Birthday Blessings

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.

“Birthday Cake”

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.


And Then We Receive This Day

As if the air is transformed into honey, the afternoon moves languorously. I prop open the library door — an everyday event in the summer — but fresh now, the parents and I leaning in the open doorway. I’ve been rearranging, and my arms are full of children’s books about the moon landing and the Middle Ages.

The children in short sleeves play in the mud, even the big boys in the sandbox, and tromp over what remains of the icy patches of snow. Crocuses bloom against the library.

A man who lives in town and helped build the library, years ago, returns books and pauses to talk, telling us about a close call he had with a tree falling on his shoulder — a lightening, averted brush with disaster. He’s alive and well on this fine April day.

He tells one of the littlest boys that he married the boys’ parents, as a Justice of the Peace. The boy is serious, amazed. Could his parents ever have been not married? Not together?

The afternoon wanders along, as if out of time, suspended in sunlight. Spring.

You need to expect the unexpected, to embrace it.

— Maggie O’Farrell’s terrific I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death


Summer days selling syrup at the Stowe Farmers Market….

Dede’s Book

A day of cold rain, when I think of Janisse Ray’s line: Some days, all day, rain falls.  Driving home, I take a detour and follow the river, swollen threateningly along its banks, grabbing at trees still barren with winter.

All through graduate school in Bellingham, Washington, I wrote of flooding rivers, clogged septic tanks, the persistence of moisture.

In Montpelier this afternoon, the lights are already glowing on, and it’s poetry month. Poetry: not of sterilized honey, but nourishing, sweet and yet filled with the debris of dead bees.

At Bear Pond Books, I buy Dede Cummings’ beautiful new book of poetry. Oh Dede. On this April day fattening itself with water, wisely using the sodden gloom, readying for the splendor of blooms, I stand in the aisle, devouring her words. A friend of mine, reading a new book of Mary Oliver’s, said she always found poems she knew were written just for her. Then she said, But maybe many others think that way, too.


I am not the cause of your misery
I am peepers in springtime in the dark pond
I am footsteps and shadow approaching on the dark road
I watch for salamanders but none of them are crossing on this dry night.

I measure my steps, and I count my dreams:
I am driven home by drizzle, by children.

A small vase of crocus blossoms
you left on the cutting board this morning
reminds me of what we once had.

– Dede Cummings, To Look Out From


The Undertow

Deep in the night, I woke thinking of a Raymond Carver story I had been reading, “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” My children had found this title infinitely amusing, riffing on it as a joke between the two of them.

All night long, while the girls and I had been sleeping, cumulus clouds floated over our house, the full moon shining through like a light at the bottom of an ocean turned upside down. I opened the door and stood on the balcony, imaging myself a clipper ship surrounded by this sea of luminescence. In the distant east, just over Woodbury Mountain’s black ridge, shone a single star. In the moonlight, I saw through the sparse woods the edge of the town’s tiny cemetery, where the slatted fence peels white paint.

The Carver story, simply, is about marriage, and it’s not a funny story at all. It’s about conundrums and paradox, about the mysterious, hidden parts of our lives. And yet, standing beneath that marvelous night sky, I watched the moonlight rush cloud shadows over the earth. I was glad to be awake.

…We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them….

From “Home Burial” by Robert Frost


Hardwick, Vermont


Marriage is a Rope

Writer Andre Dubus, master of dialogue, of marriage and its dissipations, pulled over years ago on an interstate as a good samaritan, was hit by a car and never walked again. Last night, I again reread his novella We Don’t Live Here Anymore, and I was thinking of this story at my child’s school this afternoon.

The afternoon was breezy and sunny. The children, from little kindergarteners to the big sixth-grade kids, were outside, chalking on the pavement, playing basketball, swinging, avoiding the wasps stirring in the heat.

One element of Dubus’s genius is to illuminate marriage as a unique configuration between two people with no cliches – all the loving, lust, resentment, frustrated dreams – woven into a particular rope of a marriage. Any rope put to use has its strength tested: will the material fray or snap? Or it is woven well and truly?

When I was a child, jump roping on a school playground, I imagined infinity was the  blue sky, never envisioning our interior worlds are as mysterious as the endless sky. On the way home, I bought my daughter her first cremee of the summer.

In a marriage there are all sorts of lies whose malignancy slowly kills everything, and that day I was running the gamut from the outright lie of adultery to the careful selectivity which comes when there are things that two people can no longer talk about. It is hard to say which kills faster but I would guess selectivity, because it is a surrender: you avoid touching wounds and therefore avoid touching the heart.

– Andre Dubus, We Don’t Live Here Anymore


Hardwick, Vermont