Category Archives: Amherst writers method

Morning of Surprise Hearing

“I wonder if it’s possible to will myself into spontaneous combustion.”
Aleyna Rentz, from Cincinnati Review

Charred bones hold a certain
appeal. A ravaging by fire
before crumbling into the dirt of
death.

Malva up the street bloom
in the palest of pinks. And now
hosta send up the sturdy
stalks of their flowers. July,
this July coming, is still familiar
to them in a way to me
it is not.

Hair shooting out of my scalp
transformed into poison darts
would more clearly show
the neighbors who I am
than the little waves, nods,
the purse across the chest,
holding phone and dog treats
as if the old rules of communication and reward still apply.

The house remains standing. The grass
grows in the fits and starts
indicative of shade. This morning
the dog sat on the deck planks
still wet from last night’s rain. He
was listening. Dogs are always
listening.

Would it help to shave my
head? To craft an embroidered
badge saying I’M DONE or WAKE UP?
To make visible the roiling
disappointment, so roiling,
so disappointed as to render the
words useless.

Old styles of rebellion will not
hold. Saving democracy is
not a style decision, as much as
we might like it to be.

Revelation after damning revelation
and STILL we wonder: will it matter?

We’re talking a femoral bleed.
Grasping around to find
a tourniquet, placing the life-
saving band around the body
but forgetting how to tie a knot.

“No July 4 for me this year,” say
some, while many others have
never had much to celebrate about
our so-called independence, our
so-called freedoms.

A flawed past does not
condemn us to tyranny. Please, someone,
make magnets saying that so I can put
them eye-level on the fridge, linking
hunger and hope and reason.

We don’t forget to eat, so
why should we forget to dream big?
To believe in possibility?

The squirrels chip at the air
with their throats. I used to think
it was the cardinals.

Somewhere, someone mows a
lawn. Somewhere, someone gets
water off a truck because lead
contaminates their water. Local
jack hammers signify home
improvement. Federal jack
hammering comes in the form
of 6-3 opinions. They
are blasting away at basic assumptions,
at long-held rights, at
the beliefs and needs of the majority — at

their own jurisprudence.

Who do you talk to in the
still of the night? Some nights
it is the ghost of my mother.
Other nights it is my own
nervous system. Sometimes
my children show up as absence
and silence and that keeps me
awake longer.

Not all loss is national and
collective.

I have my snacks ready
for the next set of revelations.
A friend is coming to sit by and
watch with me.

How we connect now matters more than ever.

Last night the sky blazed
orange. Chips of light between
maple and beech trees like mosaics.
It’s hard to remember the world
when you are perpetually walking
between kitchen and living room,
bathroom and bed. COVID, anyone? Or should I say: COVID for EVERYONE!

The world as defiled. The
world as holy. I don’t need
to shave my head to show
how my heart is trembling.

 *. *. *.

This was written to a prompt in my Tuesday Amherst Writers and Artists workshop — the last until mid-August. The prompt was the Rentz quote above which appeared in a piece titled The Land of Uz. Cincinnati Review, Fall ’21.

The photo of Hutchinson was taken from a PBS website, but it is everywhere. I ran it through a filter in the Prisma app.

P.S. if you look carefully at the fairy-lights-photo, you will see Finn behind the glass door.

 

 

From Tuesday, June 21, 2022

I don’t normally title blog posts with dates, but it feels important to note the time. Five and a half weeks since the shooting in Buffalo. Four weeks since the shooting in Uvalde. The day before the fourth Jan 6 Hearing. The day of the Supreme Court handing down long-awaited decisions. The day after Beyonce dropped a song from her new album.

The paragraphs below were written in a go to a prompt and are not edited.

The prompt: “She stopped listening to weather reports.”

She stopped listening to weather reports. It was a matter of self-preservation she said. “I want to remember how to sniff for rain,” she said. “Enough with the apps!” Stepping onto the blue stone in the cool of morning with bare feet had also receded into some primitive time of “before.”

The local screech owls died when they tore down the Newton Andover woods to make way for townhomes. She found one of their bodies. The neighbor who had called out to them in the dark of spring evenings when the bats came out, was gone now too.

Speaking of sniffing, just yesterday on a dog walk with her husband, she’d said, “That smells like fox. They spray too you know.” Of course he knew.

She’d collected skunk bones from under the deck one summer, their vertebrae like candies in her palm, but neither of them had ever seen a fox.

The very next morning, her phone chimed at 6:40 a.m. — too early for Patty’s daily wordle result. It was her husband. He’d resumed hoofing it to the T two or three times a week. “You’ll never believe this,” it read. “I saw a fox on Cypress Street this morning.”

It was as if the universe was playing with them. Maybe, she thought, she ought to start picturing the FBI raiding Mar-A-Lago. After all, it was the Solstice, which is one of the corners of the year when the Old Ones believe that a crack between the worlds opened up. Possibilities unlikely on an ordinary day might fly on the longest day.

Today she sat and watched her phone, waiting for the inevitable. At ten a.m., the Supreme Court started publishing opinions, the whole country holding its breath — the bad of it all about to get so much worse.

It wasn’t like she set out to learn political minutiae, like how reconciliation bills were exempt from the filibuster or how tight margins in some primaries triggered an automatic recount, but she did. This morning she learned that the highest court released opinions by reverse seniority. Kavanaugh’s came first and when Breyer’s dropped, it meant Dobbs would hold another day, since Alito is junior to Breyer.

A Roe expert on twitter wrote “Sobbs” by mistake and then said, “Well, that fits too.”

Beyonce’s first single in years dropped last night proving there is still good in the world. Talent and beauty, gifts to us all. If only her singing, “You won’t break my soul,” applied universally, unilaterally. Could her message be like the slight scent of musk which had been received with disbelief only to be met the very next day with the actual embodiment of what was believed impossible. Jump suits for everyone!

Her therapist will only read the news (not watch) and some days only the headlines. She says it’s too much otherwise. Silvia says the same.

At the doctor’s office yesterday, the form asked if she ever felt anxious, restless, depressed, or hopeless. Suicide screening is nothing new. She checked “often” for a lot of them. When the doctor held up the form later with a raised eyebrow, she just waved it off saying simply, “I watch the news.”

The fox crossing the road, the very first sited in over thirty years, seemed a kind of miracle — a call and response between imagination and reality. These days, she couldn’t tell if her hopelessness was being tamped down by some efficient and reliable defenses, or if it was denial battering her, forcing her to adopt notions, hopeful notions, that simply weren’t supported by reality. We all know denying reality creates tension. Tension.

“How much hopelessness is appropriate?” was a question she never expected to ask herself with such regularity.

A fox crossing the road. A sweep for the good at the midterms. A musky scent confirmed. Indictments handed out all the way to the top. A summer dance tune: “You won’t break my soul.”

*  *  *

Yesterday’s hearing, as it turned out, gave cause for hope — the brave testimony and acts of ordinary poll workers — Ms. Moss and her mother, Lady Ruby Freeman. But it was also cause for fear because it demonstrated that the right has “operationalized violence,” as Nicolle Wallace said, and these ordinary poll workers, also Black women, were targeted in an extreme and gross manner that speaks to Jim Crow and the lengths trump and his cohort have been willing to go to hold onto power.

Incoming edits this week

And hallelujah! Will be watching for the Fed Ex truck eagerly. Consultant is sending marked up pages — 200 to start. Very old school.

For editing, honestly, I prefer working on paper.

Attended an Amherst Writers and Artists Northeast Chapter meeting yesterday which was great (writers from Maine, NYC, upstate NY, Connecticut, and Massachusetts), but it means today feels like Saturday and it’s not.

Found a yummy looking recipe for roasted pumpkin wedges. Gonna give it a whirl. The same cookbook inspired breaded and fried leeks last night. The leeks didn’t hold together quite well enough but they were tasty.

I’ll report back on the pumpkin.

Update.

Well, I didn’t like them. Maybe you shouldn’t use a pumpkin that’s been sitting on your stoop for a couple of weeks.? The flesh was stringy and bland. K thought they were good, but my feeling was: I can think of better ways to eat bread crumbs and Parmesan.

And I did! Added an egg to the leftover cheesy grits from last night and coated them with what was left of the herb, bread crumb, garlic/herb mixture. Delicious! A crusty exterior with a smooth creamy inside. Yum.

PS I made a Tarot pouch this afternoon from the sleeve of an old jacket — big enough for the Voyager deck.

Rainy day after Address

This post/poem is in response to the prompt: “some days disappear like…” courtesy of Kathleen Olesky. Also, though it’s presumptuous, Rumi also deserves a credit here.

(Above: writing room as seen in mirror)

Some days disappear like

Some days disappear like snow on an
outstretched tongue, quietly, others
like butter in a hot iron skillet
with a froth and a sizzle.

Some nights land like a stranger
lurking in the bushes, leaving
us shaken and afraid, others

come on us like Magi
to the Christ child, bearing
fragrant and precious
gifts, unexpected.

An afternoon can drawl
or contract, lounge
or catapult. Is the rhythm a
function of what we had for breakfast and
the dreams that visited overnight?
Or are they perhaps their own
small kingdoms, with rules external?

My favorite times are mornings
born of rest when the pulled
curtain reveals a lovely
soft wash or a hearty
glare of eastern light. A
new day, no matter what.

Let’s meet there, near the
windowsill and pull it up,
the sash, and lean, together,
and breathe, then shout, “Thank you!”

 

 

 

Here’s the Rumi poem I was thinking of.

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,
really?

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
Staircase.

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.