Tuesday, December 31, 2013

write the motherfucking heart out

Virginia Woolf
Flannery O'Connor
Grace Paley
Eudora Welty
Katherine Anne Porter

My goal for this winter and spring is to finish the collection of stories I've been writing for many years. In other words: write the motherfucking heart out. When I think of doing so I think of these women, who were badass in many ways, and who for the months ahead shall be my heroes and muses, jeering and goading from the sidelines.  Can I do this? Feel free to take your place by their sides in keeping me true to my word.

Want to set your own outlandish goal? Post it in the comments below and we can all hold each other accountable. (Accountability! Our good friend.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

learn people better; keep rancho clean; love everybody

Woody Guthrie's New Year's Resolution list (from I don't know what year).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

stolen or inborn may you soften

may your hearts be light
may you soften into joy
may you go outside
find a tree
touch the tree
lick the tree
and soften into the tree
may you be brave
in love
brave in hope
brave in the everyday
may you be generous
and open
and tender
with those you love
may you lose yourself
may you devote yourself
every day
to light
(which is love)
in any form
may you graffiti the world
with your goodness
and your strengths
(whatever those may be)
may you forgive yourself
your weaknesses
forgive yourself
your wrongs
go into the world with light
your light
stolen or inborn
may you soften
into joy
into the tree
into the tree's joy
which is light

Thursday, December 19, 2013


I had a few hours to myself this morning and finished a story which I've been working on for about five months.

Instead of letting it fester on my computer, and risk facing months of second-guessing and re-edits, I then bucked my own trend and sent it off to my devoted reader at The Sun (who has, kindly, advocated for three of my other stories).  None of them have made it. But they have all been close, and such things give me hope.

There's something radical about giving oneself over to art during this time of year. Bucking the other trend of stuff (hand-made or no) and spending time with the ethereal worlds one can craft out of words.

A radical act of...self love? Belief in one's efforts?

(Otherwise why aren't you knitting socks? Or baking cookies?)

You have to genuinely like and care about the people you're crafting.

Their existence must (somehow) seem both necessary and worthy.

Otherwise: why not make your neighbors biscuits?

Wishing you all similar moments to dive into your easy-to-dismiss callings in the moments between here and there.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

advent, light

morning. there's a lot of snow out there. it's cold outside. it's cold inside.  i'm a tea-junkie, and a wood stove junkie, and if i had my way i'd sleep with my toes on the thing. 

advent. light.

grey. white. 

i read a beautiful piece by my friend emily last night called What we Heard When we Listened which made me feel deeply connected (to this place, to others, to the past, to her). 

keep it simple, friends. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

field, poppies

photographer unknown

I'm trying to get back into my fiction writing jive and in an attempt to do so am picking up books I've loved and gleaning paragraphs that move me. Like these ones, by Laura Van den Berg:

They passed an old couple standing in a pasture, rows of stone houses with pink and yellow shutters, and then a field of red poppies, the petals delicate and thin as tracing paper. She wondered if someone had planted them or if they had taken root naturally. She asked Leon to pull over and he did. She got out of the car and walked into the field. He rolled down the window and watched her. 

She stepped carefully to avoid flattening the poppies. The soil was cracked and brown. It seemed miraculous that such brilliant color had emerged from this parched square of land. She bent over and pulled a flower from the ground. A breeze passed over the field, bending the stems of the plants. She crushed the petals in her fist, the little slivers of red pushing between her fingers like silk. The poppy was soft and damp in her hand. From the center of the field, it felt like she was surrounded by a thousand tiny faces. 

--"Still Life with Poppies," What the World Will Look Like When all the Water Leaves Us

Things this tells me: I like landscape in fiction. I like women alone in a landscape in fiction. I like sentences that are gorgeous, and bright pops of color amidst more subdued, earthy hues. I've never heard anyone talk about the color tones of a story.  Oh, and counter to everything we're told, long scenes where nothing much happens.

Happy day, everyone. It's cold out there. Sixteen inches of fresh snow on the ground and the sun is shining, making the snow shine, too.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Cottage in the Woods by Becca Stadtlander

5:30 am. I can't remember the last time I was up before my children. Tea, tree lights, wood stove cranking. 2 degrees outside, 50 degrees in the kitchen. I spent all day yesterday dreaming of wood stoves. All I want is more of them. One in every corner of my many-cornered house.

We heat our (now) 1500 sq. foot house exclusively with one wood stove which would be fine if our house weren't really a series of little houses patched together and if the central cornerstone of those houses wasn't built when we were twenty-five on a budget of about one-thousand dollars. (I.e. some of these windows and walls are, to say the least, drafty.)

I.e. I am sick of my fingers being cold.

I.e., blessed be the wood stove.

I.e. how many wood stoves might a small, many-cornered house hold?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

here, too

I'm trying to quit my fuck-book Facebook addiction. For those of you who don't partake in that madness, here is the list I posted of my top ten (well, fourteen) reads. 

I didn't let myself think too much about this. And of course a million other books are vying for these spots. But I can say with confidence these are books I'd recommend to anyone, any day. 

What, pray tell, are your faves? 

1. Alistar MacLeod, Island
2. Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping 
3. Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety
4. Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine
5. Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm & The Writing Life
6. Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds & Refuge
7. William Faulkner, Light in August
8. Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
9. Robert Olmstead, Stay Here With Me
10. Alice Munro, The Lives of Girls and Women
11. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
12. C.D. Wright, Steal Away

Oh shit. And about a hundred others. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

more beautiful

Still from Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust"
Barry Lopez

Loved listening to this audio segment on place at Prairie Schooner while cooking chicken sauté this morning. Featuring the gentle, lilting and whip-smart voices of Barry Lopez and Julie Dash.

From the venerably wise Lopez: I think now as a writer it's very important... to say without reservation that something is beautiful....It is cynicism and detachment that have created a world that is killing us. To be engaged with the world you have to understand that it's darker than you think and also more beautiful.  And the tension between those two things is where hope is.

Both darker and more beautiful than you think--a good place to set my heart this cold yet sun-lit morning. 


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

stuff that works

Since I'm in a making kind of mood I'm also in the mood for this Guy Clark song, and all of the old-fashioned, classic American iconography it contains.

I've been trying to insert the link into this here page, but no luck. So one must click.

(PS: the picture ain't bad either.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Quilt by Susanna Allen Hunter

I am my mother, but I'm not. 
I am my grandmother, but I'm not. 
I am my great-grandmother, but I'm not. 

-Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

Margaret and Me, 1982, Old Songs Folk Festival 

Sunday, December 8, 2013


My niece, Louisa Barnes, was born a week ago and I spent the forty eight hours her mother was in labor stitching a quilt for the child on its way. (Well, okay, many of those hours.)

It's the first quilt I'd made and my fingers couldn't stop piecing and fitting and sewing. I was obsessed. Tireless. Driven.

I doubt I'm the first woman in history to respond to a laboring loved one in the same way.
Quilt, Susanna Allen Hunter (1912-2005)

It's also the season: every December I throw all my professional and creative projects out the window and pull out my sewing machine.

It's from the fifties, a finicky baby-blue Singer, and sits on my kitchen table amidst unpaid bills, breakfast dishes, and scraps of fabric I don't clean up.

My dead grandmothers flit about the room.

My great-grandmothers, too.

I'm not a professional seamstress, by an means. I'm absurdly impatient and allergic to perfection.

Sometimes these traits are my curse. But quilts? Quilts!

They are so beautiful. And seem, oddly, like an answer.

Like this one by Susanna Allen Hunter (1912-2005), from Wilcox County, Alabama: 
Or these Japanese Boro quilts: 

Or this 19th century doll quilt: 

They are wonky. Imperfect. Layered. Textured. Filled with the narrative of old shirts and dresses, of poverty, of women laboring, and talking, and worrying, and desiring to keep their loved ones warm.

One could do worse than to be a sewer of blankets, eh? 

Friday, December 6, 2013

a woman in love with winter

Three Times my Life has Opened

Three times my life has opened.
Once, into darkness and rain.
Once, into what the body carries at all times within it and starts
      to remember each time it enters the act of love.
Once, to the fire that holds all.
These three were not different.
You will recognize what I am saying or you will not.
But outside my window all day a maple has stepped from her leaves
      like a woman in love with winter, dropping the colored silks.
Neither are we different in what we know.
There is a door. It opens. Then it is closed. But a slip of light
     stays, like a scrap of unreadable paper left on the floor,
     or the one red leaf the snow releases in March.

-Jane Hirshfield, Lives of the Heart

Thursday, December 5, 2013

songs in the lunar phase

hi friends. we've decided to align ourselves with the moon for another year and embark on 

what is this? you can read about it here

oh, and it makes good gifts, i'm told. 


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

god yes, the forsythia

Last night I dreamed C.D. Wright was on her way to my place for a visit.  In my past (real) life I used to follow her around the streets of Providence (where she taught and I studied), too shy and terrified to attend one of her classes. Of course, upon waking, I discovered I was still in my little house, among trees and my children, and no poets were coming for tea. 

So this evening I'm spending time with Steal Away.

Rebecca Solnit wrote: "Books are solitudes in which we meet." 


Here's a little C.D. from Further Adventures with You, the first book of hers I bought at the ripe age of eighteen. (Shared here for my handsome husband.)


Evening Shade

I am over here, by the tomato cages
gently touching the wire, 
watching one lightning bug light another
freshly fucked and childless
an astonished woman in a wedding gown
who can see in the dark, almost.

Lush Life

I could have gone to Stringtown
O I could have wasted away
moaning in the swamped bed
among winged roaches and twisted figs
between the fern and dark thighs.

Hotel Philharmonic

We have arrived drunk, jobless,
brilliant with love.
Music commences:
You hold out your glass
I lift my dress. My hands
saved like candles for a storm
in yours. We fall
through the night's caesura. 

Lost Roads

As though following a series of clues, we drove
through this ragged range, a town of magnetic springs
our arms in the window, browning. 
The sun was torching the hair of maples. 
You didn't sing in key, you sang
"Famous Blue Raincoat."
I had a dream, Life isn't real. 
Already the sad rapture ending. 

Mountain Herald

This time, the Celebrant vowed, no one would intinct, 
blowing the unsteady flames of our face. 
We rose and married well, my nose
in your tender swarthiness. I'll never forget
the whirling floor, the bassman's royal head. 
As for the uninvited they were asked in. 
Melon, not cake, was served;
there was japonica and spirea. Still
they were a little late for the forsythia. 
God yes, the forsythia, the forsythia. 

frost, light

frost. sun. there's a new baby girl in our family: louisa barnes. louisa barnes...louisa barnes, the little song i can't stop singing.

what light has come to greet you, dear one.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Joan Mitchell, Les Bluets, 1973

Today's Menu: Still Bluets, by Maggie Nelson

Which led me to Joan Mitchell's Les Bluets from 1973, one of Nelson's all-time favorite paintings.

And this:

153. I've read that children pretty much prefer red hands-down over all other colors; the shift into liking cooler tones--such as blue--happens as they grow older. Nowadays half the adults in the Western World say that blue is their favorite color. 

Me? I am not so much a fan of indigo blue. I prefer teal, amber, burgundy, umber, gray. Even the pink of this Rothko. 

Joan Mitchell's painting does nothing for me. These Rothko's make...my heart jump a little. They feel inexplicably true. Like a place I long to return to. 

Which is just material to ponder on this sunny morning near the wood stove. 

Friends are coming for lunch today. 

The chili is hot, the flavors melding. 

Owen Cricket is asleep in the big bed upstairs.

Happy Hanukkah and late November to you all. 


(PS: what colors are you?)

Thursday, November 28, 2013


with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

~ W.S. Merwin

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


grateful on this grey, wet, november morning for light, warmth, wood, sand trucks, oranges, rugs, old friends, bird seed (and the birds they bring), the toothless mouths of babes, the big hearts of my children, the eccentric, the devoted, the quiet, tea, things that are still, things made of wood (and the heat it brings), things that are green, things made by hands, electricity (and the light it brings), old friends, new friends, deer, birds, the ephemeral mountain lion, darkness, soup, light, books (and the company of the eccentric, brave, devoted people who made them), trees, bears, warmth, wood, light,  rain, the big hearts of my children, old friends, new friends, rugs, wings, deer, oranges, the big hearts of my children.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

other good things

I felt immediately bashful and somewhat embarrassed about yesterday's self-promoting post. So here's another list of things that would look good stuffed under trees, none of which are related to me, my co-workers or my family in any way.

1. These wrist/arm warmers my friend Liane makes at enhabiten
2. Some music by our friend Birdie
3. My friend Megan's book Birds of a Lesser Paradise


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

good things

I don't like to self-promote too much here on woodbird, but I thought I would give a few holiday gift suggestions for any of you who are looking around aimlessly.

1. The first release of Green Writers Press: The Bird Book, by Brian Cohen & Holiday Eames
2. A little Red Heart the Ticker
3. Whetstone CiderWorks' hard cider, available in stores throughout Vermont and New York City
4. A little more Red Heart the Ticker

They'd all look kind of nice wrapped up under a tree, no?

Much love, all.

(PS: we'll give you a deal on all three CDs if you comment below)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

today's menu: bluets

Today's Menu

Reading: Bluets, by Maggie Nelson

Drinking: loose leaf Irish Breakfast

Thinking: This book was delivered to me mid-summer by one friend who had travelled to the midwest and visited with another friend who handed her a stack of books to send my way. This has sat on my bedside table since then (alongside Goodnight Moon, Pippi Longstocking, and far too many Sandra Boynton books).

I've picked it up occasionally and thought, oh, to be an adult reading. And then that moment has passed, for endless and myriad reasons.

But this past week I found myself with a handful of reading opportunities (mostly having to do with a fevered baby who needed to nurse 24/7), which allowed me to pick up, at long last, in the quiet of mid-morning, Bluets.

It's beautiful. It reminds me of the things I wrote as a senior in college: fragmented, intellectual, deeply personal. (How surreally far off that era--and its accompanying heartbreak--feel.)

It also contains some underlining by that friend in the midwest, which means her ghost is in the room with me, reading along.

Conflations of all kinds.

I'll stop here--said baby is sure to wake any moment. If you want to know more you can read my friend Michelle's thoughts about the book, and an excerpt, here.

(Many thanks, friends.)

Monday, November 18, 2013


Delighted to say that both Avah and I will be reading this Friday at Marlboro College. We'll be joining Marlboro College writing professor Khyl Lyndgaard and Whole Terrain Editor Michael Metivier for a celebration of Whole Terrain's Heresy Issue. (Of which we were honored to be a part.)

My people go back a long way at Marlboro. My great-grandparents, John and Olive, were founders of the science program. My grandfather has taught there for close to seventy-five years (or maybe he's surpassed that?)

The little, white, window-filled building we'll be reading in is (and has forever been) called Appletree, which makes me happy for all kinds of reasons.

Avah, the poet, will no-doubt wear something amazing.

If you're near, come join us!


Friday, November 15, 2013

porous, supple

I have a feeling I've posted this Jane Hirshfield poem before, though if that's true, I can't find it. So here it is...for the first time, or the second. It's the one I reached for...that returned...that jumped off the page. It's a continuation of my exploration of porousness. (Other words for it, according to my computer's flimsy thesaurus: permeablepenetrableperviouscellularholey, absorbentabsorptive.) Being a mother will make you all of those things. My children are, I think, just like this stag, passing through. Happy November morning, all. 

The Supple Deer

The quiet opening

between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches. 

Antlers to hind hooves,

four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through. 

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind. 

I don't know how a stag turns

into a stream, an arc of water. 
I have never felt such accurate envy. 

Not of the deer:

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me. 

-Jane Hirshfield (Come, Thief)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


morning. there's another dusting of snow on the ground this a.m. that fills my house with a bristling, silver light. my tea is strong. my teeth are clean. the moon is waxing and the woodstove is doing its warming.

happy mid-november morning to you all.

Friday, November 8, 2013

old friends

early morning. wood stove. house full of old friends. coffee. tea. and then: snow.