Friday @ 4:57 am, Valros.

DREAM FRAGMENTS: Sitting with the famous poet in the lobby of the hotel. He talks about his grandchildren. Then bicycling (!) through downtown Providence, but the streets are unfamiliar. Then caught in a torrential storm. Thunder. 

We planned for the beach yesterday but it rained in sudden, short bursts throughout the afternoon. Once it cleared we drove over to Pézenas, found a little restaurant on one of the quiet side streets, ate outside along a trellis adorned with paper flowers. 

It stays light here well into the night. At 9:30, we sit in bed still awash in soft orange and pink. It will be very hard to leave. 

I mostly worked on the application yesterday and made progress on the timeline, budget notes. I should be able to finish it today. The best thing I found in my online meandering was the work of Korean artist Wook-kyung Choi.

Also today: Return to the book. 

My open tabs: This list of 50 documentaries the Guardian says I need to see; this 1829 account of King Philip’s War; A Pictorial History of the Korean War; this New York Times piece on the original manuscript for Mrs. Dalloway; and the website of the incredible artist Ellie Ga.


Wednesday @ 4:48 am, Valros

I took notes yesterday in the morning, as I had intended. Did not transcribe, but in the afternoon, we drove out to Carcassonne, and wandered through its walled city. It’s mostly restaurants and shops. A haunted house (we did not go in) and an “Inquisition Museum” (we did). I thought I might read some more in the evening, after dinner, but did not. 

On the ride back, was reminded of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, which is among other things, as I recall, a consideration of the limitations of our empathy for the suffering of others — primarily through our responses to war photography. War, suffering of others, our response to it — these are on my mind daily, as for many. The children at the border, the incarcerated, everyone in this country who has lived and suffered, and died beneath the burdens of oppression, racism, hatred, white supremacy. Refugees everywhere. My temporary, superficial engagement with the real and pressing concerns of others. I can’t stay with it. I make my excuses, disclaimers, keep my distance. How many blind eyes do I have left to turn? 

In the morning, I found a talk Jill Lepore gave at Gilder Lerhman about her book, The Name of War, which I had read a few years ago, and was arguably one of the early nudges toward the idea for Nine Men’s Misery. Her discussion about King Philip’s War opens with an eye witness account of the savagery and brutality of the torture and killing of colonial prisoners. She makes a point about the exceptional cruelty exhibited by both Indians and colonists in this “earliest and bitterest” of American conflicts, but now, as I have read discussions of many wars — World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War — I am struck by this authorial stance. Calling out the exceptional nature of the brutality, as if it were the first time men have shown their boundless capacity for cruelty. We want to believe, I think, that such horrors are exceptional, some break in the fabric of human behavior, some anomaly. And yet, in what war, under what military rule, when given authority, given power over others, have we not shown exactly who we are? 

I have no idea where this book is going. I am learning, I think, to find some comfort in the unknowing, in the small meandering steps forward and back. Particularly in these unstructured days. There is time, I think, for more directed thought. Now, I am trying to follow little paths where they lead. 

DAILY INTENTIONS: Catch up on the #1000wordsofsummer thread. Two hours, uninterrupted on NMM. Respond to all those emails, really. Spend an hour drafting the application timeline. 


Tuesday @ 4:46 am, Valros

DREAM FRAGMENT: The snow-covered grass. There are brown pebbles beneath a layer of slushy snow. William says he’s to bring home a survey, a questionnaire about the garden. We are on a little patch of the yard. 

Yesterday, at nearly the mid-point of the time here, I felt out of sorts. Doubt creeping in. Who am I to take up this space, this time? 

Today will be a better day. 

I hear a fast clock ticking but there is no clock. 

I hear the cries of birds from the inky blue. The bells chime the hour. 

ON THE BEACH: the umbrella cartwheeling across the sand. The vendor’s cart, parked near to the water’s edge. Children approach. They leave with ice pops, cones wrapped in paper. The man who dances by, holding his box of treats aloft, singing. I recognize the words “beignets, nutella.” No one buys anything from him, but he continues singing as he makes his way down the beach. 

They disappear into the green sea. 

In the early morning, the village trucks rumble down the narrow streets. In the evenings, motorcycles and scooters.

It is easy, in so many ways, to be here. Disconnected from the dailiness. And yet, I am not immune here from a sense of sadness, a sense of not quite doing the right thing. Not knowing what comes next. 

DAILY INTENTIONS: note-taking, transcribing in the morning. In the afternoon, the grant application. Respond to the waiting emails.


Sunday @ 5:02 am, Valros.

A little breakthrough yesterday. A way to move forward for now. A list of new lists to make, new paths to wander down. To have a little open-ended time, when I am not propelled from one deadline to the next. It almost makes me question: Was I even ever writing before?

Wrote for a while in the morning yesterday — three-hour chunks are the sweet spot, I think. Note to self: When you return home, give yourself one three-hour stretch of time at least once a week.  Made a pass through my neglected inbox. Wandered through the crowded, loud Pézenas Market for a bit, ended with croissants and ginger lemonade and made it back to the car just before the downpour. The rain here comes in short bursts. 

Made soup for lunch — mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes — tossed in a few fresh tortellini from the market. Spent the afternoon on the roof deck, taking notes, dozing. I want to remember the way the days feel here. Their softness. 

Found All The Light We Cannot See here in the house. Didn’t expect to be immediately drawn in, but I was. This opening page:


At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say, Depart immediately to open country.

The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars.

After dinner (roasted potatoes, leftover soup, toasted baguette, gouda), a walk in the village. Ice cream and card games before bed. I try to read a bit more, but sleepiness overtakes me. 

I keep asking myself: Is it possible to feel so unencumbered? So much like, we could stay here, and not return. Why does this country, so far from anywhere I’ve ever called home, feel so much like home to me?  


Saturday @ 5:03 am, Valros

I love the loud bird chatter in the morning. I love the town bells that chime the hour. I love the vineyards along the Avenue de Pézenas. I love the tile floors in this house, the way they feel dusty and cool underfoot. I love the tall windows that open out to narrow balconies overlooking the street. I love the quiet of this village. The way a bit of conversation might drift up, but so rarely, and only briefly. I love hanging clothes on a line to dry, even knowing as I do, that I would hate to have to do it at home. 

I love the way time feels luxurious and spacious early in the day then seems to accelerate and contract by afternoon. I love even the familiar weariness that settles in, the gentle reminder that this body is unaccustomed to being in this space, this time. 

I spend the mornings in the past. Mining memory, of course, but also: war documentaries, war novels, war stories. A handbook for the rules of engagement. The past is my daily present. 

Yesterday: Stood out on the narrow balcony in the cool blue morning. Wrote, drank coffee, read, napped. Closed all the windows against the sudden rainstorm. Made big salad and 6-minute eggs, their yolks still soft and “jammy.” Watched war movies in bed, took half-hearted notes. Tried to read. Napped instead. Woke to the brightest afternoon. Took a ride into Béziers to wander around an open-air shopping centre, and have dinner (gin cocktail, big salad, soft cheeses). Ride back, attempt another documentary, sleep.

Today: The famed Saturday market in Pézenas! Take new notes, transcribe notes from earlier in the week. Keep mind and heart open, light. Take in all the light. 


Friday at 4:55 am, Valros.

We left Providence nearly a week ago today. Took the bus to the airport, then the six-hour flight. With the six-hour time difference, we landed in the early morning, lingered in the airport a while for our rental to be ready. Travel is always a bit disorienting. I find myself tired all the time.

It is hard to know how to be here. I have goals and hopes for the time, some of which are perhaps unrealistic. The whole trip seems so decadent, three weeks to write. But of course, in the end, the hours are frittered a bit with the dailiness of simply living. Getting groceries, preparing meals, cleaning up. 

The mornings are glorious. Three hours of uninterrupted time. For most of it, I write by hand in one of the many notebooks I’ve brought. I feel as though my practice back home makes the mornings the easiest to know how to use. It’s a time I know well. My body knows how to spend it. After that, it feels a bit more challenging to give shape to the day. 

I’m revisiting Speedboat, which I have found useful for this particular project. The energy and propulsiveness of its sentences and rhythms. I’ve brought Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-Nan, which I’m reading a bit at a time. In many ways what I am working on is a war book, and so I re-read Slaughterhouse Five, which I didn’t think to bring myself, but serendipitiously, M did. Started listening (and following along on kindle) to James Salter’s The Hunters, about a fighter pilot in the Korean War. 

Mostly, I am working on this novel draft. Trying to make it through a draft without too many preconceptions about how it will go. Right before I left home, I got word that I’ve made it to the second stage of a grant for a different, wildly ambitious project and so I will need to spend some time on that application. They are looking for a few more work samples and a timeline. On the first couple days here, I tried to spend the mornings on the novel and the afternoons on the application, but I think I’d like a few days to focus on one thing at a time. These little adjustments, the moments of not knowing exactly what to do next stir up a bit of anxiety. I don’t want to squander this time. 

Today’s goals and intentions:

  • Take note of the light this morning.

  • Three hours of notes on the manuscript. 

  • This afternoon, begin transcribing what I’ve written so far into a document, editing while I go. 

With all best intentions, by late afternoon, it’s difficult for me to want to work. I want a glass of wine with a bit of bread and cheese. There’s pleasure in preparing a simple dinner for all of us to have together. A little time to clean up and then to watch movies or play games. 

I want also, of course, to spend time seeing the region, being here. Mostly, we’ve run a few errands in town. Wandered through our tiny village. Visited what we were told was the best bakery in Pezenas, the next town over. It did not disappoint. We took a long walk along Via Domitia through vineyards. This weekend, perhaps a ride to the beach? We are twenty minutes from the coast. The challenge is, when I am writing, a little part of me thinks I should be exploring. When I am doing anything other than writing, I feel like I should not be. I think mostly, I have to make peace with the discomfort. It is, after all, a gift to be here, in this place, for this time. That seems important to hold on to, most of all. 

spring 2014

These notes are from a Cynthia Huntington lecture. I didn’t record the date. 

I wrote this down, attributed to Marcus Aurelius? “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Then, a series of bullet points:

  • A fatal flaw built into every work. 

  • The problem contains the solution. 

  • The problem carries its own destruction within itself. 

  • The obstacle is the gift. It has helpfully arisen to get you where you need to be. 

Amor fati: Love what happens. 

The energy locked into every obstacle. 

Flow in the direction that the energy is flowing. 

And this, which I wrote as a quotation, but did not attribute: “And together you can sit among the broken pieces, full of possibility.” 

The element that makes the arrow a threat becomes a threat to the arrow. (Once landed, it’s stuck). 

Castle is a fortress until it is surrounded, then it becomes a prison. 

First rule: Reject nothing. 

Next: Be willing to be a fool. 

You need emptiness to hold something new. You need silence to hear. 

Again, unattributed: “I’m making you and you’re making me.”

january - april 2014

Jamaal May: “Language will fail us every time.”

In poetry, more than one thing can be true at a time. Think of a poem as a small machine you can build to get closer to someone. You can’t feel someone else’s pain, but you can approximate the reach.

Ecstasy can lead to ruin. Will. 

The past is not past. The dead are not dead. Everything we imagine and dream, it’s all real. Imagination, speculation, dream. 

“Absence is the highest form of presence.” (Joyce?)

PROMPT: A series of footnotes to a text that does not exist. 

PROMPT: No one in the house sleeps at night.

Donald Hall: “A poem is a monument to its moment”

Transtromer: “I don’t think these poems are costing you enough.”

Sending messages out into the void and expecting a response. How the internet is a perfect metaphor for my lost mother. (For all our mothers?)


What is a childhood? 

I went away and then returned
but you never went back 
ghosts there too hungry 
Memory makes its pirate ships 
from railroad ties and black rubber,
a wooden ladder reaching up–
climb as high as you can go
your heart in your thin chest
A twelve-year-old boy 
leads his friends to a highway overpass 
and while they are watching, jostling, 
and laughing, he takes a gun 
from his backpack 
and shoots himself
People on the television say 
There’s a lesson to be learned 
from this tragedy
as the highway traffic rushes on
beneath them


At night, my son enumerates his grievances:

  1. It is noisy and I cannot sleep.

  2. There is something uncomfortable in my bed.

  3. My leg hurts. 

We let him climb into bed with us. Just this once. 

Outside, two men are arguing. There is construction on the bridge. 

My friend is in love with a married man and when they speak on the phone, she tells him: “Take me somewhere you have never been and promise me you will not go back there without me.” The city desire makes.

The distance is the distance: Don’t say you have not wished for this. Don’t say you do not wish it. 

from old notebooks, letters to a future self

In preparation for a time of what I hope will be sustained attention to reading and writing, I’m gathering up notes from old notebooks. I’m grateful to my past self for leaving little gifts for my future self to find.

 [winter 2013]

The value and quality of your writing will come from the value and quality of your life when you are not writing.

David Wojahn: “Pain is not just to be endured but to show a way toward something like grace.”

Margaret Atwood: “All writers learn from the dead.”

PROMPT: “Heart burial”

Who said this? “Poetry must resist intelligence almost successfully.”

David Wojahn: “Not an hour goes by I’m not thinking about poetry.”

Paul Thek: Teaching Notes: 4-Dimensional Design (which led to: Draw it with your eyes closed.)

Larry Levis: “The Oldest Living Thing in LA”

PROMPT: What are the stories that would save your life?

PROMPT: Begin a poem with this line: “Before you dream of me tonight, you must know…”

working playlist for working manuscript

Stuck on the current manuscript and kept feeling stuck. Made lists of writers and poets I thought the book was “in conversation” with, and that helped. As did asking myself what the playlist for the book might be. Here’s the working list.

  1. Landslide, Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac, 1977.

  2. This Woman’s Work, Kate Bush, The Sensual World, 1989.

  3. Love Out of Lust, Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes, 2010.

  4. Leading Me Now, The Tallest Man on Earth, There’s No Leaving Now, 2012.

  5. I Dream A Highway, Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator), 2001.

  6. We Belong, Pat Benatar, Tropico, 1984.

  7. Holocene, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, 2011.

  8. What We Had, Handsome Furs, Plague Park, 2007.

  9. Escape, Richard Buckner, Our Blood, 2011.

  10. Landslide, Joel R.L. Phelps & The Downer Trio, Blackbird, 1999.

I can tell by looking at the list that there are decisions still to be made about tone, form, emotional arc. It’s helpful, I think, to have to look at the work through a different lens. I feel like a new kind of movement is now possible. And that is always a good thing.

[poetry month] "Sometimes when I'm walking on this street" by Emily Jungmin Yoon


I want to lie down on that patch of dirt and grass.
I’m tired and lonely. On the bus the other day
we passed by an albino tree. You were next to me
and said we need to go back there and look at it,
then flew out the next day. Does white seem cold
or hot to you. We can pretend the tree was full
of ember. On this street are yellow leaves, cool
and aloof. This morning I woke up shivering.
I’d like to tell you of the dream I had, how
I was on a bus to Anmyeondo. I was alone
but you were next to me when we got to the sea.
I’d like to tell you that we found our way
to the island. But I’ve forgotten everything else.

— Emily Jungmin Yoon, from A Cruelty Special to Our Species, Harper Collins, 2018.


[poetry month] "X" by Ruben Quesada


I stand on the side of the road waiting
for rescue there was a time when youthful

sunsets were plum colored lights kissing snow
covered rooftops joy was a love letter
about the splintered edge of sentient
glaciers in Iceland melting into pale
green sea dreams of sleepy street lights

I am not alone an owl glides and its body billows
above into the pink anemone of dusk
into an open-mouthed window
where a skyline of high rises watch
cars ripple by like sequins stretched from coast

to coast everywhere every spring bloodied
cherry blossoms grow below back scattered
starlight I move toward approaching headlights
that conjure snowfall my nose burns somewhere

the thick arms of a pinyon pine smokes and as I call
out a dole of doves surges from my mouth like steam

— Ruben Quesada, from Revelations, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018.


[poetry month] "Intentionalities" by Rosmarie Waldrop


My hand moves along your thigh. When we describe intentions, is the
ventriloquist taken over by the dummy? Or pretending to be a ghost?

Instead of “I meant you,” I could say, “We walked through wet streets,
toward a dark well.” But could I speak of you this way? And why does it
sound wrong to say “I meant you by pulling away?” Like lovers caught
in headlights?

If I talk of you it connects me to you. By an infinite of betweens, not by
touching you in the dark. Touch is the sense I place outside myself for
you to ride.

When I mean you I may show it — if we stand close — by putting my head
on your shoulder. You can show you understand by describing the well
under the trap door. What will you say? Don’t be frightened?

The feeling I have when I mean you draws an arc of strength between
my hips and the small of my back. It doesn’t follow that “meaning you” is
being exhilarated by terror. Of course not, you say: We need a red thread
to run through, but it’s entangled with space, form, future. Is this true?

It would be wrong to say that meaning you stands for a forgotten part
of myself, a treatise on labyrinths, a path leading nowhere. Am I living
in a shell where the sea comes in along with its sound? And drowns us?

I was speaking of you because I wanted to think about you. “I wanted”
does not describe a general before battle. Nor, on the other hand, a ship
heading for shipwreck. There is no way to decide whether this is an auto-
biography or a manifesto.

— Rosmarie Waldrop, from Gap Gardening, New Directions, 2016.


[poetry month] "History As a War of Poses" by Farid Matuk


Ahhh kiss from you, love, then the planted field of eucalyptus
seeping into gold, cow dust,
molten car hoods and the freeways of California fall.
Just over is the ocean
but among these peeling, white-stockinged legs of
eucalyptus is one way I never thought about my father
as I had of Des Esseintes appearing from among the black silks,
the black wools of
the wake for his fresh dead
virility, poising a piece of blackberry meat
between his teeth —
the finest hip in Europe, opium cooked, laid down as the next
salvo in history as a war of poses.


Hector and I in his pick-up claim
the desert of California as our relative end
then interrupt a white boy shooting cans by the off-road trail.
The poem, which is the vehicle for the hero, is in the thousand,
the impossibly, the five
starred night
in the sow
for us cousins it’s in the idea of the White Boy who comes
from stories of wolf-mother teats and jackal-father pistols
goat fucking under the above-mentioned night
the squinting horizon trained barren sun bleached stone
landscape eyes of cowboys.


I write now from a hotel above the center of Texas.
I see Walmart’s distribution center, bigger than anything.
The xenon flood lamps at its bays give such beams as to seem levers
to pry the thing a foot or so above itself.
I know something about race and something about sex and I obey
the market imperative
to keep things moving.
But it’s such a beautiful giant, you can bother with the critique.

All men, I think, have a favorite war.
Mine is the incessant flinging of the Red Army at Berlin —
ten thousand defending Soviets dead every day.

I’d been trying to give my sex to men and women since I was a kid.
At first, when she wanted me, I could hardly say anything that wasn’t,
“Look at you, wanting me.”

— Farid Matuk, from This Isa Nice Neighborhood, Letter Machine Editions, 2010.

this isa nice.jpeg

[poetry month] "Our Ways" by Dara Wier


I didn’t want to be the one who took the last thing. So said
The wind while it took what it pleased. Soon the wind fell
Into its long weird strong silent passing making loose wires
Hum and turning leafy branches into industrial-strength brushes.
It took us away onto edges of a broken legend. We rode on
A hundred horses whose teeth were ignited. Our flags filtered
Through fresh slots in our chests. Where we were one with the wind
It filled in our blind spots. Close to our chests did we hold windy
Notes left to direct us to a string of high ledges where we’d sleep
For the sake of sleeping with heavy chains on our ankles.
To dream up another way was our first assignment. Assigned to
Adventure said the motto on our buttons. The last thing we knew
Before we left with our satchels concerned how love withdraws
Moving backward taking with it everything, our names, this way.

— Dara Wier, from You Good Thing, Wave Books, 2013.


[poetry month] #134 by Elizabeth Schmuhl


The tomatoes look just like me
swollen and holey
ants crawling in and out of every
crevice, taking what they need.

I am looking at the sun waiting
as my insides feed hundreds of mouths.

This skin, sun stained, perfuming. Will the birds
come for what’s left of me and how far from here
will they take me?

Let it be far and let it be soon.

— Elizabeth Schmuhl, from Premonitions, Wayne State University Press, 2018.


[poetry month] "Son" by Forrest Gander


It’s not the mirror that is draped, but
what remains unspoken between us. Why

say anything about death, inevitability, how
the body comes to deploy the myriad worm

as if it were a manageable concept not
searing exquisite singularity. To serve it up like

a eulogy or a tale of my or your own
suffering. Some kind of self-abasement.

And so we continue waking to a decapitated sun and trees
continue to irk me. The heart of charity

bears its own set of genomes. You lug a bacterial swarm
in the crook of your knee, and through my guts

writhe helminth parasites. Who was ever only themselves?
At Leptis Magna, when your mother & I were young, we came across

statues of gods with their faces and feet cracked off by vandals. But
for the row of guardian Medusa heads. No one so brave to deface those.

When she spoke, when your mother spoke, even the leashed
greyhound stood transfixed. I stood transfixed.

I gave my life to strangers; I kept it from the ones I love.
Her one arterial child. It is just in you her blood runs.

— Forrest Gander, from Be With, New Directions, 2018.

be with.jpg

[poetry month] "You Know Something Wrong By Its Difference From Something Right" by Kate Schapira


In this portrait, I failed and it fit
me like a hollow twin.
In that stale apartment
I deflated.
In reduced circumstances
less and less happens.

Scissors on the table.
What do they do there?
Where is their strong word? In

a settle of disrepair. Anything caught
in creases stays there.

Having made others do it
I didn’t even invent being old.
Objects ranged at hand
from tissues to the phone

in the wrong order.
A big-lensed wait. A lax chin.
The skin fit. I nailed it up.

— Kate Schapira, from Handbook for Hands that Alter As We Hold Them Out, Horse Less Press, 2016.


[poetry month] "A Refrain, Sung Once, to Herself" by Carrie Oeding


One day, I worry, you will tell me
everything I’ve told you.

What do you have to say for yourself?


Did you think I wouldn’t be listening?

I don’t know.

There is a moon born every time I say alone
and tonight its light has left me sore.
I can see my breath, and I wonder about everything —
how I’m going to get home,
how to answer What’s your story?
how to ask you to walk with me.

“Listen, listen,” the moon, my polished child, says, “On your knees.”
I put my ear to the road.
I cut my hand on street glass.
I hear a sigh, I hear a step, I see you
ignoring the shadows, walking toward me.
I couldn’t say just anything.

— Carrie Oeding, from Our List of Solutions, 42 Miles Press, 2011.


[poetry month] "Poem to Remind My Heart to Beat" by Lynn Melnick


No matter the upright life I’ve been trying to lead
I keep looking for new ways to bluff myself

so hard I’m always pleading for relief, frantically
trying to locate whatever blunt object would sock me

into unconsciousness, I know what it’s like
to be powerless

on a shag rug. When I tell you — come closer,
closer, look how pretty I am, come closer, close —

I will bury you there
in this petri dish of what-went-wrong

growing in its dozens of gruesome sequences.
It’s October, slowly

the webs arch iron railings, the pumpkins appear
like cautions, vigilant but motionless.

I would like that, my mood stabbed into me,
triangle eyes blinking only the fire

behind them. Come closer, close: look how pretty
I died on the shag rug, but you still

remember me. Autumn never did to me
what it did to others, a beauty to admire

right before the end.
I’ve been wrinkling, slowly, closer,

I need you to cuff me to whatever
apparatus will pump the blood into

and out of my heart. Cut me open with chill-
in-the-air, carve into me a face that can over-

take this unreasonable face. Closer, take me
apart in your arms, I am not any brilliant color but

the dried brown leaf of the season folded over
and stepped on by whatever step rushes

where any step is rushing to in all these crumbled pieces
and in all these pieces I am sending myself

into the air to see where I land.

— Lynn Melnick, from Landscape with Sex and Violence, Yes Yes Books, 2017.