August 17, 2015

Song for the Rainy Season

Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
rain-, rainbow-ridden,
where blood-black
bromelias, lichens,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
familiar, unbidden.

In a dim age
of water
the brook sings loud
from a rib cage
of giant fern; vapor
climbs up the thick growth
effortlessly, turns back,
holding them both,
house and rock,
in a private cloud.

At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
and the ordinary brown
owl gives us proof
he can count:
five times--always five--
he stamps and takes off
after the fat frogs that,
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.

House, open house
to the white dew
and the milk-white sunrise
kind to the eyes,
to membership
of silver fish, mouse,
bookworms,
big moths; with a wall
for the mildew's
ignorant map;

darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
of the warm breath,
maculate, cherished;
rejoice! For a later
era will differ.
(O difference that kills
or intimidates, much
of all our small shadowy
life!) Without water

the great rock will stare
unmagnetized, bare,
no longer wearing
rainbows or rain,
the forgiving air
and the high fog gone;
the owls will move on
and the several
waterfalls shrivel
in the steady sun.

-- By Elizabeth Bishop

July 6, 2015

Monday Morning







 So, as I've mentioned here previously, we bought a fixer-upper this past spring. Where the house is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters (the unpredictable and quirky type), it is the land (of course) that has already merged with whatever voice I might use to write about it. One rainy morning, and it is all sanctuary and joy. 

Hope you are relishing your summers, friends!

June 4, 2015

What I've Been Into: Spring 2015

Good morning,

It it raining here, lightly, and the view out my window is an ecstatic shaking green. I am three floors up, and yet I do not see the sky, I do not see the ground: just trunks and branches and leaves, close and middling and deep. What a scene to wake to! As ridiculous as these last months have been, these trees are saving me. Have saved me. Are already old friends. 

I see now I'm going to have to write about them. Later. Soon. Graduation for the seniors tonight. And then: summer.

Spring was a new house. A new roof. New floors and carpets and paint and cabinet liner and drawer pulls and towels. It was so much more space, these large open rooms that echoed even with our whispers. It was windows, light streaming in through the then bare branches. It was one holy morning when the buds popped open, and everywhere was suddenly yellow green and green yellow and holy holy holy. It was worrying about an old house with holes and trusting a new world so very able to fill it up.

It was also my first AWP conference, where I remembered myself as a writer. It was Wild Turkeys. And Ecotone and Orion and The Sun. It was Sigurd Olson, those photos of him in a northern Minnesota river. It was some sadness and loss, some giving over, some promises I promised myself I would keep. I haven't yet. But I keep saying the words.

It was my students. It was my colleagues. It was my family. All the words we said to each other, all the stories we told, and the stories we watched unspool behind us. The mother with the pots of food. The father with the deep reading voice. The mother-in-law with her hands, cleansing and blessing. The father-in-law on his knees, laying down boards. The brothers and sisters and the sisters and brothers. The new nephew. The first nephew, blood-brothers with my boy. My boy. My boy with his squishy hugs, the way he loves so intentionally back. My husband: all the ways we are imperfect and held up by hope.

But mostly spring was, as I should have expected, about growth. All the metaphors. All the discomfort. All the disruption. 

Nothing is in the same place as it was back in February. Even the trees take up different sets of space in the world. They reach and they reach. How wide and improbable and lovely is the way they stretch open their arms.

 
Books:
  1. Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry edited by Robert Hedin -- I taught a two-week May Program class on Minnesota writers and our arts community here. It was so refreshing for me (and hopefully the kids, too!). A bonus was having writers like John Jodzio and Joyce Sutphen visit and talk to the kids about both their work and what it means to be a literary citizen.
  2.  Fiction on a Stick: New Stories by Minnesota Writers edited by Daniel Slager 
  3. Coming Back To The Body by Joyce Sutphen
  4. The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories, 1978-2008  by Louise Erdrich
  5. The Norton Book of Nature Writing edited by Robert Finch and John Elder -- My second May Program class focused on nature writing. We read, we took walks, we visited local gardens, and we did a lot of writing. "My nature girls," I called my group of 12 sophomores. They were wonderful. So crazy that I get paid to spend my days like this.
  6. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau edited by Bill McKibben
  7. Ecotone, Orion, and The Common -- Fabulous literary journals that found their way into my classroom.
  8. Wild by Cheryl Strayed -- I'm about half way in. It's good, and funny, and full of a kind of adventure I dream about some nights, but it's not great. At least not yet. I listened to Strayed speak at AWP this April, though, and I liked her, so I'm definitely going to finish.
TV & Movies:
  1. House of Cards, Season 3 -- A bit slow in parts, but -- so is ice. Ice cold. Methodical. Who rule the world? Girls.
  2. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 -- For whatever reason, we don't gravitate to comedy series that often, but I'm glad someone recommended this one to me. Light and full of laugh-out-loud moments. That scene in the first episode with the bottled water! Tina Fey is fantastic.

Articles, Essays, & Posts:
  1. "Discovering the Universe of Home" by Paul Gruchow. He feels like a kindred spirit to me. I used part of this essay in class, and the whole time I just wanted to reach into the past and hug this man.
  2. "Through the Windows of Brimnes" with Bill Holm. I'd like to hug him, too. And spend a long time talking over a drink or two. Irreverent and right on.
  3. "Little Mexican Boy Dancing" because my two-year-old self is flat-out in love.

Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference -- It strikes me as a rite of passage for any writer. Plus you brush shoulders with old friends from grad school as well as literary heroes like Louise Erdrich. Win, win.
  2. Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary -- I took my nature writing class here and it was magical. The best part was being able to identify some wildflowers that have also been growing in our new yard and finally figuring our their names.
  3. Noerenberg Memorial Gardens -- We journeyed here the last day of class, sat by the shore of Lake Minnetonka, and read our writing. More cultivated than Eloise Butler, but still beautiful, still serene. And irises! Those are coming up in my garden, too. 
  4. Belle Boggs -- A fellow high school English teacher and a lovely writer; she gives me hope that both roles are possible.
  5. Estate Sales -- I've recently gone to my first few and have found them fascinating. Things are things, but they also populate our lives, are the tools we use to define the boundaries of our homes, and are the touchstones of hundreds of stories. I go for the $1 scarves, but also just to look. 
  6. Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail -- This fantastic trail is just down the road from our house, and we've already spent considerable time exploring by foot and stroller. We're in the market for a Burley for El so we can travel a bit farther this summer by bike, too.
  7. Spring + our land -- Moving in, and then watching the earth come alive on our small patch of it has been one of the most enchanting events in my adult memory. I am learning the names of things, these things I am now the steward of. And these names are sticking with me. Finally. And amen.

April 22, 2015

Wild Turkeys


When I was a June twenty-two,
one week fresh from graduation,
I took a flight to Lubbock
and wore cowboy hats with friends
as young and sweet as grass.

One night we put on skirts
and tall boots and ambled through the halls 
of an old restaurant, bourbon and whiskey 
in glasses, all very kin to cigars 
and mustaches, dark with ranch wood.

The stars would be bright, the moon
uncommonly full in that wide sky,
so we stepped outside, a slight chill
wrapping down our boots and around
our ankles, expecting Texas.

Instead, the screams of a child--
two children? more?--broke the twilight,
and I gaped up--up, for they were in the trees, 
perched and wailing at the coming dark,
pleading in a language I couldn't decipher.

“Peacocks,” a man said, amused, thumb in his pocket.
I know because I stared at him in astonishment.

Pressed pants. No belt buckle. Thin tie.
No cowboy hat. Peacocks in trees, their tail feathers
draped extravagantly over limbs like evening
dresses, stars of blue and green and gold,
mad debutantes, filling out the harmony of oil rigs.

That night I removed my boots
and didn’t check for snakes.

And ten years later, while rocking my child
to sleep in a new home, dusk painting
the acre and a half in tree shadows--
all those Minnesota maples and oaks and pines--
my thoughts of twinkling little stars were interrupted

by hysterical laughter, a long throaty gobble--
two gobbles? maybe more?--and, though startled,
I didn’t need a man in a thin tie to tell me to look up.
Look up. Find the spirits in the trees. Open your windows.
Call back to them in the way you now know how.

PS: Happy Earth Day, all.
Hope the sun is shining where you are.

March 1, 2015

What I've Been Intro - Winter 2015

Hi all,

This one will be short on descriptions, but long on heart. What I mean is: I have never been so busy in my life. What I mean is: the winter is cold, work is great, my son is beautiful, family is important, sleep is restless, and the lists are miles and miles long. Don't be mistaken -- this is all our doing, whether consciously or not. You see, we've gone and bought a house. A fixer-upper. We close tomorrow. 

It's all about to get very very interesting.

So, friends, that, among many other reasons, is why I've spent less time here recently. However, it cheers me to know I can come back whenever I feel the desire. Like today. Like right now, as I type these letters into words and press publish, as I share something of my life, and genuinely hope you do the same.

Below is what I've been into these last three months (when I wasn't creating lessons and grading essays and signing documents and filing taxes and contacting contractors and building the biggest Mega Blok towers the world has ever seen, etc. etc. etc.). 

How about you?
  

Books:
  1. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather 
  2.  Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove
  3. Macnolia by A Van Jordan 
  4. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. Fun Home by Allison Bechdel
  7.  The Things They Carried - by Tim O'Brien
TV & Movies:
  1. Downton Abbey, season 4 -- Don't ruin season 5 for me, people! Just don't.
  2. Good People -- Pretty predictable plot, but still fairly entertaining.
  3. The Dark Matter of Love -- Fascinating story about international adoption.
  4. Marco Polo -- Because it was on Netflix, and why not?

Articles, Essays, & Posts:
  1. "Why poor people stay poor" by Linda Tirado
  2. "You're doing allowance wrong" by Ron Lieber -- Because apparently I'm thinking about these things already? 
  3. "Model Mother" by Enid Irwin Madara -- A beautiful piece of writing.

Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. Thumbtack -- Great website if you're planning on doing any kind of project that requires expertise
  2. Nextdoor -- Another website that's basically a social network for your local neighborhood
  3. Apostle Island Ice Caves -- Currently, I'm the travel-vicariously type. But if you can, go here! Then tell me all about it.


February 5, 2015

Tonic

One Tuesday afternoon, a month or so ago, I lay stretched out on my bed, my not-quite-two-year-old son cuddled between my arm and body, reading poetry aloud.

"Before I was sixteen / I was fast / enough to fake / my shadow out," I read.

"The instructor said, / Go home and write / a page tonight. / And let that page come out of you-- / Then, it will be true."

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--"

I placed my lips against my boy's brow, feverish, my fingers running along the length of his arm, loose and languid, reading over the top of my worry. Reading because the sound had soothed him, had taken him away from the limbs of his discomfort. Reading.

"Sundays too my father got up early / and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, / then with cracked hands that ached / from labor in the weekday weather made / banked fires blaze. / No one ever thanked him."

Sometimes he would mumble against me, wheeze a little, cough. He was exhausted. Had been trying to fall asleep for over an hour. We had walked and rocked. Been in his bed and mine. Drink a little water, I'd tried. Just close your eyes. But I wonder what it is to a very young child, to feel fire and ache, to fight against a foreign, inexpressible thing. He would not give in even to slumber, and clung to me.

Should I read us some poetry? I'd said finally, a packet of poems on the nightstand.

And to my surprise, he stopped whimpering. Nodded. Sighed and let me lay him down, arrange the blankets, nuzzle in, turn the page.

"Go and catch a falling star, / Get with child a mandrake root, / Tell me where all past years are, / Or who cleft the devil's foot, / Teach me to hear mermaids singing, / Or to keep off envy's stinging, / And find / What wind / Serves to advance an honest mind."

That's poetry, I explained.

Poe-try, he repeated, matter-of-fact, a small scholar in a tweed vest nodding his head. Poe-tree. He was sick and loose and languid, but he was also next to me, slowed down and next to me, saying a little word that filled me with a rush of tenderness. Poe-tree. My son. Yes, my son: poetry.

"The time you won your town the race / We chaired you through the market-place."

"I stared and stared / and victory filled up / the little rented boat."

"I remember leaf-huts / we built / as children: / to crawl in and sit / listening to the rain."

Poetry, I said.

And he whispered it back. Whispered, because his eyes were glassy, because he was seeing it all, the sweet and wild tonic of words, in ways that I've forgotten, no longer so young, so open, so rapid, so endless, a basin of sounds and swirling images, a white page. Poe-tree.

I watched his eyelashes float up and down, his eyelids descending like heavy curtains. His lips parted. Out puffed a kind of sigh.

"There's not much to / these poems, just / a few words piled up / at random. / Still, / I think / it's good / to make them."

It's good to make them, I whispered. And touched his hair. And kissed his palm. And wrote poems in my mind for the rest of the night.

January 2, 2015

Temperance River State Park





May your new year be full of adventure and clarity.
(And lots of reading, writing, big hopes, simple dreams, and chocolate.)

xo from the north shore of Minnesota!

November 28, 2014

What I've Been Into - Autumn 2014

Hi all,

First, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday: gratitude, good food, and family. I hope you spent it with those you care about most.

This fall has given me a lot to be thankful for. My darling boy is just a few months away from turning two years old, and this autumn has been so full of his mind latching onto everything and finding ways to communicate that it's been, well, magical. How does a child just suddenly string a six-word sentence together? And his personality, this mini-man, who is forming in front of me? Tonight he was all about "running hugs," the kind where he takes off from across the room and propels himself into my arms, all while laughing his little boy laugh. Which is loud. Which is music. Amen.

Work has also been incredibly fulfilling. I love my life as a mother. But I also look forward to doing what I do inside of my classroom. I find such satisfaction in sharing literature with kids who want to learn! Who are engaged! Who are grateful--for their education, their teachers, their opportunities. The hardest thing about this new job is realizing I might never want to leave.

And I can't teach literature and writing without wanting to make some of it myself. I haven't exactly had an abundance of that thing called "free-time" lately (as you might deduce from my paltry list of movie and TV titles below), but--spurred on both by the energy of my students, the support of my professional community, and an opportunity to give a reading with local author John Jodzio earlier this month--I cobbled together enough time and motivation to write my first real piece of fiction in probably two years. Watching a toddler learn to use words is magical, and so is realizing that--rusty or not--I still can, too.

That about sums it up for me, folks. A lot to be thankful for. A lot to look forward to. Ideas. Space. Quiet. Joyful noise. A world that's cold, but also so very very warm.


Books (& two plays!):
  1. The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Oedipus the King (again). Rereading, though time consuming, is a powerful reminder of how valuable it can be to give anything in life more than one chance.  
  2. Old School by Tobias Wolff -- About a teenaged boy at a private school who is awkward and self-conscious and in love with books. Oh, how I put off grading essays in order to read this one! 
  3. A Room With a View by E. M. Forster -- I listened to this one on my way to and from school, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Probably a bit to do with the British accents and the big vocabulary words and Italy and the main love interest's name being George.
  4. The Plague by Albert Camus -- Weird. Weirder than anything I've read in a long time. But the rats crept into my dreams, so I guess that means it was successful?
  5. Fences by August Wilson -- A powerful, Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a black man and his family in the 1950s. Felt incredibly timely as I watched and read and thought about Ferguson.
TV & Movies:
  1. Catching Fire -- Watched this one quiet Friday night by myself anditwasgood.
  2. Django Unchained -- While introducing Huck Finn and discussing my students' exposure to slavery via media, many of them mentioned this movie. Ah, Quentin Tarantino. You would make an interesting history teacher, I'll give you that.
  3. The Politician's Husband -- Another British mini-series that found its way to Netflix, and somehow found its way onto our screen. After the final credits, the hubs and I both had a strong desire to watch some Downton Abbey.

Articles, Essays, & Posts:
  1. "We need to talk about injustice" by Bryan Stevenson -- I feel like I might have heard about this civil rights lawyer/speaker/writer before, but after hearing a recording of a talk he just gave locally, and now having watched his 2012 TED Talk, I'm certain I won't forget his name again. Challenging, important stuff.
  2. "Stories We love: 'In The Heart of the Heart of the Country' by William Gass" by Ann Valente --  A piece about that thing y'all know by now is at the heart of my heart: landscape.
  3. White Bean Chili -- Colder weather means we are cooking up soups and stews and crockpots over here. This recipe was simple and good.
  4. "Fall Colors Around the World" -- Because the colors this autumn really were stunning (and it's important for me to remember how lovely October was, since, you know, November has been a whole lot of below-freezing-is-it-March-yet-murk).
  5. "Fingerprint Words" by Matthew J.X. Malady. Something this ol' English teacher found pleasure in pondering.
  6. "Gate A-4" by Naomi Shihab Nye. Yes, just yes.

    Finds & Arrow Signs:
    1. Deerdorff Apple Orchard in Minnetrista, MN -- Delicious, beautiful, and there's wine!
    2. Barebones Harvest Festival -- I wasn't able to go this year, but I learned about it through a colleague, and it's definitely a way I will spend Halloween in the future.
    3. Betsy Bowen -- A wonderful local artist who works in woodcuts. I'm certain some of her illustrated children's books will find their way onto Elliot's shelves.
    4. Echinacea Goldenseal -- Right as the weather took a serious cold turn, both my husband and I were waylaid with terrible viral yuck--until, that is, our mothers stepped in with their soups and supplements, including this particular herbal powerhouse. We healed right up. Our systems are now solidly armed for winter.
    5. Chocolate croissants -- Thank you, French Club. That is all. 

    Hope you are well, friends. Thank you, as always, for reading along, commenting, and being a part of this community, no matter how much space exists between. An early Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the rest of your 2014.
    ~

    November 1, 2014

    Resilience: On Working and Mothering

    We have been having conversations lately, my son and I. Last night while I was putting on his pajamas, it was about the man on the road walking his dog. A week ago it was about porcupines, and how, for him, they have somehow come to mean "ouch." This afternoon, we looked at the leaves. They were so red--this one line of maples--and when I said, "Aren't they beautiful, El, all bright like that?" he said yes.

    "Yesss," he said, drawing out the sibilance, nodding his head. He looked up at me. He was wearing a winter hat. He was holding my hand.



    His father and I worry sometimes about him. More accurately, we worry about my leaving in the morning, followed by G's leaving from the daycare door, followed many several hours later with one of us returning, sometimes both (but often not before he's in bed), and how he interprets our comings and goings, how he feels about the drive away from home, if there is a part of him, come 3:30, 4:00 in the afternoon, that waits.

    Sometimes, after I've returned from work and picked him up and squeezed him and whispered to him and asked him about his day and interpreted his new words and kissed him and kissed him, I say, "Elliot, are you okay? You doing okay, little man?"

    "Yessssss," he says, and I hold onto that just like I hold onto his hand.

    As he has grown, and as I've progressed through motherhood, I've watched both of us relax into the new selves we continue to become. As a baby, he needed my arms to fall asleep, and the moment I tipped my body forward to set him down, he would feel it, tense up, resist the change and cling. Tonight, all smiles, he asked for his bed, for his Monkey and Morty and Blanket; he didn't even need me to sing our special song, although as I tucked his blanket around his body I sang it anyway. And I think about the way I was those first months, questioning everything, hours on the internet searching out the answers, puzzling over a little red dot an inch above his ankle. I still worry, sure, but he knows now about "shaking off" a bump or bruise because that's what I've taught him, and I suppose inadvertently it's something I've relearned, too: we are resilient.

    Someday I will be able to explain to him about work in a way that is more than a one-syllable word, this thing I leave for. I will be able to talk with him about Reuben and about Reed, about Zoe and Madeline, about the way certain students are curious and others funny and others afraid, about the way my heart is somehow big enough for these rooms of people. "I may come home tired," I will say to my boy, "but isn't it something remarkable that I never come home less?"

    I've asked myself: Can I do both well? Mothering and teaching, giving and giving and giving, and getting back.

    Let me tell you: The answer to this question isn't on the internet.

    We are each being pulled and stretched and pressed and bent. How can this not be our daily experience when life is so big? When there is so much to want--not things, but much. I will flail a little bit, dip my toes in the chaos. I'm convinced that if there is a truth to find, it is there.



    This afternoon, the wind picked up the maple leaves--those bright and brittle stars--and sent them flying frenetically, unpredictably, beautifully down the road.

    "Do you want to chase them, El?" I asked. And off he went, joyous, running and running, bending himself into the future, despite all the times before that he has fallen down.



    October 12, 2014

    Gossips

    These are the colors
    that flood the ears with whispers
    and rumors of rain