A Round of Robins

 

 

A Round of Robins

 

 

 

by Eric Schoonover

 

The snow from the last of the storms
melts into rivers that run down
the steps and a round of robins
jump and flutter ahead of me

in the evening’s blue snow. Six
of them, or maybe more, hop then
flutter, but the failing light won’t
tell me gender. They lead my way,

up those fifty-seven steps, to a
warmer time when snow drops
rouse and hopes enlarge to
greet a spring of warmth and light.

NOTE: There is no agreed upon collective noun
for robins: there are at least fifteen candidates, but
a round of robins seems to be the favorite.

 

Eric Schoonover is a writer living in Gloucester.
“fifty-seven steps” alludes to the staircase
leading from Spring St. up to Winchester Ct.

At the Farm

Story and Photos By Susan Pollack  

It is late afternoon and frigid. Silver light streaks the western sky, illuminating barns, pastures, and frozen fields. I head down the snowy road, basket in hand, to pick up our weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetable share at Alprilla Farm in Essex, MA.

Smells of wood smoke and sounds of conversation emerge from the greenhouse. Entering, I’m flooded by warmth and abundance: vegetables of many kinds appear enticingly arrayed in wooden boxes, each precisely labeled. I reach for four hefty white (Elba) potatoes, a few parsnips, carrots, onions, golden and red beets, and a large macomber turnip, pondering a weekend meal of roasted vegetables. I add a handful of kale and admire the squashes. I’d been partial to buttercup, with its creamy flesh and handsome dark green skin until I discovered orange kabocha, the sweetest squash of all, baked without brown sugar or even honey. Move over, acorn squash.

Farmer Sophie Courser swings open the door juggling totes of spinach from the walk-in cooler next door; she stops to hug a friend whose infant daughter is strapped to her back. Sophie’s farming partner and husband, Noah Kellerman, sits by the wood stove, repairing a rake-like tool, part of the apparatus used to wash their profusion of vegetables. A father and his young sons look on. Across the room I spot the hostess from a summer restaurant, a local poet, two other young farmers, and Sophie’s aunt, Stephanie, who drives down from New Hampshire to help out.

The stove warms against the cold, creating a comfortable space in which to pause and chat as we select the week’s vegetables. A small group of shareholders lingers by the fire or a nearby tea urn, their half-filled baskets at their feet. The gathering nurtures a sense of community often missing during the long New England winter, when the instinct is to huddle at home, with family or close friends.

Noah and Sophie are doing something so old it’s new: keeping alive a family farm by sustainably growing tasty and nourishing vegetables. They also cultivate and mill some grains for flour while tending a small beef herd. Noah grew up on Alprilla Farm, where his grandfather had raised Black Angus cattle. Noah’s parents, a musician and a scientist, live on the farm and help out, including caring for the animals when Noah and Sophie are away.

As evening approaches, a local farmer from the summer open air market arrives, and conversation turns to the high cost of land here in Northeastern Massachusetts, where real estate values have escalated, making it difficult for young growers to get a foothold. Noah and Sophie must lease some cropland in order to survive as must many other young area farmers. They also face a relatively short growing season and the challenges of working with clay-like soil that compacts easily. To help aerate the fertile, but heavy soil, Noah and Sophie rest the fields every three years, by rotating clover in combination with grains. They work with a team of oxen that are nimble and lighter on the land than the tractor, which they also use. Sophie, the writer of Alprilla’s eloquent farm journal, is also a seasoned teamster, having worked with oxen since she was a child growing up on a family farm in New Hampshire. (Today her mother and sister sell some of their lamb and pork at the Alprilla share along with maple syrup made by her father.)

Standing here at the farm in mid-February, on the last day of the winter CSA share, I feel gratitude for the food that Sophie and Noah grow all year, which sustains me and my husband and all of us CSA shareholders through the coldest months.

I am grateful as well for the opportunity to support the farm, as a shareholder. By paying for a “share” of the harvest at the start of the season, we help farmers buy the seed and supplies they need. We also partake of the risk that adverse conditions may cause some crops to yield less than hoped or to fail altogether, while others exceed expectations. By bearing a small part of this risk, I feel a deeper connection to the land, the farmers, and the food I eat.

Then, too, I delight in Noah’s and Sophie’s excitement about the season ahead: the seed catalogues they’ve pored over all winter, the new crops they hope to grow. It’s hard not to share their enthusiasm, especially as the days grow longer, the greenhouse doors are flung open, and the frozen earth gives way to luscious mud.

My basket is full. The winter share is over. In mid-March Noah and Sophie will plant seedlings in the greenhouse, and so, a new season will begin, carrying with it all our hopes for a fruitful harvest.

 

E. Schoonover photo

Susan Pollack is an award-winning journalist and author of The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook: Stories and Recipes. She lives in Gloucester with her husband, Eric Schoonover, a writer.

 

 

Copyright © Susan Pollack 2019

 

 

Kumba, my Gloucester Pangur Bán

by Eric Schoonover

This poem was inspired by “Pangur Bán,” a 9th-Century
Irish poem about a scholar monk and his cat.

 

KUMBA                                  Photo SBPollack

Cats are such fine fellows
neat and fierce, quick and soft.

Their lives are tidy at the edges
carefully surveying all—before the leap.

In that ancient poem, Pangur’s dedication to mousing
is likened to his monk’s devoted writing.

They labor in their different vineyards (yet close by)
catching mice, discovering meaning in the text, each

wrapped in deadly silent focus: the mouse upon the
floor, the portending skull upon the desk.
   Sic transit gloria mundi.

 I met my Pangur on a dark and stormy, boldly
crying at my door with impatient ice-matted fur

the neighbor’s cat neglected neighbors told.
I let him in, he stayed for years

and we nourished each other’s silent padding ways
tho my pen would scratch and he would purr,

signatures of our contented ways. But Kumba’s
gone. Another neighbor? No, I fear the car

as we live against a fast street, challenging
our arthritic days. But then . . .

in a ninth life, he stands moaning at the door
ear torn, blood-matted but eyes still bright.

I let him in, he leans against my leg as if a dog.
Mice beware! The challenge of my page awaits!
. . . and our lives resume.

 

KUMBA with the author.  Photo credit SBPollack

Eric Schoonover is a writer, boatbuilder, and watercolorist, who lives in Gloucester in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, also a writer. He is the author of the award-winning The Gloucester Suite and Other Poems and a novel, Flowers of the Sea. His latest book, Telling Tales, has recently been published.

 

Stairs to the Harbor

Town Steps, Gloucester. 1916.        John Sloan (1871-1951)

by Eric Schoonover

      I leave by the kitchen door, thinking that the flowers in the small urban courtyard might offer some joy, but they seem to have seen the best of their summer days. The door to the street, a grand wooden affair, swings inward and I step out through the lovage and the rosemary and the sage and the chicory still holding on. Once this land was empty, but here in Gloucester these small ways have become streets; short, often one-way and called “courts.”

I walk toward the staircase, toward the sea: the sea.

My house was built by a fisherman almost four hundred years ago. He would have had to scramble down five hundred feet of granite ledge to reach his boat. Today, there are 57 steps. I inform casual climbers of this fact and of its Heinz connection but they seem indifferent to this older person descending from a world of ketchup and chili sauce. But then, perhaps as a consolation, I gesture toward the flowers and shrubs growing on either side of the staircase.

            Winslow Homer painted from the top of these fifty-seven steps, John Sloan from the bottom.  Homer’s view is not informing.  But Sloan’s observes the social niceties of dogs and shoppers and women chatting with each other. But that does not reveal the nature of this unusual staircase.

            In the fisherman’s time, long before a staircase, it was a dramatic place, the denizen of wolf and fox. Those must have made his early morning descent rather interesting—if indeed he took this route to his boat. Today, a monstrous skunk haunts my dreams with his malodorous character. One night, I rose to see his giant form slink away, his mark of white now yellowed over, presumably his badge of many years of hunting through our refuse.

            Look through the trees and you can see the Atlantic, a shard of ultramarine blue, flat and harmless, hardly a harbinger of a fall hurricane.

           Most of the streets run down to the harbor, as Gloucester is a city of the sea. Their architecture is mostly domestic—triple-deckers, with mansard toppings and wrought iron Victorian frostings. Begin with Pleasant and proceed along Prospect, past Elm and Chestnut until you get to Spring. None of these houses is new, although some have obdurate metal siding offering a hardened aspect to the world. It’s the modern way.

          But I don’t take these streets that lead to the sea. Rather, I choose the stairs. I want that glimpse of the sea and a more woodsy approach, bordered with flowers wild and cultivated.

 

Eric Schoonover’s next novel, Harboring, set in Gloucester, will be published later this year.  Sloan’s painting, Town Steps, Gloucester, is held by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

SPRING

By Eric Schoonover

Gloucester Harbor, 1894.                  Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

 

When they put up the signs NO PUBLIC TOILETS

I’ll know. And when the daffodils bloom in

front of the bank on Rogers and the gulls

fight and flutter over the chimneys, I’ll know.

When the sailing team yanks their amazing 420s through

the wretched gusts in the harbor; and when the

night thermometer reads 38 and it’s rain and rain,

then I’ll know it’s spring in Gloucester . . . maybe.

 

 

Eric Schoonover is a writer who does enjoy Gloucester’s spring. Eric is also a  boatbuilder and watercolorist, who lives in Gloucester in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, also a writer. He is the author of the award-winning The Gloucester Suite and Other Poems and a novel, Flowers of the Sea. His latest book, Telling Tales, has just been published.

 

 

The Skiff

model by author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Eric Schoonover

Maybe we’ll go down to the beach
letting the water come up to our knees.

There’s a skiff there, in the weeds,
empty and waiting, its oars akimbo:

inviting.  We’ll troll, maybe, my fingers
over the side, to feel the water

mutter and slide, catching so many
motes as my hand can hold. But then

the plash and now the squeak of the oarlocks
do take us away, furtive. Maybe I’ll look

at your legs, brown, and beyond, facing me
and maybe I’ll think of our love that’s

always been held by the water.
Maybe we’ll float off the boat

and our bodies will then drift
to the isles where it all began.

Where maybe we’ll hold so
tight, against the harbor’s

famed serpent, now wilting, sliding
our firm lustrous bodies into a lasting kiss.

 

SPollack Photo

Eric Schoonover is a writer living in Gloucester. His most recent book, Telling Tales: A Gathering of Stories was published in 2016. Harboring, a novel about a Gloucester artist, will be published in 2018.

Desert Penguin

by  

Eric Schoonover

Gloucester Winter © T. M. Nicholas

Gloucester Winter © T. M. Nicholas

I walk down the street that looks at the sea:
Gorton’s smoke and smells muddle, and I feel like a desert
penguin, scuffing the gaudy snow that falls and falls
and I look at the sea with its own wavy snowspots.

You said I could see over to County Mayo; hardly. But our
cousin’s from there. The harbor-birds hunch aboard housetops,
as I walk down the street that looks at the sea. They think of
a take-off, but then worry a full-flap landing, flashing the snow.

There’s nothing of her distant Ireland in view. Just wind, that’s all
and our cousin slaps the mop at the messy snow that I’ve tracked
on the floor as the window looks at the sea, streaked with its
melting snowdrops. Then she mingles her whiskey with weeping.

I feel that my life must flop in the snow and I borrow from the
colleen’s brew, for my days are like shadows constantly seeking
the white of the snow, of the flecked sea, of purity of thought
. . . as I walk down the street that looks at the sea.

11-13 February 2017

 

eric-schoonoverEric Schoonover, Professor Emeritus of American literature and literature of the sea, lives in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, a writer. His most recent book, Telling Tales, was published in 2016.

 

Telling Tales: A Gathering of Stories by Eric Schoonover

pod9781495129094_0

Telling Tales: A Gathering of Stories by Eric Schoonover

A Review by Peter Anastas

(Dogbar Publications, Gloucester, 2016, 142 pp.,  $15)

 

“We tell stories for as many reasons as we live. They celebrate the beginnings and endings of our lives. They are the hand that rocks the cradle, the hand that wraps the shroud. They give meaning to the long or short haul of our lives.” –from the Preface

 

In Telling Tales, Gloucester poet and novelist Eric Schoonover has given us a collection of essays as finely written as they are delightful to read.   Each essay explores an arresting theme and tells a particular story, so that in reading them we are doubly rewarded.

We experience the taste of dates in Egypt with their author, who shares his thoughts about the role of memory in our lives.  In an essay that dramatizes issues of class and companionship, we accompany Schoonover as a young college instructor, who travels from his Eastern American classroom to Washington State to join a fire fighting crew in the Palouse hills.  We’re with him in a car race in which a relationship is also explored, and we assist him in building “Tuva,” his Micro sailboat, which still plies the waters off Cape Ann (he also builds a bed for his grandson Jacob to whom the book is dedicated).  Most powerfully, we climb into the mountains of Switzerland, where Schoonover travels to scatter the ashes of his parents near the small Genevan village where the family spent several memorable vacations.

Yet for all their variety and Schoonover’s scintillating prose, these essays are seamlessly constructed, as befits the boat builder who wrote them.  The word essay comes from the French essai, which means “an attempt.”  In writing an essay one begins by setting down tentative thoughts about a subject.  In the process we may also be trying to discover what we actually think about that subject, and what we want to say about it once we begin to write.

Essays have generally been categorized as “formal” or “familiar.” Formal essays usually consist of an impersonal analysis of a subject, while familiar essays are generally written from a personal point of view and  tell us as much about the writer as his or her subject.

Our era may well be one in which we have witnessed the primacy of the familiar essay, through the popularity of personal essays and memoirs, the profusion of Op Ed columns, and, more recently, the explosion of individual blogs, in which writers write as much about themselves as they do about their subjects.  Yet the new digital technologies (not to speak of texting and Twittering) with their inherent demands to think and write fast, and therefore more superficially, have helped to create a literary culture in which care of construction and thoughtfulness of intent have often been eclipsed by the pressure to post or respond to other posts.  While this has arguably afforded more democracy of access and expression (everybody is now seen to be a writer), the inevitable consequence has been a sacrifice of depth.

For this reason Eric Schoonover’s Telling Tales is all the more welcome.   The personal voice is here in these wonderfully luminous essays, which are both autobiographical and a history of the sources and growth of a literary sensibility.  We come to understand who the author is through the gathering details of his life—fishing with his father as a child; experiencing his first misunderstanding by a teacher in the rural Western Massachusetts school he first attended, in a town where he was the only paperboy; teaching English and literature in a variety of settings; and traveling to remote places whose cultures fascinate him, with his family as a child and later as a mature traveler and writer

With this collection Schoonover has in effect restored the essay to its proper place as an invaluable yet ever flexible mode of expression and exposition, a means of coming at the world in multiple ways, while sharing with the reader what the writer has discovered during the journey.

In describing what he has set out to achieve in this rewarding book, Schoonover quotes Joseph Conrad’s own reason for writing: “I want to make you see.”   And we do see through Schoonover’s eyes some of the world he has experienced and remembered, just as we feel through language that rises to poetry what he has felt and wishes to share with us.

Telling Tales may be a slender book in terms of page length, but it is brimming with the kinds of wisdom, humor, insight and sheer intelligence that are certain to make a lasting impression on the reader.

 

eric schoonover

Eric Schoonover is a writer, boatbuilder and watercolorist, who lives in Gloucester in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, also a writer. He is the author of the award-winning The Gloucester Suite and Other Poems and a novel, Flowers of the Sea. His latest book, Telling Tales, has just been published.

The Trains Took Us to School

©Eric Schoonover

Symphony of the East Wind. © 2016 David Tutwiler (b.1952)

Symphony of the East Wind.                                                                  © 2016 David Tutwiler (b.1952)

I like to see it lap the Miles—Emily Dickinson

By Eric Schoonover

 

I, too, as Peter Anastas (Enduring Gloucester, 13 April 2016), “come from the era of trains.”  In fact, my earliest understanding of Gloucester (probably 1942 or 1943) was of an enormous billboard advertising Gorton’s Codfish Cakes alongside the tracks of the Boston & Albany just outside of Boston, probably somewhere between Framingham and Natick. Little did I know that I was to move to Gloucester some sixty-five years later.

In those days, I favored sitting toward the end of the train so that I could see its full length as we went around curves—from the locomotive, the baggage and mail cars and then passenger cars. The locomotive belching black smoke and steam formed the focus of my view: perhaps a heavy Pacific, or a Hudson or, if lucky, a behemoth Berkshire pounding the earth with its immense power, perhaps let loose from a freight obligation to the West. Moreover, when sitting toward the rear, the cinders were not as aggressive, for in all but the coldest days, I sat with my head out of the window, reading the signals ahead, practicing for when I would grow up to be an engineer of a streamlined Hudson. Too, the trip was to Filene’s or Jordan’s war-limited counters with my mother. Her purpose was to buy fabric and patterns with which to make our clothing. (We could not afford off-the-hanger clothes in those days.) The real purpose of the trip was to enable my father to meet with his Ph.D. advisor at Harvard. Thus the beginning, in a way, of the train taking one to school; and which would end in my graduate days in Philadelphia. A good tradition.

We would return late in the day from Boston with cinder smuts in my eyes. Those steam locomotives that pulled my trains to Boston were unlike any of our current-day locomotives: one saw the machinery that drove those enormous wheels, pistons pushing long rods, connecting rods attaching to wheels, and at night, the firebox projecting light onto the roadbed. Whitman wrote of this power: “Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel. / Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating, shuttling at thy sides.”  In 1881, the power of the locomotive so impressed him that he termed it “Type of the modern—emblem of motion and power—pulse of the continent (“To a Locomotive in Winter”).

Today, our engines are shrouded: we don’t see their power, their gears, their turbines. All is contained.  Only their sound is left to us:  the 747 roaring into the sky, the Electro-Motive diesel thundering on the earth. Of course they are sleek and silvery; only the streamliners of the early part of the last century could compete.

*

Trains have been intimately connected with my education from the demise of steam in the early 50s to the Modern Era of diesel-electric traction. The great days of rail are gone, and despite Amtrak’s optimistic claims, even it is not doing very well. Yet so many years ago, when I went away to school and then to college, the railroads were still fairly strong. They were my sole means of transportation. They were my habit.

I spent most of my teens in Europe where the trains were mainly electric and fast and in Africa where the trains were hot and slow. On  returning to the States, I attended a secondary school located near the end of the New Haven’s Springfield extension. Often, I would board that train at 125th  street. My father, then teaching at Columbia, would take me up there by taxi; and in the winter twilight a tired New Haven train would depart the city, to struggle through the rest of Manhattan and into Connecticut. In the dark we crossed above the Norwalks, looking down on their empty neon streets, shining in the rain, spaces as lonely as a Hopper painting. Often, a man would burst into the car shouting out “Sandwiches, soda, candy bars!” Sometimes I would buy something. (“Ham and cheese, egg salad, ham salad. What ya want?”) The two salad sandwiches made me nervous. How long had they been sitting in his fiberboard box? How many days ago had they been made up? So, I might settle for the safety of the ham and cheese (on puffy white Wonder bread).

Later, my college fortunately was located equidistantly between two railroads; one the Pennsylvania Railroad, the other the Philadelphia and Western (the Pig and Whistle as we called it). Both originated in Philadelphia but from different terminals.  Both were an easy walk from my college. Most often, though, I took the PRR’s Paoli local, an eight-mile ride in to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. The local was the most ordinary of trains, day coaches that had seen much better days, but it shared the tracks with those streamlined GG1 electric trains of Raymond Lowey’s design, as they roared their way to Harrisburg. Four tracks and demanding curves could make the Main Line of the PRR a dangerous place, and locals were known to play “chicken” on its tracks. The P&W was a more like a bus, wandering though tree-lined suburbia and pleasant landscapes. In fact it looked like a bus: cream top, maroon sides, and it stopped only on command. Would-be passengers on the platform pulled a rope that turned on a signal lamp, or so one hoped. It always made me anxious: maybe the lamp had burned out.

*

I still ride the trains today, but they seem so different. The Acela may take the prize, for the long-distance hauls. The Lake Shore Limited and the California Zephyr have steadily declined over the past six years that I have taken them. Recently in Denver I strolled down to the head of our train, thinking to take a photograph of its Genesis locomotive with its consist trailing off into the dusk. A police officer approached,  saying, “No photographs!” She was armed, a sub sandwich in one hand, the other resting on her gun. The food in the diner that night was served on thin plastic plates and was inedible. The officer’s sandwich, even that egg salad on the New Haven in the 50s would be preferable. I ordered some more wine.

Although my school days are over, I still take the train, mostly the local commuter rail to Boston—not for education but for medicine; and once or twice a year I take the longer hauls.

We are in the 21st century. Like it or not, I must cope with the limited seat space on my flights to the West or to Europe. There’s no hopping at the command of a conductor shouting “All aboard!” Just standing and standing and taking off my shoes. But when the wind is coming from the Northwest, I do have the joy of hearing the whistle of a train as it crosses Maplewood Avenue here in Gloucester.

 

 

eric schoonoverEric Schoonover, Professor Emeritus of American literature and literature of the sea, now lives in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, a writer. His next book, Telling Tales will be published in June.

 

 

 

 

 

An Academic Christmas

by Eric Schoonover

A Child's Christmas in Wales - Winter 2000 production for The National Theatre of the Deaf. The Set Design is by Richard Finkelstein. This adaptation of the work of Dylan Thomas, is by Burgess Clark, with direction by Peter Flynn

A Child’s Christmas in Wales – Winter 2000 production for The National Theatre of the Deaf. The Set Design is by Richard Finkelstein. This adaptation of the work of Dylan Thomas, is by Burgess Clark, with direction by Peter Flynn

The corgi sits next to the stack of papers. Perhaps he’ll eat some: there are essays on Melville, Whitman, even Elizabeth Bishop. Some tasty stuff, even whale meat there, but he only nickers and dreams of a Xmas-day bone.  Children race through my study, loving to slide across the wide waxed floorboards on the runner rugs, their winter surfboards, crashing into the dictionary stand holding the giant Webster’s III.  I shout. The dog looks up. The phone rings. It is the day before, long before, caller-ID, so I scrunch deeper into my great comfy chair . . . and hope.  “Dad, the phone’s for you.  Sounds like another sob story!”

Time: 9.30 a.m. 24 December, many years ago. This is the worst time in an academic’s year.

Our semesters always ended just before Xmas. Grades had to be submitted to the registrar within 78 hours after the final examination—in hand.  So, if you gave an examination on the 23rd you’d be staring at a pile of blue books on Xmas day. The computerized processing of grades was far in the distance.  Students could not discover their final grade until the New Year, when reports were sent home; we faculty posted grades on our office doors. But some students, even some of my students, couldn’t wait: they began calling before I’d even read their exams or papers. I had clearly informed them, repeatedly, that grades could be obtained only by those two methods:  the registrar or the office door. But as my son, now too an academic, observed, “Some students never listen!” a remark that seemed to apply to a few of the some 7,000 students that I have “taught” over some 40 years of my life. (Quick checking on my arithmeticing fingers informs that probably I read a grand total of some 42,000 student papers in my academic career.)

The day before Xmas can be trying, even in a non-religious household. There are commitments of gifting, of cooking, of making music, of writing letters and cards, of visiting, of entertaining, of reading Dylan Thomas. Yet for the academic, all of this must be pushed aside in favor of the exam booklet, the term paper, the graduate thesis proposal. This is the worst time in an academic’s year.

And then the reading itself, after the younger children have fled to other adventures and the door firmly shut against the delicious smells of pies and strudels and sauces for the next day. Did Mr. Adams deliberately mis-read the exam’s instructions? He’s been a tough one, frequently missing class, missing quizzes, and then arguing about grades. Do I give him the benefit of the doubt? It’s too late for a make-up, which I always allow in term. I want my students to learn the material. If they fail or do poorly in a major segment, I feel as if they should have a second chance.

So now, with grades due in a few hours, there’s no second chance. And that first paragraph lead in Daphne Cook’s term paper on Anne Sexton sounds awfully familiar—and it’s not credited. Well, other matters are, thoroughly credited. And, you know, once you say something about Sexton, everyone else seems to have said it too. This is the worst time in an academic’s year.

Hey Professor Softy, get a grip. But I can’t just now; I have to drive to the station to pick up the New Yorkers who feel a seasonal urge to be in the country in a large Victorian farmhouse fairly near the ocean.

Morning has gone, strident Xmas trumpets blast through my thickened door. “Dad, Mom wants to know whether you can . . . and now!” A sandwich, edges curling up, has been set on my desk. Thoughtful, maybe. I think of the Frost poem we studied last month:

. . . I am done with apple-picking now. / Essence of winter sleep is on the night, /. . .  I am drowsing off.  “Daddy, Henry won’t play Candyland with me!” I Drowse.

I check the pile of remaining exam booklets—constantly wishing that it will magically shrink to one, well, maybe two. It won’t. I’d like to skip that part of the course. “Dad, they’re back from the beach, and Mom says it’s time to make them cocktails.” That’s the answer. An anodyne. It’s danger? More sleep. This is the worst time in an academic’s life.

After midnight, after Santa has descended though our enormous fireplace and arranged all of the presents just so, after I have relaxed again into the depths of my Morris chair, after a blanket has been pulled up over me (thoughtful) and I might just sleep a bit more, the number of booklets has magically, it seems, reduced itself to very few. And then I think of the ending of that great story of Christmas written by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas:  I said some words to the close . . . darkness, and then I slept.

 

Eric SchoonoverEric Schoonover, Professor Emeritus of American Literature and Literature of the Sea at the University of Rhode Island, now lives in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, a writer. Gone the corgi and the farmhouse, gone the blue books and even Candyland.   “An Academic Christmas” will appear in Schoonover’s forthcoming book, Telling Tales.