Similar Boat

Monday, February 13, 2017

My son, almost four, asked me what happens after people are buried in the cemetery.  As gently as possible, I suggest that their bodies become part of the earth and their souls go up among the stars.  He starts crying and says, "Promise you won't let that happen to me." 

I drop him off at preschool after a weekend alone with him.  He is to decorate a book about his family that has photos pasted inside.  "Maybe you should draw Mimi and Bibi," I say.  They didn't print that picture out, so my parents aren't in there.  While I talk to the preschool teacher about his stubborn weekend, he draws a train, an infinity sign, and a pirate.  "Show Ms. B your 'ignoring face'," I say.  He rolls his eyes up and to the side, then closes them and lifts his eyebrows, setting his mouth imperiously.  "That really is the best face," the teacher says. 

Why I'm a poet:  
Once, around the year 2000, my mother visited me in Philadelphia, where I was in graduate school.   I took her to campus with me, and we saw a blond young woman walking along wearing black platform shoes which, in the style of the day, looked vaguely orthopedic.  "Look," I said.  "It's one of my students."  "That poor girl," my mother responded dryly.  "She has two club feet."  

I am writing in a small notebook that I've been losing and finding for a few years.  I find something I wrote in late summer 2012:  " 'In my delicate condition.'  I was born in a delicate condition."   

I go to the food co-op and drink a cup of dark coffee with half and half.  On a lark, I sprinkle nutmeg in it.   I see that they have more of the heart-shaped maple apple hand pies made by a local pie company, and I buy another one.  This will be my breakfast.  I know the woman who made this pie.  I know that she was diagnosed with and treated for thyroid cancer shortly after she received insurance through the Affordable Care Act.  Her daughters used to be in preschool with my son.  They have the sweetest faces, the dearest love for one another.  Their gazes are steady and assessing.  

On a visit to my grandmother, she tells me, "Everyone is a little crazy."  She says that her mother used to say that.  On her coffee table is a book of essays by Marilynne Robinson I gave her for Christmas and a Time with Bannon's face. 

I find this in my small notebook:  "How do I spend my remaining time upon the earth? etc."  Elsewhere I've written a note to remind myself to write a poem titled "Similar Boat."  


Monday, February 06, 2017

source: MoMA

I've been thinking a lot about William Kentridge's work lately. I saw a Kentridge exhibition at MoMA in 2010 that stays with me. His work seems relevant to what I was talking about with a group on Sunday about how/why to make art at this time. Our talk led to ideas about how form might need to be interrogated in this cultural moment, and we brought up things like collage; living with the questions; making your own genre or existing at the intersection of genres; and situating oneself in relation to larger social structures. Kentridge uses many of these methods, as does the poet Claudia Rankine, who we brought up in our talk. I think this is a time to read, view, and promote the work of artists of color, and in addition to Rankine, I find myself turning to the poetry of Lucille Clifton and Joy Harjo, the art of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and Teju Cole. It's also a time for white artists to continue to interrogate and help crack open the structures we're working within, which is why I'm sitting with Kentridge this morning.

Seven for today

Friday, February 03, 2017

1.  My son called 911 this morning (again).  He was supposed to be listening to his Ramona audiobook on headphones so I could sleep for another twenty minutes, but he fiddled with the locked phone until it made an emergency call, then he handed it to me.  "Here, you talk."  I opened my eyes to see what he'd done, then panicked and hung up.  They called back a minute later.  "No, no emergency.  Just my three year-old.  Sorry."

2.  I ask a friend to tell me to write 500 words.  She tells me to write 500 words.  I pick up a favorite book, Abigail Thomas's Safekeeping, to remember about writing, about narrative windows into a life. I read about Thomas's second divorce.  "There were no happy answers," she writes.  I read a sad part about how her parents paid for her son to go away to boarding school, and he called her, homesick, begging to come home.  She writes, "Some things are so sad you think they can't get better and nothing will be ok.  She didn't make it better, although she tried, later.  It got better by itself."

3.  Yesterday we went to the playground for the hour before sundown.  My son keeps asking me if it's still winter.  I say that it is, even though some of the days have been unseasonably warm.  Yesterday was Groundhog Day.  The beginning of February is also Imbolc.  The park we go to is a sort of oval basin of lawn with stone steps at one end.  We run into three girls from preschool there, two of whom are twins.  The non-twin really wants E. to play with her, and she crouches beside him as he stuffs old leaves into the bottom of an overturned riding toy.  "Elias, do you want to play wedding?  Do you want to play wedding, Elias??"  Finally, with some prompting from me, he replies, "I want to play digging."  Later, he tries to join his friends as they climb up one structure and hop onto another on repeatedly.  One of the twins tells him the game is only for girls.

4.  Before we leave the playground, E. becomes increasingly tired and hungry.  I can see it in how he begins to roam around, looking for opportunities to be belligerent.  I try to coax him toward the car with the promise of peanut butter crackers, but it's only when I distract him by pointing to the clouds that he agrees to be picked up.  "Are they stratus or cumulus?" he says.  I'm not sure.  Stratus, maybe. "All clouds are made of water vapor," he tells me.

5.  I've been very angry, I tell my friend over text.  So have I, he says.  And it's slipping out in the wrong places.  Yeah, I say.

6.  This morning after the 911 call, my son wanders into the kitchen to oversee the coffee making.  It is his job to smell the coffee after it is ground, and he becomes agitated if he misses the chance to do it.  I try to doze again, but find that I am agitated.  Is it an emergency?  I say a spontaneous "Hail Mary."  I'm not Catholic, but I've always loved Mary, and I like the idea of "hailing" her.  "Hail, Mary.  Come in, Mary.  Over." By the time I am at the end of the prayer, my body has relaxed.  May we all be cared for.  All of us poor sinners.  All of us who care for others.  Now and at the hour of our death.

7.  What I wanted to say was that there were all kinds of people at the playground.  I stood over my son, watching him stuff leaves into an overturned toy with another boy as they made "dragon soup," and I thought, "This is America.  This is America.  This is America."


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What is there to say?  Dread.  Resistance.  Life going on as usual and not at all as usual.  I want a place to say, "Here are some of the details of life.  The texture of lived experience."  To continue my own way of speaking.  

Some recent detail:

[poems by Marie Lundquist from The Star by My Head: Poets from Sweden and by Lucille Clifton from Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000]

New website! and workshop!

Friday, April 01, 2016

My new website is up! Visit me at

Also, there are spaces left in my six-week Reading and Writing from Life workshop in Durham, NC.  It starts April 16th, and you can sign up here.

Reading and Writing from Life

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I will be teaching this six-week writing course at Nido in Durham, NC on Saturday afternoons, February 6th through March 12th.  Join us!

No Lack of Opportunities

Friday, January 15, 2016

by Joanna Penn Cooper and Todd Colby

The way I know reality is conditional is by looking 
out the window at the mobile homes parked
under the palm trees.  What would it mean to really
be mobile?  To really have a home?  These things
are up on blocks.  That's the condition of being
anonymous amid the revelations of doom. 
It's chilly but comfortable, the way I love you 
as much as anybody loves another human being, 
if one can call a human such a thing as a being. 
Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground