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
  • 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*:

FullSizeRender 8.jpg

[*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.


have poems, will travel

Now reading: Copperhead by Rachel Richardson (two thumbs up!)

Now reading: Copperhead by Rachel Richardson (two thumbs up!)

Those four words pretty much sum up the summer.

Well, also: have kids, at pool. And: put on your sunscreen! And: kid projects gone wrong. And: “Are we there yet?” And: laundry never ever ends.

We have been to Portland (pilgrimage to Powell’s Books) and the Oregon coast (“Mom, look: Michigan sand!”). We have been back home to Michigan to see family (ate orchard-fresh cherries; found many Petoskey stones; pilgrimage to spirit dunemade s’mores with cousins; drank wine with Mom; “Let’s go tubing, Grandpa!”).

The photo above is from yesterday (have kids, at park). We rode our bikes to the park, and I gave thanks for forty-five minutes of reading time on a park bench in the shade beneath the redwoods, which, by the way, are looking mighty stressed in this drought.

I’ve always been grateful for the portability of poetry (slim volumes, easily concealed). It’s an art form we can take with us, whether reading or writing.

As for writing, there has been precious little (slept in again, damn!). But there are seasons.

One more trip for me this summer, then back to the P-town for the first day of school (another f*&%$#@ half day).

Then, maybe, some long awaited time at my desk. And orthodontist appointments, and trips to the ballet studio, and grocery runs, and cross-country meets. And all that. And through it all, poetry is with me.

Until soon…

friday in lieu of a roundup: silence can be a plan

Silence by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (wikimedia)

Silence by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (wikimedia)

Hello and happy Friday.

Today I’m planning for silence.

By which I mean, I’m preparing to leave tomorrow for a little cottage near the ocean where, for one week, I’ll read and write without any competing demands (laundry, meals, homework help, broken fingers, settling arguments,dentist appointments, track meets, leaky faucets, grocery runs, and the like). And without the sounds of other people’s voices, and bouncing basketballs, and overheard Pokemon episodes, and the chorus of “Mars, Mars We’re Going to Mars” from the third grade play, and perhaps best of all, without the nightly whine of leaf blowers blowing out the parking lot of the grocery store loading dock across the street.

I did the same last year for the first time, and learned what a gift it can be to plan for silence.

And yet, it’s a struggle. Mainly against guilt. Spiteful Gillian, who really doesn’t hang around these parts much anymore, has made a comeback. She wants to know: “How can you abandon your family for a week just so you can go off and (air quotes) make art (end air quotes)?” She wants to know: “Wouldn’t that money be better tucked away for college — which is in FIVE YEARS (this one, in particular, kills me every time — FIVE YEARS till my oldest goes to college). She says: “What if the house burns down, what if someone gets sick or breaks a finger, what if the earthquake finally hits and YOU ARE NOT THERE?”

She’s so annoying.

I counter her, saying: Writers and artists have always needed periods of solitude in order to do their work. I am setting a great example for my kids; I am showing them how to be committed to one’s work as well as one’s family. I am not (air quotes) abandoning (end air quotes) anyone — I am doing my job. I am a person who needs periods of quiet and solitude in order to be my true self.

Also, I have left them a bunch of homemade food in the freezer, so get off my back Spiteful Gillian, geez!

But someone has said it better than I ever could (shocker). Here’s Adrienne Rich on silence:


Silence can be a plan
rigorously executed

the blueprint to a life

It is a presence
it has a history a form

Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence

(from “Cartographies of Silence”)


So off I go, into a plan rigorously executed. I may or may not be around this corner of the blogosphere during my time away — I tend not to do well with grand pronouncements of I will or I will not, but instead with going with the flow.

Whatever you need to do your life’s work and be your true self, make a plan to get it. Execute it. Rigorously. Make it the blueprint of your life. Amen.

friday roundup: to collaborate, “I work and I pray,” and The Blue House

Monet: Das blaue Haus in Zaandam (wikimedia)

Monet: Das blaue Haus in Zaandam (wikimedia)

Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. Did you survive April Fool’s Day? I confess, I almost didn’t.

One of my darlings swapped the sugar and the salt.

Let me tell you something: when you take your first sip of tea at five a.m. in a dark and silent Wee, Small house, you do not want to have put salt in it.

And later as you are trying your damndest to be good natured about the salt in your tea, and when you poach eggs for your darlings big and small and line them up on the counter and break the yolks and people take their first blessed bite of a rare, hot breakfast, you do not want to have shaken sugar on them.

The truth is, I’m not over it yet and may never be. But I will soldier on. Now for the roundup:

to collaborate  Earlier this week, I went with a po-friend to a very cool event a few towns up the Peninsula. It was a reading/discussion/Q&A with Jane Hirshfield and Ellen Bass. Hirshfield read from her two recent books Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (essays) and The Beauty (poems). And Ellen asked her questions about particular passages or poems, a bit about process, etc. I loved the format, and both women are such authentic and generous people, so the room was brimming with warmth and good energy.

Also, if you ever have a chance to be in the same room as Ellen Bass, take it — because she will laugh at some point, and her laugh is the most amazing laugh, and it will heal your soul. But I digress…

Here are a few treasures that Hirshfield shared, and that I hastily jotted down in my little notebook of grocery lists/scraps of language/hangman games from various waiting rooms/notes from the urology clinic, etc.:

On process:

“A phrase arrives with its own rhythm, music, and tone. My job is to collaborate.”

On the preponderance of objects in her work: Hirshfield noted that the vocabulary of objects and things is a vocabulary that everybody already has. Everybody has relationships with a chair, a table, a spoon, a tree. Although she didn’t say this verbatim, my sense was that she feels objects have a context that can enrich a poem just by having appeared in a poem, and without a lot of extra words around them. Duly noted.

On the transformative power of writing:

“If you can write the poem, you are not flattened, and writing the poem is a way to unflatten yourself.”

“I work and I pray.” Earlier this week on Facebook, I linked to an interview with Cecilia Woloch. There are so many hundreds of interviews, videos, poems, articles, etc., linked to on Facebook that one cannot possibly read them all — but I’m so very glad I took the time to read this one. In case you haven’t seen it yet, or can’t take the time to read it for yourself, here are some gems (you can read the whole interview here at Speaking of Marvels):

On how her chapbook manuscripts came together:

“In retrospect, at least, it seems as if both manuscripts came together kind of magically, but I think the creative unconscious is hard at work when we’ve been working hard, and it knows what it’s doing.”

On process:

“No prompts, no strategies, no tricks. I work and I pray.”

On reading work aloud:

“I think when we listen to our own poems, when we hear them, we engage the body as well as the mind; and, when we’re not privileging the mind, we get a better sense of the music and the dance.”

On aspirations:

“Aspire to make the best poems you can make and then see what happens.”

(Quoting James Baker Hall), “‘Don’t let your worldly ambitions drive a wedge between you and the work that’s most sacred to you’.”

The Blue House  This week, I’ve been reading Tomas Tranströmer, who died last week and left us the poorer. I’ve been reacquainted with his poem “The Blue House,” which is the one that reminds us that “our life has a sister ship, following quite another route.”

I don’t know about you, but I am always scanning the horizon for that sister ship (not very Zen of me, I know). And also, I’m kind of obsessed with the fact and concept of: a house. So this poem has been nipping at my heels all week, asking to be read again and again.

I found a lovely reading of it set to music, and the link also has the text if you’re more of a reader than a listener (as I sometimes am). Find it here.

I am amazed by how that final image — the one just past the sister ship — flames at the end. I mean, how did he know to push through for that? He already had a sister ship, for goodness’ sake! I suppose that is why he is (was) Tomas Tranströmer.

And that’s all for today. My deep, sincere wish for you is that you never take your first sip of tea at five a.m. in a dark and silent house of any size, and find that you have put salt in it. Amen.

one reason, amongst many, to memorize poems

Abraham und die drei Engel, Anonymous, 27th centure

Abraham und die drei Engel (with many hand gestures), Anonymous, 17th century

[Bedtime in the Wee, Small House. A mother is tucking in her daughter.]

Daughter: Mom, can you say that poem you know?

Mother: Which one?

D: The one you said yesterday in the car?

M: Yes. [recites poem]

[Appropriate period of silence after experiencing an amazing poem is observed]

D: Mom, what does that mean — ring around of roses told?

M: Well… you know that game ring around the rosy? I think the poet is playing with those words to make us think about childhood.

D: Oh. Mom, what’s your favorite line?

M: “It is only a dream of the grass blowing / east against the source of the sun / in a hour before the sun’s going down.” What’s yours?

D: “She it is Queen Under the Hill.”

M: Yes, that’s a good one.

[brief lull in conversation]

D: Mom what does that mean at the beginning where it says it’s mine but it’s not mine but it’s near the heart?

M: I think that means… well… you know when you have a memory or a place you like to imagine? And you know it’s not real, but it feels real? I think that’s what it means.

D: Mom, why are you using hand gestures?

M: I don’t know.

D: Do poets do that or something?

M: Goodnight, dear.

The End

friday roundup: snap out of it edition

Snap out of it!

Snap out of it.

Hello, Reader. Meet the snap out of it doll=>

My mother gave me this doll one fateful summer — the summer when all three kids were old enough to whine and fuss in earnest, and with a goal in mind. Like:

Me: It’s time to put your clean laundry away.

Them: Waaaaah. But I’m toooooo tiiiiiirrrrrreeeedddddd.

Me: [Thinks to self: Connect and redirect. Gives a quick hug]. Being tired’s no fun. It’s time to put your laundry away.

Them: Waaaaaah. Buuut Moooooooommmmmm. I’m toooooo tiiiiiirrrrrreeeeddddd.

Me: [Thinks, Where is that F-ing doll? Finds doll. Hands doll to child] Snap out of it. [walks away]

If you look closely, you will see that the snap of it doll has gotten enough use so as to be in need of mending near her ear. I feel I can relate to her deeply on that point.

But lately, I, too, have felt the need to…

snap out of it  Not because I’ve been whining about putting my laundry away, but because I’m back from the first residency of my low-res MFA program, and I’ve had a hard time snapping out of: Oh look here I am with a bunch of people who care about what I care about and who are reading what I’m reading and who are also interested in rhetorical strategies for lyricization of a narrative and here we all are all day and all night doing our writerly thing.

I mean, I get this sense from the washing machine that it expects me to have this deep connection to it, but I’m just not feeling it. And then, these people who are always STARVING.

Them: Mooooommmmmmmm, I’m STARRRRRRRRRRRVING.

Me: Starving? Really!? Do you want to know about starving!!?? Come here, look at this. Do you see this? [shows photo from New York Times] These people are trapped on a mountain by a terrorist group. There is no food or water on the mountain. If they leave the mountain to try to find food and water, the terrorist group will kill them. THEY are starving. YOU are SO NOT STARVING [walks away, mutters under breath].

Them: [insert deer in the headlights look].

So, yeah, as usual, a little pain on re-entry for all of us. I’m sure I’ll stop feeling disoriented any second now [waiting, waiting…. waiting]. Or maybe not. Maybe disorientation is what we need to write poetry. Le Sigh. Anyway, …

here’s what I’ve been reading (says the prairie dog at my desk):

  • Descending Figure Louise Glück
  • Charming Gardeners David Beispiel
  • Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry (all by men, I must add)
  • Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson
  • How to Live on Bread and Water by Jennifer K. Sweeney
  • Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (also all men, I must add)
  • Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel
  • Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  • The Everything Parenting a Teenager BookT by Linda Sonna. Le Sigh.
  • Occasionally, the New York Times.

At some point, I will have to focus on 2 or 3 of these texts and let the others fall away for now. I’ll do that. As soon as I snap out of it.

speaking of which  Right now, I want to hand the snap out of it doll to the whole wide world. I want us all to stop killing each other. I want us all to stop thinking that some people are worth less than other people. I want us to start caring more about our planet. I want the police to go back to wearing those nifty blue shirts and caps with a visor on the front. I want there to be fewer guns in the world, on our streets. I want people to stop making and playing video games that turn killing other people into entertainment. I want us to say hello to each other in the morning when we cross paths walking through our neighborhoods (when I do this in the P-town, people look at me like I’ve just sprouted a third eye). I want no one to be trapped and starving on a mountain top, literal or figurative.

[steps off soapbox]

In that spirit, I offer you a poem by the beloved Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim who died this week. I give you:

Travel Tickets by Samih al-Qasim

The day I’m killed,
my killer, rifling through my pockets,
will find travel tickets:
One to peace,
one to the fields and the rain,
and one
to the conscience of mankind.

Dear killer of mine, I beg you:
Do not stay and waste them.
Take them, use them.
I beg you to travel.

(A.Z. Foresman, trans.)


Happy weekend reader. Here’s to snapping out of it [raises glass — full of water].