Friday, June 05, 2020

Poetry Friday: And Now for Something Completely Different

What an awful week it's been. What an awful year it's been. I have been posting a lot, here and on social media, about the generalized badness. And today for Poetry Friday, I just have to do something different. Go read my other posts if you want to know that I do, I really do, take everything that's going on seriously. So seriously that I can hardly bear it.

A friend evacuated to the US and left me some stuff, and included in that stuff was a magnetic poetry set. My son and I have been enjoying it very much. Again, we know about real haiku. And we take it seriously. Don't get mad at us for writing nonsense.

And at the end, I'll post a love poem for my husband, which will be marginally more serious.

You might try guessing which ones are mine and which ones are by my 17-year-old? And I'm betting you'll be wrong a lot of the time.

Here's my love poem for my husband. Or his for me? Can't tell sometimes.


Dream

My husband tells me that he had a dream about me.
We were sitting on opposite sides of the living room
and he was writing a poem.
But when he started to share it with me,
It was gone.

He woke up.

“It was kind of a nightmare,” he says.

The poem was about how wonderful I am;
that, he remembers.
A few hours later he says,
“It had that day in it,
the day we were watching ‘Daisy Miller’
and I noticed your hip
and I thought I wanted to marry you.”

No matter how much he tries to regain it,
that poem is gone,
just like that afternoon in 1987.

But the hip,
that’s still there.

At least for now.

Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

Margaret has today's roundup.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Hope


I'm hosting our gathering this month, and our theme is Hope. (Welcome, SJT buddies! Leave your link in the comments and I will gradually round up, old-school, as the day goes on. Your comments won't appear immediately because I've enabled moderation, but I will get to them as time and Haiti internet permit.)

I signed up for this, and selected the theme, at the end of last year. Hope was the word I'd chosen to focus on as I headed into 2020. Here's the post I wrote about my word choice back in January.  I didn't pick it because I was feeling hopeful; in fact, sort of the reverse. Our 2019 had been quite hopeless here in Haiti, where I live, and there wasn't much of a reason to think that things would be getting better, because none of the underlying issues had been resolved in any way. I picked Hope because I wanted some, and wanted to commit to looking for it.

So, I've been looking. Trying to infuse hopefulness into my days. Not easy, as the news has been bad, here and in my passport country, the United States. Our political situation has indeed not been fixed. Our economy is in a shambles. Our COVID-19 numbers go up each day. (I'm talking about Haiti, but draw your own comparisons with the US.) The enthusiasm and optimism my students always help me find have been more difficult given our distance learning situation. My friends, who often encourage me, have left the country or retreated to their homes. And we're watching the traumatic events in the United States in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

I've been trying to live the Henri Nouwen quote from my January post linked above.
"I have found it very important in my own life," Nouwen writes, "to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. I am finding that when I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me. To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear."

Giving up control over our lives isn't really that hard to do when you demonstrably don't have any control.  I'm at home. The borders of this country are closed. The airport is closed. As we finished up school this past week, we headed into a summer that will be pretty similar to the last two and a half months, and before that, our whole second quarter of school. We're locked down, folks.

I've been quoting Walter Brueggemann a lot lately in my SJT posts, and it seems a good habit to continue, because he always infuses me with courage and hope.
Here he quotes Psalm 69: "'Save me, O God...I have come into deep waters. In...your steadfast love,...rescue me...from the deep waters.' Under threat, ... this psalm refuses to host the idea that chaos is limitless. The very act of the prayer is an affirmation that watery chaos has limits, boundaries, and edges, because the waters butt up against the power of God. ... We are not watching simply the unbounded power of chaos savage the earth. We are rather watching chaos push to its extreme limit, doing its worst, most destructive work, and spending itself without finally prevailing. The psalm invites us to honesty about the threat. More than that, however, the psalm is buoyant in its conviction that all around the chaos, guarding its rise, monitoring its threat, is the counterpower of life, only haunting and shadowing, not too soon evident, but abidingly there. This voice of faith acknowledges the chaos, but then submits it to the larger power of God. So Jesus in that supreme moment of threat, does not yield, but announces in evangelical triumph, 'It is finished.' It is decided! It is accomplished! It is completed in triumph!"
Brueggemann is talking about Good Friday here, and in that story the worst happens. Jesus really does die. But it turns out that Good Friday doesn't have the last word.
"But what to do midst the threat?" he goes on. "Do what believing and trusting Jews and Christians have always done. Refuse the silence, reject despair, resist the devastating, debilitating assault of chaos, and speak a counterspeech. This psalm is not simply a passive, pious act of trust in God. It is rather a bold, abrasive speech that addresses God in the imperative, and in the utterance of the imperative, puts chaos on notice that we will not yield, will not succumb, will not permit the surging of chaos to define the situation. ... God comes into the deep waters at the behest of the faithful who watch in the night and who know that chaos is not normal, and must not be docilely accepted."
I could go on quoting, but I highly recommend you find Brueggemann's Collected Sermons and read them all. (And by the way, when I was looking for that link to his sermons, I found out he's published a book about the virus already - it came out at the end of April. I don't know anything about the book but I'm betting it's good. Here it is.)

I'm looking forward to reading what other SJT folks have to say about hope. And if you're not a regular SJT poster but you have something to say, leave it in the comments, either what you have to say, or a link to what you have to say. We're eager to read it!

Here's the roundup:

Do you know what a tetractys is? As Carol Varsalona points out in her post, it sounds like a dinosaur, but it's actually a kind of poem, and she has written one to remind us of reasons to hope during this season. You can read this and the rest of her post here.

Linda Mitchell took the Henri Nouwen quote from my post, listed the verbs, and then wrote a hopeful poem with them. Here it is.

Karen Eastlund is sad about the loss of communal singing and the hope it brings. You can read what she wrote here. It is hard to imagine not singing!

Margaret Simon wrote about where hope comes from and what we should do with it, here.

Fran Haley's post is about racism, and how it causes hopelessness. She asks how we can change the way children see society. You can read her answers here.

Ramona found a poem in the Bible about hope; she used words from Colossians and Hebrews to inspire herself, and us. Here's that post.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Poetry Friday: Let America Be America Again

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed -
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

Here's the rest of this poem, as relevant today as when it was first published in July 1936.

Here's this week's roundup.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Poetry Friday: Pandemic Birding

Next week we're finishing up with school. Every year at this time I am grading huge piles of work and fretting that nobody learned as much as I had hoped. Every year at this time I am convinced I won't finish everything, and this will be the first year in my teaching career when I will not turn in my grades at all and just, I don't know, suffocate under a mound of unevaluated student writing. This year, all that is happening times a million. Of course, this year the writing is all in Google Docs, so the suffocation would be virtual. The perfect end to 2019-2020, when we here in Haiti spent more than fifty percent of our teaching time in lockdown, first for political crisis and then for health crisis.

Meanwhile, on Sunday I wrote this poem.

Palmchat, Source Birdsoftheworld.org

Pandemic Birding, Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Today my brother wrote to tell me
that the nighthawks are back.
A friend texted a description of a bird
and then a photo of a scarlet tanager.
Another sent a video from a walk she took,
in which I could clearly hear woodpeckers.

My online birding group had a Big Day today
and birders all over the world added their finds to a spreadsheet.
It felt good to check for numerical updates on a list
that had nothing to do with sickness and death.
(We were just over a thousand species, last I looked.)

It’s not always easy to know
what to say to each other, these days,
as tragedies mount
and interpretations vary,
but then, we have the birds to report on,
and they’re doing what they’re supposed to,
behaving the way the books and apps predict,
going about their daily routines,
unaffected by human affairs.

I sat and watched palmchats today,
the national bird of the Dominican Republic,
our neighbor to the east.
They were enjoying the fruit
in the ficus tree in my yard.
There weren’t very many other birds out,
maybe because the palmchats were so noisy,
eating and hanging out close to each other,
the way - remember? - people used to.

Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com



You can see more pictures of palmchats, and listen to how they sound, here.

Carol Varsalona has today's roundup, and it looks as though she and I were on the same wavelength, with seeking relief in nature.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Poetry Friday: Store My Soul with Beauty

This poem was in the Academy of American Poets poem-a-day email back in March. I love the idea in it of storing up beauty so that you can experience it later when beauty is scarce.

I wouldn't exactly say beauty is scarce right now - there's still plenty to be found at home if I look closely - but I do miss the variety of beauty I generally get to experience, beauty of plants and people and moments.

The Days to Come
by Medora C. Addison

Now shall I store my soul with silent beauty,
Beauty of drifting clouds and mountain heights,
Beauty of sun-splashed hills and shadowed forests,
Beauty of dawn and dusk and star-swept nights.

Now shall I fill my heart with quiet music,
Song of the wind across the pine-clad hill,
Song of the rain and, fairer than all music,
Call of the thrush when twilight woods are still.

So shall the days to come be filled with beauty,
Bright with the promise caught from eastern skies;
So shall I see the stars when night is darkest,
Still hear the thrush's song when music dies.

I've been thinking a lot about a trip we took in December when my daughter was visiting. We wanted to drive to Jacmel, in the south, because we usually do that for a few days after Christmas, and we missed in 2018 because of political troubles. We didn't want to miss again, even though in 2019 there were still political troubles. We decided to go. And I'm so glad we did! I have been feasting on those beautiful scenes, in memory and photography, during these days of being locked inside my gates.

I'm blessed to have so many trips, conversations, experiences, all in my memory, ready to revisit when I need to.


In 2012 I wrote a post with a similar idea, about Wordsworth and Tintern Abbey and the Kentucky woods. And, in a somewhat related idea, last week I wrote about how good stories help to protect us from times like these.

Jama has this week's roundup.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Poetry Friday: The Trojan Horse

My eighth graders are listening to the story of the Trojan Horse today. Did you know that it isn't even in the Iliad? Most of the details in the story come from the Aeneid. Today's section was about how the Trojans, finally released from the city walls after ten years of fighting, discover the Horse on the beach, and then find Sinon, the spy, hiding in the reeds with his prepared speech to convince them to pull it into the city.

I'd rather teach this wonderful tale in person, but I'm glad for the technology that lets me record it and send it to my kids. There are few better protections against bad times than good stories. 

Here's a slightly later part, from a translation of the Aeneid by David Ferry:

And now the heavens shift and night comes in
And covers with its darkness earth and sky
And the tricks of the Myrmidons. Throughout the city
The Trojans, wearied by joy, lie fast asleep.
And now the Greeks set out from Tenedos,
Their ships proceeding in an ordered line,
Under the friendly light of the silent moon,
Making their way toward the shore they know so well.
And when the royal galley's beacon light
Is lighted, Sinon sees it, and quietly goes,
Protected by malign complicit fates,
And furtively opens up the Horse's flank
And frees the Argive warriors from its womb.
The Horse releases them to the open air,
And joyfully they come out: first come the captains
Thessander, and Sthenelus, and dire Ulysses,
Lowering themselves to the ground by means of a rope,
And Acamas and Thoas, and Pyrrhus, Achilles' son,
And Machaon the prince, and Menelaus,
And Epeus, he, who contrived the wooden horse
That fooled us so. And when they enter the city,
That's deep submerged in wine and unknowing sleep;
They surprise and kill the watch, and open the gates
To welcome in their comrades from the fleet,
Letting them in for what they are going to do.

David Ferry's translation of Virgil (Source)

You can see the perspective; to Aeneas, telling this story later, the Greeks are definitely the bad guys, "protected by malign complicit fates."

Wishing you only benign complicit fates this Poetry Friday. Check out the poetry others are sharing at today's roundup.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Community

Our host for this month, Ramona, asks: "How has this time of COVID-19 strengthened your sense of connection and community?"

I don't know that it has. It's strengthened my awareness of how much I need connection and community, for sure. I miss people, and conversations, more than I can say. I'm thankful for people who love me and whom I love here at home and a safe place to be, but I miss the constant interactions at school, the way my students make me laugh daily, the chance to get out of my own life and my own head. Technology doesn't cut it, partly because it doesn't work well enough to make real-time conversations easy; my internet connection is slow and unreliable (but oh, I'm so thankful for it). We are repeatedly thrown off our connection with our Zoom church; smaller groups are better but still not great. (I keep trying to add a photo to this post, but the connection is too slow today and I'm finally giving up in frustration.)

I am grateful for technology-aided conversations I am able to have: church, a call from a colleague, conversations with my counselor, family Zoom meetings with my parents and siblings and their families, talking with the occasional friend in the States, texting.

I want more.

I am surprised how much I need people. I went into this lockdown after a nine or ten week break from lockdown caused by political problems. I loved every day of getting to teach in my classroom, and I took advantage of every day. And now back to this. I'm starved for people. It stretches bleakly ahead, as here in Haiti we are still early in the whole horrible scenario.

I have nothing helpful or positive to say today, but fortunately I have lots of books, so here's some Walter Brueggemann, from his Collected Sermons:

As I pondered over "deep waters," I heard this other text in which God assures:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. Isaiah 43:1b-2a

This promise is that God will come to be in the waters with us, submitting to the chaos, and by submitting, transforming the waters. So we dare imagine that Jesus did not die abandoned on Friday. As he submitted to the sweeping, surging waters, his God and parent were present in the chaos, thereby transforming the waters into a place of rescuing communion. ...

The world now waits to see whether the faithful church can enter its Friday of chaos, enter in hope and resistance, to trust enough to let the threat become the home of rescue. The transformation requires profound faith and high hutzpah. How dare anyone under such threat say in triumph, "It is finished!"? Such nerve called trust causes the waters to recede, and life in all its fruitfulness may begin again, on Friday toward Sunday. (From a sermon preached by Walter Brueggemann on Good Friday, 1992, at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta.)

Check out Ramona's blog to see what others have to say on this subject.