On repeat


Thursday night, we went to Dartmouth to watch the National Theatre broadcast of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet. A fitting way to launch Halloween weekend, ghost story that it is.

(If you have a chance to see broadcast in your town, definitely go. Cumberbatch’s performance wasn’t the only one worth seeing. Siân Brooke was a heartbreaking Ophelia, Anastasia Hille a mesmerizing Gertrude, and Ciarán Hinds a terrifying Claudius… oh, and the set and staging were delicious.)

It’s cliche to say, I know, but it doesn’t matter how many times we see this play: each time we see it as new, we feel it as new. Like any great story you’ve heard a hundred times, the pleasure is in the retelling. Each time you’re lost in the tale as if for the first time, while at the same time basking in the familiarity.

The ghost of Hamlet’s father sighs piteously, “What a falling off was there…,” and the hairs on my neck stand on end. I feel his suffering each time.

Hamlet begins “To be or not to be” and you think, “well, here comes this old saw again”…and yet, by the time he’s made it to death, “the undiscovered Country, from whose bourn / No Traveller returns,” you’re in his grip. Again.

Gluttons for repetition, this afternoon we rewatched David Tennant’s version. And then Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, for good measure. Again.

I feel toasted and spread thick with Shakespeare’s words this evening.


November’s come again.

Talk about repetition.

That old familiar story, the paring down of voluptuous summer to what is essential.

The gardens, such as they are, are put to bed. The firewood is stacked. The blueberry bushes are mulched and blanketed in hay. The beehives are insulated and quiet (at least from the outside). The hose is emptied and ready to be coiled away. The porch swing is tucked up on its shorter chains, against the wind, and to allow more room for firewood on the porch. The goats’ hooves are trimmed. The hay barn is full.

We’ve done this all before. Cleaned the cupboards of the season and steadied ourselves for the time of bare limbs, sharp stars, and long nights. We’ll do it again a year from now, if we’re lucky.

The clocks changed. Again. An extra hour of darkness tonight, to use any way we wish. Maybe to write a story. A new story, that is the same old story.

Tell it again. Tell it again.

Let’s raise a glass

The cocktail

The citrus

The drowsy cranberries

Here we are again, my old friend November. You’re a formidable foe, but you’re on the way out for another year and I’m still writing.

So, here’s to you, November, and your relentlessly grey skies, your bare branches, your frozen water bucket mornings, your summerish deceptions, your early dusks, your inevitable lurch towards winter. I raise a glass to you.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

For this Thanksgiving, M concocted a festive little cranberry punch for us, the very which I’m sipping as I write this.

We’ve tentatively named it the “Thanksgiving Cranberry Spatchcocktail” (spatchcocking being an old technique—renewed in popularity recently—for preparing a turkey where you remove the bird’s backbone and flatten it like an open book before cooking it).

M has graciously written up the recipe for us (below). May you drink it in good health. And may it make you pleasantly spineless for an hour or two.

Thanksgiving Cranberry Spatchcocktail

Yield: About 8 drinks

To prepare the drowsy cranberries

Note: If possible, make the drowsy cranberries a day or so ahead of time so they’ll be nice and potent.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
3 tsp orange zest
3 tsp grated ginger
1.5 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup light rum

  1. In a small saucepan combine the sugar, water, cinnamon stick, cloves, orange zest, and grated ginger.
  2. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add the fresh cranberries to the sugar-spice mixture.
  4. Turn heat to medium and cook until the cranberries pop.
  5. Remove from heat and let stand for an hour.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to move the cranberries to a sealable jar.
  7. Use a fine strainer or cheesecloth to pour the syrup over the cranberries (discard the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger/zest bits).
  8. Add 1 cup of light rum to the jar.
  9. Seal the jar and let steep as long as you like.
  10. Chill well before using.

To prepare and serve the cocktail

1 bottle Prosecco
Light and dark rum, to taste
1 orange
1 lime
1 lemon
Mint leaves

  1. Pour the chilled syrup into a pitcher or bowl (reserve the drowsy cranberries).
  2. Add 1 bottle very cold Prosecco.
  3. Top punch with alternating small glugs of light and dark rum, to taste.
  4. Serve alongside: ice, mint leaves, the drowsy cranberries, thin slices of orange, lemon and lime.

The moon’s watching

Winter Trees

Earlier this evening I spied on the moon through the branches of the huge Maple tree in our yard. Now, when I’m here at my desk, wondering what on earth to write about, the moon is spying on me (M told me so just a minute ago).

What can I possibly write that the moon hasn’t already read?

What can I do but describe the cold blue-black night, the dying glow of the fires, the dogs lying like moored boats in a moonlit harbor, another load of dirty dishes piled in the sink, the stereo playing some piece of music I feel I know but can’t name, the moon sailing her orbit while we sail ours, the end of the day.

Same old story, says the moon in a comforting way. Time to turn out the lights, pull the night up to your chin, feel quiet and planted, like a Maple tree on a November night.

Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

–William Carlos Williams

On this warm November day

Nature (1/5)

The Birds

are heading south, pulled
by a compass in the genes.
They are not fooled
by this odd November summer,
though we stand in our doorways
wearing cotton dresses.
We are watching them

as they swoop and gather—
the shadow of wings
falls over the heart.
When they rustle among
the empty branches, the trees
must think their lost leaves
have come back.

The birds are heading south,
instinct is the oldest story.
They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.

–Linda Pastan, from The Imperfect Paradise. Copyright © 1988

Wormholing through Monday

Mid November

This is how it started.

It started because today is Gordon Lightfoot’s birthday, so he was on my mind (regular readers know I have a thing about Gordon).

Alarm went off (Nick Lowe crooning in my ear), but first thing I think is, “It’s November 17. Gordon’s birthday.” And that’s how it started.

Continue reading “Wormholing through Monday”

How about November?

End of October

“How about November?” asks poet Mary Ruefle (in her lecture “On Secrets”) when, every April, she’s asked to contribute to a poetry reading in recognition of National Poetry Month.

April’s been crowned the month of poetry, but what does April need with poems? April is her own poem, all hopeful, beckoning and unfurling.


Poetry in April feels almost superfluous, a bit embarrassing, a gilded excess.

Poetry, Mary Ruefle says in that same lecture, is “clearly rooted in obscurity, in secretiveness, in incantation, in spells that must at once invoke and protect, tell the secret and keep it.”

What she and we know is the wonderful trick about a poem (and a November): while its secrets and spells seem hidden at first, they are unlockable, releasable.

Sit with a thick poem. Sit with a dark November day.

Say the poem out loud. Say the day out loud.

Notice its rhythms. Its shades of ochre. The times the sun rises and sets. The length of its lines. The bright green fur of moss along the ridge of a rain soaked log. The crunch of tires on gravel. The one bird on the one branch. The half rhymes in the alternating lines.

Isn’t there as much poetry in November’s dying hay field as in April’s burbling brooks?


Thomas Hardy knew it as well as anyone. Life is hard, literature is bleak, and there’s a poem in that.

“A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath for its floor.”

We know it in our bones. And here we are, listening for what poems November will tell us. And the ones we’ll tell it.


November 1

Día de los Muertos, Merida, Yucatan

First, a wide-angled view,
as if in a travel brochure,
or watching from a high balcony,
or the cathedral’s tower:

Four tourists,
wandering the open city square,
where vendors sell roasted ears
of corn, slathered with
mayonnaise, cheese, and spices.
The decorated city streets
radiate from the square
like arms wearing bracelets.

Zoom in.

The wooden Catherine wheel
in front of the cathedral
is outfitted with explosives
for the evening’s parade.
“Keep your distance from that,”
we joked.

At dusk, the streets alive
with a parade of masks
skeletons, costumes,
we wove through the crowd,
squeezed in and out of
tiny shops that lined
the street. Apartment windows
above the shops displayed
figurines, marigolds,
bread offerings to the dead.
There may have been music.
I’ve lost that detail.



Fireworks in the crowd
startled us, but didn’t worry us
until we understood,
saw the explosions and sparks
bounce from wall
to wall
in the narrow,
where we were trapped with hundreds.

We could die here.

We could die, alive,
active verbs in a distant city.

Now, take the widest view:
imagine the moon,
or Jupiter,
twirling in its own orbit,
unconcerned, or unaware
of the parade you’re dancing in.