Just a reminder for anyone new to the blog. These poems are being written for a novel I’m writing (or at least will get back to once I’m back in Vermont) called North Of Autumn. (I’ll be back this coming Thursday). The poems are those of a deceased character who read and loved Emily Dickinson. The poem that follows is possibly the most “Dickinsonian” of them. I thought up this one while biking the Mauerweg, a bicycle path that follows where the Wall used to be. It’s mostly a paved and beautiful path. In just the roughly thirty years since the wall, towers, and mine fields were removed, a forest has grown up; but the most startling strangeness is the transition from former West Berlin to former East Germany.
The West Berliners developed right up to the Wall when it was still standing, while the East Germans deliberately left their side undeveloped, the farms and fields untouched. Now that the Wall is gone, the effect is surreal. Going south, the city just stops. It doesn’t gradually peter out. It just stops. There aren’t even roads. Just dirt footpaths. If you’re biking East, and if you look to your left, there will be houses and apartment buildings, roads, buses, playgrounds, etc. If you look to your right, there’s nothing but flat fields and trees as far as the eye can see. You would think you were somewhere deep in Germany’s farm lands. The fields would never last in the US. There would be stroads and strip malls in no time. I can’t help hoping this little piece of Berlin surreality remains unchanged.
The seasons do not tabulate
The yearly gross and net,
And neither do they contemplate
What quotas go unmet.
The endless inefficiencies
Give reason to be worried
(There's no escaping winter's fees)
Yet dreams will not be hurried.
The dreary mind cannot affirm
What nature testifies—
The paltry labor of the worm
Written on the Mauerweg
August 12 2022
This was largely written on the M10 Straßenbahn and the 200 bus going to the Zoologischer Garten; and was, believe it or not, inspired by a woman actually sitting next to me at a café who was discussing French fashion (though in German). The words in Italic are pronounced the way the French would pronounce them (read with the meter), otherwise the rhymes and meter are a mess.
There sat a woman next to me
Who praised Paris and Haute
Couture! How fashionable—Mais oui!—
Their personages of note.
I almost butted in to say
We have our 'noted' too
Sometimes they visit the café
Doing what they do—
The firefly's unmatched attire,
Radiantly on trend,
Ensembles few to none acquire
(I tell you as a friend);
Regard the swank and rakish crow,
The black accoutrement—
The perfect compliment to snow
Too timeless not to flaunt;
As well I hardly need explain
The glamor of September,
The catwalk of an Autumn lane,
The season's boho splendor—
The chic sangfroid of Maple trees
But rest assured, my dear (do please!),
I drank my gin and tonic.
On the M10, Berlin, August 6, 2022
I’ve been reading novels of Magical Realism. Since I’m writing my own in the genre, I thought I should see how other authors are managing it. My original post was entitled “Four Magical Realism Novels” but here I am, in Berlin, without any of the novels for reference. They’re all in Vermont. So I’ll have to write that post when I’m back in Vermont. I bought Ness’s novel from a little English Bookstore on Kastanienstraße. You might ask why, being in Germany, I’m not reading Magical Realism by German authors. I tried. Turns out, there aren’t any. For whatever reason, German authors haven’t taken up the genre. A number of Spanish and American authors have been translated into German, but that’s as far as it goes. Rather than wait until I’m home to include this bit of opinion in a larger post, I thought I’d go ahead and publish it on its own.
“A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness may be the story that has struck the nicest balance between “magic” and realism (among those I’ve read)—meaning that the story didn’t create alternate universes but remained firmly in our own reality. The magic was the right measure of maybe real and maybe not. That is, one wasn’t quite sure if the “magic” was imagined even as it seemed to effect the “real world” in tangible ways. My personal opinion is that stories that veer toward outright magic as a manipulable force (along with alternate realities) veer more toward the fantasy genre than “magical realism”.
My main complaint as regards “A Monster Calls” is stylistic. Ness is capable of writing beautifully descriptive prose, as when he describes the Yew Tree’s transformation into a monster, but I all too often felt that he was “writing down” to his audience. He seems to adopt the kind of amateurish (and sometimes clichéd) overstatement and vernacular one would expect from the thirteen year old main character, not the author. It’s possible Ness wrote like this to ingratiate himself with a YA audience but I’m not sure. If it was deliberate, then pick one or the other. Don’t write like an experienced novelist one moment, then a thirteen year old at the next. Otherwise, one ends up with paragraphs like the following:
“Every time the monster moved, Conor could hear the creak of wood, groaning and yawning in the monster’s huge body. He could see, too, the power in the monster’s arms, great wiry ropes of branches constantly twisting and shifting together in what must have been tree muscle, connected a massive trunk of a chest, topped by a head and teeth that could chomp him down in one bite.” p. 49 [Italics mine.]
It’s those very last words that roll my eyes. The majority of the description finds us firmly in the hands of an experienced and evocative writer. Does he really need to wrench me into the vernacular of Conor, aged 13, by then observing that the monster sure could chomp him down in one bite! That sure is one heck of a monster there! Those words belong in Conor’s mouth, not the narrator’s.
Or an example of overstatement:
“It laughed louder and louder again, until the ground was shaking and it felt like the sky itself might tumble down.” p. 83
It sure did. It felt like the whole sky itself—not just the “sky” but the “sky itself” might tumble right down. And sometimes it wasn’t just the school but “it felt like the whole school was holding its breath, waiting to see what Conor would do” (179) And when the monster sat on top of Conor’s grandmother’s office it “placed its entire great weight on top”. Not just its weight, not just its great weight, but its entire great weight. The reader will find this sort of empty and mannered overstatement throughout the book, all in pursuit of something resembling “authenticity”. That is, Ness might think he’s writing like a 13 year old but none of my 13 years olds ever talked like this. Who did? Children in 1950s and 60s movies did. Too much of his writing sounds like the kind of nonsense put into the mouths of child actors by gin-sipping screen writers who went home to cigarettes and noir:
“The whole room was like a museum of how people lived in olden times. There wasn’t even a television.” (108)
Not just the room, but the “whole room”, and who doesn’t go to museums of how animals looked before the whole world was totally obliterated by a rock so big it was even bigger than the biggest mountain ever? And there weren’t even televisions! And who doesn’t go to museums of how people painted way back before you were even alive? And they didn’t even have printers! And “olden times”? Who talks like that? And the characters themselves, by the way, too often behave more like clichéd caricatures—as though Ness not only adopted the worst of Hollywood’s script writing but also their “Lord of the Flies” vision of education. There’s the predictable bully, the bully’s snickering sidekicks and the usual social dynamics that plague all Hollywood schools. Another trope that’s gone stale.
But maybe this is really the way Ness writes? All in all, as a stylistic matter, the best writing occurred when the monster appeared (though later in the book the descriptions flirt with repetitiveness) and during the close of the book when the subject matter’s emotional weight means, apparently, that Ness doesn’t have to try so hard. And while the writing then is at its best, simple and direct, even that is marred in the closing chapter by Ness’s all too earnest and explanatory moralizing. He can’t just let the story speak for itself but flirts with an almost Victorian fussiness.
My other criticism, which is more arbitrary, concerns the first story/fable told by the monster (who declares he will tell three stories, then demand a fourth from Conor). I noticed that readers on Amazon who disliked the story objected to its subject matter: sex and murder. They felt it didn’t belong in a YA novel. That’s not what bothered me. I did find the story silly and forced (even granting that it was deliberately absurd) but that’s not what bothered me. Oddly, it’s that he made the story about Kings, Queens and Prince’s. Aren’t we done with stories about the aristocracy? Hasn’t Disney done enough to drive that genre into the ground? And while I do get why he did it, I’d argue that Ness could have told the same story without recourse to a worn out trope.
All in all, I wanted to like the novelette more than I did. It possesses all the gothic elements I love. Just look at my poem “Into the Woods” (written, by the way, before I read Ness’s novel). But regardless of what I think, it’s an immensely popular book that’s been made into a movie with none other than Sigourney Weaver. And the reason for the book’s success is no doubt because Ness ultimately tells a good and meaningful story despite its flaws (the book is no masterpiece), interspersed with evocative imagery and an evocative monster. The book tells the story of a boy coming to terms with his mother’s battle with cancer. To anyone who wants to be a successful author the moral is simple: Writing well is optional. Writing a good story is a must.
Berlin, August 4th 2022
The U2 must like me. I wrote this poem in one sitting, getting on the U-Bahn at Schönhauser Allee and getting out at Sophie-Charlotte-Platz. That doesn’t happen very often, but I can see how Emily Dickinson wrote so many poems in so short a time. The ballad hymns almost write themselves. The short lines, 8s and 6s, don’t give much scope for over-thinking, especially if one rhymes. One goes where the rhymes lead. The trick is to make them seem wholly coincidental—as if the poet had no idea, none at all, that the poem was rhyming. And if the reader doesn’t notice, all the better.
I otherwise would hardly write
(These poems are hit or miss)
But here I sit, alone tonight,
Still thinking of your kiss.
Just so you know, a storm came through;
The garden is a mess.
You ought to see the honeydew.
They're floating more or less.
The mellons drift from row to row,
And peas are here and there.
Don't bother asking if I know
Which vegetables are where.
But I can tell you either way
The mellons are delicious,
The flesh— so cool, so sweet. To say
Much more would be seditious.
I washed the dirt from some tomatoes;
Diced and tossed them in
With several waterlogged potatoes—
(The soup's a little thin).
The weather teaches us, I guess,
What is and isn't ours—
But have I mentioned, nonetheless,
How beautiful the stars?
Written on the U2 on August 31
I’ve extended my stay in Berlin until the middle of August. The weather in the poem was inspired by weather, not in Berlin, but back home in Vermont. Something like a small tornado or wind sheer came through and dropped trees across roads, on top of cars and rooftops. That got me thinking about the garden and raspberries in our backyard.
Also, another picture from the city of my birth.
I’m writing this on my smartphone—a new trick for me. Not sure what it’s going to look like when I publish it. I’m in Berlin again. My father died earlier in the month. I knew he was in poor health and had hoped to see him before he died. In the meantime, my daughter has taken up temporary employment with Germany’s NASA—the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft and Raumfahrt, or DLR for short. Also in Berlin. So here I am. I haven’t had time or the place to continue writing North of Autumn. I have had time to continue working on the poems. I just finished this one while riding the U2, the U-Bahn line between Ruhleben and Pankow, stopping at Sophie-Charlotte-Platz.
Whatever rakes the attic floor,
There won't be any ghost;
And if there's scratching at your door,
A gust of leaves at most.
Though I may whisper my good-byes,
Who hears the Thrush's song,
Who's seen which way the Raven flies
Will never stay for long.
I'll have crossed the fresh-laid snow
And left no trace behind;
The summers that I used to know
Will since have slipped my mind.
Life is itself enough to scare
The living half to death,
No need for supernatural fare
To steal away our breath.
Finished on the U2 July 28th 2022
The hymn steals lines from a sonnet I wrote many years ago but was never satisfied with. I don’t think I ever posted or otherwise published it. Also, a little something from Berlin:
This is a longer narrative poem I wrote specifically for my novel. I also mentioned a while back that I wanted to write a poem in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. You could almost call this poem a Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream. I was tempted to call it that. The verse form is Blank Verse and, in some choice moments, I made use of internal rhyme. I’ve included an audio. I misread the verse in a couple places, but it takes a good eleven minutes to read, so I didn’t feel too perfectionist about it. I also wasn’t sure if I should capitalize the names of plants. I couldn’t be bothered to research so I did. As far as I know, you won’t find poetry written like this by anybody anywhere else in the world. Enjoy!
Into the Woods I’m told they finally closed the bridge. They say It’s for the season. I don’t mind it closed. Autumn is the time of year a tree Will make her apron from the leaves she scatters; And neat and tidy as a pin she’ll strew The self-same skirt with fruits and nuts. The shame Is when her labor’s swept into a ditch Her summer lost to all the traffic’s coming And going. Were the brook to drown the bridge As she’s been threatening to for forty years I’d be as pleased to see it gone. And sure I’d have to go by Hodge’s into town. Old Hodge! Such stories as he liked to tell! He’s since long gone but I remember how My mother scolded him from time to time. She’d ask him. ‘Stealing berries from your neighbor? No fields of your own?’ ‘Too shaded,’ he’d say. And then she’d answer, ‘Cut down all those Hemlocks! And why not plant your berries there? ‘I’d never!’ He’d answer with a wink my ways. ‘Someday They’ll up and go all by themselves. You’ll see.’ And I being just a little girl saw how They could and straightaway that night I dreamt Of Hemlocks. Just past midnight came a gust That shook the windowpanes. I sat upright Or dreamt I did. When one’s so young life’s anyhow A half-remembered dream. I looked straight out The window where I saw the further ridge And Hodge’s Hemlocks quaking top to bottom. I slipped from bed and tip-toed to the sill And leaned with nose and elbows. There was not The slightest breeze and yet the Hemlocks teetered And tottered down the ridge the way we used to Before electric came—when all we had Was balancing a candle in one hand And the other out before us all the same. They slipped into the hollow; not just Hemlock, But birch and Sugar Maple followed. They swayed into my dooryard just as though They’d been there all along. Next there was a tapping As of a bony finger at the window As might a neighbor come by casually To say ‘Hello’. And what with all their reeling And almost almost falling down, there were everywhere Acorns, pine cones, twigs and whirligigs And apples that swung like rusty bells whose tongues Had since gone dry and shriveled. What was I? Six? Seven? I thought nothing more than straight Undo the latch and open up the window. I meant to let them in and in they came— The sprung and rickety articulation, The lean, long-fingered limbs. They combed and lifted My hair, and poked and plucked and pinched my nightgown (And by my nightgown picked me up). I held My blanket sailing round me as I spun From limb to limb. Their plaint timbers groaned And popped as though the ocean rolled beneath them. Their roots like prying thumbs dismantled obstacles: They sent the stones from stone walls tumbling down And knocked the stooks out of their rows and columns. Sure as I stand and talk to you today I still can feel the ribbing tips of sticks Like fingertips, the sticking scent of pine, The papery slough of the birch and wild vine Against the skin. They took me from the dooryard Into the wooded valley where the brook Runs leisurely; where oftentimes I’d look For Marigold and Summersweet. You might say The child taking home the buds of May— The firstlings of the season—was no different Than were the woods returned to take the child Straight from her house into the wild. By rights It’s just the same. They set me barefoot On the leaf and needle covered floor. I turned a little circle as I pulled My blanket into something like a hood (As if to hide). The scent of petrichore Was in the air. I peeked; they gawked at me. They stood like giants stooping low as if To better see the girl they’d snatched away (Tiny as I was). And then it seemed That they’d decided. First to do was take My blanket. You would hardly think a Thornapple Could be so delicate and yet it was. And then the others took to prodding me Until I’d lifted up my arms and stretched them straight To either side. They circled me like tailors, I in their fitting room. You’ll want to know Just what the forest wanted. To tell the truth, I know as little now as then. The best I ever do is simply tell the story— How if there were a spider’s web between The aspen’s limbs, a birch would twirl it away: She’d wind a yarn to weave into my braids With Fleabane’s petals at my shoulder blades; How when the Willow brought the cattail’s leaf The Popple made me wristlets and a sash; And as I waited came the Cherry Tree To daub my lips with Hobble Bush (Witch-Hobble Its hereabouts called). To think that they would stain A girl’s lips with that! You might have thought The late September’s wind had riled them—splayed A hundred limbs into a thousand fingers Grasping at their leaves before they fell, But this was no haphazard storm or season For soon as they had daubed my lips and cheeks They made me sandals for my feet—tied with cords Of knotted grass—and lastly wove a crown Of honeysuckle vine and the silk of Thistledown. A train of dragonflies attended me With ruby wings and emerald eyes—they circled As if I were the Fearie Queen and they My courtiers. Then the forest made no sound Apart from here and there the leaf, the stick or fruit That fell or struck the ground. I’ve since been told That old marble, the moon, went tumbling down; Hodge’s jenny jumped the neighbor’s fence And quarreled with the goose. The wind went nibbling At every door and window so bedeviling The weather vane that wakened ghosts ran riot Knowing neither which way to heaven nor which To hell. Their cold and bristling exhalations Struck all they touched with frost, and passing by Turned raincoats inside out. Shutters banged And barn doors howled on swung and worried hinges; Roof shingles clamored for a hold. The owl Swallowed the mouse—the whiskers first and then The whip of tail. Its yellow eyes surveyed The farm yard’s squalor as the cat went dripping Like licorice through the split and missing teeth Of hemlock planks. That was the night to close The bulkhead lest the cellar’s belly fill With leaves and rain. Some thought the dish and spoon Might finally run away and others, with The mortise cracking in the attic, thought The house elves, who steal from our kitchens, Tapped back in place the oaken pegs worked loose By the wind and weather. They’re the elves who snatch A tea-leaf from the cupboard, so little That you or I would never notice, steeped Where dewdrops gather on the rosebud’s lip— So slight a cup!—a hummingbird in turn Might rob the petal if they’re quick enough. I’ve seen it done. But none went out that night Who needn’t go. There was only just Myself, a wide-eyed girl, who danced with Dogwood, Larch and Sugar Maple. I was passed From each to each with little pirouettes. They lightly held my hand above my head; And while I spun I lifted up the hem Of my pajamas just the way a Lady Might hold the corner of her gown while dancing. It airily tumbled as I hopped and skipped. My heels made spirals, my toes made ringlets, round And round I went. How grown and ladylike I felt! I nodded graciously and bowed And curtsied. They kept their rugged rhythm. They thumped their hollow trunks and clapped their sticks And with their sticks made melodies. The forest, Had there been anyone to wander by, Would have seemed to them to bend and sway According to the weather. A gale Of leaves and then another just before The lightning crackled in the understory And stood my hair on end. The dancing faltered. I lifted my pajamas to my knees And scurried to my blanket. Here and there A raindrop stamped the earth with a flowering splash Of dust and water. Then, as if decided To pay no mind, a Honey-locust nudged me To dance some more. But just like that the lightning Struck like a thistle’s lash across the sky And turned the bowl of water upside down. The rain fell down in sheets. 'No!’ I cried. ‘No! Take me home!’ The forest pricked and pinched me. ‘Let me go!’ I cried. I tried to hide. I pulled my blanket tightly round my shoulders And would have run away but stumbled— The rolling acorns bruised my heels and needles Poked between my toes. ‘I want to go—!“ But then stopped short of crying ‘—home!’. An Oak tree Appeared, its hollow like a yawning mouth, The vines of wild grape among its roots As though the old Oak trailed an ancient beard. The woods made way until the great tree stood giant-like Above me. I held my blanket to my eyes When with the thumb and finger of its branches It picked me up by my pajamas (pinched Between my shoulder blades). I kicked and flailed Above its gaping hollow when straightaway It dropped me. Down I fell into the maw And down into the endless dark, falling and falling— Myself a piece of autumn. I closed my eyes At first; but feeling only weightlessness I slowly opened them again. I saw The tiniest light that seemed both far away And close enough to touch. All else forgotten, I reached. I almost touched before a moth Took flight. It fluttered round me, through my fingers, Flew away and back again before I’d cupped my hands. And just as moths will do It zigzagged fitfully until it landed. How beautiful it was! The moth shown through And through with light. Another fluttered round me And then another. If I fell or floated I couldn’t say. I turned and tumbled slowly And held my hands out as the moths glittered, faery-like, Between my fingers and then dragonflies And even leaves, all lighted like the moths, Joined me. I was like a little planet And they the stars accompanying me through darkness— The endless night. And then I cried aloud! I landed on my bed! The comforter And pillows burst. The air above was filled With feathers just as if the moths, the dragonflies And leaves had all along been angels. They’d scattered, As suddenly perplexed as I was. Little By little I began to hear again The household sounds of open windows. The pop and stutter of their hinges. The storm Had passed me by. I watched the ghostly curtains That neither came nor went. They moved in moonlight And moonlight glittered on the floor. I went Barefooted where the rainfall pooled and drew A chair behind me. Still not tall enough, I stood on tip-toes once again to reach The window latch. A trailing gusts of rain Confused the glass. I thought I saw the Hemlocks, If only through the momentary blur. I thought they bobbed and sunk into the earth Once more. Needles were between my toes And there were acorns in my bed. I picked A cocklebur out of my sheets and here And there were petals slipping from my hair. By me, Patrick Gillespie | July 11th 2022
I’ve been a long time quiet. I’ve been either writing or carpentering. My writing is spent out in the fields, in the cabin I built for my daughter. She’s off in Canada now. I’ve found that getting out of the house and working in the cabin really does help me focus. I wouldn’t have expected that. Don’t know why. Guess I’ve always needed a writer’s cabin.
The last time I posted I was writing 888 words a day. About a month ago I was two thirds of the way through the novel, North of Autumn, and decided there was complexity I didn’t want to force my way through. I wanted to slow down, do some rewriting, editing, and revising—such that the earlier portions would agree with the new direction I was taking. Carpentry also picked up considerably and I’m not the kind who likes to carpenter all day, then come home and sequester myself writing.
So, as it is, I’m very close to finishing my second novel. I’m still sending out my first novel, but no agents are responding. I only have another 10,000 words and I’ll have met my 80,000 word goal. This last week, though, I’ve wanted the poetry to catch up with the prose (poems I’m writing for the novel). As a reminder, the main character’s deceased mother left behind a sketchbook in which she wrote poems in the manner of Emily Dickinson, hence the title: Hymn #3 (the third poem in the sketchbook). Dickinson’s poems were all written in Hymn Meter.
I've seen the threadbare eyes of women Their longing turned to doubt. They pass me by like shrouds, these women, Who've looked too deeply out. I've watched the speechless men go by; Their loose and tattered frames. I've watched—beyond repair—these men With their forgotten names. If nothing else then know there's some, Depending where they dwell, Would trade all heaven's angels singing For just one kiss in hell.
I’ve now written just over 50 percent of my novel. I’ve renamed it North of Autumn. I’ve fallen behind the last few days, around a thousand words short of where I should be. This is partly because the novel is transitioning and I haven’t fully worked out what should happen or how. Also, the short little fable that follows got me all snarled up. Not often I throw a fit when writing, but after the sixth revision I was losing patience. Part of the challenge is not just writing a fable, but a fable that makes sense within the context of the narrative. I didn’t set out to write a novel full of smaller tales, fables and short stories, but writing the novel at speed makes the writing spontaneous—as though the whole novel is more of an improvisation. The novel reminds me a little of a musical. Instead of the characters bursting into song, they burst into stories. Readers are either going to love it or hate it but then, given all the magical realism, one won’t be reading this book for its gritty authenticity.
Sean dangled the phone over his forehead. “I’m in Vermont.”
“Well,” said Louis, with a light French accent, “the house will be okay until you are there. Do you know when you will arrive?”
Sean exhaled. “Zoē is fighting me every step of the way.”
“Ah, I see.”
“And I may have been a guest at a house where I may have caused the catastrophic collapse of a floor and I may have promised to fix it.”
“I see. Then it is a good thing you are an engineer, Sean.”
This was followed by a momentary silence, and Sean added, “I don’t know when we’ll be getting there.”
“I’m sure you have heard the joke. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
“I can tell you,” Louis’ voice continued, “where I am now is never where I expected to be. One makes plans and to what effect? My father loved to tell me a story when I was little. I think it must be a common story.
“A poor farmer considers himself the unluckiest man alive.
“A cohort of soldiers with oxcarts has come to his fields. They bring the stones of a bridge, its viossuers and keystones, the stones of its spandrel and parapet, and the cobblestones that paved it. They strew his fields with these stones and the farmer can no longer plow.
“Years go by and the farmer is very poor. Then one day the mayor of a nearby town announces that a new bridge must be built before the arrival of the King. Seeing that the farmer has all the stones he needs, the mayor orders that the stones be collected and the farmer rewarded. This makes the farmer rich beyond his wildest dreams.
“Meanwhile, the bridge is built and the King arrives. He walks across the bridge. He gives a sharp cry of recognition and, in the very next moment, he drops dead. Many years before, you see, he had been told that so long as he never crossed the bridge, death would never find him; and so he ordered that the bridge be dismantled and all its stones scattered.
“The King, you know, considered himself the luckiest man alive.”
upinVermont | May 31st 2022
I’m nearing the half way mark through Stopping by Autumn. Zoē is the novel’s main character and moves through a world very different from that of the other characters. Unlike my first novel, which only has elements of magical realism, the second novel (taking place in the same fictional region of Vermont) glides whole-heartedly through the genre. The following passage takes place after Zoē wanders into a little village called Sled Island. The El Camino has broken down again and rather than wait with her father at the garage, she explores. (Tue 22nd — Being a rough draft, a just updated this with some minor changes, including the addition of Homeric Epithets.)
Further inside the store the shelves were full of books, souvenirs, toys, clothes, used books and handmade quilts. Some of the shelves were carved into the shapes of vines swollen with wooden grapes. The thick vines seemed to coil and stretch from one shelf to the next, growing thicker and hiding more of the shelves the further she went.
Hidden among their coils were owls, hawks and gulls with gaping beaks—all carved from the same dark wood. And if she looked twice the hawk might have vanished or the owl turned its gaze. Zoē walked quietly. An old woman with a cane across her lap was sleeping in a chair in the corner. There was a wisp of a beard trailing from her chin and her gap-toothed mouth hung open as she snored. Next to her was a room with sawdust and shavings spilling out. Zoē went to look and found a workshop. There were no windows, a workbench was in the middle, and broken toys were piled on the floor and spilled from open closets. A large man, as old as the woman, was hunched over the workbench. He wore a leather apron and peered through an elaborate jeweler’s monocle. The man had piled toys at one end of the workbench. One by one, as Zoē watched, he took them and with a small mallet broke them.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m makin’ spare parts,” the man gruffly answered.
“But you’re ruining new toys.”
The giant man looked up, still stooped over the workbench, slope-shouldered. “And you never know when a good toy’s gonna need fixin’. So you can’t have too many spare parts.”
Zoē glanced behind her. “You’re just taking them from the store.”
“But then there won’t be any good toys to buy,” Zoē answered factually.
“You’re a strange one,” said the man. He flipped up a lens and squinted through his monocle. “You’re a little off aren’t you? Not quite right in the head. Any other girl would have run off by now.” He let that sit, then said, “Come in here.”
Zoē went in and stood at the workbench, hands in her coat pockets. The man picked up a broom that had been leaning behind him and pushed the door shut behind her.
“Why did you do that?”
“What’s that you’ve got round your neck?”
“I see that,” answered the giant man, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, “but what’s that you’ve got hanging from the necklace.”
“My mother gave it to me.”
“Give it to me.”
“No,” said Zoē, “you’ll just break it.”
The slope-shouldered man didn’t answer at first. He rubbed his stubbled chin with the palm of his hand as though considering what next. “If you won’t give it to me then let me see it.” Zoē pinched the necklace and lifted the pendant so that he could see it. The giant man studied it and rapped the workbench with his knuckles. “What’s your name, girl?”
Zoē hesitated, then said, “Eudid.”
“Eudid?” asked the man. “Is that a Greek name?”
“Yes,” Zoē answered. “Do you want to see the pendant?”
“Then let me look through your monocle. If you let me look through your monocle, I’ll let you look at my pendant.”
The giant man stood and took a deep breath. His broad chest expanded and his sloped shoulders rolled. Then he went to Zoē, towering over her. He took off his monocle and gave it to her. Zoē at once saw that he couldn’t see without it—or not very well. She slipped out from between him and the closet, and went to the other side of the workshop. The man tried to see where she went, squinting, but seemed unable to see her. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Zoē went to the workbench. She put down the monocle and picked up the mallet that he’d left on the workbench. “I’m making spare parts,” she answered.
“For what?” he answered.
“For your monocle.”
“How will you do that?” he asked.
“Like this.” She smashed the monocle with one blow. The lenses and tiny gears burst across the workbench and fell to the floor.
“No!” cried the man. “He swept his arms ahead of him.”
Zoē held onto her necklace, hunched low and scurried along the opposite side of the workbench. The giant man turned, eyes fiercely squinting. When he went behind the workbench, Zoē hurried to the door, opened it and ran back into the store’s displays.
“Eudid!” the man cried.
“Good lord. What’s all the alarm?” The old woman had woken, and was as unable to see as the slope-shouldered man. She clumsily pushed herself upright and swung her cane back and forth.
“My monocle!” roared the man in the doorway.
“What about it?” asked the old woman.
“She broke it!”
“Eudid!” he roared.
“I did not!” the old woman answered. “I had nothing to do with you or your precious monocle.”
“Eudid!” he roared again. “Eudid!”
Zoē crouched beneath the swinging cane, then ran to a door that was in the center of the store and under a staircase. “I hear the little beast!”
“Where?” answered the old woman, turning and swinging the cane in Zoē’s direction.
“Eudid!” snarled the giant man.
“I did not you old fool!” cried the woman.
Zoē quietly opened the door, stepped down to a little landing, then noiselessly closed the door behind her.
upinVermont | March 21st 2022
The history behind these two poems is interesting. Middlebury, Vermont invited local poets to send in poems for a sidewalk project in which the poems would be imprinted in the sidewalk’s concrete—part of a poetry project. The poems came with strict line length and word limits. I don’t remember them now. But why not? Middlebury is one of my favorite Vermont towns and Brookway, the fictional town of my novels, is loosely based on it. I submitted the poems and—never heard anything again. Story of my literary life. Since they were written for a very particular location—a sidewalk—I was never sure what to do with them. Now I know. If they can’t be in Middlebury’s sidewalks, then they’ll be in Brookway’s sidewalks—a sidewalk of the imagination. They have a home again.
If despite your hurry You pause just long enough To momentarily query The verses here and there, You next may ask yourself If poems aren’t everywhere?— If maybe all along (And even by a sidewalk) There wasn’t always song? And though that may be true, It’s true because all poetry Is truthfully in you.
You mostly needn’t guess (Or second guess) the season, You know it more or less: You know it by the spider Fattened on the addled flies. They crowd September’s cider. And if the weather’s terse And fitful then it’s likely April; yet suppose this verse Is buried under snow? Your guess is good as mine. Vermont. You never know. Every year it’s touch and go.
upinVermont | March 6th 2022