today

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my “desk” (once again, it’s a kitchen table)

I am at my “desk.” The kids are at school all day. This miracle last occurred on June 3rd.

I am so happy that three out of three kids came home from school yesterday with smiles on their faces (it was the first day, a half-day).

We are still not living in a house. The duffle bags and their contents, which I thought would need to get us through until mid-July, are going to have to limp along until mid-October. At least.

(Do you know of this book?

I love the book. I do not love not living in a house.)

I have bought duplicates of:

  • More books than I want to think about (sometimes you just need Zbigneiw Herbert, …and… some other books)
  • A chef’s knife
  • MANY OFFICE SUPPLIES. Many.
  • A printer
  • A broom, a rake, a bucket, sponges, scrubbers, rubber gloves

I am *this* close to buying a duplicate Swiffer. I am even tempted by the crock pots of the world, but I refuse. I refuse.

The peaches are ripe. The plums are ripe. The tomatoes are at their peak. You can often find me holding my head over the sink, eating some drippy, delectable fruit of the earth. Bliss.

I hope no one ever looks through  my books and reads my marginalia. “Bzzzt” means: I disagree. Entirely. “Bwhahahaha!” means: I can’t even believe he said that. “ZOMG!” means: Utterly incredible. In a good way.

There are two flies—one big, one small—buzzing around my head. I am, of course, thinking of Emily Dickinson. And wondering why there is no fly emoticon.

I keep reading this poem*:

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[*Please note how he borrows from Emily Dickinson: From her letters, “This world is just a little place, just the red in the sky, before the sun rises, so let us keep fast hold of hands, that when the birds begin, none of us be missing.”]

And I keep reading this poem.

And I keep reading this poem.

And Joanna Klink’s poem “On Diminishment” from the current issue of Tin House. Go get you some. The poem worth the cover price.

And this poem, mainly because my eldest is playing football. I am surprised by this. He has football homework every night. I am also surprised by this. I am formulating a theory about high school athletics and the roots of male privilege (I am not surprised by this, and I am complicit). There’s a game at 4:30. Weather forecast: 88 degrees and stormy. I now own ponchos. I am, you might guess, surprised by this.

I’ve been writing, mornings. I’ve been sending poems out. I’ve been doing both things slowly, as usual.

I’ve been typing up notes from my MFA residency. It’s like learning everything all over again.

I have nearly killed the geraniums I bought a month ago. I am not yet ready to commit to mums. I abhor everything pumpkin spice.

I am glad to be here at this blog, writing something, anything.

I am trying to do this thing called “today,” every day, the best I can.

 

friday roundup on saturday, vacation edition: books, rocks, and hills

rock pickin'

rock pickin’

Well. Since the last roundup there has been one cross-country flight, a drive through the Motherland, a visit to the village-of-origin and the other village-of-origin, a beer with my BFFs, two of the best hot dogs in the world, a trip to the dunes, several glasses of wine with my mom, two cousin camp-outs, one campfire with s’mores, and one enormous steelhead.

Do you want to see the enormous steelhead? Here it is (faces have been blurred to protect the identity of the innocent):

unidentified man with enormous steelhead

unidentified man with enormous steelhead

HOLY SMOKES!

But I digress. I’m here to do a roundup, and we need to talk about books, rocks and hills:

books  I confess, since the last roundup I have not read one single poem, or book of poems, or craft essay, or section of The Art of Syntax. Instead, I’ve read fiction and cookbooks (a summer tradition for me — my mom has one-zillion awesome cookbooks). Reader, there’s a book you need to read. It’s called The Tiger’s Wife. I bought it on the night I snuck out to the bookstore on the longest day of the year, and it has become my new second-favorite novel ever (after Ahab’s Wife, which is my very favorite novel ever), relegating to third place — and I almost hate to say this — The Poisonwood Bible, which is now my third-favorite novel ever.

Oh my goodness, The Tiger’s Wife is masterful! It weaves a story of a war-torn region of the world (in this case, the Balkans), a death in the family, and the legends and folklore that persist and fade and persist again in the lives of the novel’s characters. The author does amazing things with time — the novel takes place in the course of one day, but there are many dips and swerves into the past — and with weaving several strands of the story together in a way that reveals just enough but not too much about the plot.

Please go to your library today and get on the hold list for this book.

I have now moved on to a novel that cannot hold a candle to The Tiger’s Wife. Sigh.

rocks One of the things we do in the Motherland is that we pick over rocks, looking for the good ones. I’ve learned not to list rock pickin’ as one of the things we do on vacation when people ask — they just look at you like they feel sorry for you if you mention it. But it’s something everybody does in this part of the world, because there are very cool rocks to find, and the queen of all rocks is the Petoskey stone.

The best way to pick rocks is to sit in the shallows at water’s edge where the small, smooth rocks wash up from the lake (top secret inside information: Sometimes you can even find them in the stones around Grandpa’s big garage). Petoskey stones look like any old grey rock until you get them wet, and then they look like this:

if you polish them they stay looking like this even when dry (this one is polished); photo from wikimedia

if you polish them they stay looking like this even when dry (this one is polished); photo from wikimedia

The marks are from fossilized coral from about 400 million years ago. Give or take.

I think of people as Petoskey stones sometimes — we look one way in a regular old setting, but in the right setting our true nature is revealed for better or for worse. With Petoskey stones, it’s always for the better. Also, because I’m feeling random today, here’s a photo of the President fiddling with a Petoskey stone:

identified man with Petoskey stone; wikimedia

identified man with Petoskey stone; wikimedia

And now,

hills Oh, reader, the hills in this part of the world! Here is where my body learned the words crest and trough, where swell meant something about the land, where you can see for miles and miles and miles and miles from the top of the right hill. They are something to write home about. These particular hills are called drumlins, and they were carved out of the earth when the glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age. While they pose certain challenges for cell phone reception, they do wonders for your soul and spirit. It wasn’t until I was driving up and down these hills — through orchards, and vineyards, and fields of corn and wheat — that it dawned on me: there is not one single hill in the Peninsula Town. Not one. There are hills nearby, and mountains not too far either — but the Peninsula Town is flat as a washboard. Come to think of it, it’s the only flat place I’ve ever lived. Ah well.

So, no poetry for you this week. But it’s good to take a break and see what else the world has to offer, don’t you think?. Every time I do I’m grateful and amazed and ready for more poetry in a whole new way.

Thanks for reading, happy Independence Day two days late, and enjoy your weekend!

in which, actually, you *can* go home again

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home n. 1. a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household; 2. the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered; 3.an institution for the homeless, sick, etc.: a nursing home; 4. the dwelling place or retreat of an animal; 5. the place or region where something is native (ding, ding, ding! we have a winner!) or most common.

Reader, I’ve been home. And I know They say you can’t go home again, but I’ve discovered that, actually, you can. And no, it’s not exactly the same and you’re not exactly the same, but you can go home. And if you do, here’s what might happen… .

You might find yourself driving the same country roads you drove to the home of your first love, who — after several years, degrees, and cities apart — you ended up marrying. And you might find that you still know the way between your old house and his old house in your bones.

And you might have forgotten the topography of the sky in a place near so much water. You might have forgotten the way clouds build and shift, the way they seem to roll and tumble. You might look up into mountainous layers of clouds to find that this kind of sky is at once utterly familiar and utterly amazing.

You might laugh with your husband when you both instinctively look behind your left shoulders as you drive by the turnout where the police always parked to watch for speeders. You might be surprised about the way your body knew what to do before you thought about why.

You might go back to the house your BFF grew up in and her kids might call you Auntie and let you put bug spray on them even though they hardly know you. You might hug your BFF’s mom, who’s your second mom, and sit on her porch. You might get to hug your other BFF and hold her brand new baby. You might miss the 4th BFF of your group in a whole new way since she’s not there. And you might see a pillow painted with the words, If these walls could talk, and think, That’s the perfect pillow for this house.

You might drive by the house you grew up in and see that, yes, it looks smaller and, yes, a little worse for the wear — but look: there’s the willow on the hill where you’d sit and watch storms roll in, and there’s the tree your dad planted when you were seven, and there’s the rose of sharon in the front yard, still blooming.

Later you might drive north a bit — no need of a GPS — up and down hills, through the orchards, saying to your children, Those are tarts. Those are sweets. Those are apples. You might even get to use the word espalier and not mean it metaphorically.

You might come up over the crest of one particular hill and see the blend of blue and green you know by heart. You might get to listen to the voices of your children arguing over who saw it first, when you know the truth: You saw it first. Of course. The Lake.

When you walk in the door you might let years of missing home fall away. And then — and this is one of the best parts — your dad might bring you a glass of wine, and you might get to have a glass of wine with your mom in her kitchen. And believe me, you will realize how lucky you are to still have them both, in the flesh, in the very room where you yourself are standing.

You might wonder briefly where the children are — out in the blackberry patch? in the “big garage” pulling out the bikes? down on the lower level dipping their feet in the lake? Then again, you might not.

Later you might go downstairs to plop down your bags and see that your mom has set up a card table in your room with a cupful of pens and a few literary journals. It might do for Writing Studio 5.1. One morning after you arrive — after again briefly wondering where the children are — you might sit down at the table and think about going home again, and feel exceedingly grateful for the place you come from. Amen.

friday roundup: learning new seasons, perspectives on line, and The Smoke

from wikimedia

Reader, have you been watching or listening to the debates? I have not. The reason is that I get too wrapped up in emotion while watching and then I can’t sleep at night because I’m trying to solve all the world’s problems in my head — the first of which is that elections have become show business purchased by rich people. I’ve tried to tune in on the radio, but after a few minutes, I always reach the point where I can’t stand listening to one more word. Also, the pundits providing the play-by-play always seem to mention the 2000 election, over which I’m still nursing my broken heart. Actually, I’m not over the 2004 election yet either. Oh, dear. I think we’d better move on to poetry… and some other stuff, before I get mired.

learning new seasons  Yesterday it was cool and cloudy all day, and it even rained a bit. Today, cool and cloudy again. Just like last year, I’m wondering: Is this autumn? Having moved away from a place where the four seasons are strikingly different, I find it harder to know what season we’re in. I’ve also noticed that I have a hard time placing my memories on my mental map of a year. Before our move, I could call up an image of a memory and find cues about the season — I was wearing boots and I remember having to shovel to get out of the driveway, or, it was so humid my hair curled (believe me, it takes a lot of humidity to get my hair to curl). Then in was easier to place the memory on the calendar. Without as many seasonal cues, it’s harder for me to remember when something happened: It was sunny. For 320 days. Even remembering what fruit was in season (another one of my favorite clues) doesn’t help because the seasons are all different out here, and some fruits have two growing seasons. I’m curious about what, if any, mental map of a year will emerge for me in California.

I’ve also been thinking about the seasons of a writing life. Last year at this time, I was busy drafting the Mail Order Bride poems. I remember that those drafts came to me slowly, word by word, under a title that had arrived whole. As the Mail Order Bride poems rushed out of my pen, I really set all other writing work aside in order to work on those poems. Part of me thinks doing so is a natural response to the energies present in the moment; other parts of me feel like: No! You have to keep doing the other stuff, too — reading, revising, submitting! Lately, it’s been revising that seems most urgent, but I’m afraid to leave off  generating new work. How do you think of the seasons of your creative life, and how do you respond to the different intensities of one creative activity or another? I’m curious to know.

perspectives on line  My Monday writing group recently read and discussed the essay “Line and Room” by Marianne Boruch from her essay collection In the Blue Pharmacy. Can I just say I LOVE having people to discuss such things with!? Anyway, in keeping with our theme of gem-hunting this week, I thought I’d share a few gems from the essay:

  • The word line comes from the Latin, linea, meaning ‘linen.’
  • She quotes Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: a sentence is a unit of sense but the line is a unit of attention.” The Mondays and I agreed that society values sense, and art values attention.
  • “Line (is) a still, then, against life’s dizzying momentum which, at heart, is the lyric impulse anyway, to stop time… .”
  • She compares end-stopped lines to DC electricity, and enjambment to AC.
  • The enjambed line “moves in two directions, relentlessly across then cutting down to surprise or deflect or underscore” (bonus craft tip in those last six words: three reasons to use enjambment).
  • She discusses the important of the silence and space at the end of the line, which she likens to a moment of taking back for an instant what was just said.
  • She quotes Nicolaides, who says something along the lines of: there are no lines; there is only “the place where the figure ceases.”

That last one is my favorite. Anyway, it’s a great essay — I don’t think it’s available online, couldn’t find it anywhere or else I’d link to it. I’m looking forward to reading more of the essays in Boruch’s collection.

The Smoke  Last night at my other writing group — the one where we workshop poems — I brought a poem about fire. Well, it was kind of about fire, and also about motherhood, as we all know those subjects go hand in hand (ha, ha). One of the other poets brought me a poem about fire to read — a chance to consider another poet’s way of writing about it. So, yeah, I read the poem this morning and decided to retract forever my own poem about fire. Never mind. I didn’t mean it. There’s no reason for me to do this because it’s already been done. WAY better than I could ever do it. Looked for the poem online to link to here and, whaddayaknow, it was published by Linebreak. Have I mentioned how much I love Linebreak? Anyway, the poem is called “The Smoke” by Bruce Snider, from his most recent collection Paradise, Indiana, which I have not read but have heard is stellar. Go read the poem here — you’ll be shocked and enraptured by all the things the smoke did.

Happy Friday, and thanks as always for reading!

how to cook like a poet

beans and rice and rice and beans

Okay, okay, maybe I’m stretching the poetry angle here a bit. But the idea for this post came out of a Facebook conversation yesterday with fellow poets and parents after I posted this as my status:

Discovered last week that even if I don’t try to write, and just do mom/house stuff all the time I still can’t get it all done. Very freeing! The fantasy evaporates! Ever onward with my new motto: write first, do the “musts,” lower standards for all else.

There were several commiserating and hilarious comments from other poets and parents (some of which included socks, applesauce, legal pads, and fervent declarations of belief), and then the wise and excellent Molly Fisk weighed in with this:

Most women’s daily lists have three days-worth of tasks on them… Write. Feed your family real food. The rest is pretty much up in the air on a rotating basis…

Having read that, I decided to revise my motto. Motto 2.0: “Write. Feed your family real food. The rest is pretty much up in the air on a rotating basis.”

See, the thing is, the “real food” part of Motto 2.0 is actually really important to me. Sometimes I feel like a throwback, but I think one of my crucial jobs as a parent is to feed my kids healthy food and, of course, to teach them how to plan and prepare healthy meals so they know how to do it someday for their own families. I confess, I have an apron and wear it every day. I confess, I made Sister’s birthday cupcakes, which seemed to almost horrify some of the other parents. Them: “You cook? Do you cook every day? How did you learn to cook?” Me: “mumblingsomethingaboutbeingfromthemidwest.”

But back to cooking like a poet. One things parents and poets often have in common is that money can be scarce. Don’t get me wrong, our family is very fortunate, especially in this economy, to have a good income that covers all of our necessities and sometimes a few extras. Still, we do everything we can to live frugally, and one way to live frugally is to cook frugally (think “concisely”), but with care and attention. You know, like a poet. So, here’s my handy-dandy guide on how to cook like a poet:

1. eat seasonally  I grew up in Michigan where fruits and veggies roll out of the fields from May to October. We marked the year by what was in season: first asparagus, then strawberries in June, moving on through cherries mid-July, blueberries in time for my mom’s birthday, then the bounty of August: peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn, cukes, plums and apricots, the peaches, the earliest apples. Well, you get the idea. Here’s the thing: eating what’s in season costs less. When strawberries are $5.99 a carton, it’s because they’re out of season, and they taste like cardboard anyway. When they’re $5.99 for half-a-flat, they’re in season and completely delish. You can save lots of money and eat better produce by eating what’s in season.

2. plan ahead  I know, I know, this is the worst part. You actually have to sit down and figure out what you’re going to feed everyone all week. I hate it, too. But what I’ve found is that if I plan, I spend less money at the store and the whole week goes more smoothly. I’ve found it convenient to have a standard menu starting place, for example:

Monday – pasta
Tuesday – chicken
Wednesday – hearty soup, green salad, bread
Thursday – leftovers if any; if not, something vegetarian
Friday – pizza (often ordered in if budget allows)
Saturday – scrounge (my favorite night!)
Sunday – something on the grill

Having this backbone helps me fill in the week with recipes I know well (helpful hint: well-known recipes go most quickly, therefore maximizing your writing time!).

Also in the planning ahead department are two corollaries (say that the British way — it’s more fun): a. double and freeze: That’s right, make a double batch of spaghetti sauce and freeze half for next time. And b. parallel process: If your’re cooking on Monday night, prep Tuesday’s dinner right alongside. Both corollaries get you — you guessed it — more writing time! I’ll often start three meals on Monday afternoon. I figure I might as well cook while I’m cooking and free up some time later in the week. Not only that, but I find that if I cook a couple of nights a week, I very often have leftovers for later in the week. Oh, look, there’s another corollary: Cooking like a poet definitely involves serving c. leftovers whenever possible.

3. cook it yourself I know, I’m sorry, I sound like such a bore. Plan ahead. Double and freeze. Cook it yourself. But it really is cheaper and healthier. Of course, there are nights for everyone when cooking it yourself just won’t work. But if you can get into a routine of cooking it yourself most of the time, it becomes a habit and doesn’t (usually) seem hard anymore, unless you have children under the age of 3, in which case getting any meal on the table is nothing short of a miracle. And don’t forget to involve all members of the household in cooking it yourself, once they’re of an age when they’re more help than hindrance in the kitchen. This seems to be around ages 7 to 9, depending on the child.

4. one word: legumes  Legumes, such as beans and lentils, are very nourishing, very healthy, and very cheap. My older brother’s favorite money-saving advice is, “Beans and rice and rice and beans!” You can buy a bag of dry beans for a dollar. A little time and effort and you’ve got a meal for 11 cents a serving (I actually did this calculation once on the black beans and rice I make every week or two; it really did cost 11 cents a serving). We eat a lot of legumes in this family: lentils and pasta, beans and rice, lentil soup, navy bean soup, etc. They’re good, good for you, and nice on the budget.

5. two words: hot cereal  Do you want to know why your mother made you eat oatmeal on those cold winter mornings? Do you think it was because she wanted  you to have a nice, warm meal in your belly before you faced the blast of winter wind outside the door? Well, I have news for you: She made you eat oatmeal because she was broke! Hot cereal is one-bazillion times cheaper than cold cereal. It also allows you to determine how much sugar goes in the cereal bowl (unless you have a child like my middle child who is a sugar stealth bomber). We eat cold cereal, too, on days when there’s no time for anything else. But folding hot cereal into your breakfast rotation is a money saver. And it’s really yummy, especially with brown sugar and cream. Don’t skimp on the cream. One must sustain oneself, you know.

6. no guilt  I know you’ve been waiting for this one. We all do our best. Sometimes our best is homemade lentil soup, a loaf of bread, and a green salad. Sometimes it’s a peanut butter sandwich on paper plates. Sometimes we buy local, organic produce, sometimes we grab whatever’s closest and easiest, organic-orgshmanic. Food is such a gift, and having enough of it is such a gift. I try to avoid guilt around food — it tarnishes the sheen on the blessing.

*BONUS* One side benefit to cooking like a poet if you actually are a poet, is that, at least for me, working and dwelling in one’s body can loosen thoughts, words, and ideas from the depths of the subconscious. I am often seen dashing toward my desk in my apron, one hand covered in a potholder, and the pasta timer ringing, as I furiously scribble down a scrap of a poem or an idea for something I’m working on. Agatha Christie said: “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” She just might be right.

Bon apetit, Reader! And don’t forget:

Motto 2.0