Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Winter in the Summer House" by Robert Watson

Home is a place we never notice
Needing much repair, and coming back
Year after year, the separated man
Filled the cracks in the hardwood floors with his own dust.

The house no longer creaked, or he no longer heard it;
The walls were painted but not covered;
Tiles of flint lay crossward on the lawn;
The trees were a silent siege; the heat went on.

As if he were custodian, he kept his tools
In pegboard tracings; sawdust neatly piled
Along the jagged band; a vise in waiting,
Capable of holding till the glue was dry.

The same old Dodge still lurched from neutral
Into gear; old leaves hissed in the vents;
Backing out was the only gamble,
And by now he knew this road so well.

Deadpan breakfasts, cakes with molasses—
All that remained from his little version
Of the triangle trade, with its casks of whiskey,
And captives in the hold who salted the Atlantic.

As if to prove he wasn’t still at sea,
He put dramatic lights up in the branches
And all the same old people in their places,
Triumphantly discarding in an evening game of hearts.

If only he had made a little room for her,
Or made a play; if, in between the deals,
He’d made a modest bid; a run in suits;
Or cast away a hopeful flush to keep the pair.

From The New Yorker

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Loving Summer

Tomorrow may officially be my last day of real summer, but I have had the summer to beat all summers, and I'm content to wave it a fond farewell. It was a summer full of love - literary and otherwise - and I'm still pinching myself at the wonder of it. I visited dear friends in New York, Denver, and Michigan; I was swept away by the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee; I became a godmother to the most adorable little girl; I saw a bald eagle; I wrote for a week straight at Bard College on the Hudson River; I ate poached lobster and tipped out of a kayak in Maine. I've spent time with the loveliest families, including my own. Not surprisingly, I've also visited eight different airports, which means I've done quite a bit of reading, too. Laura Hildebrand's Unbroken tided me through at least seven hours of flying to and from Denver. Ann Patchett's State of Wonder made for good bedtime reading in Michigan, where the sun doesn't fully set until after 10 p.m. Adam Ross's short story collection, Ladies and Gentlemen, kept me company in hammocks, on porch swings and floating docks in North Carolina. Tina Fey's Bossypants still has me laughing and quoting.

But if I had to pinpoint one particularly glorious literary feast, it would be listening to Gabrielle Hamilton's new memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter, on Interstates 40 and 81 in early June.

My long trip home to Virginia was made mercifully short by Hamilton's story. Mountains and truck stops flew by as I listened to her spin enchanting tales of her early childhood which led to a disastrous early adulthood, then on to her journey as chef, writer, mother, and sometimes wife. Hamilton is the realest narrator I've ever read. She's all sharp edges in life and on the page; nothing gets sugar-coated. Some people might be put off by her stark stubbornness, her unabashed selfishness, but I loved every second of it. So much so that I simply had to eat in her East Village restaurant, Prune, when I stopped over in NYC for a few July days. I hope I never forget that joyful and delicious meal with my friend Court, because neither of us was successful at picture-taking that evening. We were very successful at eating: sliced baby radishes with butter and salt, shaved celery salad with blue cheese tart, chicken galantine with vegetables and broth, quail something or other, and finally, Sgropino, an Italian dessert which we deemed nectar of the gods.

Whenever I'm with Courtney, things happen. She has this magical personality, and New York City bows to it. That enchanted evening, so did Gabrielle Hamilton. As we dined, I could see Hamilton's reflection in the mirror as she cooked in the back. She appeared at the bar as our meal was wrapping up, wearing a faded blue house dress and thick black work shoes. And let me just say that she was rocking this outfit. The faded blue house dress will soon be featured in In Style magazine. About this time, Court decided that Gabrielle Hamilton absolutely had to know that her biggest fan (me) was in the restaurant. Minutes later Court has the toughest cookie in New York chatting it up with us (did we think butter cookies went well with the Sgropino? we did) and signing a copy of her book to her unofficial publicist (again, me). The evening was dazzling, from the food, to the company, to celebrity tete a tete. The whole thing reminded me of a line from The Great Gatsby: “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all. . . .”
Even Gabrielle Hamilton could happen, without any particular wonder.