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6 a.m. I’ve been up since five, stacking clean dishes, carrying coffee to Tom, who is climbing into his Carhartts and work boots, who is making his lunch, who is gathering his tools, as I lug his filthy yesterday shirts down to the washing machine, sweep his yesterday sawdust up from the kitchen floor. Six a.m. is work time: I step outside into the slant light of summer morning, laden with laundry, my brain ticking over what I need to do before I can allow myself to sit down and write this poem . . . water the new beans sprouting up beneath the trellis, scrub last night’s soup off the stovetop, pick the last few peas before sun swells them into starch . . . The poem that I am not writing also swells, but, words: please, murmur in your crib a moment longer. Across the neighbor’s fence a dogwood tree flaunts her bridal joy. I pin up the socks and underwear and consider the depredations of groundhogs. And now here comes the poem I am not writing, staggering across the damp grass. The poem is biting off the carrot tops and parsley leaves. The poem is scratching up all of the bluebells I planted last fall. The kitchen floor is as clean as my face, the tomato plants are shooting toward heaven like Jack’s beanstalk, and the poem is fidgeting in this still air that smells faintly of salt, in this sea-brine early morning. She is wiping her nose on my apron, she is stretching her arms to me, begging me to lift her up, to kiss her wet fat face. 9 a.m. All morning my bladder has been filling with ice tea, its taut balloon holding steady, doing its job well, but I’m happy now to let it off the hook. Emptier, I sit on my front stoop in the sunshine. Across the street a mockingbird spouts her one-liners, and the mailman drinks a giant cup of coffee in his truck. Probably he’s sorry he missed me— he likes to say hello when I’m in the garden weeding or squashing potato beetles. “My man!” he shouts to the cat, and the cat smirks. It is his job to be handsome and personable, to quarrel with me all day long, and he is an expert, my bladder is an expert, and now the mailman has finished his coffee break and is expertly unloading the Amazon boxes, a crow has upstaged the mockingbird, a bee has mistaken my skirt for an amazing once-in-a-lifetime flower. This sun is so hot. It is a star in the prime of its life, it’s doing such great work up there in the sky, striving to burn my shoulders, luring the bean seeds out of the ground; and all praise to my brain, lazy and busy at the same time: look at those synapses go, sparking like some mad science project!— All I need is a bolt of lightning and a castle, all I need is this paper and this terrible dull pencil, the work pours out of me, the work is the shout. Noon I’m in a hurry to get back to writing and that is why I burn the quesadilla why the kitchen fills with smoke why it lingers in the air like a jazz singer’s scarf slipping from her shoulder 3 p.m. A few hours ago the sweet-pea vine swooning over my front handrail was filled with bees, but now they have vanished, off to suck sweetness from some other bloom— lilies, roses, the thyme flowing over the paving stones. The sun is hot, too close to zenith for pleasure, yet already the afternoon is creeping forward, shadows patching grass and the silent street. I think I am the only person home on this block, the only person without better things to do. Earlier today my father, over the phone, referred to my son’s new kitten as a boy toy, and I laughed and laughed— those words out of his mouth so silly and strange. I guess it’s been a cat-joke kind of day, for now, from nowhere, my white Siamese materializes. He flops himself down on the driveway. He yawns seductively: he is like a film star, like Montgomery Clift, all eye-candy hips and come-hither stare. Yet now the shadows are patching the grass and I am tired of seeing the funny side. I would like to lay myself on a couch in a dim and airy room and do nothing but listen to the empty street, the faraway slam of a car door. Even the birds are resting, even the babies. A small wind stirs the maples. Even the past is closing its eyes. 6 p.m. The days are long at this time of year, though graying skies blunt the light. We need rain, and I am longing for it. The soil is dry, dry, no matter how much water I pour into the earth. Every evening, as I cut cilantro and pull leeks, I remember again how impossible it is to protect what I love. An hour ago I dropped Tom off at the airport: he’s going to Chicago to spend a long weekend with our son, and I am spending a long weekend with myself, alone with this sprawling garden, this cat, these books, my tap-dancing brain. It’s strange to be huddled in my twilit study at this time of day, writing a poem instead of rinsing lettuce, chopping herbs, shelling peas. My room is stuffy. Summer heat wraps me like a shroud. Outside a breeze is picking up. Across the fence a man and a woman murmur on their porch. Now he is plucking at his hair, and she is laughing, as if maybe he’s got twigs stuck in it, or glue. I feel a little lonely, with no comfortable man next to me to laugh at— just a cat hogging my chair, and this poem chugging clumsily toward silence. I wonder how it will end. I wonder if the ending matters. 9 p.m. The neighborhood orb is lit up, which is a surprise, because it’s been dark since cold Epiphany. The orb is supposed to be a Christmas decoration and it hangs by some kind of pulley contraption from a high branch of a Norway maple that lives across the street and beyond the fence. By day the orb is a porcupine blob of wiring, but now, on this high summer evening, it shimmers against the green dusk like a magnificent blossom— red and gold, glittering, gently swaying in the heavy air. “A green thought in a green shade.” Marvell’s line comes to mind, and I know his image makes no sense in this context but in the land of poems everything talks to everything else, and writing poems seems to be the only thing my brain wants to accomplish tonight. Which is to say I should probably pay more attention to whatever loud animal is rustling around under the black walnut tree. Skunk or possum? Raccoon or groundhog? All are regulars at this time of night, though it also might be Jack, the cat at No. 36, a mayoral sort, with a civil servant’s stride, who is not above tangling with a skunk who hasn’t paid his property taxes. I’m sitting outside, half-screened by a forest of garlic . . . which makes me think that perhaps now is a more appropriate moment to insert “a green thought in a green shade,” because this garlic crop is grandiose and ought to have an epigraph. As should these mosquitoes that have discovered me. But I can’t think of a mosquito ode, so I’ll run away and leave night to its mysteries. Tom is in the air, high over Pennsylvania or New York, and I am not used to being awake, in the dark, alone. I’m not very good at it, which is a shame, given those pink streaks in the sky behind the steeple of the Congregational church, given those silhouetted gulls flying toward the estuary. The orb, too. If I were a giant night-flitting hummingbird, I would love you so much, glowing orb. I would think only of you.
Dawn Potter’s many books include Accidental Hymns (Deerbrook 2022). She lives in Maine.
What a change from your last!
If your poems are a window, that was dark and curtained.
This, wide open, sea breeze flowing the magic through; great imagery, lovely details,
stories spilling out around the edges.
That wonderful, tracing brain of yours back firing on all cylinders.
And the last stanza!
Reminds me of the 9th’s Ode to Joy.
It bursts from the page revealing you in a good (and green) place
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thanks, Rick. I love Dawn’s poetry.