Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 11 - It was not an emotion I knew by heart

How does that saying go?  A day late and a dollar short?  Well, I'm back with yesterday's prompt.  I spent a wonderful afternoon yesterday in St. Helena working on the Napa Valley Writer's Conference.  I'm going to be helping out the staff this summer and am really excited to learn the ropes.  What I've learned as of late is that I was a bit ambitious thinking there would be time to write a poem a day all through July. So, I'm switching this poem a day project a day up a bit and will only be posting periodically throughout the rest of the month. 

Also as a last side note, my essay, "Haven" is up on the Whistling Fire web site today.  This is an essay about when I was hit by a car in New York and teaching writing at Goldwater Hospital.  Hope you enjoy it.

I find today's/yesterday's prompt fascinating.  So much of what I have written so far this month has been about trauma.  I thought today I'd shift to talk about the power and strength one gains from a job well done.  Apple harvest back in the late 1890s was a slow, intense process.  For today, I tried to think about what it would have been like to bring that first harvest into town and sell it to market.  To watch it taken away by train toward Petaluma and to return to an empty orchard.

It Was Not An Emotion I Knew By Heart

For weeks we had picked and stacked and boxed the fruit.

The thick sweet smell of ripe fruit followed me everywhere.

Yellow jackets swarmed the fallen fruit.

Days swelled thick and bloated until they blurred one into the next.

Then, the lightening came.

The way the wagon's wood base rose without the weight it had carried once the apples were sold.

The way my body unwound over miles, and  finally settled

The way sleep spilled deliously over the dark night like a dark, overpowering joy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10 - When I die, do this with my ashes/bones/body

It's hard to see a prompt like this and not think of Jack London's famous quote:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out

in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom

of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.
But the characters I'm writing about were not reading Jack London.  Who know's if they would have even known of the possibility of cremation.  Chances are they assumed they would be buried on their land or at the Pleaston Hill Cemetary in Sebastopol (where the hold the amazing cemetary walk each year).  I started thinking about the last conversation my main character would have had with her husband as he lay dieing after the train accident.  Or, even considering if she had had that conversation, or maybe had just sewn together scraps of conversations in her mind.  Based on all of this I came up with this draft.  Any one out there still trying to write along?  If so, send me a note!  I'd love to hear from you.  And if you haven't been writing along, today is a good day to start!

When I Die, Bury Me Where the Fog Rests
I can’t remember where I was when he last spoke. Time was stained-glass shards glistening in the light. But fragments drift in memory like a low fog:

When I die I want my body buried here where we’ve worked so hard to build our place.

Were these words spoken over a campfire as we travel west under press of stars?

Or did he breathe them through swollen lips as his body lost its strands of life?

If I go first, bury me close to you and Joe.

And so we did. You can see the wind-washed fence that surrounds his grave from the stairs landing. Each wooden picket is covered in lichen. But I can still smell the turned earth of that day each time I step to it and kneel.

When I die bury me where the fog rests.

How I wished to follow his body into the grave. How only Joe’s tiny body clinging to mine kept me from letting go.

This is a hard life. Marry again. Don’t be alone.

Had he known when he spoke these words how impossible they would be? Seasons soar past. The bare trees burst into blossoms, green out and then fruit. The plentiful harvest. Then bare again and again.

When I die I want my body buried here where we’ve worked so hard to build our place.

I still walk each row wearing his old work boots, my arms sinewy with sun and work.  My heart gone stained glass, but mended.  The way an apple graph takes - one branch grows into the other and carries on. 

Monday, July 09, 2012

July 9 - Gather around the fire

This idea is so central to the community of the time period I'm writing about, it's almost too obvious to write about.  I immediately started to think about the idea of a hearth.  How fire was where people gathered at night (instead of a television).  How it was where the day was sorted out or stories were told.  I wanted this to be a place where the speaker and her son could build a history.  Here is my draft:

Life Gathers Around the Fire

The breeze that gathers today whispers in the bay and oak leaves of the forest that surrounds the orchard.

I am walking the rows. Looking at the way the bulbs swell on the tips of each branch. Small tart orbs ribbed with red stripes.

Harvest looms ahead. The sweat and then relief of it.

Tonight the fog doesn’t come in and Joe and I sit outside off the porch tending an open fire and watching the stars slowly emerge.

We gather around the fire and tell all that has happened in the day.
The Allen boys with their news of town.  Who crashed their buggy on the racetrack.  What opera is playing in the opera house in town.  Who has fallen sick or died.

Then Joe leans back placing his strong arms behind his head and says. Tell me a story Ma.

And I giggle.  It is the same story each time.  Another chapter out of the Odyssey.  Only we don't stick to the plot.  In our version, Odysseus never did find his way home but continued journeying on.

Island to island.

And so it is each night and so it has been since he was just a boy. I dream up another island out of air and we step upon it under the starry night.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

July 8 - Consistently Wrong

I got off to a late start writing today because we went away for a night.  Today's prompt made me immediately think of the orchard this woman would have been tending and how hard it would have been to take on the tasks her husband had once done.  Here is my draft for today:

On the Days I Was Consistently Wrong

The first few weeks after my husband's death the Allen brothers would come by every other day.

Their tall willowy bodies tethered me to the earth and to the task of watering and plowing the rows.

On the days they weren't there I tried to walk in their shadows, tried to match footstep for footstep, task for task. But I was always consistently wrong.

The coffee would burn. Joe would howl. The dust would take to the air in clouds.

And each tree looked impossible to trim back. I couldn't see the lines.

Pretend you are looking at the stars, I’d hear him whisper. Remember how you could never see the forms when we first started off?

And I’d repeat to myself under my breath: Virgo, Pleiades, Cassiopeia. Remember how the powdery stars became the shapes he described, as I walked each leafy row.

Until by body learned the motions of the ranch. Until the shapes emerged from the trees.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

July 7 - For Purposes of Spirit Lifting

As soon as I read this prompt the idea came to my head to finish the sentence so it became - "For Purposes of Spirit Lifting We Visited the Sea."  We live just a fifteen minute drive from Bodega Bay  (the place where Alfred Hitchcock filmed the birds).  The coast line is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life: rock cliffs, gray-blue water and we spend a lot of time there.  So, it made sense to me that someone seeking spirit lifting who lived here would pack up her wagon and head over the hill to Bodega Bay. But in a wagon it wouldn't have been such a quick, easy journey.  What for us is a fifteen minute drive took most of a day in a wagon.  So, it would have been a luxary to go.  Something that even though it was close, you could only do every once in awhile.  Here is my draft where I imagine what it was like to finally arrive at the sea.  

For Purposes of Spirit Lifting We Visited the Sea
Joe and I rest on the rocky sand in bare feet. He is restless.  He jumps up and runs as far down the shore as his tiny body will carry him. I let him run. 
I'm too tired to move and he is too filled with joy.In a few momments I see him, a tiny speck, racing the sandpipers as they run back and forth with each lace of wave.
A flock of heavy bodied pelicans soar over us.
The day is clear. So clear that everything seems possible.
My fingers find the debri that's washed up around me: blue flat stones, smooth driftwood, a single piece of abalone shell that seems to gather sun.
Sitting on the flat beach I see the rock lungs open and close with breath,

the cold blue expanse of sea rolls out with all that is carried under it all the way to the blur of horizon.

Friday, July 06, 2012

July 7 - How do you teach pain?

We were completely fogged in today.  And I woke after the dawn chorus had ceased so it was a quiet morning that greeted me.  There wasn't even a blue jay staring in at me as I wrote.  Just silence and a misty world out my window.

Today's prompt made me think about the story I've been telling and about the mysterious disappearance of the woman's husband.  The town I keep mentioning in the poems, Freestone, had a railroad station dating back to the 1850s.  And anywhere there was a railroad, there were likely railroad accidents.  There is still an old collapsed tunnel a few miles away from my house and it always haunts me as I pass by it.  There is something about the collapse of a tunnel that is horrifying.  I started thinking about the memory of the accident and how she would have been able to feel the accident as if she had been in it.  This poem explores that idea.  Here is my short draft:

How Do You Teach Pain?

Look deep into the delicate shafts of dark railway tunnels and forget the light. Remember the press of dirt. The way air burns away.

Gather blue stars of forget-me-nots, constellations of Queen Anne’s Lace, the sweet smell of wild pink roses.

Listen to a wooden house ache in winds that sweep up at night.

Follow footprints before they are swept away.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

July 5 - And then I saw it blink...

Today was a hard writing day for me.  I woke to a fogged in morning and couldn't find a story I wanted to tell.  So I started with the fog and tried to write myself out of it.  Where we live, and where these poems are set is a place between two towns.  Officially, our home is located in Sebastopol, but we are actually closer to the town of Freestone.  Freestone is a wonderful little town now which boasts a fresh bakery, a spa and an excellent winery.  But once, it was a rough settlement and then a rough quarry town located on the railroad.  When you drive through the town today you can still see the old building facades for the hotel, and the general store.  Today, I wrote about going over the hill to Freestone and tried to imagine what that town would have been like in the 1880s and 1890s.  I also tried to include one of the town's oldest stories about James Dawson who upon finding out that his housemate left him off of the town deed, sawed their shared house in half. Here is my draft.  Hope you'll write one too!

Cañada de Jonive

Some days I wake to a world blanketed by fog. A single sound – hammer striking rock, or hawk’s cry, reverberates in the bowl of valley until it sounds intimately close.

It’s these days when I know I need to find a path out. Hitch the wagon. Gather Joe and head down the rutted hill toward a town.

We live between two settlements.

Over one hill lies the sandstone quarry town, Freestone and farther on Bodega and Bodega Bay where the dark blue sea breaths.

Over the other hill lies Sebastopol and beyond the expanse of the Laguna, Santa Rosa.

Today, I choose the closes route and we are drive up the steep hill toward Freestone where there is a railroad and a general store.

We can check the post office for any letters from back east. We can eat lunch at the hotel and watch the weight of the metal railway engine pull away.

As the wagon rolls slowly through rutted redwood groves the sounds around us sharpen. Our horse whineys. The summer creek babbles.

And Joe’s voice startle’s me. Mama, he whispers. Yes? I say, eyes still stretched ahead, hand’s steadied on reins. Why are we a lone?

In a place like this I don’t believe in lying to a child, even a five year old.

We aren’t alone. We are stitched together me and you. I say, cracking a smile. But it’s just me and you because Papa is gone.

He pulls his small body closer to mine on the buckboard, so close that I can feel his heart.

The day we found our homestead was the first day we entered this town. Once called the Cañada de Jonive. It was rough settlement. A place where if they weren’t solved things were cut in half.

The man at the hotel had told us about Dawson and McIntosh. How Dawson had cut their shared house exactly in two with a saw because McIntosh hadn’t included Dawson on the deed.

The deer leapt out of the bushes suddenly, spooking the horses. Joe cringed into me. My heart leapt into my throat. The wagon bed rocked, nearly tilting on the steep slope.

And then I saw it blink. Our life, however run down it had become, stared me in the face like a wild animal and I loved it even if I couldn’t tame it or catch it.

The deer passed back into the dark trees. Our horse snorted and steadied. The wagon creaked back into place and Joe and I held each tight and breathed.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

July 4 - How to be Enigmatic

For the past two days our hillside has been filled with the cries of young hawks.  They have recently been kicked out of the nest and are learning how to maneuver the thermals of our valley.  Each year when they begin screaming I get worries and think.  Oh no.  Something has happened to one of the birds.  But, I'm always wrong.  They are just vocalizing their lessons as they learn them.  There is so much story in these animals lives around us that we'll never truly understand.  I started thinking about that: about the enigmatic lives of the animals we live with that we try to unriddle but when we do, we always come up short and merely begin personifying or finding reflections of ourselves.  Today's draft plays with this idea.  I hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July.  Don't be afraid to write a poem too and share it in the comments.

How to be Enigmatic

The young red tailed hawks must be learning to fly. Their piercing cries reverberate across the valley loud and without cause, as if they have just found their voices.

But their small feathered bodies take to the velvet summer air effortlessly. And we watch their bodies glide as if on ribbons.

How many seasons have we watched the hawks rear their young in the tall pine, teach them to fly the line from pine to pine above our home. How many seasons before we found this place had the birds been here?

Then there are the red faced foxes that dart, low to the ground across the field at dawn and dusk. Some days they carry a catch in their mouths. Some days they return home empty.

And the coyotes who howl in packs at night.

We still carry ourselves as if we are borrowing this place.

Even that first season when we labored for five days with the hired Allen boys laying the foundation for our home. Long swollen days of hard work and desperate thirst.

Then with the boards set, we lay on our backs on the hard wood bathing in the light of a full moon, listening to the unseen residents around us move and settle into night.

How we realized then what we now know, that what we see and hear are tiny glimpses of what lies hidden underneath.

We cry and cry like the young hawks to an audience of air trying to find our home, our center, when all we need to do is glide.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

July 3 - Hircine

Today I took a bit longer than normal to find time to sit down and write my poem-a-day, but for good reason.  I had the wonderful opportunity to donate some time at The Sitting Room in Cotati. A wonderful local resource where anyone can go and enjoy a quiet place to read and write.  It's also where early next month I'll be teaching a workshop of writing about local history.  But enough about delay, let's get back to poem-a-day. And boy, was today's prompt a tough one.  Hircine means of, pertaining to, or resembling a goat.  Goats are (and were) often used to help clear land around here.  Especially during the time when early settlers came.  I imagined the first day the couple came to the land they had purchased and what the task of a hill covered in large bodied oaks and tall pines, limestone and scrub brush looked like.  It must have been overwhelming.  This draft imagines that day and the idea of buying some goats to help with the clearing of the field. 

 A Hircine Hillside

The day we found it the hillside was stone laden and dense with tall pines and thick oaks and scrub brush.

There were no human paths. Only the careful thin trails of deer wandering like cursive in and out of brush.

“The man in town say’s we’ve got to dig all the oaks out. Even the roots. Or they’ll cause our apple trees to rot.” He said.

So on the first day we sat on a limestone outcropping feeling the weight of it all: the bodies of the tremendous oaks we’d need to fell and split. The scrub we need to clear.

For a week we dug until our backs tightened and ached. At night we sit side by side by the small fire pressed down by the powdery stars.

He thought of the goats first. Why not? He asked.

The next journey into town we loaded the wagon with flour, salt, sugar and two full-grown goats. I’d traded my mother’s coral cameo for the lot.

Each day we’d tether the goats to a new patch of shrub and they’d eat it clean as a washed slate. Each night the stars would loosen their powdery stare.

The bodies of oaks fell with a loud crack. You could feel the weight of them carried from the soil to your knees to your heart.

It’s the wood of those trees we used to build the house. Each one carefully sanded down.

Some days looking out of the house toward the hillside now covered in trees I still see that wilderness pressing back in. Some days when the fog is low I still hear his voice as if it is trapped.

But the words I begin to use to answer back are made of air. Are left lingering in the tops of redwoods.

Monday, July 02, 2012

July 2 -That's when I gave him/her my________

When I woke this morning the edge of the horizon was smudged with fog.  This is typical July weather in western sonoma county.  Fog in the mornings that will either burn off by late morning or linger.  Yesterday my son Max and I went to the creek in our backyard.  It's a place I've played since I was child.  A part of this property that is hard to forget.  While we were there yesterday, while Max sat in the limestone belly of the creek trying to dig out old leaves and sticks to make the water flow a flock of blue jays took to the trees around us, frantic with warning.  It was so strange and went on for fifteen minutes or so.  The birds jumped from tree to tree above us, calling to one another.  For today's poem, I went back to the pioneer couple I envisioned in yesterday's poem.  I imagine the wife coming to this same creek with her teenage boy about this time of year, a month before apple harvest.  I imagine times of leisure like this, especially for a single mom and her son were few and far between.  But, I imagine when they happened they healed.  They etched into their whole weary bodies a kind of solace that is hard for us to understand.  Here is my attempt at a poem today.  I'm so excited that a few of you are writing poems as well!  Keep them coming.  It's such a pleasure to virtually write with you!

Under Warning of Birds

The fog lingers in the corners of things: crotch of hill, the edge of blue sky left smudged.

Yesterday, under the oaks and pines blue jays erupted into a dapple of sound and warning.
When I looked up to the spinning trees, every one rustled with their weight and sound.
We had gone to the creek to find solace from the heat, from the work of the day, but we found only warning.
I could feel time coil itself like a snake. That’s when I gave him my memory like a doppelganger.

The place is like that, I say. It's a place to linger and forget. He giggles. Already able-bodied as his burried Pa.

A simple S-shaped bend in the creek. Limestone-bedded. The gentle trickle of a summer waterfall.

If we listen to the birds, if we watch the sky, if we follow the press of guilt and duty, we’ll never see what is hidden in the dark water.

It only takes a few found sticks. A willingness to find the hidden life of salamanders and crawfish to clear the creek of what keeps the water from flowing.

Dead leaves, silt, a tree branch, stones.

In a few weeks, the harvest will begin. Already the tart green orbs burn from the fingers of trees.

When we plowed the field, dust veiled our life. Even this morning I was still sweeping dust from the wooden floor in front of the stove.

Even under warning of birds, joy enters our bodies at the corners, smudged and unbidden.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

July 1: The House of Yearning

This morning I woke up to a fog covered hillside.  Everything always feels muted on days like this.  The prompt for the day, the house of yearning, made me think of the way we construct places before they are even found or built.  There are so many old farmhouses around the Sebastopol area that were built by the early settlers in the late 1880s and 1890s.  Those families traveled very far before they constructed those homes.  I started thinking about how they must have dreamed those boards into place as they sat in slow moving wagons willing the miles to pass.  And how, for some, tradegy would strike, leaving them only with what was built in their minds.  Here is my poem for the day.  If you write one, feel free to post it as a comment!

This is the House of Yearning

This is the house of yearning where fog-combed skies muted the cries of red-tail hawk.

This is the day when the wind carried salt, lavender and rosemary.

This is the day when it was dull enough that memory light the mind like a tiny lantern.

A long journey in an open wagon. Dust. Flies. The reel of clouds overhead and the slow stories they’d unwind over days that stretched wide as a sea.

The hard boards on our backs lying down in back. The ruts in the road as seen through the cracks and every once in awhile the bright shock of a wildflower.

The smell of fire and smoke. The sound of fire. The press of bodies around it. The way the fire quieted then glowed like a red, sunken star.

How each day we’d speak of the house. Build it with shared words. You’d say: hillside, open. I’d say: water whispering, dappled woods.

How always there was an orchard, a garden.

And the miles wound under us. Flat swaying seas of grasses becoming thick-knuckled mountains. How the air tightened and grew crisp.

By the day we sat at the blue-eyed lake we’d constructed everything out of air.

As we bathed in the icy water. As we washed the dust and flies and miles from our bodies we were submerged in the shadows of birds.

Today the house is made of wood. The orchard stretches 20 trees deep. The garden writes itself into the soil.

And you are not in it.

Good News and Another Poem-a-Day Project

Last month I got some incredible news.  I got word that Trio House Press and judge Ross Gay had selected my manuscript as the winner of the Trio Award.   It's still really hard to believe!  My book will be called Gold Passage and will hopefully be published later this year or early 2013.  More details soon!

The month of July I will be writing a poem-a-day thanks to the wonderful Promptess  Lisa Cihlar and coordinator Molly Fisk.  Much of my forthcoming book was written as part of simular poem-a-day projects.  So, if you are ready for a summer challenge, follow my blog and write a poem-a-day with me! I'll be posting Lisa's prompts on my blog everyday I write a poem. I'd love the company!