Poem for America.

I was pruning the rose bushes along our house, pressed up against the clapboards, when I had the strangest feeling that I had stepped into a snapshot collage of my life: thorn, blood, house, half-hidden, wet moss under my knees, a cat bird screeching in the lilacs. This morning, I’m wearing a bulky sweater. Oh, Vermont July, how I love you.

Every year, my daughters and I end up in some lengthy discussion about the Fourth of July. This year, as if jointly agreeing to avoid words, we ate ice cream and lit sparklers after dark. The fireflies blinked, in their own particular journeys.

Here’s a poem in its entirety from Tony Hoagland’s Twenty Poems That Could Save America:

Even if the geraniums are artificial

Just the same,

In the rear of the Italian café

Under the nimbus of electric light

They are red; no less red

For how they were made. Above

The mirror and the napkins

In the little white pots . . .

. . . In the semi-clean café

Where they have good

Lasagna . . . The red is a wonderful joy

Really, and so are the people

Who like and ignore it. In this place

They also have good bread.”

“The Geraniums” by Genevieve Taggard

Hardwick, Vermont

The Giving Closet

In the town building where I work, there’s a room upstairs called The Giving Closet, jammed with the town’s cast-offs and free for the taking. Clothing, dishes, puzzles, books (from self-help to Isabelle Wilkinson’s brand-new Caste that I snapped up.

The space is infinitely fascinating — who gives, who gives what, and who takes. The wealthy who donate boxes of never-worn clothes. A widow who wept when she dropped off her husband’s suits. Those who leave handmade quilts or winter boots, to empty their house, but also hope that someone else might use these things. One woman handed over a pair of child’s boots, saying, But there’s so much use left in these…

The takers (mostly women) form an unending stream. In an unintentional way, The Giving Closet bucks capitalism. Need a coffee pot? A packet of seeds? A child’s snowsuit? This is the place.

It’s a place without policies, cobbled together, that moves along the uniquely local story of humanity — a solid plan.

Somewhere in Summer.

Vermont’s summer mugginess settles in, and I lie awake at night, remembering the much stickier summers of my childhood in southern New Hampshire, a thousand days of no school and bike riding and eating salted cucumber and playing Acquire with my brother and the neighbor — the ultimate game of capitalism.

But those were likely much less than a thousand days.

My youngest texts me at work. She and her friend explore different swimming holes and go hiking. Together, as new drivers, they match route numbers with roads, beginning to master maps. I worry about her — my youngest navigating the world on her own — this place of such ineffable beauty and real badness. This is the summer she’s learning the price of a tank of gas — a transaction between labor and coin. But it’s also the summer she’s beginning to realize the phrase girls travel in packs has much more meaning than looking for the women’s room.

This is the summer of phenomenal sunsets and sunsets, of studying the sky, wondering if rain might move in.

Quit counting, I counsel myself. The hot days unwind into hotter nights, but the dawn is cool, the dew lush over my toes.

Bringing Back the Wonderful

May ends in a welcome rain, and June begins with a watercolor-esque sunrise over our wall of fading lilac blossoms.

This is the weekend when our vaccinated friends stood in our kitchen, talking and talking, and then walked slowly around our downstairs, asking, “What’s happened here in the last sixteen months?”

I showed the window trim I had painted a pale blue, called Innocence.

This was also the weekend I drove my friend and her daughter. Over years, this friend and I have drove endless hours together, and the car I’ve owned for over a year she’d hadn’t even sat in.

The afternoon was rainy. I drove along a dirt road, and the maple trees gleamed a brilliant green. We had been at a ceremony that was both happy and terribly sad, and I was cold to the bone. I turned on the seat warmers.

Seat warmers! my friend said. That’s wonderful.

We started laughing, my friend still hunched against the partly open window, as if that mattered now.

Bring on the wonderful, please.

(Highly recommended reading below…. :))

It was the dandelion principle! To some people a dandelion might look like a weed, but to others that same plant can be so much more. To an herbalist, it’s a medicine—a way of detoxifying the liver, clearing the skin, and strengthening the eyes. To a painter, it’s a pigment; to a hippie, a crown; a child, a wish. To a butterfly, it’s sustenance; to a bee, a mating bed; to an ant, one point in a vast olfactory atlas.

— Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist

Relish This

Unexpectedly, I end up with a short period of time in Montpelier, and, rather than work in the library as I once did (for years), I open my laptop on a bench. I set up beside the city’s old train roundhouse, marked now by a sign but nearly hidden under foliage.

It’s fitting, in these days of change.

In our family life, my youngest daughter’s birthday approaches. Last night, I watched my daughter and her friends laughing in the flickering campfire. What a change from last year.

In the world-at-large, the world changes, too. Our town canceled the annual Memorial Day parade, but set off fireworks at the high school. This is now, I kept reminding myself as we watched the fireworks from our yard, not a memory, but now.

The temperature sank. We wondered about frost warnings. I remembered how Peak Oil was the buzz right after this daughter’s birth. But here we are, sixteen years later, young girls on the cusp of womanhood.

Sweet, I thought as I gathered the dinner’s dirty plates. An actual potluck again. Sweet, sweet sixteen.

Box of Darkness

When I was a girl, someone gave me a Sweet 16 barbie doll. We didn’t have a lot of barbie dolls in our house, and these were prized possessions. For years, I thought of my sweet 16 birthday as some vaguely hallowed ground, where I might sprout to 5’9″, with long legs.

That didn’t happen. I never even hit 5′. Doubtlessly, I never grew into that Barbie-and-Ken life, because I’m not plastic. I was a girl and grew into a woman, with a life filled with all kinds of things.

My daughter is just days from her 16th birthday. I’ve been dwelling on this birthday for weeks. In this time, I keep thinking of poet Mary Oliver’s line about her “box of darkness,” and how that box became her fortuitous strength. So much of our culture still pushes our daughters to be that barbie doll, to pretend all is well with the world, to set a placid example of good behavior.

I see my daughter struggle with her desire to succeed at this sugary, glossy image, juxtaposed with her reality as girl edging toward woman.

We all have our unwarranted boxes of darkness. Use yours, I counsel.

By an old temple

a broken clay kitchen pot

in a field of water parsley

— Buson