New Year’s Eve 2017: Not Just Another Sunday/Why I’m Not Happy with My Mother’s Sewing Machine

We hear the roll call of those “who left us this year.” I’m covering my ears and humming a Leonard Cohen song. I eschew those lists of the recently departed.

Yoga and gym classes are suddenly crowded. That probably will last a few more weeks, and then, only   the regulars will  show up faithfully each week to heave hand weights, dance to salsa or hip hop tunes, or work on their downward-facing dog poses.

I ready myself to write 2018, and not 2017 on checks—am I the only one in the world who still writes checks?  Occasionally I catch myself absentmindedly writing 1982. Or 1978. Or at least thinking of it for a nanosecond.

The Christmas flower arrangements, greens and white mums and red carnations—are holding up pretty well, but it’s time to pull out the shiny red balls and bows and convert the flower dishes to winter white and evergreen.

We’re weeding the ornament collection this year—anything we have not used in four or five years goes off to the Vietnam Vets collection on January 10.

This brings up the subject of my mother’s 1962 Singer sewing machine. An odd shade of gray-blue plastic, it weighs about 40 pounds. I had it tuned up five or six years ago, tried using it once, and have despaired of ever getting it to work properly again. The old guy who works out of the vacuum cleaner store, repairing sewing machines, is very likely no longer with us. I’d like to start sewing again after a twenty-year hiatus, but perhaps on a spiffy new machine that will not require two sixty-year-olds to lift it onto the work table. And one that someone knows how to maintain. Then again, I think a shiny black classic Singer in good shape might be nice—if I could learn how to keep it oiled and working. So what’s the plan—take an adult ed class in maintaining small machinery, and peruse Craigslist for a 1950’s Singer, like the ones we used in Mrs. McMillan’s Home Ec class at Hamilton Junior High?

This flotsam and jetsam of the rolling old year crowds my brain. No wonder I can’t find my keys.

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Happy New Year, Feliz ano nuevo, Felice anno nuovo, Gelukkig nieuwjaar, Bonne année,  Frohes neues Jahr to all my readers! 

Influenza

 

No more will I poke fun at people who wear surgical masks on public transportation, or those who eschew the hug or handshake of peace at church, preferring the elbow bump, so popular a couple of years ago when flu was rampant.

Remember? Hand sanitizers appeared everywhere–at the public library, at a front pew at my Episcopal church, and in the hallways at the college where I teach. I kept a pump dispenser of Purel on the desk in my faculty office. I washed my hands  so any times a day that it called to mind Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, the one that my Hamilton Junior High eighth grade teacher, Miss Ruth Magill, made us memorize. Continue reading “Influenza”

December 11: Sunset 4:13 PM /Catalog

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Inside: A Christmas cactus written off as finished, done,
Now ablaze with pink blooms.
A succulent dish garden stuck between dead and not-dead.
A Trader Joe’s orchid, leggy, elegant in its eight-bloom orchid hat. Continue reading “December 11: Sunset 4:13 PM /Catalog”

December 1: Sunset 4:10 PM

It’s oddly warm. We strip the garden,
pull down three-foot-high blackened marigolds,
cleome, borage, yank out bamboo stakes.
The young arugula we planted weeks ago is
ready for harvest, the lily leaves slimy, brown.
Mole tunnels run under the sandy soil
in the mulch-covered plot by the fenced-in garden.
By three the sun is low, a glare in our faces.
We work against the clock, against the moment
when the sun will drop behind the trees, the sky
will be streaked with a narrow line of pink-orange.
The cottage is cold, the water shut off.
The detritus of last summer’s glorious blooms
lies in a pile. We weight the mess with fallen branches.
There’s no time to rest, put our feet up, imagine
what this will all look like, come spring.
Now everything must sleep the sleep of winter,
must die, and must— we hope— come back to life.
But first, the death of the garden, dormant, cold
shadowed by our uncertainty, our fears
that this short day is all we have, and own.

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Black Sunday, Sunset 4:14 PM

 

imgresLast day of raking, raking and bagging leaves.  First, a visit to our friend D who’s been back in the hospital the past three weeks. Now, he’s waiting for  blood count data pending a possible second stem cell transplant.

I come home to face one last hour of leaf bagging before the sun sets. I grab handfuls of damp, decaying  leaves from the edges of the stone-bordered garden. I leave the rest in the center,stuck to the ground in flat sheets, a blanketlike mulch  to keep  the perennials safe till spring. Continue reading “Black Sunday, Sunset 4:14 PM”

Sunset, 4:16 PM EST

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East Coast of the U.S. of A.  Overcast, chilly,  at noon it seems as though it’s nearly day’s end. The rain turns to a drizzle, I find it’s easier to rake leaves and stow them in the brown paper leaf bags, I’m not concerned someone will see me in my black and white flannel p.j.bottoms, the ones that have a matching Ruth Bader Ginsburg top, though that’s well hidden under my fleece, a nine-year old Polartec made in U.S.A. that’s my bed jacket, my go-to-yoga-class wrap over my t-shirt, my crawl half under the bed and pull out the dust bunnies uniform. Continue reading “Sunset, 4:16 PM EST”

from “Baltimore Girls”

I began my day at an early yoga class, twenty of us on the mat at 8:30 A.M. Leaf raking and filling the lawn bags with garden detritus by 10. Now, the turkey’s in the oven, the vegetables are all trimmed and ready to cook, the pie is cooling on the counter, the table is set, and the men in my small family are downstairs talking about the electoral college and playing with our new kitten.

I’m thankful for many things, but for you reading this blog, I’m thankful for your continued attention your comments, and to many of you–65 so far–a sincere thank you for pre-ordering y poetry chapbook, Baltimore Girls, from Finishing Line Press, due out February 24, 2017. You can pre-order online here,  and be certain of getting your hands on a copy of the collection.

Why pre-ordering is important: Finishing Line, a small poetry publisher, does not pay authors in cash, but in copies. The more pre-orders, the large the press run, and the more copies of the book Finishing Lien will give me in lieu of payment. I’ll be able to sell these at the same price, $13.99, and give the proceeds to Mercy High Baltimore‘s scholarship funds, and Epiphany School Boston, an independent, tuition-free middle school for children of economically-disadvantaged families from Boston neighborhoods.

Fans of the HBO series (2005-2009) The Wire, check out the blurb from Wire teleplay writer and  stalwart Crabtown author, Rafael Alvarez.

Here’s the dedication for the book:

For the Baltimore girls: Chris, Debbie, Francine, and Gay

–and one of the poems to whet your literary appetite:

Nickel Dreams

Along the Fuller Brook path wending
through backyards, there’s no one about
except a few women with
small dogs on leashes. The brook – Continue reading “from “Baltimore Girls””

Homage to Spring If It Ever Gets Here Really

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The tulips and daffodils—the brave ones not damaged by a sub-freezing snap they suffered a few weeks ago—are in full bloom, in a cold daylong rain. Even the second-year tulips, from bulbs I bought at a discount hardware store, are shouting with color.The columbine ‘s foliage is appearing, and the bee balm, until now just dead sticks in the ground leftover from the past summer, are producing small green leaves lined with burgundy veins.

Still, it feels more like February than late April, and we still sleep under the automatic blanket and a down comforter. We haven’t pulled the tempered glass table top out of storage, so the old wrought iron table on the deck sits there looking like a weather-beaten objet d’art.

Downed branches snapped off by  last month’s high winds, dandelions shooting up in the lawn along with lumps of crabgrass, tender shoots of clematis –these things are ample evidence that spring may be approaching, even if we still wear our down jackets, hats and gloves—and maybe even thermal underwear under our jeans— to Fenway for a night game.

I found a rabbit’s nest in the garden nearest our bedroom: at first I took it for a bird’s nest that might have plummeted from the tall arbor vitae nearby the row of nine-foot trees my neighbor calls “the bird hotel.”  But the layer of soft fuzzy hair, patched with dried grass and small twigs, were no bird’s nest, but a circular furry quilt over a hole dug between a speedwell and a blanket flower. Once I had touched the cover the doe had woven to protect her babies, I realized I had sullied it, and I might as well pitch it into the compost, because my human scent was all over the place. I left hoping it was too cold for bunnies.

The ice cream stand at the other end of town has been open for weeks now, but when I drove by two weeks ago, no lines formed at the outside window.

I’ve tried to store my winter coats twice, only to pull them out from the upstairs closet full of cedar blocks to keep the moths away. I look at the snow shovels and the ice melt in the garage with a jaundiced eye.

Even in the cold April morning, the birds start their song before dawn, and the chipmunks dash in and out of the garden’s stone wall. We’ll know spring is here for sure when the compost starts steaming and cooking in the covered bins at the very back of the yard, when we can sit outside and have our morning coffee before hustling off to start the work day.  Tonight, it’s 38, but we hope not for long.

I can’t wait to file down the nasturtium seeds with an emery board and plant them in the big terra cotta pots

 

Still Voting, After All These Years

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“I was one of four kids in Mrs. Well’s class at Hamilton Elementary School No. 236 to cast my vote for Adlai Stevenson in our fourth grade straw poll. Everyone but my three fellow Democrats and I wore “I Like Ike” buttons. Nobody wore a button that said “I Like Adlai.” Although my grandmothers, both staunch Republicans, liked Ike, I did not. I especially did not like his running mate, Dick Nixon. But then, I got my politics at the dinner table, from my dad.

A union man back in the ’30s when he worked at Bethlehem Steel, Dad voted for Stevenson even though he said the Illinois Democrat was an egghead…”

Read the rest here: my OpEd appeared  in the Baltimore Sun online, and in the Sunday Baltimore Sun‘s paper version on March 20. I urge you to comment online at the Sun on this opinion essay.

 

Expecting

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My five month long professional leave ended on January 25. When I told friends that I was back at work three weeks ago at Wellesley College, where I teach writing, and that I had just finished the 500-page first draft of a novel the day before I was to return to the classroom, many of them sweetly congratulated me and asked me when it would be “out,” that is, published, as though this would be imminent. When would it be on Kindle? In paperback? Or maybe hardcover?

Don’t talk about your book, one writer friend advised me, after we discussed my next steps in revising the overly long and unwieldy draft. So in this post, I won’t be talking about my book. I will be talking about the process of writing a book, a novel or a long work of creative nonfiction.

When the first draft is completed, it’s only a very, very  preliminary thing. Continue reading “Expecting”