Small amid the sparkle

Is that a cormorant on that piling near St. Augustine, Florida, drying its wings? Because all the poets at the AWP convention in Tampa the week after next will look comparably, awkwardly exhibitionistic. Yo! I’m not totally unimposing! Come buy my book!

Including me, of course. I’ll be carrying around copies of my new chapbook, Propagation, for sale ($5) or trade (I like books, dark chocolate, and flattery). I’m already feeling goofy about it. I’m also delighted to be participating (briefly) at the Black Earth Institute Reading on March 8th at 4 pm in the Attic Cafe on Kennedy. Otherwise, I’ll mostly be conducting AWP Board duties: attending the board meeting all day Wednesday and the Awards Celebration Benefit that evening; speaking at the program directors’ plenaries Thursday morning; thanking bookfair participants and doing bookfair office hours; introducing the introducers and taking speakers to dinner. This is all a privilege, plus it’s my last year as Mid-Atlantic Regional Chair so I need to savor the fun bits, but I will feel some relief when it’s behind me.

I’m struggling to stay zen this weekend, with a larger world in bloody shambles and my own life as busy as I can handle. Last weekend was W&L’s weeklong midterm break, which we kicked off with a wonderful three nights at the beach followed by hunkering down to catch up on work, most seriously starting Thursday, when my son embarked for the Model UN in Chapel Hill. As usual, I was partly successful. I finished grading, but more comes in tomorrow; I’m ready for Monday, but then comes Tuesday; I caught up on revision and submission work, which was good but also reminded me how much work is languishing. I could use good news, but then again, I don’t want to fail to appreciate successes that ARE happening. For instance, 3 years ago (when I was 47, because I’m precocious), I wrote a poem named “L” about ambition on the cusp of age 50. I thought it was especially strong but just couldn’t place it–until last week, when it was snapped up by a journal I greatly admire. Pale rainbows in mist, right? Not world-changing but lovely all the same.boilinbag

Before I get back to it, huge thanks to Cherry Tree for another great issue, which includes two of my poems in the “Literary Shade” section: a bit of terza rima called “Native Temper” and this sonnet-rant about the KKK flier that landed on my lawn in 2015, weighted down in a baggie by white rice, of all the damn things. I knew before then that I lived and worked at ground zero for what remains of the Confederacy, and everyone could feel the nastiness intensifying as a terrible election approached, but that particular moment remains a watershed for me. May all of us small writers keep boiling for as long as it takes.  I need to believe each grain of good effort adds up, and there will be a tipping point.

Don’t get ambitious

I’m trying to imagine myself as a pasty-faced superheroine–Anemic Woman!–battling vampires with cast-iron skillet and chimichurri (having learned fresh parsley is highly ferrous, I’m putting chimichurri on everything and calling it “Iron Sauce”). All this mythologizing, however, takes a lot of vim, and I’m tuckered out. I really enjoyed visiting Kenyon last week, and I’m delighted to be reading at the Taubman at Roanoke this Sunday at 2 pm , but I’m finding I have to spend energy cautiously. My hemoglobin levels were pretty low a couple of weeks ago, and it takes six weeks to make a new red blood cell, so all I can do is behave virtuously now and trust I’ll feel the difference in late May sometime. Even the morning walks Chris and I usually depend on are hard to manage–the littlest incline makes me lightheaded, and this is not a flat town. It’s frustrating to be sitting out some of our loveliest weather.

My experiences with chronic illness have been small potatoes, really (also good with chimichurri). But I can remember the first extended, taxing illness–gallstones at twenty-two, which took a while to diagnose–and how differently that experience colored the world. I would walk down the street carrying my own secret worry, looking at strangers’ faces, and marvel: all these people could be in terrible pain, and I wouldn’t even know! That’s true of grief and depression, too–before they debilitate you, they can be utterly invisible. It’s one of the few good things about pain, I guess, that it can teach compassion. I’m better than I used to be at taking a deep breath, when someone infuriates me, and reminding myself: I don’t know the whole story. There is a lot of suffering out there.

I’m better at compassion, mind you. I didn’t say I was good at it. That’s why it’s so wonderful when, instead of simply taking out her troubles on you, someone tries to explain them. Check out this poem and blog by Molly Spencer, for example, about the unpretty side of being a parent. Her frankness makes me grateful.

Some secrets, I suppose, may be better kept in darkness. For example, I had a perfectly good post-op visit with a doctor today, who cheerfully announced all my biopsy results were clear. She also–bless her heart–keeps giving me glossy photographs of the inside of my uterus before and after surgery. “Look how red and beefy it was,” she sighs. “You can post these on social media, if you want.” Um, no thanks. Truthfully, dear reader, wasn’t that beef image delivered verbally already TMI?

“Don’t get ambitious,” she then said, when I asked whether exercising was okay (I’d read some alarming things about overworking the heart when hemoglobin’s low). Slow to moderate. These are not words a writer wants to live by as her sabbatical draws to a close and brain fog hovers.

But I’m doing my best to be (imagine my wince here) moderate. Slowly reading and revising the novel I drafted last December and January, with even a nap here and there. The protagonist, a department head and mother of teenage twins, amazes me with all her chores and worries and plot twists. Who put her on such a grueling schedule, anyway? That poor woman deserves some rest.

P.S. I have some thematically appropriate poem recordings up on Cherry Tree‘s “The Stump” this week.One called “Perimenopause,” for instance. Rondels–that’s where a poet can REALLY get away with TMI.

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