John Muir Had a Hickory Hill Farm

John Muir Had a Hickory Hill Farm

Hewn out of  wildness
of endless trees, paradise
for birds and wild children

Sierra Club Article

(This post is a placeholder — this week has been crazy busy and I am coming down with something–but yesterday I gave a public lecture that included some readings from John Muir and I feel connected to his spirit today. We have a huge shagbark hickory tree on our land, and it is the centerpiece –the reason we bought the property 12+ years ago–our house will be built to orient my library window with the tree in the center. We had discussed calling the place Hickory Hill Farm, and now I feel like that’s what it should be. I am so very lucky, I know.)

Hickory Honey and Tony

Lines Composed in the Dark

Lines Composed in the Dark

Moths batter at fluorescence
I try to sleep in Ohio but it’s Chicago
that keeps me awake:

Fire department sirens on Western Avenue
shouted conversations in Polish
the hollow boom of too much bass

The sodium orange burn of never-quite-night
when the sun slides behind the ComEd building–
There are ways of looking at an absence

through the rolling Ohio fields of timothy
against the falling veil of Brandywine creek
drifting past smokestacks and silent huletts on the Cuyahoga

like a series of relics wrapped

and buried beneath the Chinese chestnut tree in the yard

[OV MFA thesis 1999
Revision 4 April 2016]

[Confused sense of place and dis-location in this one–I was living in the Ukrainian Village in Chicago–near Nelson Algren’s haunts– but homesick for Ohio. I am also obsessed with (disused) industrial locations–the Jaite Paper Mill at the bottom of Highland Road that closed when I was a kid; my grandfather worked on the docks; my father worked for J&L Steel (later LTV) (later bankrupt but naturally the executives got paid). I think there’s a lot in here. I just need time to excavate. #mapyear ]

Haiku: Wisconsin Spring

Wisconsin Spring

Daffodils huddle
A few confused frogs burrow
Back into cold mud

April 2 2016 SNOW

2 April 2016, Sheboygan County, WI

We had a good spring snowstorm yesterday morning/afternoon that dumped 3-4″ of wet, cars-in-the-ditch snow. Today it’s in the upper 40s and the sun came out for a little bit, so it’s almost all melted already. The clouds are moving fast and the forecast is calling for cold and more snow in the coming week.

April is, after all, the cruelest month.

A Body Map of My Life, Part 2

A Body Map of My Life, Part 1

[Part II]

LOCATION: Right forearm along ulna (March 1971-present)
CAUSE: Genetic
DIAGNOSIS: Port wine stains, approximately 5” x 2.5” at widest point
TREATMENT: Extra sunscreen with zinc; assuring nurses and doctors that yes, I am safe in my home and no, it’s not a bruise and no, it hasn’t changed size or shape recently
FOLLOWUP: Glad it’s not on my face where it would be exposed to daily sun damage

LOCATION: Left hand, index finger, first knuckle (2002)
CAUSE: Stubborn insistence on closing stuck old window
DIAGNOSIS: Cut that luckily did not sever any tendons
TREATMENT: Seven stitches and an upside-down V shaped scar that still itches 14 years later
FOLLOWUP: Still stubborn but more cautious around glass and things that are stuck

LOCATION: Perineum (2004) (2008)
CAUSE: Beautiful, perfectly formed big-head babies (both over the 100th percentile) due to genetics (both parents have larger-than-average skulls)
DIAGNOSIS: Tear (2004)/incision (2008)
TREATMENT: Stitches that itch like a mad bitch on fire; ice packs changed hourly for a week; 8 weeks of no sex
FOLLOWUP: Willful, creative, intelligent children with thick mops of curly brown hair and big brown eyes with long lashes;  shortness of breath when I come across a tiny sock in the back of a drawer

LOCATION: Right hand, back, 3” below pinkie, 2” from wrist (July 2014)
CAUSE: Spider bite
DIAGNOSIS: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which I keep calling Marcus Aurelius because I can’t remember the word “methicillin”
TREATMENT: Multiple visits to doctor and two separate trips to the ER; over a month of sulfa drugs (which is what they use to treat MRSA even if you’re not allergic to penicillin); second trip to ER concludes with 6” of linen tape packed into a wound so deep I can see my tendon move when I open and close my hand—the tape must be pulled and cut daily for two weeks as the wound heals underneath it; I have never been so grossed out by (or afraid for) my body; I fear losing my hand, or dying of sepsis while my husband is out of town
FOLLOWUP: I did not lose my writing hand. Still not afraid of spiders.

LOCATION: Everywhere all once
CAUSE: Everything and nothing
DIAGNOSIS: Some fraying around the edges; mostly intact and still functioning
TREATMENT: Acceptance of failure and frailty; wine; friends; books; writing


They’re not babies anymore. Don Pedro Island State Park, March 2015


A Body Map of My Life, Part 1

-after Bridget Booher
[Part I]

LOCATION: Brain (1) (1983)
CAUSE: Fall from back of galloping Welsh pony while wearing regulation helmet
DIAGNOSIS: Concussion; #1 of at least 5
TREATMENT: Sit on forest-green Springsteel couch and stare at ceiling; no TV; pony is fine
FOLLOWUP: None; wear helmet (most of the time)

LOCATION: Right thigh, 6” above knee (1985)
CAUSE: Hayknife driven deep while opening a 50lb sack of oats
DIAGNOSIS: Hole in favorite acid-washed jeans; shallowish wound that bleeds well on favorite acid-washed jeans
TREATMENT: Bactine and Band-Aid; stupid-looking iron-on patch for jeans because my mom won’t buy me another pair
FOLLOWUP: Jeans have to be turned into cutoffs when patch fails; yes, they are still called cutoffs in 1985.

LOCATION: Shoulders (1985+)
CAUSE: Genetic defect
DIAGNOSIS: Back acne. Huge angry painful red pustules that I cannot resist breaking, resulting in angry red scars
TREATMENT: Tetracycline, which does not work because I forget to take it an hour before or two hours after I eat, and also increases sun sensitivity and I ride my horse an hour a day in an outdoor arena and I cannot bring myself to wear long sleeves in the heat
FOLLOWUP: Hate my dad for passing on his acne prone genes. Wear a t-shirt when in public pool to hide scars; most have faded 30 years later and most people stare at my boobs anyway

LOCATION: Right knee (1990)
CAUSE: Tripped over friend Dave (or Daryl?)’s metal bedframe on first day of classes sophomore year of college
DIAGNOSIS: Staph infection (#1). Gross.
TREATMENT: Visit to campus clinic for antibiotic (penicillin allergy); panicked call from clinic nurse to not take the Keflex because it’s counter-indicated for penicillin allergy–there is a chance I could die of anaphylaxis; two weeks of sulfa drugs and no pool for lifeguard class and no drinking and itching like mad as it heals
FOLLOWUP: 4” scar persists 25 years later

LOCATION: Heart (Paris) (1992)
CAUSE: Boy loves “someone else”
DIAGNOSIS: Broken. Duh.
TREATMENT: After considering stepping in front of a black Mercedes Benz cab speeding along the Boulevard St. Germain, instead consume large amounts of cheap French wine in company of one good guy friend who doesn’t judge or say things like “there are other fish in the sea” (like I will ever want to go fishing again anyway)
FOLLOWUP: Boy marries “someone else” (blonde, blue-eyed, calm) and lives a quiet life in Xenia, Ohio; sporadic trials of one-night stands do nothing and one long-term relationship collapses under the weight of the boy’s ghost though it’s also true that boyfriend wanted a cheerleader type instead of former philosophy major and current Master’s candidate working part-time in a Waldenbooks but that is another story

It’s that time of year again: National Poetry Writing Month–a poem a day for the 30 days of National Poetry Month .

Some days I use the prompts, some days I share stuff I am (re)working on, and some days I sit down and bang something out. I tried it last year while teaching my creative writing course, and I enjoyed it. Having a goal gave me the ability to grant time for myself, for my own work. Like many professors, I am often loathe to take because it means that a host of other stuff from my “real” job gets pushed off. But for 30 days, I can do this for myself.

Today’s post is from a work I started after reading Fran Wilde’s blog post “A Map Year” .

Like Fran, I have always loved maps. One of my favorite memories of Paris is of a tiny shop I stumbled over in an alley in the Latin Quarter –marine maps, city maps, old maps, new maps. Maps on the wall, maps in drawers. I couldn’t afford any of them, but the smell of all that paper still lingers in my memory. Paris occupies a lot of space in my memory map.

I purchased You Are Here: Persyou are hereonal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, by Katharine Harmon, which contains Bridget Booher’s poem. More work will come out of this, and I look forward to exploring. Interior spelunking.

Thanks for reading.

On Fear

My childhood was spent outside. I ran through brambles and tall grass, rode my pony with no saddle or bridle–just an “Indian” bridle made of a few twists of baling twine. If I fell off (or more likely, got scraped off on a low-hanging branch), I walked until I caught her, and I got back on.

“Unless something’s broken,” my mother said more than once, “You get back on.”

One bright summer afternoon when I was about 12, I was riding with my friend April Flagg, whose family ran Herefords on the farm behind ours. She had a little Arab cross, and I had my pony–Cocoa–and we were pelting hellbent for leather across the open pasture. My pony decided that she’d had enough, and started an arc towards the barn. I wasn’t done with our running, and I pulled on the left rein to pull her back behind April’s mare. She was stronger than I was, and had a hard mouth from years of being yanked on by yahoos, including me.

She kept her arc to the barn.

Since I didn’t understand force, or physics, and I was getting pissed, I yanked hard on the left rein.

Hard enough to flip us over.

(For those of you who’ve never ridden a horse: We have reins to control the head–if you control the head, the rest of the horse has to follow. This is why, if you are ever on a runaway horse, gently guide the horse into a circle, then make the circle tighter and tighter.

Please note that this tactic will not work if you are in a forest.)

When I regained consciousness, the sky was bright blue. The first thing I did was check to make sure I hadn’t landed in a cowpie. I still had my helmet on. Then I checked to see if I remembered who I was and where I lived: 512 West Highland Road. Yep. Me.

I got up and walked–towards the barn–where I saw my pony tied to the fence. I was in the process of untying her and putting my foot back in the stirrup when my mom barreled up the driveway in our big blue Chevy van. April must have run into the house to have her mom call mine. No idea how long I was unconscious.

“What are you doing?” she yelled out the window as she threw the van into park.

“You told me to get back on if I fell off and nothing was broken. I have to get back on.” And before she could get out of the van to stop me, I swung my right leg up and over, and turned the pony away from the barn.

She did manage to get through the gate in time to stop me from going further than a few feet away. The sun was really bright, and I could tell she was scared.

She took me to the ER and was told I had a concussion, and that I should not be allowed to sleep until it was my normal bedtime. I spent the rest of the day on the dark green Springsteel couch, drinking 7-Up and watching television, none the worse for wear.

There is more to this that will come, maybe later, when I have more time. I have been trying to figure out how to get back to being that fearless kid–the kid who got back on when she fell off.

(I fell off less often than you might expect, but my last horse had a hearty, twisty buck and I liked to ride without a saddle in the middle of winter in northern Ohio. Dumb? Probably.)

While sorting through a box of old photos just now–ran across one of my mom posing in a bright purple bathing suit next to a pool–Myrtle Beach vacation, when I was 9.

I nearly drowned in that pool (saved by a stranger when I got into deep water while my dad was asleep on the deck). The gasping kind of drowning where my head popped above the surface as I launched myself straight up. I could see my dad, fast asleep in the sun.

This did not put me off swimming. I learned how to swim the following summer and we had an above-ground pool that I practically lived in during high school.

What happened to that kid? Where did she go?

Alayne and Ziggy 1988

With Ziggy (Nitzinger 1978-2010) 1988 Summit County Fair Fourth place overall Versatility thanks to our second place finish in barrel racing. He took care of me.


IF I DIE IN MY CLASSROOM—a teacher’s ballad

I’m not here yet (writing like this) but I am getting there. In the meantime, read my friend and colleague’s ballad, and see if you don’t choke up.


I hope that right before it happens
I do something heroic,
but knowing me and how I panic,
I more than probably won’t.

I hope I’m wearing something cute.
I wonder about my hair.
I hope I look good on the floor.
I hope I say more than “don’t shoot.”

I keep on saying hope.
I hope, I hope, I hope.
But hope? I actually don’t have much.
I think it’s mostly luck—

If I have to die in class, I hope
I’ve just said something noble
that really made them think.
I hope I’m really quotable.

What else? I didn’t stay up late
to finish grading papers.
I made love to my husband instead—
I barely let him out of bed.

When I dropped my son off at school,
“I love you,” “I love you too”
is what we said. It’s what we say
so many times every day.

View original post 1,090 more words