Like many of the poems in my two published Black Sparrow books, the poems in FRiGG are truly reminiscences, poems from growing up as an outsider in the small New England town of Middlebury, Vermont. Middlebury is an incredibly beautiful, calendar-like town where when I was growing up, after a snowfall, often Life magazine would come to take photographs. In the spring and summer, Robert Frost wandered through town, and in the summer and fall it was the sort of gorgeous small town that tourists flocked to, for the lakes, like Lake Dunmore, and then for the leaves. Somehow those summer afternoons and evenings at the beach with my mother seem remembered in a magical way, the mood, the light, the closeness. For one summer we had a cottage on Lake Champlain and Ive always tried to find it on trips back, with no luck.
Middlebury was a really small town, maybe 3,000 when I was growing up, and there was only the public school and St. Marys Catholic school. By high school, both schools merged but there were Christmas visits between the schools and the exotic mysteriousness of the stained glass, incense-scented Catholic school always intrigued us, coming from the plain, airy, light public schools. Somehow we imagined everything elementary school kids could imagine!
As for Sitting in the Brown Chair, well, there really was a brown chair and the gumballs. It was as close as Id get to my father, who grew increasingly distant. When I cleaned out my mothers apartment in the early '90s after her death, the chair, recovered, was one of the last things to go.
I felt like an outsider in so many ways—in fact, I have given a talk about that at universities and conferences. I think living in an apartment unlike everyone who had a yard, being Jewish and not belonging to any church groups all conspired to make me feel different, outside things, separate. In many ways, my mother felt that way too and her never wanting to go back to Middlebury, longing to live in a big city, live in New York as she had done after college, Im sure she was not happy and somehow became closer to me, braided to me in so many ways. I think for much of her life she counted the hours till I called, drove up, came back from ballet, from a date, came to her room in her last days, quite literally. That extreme closeness is always with me (not that we didnt fight too)—especially now, as I write this, two days from her birthday.