Category Archives: writing

Offspring: a poem, a lament

Speaking of offspring, here’s a lament written during the summer writing retreat.* I can’t remember what the prompt was — maybe something about emptying your mind?


Golden rod tug slightly in a breeze. Higher up, the rustle of maples. And everywhere: insects. Bees and flies and stinging pests. How sweet it’d be to merely lament the season coming to a close and not the earth herself melting, collapsing, churning, with the Ring of Fire activating quakes up and down the coasts on either side of the Pacific. Which one will open up under Brentwood, Pasadena, Korea Town, and Studio City and gobble up great edifices of society not to mention, people: Brother, Son? I could never have been the mother who said, ‘No. Do not go.’ And even if I had been, he’d not have listened which is how it should be, but still — a bigger worry added to the usual worries.

And then there’s the plains of Nebraska, the river banks along the Mississippi, the lower reaches of Missouri — should so much land be under water?

And how can the potential destruction of, say, one American Western city compare to all of Greenland’s ice melting, Paris and London frying under a merciless sun? Or colony collapse, the bees giving up the ghost, along with whole caveloads of bats, unable to fight the poisonous fight any longer, tongues and nails, slab and tourniquet. What place, then after?

When we look at the data, we also look away, preferring to note how a grasshopper landing not five feet away says something about summer ending and the memory of other summers ending — times when bikes, hoses, pools, bare feet were the signifiers. Our poor brood when little watched nature show after nature show offering up news of habitat decline and species extinction and people wonder why millennials are anxious?

We wonder why the young refuse heirlooms of any kind, but especially have no interest in the Rosenthal china, the Royal Doulton, the Strawberry Wedgewood. ‘Will we have a home or air?’ they wonder — the inability to afford the former a trifling but inescapable concern compared to the latter.

‘We have ten years,’ they keep saying, trying and failing to sound the alarm. ‘Ten years’ means something different to the young than it does to my aging ears. Gone are the days when insects present as cute and annoying pests. Not when closer scrutiny might reveal how numbered their days are. How connected they are to everything else.

Even if we all rowed in the same direction, what a monumental challenge! But with lies the prevalent currency and corporations granted all ascendancy, we first have to clean house and by then — I’m sorry, the thought is there — mightn’t it be too late?

How many monarchs migrated to the milkweeds, those perennials standing proud and erect, proper in their heliotropic course, casting lozenge-shaped shadows, offering praise to sun and nourishment to caterpillars? How many? Less than last year? A tenth of the year before?

It’s easy to shrug at the extinction of some two-toed sloth or a miniature lizard with nocturnal habits literally never seeing the light of day, but what about ALL of the passerines? Polar bears and reindeer? What about us? If we’d cared more about the two-toed sloth all those years ago, would we be better situated today — able to enter the “Wild Kingdom” programming, sponsored by Mutual of Omaha and hosted by some hokey and corny know-nothing, instead of learning about floating islands of plastic the size of Delaware and about Colorado burning for half a season?

 

* It turns out that the response to the prompt mentioned yesterday became a chapter in the book (working title: •Blood and Indigo•). That means I’m precluded from ‘publishing’ here (seriously, with 100 hits a day?) What would happen if I ‘published’ it, left it up for ten days, and then tagged it private? SShhh

Sharon Olds poem, published in Atlantic Magazine.

Sentinel trees

Oooh boy, am I in for a treat with the novel, “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers! Abandoned another piece of fiction in order to begin. Since that disqualifies me from airing any opinion about said abandoned book: My Lips are Sealed (but maybe I don’t like farce all that much?)

“The Overstory” is already blowing the top of my head off, in much the way that “Lincoln in the Bardo” did. Grace, Mo, Alden, Maureen, and Deb have all led me to it.

One of the prompts at the AWA writing retreat in August came from the opening page. I think you’ll swoon to read the lines, too:

The tree is saying things, in words before words.
It says: Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.

When I find what I wrote, I’ll post it, even though as I recall it was a bit opaque. In the meantime, scroll down for a response to another prompt that mentions the 250+ year old copper beech that dwells next door.

I’ve probably photographed this tree more than any other feature of our built or natural landscape. It towers over the houses with a reach nothing short of spectacular. The trunk, muscular and sturdy, mediates between sky and earth, while beneath the soil? A downward fractalling mirror of the canopy, unseen and necessary.

A story I’m submitting to literary magazines describes it. My son featured it in a third grade project.

My neighbors steward the being with utmost care: cables strung for support, twice annual feedings.

Can you imagine all that this beech has witnessed? The household secrets, the stirring of war and war again, the native people who may have honored it and perhaps also drank at the spring which once (supposedly) offered cool respite nearby. People with pox, barn fires (our house and its charred beams), orphans and the enslaved, tavern owners and farmers (the Bartletts at the corner).

The Jacksons who built the house in the 1700’s witnessed the early, young days of the tree’s life. Maybe it was the tree that inspired one owner to bequeath the house to an illegitimate daughter. Such things were not done!

Ghosts have been noted. A smithy and a soldier hanging in a closet. Not here but next door.

This little untitled poem by me mentions the tree.

She flipped the french toast,
vanilla fumed, and twisted to
a morning made of thread
and diary, made of weeds along the
road — dandelion and chickweed —
and a sun that glared
hot mystery
through the copper beech.

This time of year leafery,
cotillion, cockswaddle, and
steak. We could be made
of spores and engineered
lumber, but find ache
and patchwork inside instead.

How his back moves
down the road. She, off
with the dog down another.
Was there no plan to map
the distances, to cloud
handshakes and rollovers
with sleep or with taking
out the trash?

And how about Yellow?
Primroses flat, then yarrow, regal.
Soon the pansies made of
sugar and sunlight bought by
the flat will land while the dog pulls
away, scents of cow dung
and denim rot irresistible.

She left the dowels at the store.
The quilt unhung for another
week. Made of forgetfulness,
inclined toward suspense, turning away
not gathering up, and a scold
or two.

If only the oceans lingered
near the driveway, instead
of maple tree detritus
and scum bubbles of tar.

Meanwhile, an unintended consequence of a rheumatologist’s advice last week to “be active like you were ten years ago,” led to bravado in the garden and a back with more pain than I’ve ever experienced. Chiropractor at three. PT beginning within the week. K even stayed home today because yesterday I could barely get up the stairs or into bed. I’m much better now.

In other news: it looks like I have enough people for my first writing class. I’m so excited!

What do you think of my name: “Page by Page?” It’s a little bit like Annie Lamont’s “Bird by Bird,” but not critically enough to foreclose my usage.

 

 

Pasta, piecing, and puzzling

Rabe, red onion, and peppers sautéed in bacon fat and garlic-infused olive oil served on gluten-free pasta with Asagio cheese. Not shown: a few crumbles of bacon to finish. Soooo delicious!

Meanwhile, piecing and puzzling. Both a little mindless. Reviewed a short story to submit around. It would be ideal to have SOMETHING published before manuscript is looked at. I took yesterday off from it completely and today: avoid, avoid, avoid. This happens. It’s one reason why I’m pretty convinced it’s better to work every day, even if only a little.

When I couldn’t sleep last night, I came downstairs and read. This is Mark Helprin’s newest book and given that he is one of my favorite novelists of all time, I’ve been surprised at how slow my engagement’s been. But now I’m in! It’s set in modern day Paris, no surprise, given the title.

Purpose, habit

Today I made gazpacho, rice/corn salad, and a blueberry cake. Sometimes, that’s enough. I don’t mean enough to satisfy hunger but enough to create a container wherein purpose and comfort can dwell.

After the post about trump-fatigue, I had to ask: why do I do this? It’s not to afford others hope. It’s not to teach. I guess I don’t really know, but I’m pretty sure I do it for myself –perhaps with the hope that a few others find value?

Novel update: Conversion of font from Corbel to New Times Roman continues apace (industry standards). Some editing. Since I’m still not used to the modern convention of inserting only a single space between sentences, I’m closing ’em up where I catch an extra space.

Today, a few chronology issues needed sorting. And, the thing is too long.

Angel Oak, Johns Island, SC

But, I have momentum. Also, an unexpected (and pretty marvelous) thing is happening: I am in the story. Really in it. I don’t think I have been before.

So, even though the more I read about agents, the weaker I get in the knees, I don’t think fear will stop me.

When I found out I was pregnant with C, I was working in a women’s prison advocating for mothers. To calm my nerves about giving birth, I occasionally reminded myself that every single one of my clients had given birth. All of them. Surely, I could, too?

That’s not meant to be uncharitable, although the literary corollary is. The corollary says: There are a lot of bad books in the world and THEY somehow got published. Maybe I can be, too.

Drayton Hall, on the Ashley River outside of Charleston

Old map of Charleston

Magnolia Plantation, on the Ashley River outside of Charleston, SC

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Weirdly stymied

Hope tomorrow is a day to “get back at it.” Social media? Blah! Just made a mango, pineapple, Red onion and cilantro chutney. So things ARE HAPPENING, just not here online.

To re-enter, how about some pix from the writing retreat in Hawley, Mass? It was waaaaay cooler than last year and also amazing, profound, and a blast. Heard the most amazing writing. Got three more scenes to balance out end of my manuscript.

And then — here are some pix from the garden. Today I sweat and sweat and remembered how much I used to move plants around, and loved doing so. Still love doing so, as it turns out. Lately all I’ve been doing is weeding.

What did you do this weekend?

The gladness, it arrives

What many of you don’t know is that the most recent chapter of sister-drama and crisis lasted for nine years. That’s almost a decade. Nearly a decade of being drained, embattled, hopelessly entangled, desperate, and full of episodic fury and nearly constant resentment.

Mostly kept out of view here.

I can date my getting to know the thread-people here to the very beginning of this nine year chapter because — clear as day — I remember reading an article about Jude while waiting in the ICU (“The Artful Blogger” perhaps?)*

A few doors down, my sister was recovering from emergency abdominal surgery. A hernia and necrotic bowel. Then she went septic. When the doctor called, he gave her a 60/40 chance of dying and then announced in a voice dripping with judgment, “She’s almost 400 pounds, you know,” as if it were somehow my fault.

I honestly couldn’t tell in that moment whether I wanted my sister to live or to die. It might’ve been 60/40, too.

We hadn’t talked in nine years. For good reason.

Because of her size, they couldn’t close her up. The plan was for her to lose 150 pounds before attempting the final sutures and so there would be eight weeks in ICU and then a lengthy rehab. But because of my sister’s aggression, they put her into a medically-induced coma.

(I guess the male nurse got kicked in the balls one time too many).

That meant she had to be ventilated.

And that meant that when the tube finally came out, my sister couldn’t talk. Not even in a whisper. For weeks, she wrote me short notes in a shaky hand. As it turned out, a medically induced re-entry to relationship was a gift. What better way to reconnect with an estranged relative but slowly and with carefully selected words?

Around this time, I started taking Jude’s classes. I had two kids in high school. Often caregiving and exhaustion kept me from participating in the way I would have liked. That created some tensions that were mostly, but not exclusively, internal. Some linger.

Because of this fateful beginning, it was just weird to sign up for Jude’s last round of classes during the demanding and excruciating final weeks of my sister’s life. Talk about distracted. There were dirty diapers to dispose of, commodes to empty, calls to 911 to make (“she’s at 86% on four liters of oxygen”). There were DNR and DNI’s to be signed, regular care and hospice care to be coordinated, a nursing home transition to make, and should the priest come now, no not yet. Now.

Then her awful mess to clean up. And then (gratitude!!), Italy for more than half of April.

So once again, with respect to online participation, life thrust me into this position of “delinquency” (at worst), shadowy participation (at best). It’s a pair of bookends. A bit of a rerun. Not how I want it to be.

Because this burden of care has been on me for most of the time I’ve been participating in fiber circles, I am happy to mark a change. First with a brag and then with a photo.

The brag — I HAVE FINISHED MY NOVEL! I know I mentioned this in a comment a few days ago, but it bears repeating. First draft — done! Already edited 4/5’s, so edit last bit in July. Assemble list of agents in August. Compose query letter. Start submitting in September while also researching self-publishing.

Nine years in the making (there’s that number again). Ta-da! For all of the support I’ve received here: many, many thanks. I haven’t forgotten the tangible kickstarter support that got me to SC for an indigo weekend, for instance.

And to Deb Lacativa, fellow writer in arms, a special thanks — she is the only person to date to have read almost every goddamned word. Caught typos. Made thoughtful remarks. Cast her wild imagination in and around the plot lines. Whew, what a sensibility!

The photo below is to document how gladness can arrive. It was taken last night while another friend and I celebrated R’s birthday. It’s a tradition for us. Since my birthday’s in February, R’s in July, and our third friend’s in October, the tradition keeps us connected all year long.

I hardly recognize myself.

Gladness and a finished draft. Not an accident that they arrive not long after my sister departs.

And since there is ANOTHER birthday to celebrate this evening, I picked all our currants and will make a pie. Usually for my husband’s birthday, we go out, but tonight I’m keeping it easy: pasta topped with the last of the truffle oil from Assisi and basil from the garden.

Ahhh, summer! Ahhh! Relief.

*This was 2009, but November, December, so almost 2010.