The Fox at Dawn


June 26th 2022: Two Days After The News
June 27, 2022, 9:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

Seeking the peace of wild things, I crossed the empty Sunday morning street to make my way to the ravine woods hidden behind the veterans hospital just after dawn. Three young bucks have pulled up short on their crepuscular gallop to assess the threat I may be, sitting here writing in my journal on the stone bench by the trail. Their verdict is not yet in. Now one has ambled quietly away while the others continue to stare. Decision made, they turn their velvety antlers in unison and stroll off after their brother. It comforts me. Comfort too, knowing that if I were to walk back up the trail and go only a little way down the ivied deer path, I would see the barred owl sitting placidly on a low limb, unconcerned by the quiet, gawking me who stood there not long ago silently composing a silly poem in rhyming couplet that went something like this:

God bless the owl
standing guard in the wood
making sure I behave
just as I should.

God bless the trees
whose sheltering arms
keep us all safe
from the world’s many harms.

God bless the little birds
who sing in the dawn
letting us know
the night fears are gone.

A poem I might have written carefully on blue lined paper and laid shyly on my teacher’s desk when she wasn’t looking.

Women and girls will die. Like slavery, a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is put into the hands of states. While the right to carry a concealed weapon is too important to be left to the whims of state legislatures and is now federally protected. As always, it’s the poor who will suffer most. It ought to be comforting to see the collective outrage as I scroll relentlessly through social media and news sites, but I am only further sickened. Women and girls will die. Women and girls will sacrifice their dreams, their ambitions, their gifts, perhaps their lives to have children they never wanted, weren’t ready for or weren’t medically able to bear safely. And society will not help them. Forced to bear children, but no universal healthcare, no paid family leave, no free childcare or income help, and no guarantee of paternal support. They are on their own and will be made to feel guilty and worthless as they fill out those humiliating and exacting financial aid forms, endless endless reapplications, that demand much and deliver little. They will work too many jobs for too little money and not be able to make ends meet, not be able to give their children the lives they want them to have. Even more women and children will join the ranks of those who live off the crumbs from the Righteous Table.  I hate our country today because our country hates us.

It doesn’t help, these thoughts. They are a slow dark death. And so I walk, hoping to come through to a clearing where I can see some light.

Voices. Someone dares to enter my woods- are all earth’s creatures territorial? I feel they are spoiling it, these people talking in the wood, I am peeved and put out. But their voices are low and as they turn the bend of the trail I see them, an older couple with an older dog. As they near my place on the stone bench, I tell them of the three bucks ahead in case they want to leash their dog. ‘Her name is Phoebe’- and Phoebe comes to me, a graying standard poodle with a close summer cut, thin, her old hip bones sticking out, her eyes a little cloudy. She is gentle, she exudes love. She bestows me with a kiss I did not know I needed so much. We talk a bit, the couple and I- of the woods and the weather. This morning walk of theirs is a lifelong ritual, a partnership settled into comfortable balance. A small movement in the trees catches my eye and I see the three little raccoons I encountered with their mother last week. About 25 yards off, they are clambering up a vine-covered tree, their mother must have gone up ahead. I point them out to the couple, but only she is able to see which tree before they disappear into the canopy. I watch her try to show him where to look, kindness flowing between them, and I am suddenly glad for our encounter. My selfishness falls away like a cloak I have dropped. Three encounters of three, a fairy tale scaffold- three bucks, three raccoons, the old woman, man and dog, all these moments of peace under the watchful eye of the owl as the wrens chitter away. I set out for the peace of wild things and found it too in human hearts. I am happy to share this path with them.



Hindman/Home

“You gotta make the work sacred,

because it happens to be sacred.”

-Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani was the keynote speaker for the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop at Hindman Settlement School this year. On Zoom she was powerful, intimate, dynamic, funny, full of respect and truth. I’d want her in my corner when I’m on the ropes. She’d find a way to get me up and fighting again.

            Here’s the struggle- for one almost whole week I had the great gift of being at the writer’s workshop there at Hindman where all my needs were met- really delicious food (dessert with every meal!), a lovely room, inspiring and generous teachers, trails to explore, quiet places to sit and think, a beautiful campus rich with history, and a community of old and new friends all working to shine some light in this world. All week we were surrounded by beauty and art and heritage. We were in a place that has a long history of lifting people up. It is sacred ground, truly. And now I’m home.

The foot bridge over Troublesome Creek at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County Kentucky. That’s Uncle Sol’s cabin in the distance. It was his desire to educate his children that was the catalyst for the school.

            Last year I attended the workshop online along with everyone else. Hindman did a great job with it, but we all felt the loss. At home, I tried hard to make the time sacred and for moments I could fool myself that I was there, lose myself in the readings, the discussions, the sharing. Just hearing everyone’s voice was enough to keep me afloat. But there was always the moment of hollowness when the Zoom screen disappeared and there I was sitting alone at home about 30 seconds away from having to take care of something or someone. I remember sitting there feeling like all the water just drained out of the tub. It was heavy work hauling myself out and putting myself into motion again. I do not think I was alone in feeling this. I know I wasn’t. And I know that those who attended online again this year felt it again, even more so. It just hurts.

Former Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon, a most remarkable writer and teacher. She looks kind of mean in this photo but it simply isn’t so. This is what the set-up looked like from our classroom on campus this year.

            Lucky, so lucky to be there this year. It was an oasis I badly needed, an oasis I hated to leave. The degree to which I am mourning it shocks me- do I really dislike my life so much? The one I made all by myself over all these years? Of course not. But there are so many things I dread and even despise about what everyone agrees is the necessary business of life. Not so long ago I wrote in my journal that as I lay dying (someday far far from now) that I will toss bouquets to heaven, rejoicing that I will no longer have to fill out financial aid forms, file taxes, pay bills, navigate mortgage refinancing, fight property valuation increases, rob Peter to pay Paul. ‘Hallelujah!’ I will shout- or gasp, or whisper or maybe just think- ‘I can just be me again!’

I always see turtles when I hike up on the trail behind the school. They always tell me the same thing: You already have everything you need.

            That’s what it felt like this last week. I was just me. Not responsible for anyone else. I am amazed at how little I thought of my family, those I’ve lost, even my daughter who is everything to me.  I forgot all week that I was a mother, a daughter, a teacher, an employee, a homeowner, all of it. I allowed myself to simply be. I didn’t have to justify the time I spent reading, writing, listening, making art, exploring or simply looking out into the distance for long periods of time. I mean justify it to myself because it’s mostly me looking over my own shoulder saying ‘don’t forget you have to… remember to… it’s been a long time since you… you really ought to- clean, cook, shop, weed whack, visit, call, pay, plan, work your two jobs since that is what pays you.’

Circle time with new and old friends in the evenings was a great joy after the last 18 months.

            I am not alone or unique. It is what many experienced at the workshop. This glorious week and then we go home floating high with what we have learned, experienced, created. And there are our lives waiting for us to pick up the reins again. How do artists, writers, dreamers keep it all going? Those dear mothers of small children have an especially hard time because finding time to write feels like stealing time from your babies. Say what you want, that’s what it feels like and how can anything beautiful come from what is stolen? I remember well that precious, tender, terrible time.  We talked about this in our last class with the remarkable George Ella Lyon who is a wonder and a gift. She walks us through our own mansions with an enormous keyring at her waist unlocking door after door for us, saying ‘here, did you know you have this room in your house? Now you can come in anytime.’ But on our last day, many of us were despondent- how on earth can I even find that room again once I get home?

Every morning, spiders webs magically appear on the bridge over Troublesome.

            I have some thoughts on thresholds and doors you can close. When everything shut down in March 2020, we all went home. It was exciting at first, an adventure, something new. I require solitude, crave quiet. The busy-ness of traveling here and there, being split between my two jobs can be very wearing, so being at home really appealed to me. In some ways life was more peaceful, in other ways it was maddeningly loud inside my head. Suddenly there were no boundaries between work and home, between my two jobs, between my family and my writing life. No thresholds to cross, no journeys to help reset and refocus for the next task at hand. There were no doors to close to keep the outside from coming in and I felt I had to be reachable at all times. Tethered to the computer screen, I worked to figure out how to teach theater online, how to have Sunday school, how to keep children from feeling the way I did- unconnected, unreal, unimportant. Truly maddening. 

Statue of boys sledding high on the hill in front of Preece House.

            My office at home isn’t a room exactly, more like an odd-shaped hall at the top of the stairs leading to other rooms, a feng shui nightmare as energy hemorrhages from that space. It’s okay for business type stuff but not for the deep dive needed for writing. I fiddled with spaces all last year- found the best settings for my various zoom classes, rearranged furniture, created a writing space in my bedroom where I actually have a door to close. I designated different desks in the house for different endeavors. I have a ridiculous number of desks, perfect for someone who habitually takes on too much. 

So here’s the current line-up: 

The Business Desk: At the top of the stairs. It is an office type desk with filing cabinets that I bought at Big Lots ten years ago. It’s for businessy type things, including my work for school or the church. 

The Letter Desk: Not six feet away is my childhood dresser desk, a Victorian affair with drawers and a desktop you lower to reveal cubbyholes. For letter writing and my international postcard obsession, for correspondence of any kind that involves paper and pen and the stamps that I love so much.

The Poetry Desk:  A small cherry school type desk with a sloped top that I got in a neighborhood second-hand shop. It sits in a window dormer to the right of the Business Desk. It has been largely ignored these last couple of years but it is reasserting its importance.

Lap Desks: I have these two very old pressed cardboard lap desks that I got when I helped my cousin clean out an old relative’s house decades ago now. They have held up remarkably well. They travel out on the patio if it’s nice or beside the fireplace if it’s cold or in the armchair upstairs that looks out into the yard if I want to keep an eye out for the birds and the postman. This is where I do most of my journal and blog writing and my reading.

The Magic Desk: In my bedroom/meditation room with a door I can close, a gift from a family friend long ago. It’s an antique secretary desk with a drop front and cubbyholes, like the letter desk. This is where I work on The Tapestry Room, a historical fantasy novel for young readers. It’s a solid push week or two away from completion. Here is the one place in the house I can close the door. If I mindfully cross the threshold into this room, say ‘I am a writer entering a sacred space’, the chatter in my head quiets down. I close the door, take the three steps down in to the room, play the music that is my touchstone and almost immediately the peacocks swish their tails and I can enter the world of the book. 

The Magic Desk

By moving from desk to desk, I can change gears and officially set aside the thoughts that do not belong to that desk. It’s how I trick myself into focusing and mostly it works, helps keep my work separate and clear. It helps to make a little room for the private work of my soul. I write, not because I especially like writing, but because I love having written. It’s a lightening of the heart, the spirit, a secret bright joy. But then that feeling wears off and you have to write again. Patsy Kinser, one of the remarkable poets in my class, said that writing is her exhalation. She breathes in life, loss, love and exhales poetry. I love this. Inspiration, exhalation. Yes.

The Chapel up the hill by the burial places of writer James Still and teacher Elizabeth Watts.

In her keynote, Adriani (I feel we are on a first name basis now) told us to set our alarms two hours earlier to write, fresh from sleep, before the world starts making demands. She said to create a sacred space for writing, even if it’s just a corner of the kitchen table. A woman after my own heart, she advocates getting dedicated notebooks for projects- no writing the grocery list or the household chore to-do list in the novel notebook. She said ‘Love everybody, take care of everybody, but put yourself on that list too’. Over and over her message was: Don’t waste time, don’t kick that can down the road, you’re feeling pretty good right now- get it down. Don’t. Waste. Time.

On the last night, it’s a longtime tradition to read The Brier Sermon by Jim Wayne Miller, one of the founders of the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop. It’s about being born again to the birthright of Appalachian heritage. Everyone in the circle reads a part of it and joins in on the refrain “You Must be Born Again”. We ended this year by singing Will the Circle Be Unbroken, hoping that next year everyone will be together on campus.

            Making time to write is very difficult, then actually writing is harder still. The world leans in hard telling us that what’s in our hearts and heads can wait, isn’t important, will never lead anywhere. That’s the voice of Death. It will come soon enough, no need to listen to it right now. Write. Glory.



Blueberries on the First Day of Summer
June 21, 2021, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,
The rows of the blueberry farm 
are dotted with women, 
some alone and some in pairs, 
tending each other’s children. 
Their voices are so kind 
as they intone the blueberry mantras-

  Remember, only pick the blue and purply ones. 
If they are white or green or reddish, 
let them alone to ripen a bit more for someone else.

  You may eat one, 
but see how many you can put in your basket.

  Oh that’s a beautiful big juicy blue one! 
Perfect to bring home to Daddy.

They talk to each other in low voices, 
sharing ideas for the cooking, 
baking, eating and drinking 
of blueberries. 
They talk of their grown children 
or their little ones. 
The summer plans, how different this one is 
from the last dreary year. 
How often they call their parents, 
How often their children call them. 
How peaceful it is 
How they wish they could pick all day, 
the gratifying sound of berries 
being dropped into their buckets. 

My mother has worked her way well down the row. 
She can’t get low to pick the ones underneath anymore,
she reaches only what she can and that is enough. 

I look down the row from time to time to make sure she hasn’t fallen. 
It is getting hot and our buckets are getting heavy. 
We agree it’s time to stop, though I ache to pick more-
Blueberries make you greedy. 

We head slowly back to the entrance where we will pay. 
Her back to the sun, her hair is soaking wet.
I carry her bucket now, so I’m balanced I say.  
We take our time. It won’t be long years before
My daughter will carry my bucket
On our slow walk back.

“I’ll pay for everyone’s blueberries. That’s what I’m here for,” 
she says and I think of Great Aunt Mimi 
standing at the kitchen sink decades ago, 
doing the dishes after a big family meal.  
‘This is my contribution’ she would laugh, 
‘I never learned to cook, but I can wash dishes.’

This is what women do-
They do what they can.
 


Land of Oz: six

The K-12 Musical is an impossible event that happens every year at the school where I teach theater. Impossible and yet we do it. This year could have been the year we didn’t do one, and no one would have taken it amiss. But I wanted my seniors to have their last show. I wanted the school to have something we could all do that was three dimensional, something that engaged not just our minds, but our bodies and voices as well. And so I devised a version of The Wizard of Oz that took place outdoors before a limited audience that travelled with Dorothy through the Land of Oz. Over a hundred children aged 6-18 took part. Even more added their voices to the music recorded in music class, some even composed the spooky music I added to the sound design. These blog entries are a brief chronicle of the production, the following pieces were born just before before the last great week of rehearsal known as Tech Week.

Cue the despair

I’ve hit that inevitable stage
Where I’m certain
There’s no way in Hell
Heaven or Earth
I can pull it off.
The tasks are insurmountable
The kids don’t know what they are doing,
And what’s more, they never will.
No matter how hard I pull,
It’s not going to cross the finish line.

Time to get a big haircut.
It’s my only hope.

Sunday morning at Cave Hill

I am pretending for a little while that the world of Oz is not barreling down on me, that I have all the time in the world to sit here on this stone bench, content in the knowledge that there is a fox family safely cuddled in its den, just to the right of the azalea hedge. A glimpse of them would be more than I could stand. The gates just opened, I’ve not seen anyone else except for a grounds crew whacking the grasses around the graves near the great gingko tree-  FOX!

Look at what the Korte Family made! Glory!
All the things 
still to be done
Jostle for center stage,
Twist into a familiar headache
And wake me hours before dawn-
What about me? Me! I was here first,
You haven’t forgotten about me, have you? Me!
Puzzle pieces clamor
To be put in their place.
Breathing at the meditation window,
The sky is full of helicopters
Hovering over some disaster 
Unfolding across the river.

There’s a brawl inside my head,
I cannot hear the birds who sing before first light.
Their faith in the dawn does not forsake them.


Dorothy’s House under construction.
Careening into Tech Week

Fatigue makes it harder to keep my footing
In the stream of special requests
To miss rehearsals
To miss performances
dance recitals, horse shows, 
track meets, college visits, 
haircuts, doctor’s appointments
so sorry couldn’t be helped 
hope it’s not too much trouble
too much trouble
too much
my brain is spinning 
like Dorothy’s house-
How do I make that work?
Steal ten minutes here, fifteen there,
lunch, recess, practice, prepare.
I’m supposed to be able to pull
Whatever I need out of my little blue bag,
Voila, I’m supposed to say,
Here is your solution
Here is how we will make this work
But today I don’t think
I’m a good enough wizard to manage it.


Land of Oz: five
This is part five of an experiment chronicling my production of the All-School outdoor CDC compliant production of Wizard of Oz with 104 students aged 6-19, an utterly insane thing to do. But golly we are having fun actually doing something instead of just talking about it. Using our bodies and hearts and hands and voices instead of just our wheel spinning minds.
How large everything seems to the small.

I walk a long line of winged monkeys
From the first and second grades 
Down the hall of possibilities
Through paint and peppermint
Past yarn flowers and poetry,
Around Basquiat pastels and revolutionaries, 
Across habitats and treasure maps,
On the way to rehearse our wicked monkey ways.
Little Ava walks beside me in the lead,
Telling me proudly this is her third show,
How first she was a squirrel and then a frog.
I remember, I say, with a smile behind my mask.
She whispers as we turn the corner to middle school-

I heard some of the monkeys will capture Dorothy.
Yes, I say, it’s true. Two monkeys will fly her away to the witch’s castle.
Will they get to touch Dorothy?
Her reverence brings me to a stop.
Why yes, they will. 

Oh I hope it’s me, she says softly with all the longing in the world,
I just want to do something important.



Land of Oz: three
Toto


Teachers aren’t supposed
To have favorites.
But to hell with it,
My favorite is Toto.


Progress


Over a year-
Speaking to screens
And tiny boxed faces
Pushing words around 
The vertical page,
Flattening the world
Into a screen share,
Sending my voice
Into the void------

I spend the sun bright morning
Unpacking a recent costume donation
A Christmas morning of airing out
Someone else’s dreams
Sixty year old handsewn sequined
Razzle dazzle let’s put on a show
Heart and soul for all to see
One show stopper after another
And there it is-
A shimmering pearlescent
Ivory beaded flapper dress
That makes its own light
Just the right size
Just what was needed.

I hang it on the rack 
next to Glinda’s name
and say to myself-
now we’re getting somewhere.
_______

Ask just ask
The lesson I cannot seem to learn

I put out a list of things
Needed for the show
Items I don’t have or can’t find
Tasks that need other hands.
I tack it on to the
Weekly rehearsal reminder 
Sent out on Sunday afternoon
As it occurs to everyone at once
That a Monday morning looms.

Within minutes offers land like
Cards laid down by a Vegas dealer-
I can help paint
I can help sew if it’s by hand
I found these masks for you
What about these Fez hats for the flying monkeys?
Ordered and on their way, you should have them in two days.
Dizzying, the generosity of our little world.

So I’m giving it a shot
Since I may be on a roll.
World- can you send me a companion
For this my third act?
Kind and funny
Wicked when it suits us
Able to read my handwriting
Prospering and generous,
Good with all things money, 
Good with all the things I hate,
Open hearted as an old explorer,
Odysseus after he’s planted his oar.
Maybe throw in a home in New Zealand
Or Prince Edward Island?
Oh, and let him be patient,
Eternally patient,
With my blistered heart
As it gets used to safety,
Gets used to the feeling of home.


2.16.21 Mr. Darcy is Gone
February 16, 2021, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,
With his friend Dill earlier this month.

Mr. Darcy, a great friend to everyone, is gone. He died at home, where he always longed to be, after a sudden and catastrophic decline. He did not suffer long and that is a great comfort. He was the sweetest and the most loyal lieutenant, a good boy to the end. He was an exquisite artist in his younger days, pure poetry in motion as he played frisbee. He could spot a rabbit in the dark at 50 yards, alert us quickly to anything unusual happening without making too big a fuss, and was a patient mother to a number of kittens over the years.  A friend to all cats, mail carriers, neighbors, visitors, small fluffy dogs and his best pal Johnny, Didi will be sorely missed. He loved his family most of all, and never left my side, even if I wanted him to. Separation was his greatest trial. It is a blessing that his passing took place at home, in my room, where he has slept for the last ten years. May his great spirit be Home at last.

I wrote the following poem yesterday as part of a class on epistolary poetry I am taking. It helped, a little.

Dear Cindy, 

friend poet,

.

You write of the peace 

of butterflies

And for a moment 

I am filled with breath

Like the opening of soft wings

And it is a balm.

.

I never knew

How soon the tongue blackens,

How quickly the limbs stiffen,

When life has left.

I never knew,

As my body knows now,

What it means to move

dead weight.

.

Our sweetest boy, 

Died in the night

By the foot of the bed

At his post to the end.

.

Frozen rain hits the window,

The hearth fire crackles,

All I see is where he ought to be but isn’t.

.

You write of wild horses 

And warm empty beaches,

Of bioluminescence and butterflies,

.

I take a breath,

Feel the soft wings flutter.



2.11.21 Good morning poet friend
February 11, 2021, 12:58 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Writing | Tags: , ,

Were the world arranged solely for my pleasure

most winter mornings would begin like this one

with a slow dawn on a fine snow blanket

covering the ice that fell

all night long

leaving the roads

blessedly empty of their daily business

because the stakes are just too high.

.

I am thankful for the quiet

for the gathering of cardinals

so grand against the winter white

for the way I must plan each step outside

turning the morning walk with dogs

into a small pilgrimage

as the mind is bent on exactly now-

snow crunch silhouette of trees

twinkling ice made prisms of the dawn.

.

I am thankful that I can lay a silver branch before you

from the land where all night long

twelve princesses danced through their shoes.

.

Good morning my poet friend.



4.13.20 Young God
April 13, 2020, 9:02 pm
Filed under: Teaching, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,
Spent a little too much time in front of a screen today.

I wrote the piece below some time ago, a few years ago in fact. I came across it a few days ago and it made me think again about how much I’ve been longing for a change in the way time is spent, about how hard it is to step outside time’s current. I’m sorry, deeply sorry for the pandemic and the loss and suffering it is causing. I’m also relieved to sit on the bank for a time and watch the river rush on, online teaching aside…

Young god
 
Just try getting to the heart of anything
in the divided day,
patchworked with tasks
driven by calendar alerts,
servant to the god of Newton.
 
·      don’t forget you have to
·      make sure there is enough to
·      pick up so and so at such and such a time
·      you must remember to
·      do you have time for
·      make sure that so and so knows
·      how long will it take to
 
(plan teach assess grade sweep clean weed water 
feed clear wash dry fold put away pay collect 
calculate estimate gather cook serve take away 
pick up drop off control keep safe compose send
 flag mark as unread trash)
 
The gods of Jung sow seeds of revolution 
in my sleep,
where strange long halls in my house open 
to unknown rooms whose ceilings 
are nothing but stars,
where icy seas lap the curbs of my city
and navigation requires a true horizon.
 
The ancient ones are roused,
the gods of breath and pulse,
of water, wind, leaf and stone.
They are shouting now,
Clamoring between my daylight steps,
I must stop or be tripped-
 
    Smash all the clocks!
    Tear the leaves from the calendar
    and let them fly through the windows!
    Throw them all on the tracks,
     the train you scheduled is barreling through!
 
You foolish young god, you,
Time is your own invention.