Fiddle Dee Dee

August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment


Strong wind this afternoon, the kind that makes your feel like your hair is blowing off. French-blue sky, wheat-colored mountains drizzled with gold, the sharp grasses bending in great curls. A few deer, a few trucks and me. I could get addicted to this place.

The other night we went to the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo to hear bluegrass music. Multi-instrumentalists with impressive moustaches, a guitar player with an orange guitar strap marked “Dept. of Corrections,” a little girl standing on a box playing her fiddle, a woman who looked like Maureen Stapleton singing a torch song, and a youngish man doing a cover of “The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night,” which Charles used to play and sing to his children at bedtime. A good half of the customers were over 60, the ladies with perms and the men with high-waisted pants. The collection box handed around wasn’t for the musicians but needy townsfolk.

Nothing like live, homegrown music to make you feel the reality of a place, although the animal head décor had a say in that as well. We were looked down on by the big, glassy-eyed trophies and while this doesn’t affect me the way it does some people (roadkill bothers me far more), that may be a generational thing. I grew up thinking it was kind of normal—not that I knew anyone who shot and mounted ungulates but it was so prevalent in novels about England, the West, etc, that it seemed as if I did, and when I began came across the odd, real trophy, in my teens, I didn’t think twice. Now it just seems tacky.

We didn’t stay long at the Occidental, but it was fun to get off the grounds of this monument to creative solitude and remember that art is always of the people and by the people, both common and precious. Maybe before I die I’ll wring the last of the tortured romantic artist myth out of my soul.

Though, of course, I am tortured and romantic. But not because I’m an artist, and anyway, I’m much less romantic than I used to be. As for torment, they have drugs for that.

A Dog Was Crying Tonight In Wicklow Also
In memory of Donatus Nwoga

When human beings found out about death
They sent the dog to Chukwu with a message:
They wanted to be let back into the house of life.
They didn’t want to end up lost forever
Like burnt wood disappearing into smoke
Or ashes that get blown away to nothing.
Instead, they saw their souls in a flock at twilight
Cawing and heading back for the same old roosts
And the same bright airs and wing-stretchings each morning.
Death would be like a night spent in the wood:
At first light they’d be back in the house of life.
(The dog was meant to tell all this to Chukwu.)

But death and human beings took second place
When he trotted off the path and started barking
At another dog in broad daylight just barking
Back at him from the far bank of a river.

And that is how the toad reached Chukwu first,
The toad who’d overheard in the beginning
What the dog was meant to tell. “Human beings,” he said
(And here the toad was trusted absolutely),
“Human beings want death to last forever.”

Seamus Heaney

So Many Clouds, so Many Stars

August 28, 2013 § Leave a comment


So quiet out tonight, so many stars…

I struggle with my work and the attendant depression, but this place is so beautiful, so nurturing, and I’m very comfortable here now. Most of this group is leaving Friday, which is sad, I like them all, but there will be new people Monday, and I’m looking forward to that. I don’t expect to have such an amiable group, but I’m curious about the differences.

This weekend I’ll be alone here with one other woman and we’ve rented a car, so I’ll get to see more of the area. The Devil’s Tower—a laccolith made famous by Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one destination; The Bighorn National Forest another. Lake DeSmet sounds good too. And the Dull Knife Reservoir (okay, I just put that in for the name). Maybe a night on the town in Sheridan or Buffalo.

I love the way new places become home in a couple of weeks. My bedroom, my studio, the dining room where we eat our fantastic meals, the road I walk on at dusk, the mountains and the fields full of deer-—hard to imagine giving it all up, now, though I miss the city every day (or maybe every other day).

Those of you who are artists or writers or composers—you should come here for a few weeks. It’s not to be missed. And Judith–you should come back.

I went looking for a poem about stars–one in the back of my mind, a very famous one I can’t quite remember–and found this; a young love poem by Gary Snyder. Written when he was studying zen in Japan, it has expresses more regret and uncertainty that I’m used to from this poet.

Four Poems for Robin

Siwashing It Out Once in Suislaw Forest

I slept under rhododendron
All night blossoms fell
Shivering on a sheet of cardboard
Feet stuck in my pack
Hands deep in my pockets
Barely able to sleep.
I remembered when we were in school
Sleeping together in a big warm bed
We were the youngest lovers
When we broke up we were still nineteen
Now our friends are married
You teach school back east
I dont mind living this way
Green hills the long blue beach
But sometimes sleeping in the open
I think back when I had you.

A Spring Night in Shokoku-ji

Eight years ago this May
We walked under cherry blossoms
At night in an orchard in Oregon.
All that I wanted then
Is forgotten now, but you.
Here in the night
In a garden of the old capital
I feel the trembling ghost of Yugao
I remember your cool body
Naked under a summer cotton dress.

An Autumn Morning in Shokoku-ji

Last night watching the Pleiades,
Breath smoking in the moonlight,
Bitter memory like vomit
Choked my throat.
I unrolled a sleeping bag
On mats on the porch
Under thick autumn stars.
In dream you appeared
(Three times in nine years)
Wild, cold, and accusing.
I woke shamed and angry:
The pointless wars of the heart.
Almost dawn. Venus and Jupiter.
The first time I have
Ever seen them close.

December at Yase

You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”

After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.

Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known
where you were–
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.

I didn’t.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.

Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.

We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.

I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
karma demands.

Gary Snyder


August 23, 2013 § Leave a comment


Gray-golden fields; flat, rounded and pointy mountains; a haze of smoke in the air from those out-of-control fires in Yellowstone and Idaho. A bedroom with a good bed, good light; a huge studio with a desk, couch, several armchairs and a porch; meals prepared.

Dinner last night: cioppino with scallops, shrimp and mussels, salads, breads and three cheeses; flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream. Good company (4 men, 4 women; 4 writers, 4 artists) and no obligations, other than to clean up after myself. I even have phone and Internet service in my bedroom and a kitchen to make coffee in down the hall.

Yet I feel surprisingly homesick. I don’t want to go home, but I miss my domestic world, the triple feline and guitar-playing family. But the writing I have done is much better than what I’ve managed do in the city this year. So. No complaints.

Every night before dinner I’m stricken with shyness. I’ve only ever been in communal living situations with strangers twice: boarding school and college. Neither time was I leaving intimacy behind. And there were boys: walking enchantments, creatures too glorious for my eyes, sinister angels with the powers of heaven, strewn carelessly. None of that now. But the mountains, the sea of grass, the gray-gold, the sage green. Rumors of rattlesnakes. Cattle guards. A winding, metallic-blue creek. A full moon.

I had to spend most of Tuesday at the dentist because a tooth broke (at dinner the first night) but the doctor made the crown himself in 20 minutes, and it cost less than it would have in Manhattan—though not as much less as I expected. He said I needed at least two more crowns done soon. Medical tourism in Costa Rica, perhaps?

I’ve finished a novel (worked on, on and off, for over 10 years). It was really already done; I just needed to believe it was finished, to wrap it up and give it a final polish. Not perfect, but good enough. Now I’m sleepy.

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

–Emily Dickinson


August 13, 2013 § 2 Comments


When you find yourself making lengthy anonymous comments on an Internet magazine advice column re sex and marriage and feel better afterwards, you know the time is coming when you can actually use all this material creatively. (Not that I haven’t said this before.) I ended my comment, “Life is strange,” which is shorthand for: life is so fucking weird, full of woe and full of joy, only fiction or poetry can even begin to chart it. That’s hardly news, but what is making me feel slightly better is that posting the comment didn’t fill me with anxiety or bring back wounding memories.

Creativity and sex are very close, like neighbors on a party line (that’s telephone history for you young folk; look it up). Not to be able to draw on my sexual energy for writing has made writing seem not very interesting for several months now. Before that, I drew on the pain, but fuck pain. Why do we use sexual words to express our most violent rejection?

Never mind.

I’m going to Wyoming, to the writer’s colony, in a few days, which is either why I’m feeling friskier and more hopeful, or a blessed coincidence. I’ve also had some positive news about a book, but I’m not going to say what, or think about it too much until more happens. Mom: don’t ask.

I have a lot to do before I leave, so I’m not going to write a long entry. But Charles has been telling me about the people he meets every day, as he sits on 6th Avenue, playing his guitar, and it reminded me of you, all of you who subscribe to this blog, read it on Facebook, or go looking for it when you miss me. Thanks for reading. Here’s a poem for you.


He wrote the whole novel in his head,
Sentence by sentence. It took him all day.
Then he took out a wide-ruled yellow legal pad
With three pink vertical lines marking the left margin,
And from his breast pocket he extracted
A disposable plastic fountain pen,
And near the top of the page he wrote the word ODE
In black ink, all caps. For a few minutes he did nothing.
Then he skipped three lines and wrote,
“It was the greatest birthday present he had ever received:
The manual Smith-Corona typewriter
His parents gave him on the day he graduated from high school
After they took him to the Statler Hilton for lunch,
Where they had cold poached salmon, his father’s favorite.”

David Lehman
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