Friday, May 27, 2022

The jackhammering has recommenced, but at the other end of the street, so yesterday I was able to feel at least slightly detached from the street construction, slightly being the operative word. The narrow road is still packed with every kind of machine labeled CAT, dust and grit rising in clouds, shouts and clanks and beeps and crashing and grinding and bambambam-bambambam from dawn till dusk.

Still, at 11 a.m. I sat down on the couch with a cup of tea, and at 1:30 p.m. I woke up next to a full cup of cold tea on the coffee table and didn't know what had happened to me. I guess you could point out that I was a little bit tired, but what a weird nap, like being taken over by aliens or something. Even the jackhammer couldn't keep me conscious. Not to mention that I'd had no intention of taking a nap at 11 a.m.

Overall I feel like I've collided with every kind of machine labeled CAT, and now I'm stiff and slow and convalescent. In fact I am completely fine, not sick, not overworked; I know all of my bodily symptoms are related to distress about my dad . . . but how fascinating our minds and bodies are, how intertwined and mysterious.

This morning I will again try to make it through my exercise class, though I could barely keep up with Wednesday's, which is not like me. My hope is to spend much of the day slowly working through my yard chores, mostly in back, away from the construction--mowing, trimming, weeding, watering. But who knows, the giant nap monster may snatch me once again. I am powerless to resist.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

 Last night I launched my newest collection, Accidental Hymn. I was, as always, nerved up. But so many people came! It was so strange and wonderful to have such an audience. I couldn't tell who exactly was there, but I glimpsed names from many facets of my life . . . a woman I went to high school with, my son's theater teacher, writing friends from many places, my sister . . . It was stunning to feel so many virtual arms around me.

I have gotten into the habit of thinking of myself as a loner, as out of the loop. But that's not really true. Time passes, friends collect. It was incredible to feel your affection. Turns out I needed that so much.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

As my days go these days, yesterday was relatively calm. Construction guys moved down the street to destroy my neighbors' flowerbeds, my dad is hanging on and may be transferred from the ICU in a few days, I managed to do some housework and cook a meal and teach a class and prep for tonight's reading . .  . 

At night I have long phone calls with my sister in which we try to hold each other up and plot how best to keep my mom steady and fret about what rehab and recovery and relapse and all of the unknowns might have in store for us. And then I get into bed and fall into a conked-on-the-head sleep.

One thing that has been so helpful is your kindness. It is surprising, the power of good will. Evil churns on and on in this world. Schoolchildren are massacred. Grandfathers are shot in the back. But when my sister got pulled over for talking to me on her cellphone while driving home, and after she apologized and told the cop she was wrong and explained why she was talking to me, his response was "You are the first person today who has told me the truth.  I hope everything turns out well for your dad." Me, I've had construction guys worrying about my plants, a neighbor rescuing a shovelful of thyme, another neighbor taking down my laundry for me, people from all times and places in my life signing up to hear me read poems tonight.

I may not be able to thank you personally. But know that your goodness matters.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

At 7 a.m. someone knocked on the door. It was one of the construction guys, telling me that today was the day they'd be digging a chunk out of my garden. I did not cry but I came close to crying. Instead, I went outside right away and moved plants and rocks and then hid my eyes till the deed was done. I thought that would be the worst of it. But then, after lunch, another knock on the door. They'd nicked the sewer line and they needed to get into my basement to make sure the house line hadn't been damaged. Up and down the stairs the men went; then soon, a specialist showed up, with a sewer-line camera. He walked in and announced with a big smile, "I put in your sewer line!" Okay, so that was a bright spot: seven years ago we'd accidentally hired the Expert. He bustled around down there for a while and then reappeared to pet the flirty cat and assure me that the house line was fine; the only damage was streetside. Good news overall, but this meant that they were going to have to dig another chunk out of my garden to reseal the connection.

So.

I realize a damaged vegetable garden is the smallest of my problems right now, but still it feels tragic. I am not crying; I'm even laughing a little. But still.

And yet, small things: the construction guys were so nice and so apologetic, eager to help me move rocks and plants. You could tell they had gardens at home, or their parents had gardens: they took the damage seriously; they understand why this was painful.

At one point, in the evening, I looked out the window and saw that the excavator had pushed the chunk of sidewalk they'd removed down against some of the parked equipment. And on top of that chunk was a bright blooming clump of my thyme, which just this morning had been flowing over the stone along the walkway. So after dinner I went outside to the shed and fetched my shovel and started over to rescue it. As it happened, one of my neighbors was already there, lifting up the chunk. I'm a forager, and I thought, Oh, he's going to stick it in his yard; great. I was glad to know he wanted it. But no. What he was doing was carrying it back to my garden. He didn't know I was outside getting ready to fetch it, but he did know that I would care about it.

This was the sweet ending to a very tough day. And a sweeter one was the late-night text from my sister saying that my dad got through the second surgery very well, and is now on the first step to recovery.

Monday, May 23, 2022

I am home, for a little while anyway. Everything is in a holding pattern, and this seemed to be the best solution: for all of us to try to deal with daily life as best we can. My dad is in what is basically an induced coma in the ICU, with the second surgery planned for today. But according to the nurse, Dad is one of the "most boring" patients on the unit, and we all had to laugh. Boring at the ICU is good news! His vitals are good; there's no sign of infection.

And so Tom and I drove home through the 90-degree heat in our non-air-conditioned car, and he will go back to work this morning, and I will go back to work this morning, and the jackhammering will go back to work this morning, and we will wait for the results of today's surgery and see what happens when the sedation is lifted.

Of course this is the week of my book launch. Another stress, but I can do it in Vermont if I have to. I can cancel it if I have to. For now it's still happening in Maine. Thanks for being patient with me in this regard. It's impossible to be sure of anything.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Just a quick note to thank you for your kind notes on yesterday's post. I'm in Vermont, where my dad had emergency surgery for a twisted bowel. He is stable, given the severity of the situation. Not sure if I'll be here for a few days or if I'll head home today and come back later. We'll figure that out this morning.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

 

This is the scene outside my house. That's my driveway blocked, and my narrow street in shambles, but what you can't see is the noise of the big excavator hammering ledge for 10 hours straight. Being in the house feels like being in a day-long chronic low-grade earthquake: everything shaking and vibrating and clanking and rattling, hour after hour after hour. Working from home has lost all of its charm. I can't garden outside; I can't think inside; I feel as if my house is collapsing around me.

The hammer-free weekend is a blessing, but now my dad is in the emergency room with an as yet undiagnosed G-I issue, and so life goes on with the worry and the strain. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The street construction has begun in earnest, and it's awful. Yesterday: hours upon hours spent jackhammering ledge, the tiny narrow street packed with men and giant equipment and massive iron structures and pipes and sluicing water. And this is supposed to go on for weeks. Kindly, the excavator operator told me exactly what part of my garden he was going to have to dig up to hook up our water lines . . . just an edge, fortunately, so this weekend I'll spend some time moving plants and trying not to cry. 

Anyway, enough of my woe. I did go out last night to write, so that was good. I got six poems accepted this week--six!--so that's something too. Readers seem to be responding to my new collection, which is gratifying. I planted six tomato plants before the rain started. 

But now I have to endure another day of jackhammering. It's hard to concentrate on my work in this environment, and today is the day I need to seriously suss out what I'll be doing for Wednesday's book launch, so I'm a little worried. But I suppose I'll figure out how to manage.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

"It was now that she developed her feelings about reading at random which would form the backbone of her essays on being a self-educated reader. Like all her central preoccupations, the idea of 'the common reader' is rooted in childhood and adolescence."

"'Reading makes me intensely happy, and culminates in a fit of writing always.'"

"'I feel always that writing is an irreticent thing to be kept in the dark--like hysterics.'"

* * *

These three extracts appear in Hermione Lee's biography of Viriginia Woolf; the latter two are quotations from Woolf's own letters as a young woman.

I was talking, over coffee yesterday, to Monica about why I am periodically drawn to reading the biographies of writers I admire . . . and this is why: because I love to watch how their brains learn to work. These three extracts carry me from the practice of reading (random, obsessive), into the purpose of reading (the triggering of deep pleasure, which in turn opens the writing door), into the odd, wall-less, floor-less, roof-less, unsettling experience of writing itself, that embarrassing, "irreticent thing."

I feel these comments deeply, of course. Being the reader I am, and have been for all of my life--greedy, ambitious, random--I am drawn to another of my kind. There are not so many of us. But I'm also interested in the way in which this reading voracity is the foundation for the very different sensation of writing-- so much shakier, so much diffidence; the nerves on fire; unease and an urge toward secrecy. I recognize this, too: how I have all my writing life felt as if I should keep my identity a secret; how I sometimes have to purposely assume a bardic persona in my poems as a way to argue with my urge to hide.

* * *

But why hide, when reading and writing have been the open sky of my life? It is a conundrum.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

I think I'm just going to have to accept that this is going to be a scatterbrained week for me. It's fine, it's good really, I'm not awash in deadlines, but of course I still feel guilty for not nailing myself to the desk.

Yesterday I went for a bike ride alone and for a long walk with my neighbor; this morning I'm having coffee with the novelist I confabbed with after my archive talk. I taught last night, and tonight I'll be going to a poetry reading, and one or the other of my sons is always on the phone, and I keep shoehorning work in around the edges, but the social does seem to have bubbled to the surface. And it's so hard to stay out of the garden.

In good news, I did not get a migraine from my new glasses prescription. In fact, my eyes feel better than they have for months, so all is well there. On the whole, my private life is jaunty, though I wonder how this can be, given the burden of our historical moment. How can horror and contentment exist simultaneously? And yet they do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

We had a real rain last night, thank goodness, and this morning the garden is soaked and gleaming. Already I've got towels in the washing machine, readying for the line and a beautiful sunny breezy low-70s day.

Yesterday turned out to be sort of a mishmash, as I was on the phone for much of the morning instead of at  my desk. And now today looks to be another one. I got a call that my new glasses are in, and they are likely to affect my schedule. The switch in progressive prescriptions routinely gives me a brief terrible migraine; and given that I've got to teach tonight, the migraine must happen early in the day. But once the headache is over, I'll be very, very glad to have better vision.

So: migraine recovery, editing, class prep, email writing, laundry, getting a brisket into the oven before I start class, taking a bike ride or a walk (depending on the toe situation), cleaning floors . . .

In the garden things are looking magnificent. My peas (in the Breadbasket) and spinach (in the Lane boxes) are spectacular. The Shed Patch overflows with speedwell and phlox. Deep purple iris speckle the green Hill Country. Buds are swelling on the peonies in the Parlor and Library beds and the Lantern Waste. The infant clematis is already climbing up Barry's Arch. The pepper seedlings are settling in beautifully on the Terrace. Strawberries are in bloom in the Lurk, blueberries in bloom on Concord Plain.

[If you are new to this blog, you should know that one of my son's pandemic pastimes was to name all of the sub-environments in this little yard. I've kept it up, as it's a very good way to record new plantings in my notebook; plus, it's fun to imagine the yard as an island.]


Monday, May 16, 2022

The little northern city by the sea is wrapped in fog, and the air is cool and densely humid: briny and wet; a cocoon of cloud; birds singing like mad and the garden glowing green under the pale ocean mist.

Island weather. A delight.

Yesterday, between minor rain showers, I hobbled through lawn mowing and trimming, weeding and planting. My toe is certainly not broken, but it is ugly and sore, and it was slowing me down. Still, I got a lot done: okra and sunflowers sowed; tulips cut down so that a new crop of flowers--speedwell, phlox, columbine, lilacs, iris--can billow into center stage. I always feel sad about cutting down flowers, but am always at how quickly my eye readjusts to the new glories.

Today I'll go back to desk work (a new editing project, class prep for tomorrow), plus grocery shopping and housecleaning and the rest of my usual Monday obligations. Yesterday a journal accepted all three poems I sent them, so that was a good reminder to stop procrastinating with the submissions . . . 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

We had a lovely morning on Peaks Island. The weather was hot, and the birds were busy: dozens of eiders surfing in the high tide along the rocks; yellow warblers among the reeds and scrubby swamp alders; a pair of eagles being harassed by crows. And then back home for a nap and a shower; and in the evening we had our first cookout of the season: lamb burgers with yogurt sauce, sautéed peppers and almonds, roasted potatoes, spring's first big servings of homegrown salad greens, and my neighbor brought strawberry-rhubarb crisp and vanilla ice cream.

Today I have lots of yard work to do, but I don't know how much I'll get done. Rain is forecast, off and on all day, and we sorely need the water, but it does throw a wrench into my mowing and weeding plans.  I might just have to sit around and read. What a shame.

That could be just as well, however, as this morning I am dealing with what I don't think is a broken toe . . . but then again might be one: the result of nighttime cat bad behavior and me getting up to throw him out of the bedroom and then tripping over a box fan that I didn't see because I wasn't wearing my glasses. The usual ridiculous scenario of accidents. Whatever the case, my toe hurts and I'm hobbling this morning, and it's a good thing we weren't planning our island hike for today.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

It's going to be warm today--80 degrees!--and Tom and I are taking the morning off and going to Peaks Island. For a change I don't have to work at all this weekend, and the freedom feels luxurious. We won't stay all day, but it will be lovely to walk, to climb on the rocks, to watch the water and the trees. And then tonight: the first firepit of the season, dinner with our neighbor, the cat prowling among the lawn chairs . . .

Yesterday I planted peppers, marigolds, calendula, zinnias, basil, lavender, and a clematis. By next weekend tomatoes and eggplant should go in. Tomorrow I may sow okra and sunflowers, and certainly I'll have to mow and weed.

But today will be play. I will sit on a beach with The Duchess of Malfi and stare out into the bay. I will eat a bagel with whitefish and worry about sunburns. I will not let my hat blow off on the boat. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Last night's talk went well, I think. I was fascinated by the other projects discussed: a historian's discovery of a secret identity hidden within story she'd been researching; a trove of Penobscot oral histories. But I also had an incident of my own. After I finished my talk, my chat start filling with excited messages from a local novelist who had gotten a bee in her bonnet about my project. As luck would have it, I'd recently read, and liked, her memoir, and so the two of us had a furtive fizzy confab about issues of structure which was quite thrilling. We've got a coffee date planned and we're eager to keep talking. Clearly this was a big moment, in which writers who sort of knew each other beforehand suddenly got very excited about each other's brain. So this morning I'm still feeling buzzy and thrilled.

Today will be relatively quiet, I hope. I finished an editing project yesterday; and with the archive talk behind me, I'd like to give a bit of attention to my own writing: ponder over revisions, transcribe poem blurts out of my notebook, think about submissions, maybe copy out some Dante. I'd like to work in the garden; maybe I'll buy some plants . . . Tom overslept this morning, so he's just flown out of the house, and I am now recovering from the flurry. The air is fog and drip; the grass is Kelly green; summer is poised like a tiger, just out of vision.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

These days, the birds begin their clamor so early. I lie in my cocoon of waking sleep, man and cat coiled against me, and the birds shout, and a train mourns, and the night thins into a brown and fragile quilt, and the window blind taps, taps against the sill, back and forth, back and forth, in a breath that feels as rich as memory.

Already it is 50 degrees outside, and the temperature is supposed to climb into the high 60s . . . our first real warmth this season. The bedroom window is now always open, and yet, just last week, I was lighting fires in the wood stove.

I did a remarkable thing earlier this week: I purchased an air conditioner. This is a shocking development as I have never in my life lived in a home with air conditioning. But the Alcott House's upstairs is stuffy, and Portland is much warmer at night than Harmony was, and we have new wiring in my study, and I have decided that now and then, on the hottest days and nights, we could use some relief. Still, I feel like I've copped out in some way. I've lost my toughness. I've given in to bourgeois comfort. A dishwasher, a new mattress, and now this. At least I still have a clothesline and bitten nails and no microwave.

Today I'll be futzing over that talk I need to give this evening for the program "Found in the Archives: Stories of Buried Treasure." Here's the zoom info, if you're interested. It starts at 6 p.m. ET, and I'll be talking about my approach to creative research.

But first I'll be on my bike, floating among the gravestones at the cemetery, with this soft wind in my face, hoping for the scent of lilacs; with this vague sea-haze draping the houses and shops, among these trudging schoolchildren, these dogs and runners and wandering solitaries.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Toward the end of last night's class, I asked participants to think about what gives them satisfaction within their own work . . . not necessarily equating satisfaction with joy or accomplishment--but rather, in the process and creation of the art, what gives them the deep pleasure of maker or explorer.

This turned out to be a surprisingly rich moment in the discussion--not just because participants zeroed in on the ways in which poetry allows them to think and behave in ways that regular life does not--e.g., wildly, with abandon--but also because it is so hard for people to simply bask for a moment in the pleasures of their art. Immediately dissatisfaction creeps in: I should, I wish, I struggle. People feel they should be different sorts of poets, with different sorts of subjects. They suffer over imperfection. This is, of course, quite natural. And yet sometimes the dissatisfactions overwhelm our ability to rest productively within our own creations. Why write, if we don't take the time to love our own work?

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

 

For some reason the construction guys did not show up yesterday, so we had another day of unexpected peace in the neighborhood. And it was sunny and 60 degrees and the garden was in a very good mood. Here are the garden boxes in the Lane: lettuce, arugula, and radishes; spinach and garlic. 



Forget-me-nots self-sowed in the back yard, and some of them are white, which was unexpected.

This is an early viburnum, loaded with pink buds that open into sweet-scented white clusters. I am delighted with this shrub. In its first year in place, it's doubled in size and covered with blossoms.


Today I'll be focusing on prep for tonight's class, and editing, and vacuuming, and probably running some errands. I've been thinking of starting a memoir essay, but I don't know if I'm quite prepared for prose immersion. It's been a while since I've done much essay writing, other than what I blather on about here. So much of my essay writing tends to dig out how my reading brain works, and I'd like to shift away from that into a new venture. But I'm not exactly sure what the venture might be.

Monday, May 9, 2022

I'm glad I got so much done outside over the weekend, as I'm sure the heavy equipment is going start appearing on the street at any moment. Yesterday, before my class, I planted cabbage and cauliflower, ran the trimmer, baked bread, rode my bike, and afterward I was able to linger outside with my laundry basket, harvesting salad and herbs and generally pretending that I wasn't about to be driven mad by excavators.

Today, editing and housework and groceries; prep for tomorrow evening's class and Thursday evening's lecture. I'm still reading Lee's bio of Woolf, though I may quit after the childhood years. Sometimes, with a life, I feel most drawn to the time before a writer was a writer. What was it like to be the child Keats, the child Dickens? What was it like to be their parents, their brothers, their place, their time?

Sunday, May 8, 2022

 

Evening light in the kitchen, after a long day outside.

I planted dahlias, beans, chard, and fennel. I bought sage and tarragon seedlings as well as a gorgeous yellow baptisia. I set tomato stakes, and mowed grass, and deadheaded blooms, and filled the hummingbird feeder, so this morning all I'll need to do is run the trimmer and I'll be caught up outside.

But first: bread baking.

I've got to cram my chores into the morning because I'll be teaching all afternoon. Plus, tomorrow the terrible street construction starts in earnest, and working outside will be unpleasant. I am trying not to be grouchy that roadwork is messing with my very favorite season in the garden. Functional water lines are important. I keep reminding myself of that.

I've started rereading Hermione Lee's bio of Virginia Woolf, as well as John Webster's seventeenth-century play The Duchess of Malfi, which I found on the street. I've been working on a poem draft, working on my lecture for next Thursday's event, fretting to the optometrist about my exhausted eyes. Yes, I need a new prescription, and now eye drops too, and maybe special expensive computer glasses which I really don't want to pay for, and I feel as if my eyes are rotting in my head. To think I used to be known for my big blue eyes. Now all I want to do is squinch them shut.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The cat and I both slept in till 6:15, a major feat for us as a team. So I woke in the magnificent bed with sunlight pouring through the east window, the window itself open, the blind gently clacking in a small wind, a cardinal's song lilting, a train rumbling past.

I've been working hard to make this a day that I spend mostly outside. I managed to catch up with desk and housework, so I'll be going seedling shopping this morning and I'll put the plants in the ground in the afternoon. I need to mow and trim and weed and deadhead tulips and hyacinths. I'll hang out the laundry and, if the temperature lets me, I'll eat lunch in the sunshine. What with all of the weekday street construction, spending a bright quiet Saturday in the yard feels urgent.

By the way: I am cordially inviting you to the book launch for Accidental Hymn, on Wednesday, May 25, 7 p.m. ET, on Zoom. The invitation link is above, in the page tabs, and also includes a link to ordering the book. I was trying to figure out the easiest way to make those sources available without constantly reprinting them, and I hope this method works.

Friday, May 6, 2022

 Good morning!

At long last my next collection, Accidental Hymn, is available for ordering! Shortly I'll also be able to share with you a zoom invitation to the book launch, on Wednesday, May 25, 7 p.m. ET. I'll be reading from the book and will also be in conversation with Teresa Carson about it.

Next week, I'll be part of a different sort of event--Found in the Archives: Stories of Buried Treasure, sponsored by the University of New England. I'll be talking about my diary-poem manuscript, which came into being thanks to a diary archived at UNE's Maine Women Writers Collection: Thursday, May 12, 6 p.m. ET. If you're interested in the notion of creative research, you might want to check it out.

And thus, today, I'll be futzing over my talk, worrying about marketing the book, getting my eyes dilated at the optometrist's, and engaging in other such unnatural activities . . . though thankfully yesterday I did transform a poem blurt into a first draft, and I did spend the evening writing with friends, and I did go for a bike ride and work in the garden.

Road construction has taken a small hiatus in order for the water guys to hook up our lines to the alternate source. So it's even been sort of quiet outside. I'm dreading next week. "Ledge," one water guy told me. "There could be ledge." An ominous prediction.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Outside, in the near dark, a cardinal is singing and singing. He knows a good day is coming . . . sun after rain, warmth after chill. I am so looking forward to it. 

This has been a cold spring. It's May, but the temperature has rarely gotten out of the low 50s. The garden is beautiful but refrigerated. I'm not complaining: we've had plenty of rain, and not much frost. But there's been no lingering in chairs or hammock, no meals by the fire pit. 

Today, though, we're supposed to see 65, and I am eager for that soft air. Everything is soaking wet, so I probably won't do much gardening. And I can't forget that the place will be overrun with street construction. Still, windows open; a hour in a garden chair with a book . . .

Mostly, though, I'll be at my desk: editing, working on that lecture. I think I'll go out to my writing salon tonight. I think I'll go for a bike ride this morning. My body is eager for action, and my mind feels flibberty, in that poem-need way. Funny how those things so often go together.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

We're supposed to have rain all day, which is just fine with me. Everything is so dusty from the roadwork, and I look forward to watching the new leaves shift and shine though my wet windowpanes.

I'll be editing, and working on a syllabus for Sunday's class, and starting to write a lecture for the event I'm doing next week for the Maine Women Writers Center. I need to grocery-shop and wash sheets. I'd like to transcribe some pre-poems out of my notebook. I ought to do some submissions.

Yesterday I went for a beautiful, early-morning bike ride through the neighborhood and cemetery, but I won't do that today as my rained-on glasses would immediately blind me. Still, I might walk: a spring drenching is hard to resist, especially with a steaming cup of tea and a wood fire to follow.

For some reason my thoughts are a bit scattered this morning. I woke up hard from a solid sleep, so maybe that's the reason. But now that I'm awake, I'm able to be glad to have finished my weekly housework, to have made my way through the first class of a new session, to be home without prospect of travel any time soon. I'm ready to settle down, ready for a rainy day and books and a roast chicken in the oven. 

By the way: yesterday afternoon I made the best rhubarb pie I have ever baked. Delicious, a beautiful slicer, not one bit soggy. My friend Weslea loaded me down with stalks from her seaside plants, and my own new rhubarb plant added a few of its own to the mix, and, gosh, I wish you'd been here to taste the result.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

 . . . and the road construction has started again. Yesterday all of the irrigation pipes reappeared, young men were hoicking out chunks of pavement, dust was flying, noise noise noise. They say another two weeks of this while they replace the waterlines they were supposed to replace last fall when they redid the sewer connections. In short: planting season is going to be on the miserable side.

But oh well. Better than failing waterlines.

I'll be teaching on Tuesday evenings for the next six weeks: another chapbook class, but this one massaged into a different format for the needs of this particular crew. So today I need to figure out my before-n-after dinner prep: something ready to put on the table after I finish zooming, which I can prepare completely before I start zooming. I haven't come up with any ideas yet, but I'll get there.

Otherwise: finishing housework, finishing laundry, editing, prepping for a Sunday-afternoon class. We got some welcome rain last night, so later this morning I'll wander outside and see how the plants are doing. I'd like to go for a bike ride today. I'd like to make an apple-rhubarb pie. I would not like to endure road construction, but that is also what I'll be doing.


Monday, May 2, 2022

We got home late afternoon, much to the cat's joy and loud complaint. The flower gardens look beautiful: tulips everywhere, the quince beginning to bloom, carpets of violets. Today I will give everything a good watering, in between catching up with desk obligations and getting my hair cut and doing my exercise class and addressing the laundry pile and the housework. Tomorrow evening my next chapbook class begins: six Tuesday evenings covering what I usually distribute over three Sunday afternoons. So the classes will have familiar content but a new rhythm, and I need to spend time today figuring that out.

Our visit to Mount Desert Island was a respite, a real delight, and we are already planning a return in late October, when the cottage is uninhabited again. It's a dear place, much loved for many years, but our move to Portland has made it a bit harder to reach. Still, we can figure out how to get back more often. It seems important.

The roots we put down: I go up north to my friends' house in Wellington and I am embraced by the pines and firs of the homeland, though I am not on land that ever belonged to me. I go downeast to West Tremont and I step into a shabby fairy-tale volume: a little cottage by the sea, with its familiar windows and mugs and plates and crooked stairs, its wandering fields of forsythia and raspberries. I go west to Franconia, and there Robert Frost's musty little farmhouse waits, with its front porch staring into the mountains, its stars as bright as cities. None of these place are mine, but they all live in me.

Sunday, May 1, 2022




These are views of the trail and shore at Indian Point, a Nature Conservancy property that we hiked into yesterday afternoon. Somehow we managed not to step onto any Acadia trails while we were here . . . and that is hard to do on this island.

Usually, on our visits, we are gung-ho about climbing a mountain, seeing a view. But for some reason both of us--not at all sick, not notably exhausted--have been almost convalescent in our lack of get-up-and-go. Yes, we walked several miles, and I did an exercise class with my friend, and today we are going to help her with yard work. But we didn't "accomplish a peak"; we didn't even want to. We wanted to be mild, and take giant naps, and potter around at the edge of the sea.

Right now I am sitting in a comfortable shabby chair and drinking coffee and looking into the sunshine over Goose Cove. The tide is out, and the mudflats are littered with seaweed and boulders. In the distance is Swan's Island. The blue water is speckled with gulls. The blue sky is streaked lightly with white. This has been a sweet and elegiac visit to a place we've known for decades, a history-cavern of children and dog and long friendship, always a respite and a peace in our lives. A place that has never belonged to us, yet has dearly belonged to us.


Saturday, April 30, 2022


This is the view from the bedroom window of the cottage: 6 a.m., low tide, clouds rolling out from Goose Cove into Frenchman's Bay. The temperature is 38 degrees, no wind that I can see. Spring is arriving slowly. My friend has filled the cottage with daffodils and forsythia, but the weather is not soft, though tomorrow is May.

In an hour I will walk up to the house and drink coffee and visit. For now Tom and I are lolling. We have no hard plans for the day. A hike somewhere. A nap eventually. And then I'll make mushroom soup for our friends and us. It is lovely to be so peaceable and unfocused.

In fact, I feel almost wordless . . . a sort of sleepy inarticulate pleasure that doesn't require framing, even rejects it . . . as if Why does describing matter? as if Just hush up and be. These are funny instructions for a poet, but then again: if my work life is shaping language, maybe my vacation life shouldn't be.

Or maybe I'll suddenly write a giant poem.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Well, I'm back . . . though the computer's webcam problem is not fixed, and the computer guys are scratching their heads and ordering new cables, and I'm going to be without the machine again

I hope your week has been interesting. Mine has been slow. Between the rain, the wind, the cold, and the laptoplessness, my activities have primarily involved chilly walks and much reading. While I was "gone," I finished the Aeneid, Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans, McMurtry's Sin Killer, and half of Hazzard's The Bay of Noon. I wasn't joking when I said I had some time to read.

So today I'll catch up on all of the desk work I've let slide. I'll do some gardening, if the windy cold allows, and get ready for our weekend jaunt up the coast to our friends' cottage near Acadia. Next time I write to you, I'll be staring out into the cove, watching gulls and lobster boats. I can't wait.

Monday, April 25, 2022

I spent most of yesterday in the gardens: planting, weeding, cultivating, watering; also bagging sticks, restacking firewood, moving stones. There's still much to be done, but I caught up with much of it. As you can see, the garden boxes are thriving. I took the cold frame off the lettuce (front box), and in the back box you can see the enthusiastic garlic.

Tulips are opening everywhere. Above is a modern variety; below are two photos of species tulips: older, hardier varieties, often very small, with elegant colors and shapes. They thrive even in terrible soil, and the bulbs are long-lasting. 



And here is my newest hellebore, glowing outside my back door.


Today the computer (yet again) is supposed to go into the shop, so you may or may not hear from me tomorrow morning. Imagine me housecleaning and gardening and reading the Aeneid and cooking chili.
 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Yesterday's Poet's Table class was so refreshing: I was able to sit back and enjoy without being responsible for running the room, plus I got two decent pre-drafts out of Beth's prompts. The group was cheerful and engaged, and altogether it was an excellent afternoon.

Today I've got a few desk things to do this morning, but mostly I'm hoping to be outside in the garden. I've started cultivating beds, carefully, because not everything has sprouted yet. But the maple seedlings are taking hold fast, so they need to be squelched; and with the tulips beginning to open, the fluffed-up soil will serve as a showcase for their stiff beauty. I want to plant a second crop of lettuce and arugula; I need to do a little watering; maybe I should even mow grass. The garden needs me today, and I'm happy at the thought of all of my little duties.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Home again, thank goodness, thank goodness. I am so glad to be wrapped in my accustomed bathrobe in my accustomed corner, drinking my usual coffee from my usual cup. It's been a good trip all around, but little Alcott House and its inhabitants are glad to see me, and likewise.

Tom and I strolled down to our favorite restaurant for dinner, strolled home, listened to baseball, dozed on the couch. It was a highly middle-aged reunion, but delightful nonetheless.

Now, this morning, I am thinking lightly of laundry and groceries and yard work. I'll be attending the afternoon's Poet's Table session--and I'm looking forward to writing under Beth's guidance, after two weeks away from my desk. (If you'd like to join us, it's not too late, and it's dirt-cheap.)

Otherwise, the weekend can take its own course. Sunshine, mid-50s, and a garden in need of puttering. The Aeneid asking to be read. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Another quiet day in Vermont . . . into town to grocery-shop with my mom . . . an afternoon of card playing with my dad . . . a walk through the fields . . . then I made dinner (salmon, asparagus, caramelized onions, roasted potatoes) and we watched a terrible Cary Grant movie called Mr. Blandings Buys His Dream House. This morning I'll be heading back to Portland with a small batch of vegetable seedlings (cauliflower, cabbages), eggs from their hens, an oregano plant . . . little tokens of country spring for my city homestead.

I've got a lot of work waiting for me, as per usual. According to T, the cat is in a terrible humor. Certainly I'll be happy to stay in one spot for a few days. I'm tired of being on the road.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

It's a cloudy morning in western Vermont. The grass is patched with snow, though daffodils are brilliant along the house's sheltered southern face. Yesterday, as my mom and I walked the edges of the fields, we saw goldfinches spraying up out of the brush, their summer-yellow incongruous against the snowy backdrop. Green grass argued with a lowering sky. The season cannot make up its mind.

Today I expect the last of the snow will melt away. My dad has not planted anything yet, but his garden is tilled and ready. Maybe we'll have a chance to work outside, or maybe not. The air is harsh but milding, chill but shifting. Spring does not want anyone to make plans yet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Hitting the road again this morning, this time revisiting winter instead of jumping forward into high spring. Vermont got snow yesterday, while we were having our gale, and I know my dad hasn't been able to plant anything yet. I expect I won't be doing much outside with my parents, other than admiring the mud.

In the meantime, I want to let you know about a Frost Place Studio Session program on Saturday afternoon: Beth Curran, a long-time participant in our programming, will be leading a two-hour Poet's Table session focusing on springtime poems and writing prompts. The zoom afternoon is open to anyone, at any level: a mere $20 per person, $30 per pair. I would love to see you there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

It's a rainy, windy, stormy morning here in Portland, and I did not expect to be writing to you about it. But the computer repair guys, who told me last week to bring the laptop in on Monday, were not actually at work when I brought the laptop in on Monday. So I guess the webcam fix will have to wait till next week.

Thus, here I am after all, glad to be warm and dry and under cover. Rain is whipping around the house. Gusts are so high that Tom can't go to work this morning as he and his tools would be soaked, so he is enjoying an unaccustomed Wednesday morning in bed.

Yesterday was a a beautiful bright day and it was all about chores: I cleaned the house; hung clothes on the line; did the shopping; bought potting soil; planted potatoes, parsley, scallions, carrots, and cilantro; weeded a little; made chocolate pudding; stir-fried shrimp and asparagus; and finally sat down and decided to be tired. Tomorrow I'll be on the road again, heading to Vermont to spend a couple of days with my parents. So today I'm glad, very glad, to have a day with my own things, and to have most of the housework behind me. I've got a  long list of Frost Place tasks, but possibly I'll manage to do a little writing too. I hope so. But even just being quiet will be a refreshment. All of this teaching and traveling and play-watching and chatter has been wonderful but strange, and my solitary self has been rattling around inside it like a marble.

Outside the weather is wild: windows running with wet, gale roaring through the maples. Up north and in the mountains it's snowing, but we are rain and wind and churning seas. In the gloaming I can see daffodil and tulip buds straining and bobbing; the new grass is a vibrating green; twigs and branches are clacking at roof and windows. The house is a schooner, a bird's nest, a soap bubble. Anything could happen.

Monday, April 18, 2022

I made it home by 8:30 last night, ate Tom's good dinner of lamb and rice, and was promptly devoured by sleep in the magnificent bed. And now this morning I am awake too early because Tom will be working in southern Maine this week and has a long commute. So I greet you squintily.

My plans today are exercise class, laundry, housework, potato planting, weeding, with a visit to the computer repair shop in between. You likely won't hear from me tomorrow as the guys will probably have to replace a faulty part. But I am okay about being computer-free for a couple of days. I have plenty to do in the physical realm.

I got home too late to inspect the garden, and I'm anxious to see what's been happening out there. I'm supposed to head to Vermont by mid-week, so I'll have very little time to spend in my own place. I want to make the most of these couple of days.

On the whole, I got more sleep than I usually do in Brooklyn. Still, we apparently walked 10 miles in one day, and probably nearly as much on the other ones. A day or so of puttering will not come amiss.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

 

Cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden; below, a beautiful Japanese maple just coming into leaf.

We began the morning by trudging up the hill into Prospect Park and then across the plaza to the botanic garden. It was a gorgeous day to visit: cherries just coming into flower, magnolias and bluebells at their height. We ambled among the gardens and then back down through the park, where we saw wood ducks and coots and a red-winged blackbird.

This morning I will slowly gather myself for church, and then make my way to Manhattan to catch the bus. It's been a long time since I've been to Easter service, and I'm looking forward to it. But I'm also looking forward to getting home to my own garden and my own bed.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

We spent yesterday morning at the Morgan Library. I was excited to see the Holbein show, but what ended up jumping me was the Woody Guthrie show upstairs.


This is Woody's fiddle, which he took with him to France when he was serving in World War II.  On the lower left you can read where he carved the words "This machine killed 10 fascists."

The library also had a gorgeous broadside of a Ray Lichtenstein print alongside an Allen Ginsburg poem; manuscripts of Shelley and Dickinson and Schubert and Gwendolyn Brooks; a Gutenberg Bible . . . so many records of humanity in language.

After the museum we wandered through the Central Park Zoo, finally managed to find something to eat in a strange neighborhood that seemed to have no sandwiches, and headed back to Brooklyn, where by 9 p.m. I had to bow out of the social whirl and go back to the apartment and climb into bed. I'd been overcome by days of walking for miles, of getting up early and staying up late, of rarely being alone.

Now, at 7 a.m., after a long deep night of sleep, I am reconnoitering with myself. In a little while I'll get up and make some coffee, take a shower, read a little; later in the morning I'll step back into the whirl, but a quieter version . . . a long walk up to the botanical gardens, a stroll through decorated spring. Otherwise, I have no particular plans for the day. Maybe bookstores, maybe thrift stores. Something local. I've done all of the Manhattan I need to do on this visit.

Friday, April 15, 2022

This morning I write to you from bed. I am waking up slowly, and taking pleasure in it, as yesterday was a whirlwind. By 7:15 I was out of the apartment, scuttling toward the subway stop, snaking my way toward New Jersey. And then I spent the morning teaching seven (eight? I could be muddled) high school English classes, bam bam bam, one after the other, tag-teaming with my friend Holly . . . a job that was completely unplanned on my part and thus equal parts exhilarating and O my lord.

Then a quick Cuban sandwich and back to Manhattan, where I met P for the first of the two plays we saw yesterday: the invited dress rehearsal of Islander, a two-woman musical set on a Scottish isle, which was charming and beautifully performed. And, then, after months of anticipation, we climbed into our balcony seats for The Scottish Play. It was tremendous, everything I'd hoped for. I cried over MacDuff's "what, all my pretty chickens" speech; I cried over Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech. Daniel Craig's command of the language was glorious: it was an extraordinary verbal performance. I don't think I'll ever be the same.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Outside, in the dusky daylight, the trash collectors are bumping among the bins. Traffic wanders past: thin on this side street; heavier on Fourth beyond the corner. In an hour I'll step out of the apartment and into the stream of bodies striding down the avenue, down into the subway, toward Manhattan. The tension may be lower today, or it may not. Yesterday the platforms were full of cops; we'll see what today brings.

This morning I'm heading to New Jersey, to the school where I'll spend the morning. Then, in the afternoon, an invited dress rehearsal for a play (I don't know the name) and Macbeth at night. In the interstices: walking, sitting, watching, talking.

So far my visit to the city has been what it usually is: a whirlwind of eating and chatter, with friends I've known for most of my life. And yet everyone is under stress. Fear is so easy to trigger.

Still, there have been beauties. Familiar affections. Daffodils everywhere. Trees in bloom. Lingering on a patio in shirtsleeves. Three Iris Murdoch novels cadged off a free shelf.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Greetings from the back of the Concord Coach Lines bus that is hauling me south to New York City. A thin morning light glimmers on the tarmac stretching ahead. We have just whipped through the York toll plaza and will soon be crossing the Piscataqua River into New Hampshire. The sky is striped with low clouds that kind of look like tire tracks in snow. It's daytime, but only barely, and so far there's no sign of sun.

The bus is full, though I did manage to snag one of the desirable single seats, so I can stick out my elbows and wriggle around as much as I like. The Dramamine has kicked in and I am feeling slightly cotton-headed, but at least I can type this note and read the Aeneid without getting seasick. Across the aisle a family of young boys is consuming Cheez-its at a rapid rate. No hour is too early for Cheez-its, if you are 11 years old.

And now we are on the Piscataqua Bridge . . . I see a power plant smoking on the bank, the river unfolding beneath us . . . and now it is gone and we are back on land driving past the Denny's signs, gas station signs, and a clutch of sad little plastic townhouses that huddle up against the highway like lost souls.

I'll stop traveloguing shortly. New York is still hours away, and soon I will turn my attention to napping, and getting some reading done. I may or may not have a chance to write to you tomorrow morning as I have to be in Jersey City quite early. But the weather report says it's supposed to be 80 degrees in the city on Thursday! I can hardly believe in such temperatures. Do they exist?

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Yesterday was a long day--so much driving, sandwiched around an intense, day-long session with high schoolers. But I powered through, and today should be less exhausting. This morning I'll be finishing an editing project, and then I'll teach a zoom class this afternoon; in between I'll be doing laundry and packing for NYC and prepping house and garden for my departure. But at least I won't be driving for hours on either end. And tomorrow I can let the bus do all of the work.

It will be drizzly here today, and warm, and the gardens will green and glow before my eyes. All of this travel will put me behind with weeding, but such is life. I'll catch up on Monday. And I'm hoping to do some writing, or at least some intense note taking, while I'm away. After a morning in the classroom on Thursday, the rest of the trip will be play: Macbeth, the Holbein show at the Morgan, Central Park in the spring, dinners and the social whirl. Surely a few words will come.

I actually managed to write a keeper phrase during class yesterday, something that always surprises me, especially when I'm working with young people . . . not because young people are less inspirational than adults (they certainly are not) but because the lesson structure and pacing needed for kids of this age keeps me focused on them, not on myself. So I'll be happy to have that line to mess around with on the bus or the park bench . . . a small stone to ponder and play with.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

I slept beautifully last night, dreaming of "a lot of actors, a palace, intrigue, interesting clouds, odd paint colors, fancy floors, big dresses." At least that what's I wrote in my dream book, though I can't recall the melodrama or who those actors were. Now, at this late hour of 6:30, I am ensconced in my couch corner with my cup of black coffee, feeling rested and refreshed, despite my disappointment at having no memory of the palace intrigue or the big dresses.

Tomorrow morning you won't hear from me as I'll have already been on the road for an hour, heading north for my teaching day in Monson. I could have gone up after this afternoon's chapbook class, but that seemed hard too, given how tired my eyes get after Zoom sessions. So the weather report and I opted for the marathon day.

Today is supposed to be lovely: sunny, in the 50s; and after two days of rain, spring should explode. This morning I'll hang clothes on the line, run out to the grocery store, and maybe go for a walk or putter a bit in the garden, if the soil dries out. Then after lunch I'll retreat to my room and teach my zoom class . . . with a working computer screen and a functional zoom link--a welcome respite from last Sunday's craziness.

I did get the housework done yesterday, and the bread baked, and then Tom and I went out for poutine and beer, and then I listened to the Red Sox lose to the Yankees. (Paul was at that game and was undoubtedly crabby.) Otherwise, I've been reading Le Carre's A Perfect Spy, playing cards, letting my tensions ebb, getting myself into a travel state of mind. It feels strange to be leaving home just as planting season begins. Then again, I always plant too early. So maybe I should always leave.


Saturday, April 9, 2022

I had a slow day yesterday, mostly rain and reading and baseball on the radio. But today I'll get back on the stick: I need to clean house and bake bread, and maybe do some work outside, though the weather looks uncooperative for that. Tom and I are getting used to being a pair again; I'm remembering how to cook for two, how to clean up for two. It's so radically different, caretaking for two instead of one. You wouldn't think it would make such a difference in a day.

In the course of an email thread about entirely different topic, a friend of mine--a well-known poet--mentioned my piece "Mr. Kowalski," which she called a "major poem." I was nonplussed, of course, and head-in-the-sand embarrassed, and unable to respond elegantly. But the comment has been scratching at me ever since: the praise, yes, but also what does it mean, to have written something so large? By "large," I don't mean "great"--I mean "covering so much ground," which that poem does, whether one likes it or not. (And some people don't like it, and have told me so.) Naturally I worry that all of my poems should be large; or that I'll never write another large poem; or that large poems overshadow the value of all the smaller poems; or that it's too big for the new collection . . . worry, worry, worry: it's what I do, always second-guessing myself.

The poem is not new. I first published it in 2013, but it never showed up in a collection till now . . . it was too large, too much. But this time around, I took the risk. Now I'm wondering if it's still too big for its box.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Tom's home!

We had such an excellent reunion last night . . . a lovely combination of "I'm so glad to be home" and "I had so much fun" (on his part) and "I'm so glad you're here" and "I did well on my own" (on my part)--and now here we are, in our accustomed weekend-morning places: me downstairs with my coffee cup, Tom in bed with his coffee cup, and the cat snarling and stomping and complaining about the rain.

Because it is pouring out there . . . a windy, drenching, baseball-opening-day-canceling sort of storm, battering roof and windows and driving the cat to distraction--Tom's very favorite bed-lounging weather, though I, unfortunately, have got to put on a raincoat and drag the bins to the curb. Not that I begrudge him his lounging. He's spent two weeks away from the magnificent bed.

With the exception of my trash chore, today will start at whatever pace it feels like starting. All of the editing is now off my desk (for the moment), so I'll be able to concentrate on classwork, which won't take all day. I need to make another visit to the computer repair guys to ask if my now non-working camera was a casualty of the screen replacement. I want to go to the fish market, and Tom has a giant pile of dirty laundry that I'll offer to do for him. Mostly, though, I'm hoping to hang around with this guy I like. I think I've told you about him.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Yesterday was editing, editing, editing, eye strain, eye strain, eye strain, but I did get through the giant stack, and my neighbor and I were able to take a mid-afternoon work break and drive out to the nursery for pansies, which was refreshing.

So today I can turn my attention to a couple of smaller editing projects, and my Monson syllabus, and some chapbook-class prep, and some errands. And then Tom will arrive home at some point before dinner, and we will have a reunion.

Late in the day I potted up the pansies, and planted my new hellebore (of course I couldn't just limit myself to pansies) in the Shed Patch, near the back door. I did a little watering and some seedling inspection: peas are up; spinach is up; radishes are up; greens in the cold frame are thriving. There are three ramps sprouting from the grocery-story ramps I dug in last year ("That will never work," said Paul. Hah!). The white crocuses are glorious; the blue scylla is full of bees.

On Monday, when I was computer-less, I went to the Goodwill and brought home an excellent book haul, which I have been slowly sorting through. For a total of $9 I acquired John Le Carre's The Perfect Spy (well loved by Philip Roth); Shirley Hazzard's The Bay of Noon (she's a somewhat overlooked novelist whose writing style is often compared to Compton-Burnett's); The Best American Erotic Poems, edited by David Lehman (because of course); Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans (he wrote The Remains of the Day and somehow I've never read any of his novels); and Larry McMurtry's Sin Killer (because Larry and I go way back). Plus, I've got Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter to pick up at the library and Tess Hadley's new novel and a history of Ukraine on hold.

All of this reading material gives me a warm feeling of security. No need to be anxious. I have books.

These are two of my ramp seedlings. Last year I bought a handful from Whole Foods: ramps that had been improperly harvested because the entire root system had been pulled up. But that turned out to work well for me.


Scylla is so beautiful and so tough, bursting out of ledges and tree roots, fighting up through terrible packed soil.



Ruckus always likes to be color-coordinated with his environment. He looks cute but is probably thinking about killing chipmunks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Good morning! Three days and $600 later, I have returned to the Internet, sporting a brand-new screen and display assembly on my MacBook Pro. Ugh. But hurray. It's been a stressful few days, not just with the laptop but with various residual and overlapping matters, and I am hoping that I can iron some of that out this week. Tom is coming home tomorrow and then, beginning on Monday, I'll be entering an insane two-weeks-mostly-on-the-road period--Monson, New York, Vermont. In short, I've got stuff to do.
So, here I am, getting ready to do it. This morning I'll re-engage with my exercise class (another casualty of my computer problems), and then turn to the giant stack of editing that appeared on my desk over the weekend. I've got to address that ASAP, write a syllabus for the Monson class, prep for Sunday's chapbook session, do a bunch of other stuff that I can't even remember off the top of my head. But it will all get done. Thank goodness for computer repair guys who work fast.

Yesterday Teresa and I had our Aeneid phone call, and a few passages rose up to me from that conversation. Here are a couple of them:

Aeolian Vulcan hurried on this work [of making a shield for Aeneas],

As tender light and birdsong from the eaves

Wakened Evander [a local chieftain] in his simple home.

The old man rose, tied on Etruscan sandals,

Draped himself in a tunic, hung a sword belt

And an Arcadian sword from his right shoulder,

While from the other swept a panther skin.

Down from the doorstep two dogs came with him

And closely paced before their master's steps.

After having read so much Wendell Berry over the past the few weeks, I came to this passage with the sense that I'd stepped back into an ancient world that was not so dissimilar from western Kentucky, or central Maine, or western Pennsylvania. Barring the outfit, Evander could be any old farmer waking up early and stepping out onto his land with his dogs. 

Another passage that struck me to the bone was this one, spoken between two very young men who are shortly about to die in battle. I don't think any commentary can do justice to this question, so I'll say nothing about it, and just let you consider it.
Nisus asked, "Is it gods who make me want this,
Or do we make our deadly urges gods?"


Sunday, April 3, 2022

 NEWS FLASH

The screen on my laptop has died, and I am currently patching together a Zoom connection between my keyboard and my TV screen so that I can manage to teach today's chapbook class.

However, tomorrow the computer will be going into the shop, so I will be unable to write my usual morning note to you for at least a couple of days . . . and maybe, ominously, for many days. I guess we'll see.

Wish me luck in panic world. I'll be getting some gardening done, when I'm not screeching into the mirror about all of the work I'm not doing.

Last night's dinner party was everything I'd hoped for: food came out well; conversation was lively and rich; poets were delighted not to be talking about their own poems. It felt festive, really, as if there were some occasion drawing us together.

And yet Ukraine was on my mind, as it always is these days. So I read my friends this excerpt from Susanna Braund's introduction to Sarah Ruden's translation of Virgil's Aeneid:

The Aeneid has been taken as the model or template for dozens of epic poems in European languages. Episodes from it, especially the story of Dido and the sack of Troy, have been reworked in many different literary and musical forms, serious and comic. For example, the founding work of modern Ukrainian literature is the 1798 travesty of the Aeneid by Ivan Kotlyarevsky in which the Trojans are depicted as hard-drinking Cossacks; this in turn inspired operas in the early twentieth century by Yaroslav Lopatinsky (Aeneas on His Wanderings, 1906) and Mykola Lysenko (Eneida, 1910), a 1985 rock opera, also entitled Eneida, by Serhiy Bedusenko, and a full-length animated movie by Volodymyr Dakhno released in 1991, the year in which the Ukrainian parliament declared independence.

In other words, Aeneas' fixation on loss, homeland, and lineage is the foundational narrative, the national myth, of Ukraine.

I wanted to know more about that "1798 travesty," so I did a quick Wikipedia search for Ivan Kotlyarevsky and found this quotation by him . . . though I'm not sure which of his works it appears in: 
Where the love for the Motherland inspires heroism, there an enemy force will not stand, there a chest is stronger than cannons.
Apparently, a university in Kharkiv is named after him, as are "numerous boulevards and streets in Ukrainian cities."

So. Ukrainian poets. Ukrainian badassery. Ukrainian devastation. All one big picture.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

I teach all day in Monson, and then am wending my way down through the towns and woods and fields toward the highway when I notice that my tire-pressure light is on. Ugh. But the closest gas station is . . . Harmony. So I drive a few more miles south and pull into the potholed lot and nervously walk through the door. What if they don't remember me? What if I have to remind them who I am? But Diane's face lights up when she sees me, and suddenly I feel close to tears. Her brother Tracy waves from the midst of his conversation. Leroy puts air in my tires, hums over the frost heaves and the road washouts, and sends me on my way. A tiny interaction, but it breaks the ice, my ice. I can come back to the gas station on another day. I will be okay.

* * *

Last night I fell asleep on the couch at 8, groggily dragged myself to bed by 9, and slept hard all night. I don't know why I was so pole-axed. But today will be a lovely one, and I am glad to be entering it so well rested. After yesterday's rain, there will be sun and towels on the line and crocuses in bloom. And my little dinner party. I've got a lemon shortcrust in the freezer, waiting for baking. I'll make the tart filling today (more lemon), put together some minestrone, make some garlic bread . . . nothing too complicated, with leftovers I can manage as a bachelor. I have to go grocery shopping; I want to do a bit of pre-party housework; I want to bask outside in the modest sunlight. But I have all day ahead of me; I can linger here with my coffee and books for as long as I like. I can watch the day open over the roofs and steeple. On these dark-blue mornings our little neighborhood looks like a postcard village: church and trees and sky and houses. It's hard to believe I live in such a nook. Harmony was many things, but cute it was not.

Friday, April 1, 2022

 Greetings from the homeland.

At daybreak I sit in a window overlooking a busted-up foundation, a woody swale, some junky fence parts and tired vehicles, and further a trio of brightly half-painted clapboard buildings--yellow, blue, dark red--and further Route 15 with its occasional log trucks and pickups, and further, across the road and up a hill, the former Monson Elementary, now a community center, clinic, and library. There's considerable snow here, in every shady patch, in every filthy plow pile, but it's fading from south-facing yards and foundations. In the east the sun is rising through the trees. The sky is hazy and pale, darker on the horizon.

Tom is still abed, but when he gets up we'll trudge over to the general store and find something for breakfast.  Last night we hung out with artists at the bar, and I spent a fair amount of time talking to a local man who was fascinating on the subjects of paper mills, drag racing, and hermits. 

Now, this morning, I must reconfigure my brain for teaching, though I don't see why those subjects can't come into it.

Thursday, March 31, 2022


Yesterday afternoon my publisher stopped by with ten copies of Accidental Hymn. As always, it was an exciting moment: to see the poems in their final form, to clutch the book to my heart. Given that the official pub date isn't till May, ordering info won't go up immediately. But if you happen to be interested in reviewing the collection, let me know and I'll make sure get you a copy.

The other event of yesterday was that, after all my natter about not writing, I suddenly drafted a poem. That was thanks to my friend David, who emailed me the following excerpt from Sylvia Plath's poem "Totem":

The world is blood-hot and personal
Dawn says.
This, of course, was not a prompt I could pass up, and I whipped out a draft at a speed that shocked me.

I was not exaggerating in yesterday's post when I said that writing poems has been turning on a faucet and watching them splash into the sink.

This morning I'll pull myself together for tomorrow's high school day at Monson Arts: gather up my materials, print out my syllabus, figure out what I'm going to wear. I might make a pie crust and put it into the freezer so that it's ready for my little dinner party on Saturday. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Tom, but I also don't want to disrupt his arty activities, so I won't leave here till mid-afternoon. My plan is to arrive for dinner, and then hole up in his bedroom and watch a Marlene Dietrich movie until he finishes up whatever he's doing. Then on Friday, after class, I'll zip back to Portland and leave him to his bachelorhood.

Right now, in the city, it's raining lightly. Naturally, in Monson, it's sleeting, but that's supposed to quit before long as temperatures rise. Driving should be easy enough. I'm looking forward to this dip back into the homeland, a full day with a handful of local kids, asking them to write into their relationship with the place and their place in it. Snow and mud and trees and lake. The roar of log trucks. And at night the vibrating stars.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

 


The central Maine mud-season artist surrounded by his prints.


Interestingly, I have not written or revised a single poem since Tom left on Sunday. Even more interestingly, I have not had the urge to write or revise. What I've wanted to do is read and read and read and read. 

When it comes to writing, I am not a natural procrastinator. Moreover, for the past year or so, the poems have been pouring out of me. Open the faucet, and a poem splashes into the sink.  So right now I feel no anxiety about writing or not writing; I'm willing to roll with what's happening, which is that I am reading like crazy, and I'm tending my nest, and I'm readjusting my relationship with time. All of these occupations are very absorbing, though I don't know why. The house is as clean as a whistle. The books are stacked on the coffee table. And time has slowed down. I linger over everything I do. There is no hurry. There is no hurry at all.

Yesterday afternoon I went out to teach. Today I'll be home all day, working on some desk things and then trailing back into my reading obsession. I do wonder if all of this reading will lead to writing. It usually does, though I'm not yet sensing a portal. I feel like a child devouring any old printed matter, just for the joy of language. And the greed is so intensely sensual. Perhaps the magic is to be 57 years old and still fully able to tumble into the hole of words.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

 

The central Maine mud-season artist at work.


It's 17 degrees this morning in the little northern city by the sea, the coldest it's been for quite a while. But the sun is supposed to shine, and temperatures are supposed to rise, and perhaps the plants will get less crabby. 

Yesterday I washed floors, packed up some stuff for Goodwill, cleaned out a couple of closets, read the Aeneid and James Baldwin and Wendell Berry, and went grocery shopping. I made a delicious dinner for myself of spaghetti squash, spinach, and chicken breast marinated in lemon and garlic. I drank tea and ate Icelandic yogurt for dessert and watched a pre-code movie called Hot Saturday starring a very young Cary Grant as an incorrigible roué.

This morning I'll do a bit more spring cleaning, a bit more reading, endure my exercise class, and such, and then in the afternoon I'll drive downtown and meet up with my high school poet and we will spend a couple of hours trying out different ways of ordering her book manuscript.

This new life as single-woman-with-long-distance-romance has a notably different pace from the life of married housewife. I am not used to simply pleasing myself. Cooking what I want for dinner. Eating that dinner when I want to eat it. Such a little thing, but it feels so self-indulgent after so many years as the family cook.

It's a funny thing: I am gleefully independent and self-indulgent as a reader and a writer, but in the household I am always thinking about what everyone else will thrive on: clean clothes, good food, a welcoming space. I like those things too, but my psyche addresses them as caretaking, as mothering, as doing chores. When I'm the only beneficiary of my caretaking, life feels strange.

Of course I can't help but compare my state of mind now with how I felt during my last year in Harmony, when I was alone and so incredibly sad. Tom and I have swapped places geographically: now he is back up north, and I am in the south. We are both focusing on our art. We are cheerful about the separation, and the separation has a distinct end point.  But I also think about the longer, inevitable, permanent separation. The final divide, that one of us will need to weather alone.

Monday, March 28, 2022


Yesterday morning was warm and glorious, yesterday evening was chill and dank, but hyacinths do not care about petty matters such as temperature swings, and here they are, opening their pale arms in the Library Bed.

Now, on my first morning as a bachelor (clearly I am not a bachelorette), the forecast calls for bluster and snow squalls, with highs barely out of the 20s. Ruckus and I are hoping to make the best of it. Today I've got some desk work to do, and spinster grocery shopping, and a few spring cleaning projects--forking out closets, hand-washing woolens, and such. But mostly I have a day without obligation.

Tom called last night from Monson, where he was pinning up photos in his studio. He sounded like I feel: puzzled about how to fill his swaths of time, but simultaneously anxious about wasting even one moment. It's an interesting conundrum. I am not used to taking care of no one but myself. Tom is not used to taking care of no one, not even himself. And now he has two weeks to figure out how to do that.

Still, I enjoyed getting up on my own alarm-free schedule. I am enjoying this pot of coffee. I am enjoying not rushing to gather T's work clothes for the washing machine, not scrubbing his breakfast dishes. I don't have anything better to do, and I am enjoying the slowness. There's no hurry. The day is before me. I hope he is feeling the same.

It's not like I've done nothing since he left. I did zoom-teach all afternoon yesterday, and that went well, I think. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be working with my high school poet. On Thursday and Friday I'll be traveling up north to teach more high schoolers. On Saturday I'll host a small dinner party for some poets. On Sunday I'll be zoom-teaching again. Clearly I'm not on vacation. But the edges are free. And the edges feel significant.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Last night was our last evening in Portland together for a while, and so we spent it pleasantly--driving into town for sushi, then strolling around the West End, where we marveled at the giant mansions and the sun setting over the container ships and the strip malls and the river (the timber barons of old liked to build their houses to overlook their works, so the landscape remains a strange amalgam of remotely rich/rudely commercial), and Tom reminisced about which ones he'd renovated, and we ambled over to a jazz show at the Portland Conservatory of Music, where we sat for an hour and a half in a former church and watched two young men putter among cords and knobs and murmur into drums and wind instruments via loops and samples to create a shimmer of sound, and then we wandered back to our car, and then drove across town to home, to our final bit of wakefulness on the couch, with Peter Gunn and the cat. 

It was completely sweet, and the convolutions of the sentence are a nod to the perambulations of time and our feet, and I woke up this morning ready for two weeks of a new way of being friends. The last time we were separated for so long was when Tom moved to Portland for a job and to look for a house to buy, and I stayed in Harmony to deal with selling the house we had, and he was living in a horrible rooming situation, and I was so lonely and grieving that I did not know how I would survive. But this time he is going back north for two weeks as a celebrated artist, and I am not selling my trees and packing my books into boxes; instead, I am planting a garden, and writing in my room, and visiting with friends, and  doing my work, and all the while knowing that Tom is doing his and being so happy for him. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Sports break:

How about those St. Peter's Peacocks, the little 15-seed from Jersey City?! They play like a swarm of bees! What a game that was last night: I was on the edge of my seat all the way through! It's so exciting to watch an unknown team take on the titans, and win! Go, Jersey boys!

Okay, sports break over. And I promise to stop ending every sentence with an exclamation point.

* * *

The sun has risen over the little northern city by the sea. I think it will be a pretty day, sunny and warmish. In the cold frame, my arugula and lettuce seeds have sprouted. Crocuses are beginning to bloom here and there around the yard. The tulips I planted last fall are spiking up through the soil. Buds are swelling on the blueberries. Grass is starting to green. 

I have some class-prep stuff to do today, but otherwise no big plans. Tom will be rushing around trying to get ready for his big adventure. He has so much equipment to tote . . . all of his cameras, his big computer, giant boots and other mud-season requirements . . . Meanwhile, I might clean house; I might work outside; I might read; I might just hang around with him.

Yesterday I did more leaf and stick cleanup, baked bread and shortbread, futzed around with Frost Place stuff, read a large chunk of the Aeneid. I also ate lunch outside, the first al fresco of the season: a slice of cold homemade pizza, a glass of water, and Wendell Berry's stories to read; perched outside at the little patio table, wearing my filthy garden sweater and baggy jeans, shivering a little but happy to be out in the sunshine, surrounded by my teeny plot of land, my miniature breadbasket, my dollhouse farm.


The Maine Woods

 

Dawn Potter


Don’t imagine I was Thoreau.

I had a driveway, though no one drove up it much,

and I had a car and gasoline, and a telephone

that rang now and again, and lamps

 

that often stayed lit, and a faucet that often

spouted water, and armloads of firewood

and a cook stove, and most evenings

I had baseball on the radio.

 

For a while I had a dog, but then

the dog died. On Friday nights

I even had a husband.

Oh, I was not Thoreau, not even close,

 

though I did have a vernal pool that was almost

a pond, and a footpath twisting

among ancient pines, and a creek

chattering and singing among the stones.

 

On the nights I had a husband

the kitchen hummed and the pillows sang

and a cat complained at the door.

But on most nights my shadow 

 

trembled in the gleam of a cloudy moon.

Small predators yipped in the dark,

and I could not find my face in the mirrors.

Up and down the stairs I trudged, up and down

 

the narrow treads. At dawn I folded the shirts.

I baked the bread. I washed the floors

and hung out the sheets.

It was important to force time 

 

through a sieve. I avoided taking

strong measures with myself.

Tears were a practical solution,

and I called on them twenty times a day.

 

I was never joyful, not for a moment,

but sometimes I was happy.

I begged the windblown trees to sweep the sky.

I coaxed the jays to scream their love.

 

Loneliness was better

than never coming home,

and never coming home

is the tale I’m about to tell.



[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, forthcoming)]