Wet Wool Memory

I buy my daughter a pomegranate, because she loves the fruit, because of the red it brings to our snowy Vermont landscape, and because Saroyan wrote about pomegranates. My parents did not buy pomegranates. As a kid growing up in New Hampshire, I wondered about that mysterious fruit — much like I wondered about Turkish Delight, the Narina sweet my father found in Ann Arbor and bought for us with great joy.

On a snowy day, the girls discover a coolant leak in my car. The mechanic who fixes the leak explains to my teenage daughter what the level of coolant should be in a car, when to add coolant, and when to worry. Standing between the two of them, I study his unzipped Carhartt jacket, stained with motor oil. Like Proust’s madeleine, so much of my past was redolent with wet and snowy clothes, work and words twined together.

Like that, then, the past’s gone. The girls and I stand outside the garage in a snowstorm again. I tell my older daughter as I always do, drive carefully. Laughing, they’re off again.

From one of my mentors, poet Ruth Stone:

Yes, we are everything, every experience we’ve ever had, and in some of us, a lot of it translates and makes patterns, poems. But, my God, we don’t even began to touch upon it. There’s an enormous amount, but we can touch such a little.



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Studded Snows

What’s the one thing that makes Vermont winters survivable? Friends? Laughter? Knitting? A chicken roasting in the oven? Nope: snow tires.

Driving to Burlington on a snowy Sunday morning to interview a young poet, I kept thinking, At least I bought new snow tires. When my daughter disappears in the darkness to work, I think, I’m so glad I shelled out for those tires.

On my way home through the Calais back roads, I pull over at the town hall, a beautiful and somewhat mysterious building to me — why is it here? what’s the history that’s now disappeared around this building? I’ve been listening to NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and laughing so hard I’m actually crying.

Outside my little Toyota, I’m immediately reminded of winter’s enchanting beauty, the bit of wind on my cheeks and the snowflakes in my eyelashes. Sunday afternoon, and no one’s out and about, save for one  grownup far down the road, walking a dog. Leaving my car at the roadside, I walk down to the meeting house and stand there, staring up at the steeple in the gauzy snow, listening. Then I put those snow tires to use again.

Winter seclusion —
Listening, that evening,
To the rain in the mountain.

— Issa



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Better Perspective

A milk truck rolling slowly up Bridgeman Hill catches the sunset on its long, silvery side. The mud-splattered Booth Bros.’s truck reflects that sky behind and above me — ruby clouds — and that movable art mural is so wonderfully awesome I’m taken out of time, snapped back into the world only as the truck has nearly passed and I realize the driver has lifted one hand, waving a greeting.

I watch the truck continue its gradual roll up the hill, where pavement gives way to dirt road. As I descend down the hill, the village glows beneath that magnificent sunset — the granite town building, the long strings of electric lines, the houses well-tended or ramshackle — players in a landscape of cosmic beauty.

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
There’s nothing to write about
But radishes.



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Unexpected Request

I receive a request from someone I knew a long time ago asking me to do something for her. The request baffles me.

At the end of the day, reading The Dakota Towers with a purring car and the 13-year-olds whispering in the next room still deep in what they see as interminably long childhood, I suddenly realize what I want is an apology from this woman.

There it is, the utter inability of us humans (willful? not willful?) to understand each other. My cat, satisfied and sleepy, immeasurably wise — and happy — yawns and tucks his head against my shoulder.

Words matter. Actions matter.

Staring at the ceiling, I remember so many years ago, driving in Maine — lost as usual on Maine roads — delivering wedding favors I had made from our maple syrup. August, and my 2-year-old in the backseat was thirsty since we had run out of water.

But I hadn’t been lost after all. The pine-flanked twisting road ended at a lake and a wooden inn. I found the mother of the bride on the veranda with her friends. She admired my sweaty 2-year-old in my arms and offered us ice water and crackers in the shape of butterflies. My daughter was enchanted. I’ve never forgotten the stranger’s kindnesss.

Let’s go out
To see the snow view
Where we slip and fall.

— Basho


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Trout Fishing Reminescences

I’m listening to a recent This American Life podcast, when a section of Brautigan’s The Abortion is read aloud, I lay down the scissors I’m holding. I’m sixteen again, hidden in the public library stacks, unable to believe what I’m reading. What is this? Who is Brautigan?

An instant fan of Brautigan and simultaneously unable to exactly figure out why, when I listen to his words read aloud, I suddenly see his writing is all reverence, all poetry, all a hymn to living — in the most utterly mundane way — an acknowledgement of love and love gone awry, of abortion and bliss — funny and sorrowful and joyous.

Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords.

Richard Brautigan


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By lucky chance, I start reading Joshua Mohr’s Sirens — memoir of writing, drug use, broken spiritual and physical hearts — and I can’t stop. The slender book reminds me of when I was twenty, reading Death on the Installment Plan in bed in a second-floor Brattleboro apartment, savory from the downstairs Korean restaurant. Like Celine, Mohr’s writing is full of life as that Brattleboro Main Street, or as desolate as a snowy midnight.

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Our lives are always in flux, so many contradictions comprising our identities…. We are never one thing. I was never only the heart defect, only the author or junkie or husband or father or professor or drunk. I wear all these like layers of skin. Like stars creating a constellation.

— Joshua Mohr, Sirens


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At the hardware store in town, the woman ringing up my chicken feed asks if I’m going out partying for New Year’s Eve.

Are you kidding me? I blurt out. Then I apologize and ask about her plans. I like these hardware store folks, with their humor, their can-do willingness to solve my piddling problems — a clogged bathtub drain, a stuck lamp switch.

The cold’s broken for December’s last day. Before dusk, I follow the raccoon tracks from my compost down the snow-crusty hillside, wondering where this creature lives.

Another of my daughter’s homemade calendars folded up and put away, the day-to-day record of our lives — work schedules and friends and dentist appointments — the stuff of our lives.

For this year? Stay solvent. Paint the kitchen gold, my bedroom turquoise. Swim in the Atlantic with my kids. Follow wild tracks and fill the creative well.

Why speak of the use
of poetry? Poetry
is what uses us.

— Hayden Carruth



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