Ray on the phone. A desultory Sunday.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

 The cat is thoroughly enjoying the annual time-change confusion: "Wow! 4:30 is really 5:30 and Dawn has to get up!" So here I am, blinky and groggy, saying good-morning to you.

Yesterday's class went well: some good first drafts from the participants, and I wrote at least one myself that might be worth tinkering with. It was fun to be back in conversation about poems.

I'm not quite sure what I'll be doing today. Maybe cleaning bathrooms. Maybe sewing. Maybe trying to work outside in the chill. James got his first vaccine shot yesterday, so I feel as if I ought to have a party. Tom and I are both so relieved about this. Given his job conditions, we've had serious worries about his health.

His vaccination site was the parking lot of the United Center, which is the arena where the Chicago Bulls play. Here's what he texted me:

It was easy. There were a lot of people there but the line moved quickly and it seemed well run. Everything took place in semi-permanent tents and it was staffed by the military. Lots of signs in every language and lots of temporary barriers. Everything you'd expect from a FEMA vaccination site.

It almost felt like a music festival except there was no music and a lot more old people.

Meanwhile, cooks keep quitting or getting fired at Paul's workplace, and Paul keeps getting saddled with their hours, plus it's Pi Day (March 14), which is apparently a dreaded day at pizza parlors because everyone thinks it's a good idea to order large round food, and the cooks will be swamped.

For dinner last night we had Portuguese seafood stew, with mussels, clams, hake, and chourico. I also brought home cannoli from the Italian market--the first time I've shopped there since last February. Truly, these pandemic meals have been an enormous comfort to all of us. With so little to look forward to, we focus hard on dinner. It's been a responsibility: to be the creator of the day's most exciting moment. But I think I've done okay.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Our little spring vacation is over: this weekend we'll start dropping back into the chill, and temperatures on Monday won't rise out of the 20s. But the birds aren't daunted. They're singing and singing in the dusky dawn, so I think I won't be daunted either: I will hang clothes on the line, and watch them flit and sail in the cold and sunny wind.

I'll be teaching this afternoon. So first thing this morning, I'll run out to the fish market and pick up an order of shellfish. I'm going to make Portuguese seafood stew for dinner: an olio of mussels, clams, hake, and chourico. It's a favorite with my shellfishing-adoring boys.

Last night Tom cooked flank steak over the fire, and we sat outside in chairs set up out of the mud, admiring the flames, eating some kind of amazingly delicious soft Italian cheese Tom had brought home, being too cold but happy. It's so pleasant to be outside again. Earlier in the day Paul and I had gone on a long brisk errand-running walk, and the air was like wine, and we felt as if the wobbly world was righting itself. I know the time order is all messed up in this paragraph, but I'm just trying to explain our communal cheer. Yesterday was a day to believe in.

Friday, March 12, 2021

At 5:30 a.m. in mid-March, the temperature in Portland is 55 degrees, with a gusty warm wind. I know the thermometer will drop into the 20s again tonight. Still, letting the cat out and getting smacked in the face by a summer breeze while trying to keep the storm door from blowing off its hinges was an alluring and unsettling moment.

It's trash day today, so trundling out to the curb is the next chore on my list. And I need to walk up to the meat market to buy a flank steak for tonight's fire-pit date. And I need to work on some Frost Place planning, and do the vacuuming I didn't do yesterday, and take my yoga class; and probably I'll talk to my Chicago son, and I'll read Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, and of course rake out some more garden beds.

Here's a glimpse of what's happening in the Parlor Bed.

That's tulips you see, sprouting bravely in the warming soil. Yesterday, I uncovered big patches of crocus shoots, cut back dead branches and leaves in the herb garden, and found new growth amid the thyme, oregano, sage, sorrel, and chives, Already my spring nemeses, the maple seedlings, are obnoxiously uncoiling their tap roots.

By the way, re Frost Place planning: Applications to the Conference on Poetry and Teaching are brisk, and we're already more than half full. So apply soon if you're hoping to snag a spot.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Well, yesterday did not turn out as planned: the class I was supposed to teach was canceled because of administrative chaos (ugh), which was a disappointment and an aggravation. Still, good things happened . . . number one being: James, my older son, has a vaccine appointment on Saturday! He's only 26, so age-wise he's not a priority. But apparently his neighborhood (most of them are Mexican immigrants) has been especially hard-hit by Covid, so the city is now offering vaccines to everyone who lives in his zip code. I'm just so relieved he's on the list: he's been working in a very dicy situation, with numerous positive cases among the actors and crew on his show, and his health has been a giant worry. I feel as if someone's just taken a rock off my back, and I know he feels the same.

Number two good thing? I finally sent my next poetry manuscript to the publisher. I'd decided to include a section of more recent poems, written during this past year; so to accommodate them, I stripped some pieces out of existing sections, changed the epigraph, and changed the title. The book is now called Accidental Hymn, which is also the title of the final poem in the book. I hope the new version works, I think it works, and I am very relieved to have released the book from its purgatory of fretful poking and prodding.

Today: grocery shopping, laundry, maybe vacuuming, an afternoon meeting. I did make good progress on the stick chore yesterday. All of the small bits are bagged, and now I need to turn my attention to hacking up the stack of bigger pieces. But I may let them sit for a bit and do some raking instead. I am itching to see what's sprouting under that layer of winter leafmold.

Dinner: probably chicken legs with lemon, capers, and olives. Dessert: chocolate pudding. I am reading a novel that I started out liking but am now annoyed by (Stevie Smith's The Holiday). Outside, seagulls are making a racket in the blue morning air.

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

--from Hart Crane's The Bridge 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Kind of a bad sleeping night, but oh well. I'm up now, and feeling fine, and if I crash this afternoon, let's hope it happens after I teach my class.

I did spend a lot of time outside yesterday, mostly working on that brush pile, and I hung out a load of clothes as well. The brush pile is the detritus from the two junk maples that Tom and Paul took down last fall: a pair of accidental saplings that had taken hold between our shed and the neighbor's garage and were trouble-in-waiting. As trees, they were leggy and inconsequential, but they still made quite a pile of brush. All of it has to be cut up and bagged for the city's yard-waste collection, not to mention that it's sitting right where I need to rake the leaf mulch I'll be composting for next fall's soil-enrichment projects. I should finish the bulk of the stick chore by the end of the week, and then maybe I can do the more fun work of cleaning out flowerbeds. The temperature is supposed to drop again by the weekend, so I can't get too cocksure about spring. But the tough little bulbs are eager for sunlight.

This morning I'll struggle through my 8 a.m. exercise class, and then I'll turn my attention to manuscript organization. Yesterday I printed out a stack of newer finished poems, and today I want to spread everything out on the dining-room table and start figuring out what to add to and delete from the existing ms. I'll hang another load of clothes on the outside lines, and maybe I'll find some time to work on the stick pile before I check in with my high schoolers. We'll be looking at poems by Ross Gay and Layli Long Soldier and playing with approaches to the poetic sentence. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Today is the day!--a forecast of 50 degrees and bright sun, and already I am full of fizz. My first outdoor project will be to bag up the brush pile in the backyard. Then, once that's out of the way, I can turn my thoughts to pruning roses and raking beds. Gosh, I might even hang a load of clothes on the line.

I do have some inside stuff to deal with: a meeting in the afternoon, some class stuff to finish up. But outside is where I want to be.

Yesterday I went on my first little bike ride of the season: just a tour through the neighborhood to start getting my bike legs back into shape. Today I might go on another one. Anything is possible, on the first day of spring.

I do feel giddy. Spring is my favorite, favorite time of year. So much hope bubbles up in me, no matter how old I am. The tender shoots; the soft air . . . they gobsmack me every time.

Monday, March 8, 2021

This week's forecast says spring! From Monday through Friday, we should see a gradual shift from the high 30s into the mid-50s, and I cannot wait to get into the garden with a rake and a wheelbarrow, maybe by tomorrow. But it will be a busy week, too, even without raking: teaching on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, class planning to finish, meetings, house stuff, poetry stuff. Lots of juggling.

Today: an 8 a.m. core class, and then I'll prep for my high schoolers, clean bathrooms, and figure out something for dinner--probably a chicken pie. Yesterday I made falafel, pita, tahini sauce, and a beautiful salad of chiogga beets and cherry tomatoes. That meal took a lot of time to prepare, but was worth it.

In the afternoon I took a break from cooking and Tom took a break from woodworking, and we drove over to the Eastern Prom (where we used to live in that apartment, the one where I was so miserable) and went for long looping walk along the bay and up Munjoy Hill. I am so happy to be a visitor and not a resident. That was a terrible year with a gorgeous view. I never want to go through it again.

Sunday, March 7, 2021


Yesterday I had a bunch of this-n-that things to do in the kitchen: make bread (oatmeal and spelt), boil beets (to refrigerate for salads this week), and concoct a fresh batch of preserved lemons, which I love in chicken dishes and salads and rice pilaf and such. They are easy to make, and fun, and pretty, and keep indefinitely. All I do is crush fresh lemons, salt, and a few optional spices into a quart mason jar. I prefer to use Meyer lemons, which have a delicious scent and are very juicy, but any lemon will do. I let them sit on a warm shelf for a few days and then refrigerate them. The recipe says refrigeration is unnecessary, but I don't have a better place to keep them, and the cold doesn't do any harm.

This morning I managed to foil the cat and sleep in till 6 a.m.--miraculously late, as far as I'm concerned. I woke out of a dream involving a local public radio personality and her three dirty cars. She lived next door or something, though not by this house, and I was entertaining friends from Brooklyn, and we were looking out the window at her cars, which were plastered from top to bottom in thick mud, and everyone was in a really good mood. The End. 

Yesterday I basked in  a tiny fillip of sweetness when an acquaintance told me that one of my favorite poets believes that I have written a perfect sonnet. I still cannot believe he said that; I didn't know he'd even read the piece.

Perfect. That cannot possibly be true. And indeed my first reaction is to squinch my eyes shut and tap into my New England dourness and say Dawn, don't you let yourself believe any such thing. And my second reaction is to say I wrote that poem. I wrote that poem.


Confused Prayer


Dawn Potter



Faith is a tattered blanket in this age

            of fear: a drape of old skin, soul’s girth

            swelling with sugar-song, a late-stage

hymn soldering heaven to earth:


Engines mocking grace, a chief sinner’s sour

            breath, turgid air and guns and tiers

            of empty seats, a hundred tweets an hour:

God’s waiting room, fouled with jeers:


Fog spreading skirts over the city; a wet-salt kiss;

            ordinary patience, a tiny hope-chest

of wonders, a mirror shrouded in mist;

our two bodies alive, awake, undressed:


            Cow-bells clanking in the summer dark. Hearts’ blood

            Pulsing, pulsing. Brown doves crooning in a quiet wood.

[first published in Vox Populi, 2020]


Saturday, March 6, 2021

Of course, because it's Saturday morning and no one has anywhere to go, I have needlessly woken at 5 a.m. So here I sit, in my usual corner, drinking black coffee and listening to the furnace and feeling slightly groggy. Upstairs is the realm of sleeping men. Downstairs the cat skitters back and forth around corners and pretends to stick his claws into electrical outlets. He's hoping I'll chase him. Five a.m. is one of his very favorite times of the day, and he wants us to enjoy it together.

This weekend I'd like to do some more sewing, and I definitely need to dust and grocery-shop, and I should glance at the various class plans I'm juggling, and read a few more Millay poems before my poetry-talk session with Teresa, and sort through my manuscript for the publisher, and order flower seeds, and go for a long walk, and pump up my bike tires, and and and. But for the moment, sitting idly on this couch feels like the best idea in the world.

My parents got their second vaccine doses yesterday. One of my best friends got her first dose earlier this week. The darkness of the pandemic is finally, slowly, barely beginning to lift. Tom and I may be able to get our shots next month, but now that Maine has shifted to an age-based order instead of an essential-worker order, Paul is last on the list. So as a family we will still be in hiding well into the summer.

We haven't laid eyes on our parents and sisters for more than a year, haven't seen our older son James since last July. Paul has spent a year sleeping on a cot mattress on the floor of my study. I've spent a year as a hobo in my own house: shifting from room to room in search of a place to write or teach or set up a sewing machine or talk on the phone or find five minutes of silence. Tom has spent a year renovating the vast summer homes of the impossibly wealthy. The weirdness accumulates. And yet we've stayed close, all of us: with distant lonely parents; with James in Chicago, who's dealing with the bizarre exigencies of filming a major TV show during a pandemic; among our threesome here at the Alcott House. Playing games, anthropomorphizing the cat, listening to baseball, enjoying our meals.

Now, outside, the cardinal is singing his spring melody, even though the thermometer reads 18 degrees and there's nothing springlike about the forecast. I can't call this hope: he's just doing what he has to do. But it does feel like comradeship. Birds and beasts alike, doing our best with what we have to work with. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Applications are now open for the 2021 Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching! Given the slow vaccine rollout, we have made the decision to hold it virtually once again. But last year's was wonderful, and this year's will be even better, now that we're all old hands at Zoom.

This will be my ninth year as director of the conference. Our guest faculty will be BJ Ward, a New Jersey poet who works extensively in the schools; and Nathan McClain, who teaches poetry at Amherst College. Teresa Carson, our dear associate director emeritus, will lead the Writing Intensive; and Kerrin McCadden will return as associate director. As always, we offer scholarships and professional development credits.

Our participants come from a broad variety of backgrounds. Some are teachers, and some are not. Some call themselves poets, and some do not. What they have in common is curiosity, collegiality, and care. If you are longing for this kind of community, please consider joining us this summer.

And let me know if you have any questions or worries about applying. There are some of you out there, my quiet reading friends, who are maybe feeling shy or uneasy about signing up for such a thing . . . maybe telling yourself, "I'm no poet," or "I don't know anything about teaching." And I want to say: this conference is actually exactly for people like you--not because I'm a poetry evangelist or a proselytizer who's trying to lure you into the fold but because the participants themselves have evolved into a magnificently humble collection of intellectual adventurers . . . and I use the word humble with respect and honor, as a signifier of openness, of that Keatsian negative capability--the very opposite of arrogance. Their rare attitude toward discovery is what makes this conference both unique and welcoming. Every year I learn again how fortunate I am to be among them.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Signs of spring: The birds are singing loudly in the glimpsy dark, and a powerful odor of skunk hangs over the neighborhood.

I'm feeling a little dull this morning. I've written five sentences to you and erased most of them because they seemed highly uninteresting. As far as I know, nothing much will happen today: I'll keep working on class plans, I'll hang out with Paul, I'll run the vacuum cleaner, I'll write some comma splices. I feel both underemployed and overemployed: which is to say, I don't have any paying work right now but am anxiously prepping for paying work. And I am very grateful for unemployment checks.

Things will change soon. Next Wednesday I'll start teaching my high school sessions, and next Saturday afternoon I'll be leading that protest-poem workshop, and the following week the editing projects will start coming in, and my calendar will fatten up again, and I'll be overwhelmed and panting. C'est la freelance vie.

In the meantime, good news: My cat has not been sprayed by the skunk! I made an apple pie! And I still like the poem I wrote earlier this week!

In the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay--

And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

There's this little street and this little house.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Last night's reading was fun: lots of voices I hadn't heard before, and a big audience as well. I read two poems about summer, because it isn't, and I felt like, okay, my work is as good as anyone else's, which you could take as obnoxious self-obsession or as humble self-ignorance . . . maybe a parallel to how skinny teenage girls look into mirrors and see themselves as fat. Anyway: human weakness, human blindness.

Today will be a little warmer than yesterday's miserable single-digit gale. I've got a bunch of Frost Place things to do, and an afternoon meeting, and more planning for my high school classes. But I'd also like to get outside for a walk, now that the Arctic wind has calmed down. Among other side effects, my new regular exercise regimen has made me itchy for even more exercise. I've been taking that core class three times a week since December, and now I'm dancing while I make dinner and doing squats in front of the wood stove and buzzing up and down the stairs and generally being bouncy and fidgety. I'm not any thinner, but I am lively.

Current family joke: Tom pretends that I am half-yeti/half-human, and I make lots of self-satisfied remarks about "the traditions of my people" and threaten to eat the cat.

Current cribbage standings: Tom comes from behind and wins again.

Current least favorite baseball player name on the Red Sox spring training roster: Jett Bandy. [What were his parents thinking? Also, I keep mishearing it as Bambi.]

Current urban wildlife situation: Skunk, and plenty of it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Well, things are much less springlike this morning. After a day of rain, the temperature dropped to 9 degrees and the wind rose to gale level, and now our front storm door is frozen shut and the back storm door was frozen open and banging back and forth in the bluster until Tom and I got up at 3 a.m. to deal with it.

But the electricity is holding strong, and we have heat and hot coffee, though Tom says today will stink at work because a lot of very large windows are being delivered, and there's nothing like carrying very large windows in a very large windstorm. I hope this won't be a Three Stooges episode.

In good news, I drafted a new poem yesterday, one that I'm quite happy with, and on a day I didn't expect to be writing. And in other good news, I had a very enjoyable day with my son who (1) told me that the mushrooms I made were the best thing he's eaten for a long time, (2) enthusiastically played his part in one of our improvisational goofball dramatizations and then said, "I think we're becoming co-dependent," and (3) was co-delighted by a very sweet spring-training moment, in which the radio announcers did a play-by-play of a young pitcher's mom reacting to her son's very first performance on the major-league team ("Okay, now she's going out onto the concourse and fanning herself. . . . ").

Today I guess I'll try to do the stuff I didn't do yesterday while I was writing, like get ready for my high school classes and read some Millay poems. Tonight is my Bootleg Reading Series event, and maybe I'll see you there.

Stay warm--

Monday, March 1, 2021

So here we are, back to Monday again. Happy March! Happy pouring rain! During yesterday's first foray into the garden, I cut back kale and chard stalks and trimmed various brown perennial detritus. The ground is mostly still frozen, but everywhere under the leaves I found fresh shoots--hyacinths, scylla, crocuses, tulips--and many of the perennials were budding tiny new leaves at their bases. Spring is lying in wait, ready to pounce.

But we still have snow . . . or at least we did before this rainstorm started up. 

What else is new? I sauteed steaks and mushrooms for dinner instead of roasting a chicken, because the chicken wasn't thawed yet. Paul put a spring training baseball game on the radio, and we had the joy of hearing the summer-day voice of our beloved Joe Castiglione calling the balls and strikes. I cleaned bathrooms and went to the grocery store and . . .

Wait a minute, now I'm hearing a bird, a delighted bird, out in the rainy darkness, singing and singing; and I think it's a male cardinal whistling his nesting song: "Cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer!" O, spring!

. . . and I'm happy to mention that the Beltway Poetry Quarterly has decided to take three of my poems, including that long Descartes one I was telling you about yesterday. In addition, the editor invited me to submit essays and such in the future. I'm pleased. It's an excellent journal, and I haven't really had a steady essay venue since George Core retired from the editorship of the Sewanee Review.

Today: I've got to choose something to read at tomorrow night's Bootleg Reading Series event. I'll struggle through my 8 a.m. abs class and scour the kitchen sink and study the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. I'll work on some class planning for those upcoming high school sessions I'll be teaching. I'll order a new bicycle tire pump, and I'll finally roast that chicken, and I'll watch the snow melt away.