Today is my last full day at Rockvale. It saddens me to be leaving—I’ve enjoyed unprecedented productivity in the last two weeks (22 different first drafts of poems), and it kind of shows me what my writing life would be like if I didn’t have a “day job” that takes up a lot of my creative energy and squanders it on quotidian crap. Of course, that day job also pays the bills, so I can’t be too dismissive of it. I am grateful to have a job. But I’ve been very grateful for these two weeks of “professional development” because I’ve really needed them.
One of the best things that’s come from being here is meeting two new friends. We were talking last night about how lonely being an adult is, and how difficult it is to make new friends. But both Kelly and Rebecca have been a godsend. We eat breakfast together and unwind at night with wine and tea, and becoming friends with them has been really remarkable—especially after the Year of Covid. And sure, maybe friendship was born of proximity, but I feel like being around other writers, especially these two women—who are honest about themselves in a way that sometimes, surprisingly, writers are not—has been a real salve to my heart. Just this morning, Rebecca made me breakfast—a fried egg with cheese and kale on French bread—a “make-up” for the breakfast sandwich she made me the other day that was, to her mind, imperfect. Today’s was delicious, for sure—it’s become a joke, her “Redemption Sandwich” (which she has been singing to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”). But more delicious was her company! I have felt too sequestered this past year (for good reason, to be sure), but I have missed human company. Kelly and Rebecca, being writers—and kind, and funny, and goofy to boot—are my kind of people.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed about being here (besides the writing and my new friends) has been the wildlife. I love the horses and the cows, and the flocks of goats on various farms. But I love the other, unexpected, wildlife. As I was driving a few days ago, I saw three wild turkeys, just hanging out in someone’s front yard, enjoying a colloquy. I’ve seen deer everywhere. When I was out at 6:30 a.m. one morning, I saw a whole herd of them, and the other night, when Kelly, Rebecca, and I drove to Publix at twilight, we saw families of deer along both sides of the road, eating dinner. (So many deer!)
Plus, I’ve seen hummingbirds, and butterflies, and even a turkey vulture, sitting on a post. The rural life is really where I feel the most whole—it reminds me of Grandpa Reilly’s old farm in Pennsylvania, when we escaped the city and just could walk across his fields and take tractor rides and pet the animals in the barn. That’s what being here has been like for me—a chance to reconnect with rural roots—and realize that in another life, I might have been a farmer poet, instead of an academic. The trees and the hills and the fields feel like home.
I have always said I want to live in Tennessee, if the fates come together to permit it. Every time I come to this state, something in my heart blooms. These last two weeks, my heart has blossomed from a year and a half of incubation, of being on hold. I hope that I can keep blooming when I return to Atlanta—the idyll will be over, but the spirit of it doesn’t have to be. That’s what imagination and poetry are for—to bring you back, to bring you back even when you only have memories to hold on to.
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have