Friday, May 29, 2009

For some time now I have walked around, saying every now and then:

"The people people. People!"

Gus, age 2, is similarly affected, though he doesn't know from punctuation. He says, "People people people." It's a line from one of his favorite books, And Here's to You, by David Elliott, who is hands-down my favorite current writer of rhyming books.

And Here's to You proposes a toast to a number of categories of animals--"Here's to the birds!/The Feather People!/Birds!...Here's to the dogs!/The dreaming people!/Dogs!...Here's to the cows!/The giving people!/Cows!" So when it gets to people, it is, of course, "Here's to the people!/ The people people!/ People!"

On the Farm is a collection of poems about farm animals, beautifully illustrated with wood cuts by Holly Meade). A typical Elliott rhyme:

The Pig
Her tail? As coy as a ringlet.
In her eye there's a delicate sheen.
Some look at her and see a sow;
I see a beauty queen.

What the Grizzly Knows is a dreamy book about dreaming: the small boy hero watches his teddy bear turn into a bear, and then turns into a bear himself, and they spend the night doing bear things.

The books are a pleasure to read again and again (and again and you know, again). They're exceptionally smart. Elliott never mistakes simplicity for stupidity, and he's not afraid of teaching a kid a new word if it's the right word for the sentence. And for my 2-year-old, they're mostly all new words anyhow--why not learn trillium now, or sedges?

All three books are splendid, but And Here's to You is my favorite as well as Gus's. It never fails to delight me, and believe me, it's had plenty of opportunity to wear thin.

Elliott's got a couple of other picture books I need to buy. I think I've been putting it off because of the unpleasant experience I had ordering On the Farm for a gift from Curious George Goes to Wordsworth in Harvard Square. (Practically any time I've had to really interact with the staff in that store, I think, How can you work in a children's bookstore and be so joyless?)

I bought On the Farm when I very, very briefly met David Elliott at Lesley University's low-residency MFA program. I liked him so much I bought the book, and was kind of stunned when I read it--how often do you get to discover one of your favorite new writers in such a sideways way?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I called the lovely pediatrician yesterday because Gus had a croup-like cough. I knew the drill but wanted to be reminded of when to actually worry. She mentioned the usual home treatment--steamy bathroom, cold night air--and suggested that since we live in a third floor apartment, we could simply go to a window.

Listen sister, I thought, but did not say, I am not taking anything I want to hold onto anywhere near a window.


I have not shaken off the air conditioner drop. When my first child died, I comforted myself with fantasies that time had split in half, and that in some alternate track, he was lived and grew. Somehow I am doing that again: in an alternate track, the air conditioner killed someone, or is about to. That's what I somehow cannot get past. I feel like it's not over, as though in this world it didn't hit anyone, but in various other worlds, it has, and it will.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two posts in one day, good heavens! Still, I feel compelled to state the following:

Today, I knocked an air conditioner out of the window of my third floor apartment, onto the pavement below.

It's amazing I even own such a thing. For years I wouldn't, because I was terrified I would knock it out of the window of my third floor apartment (many floors, many years, many apartments ago). But there it is. I do, and then I did.

I'm a little sleep deprived. I wasn't paying attention. Sitting here at my computer, I can see it fall, as though in a movie: end over end, the cord describing the tumble in waves. Though (as I write this) I understand that in fact time did NOT slow down. Time actually at that moment was very, very quick. Out went the air conditioner. I screamed, "SHIT!" at the top of my lungs. It hit the empty sidewalk and bounced into the empty street.

No: what makes it slow is that my brain began to replay the event the second I thrust my head out the window to look at that incredibly empty sidewalk, that mercifully empty street. By the time I ran in to the other room to look at the sleeping baby, I had seen it three or four more times, then again as I ran down the stairs, and picked up the air conditioner, and lugged it up the porch. The replay stopped as I looked down and saw, as though in a Twilight Zone episode, blood on the case. So I hadn't hit a human being--what then, a gnome? an invisible person? Then I saw it was my own human blood. Somehow I'd cut my fingers. By now, late afternoon, I have watched the mental replay 10,000 more often than the real-time events, and so I want to say: it was just as they say. Time slowed to a crawl.

No. Not time. Memory, again, insisting that it's the genuine article.

I was really shaken for a while, telling myself, You could have killed someone, you could have killed someone. And then, just when I was no longer seeing the innocent bystander (seen from above, from either my point-of-view or the air conditioner's), someone else slid into view. A woman, pushing a baby carriage. They come down this street. I come down this street myself, pushing a baby carriage.

You could have killed a BABY, is what my brain keeps saying now.

Matilda and I took a walk to shake it off. (She slept through the whole thing.) We went to the Cambridge DPW to pick up the sticker that will allow us to throw away the air conditioner next week. Everywhere we went, I saw people who I could have killed with my air conditioner. I saw smashed things--a car's front end, a lady's arm in a cast--and felt culpable. I saw a police car and wanted to cross the street.

And I kept on thinking, You could have killed a BABY.
My friend Paul Lisicky has been writing about his mother's last illness and death on his blog, and I'm so struck by what a strangely perfect medium blogs are for writing about grief. I've read blogs by people I don't know, and by people I've come to know, but this is the first time I've kept up with someone I love by reading his blog--we've communicated directly, too--and it's felt so moving and right. He writes as beautifully here as he does in his books, about love and doubt and loss, and I have felt like I can abide with him by reading about his mother, and then read the condoling comments left by strangers and by people I know.

And there it is, for anyone to read. Which is somehow the most comforting thing of all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

If you're in the Cambridge, MA, area--my friend Sarah Messer is reading & talking at the Radcliffe Gym, in the Radcliffe Yard, tomorrow at 3:30. Anyone who knows me is tired of my going on about the brilliance of her non-fiction book, Red House: Being a Mostly Accurate Account of New England's Oldest Continuously Lived-in House. She's an astounding poet, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Shambles, a museum of Victorian life in Gloucester, England, is auctioning off its contents next week. You can see the catalog here:

How I would love to be there. Here are a few sentences of poetry from the list of lots:
A small collection of glass eyes and a black eye patch

A human skeleton contained in a box labelled Millikin & Lawley

A glass dome on an octagonal stand, 34cm (13.5") high, a pine cone mounted on a mahogany shield and a wall mounted glazed case containing a goldfinch, damaged

A quantity of glass eyes, various sizes

The remaining contents of the Undertaker's

Nutto, a performing monkey in a cage

Two pairs of children's clogs and a pair of boots

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The DE is off to China for two weeks tomorrow, and I will be home alone with two kids...well, for 24 hours, until my friend Wendy arrives for six nights. Then we're alone, and then my friend Patti comes. I have reserves.

Still, I find myself wondering what Gus, age 2, will make of his beloved father's absence. Edward was gone for five nights in February, and...I just didn't mention that Edward was gone, didn't say the word Daddy, and everything was fine. Honestly. But that's clearly not going to work this time, and I'm wondering what to do. Someone told me pictures would help, so I have pictures. Also I accidentally bought 80 dollars worth of toys, just in case we felt we needed some toys. You know, we might suddenly need a toddler-friendly fire truck.

Today we were in an elevator at Whole Foods. Gus pressed the button for the correct floor. Then he demanded to push the enticing red button with a fireman's hat. "No," I was about to say, "that calls the firemen." Then I realized this would not be a convincing reason NOT to press a button to a two-year-old. A button! that makes a noise! and attracts firemen! What could be better?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Our friends Jonathan and Lib came over last night, and we were talking about places to rent in England for the summer. Somebody mentioned Slough as a joke, and then Edward mentioned the Tiger Lillies song "Drop a Bomb on Slough" (sample lyrics: "Well it's grim up north/But it's grimmer than that in Slough/I'll sing you a song/If you drop a bomb on Slough").

Then Jonathan brought up the eponymous John Betjamen poem, which reads, in part:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.


But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad,
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

...and ever since I've been obsessed with titling something "Birdsong from the Radio." I just think it's so lovely and odd. It may be because I don't have a title for the book I'm working on right now--I've discarded, among others, "Thunderstruck Not Lightning Struck," "Let Your Heart Become Iron," and "The Two-handed Anyhow." I don't think I can call it Birdsong from the Radio, though. The last time I had a title but nothing to put it on was "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." I saw it on a sign and thought maybe I'd write a short story called that. But it worked for a book.

I still don't know exactly where we're going to be in England this summer. Any advice gratefully taken.