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Poetry Radio Project

Summer Cottages

Charlie Schroeder

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Poet Cornelius Eady
(Sarah Micklem)
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This weekend, lots of folks are saying goodbye to their summer homes,at least until next year. Here in Minnesota, that means the pontoon boats are coming out of the water and being put in storage. On the coasts, it means the beach blankets are heading for the closet and the decidedly non-summery smell of mothballs.

The poet Cornelius Eady and his wife, graphic designer and writer Sarah Micklem, won't be doing either one of those things. They live in Manhattan and their second home isn't on the water, it's in the Catskill Mountains, in upstate New York. But it's still a very special place for them. In fact it's made such an impact on Eady that he devoted a large portion of his latest book of poetry, titled "ardheaded Weather," to it.

---

Cornelius Eady: I'm 55 and Sarah's 54.

Sarah Micklem: I believe I'm still 53.

Eady: Oh. 53. That's true.

Eady: Our generation, our relationship with money and property is a little more complicated than the students I see today. They have no problem with it. For us, it was like, well, you know, if you're going to be successful, there's no selling out.

Micklem: In terms of working hard to get a second house, so many people work hard and they don't get anything for it, so in that sense, it's not like we deserve this. I feel we were pretty lucky that our work - what we wanted to do - was rewarded. It was really wonderful, but not inevitable.

Eady: Our apartment in the West Village is a really nice apartment, but it's more like a shotgun apartment. It has one window in it and that's the only source of light.

Micklem: The apartment's a tunnel.

Eady: The apartment's a tunnel. There's not a lot of light and there's not a lot of space.

Micklem: Well, it's under 500 square feet.

Eady: When we crashed at our friends' houses over various summers before we bought the house, it was really wonderful to actually wake up to light.

Eady: We settled on a small town called Cairo. Now, it's spelled as if it's called KAI-row. But the locals pronounce it as KAY-row.

Cairo, NY

The town near our house
Isn't fancy, but it is ripe.
At present, it is still on
The wrong side of
The Hudson River,

But there's potential.
What happened
In Woodstock,
What happened
In Red Hook,
What's happening
In Catskill,

Could easily
Happen here.

Our streets are sad
In the way our bodies
Are sad as we
Dream of our
Beautiful selves,

Floating, light,
Light-filled,
Transcendent.

How could anyone
Have missed or
Overlooked us,

Even with our
Bad haircuts,
Our paunchy clothes,
Our gin-mill
Mouths?

One day
Some car drives by
And the rich folk
Who hunt for
Cut-rate rubies
Slow down,

And here we are,
They think,
All ready to be
Scrubbed.

Micklem: But the truth is we didn't really settle on a town, we settled on a place. The houses.

Eady: The houses. Two small cottages, separated by a driveway and a garage in the back.

Micklem: And one is bigger than the other one. But together they add up to less than the size of an average American house. What it allowed us to do was each to have an office where we could write. Because what happens in our New York apartment is that I do the morning shift, and Cornelius works whenever he can during the day, because it's really difficult in our apartment without doors to shut for the two of us to conduct our writing work at the same time. So getting a house in the country suddenly allowed both of us to have offices. And it's just great, we can both go, we can be there all day at work, without many distractions because no one calls us there.

Eady: Our first night in our house, the furnace went and we couldn't figure out what was wrong with it. We were like, "Oh, my God. We just bought this thing and it fell apart," and it was raining.

Micklem: And it was cold.

Eady: And we had this fantasy of having this nice cozy first evening in the house, where everything worked and everything was perfect. But we called the guy, and the guy just looked at us and he went downstairs and looked at it, and he just flipped the switch.

Eady: The house is a living entity in and of itself. It's basically always changing every time we go up there. There's always something we have to deal with or something breaking down or something isn't quite working, especially for the first few years when it really was sort of a mystery to us.

Micklem: It's still a mystery to us. We went up a few weeks ago and suddenly we had no water. I thought "Oh no, the well has run dry."

Eady: Well, pumps are really mysterious, electricity is kind of, you know--

Micklem: Anything having to do with plumbing. Just about anything.

Eady: Light bulbs are good. We can do light bulbs.

Eady: Writing in the country for me is different than writing in the city because, basically, what comes in through the door is different, so therefore I start to integrate that into my language. For example, I'm sitting at a table and there's a snowstorm, and suddenly I'm writing about the snowstorm, or the sound of it. What it feels like, what it looks like as I report by looking outside of my office window. The details change--the process doesn't change necessarily, but the details change and I like that. I like that ability of having that new element entering in. It forces me to consider things that I probably wouldn't consider if I were living in the city, or entirely in the city. I like the change of pace.

The Hammer

I still don't know
What to do
With the hammer.

In my hands,
It feels like
My tongue,
Looking for

The right way
To say please,
Or don't shoot
In, say, French,
Or Swahili:

Best not
To get yourself
In that sort
Of situation
To begin
With,

But my wife
And I,
We bought
This house,

And things
Break,

And things
Fall away
From other
Things.

And so,
The fixing:
The hook,
The nail,

The painting
That might
Dazzle
That corner
Of the wall,

The beautiful
Chair
That could
Be saved.

Don't I wish
I could hear
My father, now

To finish a
Conversation
We never
Began.

What we used
To think
We were
Owed.

I don't know
How to work
The hammer,

So the hammer
Misses the
Nail, scuffs
The wall;

So the hammer
Hits the nail
A glancing
Blow,

And it bends
The nail
Away from its
True purpose;

So the hammer
Hits the
Thumb.

This is why
This house
Is filled with
Hesitation,

And slow
To mend.

  • Music Bridge:
    Cloud One
    Artist: The Alps
    CD: III (Type)
More stories from our Poetry Radio Project series

Comments

  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Ray Paulson

    From Minneapolis, MN, 09/02/2008

    I was painting the siding that I had hung on my house while I was listening to this story this weekend. Mr. Eady's poems helped me see the poetry in my work, and made the yellow paint seem brighter and the can that much lighter. Thank you for that.

    By Joseph Hayes

    From FL, 08/30/2008

    I had the great good fortune to spend three weeks with Cornelius Eady at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. where we (with the help of 5 other writers and a host of musicians and artists) did nothing but work on our work. No hand tools were involved, but the gentle brilliance of Mr. Eady shone through, showing that a hammer isn't the only thing capable of creating something beautiful.

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