March. Flowers.

At the co-op, the words are: dirty March. So much snow, rain, the deep ooze of mud, what feels like the very faraway promise of green. Returning home, the teenager has burned herself reading on the back deck. One cat let the other eat his dinner and yowls plaintively, furiously, at household injustice. Stove ash and common dust have invaded the house. Sunlight spills through the windows onto the floor.

March: the season of radiant joy, sullen unhappiness. I lie awake and wonder about my own private death: next week, next month, or four decades from now? I decide the only reasonable course is to bargain for forty more years on this planet, and inevitably take what comes.

Thursday, the day dawns with the scent of loosening mud. The rain slides in. Midday, redwing blackbirds.

A good day for a poem:

Flowers, by Cynthia Zarin

This morning I was walking upstairs
from the kitchen, carrying your
beautiful flowers, the flowers you
brought me last night, calla lilies
and something else, I am not
sure what to call them, white flowers,
of course you had no way of knowing
it has been years since I bought
white flowers—but now you have
and here they are again. I was carrying
your flowers and a coffee cup
and a soft yellow handbag and a book
of poems by a Chinese poet, in
which I had just read the words “come
or go but don’t just stand there
in the doorway,” as usual I was
carrying too many things, you
would have laughed if you saw me.
It seemed especially important
not to spill the coffee as I usually
do, as I turned up the stairs,
inside the whorl of the house as if
I were walking up inside the lilies.
I do not know how to hold all
the beauty and sorrow of my life.

“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


Checking out at the co-op, an acquaintance says she has a question for me. I follow her outside, and we stand in the falling snow, she with her bags full and me with the tomato and yogurt my youngest requested.

Through the snow, the mural across the street glows its brilliant rainbow of colors. Across Vermont, murals have appeared in the past few years, not just in the usual suspect cities — Burlington and Brattleboro — but in places where art seems least expected: a parking lot, or the roadside field in Jeffersonville where cement silos are beautifully painted with an old man sowing seeds, a red clover blossom. Half a decade ago, driving with four young teenagers, I pulled over and we walked around and into the empty cement tubes. Springtime, we splashed through standing water in the hayfield.

Now, snow swirls around us, my favorite kind of drifting snow, magical and full of possibilities. We talk for maybe ten minutes, while I hold that tomato and a paper bag of granola, shivering, while people trudge through the snow around us, buying baguettes and greens and bottles of wine. We’ll find no answers in our brief conversation that picks up those knots of privilege and power, of pretense and betrayal. This far along in our lives, there’s nothing textbook here. The questions shape our lives, the little world where we live.

I suggest a sliver of a solution, a tiny change, a minuscule movement, a small slice of good. By then, I’m shivering fiercely. The night’s falling down, and my small household will be hungry.

The painter’s vision is not a lens,

it trembles to caress the light.

— Robert Lowell, “Epilogue”

These Days…

Days and nights on the cusp of sugaring season. It’s been years since I made a living sugaring, but I haven’t forgotten the years the kids and I inhabited the sugarhouse for a month and more. Walking at dusk, as the night bites my eyes and the tip of my nose, I remember what close friends the weather and I were in those weeks of sugar and ash. The children were always in sodden snowsuits, or their fingers shivered from lost mittens, or their faces were crimson with heat, cheeks sticky with a maple patina. We ate oatmeal and nachos, drank coffee with syrup, baked pizza in the arch when the fire burned to coals. We were always hungry.

One night, a daughter sleeping against me in bed, I read a Louise Glück poem in the New Yorker while knitting a yellow bunny for that sleeping child’s Easter gift. I gobbled that poem, ripped it from the magazine, thumbtacked it over my desk. Forget it’s still February; the poem must be read.


The light stays longer in the sky, but it’s a cold light,
it brings no relief from winter.

My neighbor stares out the window,
talking to her dog. He’s sniffing the garden,
trying to reach a decision about the dead flowers.

It’s a little early for all this.
Everything’s still very bare—
nevertheless, something’s different today from yesterday.

We can see the mountain: the peak’s glittering where the ice catches the light.
But on the sides the snow’s melted, exposing bare rock.

My neighbor’s calling the dog, making her unconvincing doglike sounds.
The dog’s polite; he raises his head when she calls,
but he doesn’t move. So she goes on calling,
her failed bark slowly deteriorating into a human voice.

All her life she dreamed of living by the sea
but fate didn’t put her there.
It laughed at her dreams;
it locked her up in the hills, where no one escapes.

The sun beats down on the earth, the earth flourishes.
And every winter, it’s as though the rock underneath the earth rises
higher and higher and the earth becomes rock, cold and rejecting.

She says hope killed her parents, it killed her grandparents.
It rose up each spring with the wheat
and died between the heat of summer and the raw cold.
In the end, they told her to live near the sea,
as though that would make a difference.

By late spring she’ll be garrulous, but now she’s down to two words,
never and only, to express this sense that life’s cheated her.

Never the cries of the gulls, only, in summer, the crickets, cicadas.
Only the smell of the field, when all she wanted
was the smell of the sea, of disappearance.

The sky above the fields has turned a sort of grayish pink
as the sun sinks. The clouds are silk yarn, magenta and crimson.

And everywhere the earth is rustling, not lying still.
And the dog senses this stirring; his ears twitch.

He walks back and forth, vaguely remembering
from other years this elation. The season of discoveries
is beginning. Always the same discoveries, but to the dog
intoxicating and new, not duplicitous.

I tell my neighbor we’ll be like this
when we lose our memories. I ask her if she’s ever seen the sea
and she says, once, in a movie.
It was a sad story, nothing worked out at all.

The lovers part. The sea hammers the shore, the mark each wave leaves
wiped out by the wave that follows.
Never accumulation, never one wave trying to build on another,
never the promise of shelter—

The sea doesn’t change as the earth changes;
it doesn’t lie.
You ask the sea, what can you promise me
and it speaks the truth; it says erasure.

Finally the dog goes in.
We watch the crescent moon,
very faint at first, then clearer and clearer
as the night grows dark.
Soon it will be the sky of early spring, stretching above the stubborn ferns and

Nothing can be forced to live.
The earth is like a drug now, like a voice from far away,
a lover or master. In the end, you do what the voice tells you.
It says forget, you forget.
It says begin again, you begin again.

— Louise Glück

Verbal Valentine.

I’m drinking coffee in an empty corner of a coffee shop when two strangers meet up at the counter and strike up a conversation. They’re kidding the young man behind the counter who’s been sitting on the floor behind the counter, talking to a young woman. It’s a quiet morning, and their chatter has been gently full of laughter and wit.

One stranger buys the other a coffee — “and throw a shot of espresso into it” — and then his card jams and won’t work. The barista turns the card reader upside down (I mean, what else can you do with those things?) and then the other stranger pulls out cash. The men talk songwriting and growing up in North Carolina and the price of a cord of wood.

It’s a kind of Valentine’s bit of goodwill on a snowy morning that soon will turn to sun in Northern Vermont….

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
There’s nothing to write about
But radishes.

— Basho

Wet Gloves, Grievances, Blessings.

It’s been awhile since I did a carpool or handoff along the road — once a mainstay of my life. Seems like I spent hours of motherhood waiting at some designated place. I leave early to have this little pocket of time, a few minutes, no more, to watch the sky darken. I bring a book, too, more out of habit than anything else.

Vermont highways are lonely and busy, with stretches of time where you can walk down the center line, and then times when you risk your life (actually) to walk those yellow strips. The girls are laughing when they arrive. I hand over my daughter’s gloves, warm from my car heater as I tried to dry out the wet remains of yesterday’s skiing. I stand talking, shivering in my sweater. I’m sweaty from skiing, and I’ve forgotten my coat. The girls are busy, busy, happy in a plan of their own, my daughter’s hair still in the braids I wove for her this morning.

The girls drive away. I head back to my car, sliding in my plastic-soled ski boots, and someone I’ve known for years pulls over and asks if I need help. Good lord, I laugh. Because our kids played together as toddlers, I feel I can start right in and so I do. I begin with the bathroom sink drain that I need to take apart, and how does anyone endure the college app process, and am I ever going to remember to clean the inside of my windshield, save for when the sun hits it and blinds me?

I’m really laughing by then, and she is, too. I lean against my car — again, shivering, shivering — while we exchange the usual kid and life updates of people who know each other but sometimes go years without talking. The cold air comes down in this sweet-spot crepuscular moment as the night slowly floods in. She leaves, and I stand for a moment, looking up for the first stars. Such little cares I’ve listed, the stuff of living, blessings more than grievances.

And then I’m on my way, too, leaving the river and road, at least for now.