Adrienne Rich, 1929 — 2012

When Eric and I got married, as part of our vows he read an Adrienne Rich poem to me; I read one of Shakespeare’s love sonnets to him.  I loved that Eric was reading a lesbian love poem to me at our wedding, as if by that act we were affirming love in all its expressions and rejecting society’s rejection of love between people of the same gender.  Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck was one of my most cherished books in my early 20’s and I read it over and over, trying to master some of her poetic clarity and vision.  I got to hear her read her brilliant and brave poetry when I was at the University of Massachusetts in the 70’s and I still remember her halting walk up to the podium in a large lecture hall, already struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, but unimpeded in the power of her voice.  When I was pregnant with our first child, I asked Eric to read Rich’s Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution — I wanted Eric to enter into parenthood with me holding the same feminist analysis of how women are shaped by societal expectations of motherhood.  He read the book, and I think we were better parents because of it.  We named our daughter Adrienne.

Adrienne Rich died on Tuesday, and the NY Times has published a wonderful tribute to her, A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism.  It could be the most important thing you read today.


Perspectives on Walking

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I love finding scenic places near where I live that I’ve never been before.  David and I are still walking, getting ready for that trek across England, and today we walked through Northwood State Park, crossed Old Mountain Road, and took the Parsonage Lot trail up Saddleback Mountain.   This part of the walk was familiar, but when we got to the first summit of Saddleback, we kept going, past the sign that said “To Deerfield,” a continuation of the trail I’d never walked before.

Thankfully someone has done what looks like a recent marking of the trail with orange arrows on brown boards, because this part of the trail was far less traveled and hard to see.  We pitched down a steep slope on a soft pine needle forest floor, passed through an old stone wall, and crossed granite ledge outcroppings green with moss.  Along the edges of the ledges were small hardwoods, furry with catkins.  It was lovely, and I’d never seen it before.  And maybe best of all, we didn’t get to see where the trail ends (we suspect it goes to the road on the other side of Saddleback that leads to the radio tower) because we had to turn around.  So I get to go back and see more closeby landscape I haven’t seen before.

Yesterday I went for a walk with Adrienne and Alison and Emilio, and got another new perspective on walking.  Coming back down Canterbury Road, Emilio was motoring along, his belly out, his arms pumping, his little legs lifting and cruising on the pavement.  At one point he got to the side of the road, where a solid band of sandy gravel has collected.  He slowed down, looked at his feet on the different surface, and bent his ear down to listen to the crunchy sound of his shoes on the gravel.  Then he walked purposefully back on to the pavement, watching his feet and listening.  Back to the gravel, more steps, more watching and listening.  Then back to the pavement and motoring along.  How cool, to watch that big baby brain figuring out what his feet sound like on different road surfaces.  And then go back to walking.

Early Crocuses

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The crocuses are up early across the Northeast this year, the year with more or less no winter.  I saw crocuses weeks ago in New York, and now they’re here in New Hampshire. Helen’s crocuses, a carpet of spring  color on a neighbor’s lawn, planted decades ago by Helen Johnson when she was still alive, most likely long before I knew her when she was young, are blooming.  I wrote about the crocuses on this blog last year, including the poem about Helen and her flowers that was published in my chapbook of poetry, Fever of Unknown Origin.

Here’s another poem from Fever of Unknown Origin, this one about Norm Johnson, Helen’s husband.  Norm was a wonderful neighbor and a good friend.  He would pull his jeep over to the side of the road when he saw me in my garden and I’d go stand at his window and we’d chat.  Helen and Norman both died many years ago, but I think of them often as I look around my neighborhood, a lovely farm landscape they helped create and maintain throughout their lives.

And one interesting note, you can buy a copy of Fever of Unknown Origin on Amazon, for $3.00, or $66.00 or for $161.62.  If you want the $166.62 copy, let me know and I’ll make a deal with you.

Some Days

Stakes sawed raw at the point
slit the earth, hitting frost
only once all day, a good day,
for a body yanked by years
to this stiff heave from the cart
to help hold the barbed wire taut.

Most days are spent in a seat –
bucket loader, tractor, dump truck, mower,
these days mostly the jeep –
chatting with neighbors, napping, watching
one day as the milk herd is loaded into trailers
strangers drive away.

The Angle of Light

How is the memory of traumatic events triggered?  I’m thinking about this again, because it’s the time of year when Eric began to feel the back pain and other symptoms that we would later learn was metastatic ocular melanoma.  I remember him saying to me, in February of 2006, “I feel like I have the flu or something most of the time.”  We both agreed he was probably just tired from working too much.

Then one morning in early March when we went out for our morning run, he tapped himself on the chest and said, “I think I pulled a muscle here swimming yesterday, because it hurts.”  I remember thinking, “No one pulls muscles in their chest,” but I let the thought slide by.   Then he started to have back pain, and as it got worse and worse through March, and he had less appetite and energy, I let any thoughts about what could be going on other than a strained back and too much work also slip by.  Eric and I both knew if the ocular melanoma he’d been treated for 3 years before metastasized there would be no treatment available.  That would be it.

And that was it.  By the beginning of April Eric was still getting himself to work every day, but sleeping through much of the weekends and hardly eating.  By the beginning of the second week of April, I insisted Eric go back to his doctor (he’d had a check up just weeks before and everything had seemed fine, other than his back pain) to see if something more than a sprained back was going on.  Eric finally had the blood work he’d been postponing since his doctor’s appointment, and he got an immediate call to come back and get admitted to the hospital.  His liver and kidney functions and calcium levels were all off.  Way off.  Within 24 hours we had results from all the scans and knew his body and bones were full of tumors.  He died on May 7.

So now when the days get longer and bird song accelerates and pussy willows start to break out, I remember how all of that was happening as Eric first began to get sick.  I start to relive the days, sometimes remembering exactly what was happening on this same day, now six years ago, and it’s not easy.  The second year after Eric’s death I was talking to one of my brothers-in-law about the power of the memories as the anniversary of Eric’s death approached.

“I think some of it may have to do with the angle of the light from the sun hitting your eyes,” he said.  “It triggers the memories and brings you back to that time.”  So here I am, six years later, watching the angle of light shift as the sun gets higher in the sky each day. Today I got a card from my Temple that a couple just made a donation in Eric’s memory.  I love knowing that others are remembering him too.

Walking, A Lot of Walking

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David and I are planning to walk across England this summer with a group of friends.  We’ll be doing Wainwright’s Walk,  a coast to coast, 192 mile path in Northern England.  To get ready for two weeks of walking between 10 and 25 miles a day, David and I have started training by doing long walks, so far walks that we can start out our door.

Yesterday we walked up roads to the top of Blake’s Hill, a rise to the south of our house.  From there we took a five-mile hiking trail created by the Northwood Area Land Management Collaborative, or NALMC, a local organization “working together across our stone walls.”  NALMC was created in part through inspiration from Aldo Leopold, a pioneer in the conservation movement and a proponent of a  “land ethic,” a holistic consideration of our actions as humans on the entire system of the environment, not just the land itself but all the animals and plants connected to it.

Getting ready for the walk, I pulled out an article I’d saved from the local free paper that announced the opening of the trail, along with a map.  It was dated July, 2008.  I’ve been waiting a long time to hike this trail.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The trail crosses beautiful open fields of Harmony Hill Farm then crosses into Northwood Meadows State Park.  The open fields rise up and down, then the trail passes through pines and hardwoods, loops around Betty Meadow Pond to the main road of the State Park, then finishes on old Mountain Road, crossing over a stream that flows out of the head waters of the Lamprey River.

When we got back to our house we had logged almost 10 miles.  I was happy to sit in the sun on the porch and enjoy a beer, getting ready for this same sequence three months from now in England.

Brooks and Prompts

Narrows Brook runs behind my house and I see it from the upstairs bathroom window, the kitchen sink window and the back bedroom windows.   I can hear the water hum from my deck or on summer nights through the screened windows.  I take a lot of photographs of this brook because I run by it almost every day I run.  I write a lot about this brook, because I’m so often prompted into my poetry through my senses, most commonly what I see, with what I hear coming in second.

In the last several months, I’ve been in a few gatherings of poets where we work with prompts — everyone throwing out two words to use in a poem, or describing the relationship between randomly selected objects, or bouncing out of someone else’s poem to write our own take on the subject.  I’m loving this.  It’s getting me out of my own fairly self-limited point of view and helping me write poems that stretch subject, perspective, images and language.

Which brings me back to Narrows Brook.  I live near it, so it shows up a lot in my poetry, and when I see it and start thinking about a poem in response, I say to myself, “it’s the same damn brook.”  Here is that line, from a poem that’s in The Truth About Death, but this last stanza didn’t make the cut.  On the blog, not in the book.  Still the same brook.

I am dutiful, it scares me, the 3. definition of demon
is zealous, skillful, diligent. I can’t stop, one for two.
It’s a choice, the dropping of the dam in spring,
the brook is full and beautiful, it’s the same damn brook.

More Moon

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As we walked up the old wood’s road towards the beaver pond, a stream of warm air came up over us.  “Where did that come from?” Alison said and she and I backed up and tried walking into that spot again, to see if we could figure out where the warmth was coming from.  We couldn’t, but as we made our way along the new trail to the pond, the full moon through thin clouds lighting our way, more warm winds blew over us.  It felt like spring washing in.

The mild night grew brighter and brighter, as the moon got above the clouds.  At the beaver pond the moon was high above the trees and the Neville Peak ridge to our east, reflecting off the soft ice.  John identified Mars sitting to the left of the moon and we sat and walked around and chatted and delighted in being outdoors on a warm night, in a bowl of silver light.

Winter Woods

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We haven’t had much of a winter, so there has been very little time this season to enjoy the beauty of winter woods — snow-draped hemlocks, the monochrome world of white on dark-almost-black pines, the painting of tree trunks on the wind side of a storm.  But it finally happened last week — a snowstorm.

I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I skied twice on Thursday and twice again on Friday, and yesterday David and I went snowshoeing, our first time this year.  There was barely enough snow to need snowshoes, and the storm’s drapery had melted and run off in the warm temperatures and rain on Saturday, but it was still wonderful to be out, to be sinking into the lull that comes from one foot in front of the other among trees.

We took a quick side trail off our path down to a little gorge, where the Narrows Brook curls around a steep bank.  I always marvel at this spot, because it’s less than a half mile from my house, but I didn’t find it until I’d lived here for over 20 years.  There used to be a small wooden bench here, which has since fallen over and disappeared into the wetness of this dark but beautiful spot.  Eric and I would walk or ski or snowshoe here and sit on the bench.  This lovely corner of my world shows up in one of the poems from The Truth About Death.

A Trick

Now you are the gate in, as you were the path back
to my life when I saw you after my crash, minutes
of my life I will never remember, scars I didn’t notice
when you were alive. Your eyes have moved into mine,
we notice details – a twig on snow, lichen on an oak,
gray barely begun to be green, sap running again,
a predictable trick, the course of a brook through marsh
and meadow, around shaly cliffs of a hill of hemlocks,
gravity always in play, my fall from the bike, my lost
teeth, your death, my life, prizes we never expected.