It has been so long since I’ve sat here in the library that the roses on my desk have long since died and dropped their leaves – more leaves than I would have thought possible from a dozen red roses of condolence.

The light bulb in my little green lamp has burned out. I type in a relative darkness this morning. In an hour I will leave the house to take the train to work, and I will pass the tall raspberry stalks that lean out over the driveway from the garden and I will grab the ripening berry I’ve had an eye on for days.

Provided one of the magpies hasn’t beaten me to it.

It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?

We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.

We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.

That sets us up to fail.

While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.

We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?

Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?

I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.

Can we accept that every considered perspective on every story is a true answer? That all of them are as true as memories?

As true as the dried leaves scattered over a book filled with fragments of poems that I’ve forgotten I’ve written.

I’m off to pick a raspberry.

photo of a ripening raspberry on the stalk

I am thinking today about how things can change suddenly, when nothing has changed. An interior reality that moves independently from the weather or circumstance.

Now, in this moment, I am angry or content or want to pick up and begin again new somewhere that smells differently. Spin the wheel. I latch onto reasons for my shifting moods but am wholly unconvinced they are causes. I’m just grabbing at the random facts while the merry-go-round spins. I am my own fortune teller and blue-eyed dupe making “sense” of it all. Lining up the cards and making up a story to explain why I am where I am.

I’m heading north in three weeks – to stay for a week in a tiny, rough house on the fjord-side of the island. To look for porpoises and puffins through my binoculars. Maybe without them. I’m bringing a wetsuit. Wool socks. And wine. K. says we need to trek to the opposite side of the island to see the midnight sun.

What I am looking forward to is the smell of the ocean. Above the arctic circle, the ocean smells… clean. Scrubbed. Ragged. I can’t help but hope it will clear my head. But I know nothing is ever as we imagine it will be. I know the mosquitoes up there are the size of wasps. I know the damp cold of a holiday cabin.

I could pull out my tarot cards to try to figure out how I got myself into this. I’d get the hanged man. I am in a period of indecision. Suspended.

In a time of contemplation.

The brain is amazing. We can always make it “fit”. Whatever it is. The omens. The signs. Today walking Leonard we passed a hedgehog on the sidewalk. Dead. In the middle of the sidewalk. I walked Leonard a big arc on the lawn to avoid it. I watched three people walk by it. I wonder if the body will lay there until the birds take it away bit by bit. The gulls, most likely. Where are the gulls today?

We passed the field where last week the duck couples were coupling in the tall grass. Someone has driven a lawnmower over it all. I wonder where they went? Where will they brood?

In films and in books, people have little epiphanies that get all their ducks in a neat row while on a vacation. After facing death. Getting a sign.

All these external changes that shake up their inner realities. Does it ever really happen that way?

a fetus gestates:
dog, fish, shark, venomous
a year to decide – yes

I slept well. The first night in four or five nights, maybe. I woke yawning, but clearer than I’ve been in a few days. This morning I noticed I put last night’s pork chop leftover in the freezer not the refrigerator. I also can’t find my nifty hole-punch pen. My first thought is that Leonard took it and hid it, since it scares the bejeezus out of him. It makes a horrendous “thwop” sound when I pull up on it, let go – and the coil slams the metal pieces together to drive a hole into the paper (and into the wood slab under the paper).

Yesterday when I was using it, he crawled up in E.’s lap – all 35 kilo-or-so of him curled up awkwardly in a rocking chair against the man he’s barely trusted for two-and-a-half years. I think E. secretly liked it.

Still, I doubt Leonard absconded with the thing. I should check the freezer.

It’s Easter vacation, but everything seems quiet. A friend sent me a photo of flowers blooming. She’s in a town a few hours south of here. Here it’s raining. The magpies are monopolizing the seeds we leave out for the finches. And I saw what I thought was a next while we were running on Monday, only to have E. point out that all the feathers were from the dead goose lying in the center of the “nest” in the reeds.

Mink have to eat, too, I suppose.

We’d stopped for a few minutes about 500 meters before the end of our run to watch two squirrels – playing? fighting? mating? I have no idea. But they were loudly chasing each other around the trunks of trees, and hopping from tree to tree. Flashes of deep russet in the otherwise gray day.

When I first began running – more than ten years ago – the flashes of the white tails of deer were my reward for getting out there. I took it very personally. A nod from the universe that I was doing well. But there aren’t really deer here where we run. In five years we’ve seen three. And worried about the unleashed dogs we know are there in the mornings. Dogs will go after a deer. But I am pretty sure the geese and the swans can take on any dog.

Now I wait for the cows to be let out of the barn every spring. I stop and talk to the heifers that wander near the fence next to the trail. Take their pictures, while the matriarch scolds them for whatever… I imagine they’re being called “attention-seeking” or “flirt”. At any rate, they are beautiful creatures. But I think I’ve written about this before? The under-appreciated beauty of a healthy cow.

When I lived in Kentucky the boys in high school called girls heifers. I swear, heifers are downright charming animals. In England, of course, “cow” is a common insult. What the hell is wrong with cows? Sure, there are ornery cows. But there are ornery sheep, and goats have devil eyes, and cats? Cats can be downright impish. Nudging things off counter tops while they stare you square in the face. I had a cat once, given to me by a boyfriend, who peed all over my new boyfriend’s things. But the cultural norm is to use “kitten” as some kind of sexy term-of-endearment. What is wrong with people and their relationship to animals? And maybe baby animals in particular?

For the record, I do not want E. to begin calling me a cow as a term of endearment either. At least not in public. I am not confident enough to be the vanguard of bovine re-branding.

I think our relationships with animals are as bizarrely “branded” as our relationships with people. We are all ugly messes – some of us are just better at public relations than others.

Stuck in a story
from a single perspective
– bite for bite – we eat
the elephant in the room
never apologizing

I have an odd pile of books on my desk this morning. Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Inconspicuous Consumption: The environmental impact you don’t know you have. How to Love a Country. Langston Hughes – Selected Poems. The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Diary.

There are nine other books and a rhyming dictionary also piled on. I need to sort through my shelves again. And I seriously need to stop buying books for a while. All the things I would love to do with my time. More reading. Perhaps reviewing. Certainly celebrating the poets I love. Deciding what projects to take on can be overwhelming. And there is fitting it into a life with a day job that can suck the joy right from the source at times.

Books make me feel less alone. Less peculiar. I have noticed that when I feel isolated and lonely, I go on book-buying sprees. Every book is a potential: this one will save me. I blame it on my religious upbringing: The Word is God. The answers are in the scripture. When every adult around you is an idiot, there is a near-ancient authority that has left riddles to be untangled.

There is hope, here: on the page. In the verses that sing.

I’m taking a course on visual poetry right now and am fascinated by asemic poetry. I am surprisingly drawn to it. Moved by it. After spending years studying formal poetry and analyzing poems with a chair and a rubber hose (despite Billy Collin’s objections), I am finding an instinctive satisfaction in holding the handwriting up to the light. Acknowledging the humanity, the creative mind present. The philosopher Denis Dutton said that one of the universal criteria for art is evidence of individual expression. Another is craftsmanship. Another is that the work is somehow imbued with emotion.

And in my mind poetry is the leap we make between the poet’s material expression and the poet’s subjective experience that demanded expression. In other words, all poetry is itself a meta-metaphor: the poem is the vehicle and the poet’s subjective experience is the tenor. And it seems to me that if we recognize this vehicle/tenor without putting it into words (creating new metaphors), then we are perhaps communicating in a more directly visceral way.

People have worked for years trying to decipher the Voynich manuscript because we recognize the human hand. We have this feeling that there is something important here. If someone were to ever unlock the code (if there is one) it would no doubt be anti-climatic. Our intellectual evaluation of the work would suck the joy right out of the visceral experience. We would lose the emotional connection with the artist by creating an intellectual one. One step removed.

Let’s not know. Let’s let the mystery be.

E.’s mother tongue is not English, and often when he reads my poetry he says: It sings so beautifully. Sometimes he has no idea what the ten-letter words mean. Sometimes I have leaped too far between vehicle and tenor the metaphor is lost. But it sings.

That matters.

I am, however, not convinced that I can unlearn everything I have worked so hard to more-or-less master. I have been thinking that surely someone has already studied this with regard to the modernists. I am sure there are books on my shelf now that I would better understand were I to dive in now and read them again.

But I’m not going to. I’m going to stay here with the visceral, practical work. I’m going to move my hand over paper and play. And look at all the beautiful evidence of humanity on display.

A circle with lines
radiating from a center
and I understand
she feels the sun on her skin
and knows how to tell me this

Rarely is my day so turned on its head. I should be in bed now, not typing. And technically, I shouldn’t be having a glass of wine. But here I am. And the day has been… tolerable-to-good. And lately, that means very good.

I didn’t write this weekend because I was working on the manuscript. Finishing, proofreading, formatting. It is incredibly satisfying. I still have moments of insecurity – of full-on panic – and then moments of resting in a kind of contentment.

“I made this.”

How do we hold on to that feeling and resist showing the work to someone for that (for me anyway) inevitable disappointment when someone says, “it’s good”. Like it’s a fallen souffle. Or at least it leaves me feeling very much like a fallen souffle. I always ask myself: What do you expect? Fireworks? I don’t know.

You would think at my age, I could just relish the helium-my-chest feeling and not need verification.

Memories flood back to me. My family of origin expected very little of me. Didn’t hide their surprise when I did something well. When the school asked to put me in the gifted class, my mother said I was too lazy.

Okay. So now I have slipped from personal to private in this diary. And from relatable to – well, not. That is why I should write in the morning with a cup of coffee on the desk, not a glass of whine.

Confidence is a slippery fish, isn’t it? Good to have. But if you carry it around too long, you stink.

Promising, they said.
I have caught up with myself –
middle of the road –
where I can walk fearlessly
into an unknown future

(Not much this Monday, but it is a commitment met.)