September 15th - 19th
September 15, 2005
I plan to leave in exactly one month—October 15—to make my stay an even six months and to give me time to drive back East and set up my bungalow. It’s strange to think back on my arrival here five months ago, on April 15, when there was a foot of snow on the road and rain was falling. Back then I wore fleece and a rain jacket. The meadow shone bright green. The river flowed about five feet higher. Though I still wear shorts in the afternoon, it’s feeling more and more like autumn every day, and it’s nice to have left the heat of summer behind. It won’t be long before I break out the rain jacket again.
My garden is dealing its last hands—some stunted peppers (jalapenos, red bells, poblanos, Thai peppers), the last of the tomatoes, some hard yellow squash, a few midget cukes, celery. Yesterday I picked a big squash growing out of the compost bin, the result of some seed last year’s residents, Martha and Lang, must have tossed on the heap. I don’t know the variety, but it was football-shaped, yellowish-green, and striped white. It was delicious sautéed with garlic, tomatoes, and red onions. Made a nice side to my rib-eye steak. The jackpot of my late summer garden, and I didn’t even plant it.
I got up early today, before light, and Gussie and I drove into town. I needed to make plans for next week’s reading in Eugene, and I e-mailed and then spoke on the phone with Cecilia Hagen, the organizer of the Windfall Series. Cecilia said she and her husband each have a house, and she’s going to put us up in one of them as long as Gussie gets along with her cat. I may stay an extra night either there or in a hotel so I can explore Eugene a little. The reading is Tuesday the 20th at 7:00 pm. It’ll be nice to meet some new people and see a new town.
There’s a slim chance I may have another visitor before my residency ends. Neil Curry sent me a letter and said he’d like to come again. And my friend Peter in New York is talking about trying to come out for a long weekend. Either or both would be most welcome.
Today I had my head buzzed down short to match the beard I’m growing. Yes, I’m going for the G.I. Joe look again. I’m tired of trying to fool myself into thinking I’m not bald.
September 16, 2005
I heard some scary snarling and growling going on down in the canyon this morning. Gus and I were in the garden picking some celery for a corn chowder I made for lunch (delicious!), and I heard what sounded like two animals fighting. I immediately thought it was a cougar and a bear fighting over a carcass, but who knows? Maybe it was two bears. Or two cougars. Whatever it was, I worried that Gus might run down to investigate and become the next carcass for the critters to fight over, so I distracted him and got him inside.
Later, walking back from the pond, I came across this big wood-ear type fungus, which may bode well for chanterelles popping up soon:
Here’s a shot of the upper cabin that shows some of the madrone Bradley and I chopped last month. I’m stacking it in the woodshed a little at a time:
This afternoon I saw the first bit of rain in over two months! From the time the sun came up there were clouds about, big and dark, but with patches of blue sky between them. After lunch we went to the river where I tried my hand at fishing again. This time I didn’t even bother with the fly rod, using the spinning rig instead. I had several hits but no takers. While we were down there a few fat raindrops fell. But just now, back in the cabin and waiting for my chicken to cook, I glanced out the window and it was drizzling! It lasted about three minutes, but it’s something.
Once again the aroma of Barbara’s Famous Chicken is filling the cabin. With brown rice and a salad, it’s going to be sublime.
Friday, and it’s movie night! I bought a copy of Million Dollar Baby while in town yesterday. People raved about this movie and it won four Oscars, so I figured I’d give it a try. I’m a boxing fan, and most boxing movies I’ve seen, aside from Raging Bull, have been cheesy. I’m also usually dubious of any movie with Morgan Freeman in it. I know, he’s a good actor, but the movies he’s in are always so…well, feel-good and Hollywood. I do like Hilary Swank, though. Not only is she gorgeous, she’s one of the great contemporary actresses.
A post-dinner, pre-movie puff on the meerschaum:
September 17, 2005
The mists returned this morning! All through the spring I was enchanted by them—white, diaphanous shapes snaking through the canyon. I missed them all summer. Before they burned off, we went out for a walk. Here’s what they looked like:
It rained a bit during the night. I woke up once to the sound of it pattering on the skylight. While out looking at the mists, I poked around some for mushrooms, but I think it’s still too early and not wet enough.
It was kind of a lazy Saturday. I chopped a little wood, put more mint in the solar dryer, and tried to make an oil painting. My heart wasn’t into any of it. I thought about going fishing, and then thought of the steep hike back. So instead I finished the Ted Kooser book, solved a few crosswords, played hearts on my laptop, changed the strings on my guitar, sat out in the garden enjoying the breeze, napped, and finished this poem I’ve been tinkering with for a few days. The form is a rimas dissolutus.
Water, Father, an Unsteady Boat
He and I cut an awkward, crisscrossed wedge,
a wake of whorls gurgling back to black glass,
and in the rear I could hardly see him
for the fog. His paddle knocked at the prow,
its blade dripping, our silence like a pledge
of truce to our ancient war of redress.
I owed him as much, as far as we’d come—
through the portage of years and our somehow
still burdensome need to push from the edge
into the deeper mystery of us.
Perhaps this was why he taught me to swim,
for the passage he couldn’t help but allow:
water, father, an unsteady boat, the ledge
toward which we rush, buoyant and yet hapless,
where lakes become rivers, rivers become
seas in the confluence of then and now.
I just got up to get a drink, and saw a great moonrise over the ridge. I set up the tripod and took this shot:
Tried watching The Importance of Being Earnest tonight, and just couldn’t get into it.
September 18, 2005
Another day of perfect weather here, but again I’m feeling distracted, as though I’m just waiting around for the trip to Eugene. In the morning I worked on a new poem and then stacked more wood in the upper wood shed. I figure I better get it under a roof before the rains return in force. Couldn’t muster the motivation to hike down to the river to fish, and so spent the day milling about the cabin. Making lunch, I heard a huge horsefly buzzing at the window screen. It was almost the size of a cicada. I trapped it in a glass and let it go:
I’m about halfway through Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, which despite all the rave reviews and my love of Dylan’s music and mystique I’m finding to be a bit too pretentious and slow-moving. For twenty pages he’s looking out a window in a friend’s apartment. For another twenty he rants about all the books he half-read. I’m a third of the way through the book, and I still feel as though I know very little about his upbringing, his coming of age, his feelings about things. As with his music, he seems to hide himself behind the words, always in shadow or distorted. Who’s the real Bob Dylan? Maybe his persona has become so huge that not even he knows.
Here’s the new poem. The impetus for this one was a recollection of seeing migrant farm workers up in Pine Island, New York, the “Black Dirt Region,” which produces a huge percentage of the country’s onions. The three pickers reminded me of Francois Millet’s famous painting “The Gleaners.”
Bent against a sunlit field, like Millet’s
gleaners, they could be either women
or men, and like them they toil for little.
They have traveled far to gather onions
the combines missed, crossed a border at night
and no doubt left something sacred behind.
Trucks loaded high grind by, and the pickers
straighten their backs, make some unheard remarks.
Along the heaped rows seagulls flap and screech.
They have traveled far to gather the worms
the combines unearthed. They know no borders.
The pickers reach. The sacks and bellies fill.
Elsewhere in fields rich with corn or beans
the birds may be turkeys—toms or hens—
and the bending people women or men.
I set up the tripod again tonight, this time waiting for the moon to rise. The small picture hardly does it justice, but it looked pretty neat rising behind some giant Douglas fir trees in the distance. The trees looked like they were on fire:
September 19, 2005
The lines in the following poem should have a staggered indentation. For some strange reason HTML can’t do indentation properly. So imagine that in each stanza the second line has one tab, the third two.
Jays Raving at Dawn
Once again I’m ratcheted
out of darkness and into dim vision:
the cabin cold and damp as a grave.
The jays, the jays, the jays.
Same web between glass and screen.
Like me it has changed little
these many days. It trembles,
vacant silk, like the scarf of a baby’s
ghost, and despite this being
the first thing I see when I wake,
I like this time the most. Stretching
my toes into the cool space
a wife once occupied in that life
that seems sometimes like a dream.
The jays. The clicking of claws
on the floor when my dog
and I rise together. Water filling
the empty heart of the kettle.
Blue flames. The tiny brown
mountain of coffee dressing
the pantry with its smell. And the jays,
the jays. I can see them now
through the kitchen window,
a family of them, blue and proud.
The jays, the jays, the jays.
I tried the river again this afternoon and saw some big fish surface, but none of them went after my lures. Bradley said I should try the fly rod again. He’s coming in this weekend with his mother Margery. I look forward to meeting her. The residency award is in her name, and she’s the matriarch of the clan. Bradley said he’ll take me down to the river and show me how the fly fishing is done.
Pa called tonight and said my mother’s operation went well. I thought tomorrow was the day she was going in. Must have confused it with my reading. I’m not good at dates, especially out here where I lose track of what day it is. I often have to check the tiny calendar in my checkbook just to remind myself the day of the week. It’s a relief the lump is out. Next come the treatments to make sure it doesn’t return.
Tonight I’m going to print the new manuscript and choose which poems to read tomorrow night. I plan to read a few from Velocity and the rest will be stuff I’ve written here.