November 27, 2022

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

WITH THE SUN [by Mary Gilliland]

3 min read

want more shade want more sun A plant demonstrates its answers – via height or robustness or angle of inclination. There is no need to worry about the short-lived spring flowers, however. They arise when the trees are leafless.

The thing about flower bulbs: They’re easy to plant and, if conditions Optimizing for new growth – the tilt of the spring sunlight, its rains – their green shoots rise, “conspire with the sun”, then bloom year after year – and multiply. Descendants of my mother-in-law’s handful of Narcissus poeticus, the Poet’s Narcissus, also known as Pheasant’s Eye, number in the thousands not only in our country but in friends’ gardens across the city.

In September and October, after a day of high-contact classes, I spent an hour or two planting more bulbs to reclaim some of the energy I’d expended on one-to-one conversations with college students. Gardening helped me stay true to poetry until, in my late thirties, I heard about places that grant dormitories to writers. Were the poems written in my weary hours worth pursuing? Seems so. The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown invited me for 7 months. I jeopardized my job. I had to skip my annual Cornell ritual of enlarging John Keats’ “To Autumn” on the copier for the autumnal equinox and pasting his poem for the season on my office door.

Once the ephemerals have flowered and their foliage has finished its work, their aerial parts disappear. You can walk across the site and never know that life underground has saved its feast of chlorophyll until next year’s spring thaw. They sleep in summer and winter – snowdrops, corydalis, bluebells, daffodils….

Was Provincetown a slumber for me or an emergence from it? I think the latter. My quiescence as a poet was self-inflicted (family and ethnic origins prolonging the tendency). My long offseason at FAWC has realigned my priorities of when to work and how and why.

On campus the following fall, a former student spotted me on the quad. How was I, where had I been? Did I know that my creative writing class students sometimes nodded meaningfully to one another, leaned forward, and intoned (he was grinning now, loving the rhythm), “And sometimes gleaning/standing your laden head…”? Apparently my ecstasy was forgotten in class on enjambement. Doesn’t matter. They remembered the words of Keats.

WITH THE SUN [by Mary Gilliland]Yesterday, I got up from weeding the gooseberry patch and paid attention to a longstanding suspicion: that I had my knee pads on backwards. I tried them the other way around, padded part over the kneecap, thin part below. Kneeling back into a crouch, the back of my knee no longer unraveled the Velcro as he flexed. Something like that also happens when writing a poem. There, too, it can take several years before one realizes one’s suspicion. The hours don’t count. I don’t count the hours.

My new collection by a poet who has returned to Ithaca will be released via Zoom on the Odyssey Bookstore on November 9th at 7pm.

—MG, October 26, 2022

Chrysanth copy


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