Friday, February 15, 2019

Poetry Friday: I Carry Your Heart

i carry your heart with me
 by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Instead of being at work this week reading love poems with my middle schoolers and dealing with their shenanigans, I've been at home "sheltering in place." Anti-government protests have shut down Port-au-Prince and many other parts of the country. All the news stories are illustrated with photos of giant flames. The protests are over real and serious issues: the local currency, the gourde, has lost 26% of its value against the US dollar in the past 12 months. People who were already living in poverty are unable to eat, let alone send their children to school and access medical care when they need it. Enormous amounts of money have gone missing and are unaccounted for. The protesters want the president to resign and in addition to peaceful mobilization there has been looting and burning and extortion as well.

My students are sending me writing via Google Docs and emails about what they are reading, and I've also been emailing with a friend about her novel, of which I was a Beta Reader (capital letters to emphasize how impressive I feel being a Beta Reader), reading enormous amounts, listening to podcasts and watching Netflix as electricity allows, and thinking about a short story of my own. I also had over neighbors who were climbing the walls and treated them to chai and puppy therapy. I know this all sounds fun, and sure, it is, especially compared to what the majority of the people in this country are dealing with, but I'm so ready to be back at work complaining about how sugar-addled everyone is.

I'm carrying many hearts in mine.

This week's roundup is here. 

Edited to add: if you're looking for a US-based source to read Haiti news in English, the Miami Herald does a good job of covering what's going on here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Reading Update

I'm home on a Monday instead of at work because of ongoing political unrest in Haiti. This is day five of sheltering in place, which has provided lots of extra reading time.

Book #12 of 2019 was Frederick Buechner's The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life.  "I think that a part of what to tell one's story in a religious sense means is to affirm that there is a plot to one's life. It's not just incident following incident without any particular direction or purpose, but things are happening in order to take you somewhere."

Book #13 was Hold Tight, Don't Let Go, by Laura Rose Wagner. I reviewed this book at length here when I first read it. This time I read it aloud to my husband as part of our remembering, commemorating the ninth anniversary of the earthquake. We cried as we read this beautiful, horrifying, hopeful, despairing account of Magdalie's earthquake experience. A friend to whom I was talking about this book commented, "She's a blan, right?" (Blan literally means white, but it's used to refer to any foreigner.) Yes, she's a blan, but one who loves Haiti in all its complexity. She doesn't shy away from what's awful, but she's also affectionate and clearly cares about this beautiful place. "All I can do," concludes Magdalie, "is hold everyone in my heart, the only place I know where I can keep them safe." 

Book #14 isn't published yet; it was a second draft of a new novel by someone in my writing group. It was so fun! I wish I could hand you a copy!

Book #15 was a book of short stories by Ben Fountain called Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. I have had this book for some time, but for some reason I had not read it yet. While sheltering in place I read it aloud to my husband and Ben Fountain became my new favorite writer. Blurbs at the beginning compare him to Graham Greene, Hunter S. Thompson, Evelyn Waugh, Katherine Anne Porter, Paul Theroux, Joseph Conrad, even Kafka. I definitely get all these comparisons, because these are characters in a complex moral universe where it's not easy to keep your hands clean, but Fountain is an original. Several of the stories are set in Haiti, one in Colombia, one in Sierra Leone, one in Myanmar, one in the US, and one in Europe. This book is so beautifully written, and the first and second stories are among the best short stories I've ever read. "Rêve Haitien" has the most amazing ending; it brought tears to my eyes when I first read it, and then after my husband and I discussed the story a while, he asked me to read the ending again. Again, it made me cry. 


I checked book #16 out of the library; it was Anne Lamott's Almost Everything. For a while I read everything Anne Lamott wrote, but I haven't read her last few books. This one had some gems in it, like Lamott's description of how reading got her through her childhood.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Poetry Friday: Jacmel

This week I read this article about a bakers' strike in Jacmel, Southern Haiti. Then I wrote this poem and illustrated it with photos I've taken in some of our many visits to Jacmel, one of my favorite places on earth.
No Bread in Jacmel

In Jacmel,
the bakers are on strike.

They say
a few weeks ago,
a sack of flour cost
one thousand seven hundred and fifty gourdes
and this week
it costs
two thousand five hundred gourdes.

They say
they can’t pay their employees.

They say bread is rare now in Jacmel
and people are lining up for it.

The bakers interviewed by the newspaper
speak from their bakeries,
Plan of God
Gift of God,

Where today they are not producing
pain au chocolat
pain de campagne
any other delights
which you could normally find
to carry home
through the streets of Jacmel.

In Jacmel
they know people don’t live
by bread alone.
They have poetry on the beach
and colorful mosaics
and you can buy paintings on every corner.

In 2010 an earthquake
stopped the cathedral clock
but they got it started again
and time went on passing as before.

The ocean is blue
and the houses are painted in pastels
and it looks a lot like it did a hundred years ago
except of course for all the motorcycles
zipping back and forth.

In Jacmel
the bakers pray
that God will give them this day
their daily bread.
And so does everyone else.

Ruth, from

Laura has today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Home is Where the Heart Is

For Spiritual Journey First Thursday, our host Donna asked us to write about the expression "Home is Where the Heart Is." So here goes...

The subject of "home" has always been a difficult one for me, because I have moved around so much and spent so much of my life apart from people I love. Home is definitely where people I love are, but there are many places of which that's true.
I wrote about this back in 2011:

An Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11
I've thought about this verse a lot, and wondered what it would be like to have an undivided heart. It sounds incredibly restful to me sometimes. I don't think I've ever felt that my heart was completely at home in one place. It is always divided. This started when I first went to boarding school at the age of seven, and experienced what it's like to want to be in two places, to miss my parents desperately but at the same time love school and being with my friends. My heart was divided; I couldn't choose.

In fact, maybe my divided heart started even earlier than that. I was born in the United States and then went to Africa as a tiny baby. I was from two places, heard many languages, loved both ugali and pizza, had my blond pigtails pulled by people who were fascinated by my hair.

And now I live away from most of my family and many of my friends and my heart remains divided; there's always, always someone to miss. Divided, loving more than one place, loving more people than I can count, not satisfied with seeing people I love so seldom, with one sentence on Facebook, with not knowing my nieces and nephews, or my friends' children, not being part of their lives.

I guess everyone is like that these days; none of us can live near to all the people that matter to us. I have a friend from high school who was the third generation of her family growing up in the same house, but that's not common any more, and probably I romanticize what that would be like, as someone who has lived in mission housing, or rented houses or apartments, since my birth. It's a missionary kid cliche that we can't tell where we're from; there's no place on this earth where I feel rooted.

Maybe that's not what the verse means; it's talking, after all, about loving God above all others. Other versions of the Bible use language like "purity of heart," "unite my heart," even "focus my heart." God can focus my heart even as I flit about from one task to the next, from one need to the next. Even as I hurt with absence from people I love.

"Some day," posted an MK friend on, yes, Facebook, today, "there will be no goodbye." I can't imagine that day. It brings tears to my eyes to try to picture it. A day of hellos.

Yes, my heart is often divided, but I'm so thankful for the many wonderful people that God has brought into my life and given to me to love.  And "home," the actual place where I hang my hat (we do have a hat-rack, and I literally hang hats on it), is with the people with whom I get to share life right now. It won't be forever, I'm reminded as college mail arrives each week for my tenth grader in the wake of his PSAT. But for now, my heart is at home with my husband and son, and my heart is also with my daughter in college, and my family spread around the world, and my friends whom I love. Better too much love than too little, every time. Love is worth the pain of separation.

In the 2011 post, I wrote that I don't feel rooted anywhere. In 2017 my OLW was ROOTED, and after reflecting more on that concept, and on the verse in Ephesians that talks about being "rooted and established in love," I do feel rooted, right here where I am. Home is where my heart is, right here, nestled in God's love.

Be sure to visit Donna's roundup to see what everyone else wrote today.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Poetry Friday: Absences

It's not snowing where I live, but it's snowing in many of the places where my friends and family members live right now, and I'm seeing photos of cold and shivery days on social media. I like the way Donald Justice describes absence in this poem, the lack of color, the lack of flowers, the lack of sound. This poem feels like waiting and silence and, well, absence.
(My daughter took this photo a couple of years ago and sent it to me from her own frozen landscape.)

by Donald Justice

It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
Of a childhood piano—outside the window, palms!
And the heavy head of the cereus, inclining,
Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.

Now, only these poor snow-flowers in a heap,
Like the memory of a white dress cast down . . .
So much has fallen.
                                    And I, who have listened for a step
All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
Already in memory. And the terrible scales descending
On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent flowers

You can read this poem and more by Donald Justice here.

Tabatha has the roundup today.

What I Learned in January

In January I learned again that January is not my favorite month. It's a month full of anniversaries, not just of the 2010 earthquake itself (nine years ago now), but of all kinds of related events. I get sad, whether I try to forget all about it or immerse myself in memories; I've tried both. This year there was little public recognition of the date (January 12th); we didn't have anything special at school, and even the government didn't do anything beyond laying a wreath at the site of the mass grave in Titayen. My husband and I held hands at 4:53, the time the quake struck, and observed a moment of silence.

Over the following days, I had several quiet conversations with friends who were going through similar feelings; one called it "a heaviness" around the day, others retold stories from 2010. Are we more prepared now, we wondered? The UN says yes. Maybe the UN is right. (I wouldn't count on it, personally.)

My son gave my husband a book for Christmas called Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. He read it over Christmas break, and then we watched the Netflix series together (with my daughter, who was home from college), and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our favorite was the Salt episode, which took place mostly in Japan. So interesting. This is just the kind of in-depth nerding out over food that my husband loves best.

My daughter visited the library before she came home and checked out some DVDs for us to watch together, and one was the second season of The Hollow Crown, adaptations of Shakespeare plays about the Wars of the Roses. My English education gave me in-depth knowledge about the Tudors and something called "Social and Economic History from 1800-1914," but hardly anything about the Wars of the Roses. We were looking up details in history books as we watched. The acting was great, and it was fun watching Shakespeare plays we hadn't seen before.

My daughter went back to the States, so we had to say goodbye again. I'm better at hello.

We had started watching The Final Table while my daughter was still here, and we finished it after she left. Competitive cooking is always fun (more so if you get to eat the results, which of course we didn't). This was especially entertaining because each episode focused on a particular country, complete with renowned chefs and food experts to explain the food.

In January we experienced the joys of a fuel shortage, sending us back to many times in the past when we have learned the lessons of light and darkness. No fuel means very little city power, and it also means it's harder to run our backup generator.

Here's Barbara Brown Taylor on the spiritual lessons to be learned from a power cut:

"On day three, I decided that a power outage would make a great spiritual practice. Never mind giving up meat or booze for Lent. For a taste of real self-denial, just turn off the power for a while and see if phrases such as 'the power of God' and 'the light of Christ' sound any different to you. Better yet, ask someone to flip the switch for you and then cut the wire for good measure, thereby depriving you of the power to flip it back on again.

...Long for the light you cannot procure for yourself, and feel your heart swell with gratitude - every single morning - when the sun comes up. Value warmth. Prize shelter. Praise the miracle of flowing water.

On the afternoon of day four, just as I had finished deodorizing the empty refrigerator, there was a loud click, followed by the sound of a dozen engines coming on. I stood up. The yellow sponge fell form my hand. 'We have power!" I shouted, with tears springing from my eyes. There should be a service in the prayer book for occasions such as these.

O God of the burning bush, we praise you for the return of heat and light.

O God of streams in the wilderness, we thank you for the gift of flowing water."

(There's more wonderful stuff like this in Brown's book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.)

I thought often in January of Brown's phrase "the light you cannot procure for yourself," which applies to much more than electricity. It goes along with my word for the year, Possibility, and especially the Nouwen quote I'm meditating on about accepting whatever God sends you instead of insisting on clinging to your own wishes. My wishes include 24-hour electricity (and some other things I won't go into). Maybe that's not what I'm going to get. I'm still trying to figure out being OK with that, and maybe I will always be in that process.

As I mulled over these thoughts, I came across this post by Kay Bruner, who recently lost her beloved daughter (just typing those words brings me to tears). She's quoting Nouwen, too (not the same quote as the one I've been using but very similar in its ideas), and she says things aren't necessarily going to get better, but we'll get through it together. The title of her post sums it up: "Hope sustains when optimism fails."

I always listen to Anne Bogel's podcast "What Should I Read Next," and the one for January 15th was especially good. Anne's guest recently adopted a young son who has experienced trauma already in his life, and she set a goal to read a thousand books with him this school year. At the time of recording her conversation with Anne, she had already read more than eight hundred. She talked so encouragingly for me (as a teacher, a parent, and a reader) about how healing reading is, with its combination of predictable and unpredictable, its linear nature, and its peaceful lap-sitting (in her case - rarely for me any more, sadly). While I don't have anybody any more who routinely sits in my lap to be read to, I do still read aloud, to my students, my husband, really anybody who'll let me. My daughter and I read aloud to each other when she was visiting. Reading (whether silently or aloud) is good for sadness, trauma, confusion of all kinds - it keeps me going, and that's another thing I keep learning every month, including January. I read eleven books in January, and you can see what they were and what I thought of them in my Reading Update posts (here's the first and here's the second).

The month ended with the Polar Vortex, and all sorts of nasty photos on Facebook of what frostbite looks like. Nobody where I live will be getting frostbite, but it has been down in the 70s and 80s here, and I have been sleeping under a blanket and turning off the fan (even before the inverter batteries die, which happens most days well before morning), so we are definitely experiencing winter.  One morning in January as we got ready in the dark, with only candles, I thought of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem from my childhood: "In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candle-light." (You can read the rest here.)

Goodbye to January. I'm glad to see it go, frankly. February will be better, I hope, and if it isn't, at least we'll get through it together.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Reading Update

Book #6 of 2019 was A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Meant to Live, by Emily P. Freeman.

"Eternity is not for later," Freeman writes."God weaves eternity into our minutes. Every day, he is creating minute after minute, and he hands us the grace we need for each one as they come. Worry and anxiety show up when we try to rush ahead into the minutes that haven't been made yet. There is no art in anxiety. We try to manage the future, a time that doesn't even exist yet, and we wonder why it makes our stomach hurt."

This is a good book; I recommend it. Freeman has a lovely voice and her words are encouraging.

Book #7 was Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver. I had had this on hold at the library since it came out, and was still bazillionth on the list, so I was so excited to get the hardback book from my husband and son for Christmas. I am a huge Kingsolver fan and have read all her novels. This one is written from a similarly pessimistic worldview as the last one, Flight Behavior, but it is also oddly uplifting. It's as though having accepted that the world leaves us unsheltered, we can go on to make honest, loving lives. The narrative goes back and forth between two time periods of life in Vineland, New Jersey, one in 2016 when the world is basically falling apart for Willa and her family and friends, and one in the nineteenth century when the world is basically falling apart for Thatcher Greenwood and his family and friends. I loved so much about the book: the scene where Willa's husband's (young, female) student shows up at the house and she and Willa have an awkward conversation; the love scene between the (very) long-married couple; the affectionate yet angry relationship between mother and daughter. I see all the examples I had marked in the book were in the modern sections, and that's not surprising, since I liked that section better, but the nineteenth century story is good, too. Thatcher Greenwood is friends with his neighbor, Mary Treat, a scientist who writes letters to some of the great minds of the day, including Darwin. Mary Treat was a real person, and several of the incidents in this part of the book really happened. Similarly, the modern part of the story includes the 2016 election and some of the associated events.
Book #8 was The Dark Flood Rises, by Margaret Drabble. This book depressed me in a way Kingsolver's didn't. It's about aging and dying, and while it's well-written, it didn't seem to contain even as much hope as Kingsolver's pessimism. I followed it with an equally depressing book, #9, The Perfect Nanny, by Leila Slimani. Spoiler: she's not the perfect nanny. The thing I liked best about this book was that it was set in Paris, and I enjoyed the very French feel to it, even reading it in its English translation.

Book #10 was a re-read, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help is on the Way and Love is Already Here, by Jonathan Martin. (This was at least the fourth time of reading it. It's so good. I wrote about it here, here, here, and here.)

Book #11 was The Leavers, by Lisa Ko. In an early chapter of this book, Deming asks his mother,

"'Are you going to leave me again?'
'Never.' His mother took his hand and swung it up and down. 'I promise I'll never leave you.'
But one day, she did."

This book is about immigration, moving from one culture to another, cross-cultural adoption, ICE, loss, trauma. It's about belonging in two places. Do you have to choose? Can you be both? It's about trying to be OK with the kind of love people are able to give you, whether or not it's the kind of love you really want from them. Are you worth loving? If someone leaves you, does that mean you don't matter any more? I will be thinking about this book for a long time. When I finished it, I was excited to find a rich conversation at the end between Ko and Barbara Kingsolver. Here's Ko on her book: "There's this melting-pot fantasy in the United States that immigrants can seamlessly melt into the dominant culture while simultaneously bestowing it with a dash of flavor - a recipe here, a restaurant there. But in reality, assimilation can be a lot more violent." (She's talking about psychological violence, not physical violence, and the victims of the violence are the newcomers, not the people already in the United States.)

That's a lot of good reading already this year! I'm looking forward to February's books!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Poetry Friday: In My Classroom

Once again this year I am taking and posting a daily photo, and today's prompt on CY365 is "Prism." I was trying to think of something for that prompt, and decided to look in one of my classroom dictionaries. That resulted in this photo and this haiku:
Colors of living
Tamed for classroom consumption
Black and white rainbow

This week in that same classroom, I read the following poem with my eighth graders. Aurora Levins Morales comes from Puerto Rico, where they grow sugar cane, just like here in Haiti. This poem is in my ancient classroom anthologies, already lining the walls when I first inherited this classroom about 14 years ago. I have always loved it for the way it plays with the metaphor of sugar. It's not just harmless, uncomplicated sweetness.

Sugar Poem
by Aurora Levins Morales

is something refined
in your vocabulary,
taking its place at the table
in a silver bowl: essence
of culture.

I come from the earth
where the cane was grown.
I know
the knobbed rooting,
green spears, heights of 
against the sky,
purple plumed.
I know the backache
of the machetero,
the arc of steel
cutting, cutting,
the rhythm of harvest
leaving acres of sharp spies
that wound the feet - 
and the sweet smoke
of the llaramada:
rings of red fire burning
dark sugar into the wind.

My poems grow from the ground.
I know what they are made of:
heavy, raw and green.

you say, is sweet.
One teaspoon in a cup of coffee...
life's not so bad.

Caña, I reply,
yields many things:
for the horses,
rum for the tiredness
of the machetero,
alcohol to cleans,
distil, to burn
as fuel.

I don't write my poems
for anybody's sweet tooth.

My poems are acetylene torches
welding steel.
My poems are flamethrowers
cutting paths through the world.
My poems are bamboo spears
opening the air.
They come from the earth,
common and brown.

I talked a little bit with the eighth graders about the history of sugar cane in this country, and the plantations that required slave labor to run. Slaves here - and in other nations where cane is grown - didn't live very long, because the work was exhausting and dangerous. One of the kids commented that everything nice has a price. Sometimes we do touch on real life in the classroom, after all.

(By the way, here's an article about one of the main things sugar cane is used for in Haiti, rum, and specifically the kind called clairin.)

Today's roundup is here.