Thursday, June 03, 2004


This afternoon I leave for Baraboo, a day and a half at the Wisconsin Writers' Conference. On Friday morning I will be delivering two twenty-minute presentations. The first is called "Lorine's Library: The Books and Marginalia in the Library of Lorine Niedecker" and by the end of it I will have enumerated LN's "Three Reasons for Solitude" as recorded in the top outer margin of p. 348 of The Dance of Life by Havelock Ellis. Finding this bit of scribble made it all worthwhile, all the more than hundred hours spent poring over her books, examining them page by page.

The second presentation will be about my Vagabond project. Yes, I have only twenty minutes. Yes, I have prepared for twenty minutes. I have practiced for twenty minutes. Praise be, it'll be a miracle if I can hold myself to twenty minutes talking about the Vagabond Expedition.

The powers that be accepted two of my proposals for the conference, but they didn't invite me to read my poetry or prose. I offered. Damn them. Next year....

I will return home on Saturday afternoon and post this week's "Saturday's Poem" before the end of the day. Plan on it.


APRIL 24, 2004

I'm driving to Spencer for my book signing at Tuesdays Books and Coffee. Spencer is about twenty-five miles west of Emmetsburg on Highway 18. Only a few miles out of Emmetsburg, an eagle rises in front of me above the road. After I pass, I see it in the rear view mirror, settling on carrion back along the shoulder. An eagle, here, now.

It is good to be driving here, now. This morning the sunrise was first an orange wall to the east. Now the day is bright and blue, with some haziness along the edges of the world. Fields have been worked for planting. The black dirt looks refreshed. The ditches and the hayfields are greening up. Leaves on the trees are more than my imagination this morning.

It is supposed to rain today, but it won't come early. Farmers will get a few more hours of work done in the fields. The rain is needed, of course, so they won't complain when they get chased up to the house by it.

The book signing this afternoon. Ah, yes. I think Thomas Wolfe was wrong - you can go home again, if you ever loved the place you left. You can go home, and they will embrace you. Witness my visit to Emmetsburg. Witness the invitation to do this book signing in Spencer. They could ignore me. They haven't.

There is rough ground along here, wetlands. Old farm buildings falling in on themselves. Farm houses with empty eyes.

There is the swing of the seasons. There is the swing of the generations, of life and death and life. And I suppose there is the swing, too, of something larger, those greater processes we only see a small portion of, the breaking of the sod here, the building of farmsteads at one end, the wood becoming earth again at the other. The torn earth restoring itself. The come and go of the earth's great urges. The swing of star time, when we are but a cinder speck.

It is easy enough in this moment to want to lay oneself down in death and become part of the great phoenix cycle of things - birth and re-birth, Big Bang and Re-Bang. Now I feel this loneliness, yet so much a part of the cosmos.


4:30 p.m. I'm headed home. It's raining. So now it rains all the way home? Two blackbirds fly in the rain above the road. The farm fields are hung with water.


Wet black cows in the cold rain.

All the headlights coming at me.

Crows and seagulls hunkered down.

Miles to go, hours and hours.

I am as sad as farmers are hopeful.


The patter-rat-pat-pat of rain on the windshield takes away thought. Or is the dying of the day that takes it? I'm on I-90 headed east towards home. I feel as if this highway knifes straight on through the world. The keen edge of the cut leaves nothing for me to think about.


Dress your sadness in grey: they won't know how bad you feel. Is it that you want to be well-known, or that you want to tell these stories? Are you trying to bask in the glow of good men's lives?

I move on, and they stay here. Which fact is the source of my sadness? Is it that they go unrecognized, or that I do?


Can the rain outrun a fellow's sorrow?

Apparently not.

The rain lessens; my sadness does not.

The rain increases, decreases, my sadness stays steady.


Which is greater - the gathering darkness or my desire to write these stories?


Sadly, I find I have nothing to say now. My sadness wins this round. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Except a red-wing blackbird is poised on a stalk of weed in the ditch along the highway. Red wing between earth and sky, between mud and hope. Sometimes you have to let go: three crows in the wet air; one in the tree, unhappy.


Sometimes I want too much.


"Letters Home"
The Civil War Letters of George H. Cadman

I find
the more

a man
has here,

the worse
it is:

the more
he has

to pack:
it is

for us

to make

the mules.


JUNE 3, 1998

Preparing to leave this place for a ten day journey is more a mental task than a physical one. I will be leaving behind a landscape I know familiarly, that I observe closely, that I love. It is not that I fear strangers, for most of my neighbors are strangers to me. I am not a gregarious fellow and do not go out of my way to meet even those who live close to me. I am happy with silence. My Chinese birth chart says I will have only a few, deep friendships.

Partly, I will be leaving behind my familiar daily routine - rising early to work on the book, showering for work, the morning meditation on the drive north, the close look at the changeless/changing land, a good day's work, a walk after work, sweet sleep. A pleasant enough existence getting left behind. I will have to endure hours in the car, lines of people, rude behavior perhaps, a foreign language - these jerk my out of my comfort.

Still, it will be refreshing. I will see a landscape I have never seen. I will be able to come back and view this landscape with new eyes as a result of the experience.

The field of winter rye along Highway E north of Fairwater is starting to head out. A field of soybeans shows itself.

It's cool this morning. Clouds are blanked to the east, to the west; there is a layer of grey overhead.

All three of the baby donkeys are at pasture just south of Five Corners. They will watch my world for me while I am gone.

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