42° 2’5.18 “N
In the morning, early, on the couch/chair, curled, with a strong cup of coffee while my girlfriend sleeps and the dog, fed, enters her deep second sleep. In the blue lab notebooks with green-tinted and numbered pages I’ve used since college. At a reading, messy scrawl in dim light, words drifting by. Sometimes, terrifyingly, not. Nothing. Nowhere. This year, for the first time since my twenties, in my bunk on a ship. Shamefully, in the car, big notepad on my lap (note to self: figure out a better system). Never on an airplane. Never startled up in the middle of the night. Rarely in cafes. Hardly ever when I’m on the job with binoculars, all focus turned outward.
In my head while running/walking/picking berries/painting trim/weeding. Echoing space where a phrase can rattle and be tongued like a pit. And this “place” feels, in many ways, the most critical. Whatever survives (my memory…) must be worth attending with pen.
This is to say that while I try and prepare a space for the poems to come (see example one, above), they don’t always arrive on schedule.
That’s the start of things. First scrawl. First glint.
The later work is more formal, done at the computer. Our house is small, and I built a desk into a corner of the attic where we sleep. Tucked along the stairs, just wide enough for a book and laptop, the steep angle of the roof means I’ll bump my head if I stand. I like the smallness. “Don’t worry,” it says, “no big deal. No one is watching. No epic expected. Just do your work.” I like it there, books behind, stairs open and falling to the left, window to the right. All the same, it’s got no door. No room other than the bathroom does. When people come to stay or when Lisa plays loud music or talks on the phone, the energy of the whole space shifts.
Out the window is a shed I built with my parents three summers ago during an incredibly hot August. Before it was begun, as I scavenged windows and figured lumber, even as I sweated on the roof and nailed shingles, I envisioned it as my writing studio. A place like those so many writers and artists I’ve read about have and that sound so wonderfully confident (I deserve a studio) and deliberate (I go there to create). In the coming-back-to-life lot that is our yard and that used to be a contractor’s storage space for backhoes and building supplies, it squats like a reproach.
When I’m in Refugia, as we’ve semi-jokingly named the shed/studio/guest cottage, all I see are things unfinished and things I screwed up: bulge in the wall, leaking door, ragged seam at the ceiling peak. I want to fix, not create. I make lists. Window trim then flooring then screen door. Shelves?
But even as I’ve written this short piece over the last couple of weeks, things have changed. I might have turned a corner. Refugia might be done enough for me to claim it, used enough to not feel precious.
I’m writing there now. Breeze huffs the curtains I hemmed and hung last Tuesday. The table Lisa and I grabbed from the side of the road is a good height, the chairs Liz didn’t want any more are comfortable, the hand-me-down rug from Jacky and Kathy is soft underfoot. Irene thought of us when she heard a famous local artist was getting rid of the French doors in his studio—one of them became the clerestory window through which I can see the tops of pitch pines. The couch was Tricia’s and the armchair came from Carla. Crocosmia from my mom’s garden in Seattle are just out the southeast window, as are transplanted maple saplings Raina brought and that I hope will shade this place in years to come.
Dunya’s phrase, “creative space of conscience,” is penciled at the top of the unfinished window frame. It comforts and inspires me. Visiting friends have stayed out here. Lisa and I have napped here in the afternoon, a hundred feet removed from chores and routine. I’m in a space that others—friends, family, community—have helped me create. It feels like I have their blessing.
Here, at last, I drop into the deep absorption that, truly, is where the work is done.
Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of two poetry collections, Approaching Ice and Interpretive Work. Founder and editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press, she lives on Cape Cod and works as a naturalist and teacher. Her poem “Historic Numbers of Right Whales Skim Feeding off Cape Cod” was published in the March/April 2012 issue of Orion.