Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hello, my friends.

It's been a long time and I hope everyone is well. I've enjoyed the bits of news I hear every so often and would love to hear from everyone. I emailed Alyson in May about an ACA workshop in 2016 and she said she's working on March, but that it might be a long weekend format. I'd love to go to Carolyn's Santa Fe workshop, but I can't afford it because I'm planning to empty my pockets for a trip to Quebec City in September. One of my brothers is meeting me there, so I'll have company. Speaking of Quebec, I think I have the title both for my new book (the ancestry book, although a boatload of other people have gotten into it somehow) and for the first poem in the collection. I stole it from these lines in Emily Dickinson's The Lonely House: "The moon slides down the stair/
To see who's there." I'd love to have your thoughts. This is a long one for me and my first ABC poem.

To See Who’s There

Able these days to search through centuries, I click,
scribble, cut and paste, skim, reject, record, resurrect
a wet stone wall, the smell of burning peat.

Bob’s your uncle, Peggy’s your aunt.
Name your family, child. My brother said hello
to Aunt Greg and Uncle Shirley. I was more careful.

Census takers listed the immigrants
once they had addresses, once they had standing.
Where were you born? Where was your father born?
Your mother? What can you do? What will you do?

If a Catholic infant died unbaptized they went to Limbo until Judgment Day.
My Scots switched sides, switched back. Lost their land, kept their heads.
Dad stopped going to Mass and so would go to hell.
I believed in this monstrous possibility once.

Emily Brontë’s moors rolled from the window seat in my upstairs room
in Ramsey, New Jersey. I knew the wet air, the low purples, greens, browns; the heavy skirts; his shadow in the doorway. I curled in nooks, inglenooks.

Eulalie Routhier, baptized at Saint-Eustache,
Deux-montagnes, Quebec, in 1847.
My fruitless ovaries have shriveled to nothing—
my habit of naming children lives on. “Eulalie”

Four years of high school French, three of Spanish,
so when I went to Spoleto the summer I turned twenty-one
I swirled languages into a frothy entertainment for the Italians.
I danced in operas, unwound with Chianti.

Grandfathers swallow the surnames of Catherines and Elizabeths.
My compulsive clicking tracks them down. Blaison de Paris,
led me to Spanish sonneteers, humanists, and conquistadores.

Hell-bent on survival, my Irish joined the million who left.
Another million stayed to die, having no luck at all.

Ìñigo Lopez de Mendoza retired to his castle
in Guadalajara, La Mancha, Castile, when Catalina died in 1455.
She was twelve, he fourteen, when they married in 1410.
I’m certain of their devotion.

Jeremiah, Johan, Jakob, Johnny,
James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
My mother’s mother, my Nonnie,
sang A.A. Milne to me. Her lovely voice.

Knisel, Kneissl, Kneisel, Kneissel, Kin eye zul. Great-grandfather Adolph Gustav came to America, married Johanna Otillie, (everyone called her “Tillie”)
who bore Charles Adolph, who fathered Robert Arnold
who married Doris Joan, who bore my three brothers and me.

Lovers, kiss on the immigrant ship.
Live through the nights of roiling dark.
Let’s say I’ve made her up.
Let’s say I’ve written about him with authority.
Let’s say this is all fiction, all fact.

My mother never spoke of her childhood, even to me.
Her mind fastened on quotidian worries,
loosened from them only at the end,
when, losing pounds willy-nilly,
she ate chocolates and cheesecake, quietly.

Ottilie Augustine left Trieste
before James Joyce got there.
Anyway, he had his Nora.

Poisoned in Dieppe,
beheaded in Winchester,
killed in the Battle of Flodden Field,
but not before they sired children. What luck!

Quarantine: A state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed:
“many animals die in quarantine”
     Mid 17th century: from Italian quarantina 'forty days', from quaranta 'forty'.
     pest housepesthouse or fever shed was a type of building used for persons afflicted with communicable diseases such as tuberculosischolerasmallpox or typhus. Often used for forcible quarantine, many towns and cities had one or more pesthouses accompanied by a cemetery or a waste pond nearby for disposal of the dead.

Ragoût, der Eintopf, el estofado, stobhach, stirabout, stew.

Settle on the banks of the Liffey, Loire, Neckar, Henares,
Loch Doon, on the Île d’Orléans in the St. Lawrence.
Converge in the city on Hudson Bay, make families, make me.

Typesetter, cooper, mill worker, farmer, beggar, sculptor, soldier, abbot, king,
at home looking after the children, knight, saint, maid, countess, poet, cook,
milliner, opera singer, piano teacher, carpenter, politician, dancer, lumberjack.

Under quilts, canopies, the stars, in privileged privacy,
with your children sleeping on pallets nearby, with passionate hands
pulling him in, in, with crying out, whispered caress, with fear.

Vainglorious Gilbert.

Waltheof’s children
watched when
they chopped
off his head
in Winchester.

X is the mark you make on the line the priest points to. He writes
Catherine McCarthy and you admire the curves, loops, ups and downs.

You might be my cousin. When you smile, your eyes might crinkle
so much they nearly disappear like Aunt Elsie’s, like mine.
You might have tiny arteries, a yen to sing opera,
a tendency to be gullible, the gene for alcoholism.

Zealous, desperate, the orphan boy Claude Robillard
is thirteen when he boards the Ste. André in 1663,
nineteen when he claims his own land in New France,
chops down a tree, another, another dans la sombre forêt.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Forché workshop in August

Dear Poets,
     I'm going to be teaching a one-week workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the first week of August. If you are interested, let me know or just go to
     I miss all of you! I hope you are well and writing.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bryan Monte's wonderful Amsterdam Quarterly is live at Photos by Dianne and Bryan, poetry by Meryl and moi, and fiction by Irene Hoge Smith (from BFWWC 2014.) Bryan interviews novelist Phillbert Schogt, and reviews an art exhibition and Meryl's chapbook, The Magician's Daughter.

I'm ready for another week with all of you and Carolyn! xxoononnie

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Thank you, Alida and Nonnie, for your poems,

I would like to write a 'Casa Dega' poem myself, and have some images swimming around in my head. Like the Indian swami portrait pasted on the wall, next to Walt Whitman's, the wind chimes that drew Blair and I to our seer.
And then this year my Mom has embarked on a full-blown genealogy search, so maybe I will write something about that, too, in a more epic form, like yours, Nonnie. At it stands, I have bits and pieces of family history in more typical forms.
What I could suggest to you, Nonnie, is to keep going with it and see how long it is, naturally, before going back to revise (or is this how long you want it?). I think of Carolyn referencing M Atwood's idea of writing the whole memoir - for me this would also go for longer family history poems and / or(other) epics - out to completion in one draft in one fell swoop as a first step.
Alida, thank you for all that humor. I feel the speaker of the poem as an ambivalent participant in it all. I am wondering if some more divisions into stanzas would pull out some lines, especially spoken ones, that deserve more pause in my opinion. For example, a new 2-line stanza at "Oh, Lakshmi"; another after "out there"; another at "Really, I did"; then, "it is your voice"; her incantation (for 3-line stanza); and new one at "the things...".
On a more administrative note, is anyone a AWP member? And if so, are you signed up for the whole program, ie, access to everything? And if so, have you found it helpful and in which ways?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Help! Below is a poem I've been working on since I got back from ACA. If anyone would read it before I ruin it, I'd love you for it. Also I will reciprocate. Joanna read my sestina and was nice enough to suggest I post it, so I will. Both of these are for the book loosely based on the ancestry research I've been doing for what seems forever now. My paternal grandfather's family were French Canadians.

I Hear Marie Agathe Speak from Her Hospital Bed at the Hotel Dieu, Québec; Her Husband’s Confession to Père Jean-Baptiste Interrupts

“Louis came to us from God ten months after I married Robillard. Our bright boy was seven when the purple fever picked him out. He went back to God in 1777.

Marie Marguerite lived two years. Maurice lived three. My life has taught me to dread the hot months when disease creeps from house to house while we sleep. None of us know what to do about this.

Genevieve came next and she is mother to three strong children.  Tonight she lies in the bed next to me, red with the same pox. The priest has given us Last Rites and left our ward. My daughter sobs.

We named the next baby Marie Genevieve, to borrow from her sister’s healthy nature and to honor the Holy Mother, but she was born without breath.

Marguerite Lambert, same thing, no breath.”

I am a sinful man who prays that my wife be spared from her duty to give birth. I would not touch her again but she begs for another child and I cannot resist her.  We choose the names of saints as soon as she feels quick with life, hoping these holy ones will look out for the little one in her belly. Genevieve, ma rose, is two. Joseph, our newborn, cries with lusty vigor, five children lie in the cimetière. On our wedding day my young bride danced to the fiddler longer than anyone else, sang the old songs from France for our guests, came to our bed with trust. Seven times in seven years she has been with child! I pray we not be blessed in this way again. You have not seen your wife faint at a gravesite, have not lost your firstborn son, (who had your name, your black hair, your wife’s eyes, blue as the September sky) turn hot and purple, then cold, rigid, lost to us. What do you know about family, Priest? You, who preaches that God wills every French family have so many Catholic babies. More than I hate the Protestant King, I hate the screams of Marie Agathe every time she struggles to give birth. Eh bien. Give me my pennance. I will try to pray with a humble heart that rage leaves me before this howling anger in my soul frightens my sweet wife again.

“Joseph lives on as do Charles, Francois, and Marie Felice. Three fine sons to help on the farm! Our daughter is an Urseline, lives in the convent, nurses the sick here, at the Hotel Dieu. I have seen her!

Louis, yes, another Louis, became a soldier and so died at twenty.

Marie Joseph pushed too early! ‘Not yet, not yet!’ I could not hold her back and her heart stopped after one day.

Marie Archange gave us two granchildren, then died in childbirth. Aussi le petite.

God gave me Marie Judith when I was tired and old. She was our laughing baby for one year and one month before the deadly rash stole her from us in 1790. I was not blessed with child again.

When I see God I will ask him where in Heaven to find these nine children. I’ll try to die still holding poor Genevieve’s hand. Sister Angelique does not know if this will help us stay together when we go (Le Ciel doit être si grand!) but I think it is possible that it will.”

1664: Fourteen-Year-Old Marie Grandin Paces the Apple Orchard, Talking to Angels and Trees

Holy Angels, help me. A cruel man now possesses my Papa.
He has taken the King’s silver. In return, I’ll be sent to New France,
cross the vast sea, marry an émigré, bear the children of a stranger!
I belong in Normandy on our farm. I don’t want to drown in the ocean!
I’ll say, “Mama and Aunt Nicolette always need my help and I will obey
quickly. You’ll see it my Papa, only do not put me on that terrifying ship.

The priest thinks waves might rise as high as the church spire and crush the ship!
Make the avocat tear up the paper that has your X. Give back his coin, Papa!
If you do I will marry Alphonse who smells like his goats, and never disobey
his mother who some think is a witch. I will have his babies here, for France,
be a farmers wife here, for France. Who will love me, there, across the ocean?
The King can find 800 other girls for this place of wolves, bears, rude strangers.

The priest said sailors fight, speak bad French or the garble of strangers.
Tender girls become greasy, skinny crones from months of no sleep on a ship, 
only biscuits hard as our pony’s hoofs to eat, salt water to wash, bucking ocean
beneath boots. All this only to reach wild men with tangled beards, Papa!
Keep me at home and if you wish, I will marry even the ugliest man in France.
I’ll be a kinder big sister to my brothers who act like toads, who refuse to obey.

Pity the Filles du Roi, who are not Kings Daughters! How can a true father obey?
(Today I’ll talk to sour apple trees, tomorrow, Papa, who’s like a fierce stranger.
Rain soaks the orchard, but I do not hate this mud; it is the fine mud of France!)
Mama and all her sisters cry, pray to the Virgin to keep me from this ship
sailing so many nights without candles. Suppose I turn yellow and die, Papa?
King Louis XIV, so great, cannot need a small girl like me to cross the ocean.

Jules talks of monsters bigger than ships that leap from the night’s black ocean,
steal maids off the decks to drag them deep. If Jules had riches would you obey
our King’s mad plan? Jules will have gold soon. He reads and writes, Papa!
True, he has no farm, cow, chickens, or hateful geese, but has the friendship
of the priest, goes to school, has been to Rouen, has met many strangers,
and thinks I’m pretty. Oh, not a rough man who fights pagans in New France!

I am not brave! I beg you to deny this white-wigged King of France,
bejeweled, powdered, rouged, who bribes the poor to cross the ocean.
The priest will praise you in church if you tell the king’s man that a foul ship
that sails, sails, sails to a place without women is no place for me. But, obey—
the village will think you no better than a Spaniard, a Dutchman, a stranger!
Even your loving wife might fight you and kick you from the bed. Papa!”

Eh, bien. Good-by my own France. Daughters must obey.
Your Marie will cross the ocean, lost in a passel of strangers.
But if I die on that ship, my ghost will come terrify my greedy Papa!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dancing in Cassadaga

So here is the poem I wrote about Cassadaga.  Really just for fun, but free to edit, nicely!

Dancing in Cassadaga

"Baby, fools pay the price of a whisper
In the night in Casa Dega*"  Tom Petty

The bear rises up on her back legs
warning intruders
that crossing the line may
involve intricate encounters with poetry.

My medium, Torre`, who has a
weekly radio show, Venus-in-Velvet,
tells me the bear will ward off
such intruders.

She stops, mid-sentence, raising her
purple-painted nails:
"This bear is your totem animal, your protector."
She informs me my turtle totem is in retreat.

The smell of patchouli permeates
the made-in-India drapery.
She draws a small brown bottle of oil from a basket
on the table, holds it at eye level:
"Oh Lakshmi, you are strong and elegant."
Sounds good to me.

When I ask about my children,
she tells me my son is caught
between two worlds and that
he must decide what he wants
to put out "out there."
She assure me the two worlds
can co-exist, but repeats,
"He must decide."

And that my daughter has been around
a time or two.
She is, according to Torre`,
a natural mother.
Really, I did not reveal that
she just bore my first grandchild.

"White suits you," she tells me inspecting my jacket.
"The color of healers.
You were once in Egypt, a ruler of some sort,
a teacher, a wise one." Her eye roll upward.
"It is your voice behind the power of male leaders."
I do not disagree.

I clutch to be sure my jacket is fully zipped,
not wanted to reveal the Emily Dickinson tee I am wearing.
"You must write it down, you are guided by a divine voice.
Open yourself to your gifts, listen to your seers."
Her incantation is mesmerizing, inviting.
Did someone tell her I was here with
ten other poets hoping for an invitation to their own gifts?

A hollow ding sounds, technology intrudes.
The stick of incense lies in ashes on the table.
Her fat, breathy voice admonishes me to
stay in the Light and listen well.

Out on the street in downtown Cassadaga
Sheila, whose last name I do not know,
and I listen to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,
"Oh baby, now I think I'm starting to believe
The things I've heard
Cause tonight in Casa Dega*
I hang I every word."

* The actual spelling is Cassadaga. Tom Petty chose to spell it Casa Dega.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bryan's event @The Anne Frank Center, Jan 17, 2015

Hi everyone,
Had a good time today at Bryan's event at The Anne Frank Center here in NY, downtown Manhattan (44 Park Place, <>). Bryan talked and read then invited some of his contributors to do the same. A visual artist he has published also gave us insight into her work. Bryan then kindly signed copies of the Amsterdam Quarterly for audience members.
Thanks, again, Bryan. F, E and I were happy to have been invited.