Poem of the Week, by Archibald MacLeish

The Young Dead Soldiers, by Archibald MacLeish

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless, they are heard in
the still houses: who has not
heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for
them at night and when the clock

They say: We were young. We
have died. Remember us.

They say: We have done what we
could but until it is finished it is not

They say: We have given our lives
but until it is finished no one can
know what our lives gave.

They say: Our deaths are not ours;
they are yours; they will mean what
you make them.

They say: Whether our lives and
our deaths were for peace and a
new hope or for nothing we cannot
say: it is you who must say this.

They say: We leave you our deaths.
Give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We
have died. Remember us.


F​or more information on Archibald MacLeish, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/archibald-macleish​

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

The Poetry Hut

How to Make a Poetry Hut

First, read through some of the thousands of poems you’ve copied down over the years. Do not be surprised when you end up spending the entire morning doing this.

Find this one, by Hafiz:

With that Moon Language

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud,
otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world
is dying to hear?

Think about it, that great pull to connect. Think about how the longer you live, the more your life winnows itself down to wanting only that. Only connection. How it happens more intensely now, maybe because when you feel that pull toward someone, you don’t try to hide it. You talk, you listen, you touch. You don’t hold back.

Decide then and there to build a poetry hut. Ask your handyman friend Doug to build one for you. Laugh when he says, “I would consider it a public service, Alison.”

Paint the poetry hut when Doug delivers it. Dig a hole in your front yard with a spade, and when the hole gets too deep to lift the dirt out, kneel down and dig it out with your hands. Dig it as deep as your arms are long. Be glad that you manage to avoid utility wires and pipes.

Nail the hut to a 4×4 post. Heave the whole thing, hut and post, into the hole. Tilt it this way and that until it’s straight. Or straight enough.

Go buy some Quik-crete. Pour it into the red pail in the basement. Add some water. Stir it up immediately  with a spoon. As soon as it’s mixed, scrape it into the post hole and mound it around the post.

Go to Hunt ‘n Gather and wander around the clutter of rooms until you find enough old children’s blocks to spell out P O E M S. Go to Bryant Hardware and buy some blue putty, the kind used to stick posters to walls. Stick a blob of blue putty on the back of each letter block and then press the puttied blocks onto the front of the poetry hut.

Go back to your labyrinth of poetry, found everywhere in your house: in books, on scraps of paper, in your computer, in your heart.

Choose a few of your favorites and jigsaw-puzzle them into a columned file labeled Poetry Hut Poems. Print them out on colored paper. Scissor them apart.

Roll them up like tiny scrolls, offerings to the gods, and tie them with scraps of ribbon. Put them in a basket. Make a sign that says “Help yourself to a poem” and put the basket and the sign in the poetry hut.

Peer into the hut every day or so. Realize that 10-15 poems are disappearing per day. Replenish the basket when the supply dwindles. Be surprised and happy when small notes start appearing in the poetry hut, thank-you’s and smiley faces and even a “Haiku 4 U.”

Watch unseen from your porch as a woman with long burnished hair walks by with her dog, stops, opens the poetry hut door, selects a poem, unscrolls it, reads it, shakes her head and smiles, puts the poem in her back pocket.

Keep thinking about it, this great pull in us, to connect. 


Poem of the Week, by Kaylin Haught

God Says Yes to Me

     – Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

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The last Andes mint: Jon Dee Graham.

A while back, a friend handed you a mix cd, one of many he gave you over the years. Since you can remember disliking exactly one song out of the more than 20,000 that you must have heard in this friend’s presence you stuck it right in the car cd slot and turned the volume up.

Like all discs from this friend, every track was unnamed: Track 1, Track 2, Track 3. Etcetera.

Track 1 began to play. A man’s deep voice came growling out of the speakers: Something very wonderful is gonna happen, something very wonderful is gonna happen. Yeah, to you. Yeah. To you.

It was one of those times when you had to pull the car over and put it in park, stop everything you were doing so that you could just sit and listen to that song. That voice. Those words. You pressed Repeat over and over, although you wouldn’t have had to – the song was part of you the minute you heard that first joyous bellow: Something very wonderful is gonna happen.

“That song ‘Something Very Wonderful’,” you said to your friend. “Who is that?”

“That’s Jon Dee Graham,” he said.

So you went to the Electric Fetus and bought the man’s discs. Played them all through, one after the other, over and over and over, the way you like, until they were embedded in you.

Based on nothing but that first listen, you conjured up a picture in your mind of Jon Dee Graham. In it, he’s sitting on the stage in a small dark bar, a single spotlight shining down on him and his guitar, and his face is lifted up to the light and he’s laughing.

You have always thought of music as the greatest and most powerful of the arts. The conjurer of feeling, of dreams, of past and future.

There’s the music you heard when you were tiny, that insinuated itself into your body like DNA. Last night you woke up at 3 a.m. with this musical DNA idea in your head, and right away the sensation of sitting on a hard wooden chair in a yellow-painted room with stained glass windows came washing over you. You felt your legs swinging against the chair, your feet barely brushing the floor. Surrounded by a dozen other tiny little kids. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Every word of that Sunday School song, the way those chanting kindergarten voices floated up toward the high ceiling of that yellow room, is still inside you. Even if you left that kind of church behind decades and decades ago, you can never leave its music behind. 

Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams: their music still sings its way through your body. You remember crouching in front of the big speaker with your ear pressed to it, the better to absorb.

Other music would come later. The Grateful Dead: when you hear it now you’re back in a hotel high in the Rockies where you cleaned rooms and vacuumed and polished and scrubbed. A place from which you walked out, at the end of the day, into the smell of sage and juniper.

Neil Young’s Comes a Time and you’re back in a cinderblock dorm room with a narrow bed and a blue wool blanket and red maple leaves pressed between wax paper and Johnson’s baby powder and a braided rag rug and college textbooks stacked on a wooden desk.

Emmylou’s Luxury Liner: an apartment down a back road in Vermont with a bathtub overlooking the mountains, stars massed overhead, a set of wooden stairs that creaked in the middle of the night, someone you loved having fallen asleep to Emmylou’s voice crooning in the darkness.

Hard to listen to those songs without being transported straight back to those times. Hard not to cry, even if those times were good and you were happy.

Then there’s another kind of music, the kind that happens when you’ve become pretty much who you are in this world. Knit together. Still and always forming, but there’s a point in life at which you have absorbed so much and experienced so much, that you start to be less a sponge and more a conduit.

This is another thing you were thinking about last night at 3 a.m., this conduit idea, but you didn’t have the words to explain it. If you had a guitar, maybe, and if you knew how to play that guitar, you could have written a song about it. Sometimes, more often than you usually admit, you want to be music instead of words.

Then the title to a Flannery O’Connor short story came to you, a title that has puzzled you forever: Everything that Rises Must Converge. For the first time it made sense, there in the darkness. If you live long enough and deep enough, something is released. Something is set free, to rise higher and higher until all like-minded souls are connected. All lost, come on home.

When you got up in the morning the word transponder was scrolling across your mind and you looked it up. “A wireless device that picks up and automatically responds to an incoming signal.”

Yeah. That feels about right –weird, but right– for the constant, invisible presence of music in a life. The give and take of it, the way it fills you up and sets you thrumming and then you send it out into the world.

Everything that rises must converge. That means that unrise-able things, things like wanting fame and riches and to make sure that everyone knows how accomplished you are, have to be let go.

Only connect. That line, from a novel written in the 1860’s, has stayed famous for so long because it’s true. It’s what everyone cares about. It’s the one thing that matters.

You’ve been thinking about that lately, along with this line from your favorite childhood book: To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

It’s not an easy thing to do. To look upon something as if you were seeing it for the first or last time means that all of life becomes even more intense. Light shines down on everyone and everything is infused with beauty and sorrow and wonder and gratitude. No, it’s not easy to live like that.

That’s how Jon Dee Graham lives, though. You knew it the first time you heard that first song. Something very wonderful is gonna happen. When you wake up with that familiar, huge feeling of happiness, so happy just to be alive, that’s the song you think of. 

When you sit on your porch and watch the girls in their summer dresses walking by, you think of his song Amsterdam, and how all the people in it are beautiful.

When it has been a long stretch of sadness and sorrow and exhaustion, and it feels, finally, as if maybe it wouldn’t be so bad just to lie down and sleep for a long, long time, or even just. . . disappear, his song Swept Away comes over you. Life is difficult at times, he says. I’ve fought depression my whole life.

Jon Dee’s music doesn’t bring you back to a long-ago time. It doesn’t remind you of who you used to be, in your time here on this earth. His music is who you are right here, right now, at this mid-life transponder age. It’s a big sweet life. What can you do but thank him for putting that feeling, and those words, to music.

Jon Dee Graham: I have an extremely strong belief in something I can’t explain.


*This Friday night, August 23, Jon Dee Graham (who lives in Austin, TX) will be playing at Morrissey’s Irish Pub in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. Be there.

Andes Mint #30: Poem of the Week, by Sara Teasdale

Winter Stars
     – Sara Teasdale
I went out at night alone;
 The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
 I bore my sorrow heavily.
But when I lifted up my head
 From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
 Burn steadily as long ago.
From windows in my father’s house,
 Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
 Above another city’s lights.
Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
 The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.

For more information on Sara Teasdale, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/sara-teasdale

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Andes Mint #29: "This that I see now."

At the beginning of the Minneapolis summer (qualified as “Minneapolis” summer because this year it began about three weeks ago), I decided to re-read my favorite and most influential books from childhood. The ones I hadn’t already re-read more than once, that is, including:

1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. 2. My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. 3. Swiss Family Robinson, by Johan Wyss. 4. The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. 5. Bambi, by Felix Salten. 6. So Big, by Edna Ferber. 7. How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn.

My sister Oatie was the inspiration behind this decision. She reads an enormous amount and she has excellent taste, and a year or so ago she told me that she re-reads A Tree Grows in Brooklyn every year.

I thought about that for a while, this re-reading of our favorite childhood book. I pictured Oatie lying on the couch in her living room in New Hampshire, absorbed in the story of Francie’s life. She must know it perfectly by now. I admired that.

I didn’t know how she had the guts to do it, though, because every time I have thought about that book, all these years between elementary school and now, my heart has felt cracked.

Doesn’t something bad happen to Francie in that book? Something really bad? That was all I could come up with, for the way the words a tree grows in Brooklyn made my heart hurt.

But if my sister Oatie, who has a heart the texture of a melted marshmallow, could read it every single summer, then so could I. I went to Magers & Quinn and bought a new copy, the one you see relegated to the bottom of this page because, per usual, I couldn’t figure out how to make it smaller.

It took me a while to get through the book, partly because I’m a slowish reader and partly because I kept turning down the corners of pages so that I could go back and copy out the beautiful passages that made me keep stopping. This is something I do with all the books I most love, and then I never do go back and copy out the passages, and that is why my bookshelves are filled with books that have turned-down pages. Good intentions, good intentions.

I copied out this, though, in Francie’s voice.

The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day.

What had Granma Mary Rommely said? “To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

I read and re-read those passages. To look at everything, and everyone, as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time.

That little guy to the left, the one in my arms, is my baby nephew. He’s a few weeks old now, just easing himself into this world. Sometimes he catches his breath the way that newborns do, as if he can’t quite remember how to take that next one.

He will stare at a scrap of white paper with black lines on it for minutes and minutes at a time, utterly absorbed. Everything about the world is new to him.

For one moment in time, my nephew was the youngest person in the entire world.

I think about that sometimes, when I walk the sidewalks of the city. I look at the people scurrying or sauntering or drooping by, and I think: Everyone was once someone’s baby.

To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time.

Let me look upon you, elderly woman carefully holding your one-pound weights and stepping up one step and down again, up one step and down again, there in the stairwell of the Y, as if this is the last time I will ever see you. Let me smile at you as I duck around the corner on my way to the weight room.

Handsome man that I always hope to see when I walk into the weight room, if this is the last time I will ever see you, let our eyes meet and let me admire you even more than usual today.

Man at the front desk who swipes my card, let me look at you as I leave, and ask about that book you’re reading, and wish you a good day in this beautiful weather, because what if this is the last time I will behold you?

Walking Man, as my daughters and I call you, oh Walking Man whom I have watched walking the streets of this city for 20 and more years, only in the last three years slowing down, let me imprint on my eyes the sight of you sitting now, on that bench on Hennepin, you with your hands folded on your lap and your feet in their brown shoes planted on the sidewalk and your slow nod when our eyes meet as I pass, for this may be the last time.

Beautiful girl with the tumble of dark curls spilling down your back, those green eyes of yours, let me hug you before you go upstairs to pack up your clothes, because. . . no. No, no, no. Never. For you, green-eyed girl, I will look upon you as though I were seeing you for the first time.

This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day.

It took me a while, but I finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I used to be afraid to re-read the books I loved so much when I was a kid, because I figured that through my grownup eyes, I would think they were terribly written.

They’re not. They’re beautiful. They’re in my bones. It was partly through those books that I learned how to see the world. How to translate what I saw and how I felt into words on a page.

The terrible thing that I was sure had happened to Francie, the thing that I couldn’t remember but was so afraid of re-reading? Nothing specific. Nothing that doesn’t happen to everyone: heartbreak, courage, sorrow, love, loss.

She was born and she lived, is all.

Andes Mint #28: My magical friend K

It was many years ago that I met K. In my memory, she came up to me in one of the marble-floored halls of a turreted building on the east bank of the University of Minnesota, took my hands in hers, and said, “I’m K. Who are you?”

That memory has to be wrong, but nonetheless it’s how I remember meeting her. It’s something she might have done, that much I know – see a young woman with a big pregnant belly ease her way into a chair around a big table, make a mental note to get to know her, then find her in the hallway and take her hands. Yes, that’s something K would have done.

I was young, she was a few years older, and I remember her looking at my belly and then looking up at me. Still holding my hands.

“You’re going to have a baby,” she said. “How wonderful.”

This was my second baby, and even though I wanted it, I was exhausted, couldn’t stop throwing up (morning sickness, for some lucky women, lasts until the minute the baby’s born) and overwhelmed. But there was something in her soft voice, something in the way her head was tilted as she spoke.

“Do you want one too?” I said.

“Oh, I do,” she said. “I do want a baby. But I’m afraid it’s too late.”

Those are my first memories of K. So long ago now. From that day forth we were friends. She was –and is– a beautiful woman with a soft voice that always sounds, to my ear, full of air. As if her voice belongs to the sky. She is slender, and light on her feet. She doesn’t make much sound when she walks.

Back then, in those long-ago days of grad school, we used to sit in workshops together and communicate telepathically. We reacted the same way to certain comments, suggestions, and styles of teaching. We followed up afterward when we met for coffee or tea or dinner at the King & I. We were of like mind.

At that time, K lived in a sublet, a studio in downtown Minneapolis. I remember it as full of clothes and books and papers and photos.

That soft, air-filled voice of hers, her gentle touch, her lightness, belied an underlying steel. Grit. Determination. I used to laugh inside sometimes, watching how she’d tilt her head at a cutting comment in workshop, smile that beautiful smile, and say, “Okay. . . okay.” I knew exactly what was happening inside her, knew that that gentle okay meant anything but.

Back then, K longed for horses. She longed for the west. I think now that what she really longed for was freedom. Freedom, for her, meant a horse that she could jump on and ride for hours, through land where she would see no one else. Freedom meant wide-open space, huge mountains that she could ski down all winter long, rangeland where animals far outnumbered humans. Freedom meant a child to pour her prodigious love into, a child she could raise to be as fearless as she was.

I remember when she got pregnant. Solo didn’t matter to her; she had no fear of raising a child by herself. I remember being as thrilled for her, almost, as she was. By then we were long out of grad school and she had moved to Texas.

I remember a phone call, when she was halfway through that pregnancy, which broke my heart; hers was already broken. Sometimes babies, no matter how much you want them, don’t come together inside you in a way that’s going to let them live once they’re outside.

I remember getting on a plane and going down to Texas to hold her hand through an awful procedure that she would never in her life have chosen to go through. It happened before dawn, in a locked room in a locked hall of a locked building; it had to, for safety. Why do so many try to make a private, agonizing decision a matter of public policy?

She took a few years after that to pull herself together, and then she became the mother of a little girl from a faraway country. The last time I saw K, until last month, was twelve years ago, when she came briefly to Minneapolis over the holidays.

My only memory of that visit was of sitting on a couch I’d found on the curbside and dragged into the living room of a new apartment. She wrapped her arms around me as her baby girl hauled herself around on the floor and I cried and cried and cried; I too was going through something awful.

Flash forward to a month ago. My youthful companion, herself a girl who longs for horses and wide-open rangeland and the peace that comes with that, was going to work on a ranch in Colorado. K had been living in Colorado for years by then.

“You have to come stay with us,” she said, in response to a Facebook post of mine in which I had asked for suggestions of good hikes in southwestern Colorado. “I insist. My horses insist. My daughter insists. You are coming.”

Twelve years stretched between the last time I’d seen her. But a while ago I decided to say yes to every invitation that comes my way. And this was an invitation from K.

So out we drove, to find ourselves winding around a dirt road that went on for miles, me laughing because somehow, it was only fitting that K –who began in a rented studio in downtown Minneapolis, remember– would end up here.

As we drove farther and farther from anything that felt like people-world, we began to see horses. Dogs. This felt like K, like a place where she would live. My youthful companion pointed out her window at the slightly insane sight of a dog leaping wildly at a sprinkler, over and over and over.

We turned the car off when we could go no farther. There was a house perched on hundreds of acres of Colorado high desert. We were still laughing at the insane sprinkler dog when we got out of the car.

“This has got to be her place,” I said to my youthful companion. “This is exactly K’s kind of place.”

The air was dry and warm and filled with the scent of sage, that high desert smell that I remembered from living in Colorado during summers long ago. My youthful companion and I stood in the drive and looked around: horses in the open grassland, heads down and tails switching.

Dogs everywhere, racing each other down the field or lying in the shade of giant sunflowers. Chickens, clucking and pecking by the side of the house. A potbellied pig, waddling across a muddy patch of irrigated garden.

K emerged from the house. A parrot clung to the top of her head. Her daughter followed, holding a rabbit in her arms.

I gave her a hug, still laughing. The parrot leapt from the top of her head to the top of mine. I spread my arms wide and turned around.

“So this is you,” I said.

“This is me,” she said.

It was her: all that open land. All those animals. Ten chickens and five dogs and two cats and one rabbit and two pigs and seven birds and ten horses. All of them, with the exception of one cat and the chickens, rescue animals. All with names. All loved, all understood in a way that most humans don’t understand animals.

That is K. That is how she’s always been.

“So you finally have your magical menagerie,” I said. “The menagerie you always wanted.”

“I guess I do,” she said, looking around. “I guess I do.”

“And the dogs don’t eat the chickens and the cats don’t eat the birds and nothing chases the rabbits and everyone is free to go in and out of the house,” I said. It wasn’t a question; I already knew the answer. “How do you do it?”

“I don’t know,” she said in that same soft, sky-filled voice. “It all just works.”

So that is how the youthful companion and I came to spend an enchanted three days in the high desert, sleeping in a room with a rabbit and two dogs and a couple of potbellied pigs and a chicken or two wandering in and out. The youthful companion and K’s daughter rode bareback through the rangeland.

K and I sat on the deck drinking wine and watching a full moon rise over the mountains to the east. We watched our girls come riding back to the paddock. We talked about them, how easy they are in their bodies, both of them, and we talked about that long-ago baby boy, the one who wasn’t ready for this world, the one who had to go back to that other, unknown one.

Some people are drawn earthward as the years go by. You can see them on the sidewalk or walking up a set of stairs, their heads down, backs curved, that earthward tug calling them down. Hard to stand up straight.

Others are drawn skyward. They lighten. Their bones hollow out. Whenever they want they can turn in all directions and see the enormous horizon. Hard to keep anchored to the surface of the world.

I’m sitting on my couch right now thinking about K, how filled she is with air and light. A sky person.

How clearly I can still see her green eyes that day in the marble-floored hallway when I first met her, here in the city in which I still live. How I can feel her hands holding mine that day, telling me how much she wanted a baby. Horses. Animals and animals. A life in the country.

I’m thinking about how twelve years can pass with only an occasional Christmas card between two friends, and how –when it all works– that doesn’t matter.

How sometimes you can drive a thousand miles and end up on a dirt road in the midst of hundreds of acres of juniper and sage, to find someone you love having winnowed herself and her life down, funneled it all into the exact life she was meant to live.

Andes Mint #27: Chapter One

Once, somewhere in this world, not long ago and not far from where you are reading this, it was the middle of the night on a quiet block in a city of canyons. Everyone who lived in the tall brick apartment buildings that lined either side of the street was asleep. Sleeping children. Sleeping grownups. Sleeping cats and dogs and birds and mice.

There in the middle of the night on that quiet city block, everything was dark except for the street lamps on either end. The lamps shined down from their tall poles and made pools of light that illuminated a few squares of sidewalk before the dark closed in again. In a few hours, when the sun began to rise on the far side of the river at the edge of the city, the street lamps would switch off. The sky would lighten. Everyone who was sleeping would begin to stir.

For now, the honking of cars and the revving of motorcycles and the beep beep beep of reversing trucks were absent. Had you been standing there, you might have assumed that nothing was happening, nothing except sleep and silence.

But that wasn’t true.

At the far end of the block, in front of a triple-locked and shuttered storefront door, a small dog lay sleeping. This dog was familiar to the inhabitants of the block, although no one knew his name. Everyone who had noticed him trotting along the sidewalk, day in and day out, assumed that he lived with someone in an apartment. Or that he belonged to a shopkeeper and lived in the shopkeeper’s store. Or that he was a restaurant kitchen dog who went home with a busboy or a sous-chef and a bag of scraps at the end of each long night.

They were all wrong.

The truth was that the small dog had no home. If he belonged to anything, he belonged to the block itself. He hadn’t been there long. No one knew exactly how old he was, but if you looked at him carefully you would have seen that he was young. A puppy, maybe.

The street lamp shined down on the orange letters written in swirly script on the whitewashed stone above the door.

Sanjeev’s Store.

As he slept, the small dog nosed and scrabbled and sighed and panted. Maybe something was chasing him in his dream. Maybe he was trying to hide from someone. Maybe he was too hungry to sleep well. The door to Sanjeev’s Store was locked, and in his sleep, the dog pushed himself tight up against the door, so that if it opened suddenly, he would roll right inside.

Had you been standing there that night, on that block of sleepers and dreamers not far from where you are reading this, you might not have known that anything was unusual about the block. But it wasn’t an ordinary place. The tops of the two tallest brick buildings were often draped in clouds, so that their inhabitants looked out on soft whiteness instead of clear air. Sound around the cloud dwellers was muffled. Telephones didn’t work in those apartments, and neither did televisions or radios or computers or anything else that most other people took for granted.

There was something else unusual about the block, a dark and hidden something, but it would take two children –Miranda and Bernard– to figure that out.

No, it wasn’t an ordinary place at all.

Maybe that’s why, even if someone had noticed the small dog huddled against Sanjeev’s Store in the middle of that one night, he wouldn’t have thought twice about him. No one was there, though. No one noticed when a lone car stuttered around the corner and then came rocketing down the street. The car’s lights were off. Its engine revved and its brakes squealed as the driver, peering through the windshield, tried to avoid the street lamp looming up next to the store.

The driver never saw the small dog, confused and terrified by the sudden noise, leap up and skitter away from the door. The radio in the car was too loud for the driver to hear the crunch as the dog was flung into the air. As he ricocheted off the fender. As he collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk. All the driver knew was that somehow he had managed to miss the street lamp, and that made him happy. So he stomped down on the gas pedal and careened on down the empty street, swung left through the red light and was gone.

Andes Mint #26: Poem of the Week (novel excerpt), by Louise Erdrich

Excerpt from “The Painted Drum”
– a novel by Louise Erdrich

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.

For more information on Louise Erdrich, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/louise-erdrich

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Andes Mint #25: By the Numbers

Zip codes in which you have lived: 13354, 02114 (past), 55408 (current), and 05346 (also current). Apartments: six. Houses: four. Bathroomless one-room cabins in Dummerston, Vermont: one. Children, two of whom are now as tall or taller than you: three. Neurotic cats: one. Hyper dogs who remain meth-head-like no matter how much you exercise them: one. Broken bones: two. Trips to Italy: two. Times fallen in love: five. Eyeballs lasered: two. Days spent rising before 5 a.m. to write until you wrote a book good enough to be published: 5,476 minus approximately 1500 spent despairing of talent, lacking in work ethic, or too damn tired = 3975. Shoe size: ten. Minutes per running mile: a sad nine. Ability to alpine ski, despite having attended a college with its own Snow Bowl: zero. Novels read: approximately 900. Trips to China: three. Times spent slapping then-four-year-old son in middle of night when you were exhausted and he would not let you sleep: one. Times spent despising self for slapping then-four-year-old son in middle of night when you were exhausted and he would not let you sleep: countless. Trips to Taiwan: two. Novels written (published or soon to be): 11. Novels written (that will never be published): 3.5. Trips to Paris: one. Vows to stop saying the f-word in front of children: countless. Times vow to stop saying the f-word in front of children has been broken: countless. Ratio of children’s picture books written to those published: approximately 30:1. Best friends named Ellen Harris Swiggett: one. Marriages: one. Divorces: one. Trips to Portugal: two. Regrets: a few. Poems read before dawn daily: three. Current favorite adult beverage: vodka gimlet, up, in a martini glass. Friends and family members seen through cancer treatment: seven. Trips to Turkey: one. Mountain that can be glimpsed in leafless seasons from top of acreage in Dummerston: Monadnock. Shortest length of hair: one inch. Longest length of hair: three feet. Shade required to maintain hair’s unnatural color: Cool Light Brown. Trips to London: one. Exact pre-dawn times at which you typically wake: 2:47, 3:20, 4:54. Strong cups of coffee drunk before dawn: .7. Men who, upon noting length of fingers, have asked if you can palm a basketball: approximately 18. Times you have palmed a basketball: none. Times heart has been broken: five. Trips to Mexico: ten. Pairs of tomato-red suede pants: one. Times spent dreaming that you are driving up an increasingly vertical road until your car tips backward and you fall into a bottomless void: at least 46. Times spent dreaming that you are short one chemistry class and therefore cannot graduate: at least 37. Letters written to grandmother before she died: approximately 570. Lindt Milk Chocolate Truffles consumed: approximately 2100. Times spent practicing Chopin’s Prelude in F Minor without noticeable improvement: approximately 233. Trips to Bhutan, Morocco, Macchu Picchu: none. Yet. Times daily you think how lucky you are to be living this big fat life: at least three.