Tassajaraandbackthensandiegosday’s Childe

Miles driven this week: 912

Pages edited at Tassajara: 209

Temperature high at Tassajara: 63

Fifth grade promotions attended: 1

Books read: 3

Deer seen: 1

Loads of laundry done: 4

Pages written in notebook: 18

Cane’s chicken fingers eaten: 4

Desks cleaned off: 0

Rejections received: 1

Days of bootcamp skipped: 2

 

Fragments from Another Life: A found poem

Frost on my mind.

“Nothing gold can stay…” 

The red tailed hawk builds a nest in the adjacent orchard, another hawk on the next tree.  

Lights flash. Warning signs. 

In deep water the octopus stretches its tentacles and embraces the current.

Badges and postcards litter the desk. 

A letter from an ex-girlfriend’s mother to my aunt and uncle, written on the occasion of my grandmother’s death.

Years later I’d fall in love with this woman’s daughter.

Two weeks after I moved to California my father hit a hole-in-one.

Ancient scripts from Old Ireland.

My mother’s cousin wrote, “You would not believe a father could say such things about his daughter.”

Beechmont Lodge, Navan, County Meath: Sunday.

A photograph of my mother as a child with her cousins, also relatives of James Joyce—John and Desmond Murray.

 

 

 

 

West Cork so far away

A postcard sent from West Cork last summer sits on my desk. The months between have flown and El Niño hasn’t brought the rain we need, though the patterns indicate more storms ahead. Life like weather, change and surprise, ebb and flow, the waning/waxing moon. The desk is too cluttered again; student rosters and IEP reports for my son, various cards for different occasions, and a hollowed-out seal’s tooth I need to drill and thread onto a necklace. Two books wait to be sent in the mail, which can’t happen until at least tomorrow.

A week in Cambria working on equity in education brought me up against my own prejudices and practices, well-instilled and reinforced by an Irish Catholic childhood. I cried daily as we discussed and unpacked ideas and fishbowled topics, as we participated in uncomfortable exercises, as we played music late at night and talked of equity and school climate and bodhrán playing, and slowly eroded the barricades of history. Back in the classroom I found myself looking around and realizing my shortcomings were displayed all over the room. The week after the retreat I instituted change and brought a reawakened sense of the task ahead to my conversations with my students.

This is a messy life, a challenging life, a good life. There are writing projects under way, and stories to be published, and conversations to be had about the tough topics that we sometimes shear away from, yet they float out there like the hundreds of islands in Clew Bay on the West Coast of Ireland, always present, often ignored, but necessary. 2016: the Centenary of the Easter Rising. I had grand plans for a collection of stories based on that historical timeframe, but the messiness of life and the distractions of the daily grind took those plans and made flitters of them.

Onward. Ahead. Into the unclear future we plow. On the telephone pole outside the red-tailed hawk cries out, searching the neighbor’s land for prey. At night the frogs chorus long and loud, reawakened by the recent rains. In my own way, I too am reawakened. This sense of purpose, of making right past wrongs, of addressing the obstacles in the path ahead and inventing strategies to overcome those same challenges, is what ignites the engine and sets me on my way again.

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Mercuryrisingsday’s Childe

Swelter. The dial reads 89 degrees. March? Spring? Madness. Classroom is overheated, the kids are overheated, and the teacher is overheated. Books from a distance arrive in purple paper—sepulchral, magisterial, and important. Reading Homecoming, Marilynne Robinson’s quite spectacular book. God, some of the passages are so beautiful, so rich in language, so perfect, as to make one’s head spin. Reading such a book raises such questions about my own writing, about how seriously I’m taking the endeavor of revising a novel, of whether I’d be better off consigning it to the gutter. Last night I slept poorly, the second night in a row, and was up four times at least. Sometime around 5:30AM a skunk was close to the bedroom window and sprayed the garden as the stink came on pungent and overpowering. The dog barked not at all, raised not an ear, simply slept on. All the time we sleep there are movements and motions in the world. Across the continents planes fly, plunge into mountainsides, land, and still we sleep on. There was a “wind event” yesterday and the breeze picked up to quite a forcible level, sending trashcans flying, spraying blossoms everywhere. Brittle leaves rose to hundreds of feet high and spiraled to earth again. This is a good reminder of the world being in constant motion, always turning and always unpredictable. In San Diego someone tried to abduct a child from a school. Here in Santa Barbara the sun shone hard and a cruise ship berthed in the harbor. Tea in a cup, green pottery, the sweat on my wrists where they rest on the kitchen table as I type. Easter approaches, a week off work, or a week off school, for there are plants to be put in the earth, houses to be cleaned, stories and reviews to be written, and ideas to be hatched. All in motion, all in some haphazard way worthwhile.

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Itsalongwayfromtheretoheresday’s Childe

“Every kind of poem shines with its own beauty.” Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux.

Dead snakes and fallen fruit are augurs of unknown events, and true to form, the retrograde nature of Mercury has stymied several areas of my life of late. Stumped trees make way for vibrant banana plants. Organic processes bring forth big emotions, or something of that nature, so Wordsworth said someplace I cannot recall. Once, I was knee-deep in criticism and theory, highlighting this passage, underscoring words in that passage, scratching my head at Hegel’s articulation of the third sphere. Now, the stories are slipshod, the currents of narrative coming in and going out again, familiar patterns, written tics that betray my limited view. Too many stories end in the falling, sinking, and dropping of things. I am a symbol. In pace with the diminishing laws that dictate there are less days left than lived, I find comfort in a shadowed deer on an evening hillside, pain in the last song of a once vibrant man, hope in the possibility of a forgotten god caught in a stained glass window in some church adjacent to a ruined cemetery. In language there are only lies. Cold tea and cracked panes. Ingots. Burnished lamps cast soft glow on secretive doings. The snapped-off wing of a moth is trapped in the cobweb above the desk—a stark thing, this disembodied part—the spider long since disappeared down the funnel of the vacuum cleaner. I find some redemption in the daydream, in the rippled puddle and its blurred story, in the painful truth of a total stranger. Passencore. All sales are final.

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Vikingburialsday’s Childe

There’s no stopping the clock, no turning the hands back and revisiting history to change outcomes. What’s done is done. Today, in my English classes, I read “Viking Burial,” the opening story in Jeanne Leiby’s collection, DownriverWe were studying plot, setting, and so forth. Five times, I read, more recited from memory the lines. “This isn’t yours,’ the mother says to the son in the story.

The start of the school year has gone well (knock on wood). Bright, wonderful students, all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of stuff bubbling under the surface. I’ve been reminded why I teach, several times, by listening to students share their lives; reminded how fortunate I’ve been in my own life.

Jeanne Leiby would have been fifty today. She’s been dead three years now. I spoke of her with kindness in my classes this morning, remembering how she hated my poorly-constructed  metaphors and similes. Back then, I was trying too hard, forcing the issue, making my writing conform to some ideal shape that would garner agents and editors by the bagful. After Jeanne’s death things changed for me as a writer, and I pointedly gave up on writing “formulaically” or towards some version of what a story should be according to the gatekeepers. Jeanne urged me to find the truth in my writing and move towards that as a narrative goal. She didn’t mean find the “non-fiction truth,” rather, she meant find the voice you’re meant to have.

The time since Jeanne’s death has been fairly difficult; moving back to California, finding work, teaching again, having a new child in the house, navigating the sadness of my mother’s health issues. But, in this time, I’ve let go of the past in some ways; missing New Orleans, but embracing my world here in California. I haven’t got an agent, or an editor, but I’ve at least found my voice and stuck to my guns regarding what I write. For that, I owe a debt to several people, and Jeanne Leiby is one of them. I raise my glass to her memory tonight.

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