friday roundup (sort of) with a body and a rough net

Hello, reader, it’s been a while.

Summer has come and gone, the kids are in school, and—now that I’ve finished my MFA—some days I have time to do nothing for a while.

A short while.

The other day, I put up corn and tomatoes with my aunt. We blanched them, then cooled them in a cold water bath, cleaned (corn) and diced (tomatoes), then put them in containers for freezing. It reminded me of the importance of sometimes doing things that allow me to be just in my body, to take a break from what’s caught in the rough net of my mind.

I love the phrase “cold water bath.”

Most days I’m busy reading, writing, editing book reviews for The Rumpus, sending out poems and manuscripts of poems, looking for work, taking people to the orthodontist, making dinner, dropping off and picking up from ballet, etc.

I’ve been writing only small things. A list of words, a phrase, a grammatical construction: “The (n.) is what the (n.) (v.).” “Where (n.) (v.) you can find a way to (v.).” “I say (x) so as not to say (y).”

I’ve been casting about for something to read that will (get ready to laugh with me) Finally Make Sense of Everything Once and For All, that will (as I think of it) save me: a book of poems, just one poem, a couplet, a line, one word, rafter, loiter, femur, blanch.

Did you know the technical term for a joint (the kind in our bodies) is articulation? We say that one bone “articulates” with another where they join. Did you know that, amongst other things, articulate means “to divide into distinct parts”? Isn’t it odd that we use a word that means “to divide” to indicate a joining? From the Latin articulare, “to separate into joints,” from articulus, “a part, a member, a joint,” also, “a knuckle, the article in grammar.” A knuckle(!). Did you know that, amongst the many architectural (as opposed to corporeal) joints, there is one called birdsmouth. BIRDSMOUTH(!!!).

[This, by the way, is how one word can Finally Make Sense of Everything Once and For All, can save someone, at least for a while. A short while.].

I’ve been listening to the Commonplace Podcast while folding laundry, chopping onions, sewing ribbons on pointe shoes, ripping out ribbons from pointe shoes because they need to be repositioned, sewing ribbons on pointe shoes again (true story). If you’ve never listened, I recommend it enthusiastically. Rachel Zucker has interviewed poets (and some other people) and recorded their conversations. There are many gems for poetry, the writing life, and for all of life, really, in these interviews, and I’m grateful for the way they catch in my mind’s net and pass the time while I am in my body, folding, chopping, sewing on, ripping out, and sewing on again.

I’ve been reading women poets along with other poets and readers of poetry on Twitter. If you’re looking for books by women poets, search the hashtag #SeptWomenPoets and you will find treasure. This project is the brainchild of Shara Lessley. It’s been fun to read and tweet along.

Here’s a poem from one of the books I’ve read this month, which also happens to be by someone from my old writing group (during my California days): Even Years by Christine Gosnay (Kent State University Press, 2017). There is a particular joy in reading the poems of a friend and colleague, poems that you read when they were just born and solitary things, poems that you’ve watched grow up and begin to join together in constellations of theme and thought, poems that are now bound in a book.

*

AKADEMOS by Christine Gosnay

I give my daughter the name Hypatia, tell her
the monks pulled Hypatia through the streets
and sewed her back together. I give my daughter

an astrolabe and tell her ships baste slit-
seams in the ocean to snag falling bodies.

Earlier, white stones fell from my hands
and landed on the road
until I could not see one stone.

I give my daughter a body and a rough net,
tell her to straighten her back and be ready
to weave the welkin sphere that bleeds

skeleton-blue and gray. I give my daughter
eyes and a sky.
I give my daughter a long, bright day.

My daughter carries a harpoon. She drifts
the sea with her barb the size of a needle.

Sea full of bodies, she sings, stalling. Then bends
her back, out she climbs. Oyster shells
bunched in her net.

*

Happy weekend, thanks for reading.

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

IMG_2815

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.