the Mississippi river empties into the gulf

and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth’s body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

Lucille Clifton

a wooden chair with a pillow on its seat sits facing a window with the curtain drawn. on the windowsill sits a small porcelain cup and a digital wristwatch.
morning bedroom scene in Kowalsky Annex at Vermont Studio Center

I read the poem above for the first time at the end of my residency at Vermont Studio Center, led to it by a card I pulled from the Divining Poets deck Audrey sent me.

“every water / is the same water coming round.” I love this reminder, particularly as I’ve spent quite a bit of time the last few months looking at satellite images of the heavy atmospheric rivers traveling thickly into California, their long bodies stretching far across the Pacific. I think of what we’ve done to the rivers on earth; how we treat water that seems to flow away from us; how water will gather and flow, one way or another.

The person in the poem, whatever they are feeling, is mistaken about “only here. only now.” After having spent three weeks along the Gihon River, my mind immersed in writing, those words served as a reminder that this would not be the only time I would write. It has never been only in sweet protected time like this that I will be able to write, to work, to focus.

Nearly a month later, I am still working on channeling that focus into life at home, but I trust that it is seeping in. And anyway, seasonality is normal, and fallow time is necessary.

I’ll close with some things I found helpful during the residency:

  • Create an altar. There is a lot of grief in writing, even when there is joy. And there is hope, too. Both deserve acknowledgement. Include lost loved ones, ancestors, inspirations if you like.
  • I wanted to pack light and only brought two books. This was a mistake. It would have been nice to have more of my friends with me. It also makes me anxious to check a bag. Maybe I will have to make sure future residencies are either in driving distance, or take the train (Amtrak allows up to TWO 50-lb luggages with coach tickets).
  • I was grateful for the meals provided, but my hunger levels were not always aligned with mealtimes, nor was my focus. A reusable container is nice for absconding with food back to your work.
  • I loved visiting others’ workspaces (a door ajar is generally an indication it’s okay to knock for a visit). There’s so much to learn from others’ practices, whatever medium. Open studio nights are great, but you’ll get a much deeper glimpse on a random afternoon.
  • During this snowy winter residency, getting sun whenever possible was imperative. Spending time outside “staring into time,” at water, or sky, or trees, helped me feel connected. Also, it’s fun to push snow around if shoveling is not part of your usual winter life.

And, saying this mostly for myself: remember what you want to write, for whom, and why. Hold that close.

Thank you to those who’ve helped me remember—recently, and always.