# 21 summer shards

Today on the longest day of the year, I wore my raincoat to walk the dog. This year’s summer solstice is a welcome wet green day. Today’s rain soaked walks reminded me of a photo of Zoë and my mother in raincoats in Maine. My parents taught us to always have good rain gear so that no matter the weather we could get out and enjoy the day. I have talked to several old friends and relatives this week who all have such fond memories of my parents and the magical way my brothers and I were raised. It’s as if mom and dad carried umbrellas that allowed us to grow in idiosyncratic creative directions. A recent visitor saw my father’s sculptures in our house and she said, “oh that’s where you got your talent.” I thought to myself, no that’s where I got the permission to make the things I dream of. As a kid I danced until the downstairs neighbors complained. Stephen played the drums. Shawn wrote songs and played every instrument he could get his hands on. Nick was ready to play every sport. Each of us filled sketchbooks as a form of breathing.


The Raincoat

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

–Ada Limón, in The Carrying: Poems, Milkweed Editions

#20 summer shards

I don’t ever remember having fresh peas as a kid. I do remember my father describing being in a market in France in the early 50s when he and my mother were in art school. He said the moment when fresh peas arrived in the market it ignited a special kind frenzy.

I love growing peas. The early possibility of planting the seeds, the sprouts and tendrils, the first pods. But I find picking them requires a special kind of patience and looking. I have a chair I pull into the garden to sit on so I can slowly look for all the peas. Shelling peas requires the kind of serenity and attention to detail that reading poetry does. The effort is careful, full of breaks, but something happens beyond the utility of the task. I return again and again to another pod, splitting each one, admiring the nestled peas, and dropping the fresh green bit into the bowl.

A background of breaths

Whether or not we are seeing the tide of poetry’s popularity ebb or flow seems to be somewhat up in the air. But what I do know, and what I am most intimately familiar with, is that poetry helps, that on days when I feel overwhelmingly bullied by the ongoing barrage of vitriol and pain in the world, there is a very real and significant joy that occurs when I return to, or discover, a really good poem. But explaining why it matters, or how it helps, is difficult. It’s like trying to explain to someone why walking into a stand of trees helps, or why going to the water helps, or seeing that one kind burst of blue sky among the terrifying scrapers helps.

Perhaps why it matters, how it lifts us, and why some of us return to it again and again is, unlike any other form of writing, poetry has breath built right into it, thanks to the line break, and the stanza. “And here we breathe a little,” the poem says, “and here we breathe a lot.” Right now, as a society, I think we need that breath. That necessary pause that allows for our own wrecked little selves to enter the poem, or even just return to the room we are presently in, that particular moment is where the real brilliance of great poetry happens.

–Ada Limón, Why Poetry Helps

#19 summer shards 2023

I baked a cake today to witness another year gone by. As the rain pulled in, we stayed on the porch before dinner and toasted to what we have been through and whatever will come next. I remember my Grandmother would never tell people how old she was. Instead, I follow in my mother’s footsteps, forging a new path–buying myself flowers and happily answering anyone who asks how old I am.

I love birthdays. I love my birthday and I love celebrating other people’s birthdays. To me, it’s important to witness another year gone by. To recognize what we’ve been through, to hold up the glass of champagne, and say yes to whatever is next. On that one day in March, I tell strangers it’s my birthday. I throw myself birthday parties. I’ve even baked myself a cake.

–Ada Limón, from the podcast The Slowdown, 605: Birthday, February 7, 2022

#18 summer shards

It has been ten years since my dad had a heart attack which led to his death. I think about his sense of humor, his photos, and the Abraham Lincoln beard that he had for a while in the 1970s. I look at black and white photos that he took. It’s not the facial hair that sticks in my mind but the hunch of his shoulders, the khaki pants, the way he liked to laugh at his own jokes. I love all the evidence of his love of life that he made as an artist.

It’s been a year
since I’ve seen him in person, I miss how he points
to his apple trees and I miss his smooth face
that no longer has the mustache I adored.
As a child I once cried when he shaved it. Even then,
I was too attached to this life.

–Ada Limón, from My Father’s Mustache, in The Hurting Kind, Milkweed Editions, 2022

#17 summer shards

My dad was a loud sleeper. Boy, did he snore. In the summer after my mom died Zoë slept in the cabin room next to his, separated only by a thin pine wall. She was dismayed by his dream swearings in the wee hours of the night. Our family also believed in naps. My brother Stephen and I used to wonder if the soup and sandwiches at lunch were drugged to make us all nap so soundly.

My father also hated it when his children retold their dreams at the breakfast table. I have had recent vivid dreams of baby sitting for our grandson or meeting my dad at a Soho restaurant. In my dreams my mom is worried about candles and flowers. I always want to slip into a dream life that is less messy, perhaps full of the seeds of ideas, simple rich meals, and resonant pots. I have been dreaming of scattering the poppy seeds in our field for next year’s blossoms and visualizing the Meyer lemon tree weighed down with fruit.

Poppy seed heads

Careful of what I carry
in my head and in my hollow,

I’ve been a long time worried
about grasping infinity

and coaxing some calm
out of the softest part

of the pins and needles of me.
I’d like to take a nap.

But not a nap that’s eternal,
a nap where you wake up

having dreamt of falling, but
you’ve only fallen into

an ease so unknown to you
it looks like a new country.

Let me slip into a life less messy.
Let me slip into your sleeve.

Be very brave about my
trespass, the plan is simple —

the plan is the clock tower
and the lost crow. It’ll be rich.

We’ll live forever. Every moon
will be a moon of surrender

and lemon seeds. You there,
standing up in the crowd,

I’m not proud. The stove
can’t boast of the meal.

All this to say — consider this,
with your combination of firefly

and train whistle, consider this,
with your maze and steel,

I want to be the rough clothes
you can’t sleep in.

–Ada Limón, excerpt from The Noisiness of Sleep in Bright Dead Things, Milkweed Editions

#16 summer shards

Today at lunch I noticed a baby ground hog climb up on a three-foot high willow stump on the edge of the pond. I reached for binoculars and sat on the porch to watch as a parent climbed up to join in the fun. They both rubbed their ears against the rotting wood. I was mesmerized by the liquid bristle and waddle.

Daisy, bee balm, purple heart

Give Me This

I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.

–Ada Limón, originally published in Poem-a-Day, 9/16/2020, by the Academy of American Poets

#15 summer shards

Although the jar in today’s image cracked as it was heated in the firing it is still held together by fire and ash. There is a fierceness to the fragility. The cracks in it speak a sharp language but are vocalizing with a soft voice. I think part of my job is to emphasize that this is compelling. When I put the foot-long Philodendron Monstera leaves, reminiscent of Matisse-esque cutouts, into the cracked vase it takes on even more focus and significance.

I remember as an undergrad my teacher at the time was trying to get me to be a better craftsperson. They felt my trimming was too messy, especially when I often left bits of clay inside the foot. One day someone brought several Sung dynasty Chinese bowls into school. We sat in an office admiring the feeling and touch of the bowls. I began to pick at a bit of trimmed clay that was stuck inside the foot of the antique bowl. I was admonished for doing so because that clay spoke of those Chinese potters. Later I wondered if I left a bit of clay inside the foot of a bowl why didn’t that speak of my hand and my moment in time.

“nothing is ordinary now even when it is ordinary.” Embedded in her poetry she writes, “is my secret work, to be worthy of…this infinite discourse where everything is interesting because you point it out and say, Isn’t that interesting?”

–Ada Limon quoted by Lauren Leblanc in her article “All Writing Is Basically Failure”: Ada Limón Reckons With Poetry in Today’s World, Vanity Fair, 5/9/2022

So ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

― Leonard Cohen, Anthem

#14 summer shards

Last week at the farmers market one of the vendors had a tiny bundle of pea tendrils. I loved their wild sculptural lattice work. Although my garden was mostly neglected for the last week, I was able to squeeze in short watering sessions and picked a few peas. Today my goal was to have a longer meditative stretch picking peas but it became another slap dash harvest because after picking a tangle of tendrils I retreated to the studio to photograph.

for my grandparents, who did not teach me
how to farm, and yet they scattered these seeds:
. . .

What would they think of my pea shoots
left unlatticed, free to tendril one noose
after another around other plants,
my slapdash harvest, larder left to chance?

–Jennifer Perrine, excerpt from Port Murray, New Jersey and Milwaukie, Oregon

#13 summer shards

In the basin of my mind, as I carry pots to be photographed on a simple background for our online sale, I am thinking of the more poetic images we concoct. I have running list/images of the bowls, vases and plant materials that I notice in our daily habits of use. I am attuned to the extraordinary moments of the season or the shifts in light or the turn of a wrist. My dog has learned where the blueberry bushes are but luckily the snow peas are inside a fence.

but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea.

–Ada Limon, a fragment from The Last Thing, in The Carrying, Milkweed Editions, 2018

#12 summer shards

We lost another friend. Nol Putnam was a well-known artist/blacksmith. Originally his forge was just north of us in a town called The Plains. Then he moved less than an hour west. Over the last maybe thirty-three years we have had a running conversation with him about art or work or teaching or health. In the beginning of a relationship that doesn’t feel that large. Nonetheless it grows into a substantial friendship. Sometimes we chatted in his forge, or at our studio, or perhaps during a firing. One time it was by a chance meeting in the Boston airport as we were all on our way back to Virginia. There’s been a few meals at a friends-in-common house. As a child in Connecticut he could visit his sculptor neighbor Sandy Calder and soak up the ambiance of a metal infused studio. He taught English early on and was a good story teller. In 2007 I borrowed a group of hammers from a larger group hanging on the wall in his forge to order to make drawings. At the time I didn’t think they captured the particular essence of heft or use. Looking at them today it’s lovely to linger on the images and the memories. I am sure there is another story to tell as we linger saying goodbye at the door.

The number
of hours
we have
together is
actually not
so large.
Please linger
near the
door uncomfortably
instead of
just leaving.
Please forget
your scarf
in my
life and
come back
later for

–Mikko Harvey, excerpt from For M, in From Let the World Have You, 2022