A Whole Person.

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.

And — definitely worth a read — Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, By America.

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.

Saturday, Snow, River.

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.” 

Jeff Sharlet

“Things Take the Time They Take…”

Walking this afternoon, I’m reminded of Sylvia Plath’s line, The winter landscape hangs in balance now… What a long balance it might be. Nonetheless…

A pileated woodpecker swoops down from a branch above my head and disappeared into the woods. I take this as an auspicious sign. Ides of March. More snow moving in. Nonetheless….

Things take the time they take. Don’t
How many roads did Saint Augustine follow
before he became Saint Augustine?

— Mary Oliver


All week, people have been dropping in at work, with ideas and needs and so much school board talk. A stranger dropped in yesterday and mentioned she expected to become a grandmother that day, possibly the next. Candlemas, the ancient festival, forty days after Christmas and its official end. February 3 marks my own holy day, the day my oldest joined us in the world and I crossed over into motherhood.

In labor, I walked outside in Birkenstocks and stared at the melting snow that was running in sunny trickles. Just days after she was born, a fierce cold sunk in to stay. The neighbors brought a blueberry pie. As a toddler, I called this child a wildcat. Now, all grown up, she’s still a cat, with a cat’s complexities — half-feral and blissfully domestic, fierce-clawed and loving.

With worry edging her voice, the stranger told me she expected her family’s birth to be healthy. These usually go well, she noted. I agreed, and we walked out together. The wind carried dry snow over the parking lot. She disappeared in her car, but I stood for a moment longer, remembering my daughter was born shortly before midnight. My long labor ended with a surgeon who held my vernix-smeared baby in his gloved hands so I could see her. Her eyes were wide open, and she looked directly at me.

you a wonder.
you a city
of a woman.
you got a geography
of your own.

— Lucille Clifton

Galaxy Bookshop.

Our town’s beloved bookstore suffered water damage from a fire in an upstairs apartment last summer. The Galaxy Bookshop has been hop-skipping from living rooms to temporary quarters for months and has now reopened. This Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., the Galaxy celebrates its return with writers and local food.

If you’re in the area, or even reasonably nearby, stop in. One of my most favorite novelists on the planet, Tunbridge’s Jeffrey Lent will greet visitors in the morning, with the wonderful Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. The day’s intermittent guests include Daphne Kalmar, Christine McDowell, the Hewitts, David Hinton and Jody Gladding.

Thanks to Sean Prentiss (and his lovely wife Sarah) for getting this going.

So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world.

— Vincent van Gogh

Mapping, Metaphor, Motherhood.

I forget my map on my desk beside my eternal list (write thankyous, double check FAFSA submission, confirm E and J meeting….) and drive over the Canadian border shortly after sunrise. Luminous crimson stripes the clouds. Almost immediately, the land flattens from Vermont’s hard ridges to industrial ag fields, distantly studded with metal silos. Late December, and the terrain is more gray than white. I stop at a gas station and ask a woman who is emptying her car of fast food wrappers for directions. I don’t understand her accent, the slipperiness of French that eluded me all those high school French classes. She wants me to understand, repeating her directions, one hand waving a crumpled bag. I nod thank you, thank you, and turn back to my salt-crusted Subaru, miserable with my lack of agility with language. Aren’t I a writer?

At a crossroads, I have no idea which road to take, and the world opens up abruptly in dizzyingly wideness.

My intention is to drive to Montreal to meet my daughters. I hate driving the dullness of interstate and fear driving into cities, and I’ve made this infinitely worse by losing my map. For years with young children in carseats, I delivered maple syrup around Vermont, navigating by atlas and rivers, the sun and roadsigns, using my tools of snacks and a box of board books. I once pulled over and lifted a handful of pebbles from a roadside so my toddler could dump pebbles from one paper cup to another, satisfying her tired self.

Now: no map, no cell service, in a town whose name (ridiculously) I never learn, I pull a Streetcar Named Desire card ask strangers to point my way out. A teenager shrugs. An old man can’t hear me. Finally, an electrician in a truck gives me directions. We repeat his directions to each other three times, and then I roll out, my heart not full of faith, precisely, but enough warmth of optimism. May this new year bring out the generosity of strangers and of ourselves. Thank you all for your kindness and curiosity for reading.

You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is… unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.

— Alice Neel