Thursday, August 28, 2014

the unconditioned air



How To Be a Poet

BY WENDELL BERRY
(to remind myself)
i   

Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   

ii   

Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   

iii   

Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

mint, rising




It's here! Summer, dusk, grass, leaves, green. Visitors, mint, fans, bugs, lakes, rivers, screens.
Last night the lightning blew our phone and modem, blew my parents' inverter, fence charger, phone line. We cooked marshmallows over an open flame while the storm rolled in, took cover 
under the porch eaves, kept away from the windows. 
Avah Margaret floats on her back now, head tipped back, arms flat out, trusting. 
Owen Cricket lives naked in the woods, cooking pizzas made of sticks and leaves. 
Our garden offers: kale, chard, peas, basil, mint, cilantro. 
On its way: sun golds, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, beans.
I'm no gardener (as any of you who have stuck around here know), but alas, a garden!
The room we've been building for three years (unfinished walls, unfinished floors) 
holds: a guest bed, old friends.
An essay of mine was just accepted. 
The old phone we had stashed away in a drawer seems to work. Today: cooler air, a breeze. Up here on the hill I hear it rustling in the maples, whistling
in the cooler, darker pines. 
My grandmother's ghost, rising. Later: cool drinks, cool water, mint in
everything.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

sweet tea, cooling





6 am robins, a veery, other birds I can't yet name.
my daughter's sing-song voice from her room (half-dreaming).
the pop of day lilies, the hush of goat's beard (half-gone by).
bare feet in wet grass, the blue snake of the garden hose, the lemon lilies, the spirea, the clematis vine, rising.
the tea, hot, milky, cooling.
the blush of sunlight across the spider's web in the upper joists of the porch's eaves.
last night: the pond, dinner, the fire, the sand, jars of wine.
the girl learning to swim (to swim!), not wanting to leave that cool dark water, warmer than the evening air, the sensation of underwater agency coupled with risk.
girl, water, dusk, limbs, pond water, dripping.
now: the light, rising. the girl, waking.
footsteps on pine floors.  the sun, rising. the sweet tea, cooling.
good morning, friends.
summer.

Thursday, July 17, 2014





The strangest thing has happened this summer: we've all begun sleeping in. Thus no early morning woodbird posts, no pre-dawn shots of mist rising or skies lightening. We have been busy, happy, healthy, engrossed, and consumed in this thing (too short, too sweet, oh my god, too short and too sweet!) called summer: greens, berries, lakes, woods, trails, peas, friends, mint, wine, sun, rain, lightening, porch, chickens, pigs, friends, lakes, woods, pools, beaches, mint, sun...

That is the refrain. These are the faces. Oh, these faces. And now I hear footsteps, and my tea is cooling, and the day begins...good day, my loves. May it be vivid and bold and remarkably tender in the shadows. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

sweet spot


I don't think I've mentioned my dear friend Desha's book to you yet (it's been a crazy, rich month!), but here it is. In it Desha features the homes of twenty artists, designers, and just plain interesting people whose style reflects their lifestyle, values and thriftiness. Photos of the homes are paired with interviews, in which said artists and interesting people discuss what their house means to them, how their home reflects their lifestyle and values, where they collect all their funky, eclectic stuff, etc. And THOSE pieces are paired with Desha's earthy, sassy and helpful tips (with a bit of Arkansas twang) on how to make your house a reflection of your inner self without the aid of much cash. A win-win combo, no?

My funky, eclectic house is featured in here as well, and in my interview I talk about all sorts of things, including: what I did in my cabin when I was young, the balancing act of mothering, writing and making music, my grandmother's bathtub, and Sharon Olds' poem, "New Mother."

Desha is about to head out on a national book tour (hubby and cute-as-anything daughter in tow): you can check out her schedule and order a copy of the book here!

xx
R




Thursday, June 5, 2014

a thousand words



A couple weeks ago on the playground I overheard a (sweet, kind, innocent) six-year-old girl tell my five-year-old daughter that she should exercise every day so that she can be skinny like her, the friend. 

My daughter, sheltered thing that she is, said, "Why would I want to be skinny?" To which she was told, "Because being skinny makes you pretty. Like me."

I stood there and thought: Fuuuuuuuck!

And then I hopped over towards them, like a twittering bird, and said something about how all bodies are beautiful, all colors, shapes and sizes, but those girls were long gone, running across the playground in hunt of a good tree to climb.

I tried to bring it up in a casual way at home. I infused a couple conversations with comments about the beautiful shapes all bodies take, about how I love the way my post-pregnant belly jiggles, but really I was thinking, Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

What power do I have in the face of this big old world? 

Which is why when Dede Cummings gave me a copy of The Bodies of Mothers by Jade Beall, a new release by Green Writers Press, I though, ah, this. I thought: images. Maybe.

I spent hours/days/years poring over The Family of Man as a kid. I memorized those photos, those subtle expressions, those faces, those wants and desires and emotions, finding myself in them and making sense of the world I belonged to. 

I brought home The Bodies of Mothers yesterday and lay it on the table where my daughter was sure to see it. She did. She picked it up. Brought it to the couch. Said, "Mama, will you come look at this with me?' Which we did for an hour, looking at these naked bodies covered in tattoos and stretch marks and moles, these bodies with sagging breasts and big asses and skinny asses belonging to beaming, radiant, self-loving women of all different shapes, colors and sizes.

I thought: yes. 

I didn't buy this book, but I would, for any daughter of mine. Images like this are the best tool or weapon we have to stave off this culture of judgment, body-hatred and competition. My daughter and I looked at the book again this morning. It's a bonafide magnet. We read the women's names. How many children they have. We looked at their bodies. We looked at their radiant faces. 

Go buy a copy, friends!


You can order a copy HERE, though much better would be to order it at your local bookstore. That cheap price they offer? That just means they're giving less than their share to the author and the independent, green publisher. 


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

greening



A couple shots from this rainy day in late May. The first from the early morning, where I sat drinking my tea and conversing with my daughter (and only stealing the occasional look at The Sun, laid open in front of me, I swear).

The second of my mother's blueberry bushes, which are loaded, just now, with blossoms. Let's hope for a sunny day soon (i.e. tomorrow) for the bees to do their all-important dance of pollination.  

I also went to the bookstore today. Yes, the bookstore! On my own! Without my children! And came home with five books. (Five books!) Most of them were on sale, but still, five beautiful new books. This is what happens when you 1. start working (i.e. making money) and 2. work freelance and thus have days off in-between projects.

A couple are bird guides, as I'm determined to hone (alongside my children) my recognition skills this summer. 

Another is Thomas Berry's The Great Work, a book that's been called, "The modern equivalent of the biblical book of revelation." In Berry's own words (he has been called "the bard of the new cosmology,") "The Great Work, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner." Berry is a cultural historian, an Appalachian-born Buddhist scholar, a Catholic priest and an ecotheologian. I hope to share more quotes with you here as I journey in. Feel free to read along. 

Happy late May, friends. It is an amazing (lilacs dripping) time of year.
R

Monday, May 26, 2014

in the early morning



5:20: Owen Cricket wakes to nurse
5:30: He drifts back again
5:31: I'm tiptoeing down stairs, putting water on to boil
5:36: Tea. Hot. Honey. Milk.
5:40: Shit! Facebook. I should never go there first thing in the morning
5:45: But, oh. These funny emails about Eudora Welty and Grace Paley. My book group just read them. We can't seem to let them go. Oh to be as nutty as Eudora or Grace.
5:50: The friend I can't stop thinking about, who just had her second-born, is wondering how one finds time to write with two. Time to write with two....time to write with two...I remember being desperate for camaraderie, solidarity. Thus: Erdrich's The Blue Jay's Dance and a slew of mother-poets I went in search of (Sharon Olds, Beth Ann Fennelly). Today I'd recommend Grace Paley, so that one remembers their humor and their sexuality. Those were somewhat desperate days.
6:00: Oh sweet tea. Caffeine's coursing. That newborn whose birth brought about that desperate search for solidarity/camaraderie will turn two in six days. Two! Two years ago today I was writing this, and this, and this. That was a time and a place.
6:01: Oh how I wash my soul, every day, in the eggshell, almond, beach-salt skin of their wily limbs.
6:02: They're still sleeping. Everyone is still sleeping. What on earth will I do now? What oh what, in these sweet quiet moments, will I work on now?
6:04: Oh, daughter. Hello. Good morning. Thank goodness. Your friendship and your beauty. What adventures will we embark on today??


PS: Michelle, I want you to know that two days ago I printed out the manuscript of stories that I began six years ago. Six years ago! They're not finished, but they're very close to finished. Time accomplishes amazing things.



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

the macarthur house





I don't believe I've officially introduced you to The MacArthur House. It's my family homestead, a stone's throw up the road from where Ty and I started building our cabin fifteen years ago (past the farm stand, the blueberry fields and the cider orchard). 

It's the house my grandparents bought for a few thousand dollars in the late 1940s and fixed up, lovingly and by hand, for the next sixty years. (When they came it was abandoned: shot-out windows, floors eaten by porcupines.)

My grandparents were and are (my grandfather still lives next door) radicals and dreamers: my grandfather is and was a professor of astronomy and physics and a hard-core environmentalist, ecologist and lover of birds; my grandmother was a folksinger, gardener, baker of extraordinary bread, self-trained ethnomusicologist and lover of all things local and all things old. 

For the past six years (since my grandmother died and my grandfather moved next door) our family has been trying to figure out what to do with the house and its land. How to honor my grandparents' dedication to cultural and environmental sustainability, how to honor the beauty of the house itself, how to share it with others in order to foster that bridge my grandparents made between art, the environment,  sustainability and place. 

And so The MacArthur House. We're still not sure just exactly what it will become, but we have opened the doors and windows in order to see what flies in and nests here. 

We are so very excited. 

(For more info/photos, go here.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014





Good morning, friends. The rooster (Whitey) is up. The sun is up. I'm up. Spring/summer, or the love child of the two has officially arrived to our woods. We spend the evenings outside in the yard with cups of chilled wine. Our children are back to being bare-limbed and dirt-caked vagabonds. Our shoulders and cheeks are pink from bike riding and weeding and watering and swinging and digging in dirt with backhoes. A learned to ride a two-wheeler this spring and now she takes off down my uncle's long and winding driveway on her own, hair a blaze behind her. What freedom! What unparalleled freedom. I have not let the chickens out of their coop to troll the yard this spring, which means this little garden of ours, now planted with carrots and peas and beets and spinach and kale and other good things just might have a chance of growing us some food. Regardless, my children are taking great pleasure. My children are taking great pleasure, raking and watering and planting and weeding. Seeds, seeds, seeds, seeds: every mother is a farmer of the utmost important kind. These heirloom seedlings of ours! What astounding variety. What delightful surprises. What utterly delicious limbs.

xx
R