A journal of narrative writing.
Subterranean Vermont Anti-Regionalism Blues

Underground Cleveland/The Imaginary Friend/First Poem

A toddling little guy left to his own devices, I carried my shoebox down the stairs into the basement where concrete floors, swirly-patterned plaster walls, a looming metal-encased machine and the ductwork that flowed from it into the ceiling seemed as great with possibility as the casks of Ali Baba's cave.

I scrambled up onto the counter of my dad's knotty pine bar—years later I realized it promised a finished rec-room that never materialized since he never ventured into what seemed to be my domain—so I could swing my legs and daydream.

Holding the shoebox in both hands, I lifted the lid, set it down then talked forever with the marble that rolled around in there—cobalt blue and marbled with clouds and tinier than anyone else's on Belvoir Boulevard, where, from the age of two until the ripe age of eight, I grew, not quite, up. E.g.: I found a hand drill and drilled the knots out of the knotty pine to surprise my dad.

He wasn't surprised when, like Virgil escorting Aeneas through the underworld, I invited him down to witness my handiwork, but he was outraged. After he left, I got angry at something the marble said and threw it hard at one of the basement windows that almost touched the ceiling.

A few years later, after the marble lost its powers of speech, I set the field next door to our house on fire to protest the house about to be built there. If we couldn't play there, I told my little brother, nobody could.

While waiting behind the furnace to be found and punished, I wrote my first poem which I planned to give my mom for Mother's Day—the same mom who let the firemen put me in a jail cell under the police station for an hour, where I wrote my second poem that took back the first.

Spelunking the Brookfield Cellar

Wildlife inhabitants of the farm house I lived in from 1984 until 1992 included raccoons nesting over the front hall, skunks hanging ten in the cellar, bats in the crawl space over the bedroom, nearsighted voles running around in circles in the pantry, a fox that dragged something screaming into the cellar, red squirrels that liked to stare at old newspapers perched on the kindling box, etc.

Sometimes I'd write leaning my head against the south wall when I was stuck—the wall where little brown bats would hang upside down and complain—hoping for a little bat inspiration. A hundred and sixty years old, the house sat on a honeycomb foundation that might have included the foundation for an eighteenth century log cabin, a thousand feet from a beaver pond. The old tub in the cellar that captured the water from a mountain brook, the three-quarter round beams that held up the first floor, the fieldstone foundation so porous a moose could find a port of entry, all of that made it possible for me to write "Stomping the Beaver Palace" and, though I don't think I can explain this very well, "The Latin Jazz," a poem set in that quintessential Vermont town, New York City.

But I'll try. I wrote some of my strongest rural poems under my desk wearing ear plugs in a shared seventh floor office as urban as it gets. Both abovementioned poems are about invasion of a private place—the first by predators; the second by adultery—and about seeing from an unexpected vantage point:

            ...to the crawlspace,
where a predator made a furious meal
of a mourning dove. I crawl in
and twig to how it feels to orbit 
a planet in a tin can. From this eye socket
perch, I press my palm to the light 
                                                        from "Stomping the Beaver Palace"

                 ... stepped
over them, raked the needle across the record,

then walked out to stab the button
between the elevator and mirror, where he saw

a man crying or
laughing at himself, he wasn't sure.
						from "The Latin Jazz"

Stick Season Finale

Except for nine ex-patriot years in Iowa, Michigan, and Arizona, I have studied, raised hell and a family, and taught in north central Vermont since 1965, 28 years of being moved to write not just by what's beautiful, jarring, and unique about this state's state of mind. More often it's the language and story inherent in the imaginative particulars of the place itself, whether it's the porcupine caves behind Gus Pacini's place in North Montpelier, the Montreal Metro, or an eccentric house that daydreams me into a poem.

What caught my imagination in my current squirrel nest of a house in Montpelier was the broken soapstone washbasin I found on my cellar floor, that contained a scotch-taped circle of acorns surrounding a woodcock feather planted in the drain by the previous administration, a civil engineer and college miler who fed gray squirrels out of his shirt pocket in the living room and who occasionally arched a stream out the front door onto the porch in his early nineties when he could no longer take the stairs as quickly as his need overtook him. Once, under this porch, a cross between a cat box and a cellar, an East Montpelier carpenter with a philosophical turn of mind was on his back driving spikes when, as he put it, it began to rain.