Saturday, July 31, 2021

Saturday morning sunshine, and very welcome it is. I do love rain, but a break now and then is a refreshment. Finally I'll be able to hang out some clothes, put up the hammock again, catch up on grass mowing, and deal with that giant branch in the backyard. At some point this weekend Tom and I are planning to stake out a new garden bed in the backyard, and then I'll start moving my composted leaves into the marked-off plot, where they'll serve as an underlayer for new soil. I don't exactly know what shrubs I'm going to plant there: something with an upright growth habit, though, that can serve as a thin screen for my woodpile and compost corner without flopping over into paths or chairs.

Today is Paul's last day in Portland, so we're going to take part of the afternoon off, at his request, and go into town for craft beer and poutine. This time tomorrow, he'll be sitting in a bus, heading south, and we will be settling into Empty Nest, Round 2.

Strange times for us all.

I'm still sleeping badly--a little less badly than earlier in the week, but still with the sense of being specter of myself.

Yet tomorrow I'll have a room of my own again . . . a dusty room, greatly in need of a thorough cleaning. A small, bare room with hardly any furniture: just a standing table, a dining-room chair, some bookshelves filled with poetry. 

I don't quite know how to feel.

Friday, July 30, 2021

I slept so badly last night. I really have no idea how I'm going to last through the morning. Maybe I'll feel more functional after I finish this cup of coffee because I need to take my exercise class, I need to finish editing an article, I need to wash sheets and haul trash and mow grass and help Paul move stuff into the basement. I guess I'll manage, but, ugh, what a miserable night.

The rain was part of what kept me awake--hours and hours of pounding--and now everything outside is sodden. Earlier in the day a wind-burst tore a big branch off one of the Norway maples, so there's that to deal with too, once things dry out a bit.

Send me a few gentle thoughts, if you have any to spare. This week is not getting easier.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Well, yesterday turned out to be not so great, as my mother called first thing in the morning to tell me that she's probably going to need heart surgery this fall. So that news colored the day . . . a shadow for us to crouch under for the foreseeable future.

But I did my desk work and I made bread and I mowed grass and I rescued a friend stranded at the Subaru dealership (believe it or not, a mouse ate her gas tank!). I even slept decently. And now a cool Thursday morning has arrived, air fresh and chilly, a whiff of September in late July.

Let us take our solace where we may.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

 Today my older son, James, is 27 years old. He began life as a fractious, unconsolable screamer, grew into a superstar chatterbox, lover of backhoes, Mr Fix-It Junior with a room-filling smile, bossy big brother, tease and prankster, social smooth-talker, lover of house pets, the boy who attached a camera to a remote control truck and followed the dog around the house, indifferent to high school, a college whiz, devoted friend, moved to a new city on the strength of a six-week internship, said confidently "I'll make myself indispensable" and did, and now six years later has risen to have his name in the credits of a major TV show, loving son, supportive brother, engaged citizen, scraped-up mountain biker, at the mercy of a spoiled cat . . .

It is a privilege and a delight, to be his mother.

* * *

Rain seems to have broken up the cloud of smoke that was hanging over the city. The air is much fresher this morning, and my throat is no longer full of scratch and cough. Not much else new to report--just another day of editorial tromping. I'm feeling a bit jaded about my work prospects. It looks like I won't be teaching in Monson this fall, given the complexities that schools are facing with masks, travel, and unvaccinated kids. Maybe the program will be able to relaunch in the winter; maybe not. So I'm entering the school year pretty much in the way I entered it last year--without a teaching job--and this doesn't make me feel great.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

This morning's air is heavy with smoke. A pall from the western wildfires sags over the windless neighborhood, smelling not of campfire but of an unpleasant cloying perfume. I hope a breeze kicks up and carries this shroud out to sea.

Yesterday I finished up a manuscript consultation, which means that, for the moment, the academic journal is the only work-stack on my desk. And I also did the grocery shopping, cleaned floors, and cooked a big company dinner (roast chicken and mashed potatoes, with mushroom gravy), so now I almost feel like I'm on vacation. Later today, after my editing stint, I'm getting a haircut; we'll have fried mashed-potato cakes and a salad for dinner; and I intend to spend a chunk of my off-hours flopped on the couch with Wuthering Heights. Such nasty characters. They never cease to amaze.

Monday, July 26, 2021

This morning's fog is like a cloud squatting on the house. Branches and windows are running with moisture, and the air has the clarity of glasses covered in fingerprints. Who knows what's around the corner? Possibly the street has broken off from the mainland and is floating out into the Atlantic. 

The day will be packed with stuff-to-do. I'll undergo my exercise class first thing, and then I'll be back to my desk work, trying to concentrate on manuscript files as Paul barges around the house packing and unpacking. He is so excited, so eager to jump headfirst into adult life, so tired of being a well-behaved semi-child in limbo.

Tonight our northcountry-diaspora friend Lucy is coming over for dinner: I might make lasagna; I might roast a chicken; it all depends how the grocery store treats me.  And I've still got those peaches to deal with: as of yesterday, they weren't soft enough to process, so that will be one more chore to shoehorn into my schedule. I'm working to keep my energy up, as I know I will need it over these next few days. This is going to be a draining week.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

I did some transplanting yesterday, a first step in planning for the garden's autumn look: pulling out most of the sprawling oversized broccoli plants and replacing them with fennel seedlings, moving some kale seedlings among the cabbages. And I spent a long time pruning and tying up the tomatoes, tying up peppers and eggplant, training the cucumber vine up a trellis . . . my attempt to keep the wild growth as compact as possible. Meanwhile, in the house, Paul had emptied boxes of his stored dorm-room stuff onto the living room floor and was sorting through them in a whirlwind of loud snap decisions. I tell you: this week will be chaos.

We've got rain on the way today, and I won't be able to escape into the garden. However, I'm going to have a lot of ripe peaches to distract me from the moving turmoil. My neighbor is picking up a box today, shipped directly from Georgia, and wants to split them with me, so I've got to do something with them pretty quickly. I foresee an afternoon of blanch/slice/pack/freeze and a fat peach pie for dessert. Yesterday she picked up a couple of boxes of wild blueberries for me from the farmers' market, and most of them went into the freezer too. Unexpected bounty: every year there's something!

Tomorrow I'll be back to work . . . juggling an academic journal with a poetry consultation, trying to get back into my exercise-class routine, dealing with house uproar, hosting a dinner guest in the evening.

Someday I'll write again.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Paul got back last night, and we have now entered into our final week as a household of three. Next Sunday he'll take the bus back to the city, saddled with as many bags as he can carry, and move into a bedroom in Park Slope. At the end of the month, when his sitting room becomes available, he'll return to Portland, load up Tom's truck with his desk and chairs, and they'll drive the furniture to Brooklyn. Already, he's cadged a job interview for a theater tech-assistant opening, so maybe, maybe, things are falling into place for the boy.

This week will be an uproar as P packs for Move A and breaks down all of his larger stuff in his/my room for basement storage until Move B. The three of us are pleased (i.e., relieved, emotional, elegiac, grateful, eager, nervous) that a version of what he hoped for actually seems to be happening. But this double move means that the transition will stretch out for at least a couple of months, the Alcott House does not have a whole lot of flexible storage space, I am going to have almost no furniture left in my study after he takes what was originally his . . . which is to say: we have work ahead of us.

But I'm not going to think about furniture today. Instead, on this rare day without rain, I'm going to finish mowing the grass, pull out broccoli plants, tie up tomato plants, dead-head sunflowers, yank up weeds, and such.

Friday, July 23, 2021

A busy day: laundry, then doctor's appointment, then UPS store to mail James's birthday presents (fruits of the Park Slope thrift stores), then editing, then grass mowing, then dinner prep, then picking up Paul at the bus station . . . 

I guess this evening we'll start to figure out the next moves in the "get Paul to NYC" game.

In the meantime, the garden flourishes. Here's a photo of yesterday's salad: cucumber spears, blistered shishito peppers, fried eggplant, fried okra, golden cherry tomatoes, marigold petals, mint: 100% Alcott House bounty.

I had a surprise visit yesterday morning from my beloved Harmony friend Donna (who doesn't live there anymore either, but that's where we met, so that's how I think of her). After her visit, and after spending half a week with my Brooklyn beloveds, I'm feeling a little tearful about friendship in general . . . how sweet it can be; how long these friendships have lasted, even over considerable distance; the differences and the odd commonalities. None of my oldest friends are writers, for instance. Whatever we love in one another has little to do with books . . . though my daily private life is crammed with words. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

 Home again.

I arrived to shrimp étouffée, cherry tomatoes, roasted green beans, and affection; I fell asleep like I'd been sandbagged, then overslept this morning; and now I am feeling quite Brooklyn-hungover but probably capable of dealing with the day.

Paul stayed in the city, and I haven't received any housing updates from him, so I'm assuming he's settling into the sublet alternative. 

And thus I am pouring a cup of coffee down my gullet and trying to think coherently about laundry, etc. I guess things are sort of, mostly, working out, but we've had a stressful few days, and I'm tired.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Ugh. Well, everything went south fast, and all of Paul's plans fell apart: his prospective roommate suddenly got cold feet and decided he couldn't afford to move to NYC yet. So goodbye to Inwood.

We spent a sad afternoon, as Paul scraped himself up and started looking all over again; as we saw how expensive a studio would be anywhere in the city; as he tried to come to terms with the fact that he might not be able to pull this move off.

And then Ray and Steve stepped in. They are the friends we stay with in Brooklyn: Ray was best man at my wedding, and in the lifetime of my children the pair has essentially been the equivalent of the boys' much adored uncles. R and S own a bar in Park Slope, which has a loyal community of customers, so they have a wide net of acquaintances who know many things. Late yesterday afternoon they consulted with a property manager who was sitting outside in the back patio, with a doctor's office manager who was sitting with his dog at the bar; one thing led to another and Paul was walked over to the office manager's month-to-month sublet opening around the corner . . .

None of this is just what he'd fantasized about. But it looks like P does, in fact, have a viable and very cheap option for moving to the city. He can stay in the Park Slope sublet for a little while; the property manager is going to keep an ear out for studio apartment possibilities; another college friend is considering a move to NYC, so maybe Inwood or its ilk will happen in the future . . .

Anyway, the afternoon ended far better than it began.

In a few hours I'll be catching a bus back to Portland, and Paul will stay here and try to work out the details of his situation. Here's hoping that things can finally settle down for him.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Time is different here in Brooklyn. I stayed up till 1 a.m., got out of bed at 8:15, and felt like I'd had a more or less early night and decent morning's start.

We ended up having a really good day yesterday, apartment hunting-wise. In the morning P and I took the A train up to Inwood, which is the northern tip of the island of Manhattan, above Washington Heights. It's a relatively quiet area (for Manhattan), on a spit of land surrounded on three sides by the Hudson River, Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and the Harlem River. Development came fairly late to Inwood: in the 1950s there was still a working farm in the neighborhood. Now, of course, it is fully urban, but there's still something slightly dreamy and out-of-the-way about it. The Hudson River edge is entirely park, wild and steep, and the spire of the Cloisters rises up over the apartment buildings. As P and I wound our way up the hilly old-growth walkways of Inwood Hill Park, we heard a wren call, and then as we caught our first glimpse of the Hudson a fog descended on us, a vague drizzle began falling, and we stood there in the small rain, peering across the expanse into dim New Jersey and feeling very much as if we'd stumbled into Brigadoon.

Despite the odd dreaminess of the landscape, the neighborhood proper is lively and busy, in a self-contained, slightly provincial way. It's got a strong Dominican presence, and P and I had a great mofongo lunch--chicken coated with mashed green plantains and then deep-fried--which we ate at an outdoor counter while watching kids playing basketball in a blocked-off street in front of their school. Then we walked over to the apartment building and waited for the broker to show up. Eventually he did, and showed us two apartments, both of which were nice enough, but felt as if they were designed for a couple rather than a pair of roommates. P was beginning to feel glum, as he was loving the neighborhood, but then the broker brought us over to a third place, in a different building, which turned out to be just the ticket: first floor, big common living area, decent-sized bedrooms, clean kitchen, private entrance, and a completely hideous tiled floor, which perhaps accounts for the affordable price. When P laid out his financial situation, the broker seemed okay with it; and I do think a certain number of Columbia students rent in the neighborhood, so perhaps that accounts for his attitude.

So we'll see: P and his roommate filled out the lease application forms last night, James has offered to be their guarantor, P is nervous and all of a-flutter, and we're hoping. The apartment is half a block from Fort Tryon Park (where the Cloisters are), around the corner from the subway station, and the express train will get him to the 42nd Street theater district in half an hour. There's a canoe club down the street, along the Hudson, where he could meet other paddlers. We were amused to notice that the neighborhood appears to have a large number of Red Sox fans--possibly because the team was home to baseball's first Dominican superstars (Papi, Manny, and Pedro). All in all, Inwood seems like a really good fit for an essentially non-urban theater kid from northern New England who needs to find a haven for himself in the city.

I don't know what we'll be up to today. I want to go birthday shopping for James, so I may wander through some local thrift stores, though the heat is supposed to spike and I might need to stop for lemonade on every block. Last night we went out for Hawaiian food for dinner; tonight we're promised Cameroonian French. I do love, love, love eating out in New York City.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Greetings from Gowanus, Brooklyn. Things are pretty quiet here this morning: no jackhammering or police sirens, at least for the moment; just a muddled triad of truck-backup tones and the generalized sound of transportation . . . expressway, Fourth Avenue, airplanes.

We got into Manhattan early yesterday afternoon, spent the afternoon in Brooklyn, and then somehow coiled our way north into the Bronx, despite canceled trains and mysterious disappearing subway routes. It was so strange to be surrounded by baseball foes! But our seats were excellent: high up in the terrace above home plate; and even though our team decided to be lackluster, we had a good time watching the evening slide in over the park . . . thick dark blue roiling clouds thickening over the field like a mutable Blake print.

Today we'll head back north, this time to Inwood, where P has his first appointment to see an apartment. I don't know how successful we're going to be with this, though our Brooklyn friends do have an "I know someone who knows someone" option that might be promising. It is hard to get anyone to trust you to pay rent if you don't yet have a job.

I got the excellent news today that the literary journal At Length wants to publish a large excerpt from my manuscript A Month in Summer. They are one of the few journals that specifically focuses on long poems, and I am very pleased. The excerpt is from the ms that finaled for the National Poetry Series, but since then the book has been kicking around from publisher to publisher, except for a bit that appeared last year in the Beloit Poetry Journal. So this feels encouraging.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Tomorrow's bus to NYC leaves Portland at 6:30 a.m. So today I'll be swamped with laundry, grass mowing, house chores, desk chores, packing, all in preparation for half a week spent tromping through Inwood, Astoria, and Crown Heights in search of Paul's first apartment. I know it seems funny to ask your mom to come along on such a jaunt, but P's future roommate is in Ireland till the end of the summer, and P specially requested my company, such as it is. So I will do my best to be helpful, though I know almost nothing about city neighborhoods or how to deal with city realtors.

But guess what we're doing first? We're venturing into enemy territory tomorrow night! Paul bought us tickets to the Yankees-Red Sox game in the Bronx. So we'll be spending our evening at Yankee Stadium, perched in the galleries high above home plate, surrounded by disgruntled Yankee fans as we discreetly cheer on our boys. I've never been to a big-league park other than Fenway, which is always expensive and often sold out. But judging from the scads of empty seats I saw on TV yesterday, the flailing Yanks are having a hard time filling theirs, which is maybe why Paul managed to get tickets so cheaply.

Because I'll be leaving the house before daybreak, you won't be hearing from me at the usual time tomorrow, though I may post from the bus later in the morning, if the spirit moves me and the so-called WiFi is working.

In the meantime, wish us luck. Paul's bubbling with nerves and excitement about making this big move; also terrified that no one will rent to him because he doesn't have a job yet; and I'm feeling a bit flotsam-like in his flood . . . not a bad thing but already tiring. I will have to shore myself up with sidewalk lemonade and horchatas.

Friday, July 16, 2021

It's quite foggy again this morning, but our cool, wet days are over for the moment, as temperatures are supposed to climb to 90 degrees by later today. So I guess I'll be mowing grass in the morning, before I sit down to desk work.

I did catch up on some weeding yesterday afternoon, which was good, as I now have one more thing to fret about: the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has asked if I'd be willing to be a featured gardener in their summer tour series. Naturally I was taken aback by the request, because I'm neither a certified organic gardener nor a MOFGA member. But after some back and forth I agreed; and so on one weekday evening in mid-August, the Alcott House's cottage-garden-in-progress will be open for tours.

What they'd like me to focus on is how I'm mixing flowers with vegetables to create a decorative landscape and also to talk about my experiments with various cramped-space scenarios: succession planting (e.g., planting a series of short-season crops in the same bed over the course of a season: peas followed by kale, radishes followed by fennel, etc.), interplanting (e.g., planting short-season crops such as lettuce between long-growers such as tomatoes), and close-spacing techniques (e.g., planting broccoli six inches apart instead of twelve; staking plants that aren't usually staked, such as eggplant and peppers).

I am not a scientific gardener, so I worry about "real" ones pumping me about disease management, soil quality, and such. I'll have little of interest to say. I also worry that the groundhog is going to move back in and destroy everything before the tour.

But as Tom and Paul pointed out, I'm really the only local gardener they can think of who specifically works to treat vegetables and flowers as equivalent landscape elements. So maybe the place will be of interest to someone else with an eye for blossoms and a stomach for food.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Island weather. The fog is thick this morning, and the tang of ocean strong, even up here in the non-waterfront district. Hidden by cloud, a gull hollers. An invisible merchant ship hoots twice as it lumbers out of the Fore River into Casco Bay.

Close by, somewhere among the maples, a Carolina wren trills Tea kettle tea kettle tea kettle tea! She pauses, then sings again; pauses, then sings again.

The house smells funky, like a rental cottage during the rainy season--dampness settling into rugs and couch cushions, closet doors swelling into their frames. The covers of paperbacks curl aggravatingly, and the salt dish is impenetrable.

Strange mushrooms are sprouting everywhere; desirable ones as well. Yesterday afternoon Paul and I went for a walk in the cemetery and found a big cache of puffballs, which I fried up for dinner. Eating them is like eating a big forkful of woodsy marshmallow. Today, maybe I'll ride my bike further into the cemetery and see if I can cadge some more.

I might have time to play, because I'm doing very well with my editing pile: four manuscripts finished, a poetry consultation underway, and probably I'll begin on the academic journal this afternoon. I definitely feel more relaxed about taking three days off to gallivant around Queens with my kid.

But I also need to grocery-shop, and weed the strawberry bed, and pick beans . . . Much depends on the weather, which has been unsettled for days. Do not think I am complaining, however. The rain is a blessing, even if my house does smell like a wet bathing suit.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The garden is glorying in the rain. We had drizzle yesterday and it's raining again this morning--not hard, but enough to let roots relax and fruit ripen. Carefully I dug around the edges of my potato bags and found these beauties: our first new potatoes since leaving Harmony.

Even the bean plants, half-eaten by the groundhog, are starting to produce a few beans on their puny vines.

Yesterday was a really good poet-day for me. First, I got an email from Teresa, regarding the poem draft I'd created from the prompts in her workshop, which said, among other things: "I read the revision . . . all I could say for a few minutes was 'Holy shit . . . holy shit . . . '" Then, later in the day, when I called Kerrin about some Frost Place matters, she interrupted me to say, "First, I just got to say those Accident Sonnets you read at the conference were fucking amazing."

Two things here: (1) my poet friends have salty vocabularies when excited; and (2) I'm allowing myself, with some shame, to publicly declare that it's a good thing to be proud of myself; to be really, really happy that two poets I admire think I'm making poems that work; to dance a little imaginary jig about their praise.

I was writing to another friend yesterday, a friend who is a skilled poet but who has no faith in himself, about how he needs to hear praise and accept and revel in his gifts. So I want to walk the walk here, in his honor, because 99 percent of the time I hear nothing about my poems. I live in a world, like most of us do, in which poems are embarrassing public baggage. 

But yesterday two of my beloved peers told me I was doing great work. I'm going to hug those words to my heart.

The thing is: when I get the gift of this kind of love, I know it makes me a better writer, just as genuine, careful critiques do. Because praise from people I trust and honor makes me want to figure out how to do even better . . . etch the poems even more deeply into the plate . . . tinker and tweak and experiment and rewrite and keep trying and trying and trying . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

My poetry group meeting was the nicest ever: seven of us sitting outside till dark, circling our chairs around a smoky campfire--visiting, reading poems, laughing at the raccoon trio popping in and out through the garage window . . .

I brought in a poem titled "The bog is multitudes," revised from the drafts I created in Teresa's Frost Place workshop, and people really seemed to like it, so that was a sweet surprise as well. I'm actually pretty excited about that piece. More work is needed, but it's manageable work: I can see where the poem needs to go; I just need to boost it over the curb.

So this morning I'm feeling cheerful. I still have to spend all day editing other people's prose, but my poet life's been refreshed.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Drizzle is clicking against the windowpanes, and the air is heavy with damp. Somewhere, a blue jay shrieks--Rak rak! Rak rak!--but otherwise the neighborhood is very quiet . . . windows still dark, shades still down.

This will be a busy week: full-throttle editing, or as full-throttle as I can manage with the boy in the house, and meanwhile he will be trying to clean up from one trip while planning for another, and the smell of hair-on-fire will be strong.

For the moment, though, things are peaceful enough--Tom in the shower, cat glowering about the weather, son asleep upstairs.

I've been reading Meg Kearney's new poetry collection, All Morning the Crows, and it's really, really good--such a brilliant way to incorporate bird lore into personal history. And I've been mowing grass and weeding and trying to figure out what to bring to my poetry group tonight, which is meeting in person for the first time in more than a year. I will not miss Zoom; I really hated the way it flattened discussions in this context, and I was always accidentally interrupting other people and then feeling bad about it.

But I have to say that I do like Zoom for exercise classes. Roll out of my bathrobe and onto the back room floor; do the hard things that my friendly teacher tells me to do, with the comfortable knowledge that nobody's watching me; then roll into the shower and on with my day. So much better than in-person.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Yesterday's post-downpour harvest was memorable: I pulled all of my first-crop carrots--a bundle of beautiful slim tapers, each about the length of my hand; and cut our first two eggplants (a narrow Japanese variety, not a plump Italian). Three golden cherry tomatoes were ripe, four Shishito peppers were big enough to pick, as were four okra. Along with the basil, the haul made a gorgeous dishpan display.

I did a lot of work in the garden yesterday morning. Now the garlic is drying in the shed and its bed resown with late broccoli, kale, salad greens. In the planters along the Lane, I pulled out the aforementioned carrots and sowed another batch of them, along with some beets, which were a crop failure the first time around. In mid-August I'll sow my last crops: spinach and radishes for fall eating. Already, at high summer, my thoughts are shifting to winter.

But there's plenty to keep me in the present-tense too. Soon I'll be picking beans and cucumbers, though both are late, thanks to the groundhog; and tonight we'll have another of the giant perfect broccoli heads that somehow survived Sassy's assault. (The cabbages were not so fortunate.)

Despite drought, insects, and rodents, things are looking pretty good out there.

* * *

Along the edges, I'm feeling like a writer, though my house is crowded and noisy, and I'm swimming in other people's manuscripts.

I'm feeling like a writer, though the best I can do right now is to look at poems I've already written, as a way to remind myself.

Along the edges I read bits and pieces from the biography of William Blake. I watch the birds.

Crowds and noise. But I'm swimming in a small cove, around the bend . . . in the shallows, in the shade of a granite cliff, and the tide ripples and sighs.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Yesterday's rainstorm was dramatic. We had hours of pounding rain, and I was extremely grateful for a solid roof and no wonky electrical-connection issues (finally). It's been so long since we've seen a rain of this magnitude, and I was pleased to note how well the new Lane gardens and gravel paths were absorbing the waterflow in places that had formerly been erosive mud holes. There are still a couple of spots to work on, where the runoff from my neighbors' tarred driveway was cutting chutes into the topsoil. But plants are miraculous.

Fortunately the bulk of the storm had passed by the time Paul's plane landed, so his homecoming was easy and calm. And now the living room is clogged with giant dirty backpacks, and the sound of a Red Sox game echoed late into the night . . .

Today, after things dry out a bit, I hope to get into the garden. It's time to harvest the garlic and do some succession planting for fall: kale, late salad greens, and such. The backyard beds should be weeded, the grass should be mowed. I won't get to everything, but I need to make a dent in my list, as next Sunday morning Paul and I will be on a bus to New York City, gearing ourselves up to learn how to apartment-hunt in Queens.

Fortunately, I did manage to crank out a significant amount of manuscript editing this past week: turning in two projects and starting a third. I should be able to finish the third one this coming week and then can move on to my stack of poetry consultations when I get back from the city.

Everything's a-buzz here at the Alcott House.

Friday, July 9, 2021

It's raining lightly now, but that's only a temporary condition. Tropical-style torrents are on the way: we're may get up to 4 inches, with flash floods and high surf, and I am not happy that Paul is supposed to be flying into Portland in this mess.

That's scheduled for later in the afternoon, though, so cancellations could happen. In the meantime, I need to swath myself in a raincoat and lug the trash to the curb, then endure my morning exercise class, and afterwards finish editing that novel. I worked so hard on it yesterday that I think I've got a good chance to meet my maybe-too-hopeful goal.

With all of these obligations, my brain is feeling kind of peaked, maybe a bit starved for imaginative oxygen. Sometimes it gets that way when I edit.  A long lunchtime walk helped yesterday, but I doubt that will be in the cards today. So I've got to find time to read poems, or at least to copy one out . . . something to help me air out my synapses.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Yesterday, before dinner, I harvested broccoli, okra, baby beets, marigolds, basil, mint, and parsley. The garden is shifting into high-summer gear: green tomatoes fattening; eggplant and peppers nearly ready to cut; pale carrots thrusting their sharp tips downward. No sign of the groundhog this week. I might have annoyed her out of the neighborhood, or a burrow full of rainwater did.

Unfortunately, the rain is becoming a little nerve-racking. Tonight and tomorrow the remnants of Elsa are forecast to swing up the Atlantic coast and dump several inches of water on us, so now we're under a flash-flood watch . . . of course on the day that Paul is supposed to fly home. Ugh.

Well, I got pretty good at not worrying while the boys were hiking through bear-laden mountains, so I guess I can continue to keep calm about airplanes in foul weather.

Today will be another intense editing day: hours at my desk, trying hard to finish marking up this novel by Friday afternoon. The manuscript is long and dense, and I don't know if I'll be able to do it. But I've got to try.

In the meantime, rain is falling lightly. The dawn light is dim and grey, and I also am feeling dim and grey . . . which is not a complaint, just a sense of receding into shadow. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

First day back at work went pretty well: I finished a big chunk of the novel I'm editing, and also managed to clean the floors and stock the cupboards. I'm definitely feeling pressed and overbooked, but I'm also seeing the daylight at the end of some of these projects. Given that I've still got the rest of the week to myself, here's hoping I can make use of the time. For the adventure boys are now back in Chicago, with a couple of rest days ahead of them. And then on Friday evening, Paul will return to Portland and the house will resume its noisy ways.

As a respite from editing, I've been rereading Anita Brookner's novel Hotel du Lac, and I came across this passage:

[Mr. Neville said,] "You are wrong to think that you cannot live without love, Edith."

"No, I am not wrong," she said slowly. "I cannot live without it. Oh, I do not mean that I go into a decline, develop odd symptoms, become a caricature. I mean something far more serious than that. I mean that I cannot live well without it. I cannot think or act or speak or write or even dream with any kind of energy in the absence of love. I feel excluded from the living world. I become cold, fish-like, immobile. I implode. My idea of absolute happiness is to sit in a hot garden all day, reading, or writing, utterly safe in the knowledge that the person I love will come home to me in the evening. Every evening."

"You are a romantic, Edith," repeated Mr. Neville, with a smile.

"It is you are are wrong," she replied. "I have been listening to that particular accusation for most of my life. I am not a romantic. I am a domestic animal. I do not sigh and yearn for extravagant displays of passion, for the grand affair, the world well lost for love. I know all that, and know that it leaves you lonely. No, what I crave is the simplicity of routine. An evening walk, arm in arm, in fine weather. A game of cards. Time for idle talk. Preparing a meal together."

"Putting the cat out?" suggested Mr. Neville.

Edith gave him a glance of pure dislike.

Lots to think about here, of course . . . not only about the definition of love but also about the author's management of a conversation that is almost but not quite a monologue and the subtle, snaky influence of Mr. Neville's interjections.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Today I'll climb back into the editing saddle: I've got three manuscripts sitting on my desk, a fourth liable to show up at any moment, a fifth due to return for cleanup at the end of the month, plus two poetry manuscripts to read and comment on . . . not to mention that Paul will be back in Portland on Friday. So this short week will be busy, as I try to focus hard and get as much done as I can while the house is still quiet.

I was very glad to have a long lazy weekend bridging the conference and the editing stack. The rain was glorious, and yesterday's sunshine and 60-ish temperatures were a follow-up delight. Tom and I were itching to get outside, so we packed a picnic lunch and took the ferry to Peaks Island, where we spent the day wandering around the roads and beaches, along with a boatload of other day-trippers. Then, late in the afternoon, I mowed the rain-fat grass and Tom loaded tools into his work truck, and we ate grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner and thus mildly slid down the hill into the work week.

It will be hot today, so I'm pleased to have lawn mowing off my mind, though somehow I'll have to cram grocery shopping and vacuuming into the day's schedule. But mostly I'll need to concentrate on reconfiguring my life away from wallowing in poems and back into the routine floor-scrubbing tasks of copyediting--a shift that, while necessary, always feels sad. 

Well, I am fortunate to be at least a part-time wallower.

Adventure boy update: After a visit to Arches National Park, breakfast at a diner in Denver, and a long flat drive through Kansas, they are now waking up in a Quality Inn in Kansas City, ready to spend the morning at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, a place Paul has been dying to go ever since he was a little starstruck baseball-history-besotted Farm Leaguer.

And I think, after this, they'll be en route back to Chicago. The magnificent road trip is winding down, and, like their poet mother, they'll have to figure out how to reinsert themselves into the regular old days.

Monday, July 5, 2021

I lay in bed last night, looking out over the neighborhood roofs, catching an occasional glimpse of the city fireworks display alongside the cove. And I was thinking, drowsily, about Fourth of Julys in the Pennsylvania mountains, when my great-aunt Louise would make my mother mad by blasting Roman candles off the hillside; when my sister and I drank grape soda all day long; when our very best entertainment was six or eight elderly siblings trying to outdo each other with innuendo tales of romance and dog racing; when my granny stood silent and alone against the screen door, wearing her filthy housedress, a Lucky Strike poised in her thin and elegant hand; those days when my parents were the bewildered young folks, harassed and uptight; when my sister and I were the wild raccoon babies wrestling in the grass.

That was fifty years ago, but its vibrancy marked me forever. I was a member of the clan. Unlike my parents, who were struggling hard between their poor roots and their professional aspirations, I whole-heartedly loved the place and my place in it. I was a child then, and of course as I aged my links became more uneasy. But for a long time Scottdale, Pennsylvania, was my Eden . . . a tumbledown, rusted-out, foul-smelling paradise, a place where books meant nothing, where cows and dogs meant everything, where machines had loud and simple lives and the gritty odor of coal colored the cool mornings, where we joyfully pitched garbage into a quarry.

My sister and I will be the last to remember this life. Our children never saw the place or met the dingbat great-aunts and -uncles; sweet and steady Grandpop; crazy, theatrical, sad, terrifying Granny. They never knew their own grandparents as young adults: so strong and struggling, so embarrassed by their own past.

So, Fourth of July. Independence Day. I lift the memory of a can of Miller High Life, slowly sipped by an old man wearing a white t-shirt and green work pants. My grandpop is a handsome man, not tall, balding now, but still with the arched nose and deep-set eyes of a movie idol. He is sitting on the grassy hillside behind his farmhouse, and we are watching the lightning bugs. The hill is dotted with old men, his brothers and brothers-in-law. They all dress like him; they all sit in the grass, even big Uncle Melvin the butcher. There are no mosquitoes; why were there never any mosquitoes? The old ladies have bad feet and girdles: they fill up the chairs . . . these old ladies the men married, or didn't marry; their sisters, their long-ago teenage hookups, all somehow blended into this odd and elastic clan. My granny stays in the house, watching. My father lies in the grass too, pretending to be an old man. My mother hovers between house and hill, uneasy about everything, but especially those Roman candles. And my sister and I, the only children, the future . . . running barefoot until dark.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

A steady, soaking rain has fallen all night long, and now, at first light, the house still echoes with the sound of slow water, clinking and tapping at panes and shingles. Our two days of rain, after last week's onslaught of heat, is such a relief . . . though I'm not delighted to see that one of my staked tomatoes has tipped over under the water-weight. Looks like, in an hour or so, I'll be out there in the downpour wrestling with a sodden monster plant. Oh, well. Small price to pay for the end of a drought.

I was so incredibly lazy yesterday. I actually took three naps, without even being sick. I think I was simply very, very comfortable and relaxed; for whatever reason my Duty button had turned itself for the day. Today I'll probably convince myself to do some housework, but lolling certainly was pleasant, and I just might do a little more of that too.

We had the pleasure of finally receiving an actual phone call from the adventure boys, a lovely chatter-fest. They sound so delighted, full of comic stories and tales of wonder. What a magnificent road trip they're having.

And so we have arrived at the Fourth of July. The little northern city by the sea is swaddled in rain and mist. A glimpse of gray daylight. Hot French roast in a French press. Huge dark maple limbs sagging with wet. White cat hunched on a yellow chair. Bubbles of drops coursing from the roof edge. Refrigerator sighs. Clock ticks.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

It's not raining currently, but that's only a temporary condition: showers will move back in this afternoon, and tonight and tomorrow will be wet. Given that I have absolutely no holiday-weekend plans, I couldn't be happier. Already the cucumber and tomatoes have exploded with growth; I'll cut the first broccoli and peppers this weekend, and I have hopes for baby beets as well. Sunflowers and zinnias are finally budding and blooming; and though the groundhog has ravaged my bean plants, even they are showing signs of hope.

So rain and more rain--yes, please.

I slept in till after 6 this morning . . .  a rare treat. Now I'm sitting quietly in my couch corner as the cat coils into his chair and Tom dozes in our bed. The milky sky is low, portentous. On the mantle a vase of coneflowers casts twining shadows against the painted wall. It feels like a good morning for poems, even if I don't write any, even if I don't read any.

Last night Tom and I watched Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye as we ate roast beef and garlic mashed potatoes and lemony mushrooms and freshly picked lettuce and homemade apricot ice cream and local strawberries. It was so peaceful, so comfortable to be together.

Sometimes I forget how lucky my life has been. Sometimes know that I am beyond fortunate.

As we sat together on the couch, our boys were texting us from the West--about their day spent whitewater rafting on the Salmon River in Idaho; about their next stop, at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado. The Birtwistle brothers on the road . . . young, strong, energetic, and joyful. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

And so my Frost Place idyll is over for yet another season. Except for the Zoom tedium--and except for a sudden tragedy in the life of one of our participants, which has surely shadowed memories of the experience for the rest of us--the conference could hardly have gone better. And Teresa's generative writing workshop was a revelation, and now my notebook is stuffed full of drafts: six or seven rich possibilities sketched out in just a day and a half. What a gift.

I'll be crashing today, for sure. Not only do I have teaching fatigue but the damn cat outdid himself in mayhem last night. I didn't get much sleep after 1 a.m., thanks to his cavorting.

But we have rain--a long, slow, quenching rain; and though I need to grocery-shop and I ought to go to my exercise class and and and and, I'm going to start my day by curling up in the crook of the couch, by mulling over what I wrote yesterday, and maybe I'll dream my way forward into the poem's next room.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Today is my final day at the (virtual) Frost Place. A day to be spent writing, under Teresa's guidance. A cooler day, with rain. A refreshment. Those wobbles I mentioned yesterday have vanished. Now I am just a poet excited about making poems.

Yesterday morning I shared a small talk I'd written about some of the ways we kneecap ourselves as writers: how we talk ourselves away from confidence, silence our deepest inner voices, reduce our joys to ashes. The open conversation afterward was heart-rending, and this morning my sadness about that communal self-flagellation lingers. Words were hard to say, hard to hear. We teach ourselves so many, many ways to not write. It's a wonder poems exist at all.

These two paragraphs seem to be contradicting one another. And I guess that's another place where my sadness is filtering in . . . that gap between those of us who wallow and splash in the art-making and those of us who have to climb back out of the mud hole early because our mothers are calling us, or are afraid that the hole might be too deep in the middle, or love the feeling of mud between our toes but hate getting it in our hair, or worry that we look stupid with mud all over us . . .