from the redwood forest

Hola, Reader. It’s been a while. Sorry about the lack of roundup last week. Since I was last here there has/have been one astoundingly beautiful bouquet of roses on my doorstep, one big fall on a Brownie field trip, one small but very bruised chin, (interlude: one champagne dinner), one trip to urgent care, one emergency dental appointment, one relieved mother (nothing broken, no permanent damage), one trip to the grocery store, one trip to the library, two days off school, one day-trip up into the mountains, one-bazillion curvy switchbacks, three cases of motion sickness, one pizza dinner, and one copy of the art book I’ve been coveting for years finally affordable and delivered to my front porch (wahoo!).

No complaints. But not many poems.

I am not what you would call a nature poet. I’m more of a kitchen sink poet. Or a laundry room (I use the term loosely) poet. Or a Safeway poet. On my lesser days, a crockpot poet. On my better days, maybe a spiritual landscape poet. But no, not a nature poet. Still, I feel that every time I spend some time in nature I learn about poetry. Or maybe I learn about life, and since poetry is a big part of my life, I learn about poetry. But anyway, I took down this letter from the redwood forest yesterday. And, well, here it is:

*

To: You
From: The redwood forest

carpe diem  I have been here since the 13th century. You have been here since the 1970s (or insert your decade here). I will be here hundreds or thousands of years after you’re gone. Get after it.

tall, tall tree

tall, tall tree

things will grow in/on/around you  They might be things you like and they might not. They might be freckles or wrinkles or feelings or cancer or inflammatory markers or moles or gray hairs or, in my case, moss. You do not have control over everything. The thing(s) that is/are growing in/on/around you might be beautiful even if you wouldn’t choose them. And even if they’re not all beautiful, they become a part of you.

redwood with moss

redwood with moss

stay on the trail  I’m not talking about the sidewalk or the hamster wheel or the corporate ladder or any particular trail. I’m talking about the trail that you know in your heart of hearts is yours. Yes, that one.

IMG_2796

if a giant tree falls across your path, say yes  And climb over.

don't mind if I do

don’t mind if I do

look down from time to time  It might be pretty.

just leaves, dirt, and fir cones, but still

just leaves, dirt, and fir cones, but still

you can find water even in times of drought  You just might have to walk a while to find it.

small but hardy stream

small but hardy stream

wind and weather and time and water and other people’s feet and the turning of the earth will wear on you and smooth you over and make you even more interesting and gorgeous than when you were when you first sprouted.

practically driftwood

practically driftwood

it’s possible to survive a fire  and keep on growing (but you won’t forget the burning)

scars

scars

you might see these little grassy hummocks that somehow remind you of the muppets who, it seems, at any moment might rise up and break into song   Keep your sense of humor. Let the weirdness in. Believe that anything is possible.

tell me these don't look like Muppets!?

tell me these don’t look like Muppets!?

*

I’m glad the redwood forest has lessons even for the kitchen sink poet. Now it’s off to do the dishes… .

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.

true confessions: leftovers edition

mmm... meatloaf (photo credit)

mmm… meatloaf (photo credit)

I confess, I hate leftovers. Not in and of themselves, but because every time I declare a leftover night, we always end up with leftovers of the leftovers. I know you know what I’m talking about.

I confess, the only leftovers I like to have leftovers of are meatloaf sandwiches.

I confess, I once wrote a poem about leftover night, in which meatloaf makes an appearance. That poem recently came out in Grist Issue 6. I confess, I was thrilled to see a meatloaf/leftovers poem in print.

I confess, the poem, which is called “The Fall of Woman” is not really about leftovers, but more about (1) the fact that there are no longer as many female images of divinity as there were in ancient times, and (2) that women still have lots of (god-like?) power because of our role in raising children and tending the hearth. Disclaimer: Not that all power wielded by women derives from these roles, and also not that men don’t also raise children and tend hearths, but, y’know.

I confess, I am loving Christina Cook‘s poem “Summer Requiem” also in Grist 6, and poems by Sandy Longhorn and Helen Vitoria in the online companion, along with many others.

I confess, I have been terrible, terrible (I mean terrible!) about submissions this spring. I have been really good about giving TLC to the feverish and those recovering from surgery, but terrible about submissions. Still, I’m happy to have placed a handful of poems from the handful of submissions I did send out. I’m determined to do some submitting over the summer, and also to gear up for next fall’s submissions season. But…

…I confess, I think my focus for the summer will be revisions. Despite the craziness of the past several months, I’ve ended up with a reasonable stack of new work. These new poems need lots of TLC, though, and probably some major surgery (insert sound of chainsaw starting here).

I confess, I’m finally starting to accept and enjoy the fact that the creative life has its seasons — some time for new work, some time for refining what exists, some time for getting it out there in the world. And let’s not forget one of the most important seasons: composting. There may even be a season for doing all these things at once, but so far I haven’t encountered it… although, I confess, I live in hope.

I confess, my plans for a summer writing schedule have fallen flat thus far. But *technically* it’s not summer yet — so I still have hope for my early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise approach once school’s out.

I confess, I love summer. It makes me think of a very blue lake, and all kinds of fruit, and drinking diet cherry 7-up with my BFF on the town beach. It makes me think of camping as a kid, and (less dreamy-eyed, I admit) camping as an adult. It makes me think of long, lazy afternoons at the library and playing go-fish with my kids. I confess, I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are, too.

friday roundup: going back, snippets of Kay Ryan, and crazy weather

Hurricane Isabel (2003) in the North Atlantic; public domain (NASA)

Reader, there’s a birthday in the house today. And a Frankenfever (yes, still). And a Husband with a day off. I’m sure there’s probably some laundry somewhere, but I’m not going to go looking for it. And the beat goes on. Here’s today’s roundup:

going back  This week was not a big week for writing, but focused (as we all are this week) on gratitude, I was able to take each day for what it was. Yesterday morning I just happened to wake up early so I seized the moment and sat down at my desk. On a whim I decided to page through my notebook, and I found a few lines that caught my eye. An hour later I had two new drafts, “When We Were Houses” and “The Mother” (which is in response to Jane Hirshfield’s poem “The Poet”). So I was reminded of the importance of doing the writing and then going back to it. If I hadn’t paged through my notebook, these two drafts wouldn’t have happened. Hooray for going back.

snippets of Kay Ryan  In this post I linked to a Paris Review interview with Kay Ryan. It’s a long interview, and I’ve finally read all the way through it. Here are some of my favorite bits in case you haven’t had the chance to read it:

But in time the benevolences of metaphor and rhyme sent me down their rabbit holes, in new directions, so that my will–my intention–was sent hither and yon. And in that mix of intention and diversion, I could get a tiny inkling of things far beyond me.

What’s recombinant rhyme? It’s like how they add a snip of the jellyfish’s glow-in-the-dark gene to bunnies and make them glow green; by snipping up pieces of sound and redistributing them throughout a poem I found I could get the poem to go a little bit luminescent.

If I’m lucky, I probably write twelve keepers in a year.

Sometimes I have to hold onto something for years before I have an ending.

I always have this rather comforting idea that any one poem contains all the other poems one has written.

Edges are the most powerful parts of the poem. The more edges you have the more power you have. They make the poem more permeable, more exposed.

An artist friend of mine once gave me a great pencil sketch of a sink. She said it only took her about half an hour to draw. But it took years for everything to combine into that half hour.

That last one is my favorite.

crazy weather  How could we not have a weather poem this week, after the storm on the East Coast? One of my po-friends sent John Ashbery’s “Crazy Weather” to me earlier this week, but the only place I could find the poem online is here. I keep thinking about “the rare / Uninteresting specimen” putting out its shoots. And do you notice how powerful the last four words of this poem, “for all we know,” are? Ending on the shoots would’ve been pretty darn good, but ending on “for all we know” introduces a dangerous sense of uncertainty, an almost complicit ignorance (if ignorance can be complicit), that brings the poem to the next level. I guess that’s why John Ashbery is a Very Famous Poet.

Must run! Must come up with a cake! Must take a temperature! Must try to tame some of the piles of books around here before Husband starts doing it and messes up my system! 🙂  But don’t worry, I’m not going to go check on the laundry. I have my limits.

Here’s sending all best wishes to anyone affected by the storm. Thanks, everyone, for reading, and have a great weekend.

sometimes it’s good to leave the house

a ship leaving the Golden Gate at dusk

Reader, we have been away. Briefly. But sometimes briefly is long enough.

We went camping with some friends in the most lovely and secluded little spot just north of the Golden Gate. On Saturday, we packed like mad, drove up through the summer fog in the city, pitched our camp in the chilly morning air, then camped fast and furious. The kids melded into a roving pack that played capture the flag on a WWII bunker, swam in the frigid Pacific, buried eachother in the sand, made war against some very bold raccoons, and devoured untold numbers of s’mores. The adults swapped it’s-a-small-world stories around the campfire, shared the joys and challenges of family life, applied multiple coats of sunscreen to myriad limbs, cheeks, and noses, and took turns feeding the faces of the roving pack of children.

It was sheer bliss, even the sleeping on the ground part. Although, I do seem to have a camping hangover, despite the strongest drink having been instant coffee. I’m told we arrived home again yesterday afternoon, at which point I began working through a large hillock of laundry. I’m told we all showered to scrub the sand and the campfire out of our hair. I have some memory of scrambling around the house this morning and dragging the kids along to a poetry date (which was, for the benefit of the kids, at a park). I have barely stumbled back to my desk, where it has come to my attention that the Mail Order Bride rides again.

Actually, I was expecting her sometime soon, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. But, I’m so happy to share with you a few more Mail Order Bride poems, and one other poem, that are up at Escape Into Life. Escape Into Life is an exciting online venue for literature and visual art. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you spend some time browsing and taking it all in — it’s a really wonderful site. I’m so honored to have my work there, paired with evocative photographs by Jennifer Zwick. Thank you to poetry editor Kathleen Kirk for selecting my work for publication at EIL.

And now, I’m going to try splashing some cold water on my face to see if I can emerge from my camping brain-fog. Something tells me there’s still some laundry in need of attention, and I know for a fact certain people will be expecting dinner in a few hours. Which I will cook with a smile on my face, giving thanks for all that’s beautiful in the world — fog and cargo ships, parks and poetry, small upturned faces brown from the sun — all of that and more.