Everyone has their own familiar paths and places. This empty stretch of interstate in the Netherlands between Vermont and New Hampshire my daughters and I have traveled countless times now, in all varieties of weather and moods. Now, so many years into this, one daughter is grown, the other on the cusp. My daughters look at my brother and me with a mixture of so many things — what, precisely, neither he nor I need to speculate. Laughing, he suggest to them that he and I equal a full person, our meager strengths and copious broken places complementary. I suggest, Maybe even a little more than one person….
I’m grateful to be invited to read and speak at the Cabot Public Library Tuesday, April 11, 7 p.m. in a real-life deal. Come if you can.
Poverty was a relationship, I thought, involving poor and rich people alike. To understand poverty, I needed to understand that relationship. This sent me searching for a process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process.
A snow-globe snow flakes down all afternoon. In a meeting, I sit near the window and look over the river. Plenty of listening. Plenty of talking. Ice clings in chunks to the shoreline, but the current runs swiftly. This March day is just at that brink where snow piles on last year’s dead grass, melts on the pavement.
As sometimes happens in this group, the conversation winds around to the world’s wider themes — the pandemic and literacy, disparity of wealth — very big picture things — how the world is broken in places and how these pieces may or may not fit together. There’s plenty of coffee, and sandwiches, too, that someone has brought from somewhere, and I keep drinking the coffee and studying those currents, how the water crashes up over rocks and flows on again, heading that long way to Lake Champlain and north through rivers heading towards the North Atlantic. Someone beside me remarks that he’s not convinced our world can be put back together.
In the very big picture, however, things are always going together, breaking apart, heading together again. I keep watching that dark river and the foamy curls of waves. The coffee is lukewarm and lousy at best. Nonetheless, I keep drinking it and drinking it. We keep talking and listening.
“That’s religion in America, under constant revision.”
At the co-op, the words are: dirty March. So much snow, rain, the deep ooze of mud, what feels like the very faraway promise of green. Returning home, the teenager has burned herself reading on the back deck. One cat let the other eat his dinner and yowls plaintively, furiously, at household injustice. Stove ash and common dust have invaded the house. Sunlight spills through the windows onto the floor.
March: the season of radiant joy, sullen unhappiness. I lie awake and wonder about my own private death: next week, next month, or four decades from now? I decide the only reasonable course is to bargain for forty more years on this planet, and inevitably take what comes.
Thursday, the day dawns with the scent of loosening mud. The rain slides in. Midday, redwing blackbirds.
A good day for a poem:
Flowers, by Cynthia Zarin
This morning I was walking upstairs from the kitchen, carrying your beautiful flowers, the flowers you
brought me last night, calla lilies and something else, I am not sure what to call them, white flowers,
of course you had no way of knowing it has been years since I bought white flowers—but now you have
and here they are again. I was carrying your flowers and a coffee cup and a soft yellow handbag and a book
of poems by a Chinese poet, in which I had just read the words “come or go but don’t just stand there
in the doorway,” as usual I was carrying too many things, you would have laughed if you saw me.
It seemed especially important not to spill the coffee as I usually do, as I turned up the stairs,
inside the whorl of the house as if I were walking up inside the lilies. I do not know how to hold all
Turkey buzzards have returned. On this first day of spring, these birds fly broad-winged over the river, slow, slow, fixated. Late afternoon, I have a few minutes before I’m expected home again for daughter time, daughter chat. I keep walking and discover robins are singing in a tree behind the train station. A slight thing? No way. I stand there, listening, looking up at the treetops where the branches are still barren, months yet away from leaves. I can’t see them, but it’s robins, definitely.
Friday, the fire in the wood stove gone cold, I shovel out the ash and discover two honeycomb boxes. I’ve been cleaning this stove for three years now, but I’ve never taken these pieces apart. The manual cautions me to be gentle. So I’m gentle.
The first essay I had published in a slick magazine, Taproot, was for their Wood issue. In those days, we burned countless cords of wood every year, for the few cords in our house to the many more to make maple syrup. Wood was far more verb than noun in our house; we did wood.
In my wooden house, whose floor joists in the basement still have ribbons of bark, on my maple floor, I empty ash and soot and creosote into a metal sap bucket. I kindle the fire with crumpled newsprint and ripped cardboard. The cats sprawl on the rug, satisfied as the heat suffuses our house again.
The late afternoon is raw and damp. So much snow has buried us in. I ski on a section of former railroad bed where I’ve never gone before, up a long slope fenced in by a cedar forest. There’s no one around, not a dog walker, not a snowmobiler, just me and the crows. At a crest, the valley below opens. I’m above a large dairy farm dug deeply by barns and fields and family generations into what had once been forest.
The sun has melted a section of trail to slush here. A cold wind blows down from the north. I stand here for a bit, stamping slush from a ski, then I turn, too, and head back through the forest.
A week of sun ends in scattered raindrops and my hands dirtied with creosote from cleaning out my wood stove. The cats hunker against the wall, glaring at my labors, annoyed at the chill descending into their cat realm. My daughter, fluent in Cat Language, feeds the creatures small pieces of roast chicken. I brew more coffee.
Mid-March, the sudden season of reckoning: what is it I’m doing? This is the week of self-doubt and the week of the kindness of strangers, too. March has long meant the season of sweet maple and cold hands, of leaning hard into work, the season of faith that spring’s crocuses and snowdrops and ephemerals will return—that they always return—to remind myself that the wider world holds us inevitably, for good or ill and sometimes for both.