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.

July 1.

This photo snapshots summer for me.

I snapped this photo of my beloved daughter’s bare feet at a gas station, just before I had a conversation with a couple who had left Tennessee (brutally hot, they repeated) for the romantic life in Vermont. I kept thinking, but you haven’t meet Vermont’s January yet….

After so long, we finally had a full dinner table on our back porch yesterday, myself and the daughters and the boyfriend and my brother and his partner, all of us together with summer’s greenery pressing in — the domesticity of my potted plants and the wildness of box elder and cardinals interwoven.

Rain sprinkled, and we grilled steak and vegetables. Our conversation wound through drought, the pandemic and the Delta variant, QAnon, and my teenager’s job in a general store this summer.

Over the valley, I saw clouds darken, and rain broke again. Plate by chair by glass we carried in what needed to be covered, and kept talking.

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.

Thorns.

In one Tolstoy novel (where, I can’t remember), the characters sat down for a moment in their house before they undertook a journey. It’s a Russian tradition that seems incredibly wise.

Yesterday, before my daughters set off on a journey — short but intense — we paused in the kitchen while my oldest zipped up her high heel boots. My youngest and I checked the oil in her car. I repeated the directions and route numbers of their journey.

Later that afternoon, I paused my work and listen to the sentencing for Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. How much more evident could it be that our world must change, and maybe is changing? How hard, how utterly painful, this is.

My daughters call in the early evening when I’m clipping dead ends from the roses in our front yard. No one has tended these beauties for years. While our society’s drama unfolds, our own family craziness unfolds — as does the complicated story of everyone else’s family.

I drop a thorny twig in my bucket and imagine my daughters driving along the interstate with their sunglasses and summer shirts, the sunroof open, eating French fries. Sisters on the open road.

“Real power doesn’t come from having a million followers, good hair, a Louis Vuitton purse, a new car, a new home, a title, a partner, or anything that can be weighed, measured, or acquired. Real power is the thing you’ve always had inside you… Real power can never be taken away from you and never lost once it’s found.” 

— Holly Whitaker, Quit Like A Woman

Face From the Past

Every bird around us is singing this morning. The garden luxuriates in a clinging dew.

Unexpectedly, a woman I worked with for a number of years texts me with news she’s in town for a few days. We had last in early March, just before our world shut down.

We take a walk through the town forest and catch up on kids and work. Then, for a few minutes we stand in the parking lot, and our conversation branches a different way.

She asks about when my daughter and I were quarantining after my daughter contracted Covid. In those long days, waiting to see whether I (who wasn’t yet vaccinated) would contract Covid, too, I painted the window trim in our front porches, a blue light blue color called Innocence. While painting, I listened to hours of Derek Chauvin’s homicide trial.

So much of our lives, I muse, is simply circumstance — we’re white women, living in Vermont, with particular backgrounds and education. How much of our lives do we choose, and how smartly do we make decisions of what we do choose? It’s a question that’s been asked myriad ways in the past year, in innumerable ways.

Driving home, I keep wondering, what do we do with this now?