Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Yesterday turned out to be great. That poem draft I was wrestling with suddenly caught fire and I spent most of the morning unexpectedly burning my way through a series of ever-more coherent versions. So that was extremely absorbing and exciting. Then I did a big chunk of work for my chapbook class, and then Teresa and I chattered about the Iliad, and then I caught up on dusting and sauce-making, and then Tom came home and we were really glad to see each other . . . Such a busy and entirely satisfying day, the sort I'm always hoping for but that rarely quite materialize.

Today I've got a bit of editing to do and more class stuff to work on, and I'll comb through the poem draft a few more times to see what needs to change. I want to clean floors, and hang out laundry, and then in the late afternoon my friend Angela is arriving from the northcountry to spend the night with us. All signs point to yet another busy, happy day.

I feel as if, finally, I'm starting to figure out (again) how to be alone in the house. The way that poem arrived was so surprising and cathartic. It began as a chore, a self-assignment to start writing, about anything, about nothing: just to start writing. The first words began crawling  down the page slowly and self-consciously; some of the images were interesting, and I began to enjoy making them. But then, three days later, when I went back to that first effort, I found myself suddenly dropping down into some other zone. Or maybe a better metaphor is flinging: flinging myself headfirst into fast-moving water instead of dabbling among the lily pads and leeches. As regards the end result, one approach doesn't make a better poem than the other. I've written many finished pieces in small steady increments. But my raison d'être for writing--and I mean the actual process of writing, not the product--are these drunken naked cannonballs into the deeps. Whenever that happens, I am in some version of paradise.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Monday morning and the humidity is back. At least the temperatures aren't supposed to be obscene, as they were last week, though the air does feel nervy and unsettled. 

Yesterday was so beautiful and cool, and I got a lot done outside: grass mowing and tomato pruning and hole digging for four more shrubs: an Arctic Fire dogwood along the backyard fence, which will be a spot of brilliant red in the snow; a black-lace elderberry and a Czechmark Trilogy weigela in the Shed Patch garden, both of which will bloom pink in the spring; and a Winemark smoke bush in the grassy Hill Country zone by the road--fluffy midsummer purple blooms and round purple leaves that will blush brilliant orange in the fall. As you can see, I've got my mind on seasonal color.

Mostly today I'll be working on Frost Place stuff, with some housework and sauce making thrown in around the edges. I've still got an unfinished poem draft niggling at me, and I want to do some reading as well. And I've got to call the garage and mea culpa about missing my car-inspection appointment. Blah.

The book I've been reading, Homesickness, is drier than I would like, but I'll persevere with it, in hopes of finding first-person remarks that can guide me more directly into the state of mind. I've already found a few; for instance: "An attempt in 1607 to colonize along the Kennebec River in Maine lasted for just a year. A seventeenth-century report explained, "They[,] after a winter stay dreaming to themselves of new hopes at home[,] returned back with the first occasion." I wasn't even particularly looking for Maine references, but there it was.

Otherwise, I'm reading Richard Wright's poems, the Alexander translation of the Iliad, and I need a novel for filling around the edges because I'm fresh out of Tessa Hadley's. I guess this is what I do when the children move out of the house: I start grief-reading everything in sight. Some mothers eat chips to survive. Some get drunk on the idea of acquiring a copy of Gilgamesh.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Woke up at 4 a.m. with the sudden recollection that I'd made an appointment two weeks ago to get my car inspected and then forgot to bring it into the garage. Ugh. Not excellent timing for this discovery, as September is around the corner and Tom's truck is on the fritz, but at least I finally remembered.

Anyway, how's your first-thing-in-the-morning? Other than my dumb automotive lightbulb moment, it was a pleasant night--cool enough to shut the downstairs windows for the first time in months, I didn't have to run a fan in the bedroom, and the cat slept in till 4, which in his world counts for wallowing in bed.

Yesterday, for me, was mostly a kitchen day; for Tom, it was mostly a deal-with-the-broken-stuff day. I  picked a dishpan of peppers and froze most of them, except for the poblanos, which I saved to serve with fish tacos.

And I simmered a stockpot of tomatoes into sauce, and I baked two loaves of Italian bread.

Meanwhile, Tom fixed the toilet that wouldn't flush, and figured out that a power-steering-fluid hose is busted on his truck, and tried to track down the problem with our leaking shower, and did some hopeful caulking, and while he was in the basement studying the problem from underneath found an ancient busted-up porn videotape stashed on top of a heating duct--"Hardcore Spectac. #41"--a discovery that made us laugh quite a lot.

Today I've got to run errands as Tom will be taking my car to work this week. We're hoping he can get someone to fix his truck pronto, as he's supposed to be driving Paul's stuff to Brooklyn next Saturday, but one never knows with garages.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Yesterday did, in fact, turn out to be the reading and writing day I'd hoped for. After a quick visit from some northcountry friends who'd just dropped their daughter off at college, I sank into several hours of self-absorbed reading (alternating among Richard Wright's poems, a Tessa Hadley novel, and Susan Matt's Homesickness: An American History) plus scrawled out seven stanzas of a poem draft. By mid-afternoon regular life had kicked back in--Tom came home from work early and I had a Zoom meeting and something is wrong with the power steering in the truck and one of the wired-in smoke detectors temporarily started making a strange noise--but for a few brief shining hours I was a poet at work.

The terrible weather has broken, thank God. The morning is cool and dry, and in an hour or so I'll gird on my gardening pruners and head outside to cheer up the bedraggled flowerbeds . . . though this fellow is already feeling pretty good.

This is what we had for dinner last night: from top to bottom, fried Japanese eggplant, blackened shishito peppers, steamed green beans, slices of red and yellow tomatoes alternating with slices of fresh mozzarella and topped with basil and olive oil, roasted baby potatoes with parsley. Not shown: homemade coffee ice cream. A high summer feast.

 From Matt's Homesickness: An American History:

After the [Civil War], the idea that homesickness might be fatal continued to circulate among laypeople and physicians alike. Native-born Americans flocked from farms to cities, and European and Asian immigrants streamed into the United States, and these migrations inspired prolific commentary on homesickness and nostalgia. As the nation's racial and ethnic diversity increased, many observers claimed they saw patterns among homesick populations and suggested that nostalgia was a condition to which particular groups were especially susceptible. For instance, psychologists and social commentators influenced by Darwinian theory hypothesized that the groups least able to conquer their homesickness were the least culturally advanced. Those who succumbed to it were unfit for life in modern American society, for they lacked the prized characteristic of adaptability. . . . According to this view, those unable to adapt to a new environment and stricken with nostalgia were doomed to fail in life and business, perhaps even to perish. Observers maintained that a variety of different ethnic groups as well as African Americans, Native Americans, and women of all races were unsuited to movement and independence because of their alleged vulnerability to homesickness. Homesickness gradually became a marker of dependence and inadequacy.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The heat has been terrible, nearly intolerable, but today is forecast to be slightly cooler and then, thank goodness, the weekend temperature is supposed to peak in the 70s. I don't have much stamina left for 90-degree days in a house without air conditioning. Still, I did manage to sleep well last night, even with the box fan on high and pointed directly at my face, and had complex dreams about having to share an emergency bedroom at the Whole Foods with a family of friendly strangers from Kentucky.

I finished that editing project yesterday, and thus today (after I endure my exercise class) will be devoted to reading and writing and any other little thing I feel like doing. I do have a Zoom meeting in the afternoon, and as always I've got garden chores to deal with, but the bulk of the day is mine to spend as I wish.

I'm not ignoring the bad news, though I am struggling to speak about it. The situation in Afghanistan is horrifying, the anti-vaccination goons make me shriek, but little good things are happening too: Paul called yesterday to say that he got a job (hurray!), my nephew is moving into his freshman dorm room this morning (after an arduous trip from Vermont to Minnesota), the Red Sox won a game (a rare event these days), and I made a delicious chicken salad with tomatoes and melon.

And today I am going to write a new poem draft. Maybe two new drafts. Maybe three.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Yesterday's plans changed up in a hurry: just after I wrote to you, my friend had to cancel her visit, so I ended up with an entirely different day . . . mostly desk work, with a blip of lawn mowing, a hot walk to the library and the market, and an evening alone while Tom went out to see a show. So I lolled around in my summer nightgown, eating a big salad and a bowl of ice cream and watching Wife versus Secretary, a 1936 flick starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and a very young Jimmy Stewart . . . supposedly a comedy, but at heart a poignant depiction of female duty and male privilege, lightened up by Loy's gorgeous outfits, undercut by Gable's seedy grin (Does anyone  think he's handsome? Ick.), and saddened by Harlow's inability to justify to her boyfriend that she actually likes her job and doesn't want to quit working when she gets married. Stewart is his usual dim-witted aw-shucks gerbil self, except that he looks like he's about 14, much younger than Harlow, whom he's supposedly engaged to. Happy ending = women settle, and men do what they want.

Today will be another scorcher. I'll probably spend most of it at my desk, finishing up this editing project and moving forward in my seminar planning. That means I'll likely be able to preserve tomorrow as a writing day, a sweet ending to the week. I'm hoping to produce a new draft, fiddle with some revisions, do some submitting, and read. But who knows what will really happen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Today a dear friend from Harmony is arriving to spend the night, and I have made no plans because the temperature is supposed to hit 90 degrees and who knows if we'll be able to crawl away from the fan? Usually the two of us like to hike and birdwatch together, but that won't be at all fun today. So I've decided not to pre-plan dinner. This way our outings can involve spending time in an air-conditioned market, passing the time and staying cool as we figure out what to cook.

First thing this morning, before the real heat kicks in, I've got to mow grass. (I may not make it to my exercise class; I only have so much stamina for sweating, and shoving a reel mower through weeds will likely require most of it.) Then I'll do some houseguest housework and finish up the chapter I'm editing and maybe cast an eye over the chapbook class plan. Yesterday I wrote out the entire first session in excruciating detail--something I don't usually do, but I want to make sure that everything flows easily, both as a general approach and in specific ways such as activity variation and time management. The second two sessions should be easier to plan, once I make sure this first one is functional.

Take care of yourselves in this heat, friends. I myself will be drinking ice tea nonstop, and I recommend Twinings Lady Grey tea for your homemade batch--lightly flowery, not bitter: Soak 1 teabag in 1 quart of boiling water. Let sit till cool. Divide tea between 3 quart-sized mason jars. Fill the rest of each jar with cold water. Refrigerate and/or immediately pour over ice.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It's been raining all night, and the dawn light is sodden and gray. Supposedly today will be sunny, though there's no sign of that yet. Somewhere close by a catbird is meowing: farther away, a jay squawks; and in a neighbor's backyard, big green walnuts klonk onto a junked car and bounce away into the grass to wait for squirrels.

I'm making good progress on my editing project, so I'm going to start my morning with chapbook planning: working out practice exercises and off-screen assignments. I did get a better night's sleep, thank goodness. As I told Tom, my midnight brain always predicts the worst--shower stall collapsing, floors buckling--but never considers a simple solution such as "caulk."

This afternoon I've definitely got to make sauce. The tomatoes are coming in hot and heavy here in the rainforest, as you can see from the still-life crowd on my kitchen counter. And I ought to mow grass, if the yard ever dries out. And I would like to quit procrastinating and actually submit a few poems to a journal. I've been so bad about that lately.

On the other hand, not fretting about publication can be a good sign . . . maybe I'm in a discovery phase right now: not writing a lot, but writing well when I do . . . still reading voraciously . . . immersing myself in the physical world . . . the body in summer, the mind in antiquity . . . something big could be brewing, and I don't know what it is yet.

Monday, August 23, 2021

The fog is extreme this morning, a quilt of wet cloud, and meanwhile the cicadas chirp without cease, as if I'm surrounded by miniature car alarms that no one will turn off. But that's just the insomnia talking. I woke up at three making lists in my head of every piece of broken infrastructure in this house . . . and then when I finally did fall asleep all I dreamed about was illegal dumping and trying to sneak the cat on to a school bus. Oy.

Well, happy Monday. Things can only go up. And yesterday (before the 3 a.m. lists) did turn out to be unexpectedly productive: I spent the downpouring afternoon in my study, reading the Iliad and scribbling notes for Teresa . . . no thoughts of gardening or housework, just me and a fat book.

Today: back to editing and class planning. More rainstorms are headed our way, and the air is as thick as Crisco, but the tomato plants are bursting with happiness.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

I'm feeling glum this morning because I had to make the decision to pull out of this afternoon's reading in Kennebunk. But the weather reports are ominous for coastal York County--heavy rains, possible flash floods. I deeply dislike reneging on events I've promised to attend, but driving in terrible weather is one of my bêtes noires.

So instead of prepping for a reading this morning, I guess I'll be sitting in my study with the Iliad on my lap. Already the outer bands of Henri are beginning to quiver over the city. The air pressure feels very strange and ominous, almost as if the sky is pressing my eyelids shut. A thick haze blinkers the neighborhood, and little bursts of drizzle and breeze pock the leaves and sidewalks. It's amazing to me how huge a hurricane is. Portland is hundreds of miles from the epicenter, yet these are Henri's fingers tangling our hair.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Another densely humid morning here in the little city by the sea. We are waiting to find out if we'll be hit by a hurricane tomorrow: Portland's on the edge of projections, so it's hard to tell one way or the other. In the meantime, I'll spend part of the day picking peppers and semi-ripe tomatoes--trying to remove some of the weight from the fragile plants before the winds kick up and break them down. I ought to catch up on the housework I ignored while I was prepping for the garden tour, and I'm still scheduled to read tomorrow in Kennebunk, though that's weather-dependent at this point. So the day will be filled with this-n-thats, and a lot of forecast watching.

I spent much of yesterday afternoon working on class plans: e.g., dancing to Nina Simone and scribbling notes about how to use her first album as a teaching tool for students who are trying to put together their first manuscripts. It was fun, and surprising--I had the good feeling that my plans were going to shoot off into unanticipated directions, which I always love.

By the way, we've got just one more space open in that class, so take the leap and join us--

Today, in addition to the this-n-thats I've already mentioned, I'm going to start reading the Caroline Alexander translation of the Iliad and work on a few poem revisions. I've gotten back into the swing of my little study--narrow and low-ceilinged, but with two big north-facing windows looking out over the back garden and a painter's studio cast of light. It's a good place to dream.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Drizzle started midday, and by 3 p.m. rain was sluicing off roofs and down the pavement. No one will come out for a garden tour in this, I thought. But the downpour retreated to drizzle by 6, and come out they did: so many people showed up in my little yard that I lost count of them . . . 25? 30? They were friendly and interested and pleased to be out and about: a few serious gardeners but most of them aspirational. The little garden was shiny and wet and fresh-faced and looking its best--all in all, things went as well as they possibly could have.

But as I was telling Tom afterward, I felt very strange about having to behave like The Expert. One of the things I like most about gardening is being The Amateur--unscientific, unschooled, puttering around to please myself. Poetry is different. There, I do not want to be The Amateur. Poetry is my vocation, and I take it seriously and study hard and strive always to be better, better, better. In my own manner, I am a deeply ambitious poet.

My gardener Amateur status doesn't mean laziness. I do work hard at it, and I do have plans for the future. But I know very well that I could be better at gardening than I am, if I were to push myself to take an interest in soil tests and diseases and propagation and such. While I push myself constantly in poetry, I hum and bumble in the garden. And, you know, I like it that way.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Well, I got it all done: weeding, mulching, mowing, trimming, watering, pruning, ugly-junk stowing. The job took hours, and I was filthy at the end of it, plus I yanked a muscle in my left shoulder, but the gardens are now pristine (relatively). Of course hardly anyone will show up this evening because of rain, but I'm fine with that. Before the drizzle starts, I'll make one last pass through the main vegetable and flower beds to pick off yellow leaves and expired blooms, and then I'll quit fretting.

Such an ordeal! Think twice, friends, before you agree to a host a garden tour. 

At least I got a good night's sleep, and today I'll be able to catch up on my desk jobs. Speaking of which: I was editing a bibliography yesterday afternoon and came across a citation for Homesickness: An American History. Of course I was smitten by the title and instantly ordered the book through interlibrary loan. Maybe it will be boring and academic, but I have hopes.

The air is so thick this morning. Just walking from one room to another feels like snorkeling; I expect to bump into a coral reef at any moment. But the tomatoes love this weather. Already I am overloaded with cherries and Romas, and harvest season has barely begun. Do not think I am complaining. For dinner last night we ate local hake, alongside a salad of roasted baby potatoes, green beans, broccoli, and shishitos, and a separate side of thick-sliced ripe yellow tomatoes. Every single vegetable was from my teeny-tiny plot.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

I had a brief but lovely visit with my friends Richard and Cheri yesterday morning, and I'm grateful for that respite, because later in the day I learned that 25 people have signed up to visit my garden tomorrow evening. Argh. This is turning into a high-pressure situation . . . I still have so much prep to do, and we've got rain forecast for Thursday, and I woke up at 3 a.m. making lists in my head . . .

Today, after my exercise class, I'm going to go straight into the garden and work till I get too hot, and then retreat to my desk. As usual, life does look less stressful in daylight; I hate those nighttime anxiety lists. Richard and Cheri brought me a beautiful Rose of Sharon, so planting that first thing will cheer me up and fortify me for the more mundane chores of weeding and mowing and raking soil and running the trimmer and watering and hiding the ugly junk.

Of course all I can see are the insect holes in the cabbage leaves, and the dog-leg broccoli plant, and the spotty lettuce germination. Let us hope that the visitors will be distracted by the zinnias and the peppers.

In the midst of this garden hoohah, I've got a pile of editing to do, a seminar to plan, and a reading coming up on Sunday afternoon. Lots of deep breathing is in order. I'll get it all done somehow.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Yesterday was less crazed than I'd imagined it would be. I endured my exercise class, and worked on my editing stack, and baked bread, and weeded and pruned in the front flowerbeds; and eventually I did pull myself together for the evening poetry-group meeting.

Today's schedule will be much the same--exercise, editing, laundry, and gardening--with the addition of grocery shopping, dinner making, and a midday visit from some Frost Place friends. I'm going to harvest the rest of the potatoes for storage, and hang sheets on the line, and make Italian bread and tomato soup from the bowlful of Romas on my counter. I ought to go to the library and pick up the book I ordered. I'd like to work on some poems too, maybe tweak the one I brought to the poetry group last night, but it's possible I'll get distracted by the Red Sox double-header instead. Summer is a demanding season. Thank goodness for baseball.

Monday, August 16, 2021

After an uneventful drive home from Massachusetts, I was greeted by an exploding garden. How is it that I can vanish for just two days and come home to so much overflowing produce? This is a tiny plot, remember: but yesterday afternoon I picked a dishpan of green beans, a dishpan of green peppers (and I only picked the ones that were weighing the plants to the breaking point), two pints of cherry tomatoes, a dishpan of Roma tomatoes, and a pint of okra. Thank goodness my neighbor had invited us to dinner, as I was able to quickly make use of the eggplant and a bunch of the tomatoes. The peppers and green beans went straight into the freezer, but I still have scads of produce on my hands, with more to come.

This evening I'm supposed to have a poetry-group meeting, but I might beg off as I really need to deal with this food. And I've got a new editing project to look at, and so much outdoor stuff to manage. That garden tour is on Thursday, and yard things are looking a bit ratty. But . . . I don't know . . . maybe the poetry group would be good for me . . . I can't quite tell what's best at the moment.

Well, at least the weekend was relaxing. We really did have a lovely time with Tom's parents: easy hours, plenty of sleep, slow visiting, comfortable good humor. And I'm sure as soon as I start tackling all of my obligations, I'll fall straight back into my work rhythm. I love high-summer harvesting and sociable evenings. I bet I'll figure it all out.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Greetings from peaceful Amherst, Massachusetts. I write to you from among the massive white pines and rocky slopes of Cushman Stream, a brief oasis of woodland in the bustling Pioneer Valley. It's been dreadfully hot here, but our sweaty outings have been punctuated by plenty of air conditioning, and this morning the temperature outside has dropped to an almost chilly level. Who knew I would ever wear a sweater again?

We spent yesterday with Tom's parents at a remarkable estate sale--a family house crammed full of a lifetime of stuff, all of which was completely open to the public. It was like visiting a strange and poignant museum. Much of the stuff was musty and moldy, much of it just cheap junk, but buying wasn't the attraction. We all came away from the house moved and bemused. Who were these people? What happened in this place?

Later today Tom and I will head back north to our own rooms and garden and cat and work, and I now can't stop imagining my own house as a museum, cracked wide open to the world.

Friday, August 13, 2021

A second beastly hot day ahead of us, and we will be on the road this afternoon, heading south to Massachusetts to visit Tom's parents. But there are benefits to being a couple instead of a family: we've got the option to take the pickup, which has air conditioning, instead of my car, which does not. I'm almost looking forward to spending three hours on the highway.

Yesterday I did mow grass and move that heap of brick and stone; this morning all I need to focus on is watering, which is a big, boring job but at least a cool one. And I have a fresh library book to read (another Tessa Hadley), and I made a good start on my chapbook syllabus (turns out it's fun to invent group exercises for manuscript arrangement), and I ordered Caroline Alexander's translation of the Iliad (which Teresa and I are going to tackle next). Now I am ready for a little vacation . . . plenty of chat and good food and card playing with people I like a lot, and haven't seen for almost two years.

I'm beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed with work: a new editing project to start on Monday, my poetry group on Monday night, hosting that garden tour next Thursday, a reading next Sunday, plus this chapbook class to finish designing . . . but it's a good overwhelmed. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

It will be beastly hot today, and I have to move a pile of bricks and paving stone out of my neighbor's driveway before her construction guys haul them off to the dump. So I'll be running the wheelbarrow and mowing the front lawn in lieu of enduring my morning exercise class. I can only dredge up a limited amount of stamina in the heat, and moving rock is hard. Still, I'm not passing up free bricks and stones. What kind of forager would I be if I let a little sweaty dirt stop me?

I have a bit of editing to finish up this morning (no doubt, after a long shower), and then I'll work on Frost Place stuff for a while. Already people are signing up for the chapbook class, which is great, and I've heard from several potential teachers as well. So I'll be sitting in front of the fan for a chunk of the day, messing around with programming ideas and class plans.

Paul called yesterday, and we had a long talk together, our first since he moved, so that was lovely.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

This is a momentous day for me, as finally, after many, many months of behind-the-scenes planning, I can announce the new Frost Place Studio Sessions--the year-round, online arm of the Frost Place, offering not only poetry-related classes, seminars, readings, and such but also, I hope, reaching out into other genres and disciplines.

I'll be serving as creative director of the enterprise, with support and solace from Carlene Gadapee, who will be my associate creative director, and Maudelle Driskell, the executive director of the Frost Place--and also the person who conceived this idea and asked me to take charge of it.

To launch the sessions, we've scheduled two programs for the fall, both of which I'll be leading (though I hope to be bringing in many other teachers in the future). The first is "Learning from Nina Simone: An Introductory Chapbook Seminar," aimed at poets who are just beginning to collect a sheaf of poems and want to discuss and experiment with the process of constructing a collection. We're going to use Nina Simone's first album Little Girl Blue as our touchstone for the process.

The second program is "Revisiting Homer's Odyssey," which explores passages from Emily Wilson's new translation as a way to consider contemporary concerns about power and identity.

As you'll see on the home page, we've got several more classes on deck, and I am already hearing from teachers with ideas for more. It's all very exciting.

* * *

And as if my day wasn't overflowy enough: Vox Populi has posted a new poem, "Mother to Son." I hasten to say that this poem is not autobiographical, but a reaction to the generalized sadness of young people that I've been witnessing during the pandemic.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Conditions are foggy this morning, with a vague patchy drizzle; temperature cool but sticky; breeze nonexistent. A chitter of birdsong ornaments the pulsing, endless, barely audible squeal of the cicadas--soundtrack of late summer in Maine.

Yesterday I finished up another editing stack, then cleaned floors, then went out to buy a few more plants for the new bed: this time, autumn-blooming plumbago, anemones, and astilbe; and, for spring flowers, a pair of shade-loving creeping phlox and a compact mountain laurel. I've got more editing to finish today, and a few other desk chores to get through, and then I'll clean bathrooms, drive to the vet to pick up the cat's flea medicine, and stop at the nursery to pick up two more summer sweet shrubs for the little hedge I'm making. And then, for the moment, I'll stop planting.

Today should be pleasant-enough, weather-wise, but another round of heat is arriving at the end of the week. Tom and I are heading south on Friday to spend the weekend with his parents, and temps will be miserable down there. But at least their house will be cooler than ours.

I'm still reading Tessa Hadley's The Past, still cogitating over a poem draft, still trying to rediscover how to spend these long days alone. But yesterday flew by: I felt like I couldn't get everything done that I'd planned to do, and not because I was sitting around wasting time. So I guess I'm managing.

* * *

Only the cat, padding between the roses, 
Shakes a branch and breaks the chequered pattern 
As water is broken by the falling of a leaf. 

--from "The Garden at Midnight" by Amy Lowell

Monday, August 9, 2021

There are now four shrubs in the new back-garden bed. In the far corner is a big panicle hydrangea, the kind with loose, flattish flowers, whose color shifts from white to wine-red. To create a small hedge in the middle, I planted a pair of summer sweets--oval, upright bushes covered with sweet-scented white flower spikes. And closest to the house I dug in a Winterthur viburnum, a spring bloomer, with white flowers followed by clusters of berries ripening from pink to deep purple.

So far, so good: they look delighted to be out of their pots and into their new rich-soil home. At some point this week, I'll pick up two more summer sweets to fill in the hedge, and I'll also go perennial shopping: I need to get a bunch of plants into the ground so that their roots can keep the loose soil heap from eroding. But this is a good start, and it looks beautiful from the kitchen window. Every change in the backyard feels so momentous: it was such an ugly desert when we moved in, and I am taking great pleasure in the improvements. I never think of myself as a visual artist: I'm terrible with a camera, and I don't have a deep comprehension of painting. But I am so affected by landscape. 

Which reminds me: between garden chores, I spent the day reading Tessa Hadley's novel The Past, which I am loving. How have I never heard of her before? She's magnificent. This book, set in rural England, reminds me in a way of John Fowles's evocations of landscape: the way a place can become mythic, even as one exists inside it. So I've been thinking about that: of the task of creating the mythic. A daunting notion.

Today I have a bit of editing to finish, and then I'll probably turn my thoughts to housework and weeding and perhaps another nursery visit. The boys both texted yesterday, both sounding cheerful and busy. Turns out Paul really likes his new roommates, so that is a huge bonus for him. And he got called back for a second interview today, so that's great too. James is working long, long days, and being driven crazy by numerous ridiculous over-the-top TV-show issues, but he is lively and social and very hardworking, and in a way he seems to thrive on this kind of energy and the camaraderie of the crew. Two young men in their twenties: jumping headfirst into the waves.

But I'm happy enough, paddling around in my shallows. I've always liked tide pools--the gleaming shells of snails, the cracked urchin; the seawater straining and eddying. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

I slept late this morning, always a miracle, and now I am slowly and pleasantly coming to terms with being awake. It looks like we're in for another heavy humid day, and the air is very still. The only neighborhood noises are coming from those crows, who are still hollering. Something melodramatic is definitely happening in Crow Land.

Yesterday morning Tom and I worked together to build the new backyard garden beds. His participation was a giant boon: what would usually take me several days to finish alone got done in about three hours. First, he staked out the beds as I shoveled wheelbarrow loads of my leaf-meal compost onto the grass, where it will serve as the first rough, grass-control layer. Then Tom raked that layer into place and we turned our attention to the giant pile of soil in the driveway. Tom shoveled dirt, and I dumped loads, back and forth, back and forth, until the pile was nothing but rubble. Then he raked out the beds and I hosed down the muddy tarp and walkways. And then, finally, both of us, smeared in sweat and mud, took much-needed showers.

This was what we made. I'm really thrilled about it: even empty, it completely changes the look of the backyard, which to this point was just a big dull square. Now I can start complicating things visually, and, yes, I am counting the minutes till the plant nurseries open for business today.

After we cleaned up, we embarked on part 2 of our day, which was to drive downtown to eat sushi and go furniture shopping. The sushi was a big success; the furniture shopping not so much, as everything new was way too expensive (and far too big for my tiny room) and everything used was hard and made of vinyl . . . not an ideal material for a house without air conditioning. Finding a small, comfortable reading chair is very difficult. I guess our next plan is to stop at Ikea when we're in Massachusetts next weekend.

Today, as mentioned: shrub shopping! I also need to mow grass and run the trimmer, and I ought to do some housework, though that might keep till tomorrow, as I've got a bit of an editing breather this week. I finished the John Irving novel yesterday and started the Tessa Hadley one. Poetry-wise, I've got Sappho to read, and I'd like to get back to my project of copying out the Inferno, which my pandemic housing crunch interrupted. I'll sauté some hake for dinner, and slice up our first big ripe tomato: a beautiful fat Brandywine.

As of today, I've made it through a week of my new life. Things are going fine.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

I came home from my morning walk yesterday with two big fresh puffballs--an excellent cemetery forage after a day of summer rain--and so for dinner we had enchiladas alongside a salad of fried mushrooms, roasted potatoes, green beans, and golden cherry tomatoes. It was a good day for mushrooms, and a good day for getting things done: I finished my editing project and shipped it to back to the journal staff; I fiddled with my poem draft until it felt more or less complete; and I read the last few pages of the Odyssey. 

This weekend Tom and I will be working on the new garden bed: laying out the pattern, then filling it with leaf compost and the two cubic yards of soil currently sitting in the driveway . . . hours of shoveling and wheelbarrowing and dumping and spreading. For recess, we're going to change clothes and drive downtown and go chair shopping for my study, though I don't have much hope that we'll find anything nice that we can afford.

For the moment, though, I'm sitting quietly in my couch corner--wrapped in my red bathrobe, hair crazy-curled with humidity, cup and saucer of black coffee steaming on the table. Outside, the crows are making a racket. Upstairs, Tom is sound asleep. The cat, stalking through the room, emits a friendly yowl. I'm thinking vaguely of books, vaguely of laundry. The spaciousness of my days still feels strange, but less terrifying than it felt last weekend.

I have spent the past six days trying very hard to retool my life, and on the whole I've done a decent job with that. I remade my work space, I concentrated on my physical well-being, I read and wrote and thought for myself, I made progress in my paying job, I dealt with adversity and disappointment, I tended my garden, I hugged Tom morning and night.

What large, dark hands are those at the window
Lifted, grasping the golden light
Which weaves its way through the creeper leaves
       To my heart's delight?

--from "Cruelty and Love," by D. H. Lawrence

Friday, August 6, 2021

I finished a first draft of my new poem, which of course didn't turn out anything like I'd expected but went down another hole entirely. I do love that about poems. I don't know if it will be a keeper, but anyway it now exists on the page and I'm happy to have made it. Looking back, I can say I've had a useful, if uncomfortable, week. I got a big stack of paying work done, but I also got a big stack of private work done . . . writing, reading, revising. I've been busy, very busy, and I've pushed myself physically and mentally, but I've also been self-indulgent. My version of self-indulgent isn't ice cream for lunch. It's allowing myself to wallow, without goal or duty, among my books; then springing up from my chair to run outside and cut a vase of flowers; then, for some reason, clicking through a gallery of photos of Carole Lombard; then scribbling down a random phrase that pops into my head; then bouncing back upstairs to the Odyssey; then, 15 minutes later, bouncing back downstairs to John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire, which for some reason I picked out of a free pile on Monday; then deciding to bake a blueberry coffee cake; then filling in five clues in a NYT crossword puzzle; then wandering around the house staring out the windows and wondering what the neighbors are doing; then hugging the cat; then bouncing outside to see if any tomatoes are ripe yet; then examining the giant dirt pile in my driveway; then suddenly running back inside and upstairs to my poem draft and changing all of the "I's" to "you's." I can only live this delightful, scattered, focused life if I am completely alone in the house. The presence of anyone else changes everything. 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

I woke up to rain, light but persistent, and it will keep raining all day and into the evening. So this will mostly be an in-house day, though I do have to trudge up to the library to fetch the book I reserved: a novel by Tessa Hadley, whose fiction I just discovered in the New Yorker. But inside is okay, as I spent a lot of yesterday outside. Mid-day I took a long walk into the cemetery, where I found a big puffball and watched a young red-tailed hawk complain in a pine tree. It was a very fledgling kind of outing: I also saw three big bluejay children harassing their parents . . . so many crabby avian youngsters out there, irked because Ma and Pa have stopped feeding them. Then later I weeded the strawberry bed and picked beans and shishitos and when Tom got home we went for another little walk; for some reason I was restless and in need of movement.

Despite that restlessness, I did manage to convince myself to start scratching out a poem draft. It's nothing much yet, but I'll mess around with it some more today, after I finish my editing stint. 

Overall, I think my frame of mind is improving. I'm starting to relax into being alone, into having space to work, into choosing what I want to do when. I'm experimenting with upping my morning exercise classes  to 5 days a week, instead of 3, now that I have so much more flexible time. Since Paul's been gone, I haven't spent time with anyone other than Tom: I've been entirely alone during the days, barely even using the car, only talking to strangers. This is not a long-term plan for happiness, but it's seemed appropriate for my first week. A sort of retraining in how to introduce myself to myself.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Yesterday I did start to feel the creative juices rising . . . not in a particularly pleasant way; in fact, in a downright ugly way; but juices are juices and we work with what we have; and so I copied out a small strange Grimms' fairy tale, and I took some notes about my own reprehensible feelings, and as I did these things I could feel a chemical reaction begin to sizzle, a first shift toward an unknown, unwritten, un-imagined draft.

Today, in my new room, I hope to scratch out the faint lines of whatever this mysterious piece of writing will be. I do have to edit first, but the chemicals can bubble along on their own for a few hours, until I finish working.

* * *

Here are some zinnias. They are jumbled into a stone vase on the mantlepiece, next to an old clock that doesn't run.

And here are some grasses and a gladiolus, in a pewter cup. They are staring through the living-room window, watching the little street.

And these are greens in a salad bowl: baby kale, baby arugula, nasturtium leaves, carrot fronds, wild purslane, marigold petals, and among them a few golden cherry tomatoes.


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

My first day back in the room went well. I set up my mat for my exercise class; then folded it away and edited at the standing desk all morning; then ran some errands (hardware store, Italian market, fishmonger); then sat in my chair by the window and looked at some editorial suggestions for a poem that's coming out shortly. The dining-room chair is not an ideal reading seat, but it's not the worst either. It'll do until something better comes along.

Today will more or less be a repeat of yesterday, minus the errands, plus some yard work. Late yesterday afternoon, a giant load of dirt arrived, destined for the new bed out back, but I can't start moving it till Tom stakes out the bed pattern. We had no idea we'd be able to get a soil delivery so quickly: in previous years I've kicked my heels for months on a compost waitlist. This year: instant dirt gratification.

I need to spend time with the Odyssey today, as Teresa and I are finally going to be able to restart our phone poetry conversations. Both of us were so busy in June and July that we had to let our schedule sag. But now we're ready to begin again. Yesterday I finished reading Henry Green's Nothing and now I'm delving into The Complete First Edition: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, a book that actually belongs to Paul but was too fat for him to move into his little space. I've got a thrift-store Louise Erdrich novel waiting in the wings, and Sappho sitting in my study window, and I hope, now that I am no longer a part-time loner, to spend a whole lot of time with all of these books.

So: exercise, work, gardening, reading, an empty house . . . all of this should lead into writing. I just need to be patient.

Monday, August 2, 2021

 Yesterday I did nothing but work, which was probably the best thing I could have done, mental-health wise. By 8 a.m. I had clothes on the line and the vacuum cleaner running. I cleaned Paul's room top to bottom and moved my stuff back into it. Then I cleaned the whole rest of the house, de-cluttered the rooms that had taken the overflow of our crowded living situation, washed floors, washed window screens . . . distracted myself mightily with dirt battles; then did a giant grocery shopping; cooked a special dinner for Tom (steak au poivre, fresh corn salad, homemade peach ice cream); and then fell into the deepest night's sleep I've had for days.

So on this Monday morning I'm feeling pretty good. I'm looking forward to beginning my work day in my own study. I've got the standing desk set up by a window; I'm using, of all things, an ironing board as an overflow workspace. I've got a dining-room chair by the other window, next to a small stack of poetry books I'm reading. Everything is clean and bright, if spare. I'll even start off by doing my exercise class in my own space, instead of shoving downstairs furniture around to make room for my mat.

James called yesterday, so that was cheering. Paul texted photos of the dog in his apartment and of his little bedroom, which looks cozy and comfortable. And Tom, who knows how to cheer me up, staked out plans for a new garden bed in the back yard.

Here's a shot of my room, prepped for poetry--

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Well, here I am. Alone in the house.

I dropped Paul off at the bus station at 6:15 a.m., and he is now en route to his new home. Already he's texted me twice; I know I'll probably hear from him multiple times today as he tends to talk to me often when he's emotional and on his own. I haven't yet cried, though I may soon. In fact, the tears are starting to trickle now. These departures are so wrenching and painful, but of course, of course, things are exactly as they should be, and I behaved with cheerful aplomb at the bus station, and now, upstairs, waiting for me is the room which is finally, after a year and a half, a room of my own again.

Tom has disappeared for a few hours: he's recently joined a local photo collective, which gives him the opportunity to use their photofinishing facility, so he's scanning negatives on their fancy machine, and I am washing towels and sheets and airing the cot mattress and pillows, and tucking some of P's left-behind things into the attic. Shortly I'll drag out the vacuum cleaner and start sucking up a year's worth of bookshelf dirt, and then slowly I'll begin moving my few sticks of furniture back into my space.

This was such a terrible year, in so many ways. But my sons are my joy and my treasure. Yes, this house is too small to hold them. But there's still a hole in my life when they're gone.