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:

Photo by nature & nurture

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])

Taste of Summer

There are some books, some poets, that I instinctively associate with winter — Leslie Harrison’s Displacement, Frost, all the Russians (accurate or not) — but who do you think of as a summer poet? Lyrical, fulsome, hot… give me some recommendations. I’m in a mood.

Life is bursting at the seams here. In addition to the day-to-day work of work and parenting, I’ve been a madwoman of creativity.

In the kitchen.

In the last week I’ve baked Portuguese sweet bread, chocolate drop cookies, cinnamon-swirled brioche loaves, and strawberry jam.

And I’ve written exactly one and a half lines of poetry.

Cooking fits well into the balancing act, especially baking — outside of the mixing, so much of it is passive, letting the oven do all the work while keeping an eye on the time — but the still center I need to write is harder to come by these days.

Yet, at last, the high tide of grief has begun to ebb. Has bowed and taken its place several steps behind the new ruler of the household. I felt so overwrought through most of my pregnancy, so bereft, I couldn’t imagine…

The boys resemble their dad — the brow line, their cute button noses — and so does Georgia, though her  look is softer and clearly feminine.

But her long fingers, with their perfect little fingernails — her hands are an inheritance from my mother.

The poems will come, as will sleep, and normalcy (of a kind).

But this, this is fleeting. In the face of such spectacular vulnerability and need, this being that I created cell by cell, how can I feel anything but blessed.

Winter Ghosts

I’ve been negligent. As I become more obviously pregnant, folks are so obviously and loquaciously delighted, and yes, this new baby, this unexpected girl, is a much-needed bright star in a dark year. How lovely to talk about impending birth instead of death! But it’s exhausting being so grateful all the time. I find myself staying home, avoiding the phone.

I’m a tempest of hormones and grief, and the person I most want to talk with about it is gone, the source of my pain.

I don’t need bucking up. I don’t need to be told how lucky I am. Dad was 49 when he died; he never saw his children into adulthood, never knew his grandkids. And that sucks. And it sucks that they didn’t get to grow old together. Mum was at our weddings, got to be a grammie to our kids, but she still cried in her room at night, missing her lost-too-soon husband, her life’s companion. And having had Mum for her 68 years doesn’t make her death any less of a loss to me now.

Because wonderful things and terrible things happen right alongside each other. But the wonderful things don’t “make up for” the terrible things. They’re not two sides of the same coin or balances on a scale. Life never balances out, and some days that knowledge is harder to take than others.

Kevin Prufer has a smart piece up over at About a Word on sentimentality (which is a sort of reaction to or expansion on his involvement in the Symposium on Sentiment in the new issue of Pleiades), and he says “sentimentality often involve[s] reducing an emotionally complex situation into an emotionally simple one.” And I think that’s what I’m getting at. This urge to tidy things up. It’s not just that it’s premature now, because it’s always premature.

More than that, it’s a falsification. Life is ever so much more than glass half empty/ glass half full.

It’s good to be thankful, count your blessings. But it can become simplistically reactionary, a sort of emotional shorthand that denies acknowledgment and validity to the full range of individual experience. And when that denial comes from without, from others who insist you must “accent-uate the positive, elim-inate the negative,” it feels worse than a lie. It feels like an erasure.

Auld Lang Syne

I don’t want to let the year end without saying that, for all of 2011’s sorrows, I am deeply and heartfelt-fully grateful for my family — my boys, my husband, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, etc. — and all my loyal and loving friends — virtual and otherwise. You remind me of what’s true and dear in life, and hold my hand on days when I don’t need reminding but just need a hand. May the new year bring you all and mostly good things.

Baby @ 20 wks
Our new edition, due to be released May 1, 2012...

Draft of the Week, #6.

As the blog nears its two-year mark, it seemed to me to need a small makeover — you might not have even noticed.  I chose a design that offers a similar color scheme, fonts, and I kept my header photo of the Potholes (tho’ maybe I’ll begin updating the Potholes picture as the seasons change), but everything seems cleaner, more crisp.  The most notable changes are the addition of an “Upcoming Readings” page, and the location of my blogroll, featured links, etc.: in a neat 3 columns at the bottom of the page.  Maybe the clutter didn’t bother you, but I’m feeling much better about things.  And this was something I could do in between jags of wiping runny noses and doses of hot tea.

As if a cold weren’t enough, Aidan is also teething.  I remember Vincent sprouting teeth like it was no big deal — growing pains have always been his particular bane.  Not so for Aidan.  Day by day it becomes more and more evident that having one child offers me nothing by way of a road map for the second.

It’s later than I meant, but under these conditions I’m happy to have written this poem at all.  The draft will come down in a day or two. Hope the rest of you are enjoying your holiday, either sickness-free or on the mend!

Oh, and I forgot to say: the idea for this poem came from a “mini-mini-challenge” over at ReadWritePoem;  my thanks to them!

{poof!}

Pain~I do not think it means what you think it means.

https://i0.wp.com/school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/images/scalpel.gifI was idly flipping through the latest issue of Parents when I came upon this:

For decades, doctors believed that babies didn’t feel pain, based on flawed studies showing that sleeping infants didn’t respond to light pinpricks. In fact, until the 1980s, many newborns who had heart surgery received no pain medication — they were only given paralytic drugs that forced them to lie completely still, though fully aware, as their chests were opened.

To which I say, WHAT??! Why is it that we need studies to tell us what should be perfectly, staggeringly obvious? As late as the 1980s!! We’re not talking the dark ages here. An appalling reminder that you can’t take anything for granted — it would never have even occurred to me that my baby wouldn’t receive anesthesia for surgery. He would now, but just 20 years ago…!

I was expecting innocuous articles on sharing and finger foods, and instead I’ll be forever haunted by the image of a baby strapped to an operating table, paralyzed, eyes open in horror, as his chest is cracked open.

But I can’t end a post with that, it’s just too awful, so here’s a poem from Lisa Russ Spaar’s collection, Satin Cash, that captures something of how I’m feeling right now:

You, with Gold Leaf

I grow impatient with spirit as alibi
despite each night, ecclesiastical,

more and more sky, the costal trees
in fierce defrayal,

fretting with kohl branches
the edges of the parking lot.

I stand by my car,
night a translucent, colostrum blue

of goodbye, & cocklebur Venus
reveals to me the truth

of your body as light source,
burning by mercy inside me still.

Further adventures with eczema.

I took Aidan, now nearly 4 1/2 months old, to the dermatologist today, and he was duly impressed by the baby’s poor scaly state. It’s really awful. He’s not sleeping more than 2 hours together, he’s so uncomfortable. And he looks dreadful. Except for those brightly serious blue eyes of his — when you look in those eyes you cease to notice all the scabby patches in which they’re set.

We now have a game plan, a course of action, and the tools with which to proceed. Which includes a shower cap. I’ll try to post a picture soon, because you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a baby lounging in a shower cap.

He already looks better tonight. But I hold out not an iota of hope for a good night’s sleep.

Last night’s reading was fantastic. Standing room only. Kerry, a former blues singer, read with a formidable confidence, and even treated us to a snatch of song. Joseph interspersed serious and affecting poems with hilarious entertainers like “Throne”, about sharing a bathroom with a woman.

Then Genie took the microphone and shifted the tone again — my favorite poem of hers dealt with her fall from a window as a youngster — she was saved by the belt of her robe! And finally, Dorianne. When she read the title poem from her collection, Facts about the Moon, the room was riveted.

And we sold every copy of that book, too. In fact, we sold a lot of books last night for the poets (poets bring the books, we handle the sales) — which makes me very happy. We don’t have the funds to pay our readers yet, so it’s nice to be able to make them money in that capacity at least.

The following poem is from Kerry’s chapbook, From a Burning Building, published by March Street Press — dealing with motherhood, a disastrous marriage, it’s one little firebomb of a book!

To One Six Month Old,
Then Another

You are now expected to know what I mean,
and do not need to answer in plain English.
Understand, it’s time for you to speak. Our bodies
barely disentangled, we will throw our hearts
into call and answer. Not thinking of a future
where your love of me becomes a skin
you will shed and grow again one thousand times.
I will follow you, hunting wildly for traces.
I will lead, leaving my own markings for when
you cry out, as you will, and singing softly,
I come back to carry you along.

Short newsy post ending with a Spontaneous Vision of Cuteness.

  • The CPS reading last night with Nikky Finney, Tara Betts, and the ladies of the Holyoke Care Center was phenomenal!  The energy & passion in that room was just amazing, and, as Tara & Nikky both noted, it was like a continuum, the poetry torch passed down from Nikky to Tara to the talented teen mothers, and then back up again.  A night to remember.
  • I did manage to finish my poem, but contrary to everything I said, it required a LOT of revision.  It’s now 19 lines, versus the 18 lines I left off with, with only a few lines resembling the earlier version.  Moral:  sometimes I am full of crap.
  • Did you know that the reason a baby’s breath is so very sweet is a baby has no teeth?  Bacteria causes odor, teeth harbor bacteria, hence, no teeth, no bad breath.

As promised: a Spontaneous Vision of Cuteness.
As promised: a Spontaneous Vision of Cuteness: Vincent & Aidan.

A Sporadic Interlude.

Aidan is sleeping, and Vincent is thoroughly absorbed in cutting newspaper into itty-bitty pieces with his little scissors — one of a few sporadic interludes of quiet time I manage each day.

It could end at any second, though — we have squirrels running around in our ceilings, between the 2nd & 3rd floors, egads they make a racket, and now one of them is crying, I think it could be hurt. That’s what it sounds like, anyway. And the sound is totally wigging Vincent out.

Because I’m not working, I haven’t purchased any books for a while, but because my entire book collection is now out of storage, I have plenty to read, so many books I forgot I owned. The stack most in use at the moment is the small one in the living room, comprised of:

  • Fanatic Heart, by Deborah Pope (Louisiana State University Press, 1992). A kindred spirit, many poems about her son. “Firstborn”, the long poem that opens her third section, is a stunner.
  • World’s Tallest Disaster, by Cate Marvin (Sarabande, 2001). I’ve had an advanced reader’s copy of this forever, but it was tucked away in a box.
  • Cusp, by Jennifer Grotz (Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin, 2003). “Not This Raw Fluttering” is a poem to post for sure come spring.
  • Unrelenting Readers: The New Poet-Critics, edited by Paul M. Hedeen and D.G. Myers (Story Line Press, 2004). I’ve read this before, but I’ve been hankering for prose on poetry, and this fits the bill.
  • Grace, Fallen From, by Marianne Boruch (Wesleyan University Press, 2008). One of my last purchases from the bookshop. Hardcover! — but completely worth it.
  • Crocus, by Karin Gottshall (Fordham University Press, 2007). Also part of that last purchase. One of my favorite poetry books in a while. Poem to come.

Good Times.

My little Mr. Magoo.
My little Mr. Magoo.

Emma commented below something to the effect that she doesn’t know how I do it all.  And my reply is, I don’t.  The lion’s share of my time right now is spent taking care of Aidan and Vincent.  I’ve taken notes for poems, actually read some books of poems, but I haven’t even picked up the novel I began reading while I was in the hospital.  I try to keep the apartment neat, for my own sanity, but actual cleaning, well, housekeeping was never my strong suit.  I don’t answer the phone — that’s what voicemail is for.  It’s frigidly cold, so we hardly go out but for necessities.  Simply put, if there’s something you tend to do on a daily basis, I probably don’t.

And all that is just fine, exactly as it should be, because these early baby days are fleeting, and Vincent is growing by leaps and bounds, and all too soon these boys who give me barely a second’s rest won’t want me around, will roll their eyes at me and mutter, “Whatever.”  I may be bleary-eyed and irritable, but that doesn’t keep me from smothering those little heads with kisses while I can.

In preparation for the poetry-writing-drought that was inevitable after Aidan’s birth, I sent out many submissions, or what I consider many, a few months ago.  If I’m not writing, I at least want a bunch of my poems out there!  Last week was particularly trying on the home front, but I’m happy to say that  poetry-wise I’ve had a string of good luck.  So I’m not complaining.  But more on that later.