I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
March 1, 2020: Alan Michael Parker
Alan Michael Parker’s poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, Paris Review, and The Best American Poetry annual. His prose has appeared in The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker. He has four novels and eight (soon to be nine) collections of poetry to his name. He’s been the recipient of a number of awards, including three Pushcart Prizes and two selections in Best American Poetry. He is the Douglas C. Houchens Professor of English at Davidson College, where I went to school. And on December 31st, he tweeted this:
I don’t know about you, but the next time I get out of my chair, I’m going to look for a Mason jar.
Christmas in July, his most recent novel, was published in 2018. It’s a novel told by ten different narrators and is the story of how each of these people is touched by thirteen-year-old Christmas who is dying of cancer. The first chapter, “Hello. This Is Your Mother,” is Angela’s story. She’s the registrar at the school. Her mother is always calling and leaving messages. Notice how alive these three sentences are on the page.
That’s all. I was just calling to tell you what your father said. I think he might be right–the man’s got to get something right, much as he talks.
Angela’s friend, Janet, describes Angela’s mother this way. “She’s like Fox News, your mother, all by herself.” And here’s what Angela says about her friend.
I would be nowhere without Janet. She’s my rock. A rock keeps you from being nowhere: it’s a thing in the ground, and it makes the ground the ground. That’s what Janet does for me.
The humor is warm, like Angela. And I love Angela. She likes quiet in the mornings so she can think her thoughts, and she likes music in the evenings so she can slip into her dream of family and noise and love. We first meet Christmas through Angela’s eyes.
The girl’s in a terrible way: she’s tall, hunched over a little to hide how tall, and very skinny… She’s wearing plaid up and down, which I’ve seen our girls do before, what a mistake. She looks like a sick lumberjack.
Angela is trying to get Christmas registered for school, talking to her aunt,
–and the whole time, it’s Beatrice [Christmas] who has me spooked, who looks sicker each time I glance at her, who’s the saddest child I’ve ever seen. Something in me begins to fall, I feel it, something’s falling into a hole in me. I’m falling in.
I know I need to move on, so just one quote from the second chapter, “War” so you can see how different the stories and the voices of the narrators are. This chapter is Richie’s story. He works at Bing’s Hardware, and he says,
So I’m looking down before I’m looking up, and there’s the girl, but even I know that everything’s different because of her. She comes into the store like some sort of earthquake in Japan.
The Ladder, Alan Michael’s most recent poetry collection, was published in 2016 and won the 2017 Brockman-Campbell Award (an annual prize for the best book of poetry published in North Carolina). In “I’m Here to Give a Little Talk on Singing,” it’s the metaphor that captures me.
I’m at the museum
and there’s the Chagall —
no matter that my whole body
standing before the Chagall
is the sail of every boat, ever, in every wind.
In “The Canada Geese,” it’s his use of language that carries me away.
Flying is more like being flown, I think,
the air doing the work.
That’s what I would say:
care for me,
Here’s a link to some new work published last spring at the Virginia Quarterly Review. And Just a few days ago, his flash piece, “Independent Survey,” won Third Place in a contest, and the judge wrote, “There’s a sweetness and longing to this, captured in a very small space.” You can read the piece at Lunate.
Come back on MARCH 1st to read how ALAN MICHAEL PARKER spends his days.