The rain it raineth every day.

The end of the 80’s, beginning of the 90’s. MTV still played music videos, and the first Gulf War was still in the future. I arrived at college and threw away my curling iron and hairspray. Just a glance through my high school yearbook would reveal how BIG an action that was.

When I was in college, there was hardly a single guy who wouldn’t try to sleep with me given half a chance. Even if he had a girlfriend, even if that girlfriend was a friend of mine, if we happened to be alone together in a room with a door, he’d try his luck. I understand that this is not atypical.

And it will not surprise you to learn that I was the pining sort, my heart hinged on the Unattainable One whose friendly hugs never became more.

So I was by and large unresponsive to these efforts. I, obnoxious Atalanta, proposed impossible tasks. This is absolutely true. J. pursued me (why I could never understand, we were so thoroughly unsuited to each other), so I told him that if he could discover and recite the two opening lines of my favorite poem, I’d go out with him. Seriously. Insufferable, yes, but it was a pointed challenge: see how little we have in common?

J. never did figure it out (“Come live with me and be my love, / and we will all the pleasures prove” — let me remind you I was a very young 18), but he tried surprisingly hard. Sex was the bass line underscoring J.’s every thought and action, but he was willing to work for it. His efforts were endearing. I, however, was unrelenting. I don’t think I even told him the answer. (I know, I know. J. didn’t say it, but I’m sure he thought it: “Bitch.”)

Yet, in the midst of my Unrequited Love, there was one guy I flirted with. He was a little older, with shaggy, weathered good looks: a fledgling poet. P. was on the fringes of our clique, Heathcliff with a sense of humor. Does that capture his appeal well enough? I could have really fallen hard.

What kept me wary was that Heathcliff aspect, the darkness I sensed in him. P. struggled with alcohol, I remember him being quite open about it, which was positive, but I felt a world of pain there. So I kept my distance.

But we hung out, went on walks, smoking cigarettes together (oh how I loved smoking), talking. He gave me a card, with actual handwritten words inside, for my birthday. Do you have any idea how rare that was? I felt wooed, but gently. Sweetly.

One time, on one of our walks, we ran into My Crush, and there was a flash of awkwardness, this charged frisson, as My Crush & I exchanged friendly hugs and chit-chat. Probably all in my overactive imagination, but at the time it seemed momentous.

Another afternoon, late for lunch, I ran into P. as I rushed into the deserted student center. It was early spring, I was flushed, hungry and distracted, and I think we were both caught off-guard. Because I literally ran into P.. He didn’t kiss me or do anything so dramatic — but he put his hands on my head, in an almost tender gesture, and said, “You have the most beautiful hair.”

And that’s the point of this long long story, because it’s a rainy overcast Saturday in late September, and it’s been a difficult week, and now I hear that Paul Newman has died — the sadnesses just seem to accumulate.

But these small moments, these gifts of kindness and care, jewel-toned memories, they gather too, into a beautiful mass of autumn leaves I can fall into on days just like this one.

Wandering Middle-of-the-Night Thoughts.

A week gone, textbook rush is half-way through…

*

It was about 3 a.m.. I was sitting up in bed against a mound of pillows, in the dark, unable to sleep due to a bout of heartburn (thank you, pregnancy!), and bad dreams (ditto!). Driving home from the store last night, I heard a Geico commercial on the radio, the first I’d heard in a while featuring the Gecko. I am very fond of the Gecko. I have not done anything so silly as change my insurance provider as a result of this fondness, but hearing that cockney Gecko’s voice on the radio pleases me to no end.

So the Gecko is who kept my thoughts company early this morning — Lance and I call him “Mr. Guppy”, after Burn Gorman’s portrayal of that character in the Masterpiece Theater production of Bleak House:

Burn Gorman as Guppy. BBC picture.
Burn Gorman as Guppy. BBC picture.

I have a fondness for Mr. Guppy, too. And that entire BBC production — it aired on PBS during the last weeks of my pregnancy with Vincent and the first weeks after his birth. The two, Mr. Guppy and the Gecko, are inextricably linked to my memories of that time.

*

This poem, though it says nothing of seasons, puts me in mind of the seashore in September. September is a melancholy month for me, a bridge between the summer I’m unwilling to let go of, and the autumn I’m not ready for yet. By Helen Farish, this is from her collection, Intimates (Jonathan Cape, 2005):

The Lighthouse of Nauset


was removed to a field.
Visitors wonder

does it miss the tides, living on the edge
of emptiness then fullness?

Here there is only the tickle of a cricket,
an out-of-the-way dusk.

The lighthouse says, Listen.
I thought I had no limits,

could look indefinitely at the longing
light lays on water.

Now I want boundaries;
a hedge, plums, more than enough.

And we’re having…[Warning: Baby Spoiler Ahead]

18 weeks & 3 days.
18 weeks & 3 days.

Vincent looks mostly like his dad, except for around his eyes. This baby seems to have my profile, poor dear. You might scoff, but you actually can tell quite a lot from an ultrasound.

The ultrasound went much swifter than I expected — when I was pregnant with Vincent I remember it taking upwards of an hour. Vincent was fascinated and only slightly restless, and what a show the baby put on for us, wriggling around like a fish. Everything looks great and normal, so I’ve opted not to have the amnio.

And the news that (a teeny-tiny percentage of) you have been waiting for: it’s a boy. Unquestionably. And unsurprisingly — this will be Lance’s fourth son — he only makes boys!

[End of Baby Bulletin.  Regular programming will resume presently.]

Arts & Crafts & Parenting.

Mmmm..."ice cream".
Mmmm..."ice cream".

We experimented with play-doh today. Overall a success: Vincent did not eat it, and nothing disastrous happened. Vincent is tremendously proud of his “ice cream”, though it looks more like poop to me. All about perspective, as usual.

It was a busy weekend of work. We hosted the novelist Galaxy Craze at the bookstore on Saturday. What fun! She’s my age, with a 4 yr old son and a 3 month old daughter, and several of her friends attended with their children, in particular an adorable set of 4 month old twin girls. It was a total baby-fest! Galaxy gave her reading with her daughter in her lap, while the mother of the twins nursed one in hers.

Could you imagine a more complete mingling of art and family?

After the reading, we talked pregnancy and parenting and birthing. I’ve been getting over a cold, so I refrained from baby-cuddling, kept my grabby hands to myself. But there was something so joyful about having so many young children cavorting about the bookshop, about conversation among a circle of creative parents.

It reminded me: when Vincent was 7 months old, we attended a New England booksellers’ trade show, where we met Jonathan Safran Foer. Jonathan also has a son about the same age as Vincent. I’m a big fan of Jonathan’s novels, and thought I should engage him in conversation about them, being a conscientious bookseller and all, but the last thing he was interested in talking about was his books. Vincent was being his most adorable self, cuddled on my shoulder in a sling, sucking his thumb. Jonathan admired him to a most pleasing degree, showed me pictures of his son (also adorable), and we compared baby notes. It was bizarre and tremendous — given the time, we could have talked all day. Seriously. All day. About our kids.

So is it like this for all new parents, writers and all? You might publish books to great acclaim, but these new beings, they’re amazing, and that’s got nothing to do with you, you’re just the lucky caretaker. And that’s the most interesting thing right now, nothing else compares. Not that you don’t continue to do what you do, which is what you are, a writer. But what you are has expanded in the most wonderful way.

Anyway, I don’t want to give short shrift to Galaxy the writer: I especially loved her new novel, maybe because the main character is a 14 yr old girl, an age I find crushingly hard, and the centerpiece of the story is an intense friendship between 2 girls that, while I can’t relate to the particulars, is definitely spot on. I hope she’ll find many readers!

A Lost Week.

“My heart beat thick.”

I think that’s the correct quote. It’s from Jane Eyre, and I’ve never forgotten it (quite) due to Dr. Heineman’s professorial diligence back in 1990, her vehement attention to a writer’s very particular choice. (From her I also learned the proper pronunciation of “vehement” and “awry.”)

All respect to Jane, but my heart beats thick every day these days. Between the heat and the pregnancy, air feels hard to come by. And time. How did it get to be Saturday already? I don’t think I accomplished a single thing of note all week. Except for the ultrasound. And I did read Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart (which I loved, marvelously inventive, then began Inkspell a little while ago. I have an advance reading copy of the final installment of the trilogy, Inkdeath, which is why I began it — I hate to wait, I try not to begin series until all the books are available. Harry Potter is the only exception. Well, George R. R. Martin is too, but he tricked me by splitting his previous book in half…) And I also found what I hope is the perfect Father’s Day gift for Lance.

Oh, apparently there are those who were under the impression that this ultrasound would tell us the sex of our baby. You are mistaken. This is a first trimester ultrasound, undertaken because I am of “advanced maternal age” purely to check on the well-being of said baby, whose sex, at 12 weeks, is still a mystery. It’ll be another 6 weeks for that. But while the official results won’t be out until sometime next week, everything does appear to be just fine. Baby wriggled around like a healthy little tadpole, and we all squealed at the monitor.

Then we left the air-conditioned health center and wheezed in the heat. Or was that just me?

Collected Poets Series.

On Thursday, June 5th, at 7:30pm, poets Chard deNiord, author of three books of poetry including the recent Night Mowing, and Susie Patlove, the author of Quickening, will read from their most recent work at Mocha Maya’s Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA.

Chard deNiord is the author of three books of poetry, Night Mowing (The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), Sharp Golden Thorn (Marsh Hawk Press, 2003), and Asleep in the Fire (University of Alabama Press, 1990). His poems have appeared recently in Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review and The Iowa Review. His poems “The Tin Path” and “Sharp Golden Thorn” appear in the film “Beautiful Ohio,” starring William Hurt, Rita Wilson, and Juliana Margulies. Chard is an associate professor of English at Providence College and the co-founder of the low residency MFA program in poetry at New England College, where he also served as the program director from 2001 to 2007. He lives in Putney, VT with his wife Liz.

Susie Patlove‘s chapbook, Quickening, came out in 2007 from Slate Roof Press. Her poems have been published in several journals including Marlboro Review and Atlanta Review. Her work was anthologized in Crossing Paths: An Anthology of Poems by Women. Susie lives with her husband in Charlemont, MA at an intentional community founded in the early seventies where they brought up their three sons, and now raise sheep, chickens and vegetables. She took lay Buddhist vows in 1982 and continues to practice. She is the assistant librarian at the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls, MA.

*

In the background, I can hear the torturous sounds of Barney the Purple Dinosaur singing, made palatable by the accompanying warbles of Vincent. If he weren’t mine, it would still be adorable, I promise you.

10 weeks along, I met with one of the midwives at my ob/gyn’s office today, and got to hear the new baby’s heartbeat. It never fails to awe. And it’s tremendously reassuring, a heartbeat. Until now, you’re going on faith and the mere fact of a bottomless stomach that something’s growing in there. But a heartbeat, that revving shush-shush-shush — well, now it’s real!

And there was only one heartbeat, so we’re probably not having twins — I’m a twin, so that’s always a possibility. Due to my “advanced maternal age” I’m having a first trimester ultrasound next Tuesday, so that’ll give us the final word on that!

[End of pregnancy update.]

“The Mist”.

We did not drive to the coast yesterday — both Vincent & Lance had colds, so we went out for breakfast at Foxtowne Diner and walked to the playground in the morning, and had a quiet and restful afternoon. My idea of a good day.

Which I needed, because I woke up in a foul mood: on Saturday night, Lance & I watched “The Mist” on DVD, based on the novella by Stephen King. I don’t watch scary movies, because they’re scary movies, they give me nightmares, but Lance didn’t want to watch it alone. So I watched it with him (“Honey, could you turn that light out?” “NO.”). And as scary movies go, it was pretty damn good. Most horror flicks these days are just exercises in masochism & blood, but this was very character-driven. Which is why the ending is so awful. Not merely shocking, but wrong wrong wrong.

If you haven’t seen it, and don’t want to know the end, don’t read further, because the movie’s conclusion is different from the one for the novella, which leaves the characters driving through the mist, not sure where or if the mist ends. In the movie, after you’ve watched all the struggles & deaths of some great characters (how could they kill you, Ollie, o the injustice!) 5 characters make it to the Land Rover and drive off: the main character, his young son, a blonde school teacher, an older teacher played Frances Steenburgen, and an older man. They drive through scene after scene of wreckage until the gas runs out. This is where things go awry.

Now Lance tells me the following scene is an homage to a scene from the docudrama, “The Night that Panicked America,” which is about the airing of Orson Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” He says that part of that film focuses on a family’s reaction as they listen to the program on the radio: a father, mother, young son, and the grandparents, in a panic, flee their apartment by car. Driving down a tunnel, a firetruck approaches from the opposite direction. The father’s panicking, mistaking the firetruck for aliens, and he holds a gun in his hand — contemplates killing his family rather then letting them fall into the hands of aliens. Before he can do anything, the firetruck overtakes them, and tells them to go home, for crying out loud, this is a tunnel, what’re they doing, get out of the way. Chastened, they return home feeling foolish, but safe.

Back to “The Mist”: the father, child, woman, & older couple sit in the Land Rover surrounded by mist, out of gas, and hear ominous sounds approaching. By now we’ve seen all the awful creatures in the mist, so yes, we, the audience, are aware that they are in grave danger, stranded like that. But it’s been 2 hours, they’ve fought like hell to get that far, so when the father looks at the gun in his hand and counts how many bullets are left (“Four.” “But there are five of us.”), I don’t really believe he’ll do something so daft, especially to his sweet little boy. But the next scene pulls back to an external shot of the Land Rover — the interior flashes, four shots. Then back to the father, who howls into the steering wheel, then gets out of the car to call to the monsters to come and get him.

Instead, the cavalry arrives: the army, row upon row of tanks and soldiers with torches, and they push back the mist. The father sinks to his knees in horror. Roll credits.

Monsters didn’t keep me from sleeping that night, but outrage. And Lance, who made me watch the film in the first place, says, “But it’s only a movie.” Which is so breathtakingly beside the point.

I think this will all tie into poetry, or at least writing:

Maybe the filmmakers were going for an ironic ending, but it’s a cheap shot, and completely unfair. Let’s face it, a horror flick is not where you go for verisimilitude, and the least you should get for your time and high blood pressure is a hopeful ending. Redemption. Genre films should not be trying to buck convention, they’re all about convention. If I want bleakness and despair, I’ll watch an independent film.

That said, I’d accept the depressing nature of “The Mist”‘s conclusion if it seemed earned, but it’s all wrong for the characters as they’ve been portrayed throughout the film, the people we the audience have come to know and root for. They’d keep fighting!

Here it is: the conclusion of any piece of art is only believable, true, if it’s been earned. I tend to rush early drafts of my poems to the end, I’m good at endings. But then I have to go back and work to make those endings right and satisfying. Otherwise I’m left with some good lines, but a bad poem. The people behind “The Mist” worked to create a really compelling film, and ruined it with a “shocking” ending. This is one of those times I’d actually appreciate an alternate ending in the extras bit on DVD!

Thanks for listening. I feel better now.

*

On another topic entirely: Lance questions me every day whether I’ve posted the news yet here, and when I intend to, so I guess I’ll go ahead, seeing as he’s told everyone and their grandmothers since we found out:

Yes, I’m pregnant, due on Christmas day (poor baby), which makes me 7 weeks along. I will make every attempt to not regale you with pregnancy tales. Unless you ask. I will only say now that, as with Vincent, so far everything’s great, no morning sickness, just fatigue and ravenous, I-could-eat-my-desk, hunger. After our initial surprise, we’re very happy — I’m one of 6, and always wanted Vincent to have a sibling closer in age (his half-brothers are 20+ yrs older).  We weren’t exactly planning for one soon, but we’re excited nonetheless. Vincent is always sweet with babies, so hopefully he’ll be happy too when the new baby comes home, and not rage against being knocked from his only-child-prince’s perch. Good times.