Writing about writing

This post is a prompt response from yesterday. Of five provided images, the one I responded to was of a piebald horse (not unlike the one above). I quote two poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Joyce Kilmer and for your enjoyment include the entirety of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Pied Beauty, at the end.

It helps to know that I am ten years plus into writing a novel in which one of the central characters is Eliza Lucas Pinckney (b. 1722) and that the other three main characters are enslaved Black women.


Rhombuses of Light

The morning light is sectioned
mintons and mullions
through the glass, hitting floor and
wall, bending at baseboard.
She often referred to light
as “lozenges.”

It’s the glow we like
especially when April
breezes seep past sills
and chill. But what about the
bend at the baseboard?
An easy compliance.

“Glory be to God for dappled
things,” said the poet.
Rhombuses of light
are not pied or
dappled, but when created
by a window speak
to the relationship between
solidity and light.

She repeats herself. All
those references to clouds!
It’s time to find and replace.
Thunderclouds with slate
grey bottoms, slants of
rain like an etching against
the horizon. Again, Eliza,

Her friend rode a dappled
grey sixteen hands high. How I had
to look all that up, authority running
to cats and dogs and at a stretch to
the way the interior of a barn
smells and how light catches
dust and particles of hay
drifting below the rafters.
How light and gravity inform
a moment.

Imagination as authority,
not a popular position
these days.

Ripples of clouds above
the marsh, liked ruched
silk. Sunlight on creek
shining like pewter. God
in nature. We get it! Eliza
got it.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
got it.

Light will slide up the
wall as day goes on.
Sometimes the miraculous has
a predictable element to it.

All those author interviews
and how they make her
shrink. What’s on HER
bedside table? Did she
even read as a child?

The Case of the Hidden

But it occurs to her now,
more memory than thought,
that reading Gerard Manley
Hopkins as a teenager
opened a previously
undisclosed chamber in
her heart.

You can do that with
language? Light can
bend at baseboard
and be celebrated and in
strange syncopations?
Why does one element
mimicking another thrill
the senses? Light like
water. Sedimentary rock
like ripples of corduroy.
Memory like glass.

As a priest, he told
himself to shut up.
Figures an early hero of
mine would go to such extremes
and for all the wrong
reasons. Virginia Woolf with
rocks in her pockets.

Heroes, heroines, perhaps
best not to have them —
but how else learn how
to write, how not to panic,
how to pick at a scab and
move on?

Just once, she’d like the column
to soberly reveal an author
that didn’t read until she
was seventeen or so. Too busy
mucking about in creeks and
negotiating with terror. Why
sit still?

Music floods the chest.
A good reason for silence,
she thinks, a single window
at a time being enough,
the light passing through
glass from the east,
inching toward the center of the hall.

You mean to tell me
the rhombuses of light float down the wall
and not up as morning progresses?
The unreliability
of observation. What motes?
What barn? Memory like glass.

Eliza’s daughter was about to
turn eleven when he died. Eliza’s
husband. Harriett’s father.
The dates are there for the finding.
July 12, 1758 and August 7, 1758.

What I make of turning
eleven just after the death of
a parent is not what you will
make of the same.

Even Harriett, poor dear,
would have made several
things of a singular devastation.

She had wanted to read
“Pied Beauty” at her father’s
funeral. The altar boy
turned atheist would have
appreciated its point, even
if Longfellow and Poe were
his favored fare.

Her sister overruled the selection.
Longstanding habits
of bullying that can’t even
be attributed to grief.

“I think that I shall
never see a poem as
lovely as a tree,” he
wrote in my autograph
book — remember those? —
“But with his help, I’ve
made a Dee.”

“He fathers-forth whose
beauty is past change.”

Swapping out an altar
in the Catholic Church for the
Kinderhook Creek doesn’t mean
one has no god.
Trout fishing as sacrament.

Harriett was ten about to turn
eleven. I was 24 or 26 and the fact that I can
never remember without adding age-at-death to
one birth year and then subtracting another
birth year speaks to loss.


*     *     *

Poetry Fdtn link here.

11 thoughts on “Writing about writing

  1. Acey

    these books live inside of us for small eternities. Somebody asked me the other day how I could possibly be so knowledgeable about my characters. I just started laughing.

    Like … who else would know about them?

    1. deemallon Post author

      Yes. Thinking about them up down and sideways. How’s your book coming along, PS. How can you even write with the garden calling?

      1. Acey

        I can’t do it for more than a few hours daily total right now due to that overpowering call. But luckily (??) it’s still crappy weather season so I’m getting in a couple-few full work days a week for the moment. Somehow I’m staying on schedule goals and results wise. I don’t know how to be with that. It’s literally never happened before with this kind of project.

        tomorrow, during the nor’easter, Jim and I will be going to get our first vaccination shot in East Springfield. that should be fun and I’m sure I’ll be more than ready to segue to high summer in the Berkshires by the time I get home…

  2. Hazel

    The weight and light and ungraspable qualities of all of this. The Case of the Hidden
    Staircase- my mom gave it to me at Christmas, 6th grade, one of my first clear memories of her not seeing who I was. Your last post, how Giana holds his face in hers. I cried from the moment the judge began reading from the anxiety, and continued long after in relief, and from the knowing that it’s not enough.

  3. Saskia

    rhombuses of light, now I have learned what that means
    reading your writing Dee at 4 in the morning – just one of those nights I couldn’t sleep, no worries – transporting me out of my bed into a world that I didn’t know before and yet felt familiar, how it sometimes catches one like that
    beautiful post, despite everything ugly that is also going on

  4. Liz A

    I imagine you writing this … the synaptic flickers darting about your mind, sending impulses to fingers that form cryptic symbols that flow with meaning and crystallize … here

    and we, reading your words, comprehend but a fraction of it all … knowing some of the stories behind the story, but feeling deep in our hearts that there is always the untold meaning that undergirds it … and that is why we write … and why we read

    1. deemallon Post author

      Sometimes I think I need to make my meaning more plain but then this is how it comes out. One thing I’ve learned from the AWA writing method is to not explain. It’s really discouraged, in fact: the writing should stand on its own.


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