In my email inbox this morning, a lovely poem by Raphael Kosek, beginning:
My daughter is driving
across the continent, eating cheddar
in Wisconsin, waking to a cougar’s yellow
rasp, sleeping tentless
in a corn field….
Last night, with the power out, my younger daughter and I walked around town, the Main Street stores either marked closed with a cardboard lettered sign — gone home — or filled with folks simply hanging out, talking.
Later, we’re stuck in traffic, where the highway has washed down into the Lamoille River. We’re driving home from the one lighted town around here, my daughter eating fried rice with chopsticks, talking. We’ve nowhere in particular to go. I’ve let that constant press of time slip away. As we come into the town where we live, the darkness ubiquitous but for a gleaming slip of crescent moon, we’re still talking, just the two of us. She’s no longer the darling five-year-old I once tickled daily — daily tickle? she’d ask. How the world changes, and how it doesn’t. Short as time is, time is also long, too. We stand in the cold November night, beneath the starlight, listening.
August is national picnicking month, I hear on the radio, in my crazy too-many hours of driving yesterday. I also catch an interview with a female comic whose voice reminds me I swear of all those August afternoons of picking blackberries. It’s not blackberry season yet, but soon will be. August often means the dirt roads have turned dusty.
First, I picked alone, then newly pregnant, then had a baby on my back, then all those years with a fat-wheeled hand-me-down stroller. Later, the children walked or biked. Our baby, on the back of her father’s bicycle, held out a hand and said blacks, blacks, hungry for the berries.
What to do with blackberries? Last August, the girls baked a tart with fresh peaches and blueberries, served it with maple-sweetened whipped cream.
That’s how good was this woman’s voice.
Home too late to swim, my daughter and I walk through the cemetery and down to the community gardens. Only the mist is out and a few women walking dogs.
August 1. We go to bed ridiculously early, because we get up ridiculously early. This morning, I open the windows to let in the gray dawn and its cut-grass scents. As a child, we camped nomadically, crawling out of the tent in the morning and discovering cold dew and trails of mist from the night. In the eternity of childhood, we were hungry for breakfast and whatever the day might bring.
Here’s Hayden Carruth’s August First poem, too good not to read again.
This afternoon, I stepped out of my library with a child to look at the sky. He was glad he had returned a stack of library books, a kind of clearing of his child conscience. In my clogs, I leaned against the building, a squall fattening in this valley, tucked up against Woodbury Mountain. What a winter this has been. Snowbanks dominate Hardwick like a pop-up mountain range.
Later, a friend and I leafed through a Vermont guide to wildflowers. Remember spring beauties? Remember trilliums?
Early March is my father’s birthday and, two days later, my mother’s. In their 80s now — old but not very old, not even close to very old — my parents who lived through WWII, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, and the eternity of the Reagan-Bush regime, through having careers and raising children, teaching and writing books and caring for the infirm and the dying, through decades of friends, through all the everydayness of living — and now through the particularly heartless regime of Trump — here’s Hayden Carruth’s birthday poem for love of a woman and love of living.
by Hayden Carruth
For breakfast I have eaten the last of your birthday cake that you
had left uneaten for five days
and would have left five more before throwing it away.
It is early March now. The winter of illness
is ending. Across the valley
patches of remaining snow make patterns among the hill farms,
among fields and knolls and woodlots,
like forms in a painting, as sure and significant as forms
in a painting. The cake was stale.
But I like stale cake, I even prefer it, which you don’t
understand, as I don’t understand how you can open
a new box of cereal when the old one is still unfinished.
So many differences. You a woman, I a man,
you still young at forty-two and I growing old at seventy.
Yet how much we love one another.
It seems a miracle. Not mystical, nothing occult,
just the ordinary improbability that occurs
over and over, the stupendousness
of life. Out on the highway on the pavement wet
with snow-melt, cars go whistling past.
And our poetry, yours short-lined and sounding
beautifully vulgar and bluesy
in your woman’s bitterness, and mine almost
anything, unpredictable, though people say
too ready a harkening back
to the useless expressiveness and ardor of another
era. But how lovely it was, that time
in my restless memory.
This is the season of mud and thrash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, articulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another. We love this house
and this hillside by the highway in upstate New York.
I am too old to write love songs now. I no longer
assert that I love you, but that you love me,
confident in my amazement. The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.
In the middle of the night, I’m awake thinking of myself, years ago at 30, standing at the roundabout in Montpelier between Main Street and Route 12, baby on my back, trying to figure out where my life—where our lives—would go. It was October then, 1999, and the news amped Y2K fears.
Every time I walk along that section of street in Vermont’s capital city, I think of that cold autumn’s crepuscular hour, as if I pass through its shadow again. The notion of linear time is supercilious. Walking with a friend in the Hardwick town forest, we talk about our 13-year-old daughters. Both of us mothers now, long past adolescence—and yet, we’re both 13. Our conversation crackles with memory.
That baby on my back is now 20. No one but myself will ever remember that evening. And yet, there it is: always with me.
Women have been driven mad, “gaslighted,” for centuries by the refutation of our experience and our instincts in a culture which validates only male experience. The truth of our bodies and our minds has been mystified to us. We therefore have a primary obligation to each other: not to undermine each others’ sense of reality for the sake of expediency; not to gaslight each other.
— Adrienne Rich
I left a conference in Montpelier yesterday with incredibly nice people, held in unheated rooms (boiler was kaput), and with so much lingo I actually sighed at one point. How would this ever make things even marginally better in Vermont classrooms?
A water main had broken in Montpelier. Streets were closed. Police cars flashed lights. My favorite coffee shop was locked, lights off.
Light snow fell, just the loveliest, lightest snow. In the public library, I worked furiously on a chair in a corner. When school was out, kids began sneaking around the stacks, giggling. Finally, giving the kids some attention, I realized they were in a complicated game, playing hide and seek, trying very hard not to giggle. I listened to them for a while, the kids in their snowy jackets, wearing backpacks, and then I turned back to my work.
“People expect everything very quickly, but God doesn’t work that way.” She lets go of my hand and drops down to the floor, this squat little woman in a blue housedress and ragged terry-cloth slippers, splays her fingers, and pats the carpet.
“My faith,” she says, “is from here….”
— Sue Halpern, Migrations to Solitude: the quest for privacy in a crowded world
The back, un-touristy side of Vermont’s capital
When I was 19, my mother gave me a heavy wool, intricately cabled sweater she had spent years knitting and I was certain I would never wear. I was living with my then-boyfriend in the coldest place I ever lived — and anyone who knows me knows that means something. The beautiful old farmhouse was at the end of dirt road in southern Vermont. In one half of the house lived a single mother and her young daughter (I cringe now to think of what abysmal neighbors we were to her), and my friends and I housesat the other half.
The house was heated by a wood furnace. It was December, and the wood supply we had been left was nearly depleted. I certainly knew nothing about heating with wood. I was greener than the wood we burned.
I wore that sweater for the entire month I stayed there. I slept in it. I wore the sweater so hard and for so many years that only pieces of it remained when I moved from my last house.
What taught me to love scratchy wool? Cold Vermont.
5 below zero this morning….. Could be much colder. ‘Tis the knitting season.
Use It Up. Wear It Out. Make It Do. Or Do Without.
— Calvin Coolidge