Thursday, September 12, 2019

Poetry Friday: Things You Didn't Put on Your Résumé

This poem was on the Writer's Almanac this week.

Things You Didn't Put on Your Résumé
by Joyce Sutphen

How often you got up in the middle of the night
when one of your children had a bad dream,

and sometimes you woke because you thought
you heard a cry but they were all sleeping,

so you stood in the moonlight just listening 
to their breathing,

(Here's the rest.) 

We're so much more than our résumés. This poem is mostly about motherhood, and certainly there are many things about being a mother that I consider my greatest strengths. But even as a teacher, my résumé will never contain all my skills. Like the fact that I  once swallowed a fly, and went right on teaching.

I had some moments this week when I felt as though I was a great teacher. I had lots of moments when I felt the opposite, too, but I chose to focus on the good when I wrote this:

Things You Didn't Put on Your Résumé
by Ruth from

How you love the characters in the Iliad
almost as much as the students in your class.

How happy it makes you when your students beg you
to read aloud one more chapter.

How many of your kids read their "first fat book" 
while they were in your care.

How you learn from reading their writing about soccer, and Fortnite,
and getting pointe shoes, and living their lives.

How you once swallowed a fly while you were teaching
and didn't even interrupt the lesson.

How about you? What skills do you have that aren't on your résumé?

Here's today's roundup. 

P.S. This week I found a photo of one of my poems on Facebook, posted by a friend who didn't know it was mine. The photo was from  this anthology, Imperfect: poems about mistakes: an anthology for middle schoolers, edited by our own Tabatha Yeatts. You should get a copy! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Reading Update

Book #72 of 2019 was Birds of a Feather, the second Maisie Dobbs book, by Jacqueline Winspear. I'll probably continue reading this series. It's fun to see how many I still have left; thirteen, I believe.

Book #73 was Les Oiseaux d'Haiti, by René Durocher, a book of gorgeous photos of the birds on this island where I live.

Book #74 was The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson. Set in Eastern Kentucky in 1930s, this book recounts the adventures of Cussy Mary Carter, a traveling librarian who also happens to be one of the Blue people. (She suffers from methemoglobinemia, which causes a blue skin color.)

Book #75 was Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger. While there were wonderful moments in this book, I didn't love it as I'd hoped I would.

Book #76 was Everything Inside, Edwidge Danticat's new book of short stories. I'm a bit of a completist when it comes to Danticat, whose characters and settings are so familiar to me, since they are all connected to Haiti in one way or another. This book doesn't disappoint.

Book #77 was Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa, by Rachel Pieh Jones. Highly recommended. Read my full review here.

Book #78 was Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor. This is the second book in the Strange the Dreamer series. I read the first one in 2017. Taylor is just such a good storyteller. 

Book #79 was Grateful: The Subversive Power of Giving Thanks, by Diana Butler Bass. I liked this and found it thought-provoking; it went beyond the basics of the topic. Some will find it way too political, as it was written in the three months after the 2016 presidential election in the US.

Stronger than Death

I don't even remember when I first started reading Rachel Pieh Jones' blog, Djibouti Jones. I know it was a long time ago. I visited for her perspective on making a life in a place that could be challenging. I kept going back for her writing about sending her children to boarding school, her book recommendations, her meditations on fear and risk. And as she posted her (increasingly impressive) publications, I always clicked through and read what she had to say.

So it was natural that I would want to read her new book, Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa, coming out in October.
Rachel has been working on this labor of love for five years, so some glimpses have shown up in her blog. I knew of her interest in TB, in Italian, in all things Somalia.

Nonetheless, I was blown away by this book and by Annalena Tonelli. This is a complex, category-evading look at a woman most people have never heard of. That's how Annalena wanted it; she deliberately maintained a low profile in the service of her patients and her work. She put all her energy and efforts into loving and treating the people in front of her and raising money so that she could keep doing just that. "Annalena," writes Rachel, "followed the example of Jesus, who never spoke of results. She believed in the power of presence." She didn't waste her energy agonizing over metaphysics, either; "I learned to bend my head in front of the mystery of pain, suffering, and evil," she wrote. "I do not want to know why. I will not torment myself unnecessarily. There is no answer. It is the mystery hidden from the foundations of the earth."

Annalena had plenty of opportunity to witness pain, suffering, and evil, as she battled tuberculosis, hunger, bureaucracy, terrorists and criminals, all the way through to her death, which begins the book. Yet Rachel concludes, "I think Annalena made a choice, a conscious decision, to focus on joy and hope. Had she focused on sickness and death, she would have despaired....Annalena taped a list of the Wagalla dead [victims of a massacre] to the walls of her Merka room and said they often came to her in her dreams, one by one, during the night. But in the morning, when she woke before sunrise and sipped a cup of kawa, Somali coffee, she would look out the three windows of her room that opened onto the sea and watch boats bob and sway in the silvery-gray water. 'The sky is clearing,' she wrote. 'A new day. God is not yet tired of men.'"

Annalena's character comes through loud and clear in this story. She is an inspiring and radical role-model who deserves to be more widely known. The way she learned the names of her patients and all their family members, her meticulous record-keeping in clinical work, her mentoring of others, her ability to deny herself even to the point of hardly eating or sleeping, her sense of humor: all of these qualities, and more, resonate. Rachel herself clearly finds Annalena someone to learn from, and I loved the glimpses of Rachel searching for encouragement for her own journey. She marvels over Annalena's commitment and compares it to her own. She asks everyone she interviews why Annalena stayed in the difficult place she chose to work, and why the interviewee stayed, and how. "Some people," says Antonio, one person she talks to about Annalena, "feel a challenge when they see Annalena's life and then they can't do it. There can be complicated feelings." Rachel doesn't shy away from these complicated feelings, and to me her obvious connection with Annalena is one of the great strengths of this book.

"I trust in a resurrection," wrote Annalena. "I let every event settle and rest in the intimate presence of God." Reading about her makes me want to do the same.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Poetry Friday: Heart

This Rita Dove poem showed up on Facebook yesterday because she won this year's Wallace Stevens Award (congratulations!). I love the poem, and shared it here back in 2011. As I read it, I remembered that I wrote a poem about my heart recently, so here they both are, hers then mine.

Heart to Heart

It's neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn't melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can't feel

It doesn't have
a tip to spin on,
it isn't even
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want --  

But I can't open it:
there's no key.
I can't wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it's all yours, now --
but you'll have
to take me,

Rita Dove

My Heart
My own heart let me more have pity on - Hopkins

I woke with the same heart I had last night.
No transformation happened while I slept.
Same useless, softy heart that fell apart
Just yesterday (along with eyes that wept

And brain that’s still fixating on it all).
Why can’t I have a better, stronger heart?
A heart that chills, deals, moves on, gets a grip?
A lovely, sparkly, shiny work of art?

My own heart I just can’t have pity on;
Instead there’s the embarrassment and shame
I feel right now at all the ways I feel,
the feelings both without and with a name.

I am so sick of every bump and scar,
Oh heart, I am so tired of how you are!

Ruth, from

This week's roundup is here.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Nudges

Our host Ramona invited us to reflect this month on the topic of "Nudges."

This has been a surprisingly difficult one. I think that it's a hard subject to put into words because it's so fuzzy. I probably make many of my daily decisions based on my intuition, but how much of that is a spiritual "nudge" from God and how much is my collected experience of life, and how much is just pure impulse in the moment? I can't easily break it down.

How interesting that I am often so quick to assign motives to other people, and to think I know exactly what they were thinking when they said or did a certain thing, when it is so challenging for me to unravel my own reasons for doing whatever I do!

I sometimes wonder how my life would be if some of those little nudges of the past hadn't happened. What if my parents had never met? What if my husband hadn't decided to transfer to the college where I was? What if he hadn't stopped by the college education department bulletin board to read about the schools advertising for teachers and to learn about the school in Haiti where our two children have had their entire education and where we have worked for more than twenty years now?

These nudges are mysterious, but I trust that God works through them and brings good.

Check out Ramona's blog to see what everyone else has to say on this subject.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Poetry Friday: Ode to Kool-Aid

I love this poem by Marcus Jackson because it brings back my childhood in a powerful way. I remember mixing up the Tupperware pitcher of Kool-Aid in various kitchens in various houses where we lived. The little cloud of color at the bottom of the plastic cylinder (and how different was my view of plastic back then, before the stuff was choking our planet), my "healthy" version of the recipe where I added only 3/4 cup of sugar instead of a full cup (see the word "unsweetened" on the package), the brightly-colored mustaches on myself and my brothers after our tumblers of Kool-Aid, consumed with a cookie or two.

Ode to Kool-Aid
Marcus Jackson

You turn the kitchen
tap's metallic stream
into tropical drink,
extra sugar whirlpooling
to the pitcher-bottom
like gypsum sand.
Purplesaurus Rex, Roarin'
Rock-A-Dile Red, Ice Blue
Island Twist, Sharkleberry Fin;
We need factory-crafted packets
unpronounceable ingredients,
a logo cute enough to hug,
a drink unnaturally sweet...

Here's the rest.

Kathryn Apel has the roundup this week.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

What I Learned this Summer

I kept a file of things I was learning this summer; mostly it's links to articles I read and thought were good, or at least thought-provoking. I hope you, reader, find something to interest you here! As usual with these posts, some things I've been thinking about are presented in a fairly undigested way, but I'd welcome further conversation on anything here.

What does it mean to be a "real" mother? This is a lovely meditation on motherhood, infertility, adoption, and love in general. "I wonder about quantifying love, weighing belonging, measuring realness. By volume or heft or texture?....I thought love was a pie and I didn’t want to share my slice."

I learned a lot about birds this summer. I acquired some binoculars, with the help of my brother, an experienced birder, and he took me out a couple of times birding and taught me things. I also read about the healing effects of watching birds and started following this blog, Bird Therapy. More to come on this whole topic.

Speaking of healing, I loved this article on the first mass celebrated at Notre Dame after the fire.

This was a fascinating article on how hard it is to get rid of a piano.

Paul McCartney picks out his favorites of his late wife Linda's photos.

My husband and daughter took a bike trip this summer, and I was reminded both how large the United States really is, and that in spite of everything, the country is still full of good people.

I learned about this new online database of female artists.

This article is about the challenges of writing non-fiction about real people. Truth is slippery, and complex, and difficult to capture.

Did you catch the news this summer that kids were growing horns on their skulls? This is an article on why that's nonsense, and how to spot ridiculous studies.

This is a video on the effect of boarding school on small children. It was hard to watch, but it sparked some good conversations.

This one is about grief.

"The Life-Changing Magic of Making Do."

It turns out that, like so many things,  fireflies are disappearing, but this article has some ways you can help them come back.

I know it's technically still summer, but I'm back at school, so I am already in fall mode. You can expect another post on what I've learned at the end of September.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Poetry Friday: Honoring LBH

Today for Poetry Friday we are honoring the life of Lee Bennett Hopkins, a champion of poetry who died on August 8th. Hopkins produced over 120 anthologies of poetry during a long career.

We celebrated his birthday last year here at Poetry Friday, and here's the post I wrote then.

Jone MacCulloch suggested that we could best pay tribute to LBH by writing a poem inspired by and/or including a line from one of his.  I found "Why Poetry?" here, and borrowed his title and last line for my poem. (I also borrowed an Emily Dickinson line, while I was at it.  See it?)

Why Poetry?

Because some subjects
don’t work like math.

Because some objects
can’t be held in the hand.

Because some truths
have to be told slant.

Why poetry?

Because some surfaces
are shiny
and some are dull
and some things are invisible.

Because life doesn’t go on forever.

That’s why. 

Ruth, from

Thank you, LBH, for all you did for children's poetry. You'll be missed.

Amy has today's roundup here.