Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happy birthday, Sissypoo!

God, this photo brings back memories. Isn't she cute with her dandelion?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"The Last Time"

Cooler weather. The lawns flecked with sweet violets flicking side-to-side in the breeze. Too cool in the shade to be without a jacket, though I almost never wear a jacket and tend to walk in the shade whenever possible. Less glare.

Hedges of lilacs in bloom, that cloying sweetness, funereal, permeating the entire town. My dad says the smell attracts ticks. I've never looked this up. Not wanting him to be wrong about anything. Meaning: he speaks rarely. Meaning: I miss his voice, its certainty.

The pepper seeds sprouted today: first, the elbows. Tiny latch hooks arching from the soil. Next, the hands. I've filled every possible shelf in the laundry room with seed flats and jars of cuttings.

I walked past the poetry center today, first time in a long while, because I wanted to see the Virginia bluebells in flower--a mass of them among the pachysandra, the blossoms in gradations of pink and violet-blue. As I passed by, my keychain came apart and bing! bing! bounced in pieces along the flagstones. That's never happened before. It's brass, sort of horseshoe-shaped, with a threaded rod in the center that had come undone. I found both pieces.

** ** **

Here's a poem by Amy Meckler, from her book What All the Sleeping Is For, which I'm really enjoying:


He was there, a man from the waist up hovering even after I woke up
and looked back. Light enough to distinguish gray from black, I knew

he was a ghost of someone who loved me. I felt Jason, but is Jason dead?
Cancer still breeding in his bones when I left him, but he looked healthy, still tone

in half his height, a figment I knew I hadn't invented by wishing. He seemed
to be marrying me, his half body like a groom's watching a procession, but

his face was a father's angry at his daughter caught in some forbidden room.
I froze, stared back, said Ok, Ok, meaning You can disappear now, and he did

then the phone rang to prove I was not dreaming. Lime rose
from a glass left out overnight, brought to mind the summer I drove to see him,

waited by his apartment door. I looked up from my book to check my watch and
he was standing outside the glass, looking at me in my summer dress, sunned hair.

The last time I saw him whole. He asked me, and I said no.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I'm still grading compositions, having divvied them up into manageable batches. Drove up to the office today to put in a few hours. Grades are due online by Monday. Then: gardening! Reading! Time with Randy!
** ** **

On the back of a transfer truck, the following sign caught my attention:

** ** **

Mom pieced a quilt for my brother and asked us to quilt it. It's coming along well: I'm trying to put in at least an hour each night. Hoping to have it finished before his birthday in June. Meanwhile, I have three or four designs in my head that I want to tinker around with: another reward for finishing up the semester.
** ** **

Ran across several old issues of Evergreen Chronicles today. It wasn't a bad journal; I was sorry to see it fold. Surprised to find that I still have half a dozen issues.
** ** **

In just a matter of days, the garden has erupted into new growth. The wood violets are starting to bloom all along the walkway; it's amazing how quickly they pop open (the lily-of-the-valley hasn't even bloomed yet). The crabapple tree is loaded with pink buds, small and tightly closed. The hostas have poked up, thin green leaves curled tight, not yet unrolled. The ferns are unspringing so quickly, I could almost plop down to watch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Street Dance, 1959"


A girl is receiving a tiara
on the bandstand in the middle of town,
that summer night. She leans her head
forward, politely smiles.
The points jab the skin behind her ears.
Seven girls in white dresses turn
in the hot August night. They have pink baby
roses in their hands. She has a whole paper bouquet,
a tiara of glass rubies, shiny black slippers.

I am eight years old.
My parents dance together
on the other side of the knotted rope.
“Have fun,” my mother says, leaning over,
stroking my face with her fingertips.
“Don’t wander off.” My brother
pulls on my hand to dance. The children dance

like children, alone or by twos and threes,
scuffing the dust, stomping
around and around the barricade.
The girl on the bandstand smiles
for the Tribune photographer
and the lights her father aims upward.
Seven white girls in starched dresses
revolve around her stillness. A man
in a black suit speaks the names
into a black microphone; the syllables
rebound, distorting in the air, dispersed
in silent alleyways behind the buildings.

My brother comes and stands near me,
shy and insistent. We hold hands and stare upward.
Over the hot pavement, music scratches,
aimed from big steel speakers above our heads.
I can’t tell what they are singing; we
can’t make it out, though we push our heads out,
poking up our chins to listen, and are held there.

Now the streets are empty.
They glare sheer black in orbits surrounding
the lighted square. It spins and spins;
faster, one step, and I am lost.
I have wandered off, and in the secret of time
this happiness lies safe, still untouched,
and in it we remain
those children. The pale lights, the press
of bodies in a crowd, the night-sultry air,
reach me, beyond coercion, in the sweetness
of absolute privilege. I look up
at girls like flowers, carnations
with twiggy stems and poufy skirts, all turning
around the one who stands there still.

To see her is to enter the future
obliquely, to be taller, smooth and glowing,
to know the quietness of standing on a stage with
flowers. The speaker’s rasp, the gesturing
black-coated man pushing her forward carefully,
mastering, steering narrow shoulders, the lights
above the wooden stage, all these push back
time, pressing this into focus, clean and hard.

My brother stands happy beside me,
singing to himself. He is five. The sweetness
is being pressed out of him by steady
care and correction; his sweet joy
is being broken so he may harden,
and set into a shape. He is all green and open
with no secret place to hide his hope,
his baby joy; it shows all over him
and is being wrung and rubbed
like a stain gotten out. He will not wander
but stand there under the lights not seeing
what shimmers all around him.
He will stand under the lights, ready to clap
his hands and be pleased, to dance around
in a circle, not knowing he shines
like a military objective in the night.

: Cynthia Huntington, We Have Gone to the Beach (1996)

Monday, April 21, 2008


This afternoon I received news that Eric Van Cleve, one of our June Poets from 2003, died last week at home in Ohio. Eric took his B.A. at Ohio State and would have completed his M.F.A. at Washington University next month. I remember him well, but am sorry to say that I had not kept in touch. I do know that several of "our Junies" ended up in the program at Washington (and several others at UT-Austin), and it sounds like Eric had many friends in his grad program.

His obituary can be found here.

Below are the only two poems of Eric's that I could put my hands on. These are the poems he selected for inclusion in the 2003 program anthology:


The man who sells mirrors is in denial.
With every purchase,
he loses a twin

but cannot bring himself
to take a chair
away from the table.

When he has finished eating,
he stares into his plate
and watches the one

who will never leave,
the one holding a fork
scratching his clean, white cheek.

** **
It depends.
It depends on the wind
for the man who sells perfume

on a street corner,
beside a hotdog vendor.
Which way does it blow?

Do the hotdogs smell
like prostitution?
Does a cloud of mustard or relish

spread around his tiny glass bottles?
Only the birds
are more confused.

A hungry pigeon,
a poor man, close enough
to peck the other's eyes out.

*** ***

There will come a point in history,
because everyone agrees
that history seems to be a line,

when, for wood, we will chop down
the last of the telephone poles
and pry apart our log cabins.

There will be no more room
for cemeteries, the dead dug up
to accommodate new bodies, the old bodies

kept in school, being that students
will no longer be with us.
On the way to the bathroom, one night

a man will peek through his curtains
and see a ghost:
a tree, a headstone or child.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Just watch it.

Earl Pickens, our next-door neighbor, is at it again. I can't get this tune out of my head.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

April days

R & I worked a bit in the garden this morning, carefully raking leaves and litter (fallen twigs and such, not trash) from one end of the semishaded garden. The moonbeam coreopsis has sent up purply-red shoots, an inch or more high already, and it's managed to spread quite beyond the rock edging. Next weekend, I'll try digging up the runaways and planting a clump or two beneath the butterfly bush.

Speaking of the butterfly bush, I'm happy to see new growth at the top. Now all I need to do is prune it lightly (instead of to the ground, as before) and we should get quite a tall specimen this year. The flowers are butter-yellow, and the plant is ganglier than our smaller purple and pale lavender ones, but the butterflies, bees and hummingbirds flock to it all summer and well into fall.

The sweet woodruff has spread wonderfully, practically doubling the area it covered last summer. I planted one small clump, grown in a 6-inch pot, beneath the dwarf pine three years ago. The first year, it languished. Last year, it had established nicely and covered a few square feet. Now, it's definitely on the move. I hope it extends all the way to the fence; nothing else will grow under the evergreens and giant euonymus hedge.
* * *
R gave me a haircut a little while ago. I truly needed it; I'd developed a full-blown crop of "academic hair" (think Einstein's hair). Don't know why I let it go so long--a fresh, close-cropped haircut always feels so good.
* * *
All right, I must get back to my grading, or I'll end up out in the garden again (soon, soon).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


I first read Norman Dubie's Groom Falconer in 1992, three years after its publication (though I was reading then at a voracious rate, I'd not yet found Dubie's poems; it was Susan Prospere, I think, who recommended that I seek him out). In these recent days of various uncertainties, I find myself craving poems that ring with striking clarity, a resonant sense of place, and the sudden shock of slippage--the leap of the mind into a striking and seemingly-unbidden image--that makes this book such a welcome place for my own mind to return to. Here, for example, is the final poem in the book. Tell me if that last line doesn't prickle the hair on the back of your neck! And yet its sudden, jolting arrival feels completely organic to the space created by the poem. Dubie is a marvel. I'll never read enough of his work.


[for Patrick & Robert]

Someone calls Duchess, our fawn Great Dane, back
Across the dusty road: she’s nearly to the lawn
When the Buick hits her, she rolls
And then gaining her legs
Runs into the field of goldenrod where my father
Finds her; when he presses
The large folded handkerchief against the wound, it vanishes
Along with his forearm. She was months dying.

One night returning from my aunt’s house, we stopped
At a light and watched a procession of cars
Coming down out of the first snow, down
Out of the mountains, returning to Connecticut. Everywhere
Roped to the hoods and bumpers were dead deer.
The man behind us honked
His horn. My father waved him on. He hit
The horn again. My father got out and spoke
With him in a voice that was frightening
Even for a man with a horn. We left the door open
And the four of us sat there in the dome light
In silence. Wanting to be fair,
I thought of squatting cavemen, sparks flying
From flints into dry yellow lichen and white smoke
Rising from Ethel Rosenberg’s hair.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"Things to Be Afraid Of"

Poems retrieved: Thanks to the patient advice of Randy, Sebastian and Eric (the latter one of my former students), I was able to retrieve my files from the laptop, where they were indeed backed up (and hidden) just before the flash drive strangled itself. Phew. What a scare: such a visceral loss of identity--I realize now the degree to which I believe I am what I do.
* * *

I owe Eduardo a phone call.
* * *

Here's a poem by Patrick Lawler, from his wonderful 1990 book A Drowning Man Is Never Tall Enough:


Light. The cities’ aortas of light.
Things to be afraid of: nowhere
And platitudes. White places.
And places to dance. Apocalyptic
Ceremonies when we find the language
For them. Nothing. To be afraid. There is
Silence and words. The breaking leaves.
The effortless. Schools of white
Butterflies, like schooners, like bits
Of torn paper. There is nothing. Our names.
Pictures of a beautiful woman
Touching the eyes of a yellow ding
Man. Things to be afraid of.
Plagiary. The planes of air. Anything
Permanent. The breakable. Winter,
Charts, spare rooms, matches, songs
Nailed to the chest. Anecdotes.
Manganese and mythology. Extra
Innings. Enumerations. Always
Nothing which is nothing to be afraid of.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


The sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is the dawning realization that I've experienced a massive loss of data this evening on my computer: my 4G flash drive has somehow malfunctioned and I can't retrieve anything from it. Among the missing: all my 7KP data, including the PDF files of Harry's book; tons of journals and correspondence; nearly all my poems--many of which might be retrieved, in part, from my pocket journals, but I had a whole folder of drafts, and both manuscripts--oh, crap. Crap, crap, crap.

Head in hands--