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:

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.

The Big Poetry Giveaway 2012 — The Results

I’m later than I intended, but I’m sure you understand. But here at last are the results of my contribution to Kelli Russell Agodon‘s Big Poetry Giveaway. I chose the winners using the Random Number Generator. Last year I posted pictures of each result, but I don’t have time for such fussiness this year, so I hope you’ll just trust me.

To recap, this year’s prizes include a chapbook and 4 journal subscriptions (1 year each). The winners are:

Thanks so much to everyone who threw their names in the ring! I’ll contact the winners shortly for their addresses. New blog post coming soon, but in the meantime…

Georgia Revello Gauthier, born April 30, 2012.

The Big Poetry Giveaway 2012!

Tomorrow is April 1, the first day of National Poetry Month, which means it’s once again time for the Big Poetry Giveaway, a blog event created and organized by Kelli Russell Agodon where poets and poetry lovers giveaway two books of poems on their blog. Please visit her blog to get the full list of participants.

To play, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post. Usually, I then choose the winners, using the Random Number Generator, on May 1, but since I’ll be in hospital with the new baby then, I probably won’t have the chance to post the winners until around May 7.

This year’s prizes include a chapbook and 4 journal subscriptions (1 year each):

Let the games begin!

*

I forgot the “about me” segment… Since I began this blog 4 years ago, my life has gone through seismic changes. From running a wonderful indie bookstore to working for my favorite small press, babies (babies! Me!) (and still another to come!), and last year the loss of my mother, my grief over which has rather taken over the world since. I keep no hard and fast rules regarding what I write about here, except that I tend not to mention my husband too much because he’s not comfortable with that. I have a chapbook, but it’s not part of the giveaway because I don’t have any copies. I’ll amend that one of these days — I think my local indie down the road still has a couple. I’m selectively submitting my full-length manuscript to a few very particular presses and contests, so knock wood that I’ll hear good news on that front one fine day. If you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask me, feel free to include that with your comment entry below!

When feeling no longer evades

Despite everything I knew and felt, two of my dearest friends died gasping for air. Another couldn’t stop her pain with morphine, so she disconnected her feeding tube. Still another has the same kind of cancer, and after a heartening remission it’s back with a vengeance. Two other friends are sitting with the niece and nephew, who have just had to pull the plug on their mother’s life support. All of them are sitting there at the mother’s bedside as I write, enduring the umpteenth day of death. It’s not a snap. My mother-in-law, while visiting us at our summer home last September, fell down the stairs at 2:00 am, alone, and died — she lay where we found her, five hours later, at the bottom of the stairs, in her moon-and-star pajamas. The idea of death is always a simile — old as the hills. It can’t hurt me. But the images have to be borne, and they are unbearable. In them, knowing and feeling fight for my soul, as if one or the other could win it. The evidences are as recalcitrant as they are unignorable. I suffer them as I will never suffer my own dying. In them, I feel the legacy of what befalls us — the Latin cadere, “to fall,” gives us all that “is the case” — casualty and cadaver too — and even grammatical case, as I was recently amazed to discover, comes not from the word meaning box but from the past participle of cadere, making nouns more fundamentally moving than we like to imagine.
…When feeling no longer evades, and thinking no longer avails, the two become woven together. You feel knowing can’t save you; you know feeling can’t save you. Their famous battles fall away, and in a flash or stretch, depending how things go with you, you do a lot at once: holding back while you hold forth, bearing down while you bear up.

–Heather McHugh, “Poise and Suspense,” from Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play, edited by Daniel Tobin & Pimone Triplett

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.

Poetry Blessings

Since I’m woefully behind, the new year seems like a good time to catch up and clean the slate and acknowledge all the wonderful publications that have been printing and showcasing my poems this fall. My sincere thanks to them. They all do great work, and I’m so honored to be in such terrific company.

(In case you were wondering, though the poem-writing has been scant, I have been reading. Many many books have I been reading. So many. My next post will attempt to detail it all for you, and you will see I haven’t been altogether lazy.)

  • Connotation Press: An Online Artifact is one of the most interesting and varied online journals around, and their cast of poetry editors is stellar. They were kind enough to publish some of my poems in their October issue. You can read them here.
  • Cave Wall, which the world knows I love, included me in its summer/fall 2011 issue. Other contributors include Keetje Kuipers, Sally Rosen Kindred, Rodney Jones, Amy M. Clark, and Charles Harper Webb.
  • The Common, a beautiful new print journal out of Amherst College, published a poem in their second issue, which debuted this fall. Other contributors include Susan Kinsolving, Major Jackson, Daniel Tobin, Nathaniel Perry, and Tom Sleigh.
  • Salamander, which chose the first poem I wrote after my mom’s death for its winter 2011/2012 issue, is out now. Other contributors include Frannie Lindsay, Roland Pease, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Sarah Chace, and Andrea Scarpino.
  • The new issue of Crab Creek Review, with my poem, “Dispatch from the Sick-House,” arrived at my door just today. Other contributors include Kathleen Kirk, Nin Andrews, Joseph O. Legaspi, Anne Barngrover, and Karina Borowicz. I had a time getting it away from Aidan, who was fascinated by the gorgeous cover art!
  • And lastly, but by no means least, Susan Jo Russell’s review of my chapbook, Hunger All Inside, is the featured review for the next two weeks over at the Fiddler Crab Review! The fact of the review was itself a lovely surprise, but even more wonderful is what she has to say. Many thanks to Susan Jo and Fiddler Crab Review.

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...

The Writing Blues

Aidan at work on his magnum opus.

My children are ever so much more productively writing than I am. Vincent’s discovering the discoveries and challenges of reading and writing, and Aidan is doggedly working on his own mysterious pages.

I, on the other hand, have written exactly two poems since my mother died. That Salamander will be publishing one of them in their next issue is some consolation, but I’m feeling the pull and tug of the writing bug.

After Aidan was born, I buckled down and wrote a poem a week, and kept at it consistently, for a long time. Not all were worth keeping or working on, but the regularity of effort kept my mind chugging.

But now, sometimes, a lot of times, I just feel stymied. What to say that’s not about my mother and how intensely I miss her? (Which is responsible for the silences here as well.)

I’ve reached that stage where I’m weary of talking about my grief. I miss her. It hurts. Nothing helps, nothing will help, because she’s not coming back. Emotionally I accept that, but I’m just bored with myself.

I’m not unaware of my life’s many blessings, not least of which is a plenitude of love, my dear family, this unexpected gift of a new child in the spring.

I’m also grateful that I live a life saturated in literature: Tupelo Press, the Collected Poets Series, the support and love of poet friends — it’s a financially precarious life, but I love it and am thankful for it.

Which is to say, I love my life. To paraphrase the film, “Super 8,” (which I also loved), bad things happen, but I can go on. I can live, and can live happily.

I guess I’m just trying to find a way to write about this abiding sadness that doesn’t feel maudlin or self-indulgent or tedious. It’s one thing to bore myself; it’s unforgivable to bore others.