2014 so far…

We’re only 3 days in and I’m already tired of this year. When will we at last be over this blessed vomit bug? For more on that, today’s post comes courtesy of my husband, Lance, from an email he wrote to a friend early this a.m.:

After working outside all day IN THE FUCKING BLIZZARD, I am very tired. I really need to go to bed. My darling little two year old (Ed.: 20 month old) is in the bed, asleep. It’s 9 o’clock, I really have to go to sleep. Marie is up at the kitchen table reading. Marie loves to read. She is reading Longbourn, a novel by Jo Baker. The book is an imagining of the servants of the Bennet family, of Pride & Prejudice. Marie is all about Pride & Prejudice. (I think the English have gotten quite enough mileage out of that particular book, and at this point I am quite sick of Mr. Fucking Darcy). Marie says, “Don’t you wake that baby!” Of course, the baby wakes as soon as I am in bed. She starts to cry. Dammit all! We all know that the baby will not stop crying until Marie brings her breasts to bed, but Marie is angry. Marie is fuming. I can FEEL her in the kitchen, fuming. She is going to finish this chapter, no matter what, and Lance will just have to suffer the consequences. His fault anyway. (Ed.: That’s right, durn it.) After twenty minutes, Marie comes to bed. Georgia stops crying. Blessed Jesus, now I can sleep.

An hour or so later, Marie leaps out of bed. Aidan is in the kitchen, crying. I get up. Georgia starts crying. Aidan has vomited all over everything in his room. His bed, the clothes, the toys, the books, the floor. His brother Vincent is in the bed next to him, blissfully unaware. I switch to clean mode. I throw out the vomit toys, I bag the vomit cloths. I clean the vomit floor. I spray disinfectant until the room smells of chlorine like the pool at the Y. Marie puts the little boy in the tub. Washes him up, gets him a bucket, puts him on the sofa. Aidan continues to vomit, the little girl continues to cry. Marie says something snarky to me, she is still mad about being interrupted from her literary commune with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I snap back, nearly insensible with exhaustion. Outside, it is four degrees and there is a blizzard raging. There, I am done. Everything is clean, the boy is almost asleep on the sofa, the little girl has given up and has curled up asleep on my side of the bed. It is then that there is another cry from the boys’ room; Vincent has now vomited all over his bed.

I look at Marie, Marie looks at me, we both say “What the fuck?” at the same time. She again takes charge of the victim, marching him off to the bathroom. I again start to clean the boys’ room. The first time I cleaned, I used a flashlight, because there is no light in the boys’ room. There is no light in the boys’ room because the little bastards have broken every light that I have placed in there. It gets hit with footballs, frisbees, knocked to the floor, or deliberately dismantled into its composite components. This time I take a light from the kitchen and put it in the boys’ room, the better to illuminate the vomit. One again, there is vomit everywhere. On toys, and books, which I throw away. (One must be merciless.) On clothes, which I put in trash bags and add to the large pile by the door. I start to move the toy chest when a corner catches the light cord sending the light crashing to the floor, shattering the lightbulb and sending little shards of glass into the puddle of vomit. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Marie is laughing at this point. I go and get another lightbulb from a light in the living room. I carefully remove the broken bulb from the socket without cutting myself. At least that goes right. I put gloves on and mop the mess with paper towels, she goes to get the vacuum. It is now midnight (Ed.: well past midnight, closer to 1 a.m., actually). We have new neighbors in the apartment downstairs. I turn on the vacuum, hoping that the neighbors will forgive us. Again I spray the floor with disinfectant. The boys are in the living room taking turns vomiting into buckets which Marie carts to the bathroom and cleans.

Finally, I am done with the room. I have put new sheets on Vincent’s bed and he has moved back in. I unplug the light and go to the kitchen. I try to unscrew the lightbulb so I can put it back in the living room. It slips out of my hand and shatters all over the kitchen floor. We both are laughing. What else can you do? I get the vacuum and again vacuum up the shards. The little girl wakes up screaming, Marie takes her breasts to bed and the screaming stops. I muse that Mr. Darcy would have removed himself to the pub and have had the servants take care of all this. I muse that Mr. Darcy is a pussy.

Fin. Please heaven, fin.

Happy New Year!

It’s good luck if your entire family is down with a stomach bug for New Years, right?

In lieu of a proper post, and it’s been ages anyway, so who am I kidding, I resolve to write more regularly here — I couldn’t exactly do worse, so I’m practically ahead of things already.

Happy New Year, friends.

What’s your story?

“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.” — Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

I’m a couple weeks past the media cycle, I realize, but I’ve been thinking about Scott Simon and his mother, and the brouhaha surrounding his live-tweeting of her death. I’ve read comments to the effect of, How ghoulish/exploitative! and others more passive-aggressively judgey (All power to him, but if my mother were dying, my first thought wouldn’t be to splash it on social media…).

But my favorite response was Brian Stelter’s article in the New York Times, “Goodbyes and Grief in Real Time,” which closes with

“‘We have reached a point in the way we think about our lives where our stories of struggle and loss feel like they no longer belong solely to us,’ said Joe Lambert, founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, Calif. Being able to broadcast them, on Twitter or elsewhere online, ‘feels like a gift to those grieving in our families, our communities and as far as a tweet might reach.’”

While I protest the missing Oxford comma, this is very much in the main of how I feel.

Time was, mourning was a practice, with cultural traditions and strictures. Through those practices — widow’s weeds, withdrawal from society — your community recognized and supported you in your grief.

I don’t want to wear black 24/7, but in our isolation and privacy we’ve lost the very ballasts that can help keep us afloat when we feel as though our grief will sink us. Who could get to your door on days when you’re having trouble mustering the will to get out of bed? Or would even think to check on you? Because, gosh, hasn’t it been a while since you lost your mom/dad/sister/brother/child/dearest lovely loved one? And really, what help would I be anyway?

People don’t know. If they’ve never experienced grief, they don’t know — not how it breaks you open, nor how they can help put the pieces together again.

Twenty years ago, August 3, 1993, my dad died. Suddenly. We reeled with the shock and brunt weight of it.

And one of my clearest memories of the week that followed was of my cousins. They came over, gathered all our dirty laundry — 6 kids’ worth — and took it away with them. They returned with it later, all cleaned and folded… it was breathtakingly thoughtful.

They knew not to ask us, numb and dumbstruck with pain, how they could help. They just showed up and discovered for themselves what needed doing, and then did it, with no fanfare or calls for attention. And I’ve never forgotten.

So now we have Facebook. And Twitter. And new ways of sharing our losses, great and small. And we do. We post pictures, and obits, and the flurry of condolences comes.

This is not in any way a knock against those. I love social media, and those comments of sympathy and support help. Like cards, and flowers, they’re not nothing. Not by a long shot.

But in social media as in life, we’re not so good with the follow-up. We’re quick to let ourselves off the hook and leave it at that. If our friends don’t post about their losses, we don’t mention them. And the grieving sense that extended posting on sadness/hard days/DEATH will be seen as wallowing/attention-seeking. They post statuses of grief thereafter only on anniversaries, some holidays. As if those are the only acceptable days to be publicly bereft once the prerequisite amount of time has passed.

Which brings me back to Scott Simon.

It was so obvious when he began that he had no intimation of what was coming. He thought he was tweeting one more step along the way of his mom’s struggle with cancer. Because you always think you’ll have more time. You think it right up until the minute you don’t.

Reading his tweets, their gradual realization which reminded me so strongly of my mom’s last hours, hearing him speak about it on NPR, was tremendously moving. It did feel like a gift, this sharing of an intimate and painful time. This sharing.

It’s a verb we’ve absorbed into the internet ether, but sharing serves us. Every day on social media we’re writing the narrative of our lives. It’s a big part of how we tell our stories, about ourselves, to ourselves and others. When Scott Simon shared his final days with his mother, he allowed us to share his mother and share her loss, and share his grief.

And through it, feel our own — the grief to come, if we’re lucky, or the grief we carry already, if we’re not.

In a world that values the strong and happy over the vulnerable and bereft, nothing could be more generous.

After long silence

Vincent finished first grade. Georgia, now nearly 15 months old, walks, dances, climbs, and orates in a cadence and vocabulary unique to her very self. Aidan is still finding his middle child way between big boy and baby.

It’s summertime and the living is chaos.

I haven’t just neglected you, little blog. Between my family, Collected Poets, Tupelo Press, and the new Tupelo Quarterly, well, I haven’t written a damn thing of my own in ages.

I need to reclaim some sort of writing schedule for myself back from the wilderness. If you’re still checking in here, thank you. May it soon be worth your time and attention.

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Results of the Big Poetry Giveaway 2013!

Thanks so very much to everyone who threw his/her name in the hat! I’m late wrapping things up, as usual, but at last I got myself over to Random.org and let it do its thing. And so, the lucky winners are:

  1. Cave Wall: NPM 1#23 = Doireann 
  2. Sugar House Review:  NPM 2 #8 = Kathleen Kirk
  3. burntdistrict :  NPM 3 #4 = Anne Higgins
  4. Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review:   NPM 4 #27 = Angela
  5. Myrrh, Mothwing, Smoke: Erotic Poems:  NPM 5  #16 = Nandini Dhar

Winners, I’ll be contacting you for your mailing addresses. Thanks again to everyone for playing!

Coming up, new post this week…

The Big Poetry Giveaway 2013

My Try Poetry Giveaway

This year Susan Rich is curating the Big Poetry Giveaway, founded by Kelli Russell Agodon a few years back. Check out Susan’s blog for the guidelines, and to see the growing list of participants. In my usual fashion, instead of books I’ll be giving away subscriptions {Edit: AND ONE BOOK!}. But first:

Where have I been? I’ve written a little, cooked a lot (oatmeal bread, chocolate cake, Cornish pasty-pie, granola, orange poppyseed muffins, and rhubarb jam, all just this week). I’ve worked (AWP! I went! With Georgia! Which meant I didn’t have that much flexibility in attending events, and missed seeing a number of folks, but I did get a dinner out with Sandy Longhorn which more than made up for everything else!) (and have you checked out Tupelo’s 30/30 Project yet?) and mothered, and we’ve managed to get through late winter without any big ailments, a minor miracle I don’t altogether trust, not least since I’ve gone and recklessly said it out loud.

Time is slippery. A wriggling fish flying out of my hands. In my mind it’s still September. Or earlier even, before my mom got sick. Saturday was the two year anniversary of her death, and what’s remarkable is how very much that two years feels like nothing. Which likely explains my cooking mania.

“Then the question is: How do you fall in love with [cooking] again, or if it has never made you truly happy, fall in love with it for the first time?

My answer is to anchor food somewhere deep inside you, or deep in the wonders of what you love.

We have different loves. Mine are food and words. Others’ are how building slant away from dark sidewalks, or how good it feels to solve an equation. I say: Let yourself love what you love, and see if it doesn’t lead you back to what you ate when you loved it.” — from An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler

I can hear my mom’s voice when I cook, know exactly how she’d feel about each food I make, can fully imagine the conversation surrounding each process. To cook is to commune with her. To cook is to lead me back to her.

Anyway, though I’ve been absent I haven’t been idle.

Thank you for sticking with me through it all. To be entered into my Big Poetry Giveaway, please leave a comment on this post. At the end of the month I’ll use the Random Number Generator to choose winners. The 5 prizes are a 1-yr. subscription each to:

myrrh225AND, I’m giving away a copy of Myrrh, Mothwing, Smoke: Erotic Poems, the new anthology I edited with Jeffrey, which includes poems by wonderful poet friends  Amy Dryansky, Molly Spencer, and others. So that’s FIVE (5) PRIZES. 

 

Thanks for playing. And don’t forget to visit Susan’s blog for the full list of other participants — there’s a lot more poetry up for grabs!

The Next Big Thing

Since I last wrote these happened: big bad shingles for husband; chicken pox (caught from shingles) for baby; pneumonia for mama; add the holidays here and there; [and Tupelo's 30/30 Project] [and the new year at the Collected Poets Series] and there you have the lost late autumn/early winter.

But here I am, and my good-hearted friend Tricia tagged me for the Next Big Thing series of interviews, which seems a nice re-entry and happy new year sort of post. My answers to the questions are below.

Be sure to check out Tricia’s post, and I hereby tag these fine writer friends to participate as well: Jeannine Hall Gailey (who was tagged in December before I got to her, but whose fun post bears re-reading), Erin Coughlin HollowellMolly Spencer, and Cindy Hunter Morgan. Edit update: go read Kate Hanson Foster‘s post too!

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Plum & Wound

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is my first full-length manuscript, so it’s been in process for a number of years. Which is to say, its impetus is a constant flux.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

As my younger self, a brunette Emma Stone, and as my fully grown carnation, Tina Fey. Sassy, self-aware intelligence at its best. Not so much playing me as playing my idea of myself, my best version.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

To be woman and mother, a mother but no longer a daughter — these poems explore a world both particular and familiar, interior and intimate.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

No. I’ve been judiciously submitting P&W to a few small presses and contests (semi-finalist in the fall!), and it’s still in contention at a couple.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Since it’s my first, I’d say my entire life! But I only became aware that I was working toward a book in the last few years. It was a new way of thinking for me, that I actually had a body of work that was beginning to cohere into a whole.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Some recent books I’m drawn to, and which I therefore assume must share some kinship with me either in style, strategy, or subject, include (in no particular order): Mother Desert by Jo Sarzotti, Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith, The Game of Boxes by Catherine Barnett, Once by Meghan O’Rourke, Afterworld by Christine Garren, Prop Rockery by Emily Rosko, and Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam translated by Christian Wiman.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Every book I’ve ever read. My parents. My family. The living, the dead. The love I’m lucky enough to have in my life.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Poems are not autobiography, meaning that while I’m trying to get a handle on and explore true things — motherhood, mother loss, love in its various aspects — I’m not particularly bound by facts. But I like to think I’ve captured some of the essence of these things and that alone makes these poems worth writing, and hopefully reading.

A few of my favorite things

It’s getting to be ludicrous how lax I’ve been as a blogger, so I won’t even bother apologizing but will just skip right on by. Because  the year is late and time is short but there’s always much to be thankful for:

  • Journals whose new issues include my poems, to my everlasting gratitude and delight:
  • Homemade mascarpone, for which I have no photo, but I promise you is rich lovely velvet and divine on pumpkin bread.
  • Big fat novels like In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin (I’ve read, loved, & what’s more own every book he’s written) and Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.
  • Late fall days, made for sinking into the couch with hot sweet and creamy tea and one of those good books. Distract the kids with a Can You See What I See? book and you’ll have some time to yourself for your own reading.
  • Poetry: Braiding the Storm by Laura Davis, Mother Desert by Jo Sarzotti, Afterworld by Christine Garren…
  • My mother’s old wooden rolling pin. This week alone I’ve used it for making apple pie and Christmas ornaments with the boys. A well-used and well-loved hand-me-down.

In the failing afternoon light we hunted up more candles — the nubs of old tapers and half-spent Christmas pillars. As I warmed up some canned soup on the stove I was reminded how my father would cook chestnuts and popcorn on its top. “Dad would have enjoyed this,” I said softly to the air as I stirred the pot, and I saw the pain of remembrance flicker across my mother’s face. I don’t know if silence or remembrance is best, but I was longing to press a hurt simply to remind myself it was there.

– from “Storm,” in Five Thousand Days Like This One, by Jane Brox

  • You, if you’re still here, and even if you’re not. Thanks for thinking of me every now and again.

Autumn nipping at my heels

How on earth did it get to be October already? Georgia is five months old, Vincent’s in first grade, and middle child Aidan is universally praised as sweet and gentle and photogenic as hell:

The lateness of the year terrifies me — intimations of mortality etc. — but I love autumn. Kicking leaves on the way to school, woodsmoke billowing from my neighbors’ chimneys, the backyard bonfires of friends to keep cool nights at bay, pumpkins and apples, cinnamon and nutmeg. Each new season shakes up the order of our days, forces rearranging and revisioning, and many days I’d like to just request time to stop now please, I’m not ready for this. But it never does and it never will and on we go, and every day is an improvisation on the one before.

ODE TO AUTUMN / Susan Browne

Thoughts are mist. I’m restless,
yet tired as an old leaf. I yell at the yellow trees,
I see you! See me!

The light going to dark, a friend in the hospital, surgical
saw slicing his cranium, then what, radiation, chemo.
Pour another glass of wine, cook that salmon, it’s fake,

farm-raised, good although something dangerous in it,
you could investigate but why
be completely clear about semi-edible poison?

We’re cleaning out our basement, gleaning
for the holidays, searching the furrows of ornaments
for the cardboard skeleton to hang on the door.

Things multiply, ooze out of their cells. Plenty more
to replace everything. Have you noticed the ripening
of drill bits, cars, jeans, medical plans

few can afford. O, we go like leaves,
a wailful cliché however it happens,
lost cricket in the hedge-row, bleating lamb.

I glare at the mystery until I imagine
sitting on death’s branch, gazing out on rooftops
hours by hours, the rosy-hued peace,

the sky reflected in the neighbor’s pool.
Climb down through a melancholy choir
of gathering gnats and pow, it’s blue,

sun igniting water. Then cool cement,
and drowsy perfume of woodsmoke, just-cut
grass. Close your brimming eyes,

hear your heart’s soft treble,
until you’re lifted like a rain drop in reverse
into the tattered pearl of a winnowing cloud.

(from Zephyr by Susan Browne [Steel Toe Books, 2010])

Days go by

I made bread. I made butter. I made pumpkin butter. And cookies. And muffins. And oatmeal shortbread. And countless breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I made pickles, and ketchup. And many other things besides.

And I wrote a poem.

I keep promising a fuller post and keep not getting to it. There’s just not enough time in the day. But I will. I will!

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