Friday, January 25, 2013

Poetry Friday: One Today

I imagine I'll be one of many posting this poem today for Poetry Friday.  I love it that President Obama chose, for the second time, to include a poem in his inaugural ceremonies.  I posted four years ago about Elizabeth Alexander's poem, and in the intervening years I have read and enjoyed more of her work. And this time, I enjoyed Richard Blanco's poem.


It's a challenge to write a poem to read on television, before millions of people, most of whom never read poetry and have little desire to. The piece has to be clear, concrete, accessible, but also "poetic," however people see that. I thought Blanco handled it well. I played the video for my middle schoolers, and both seventh and eighth graders picked up on the reference to Newtown, the fact that Blanco saluted both his parents, and his tribute to the variety of lives Americans live. The only complaints I heard were that the poem was too long, and one of the kids objected to the use of the word "crescendoing," because he didn't know what it meant.

Here is the full text of the poem:

"One Today"

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper -- bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives -- to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind -- our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me -- in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always -- home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country -- all of us --
facing the stars
hope -- a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it -- together

Here are some more interesting tidbits I found: an interview Blanco gave to the Academy of American Poets and a history of the previous inaugural poems. I also read this article, in which Alexandra Petri used Blanco's poem to ask whether poetry is dead.

If poetry is dead, you couldn't tell it on Fridays.  Today's Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by  Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.
Poetry looks alive and well to me. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Haiti, January 2013

A Facebook friend posted the following two articles and asked his friends to read both; both reflect the truth of what Haiti is like today.  Yes, there is progress and hope.  And yes, there's still a lot to be done.

We will rise again - but for now we need your help.

Letter from Haiti: Life in the Ruins

Friday, January 18, 2013

Poetry Friday: Questions for the Angels

It's a Paul Simon kind of day. Here's one of my favorites from "So Beautiful or So What."

A pilgrim on a pilgrimage
Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
His sneakers torn
In the hour when the homeless move their cardboard blankets
And the new day is born
Folded in his backpack pocket
The questions that he copied from his heart
Who am I in this lonely world?
And where will I make my bed tonight?
When twilight turns to dark

Questions for the angels
Who believes in angels?
Fools do
Fools and pilgrims all over the world

If you shop for love in a bargain store
And you don't get what you bargained for
Can you get your money back?
If an empty train in a railroad station
Calls you to it's destination
Can you choose another track?
Will I wake up from these violent dreams
With my hair as white as the morning moon?

Questions for the angels
Who believes in angels?
I do
Fools and pilgrims all over the world

Downtown Brooklyn
The pilgrim is passing a billboard
That catches his eye
It's Jay-Z
He's got a kid on each knee
He's wearing clothes that he wants us to try

If every human on the planet and all the buildings on it
Should disappear
Would a zebra grazing in the African Savannah
Care enough to she'd one zebra tear?
Questions for the angels

I wrote more about this song and angel poems in general here.

The very talented Violet Nesdoly has the Poetry Friday roundup today here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Three Years

Today is the third anniversary of the earthquake that shook Haiti, killed who knows how many people, and changed the lives of everyone who survived.

Yesterday we had protests in our neighborhood. While I've witnessed many protests in our time in Haiti, this was the nearest they have ever come to my own home. I took this picture after the protesters had left:

The cream color to the left of the photo is our gate; I was standing right in front of our house. So you can see that this protest was very close to us, and yes, that thick black smoke got all over everything inside. Everything smells like burning rubber. There's a film of grey (probably carcinogenic) dust everywhere.

The protesters were angry because the road was supposed to be fixed and it hasn't been. A Dominican firm, they said, had been paid, but yo manje kob la, they ate the money. Corruption and frustration and life as usual, and no alternative but to go out in the streets and set fire to things. When it was gently suggested to them that they might want to be careful about burning up the electrical wires, they said that we don't get that much electricity anyway.

This morning, as I made tea and scrambled eggs, I smelled that smell and wiped that grime off of various objects, and thought, again and again, "I am alive," so that today and that day three years ago coexisted in my mind. I felt thankful to be in my home, which stood and did not fall, and thankful to cook food, as I remembered how we calculated how much we had left in those days after the quake and wondered when we'd be able to resupply.  I sat in our courtyard and remembered sitting there after the earthquake because I didn't want to be inside, in case an aftershock sent the concrete roof down on my head.  And I asked my daughter to pass the jam.

It's like that with any grief, isn't it? You mourn and you feel sad about the past, and yet the present goes inexorably on, and there are new things to mourn and even new things to be happy about. But it's all mixed up together, the remembering and the going on, the grief and the joy. Here's what the street looks like today:

There's a particular pattern to the leftovers of burnt tires, one I've seen many times on Haitian streets but never on my own street:

There's plenty of evidence of the earthquake left, too. Three hundred and sixty thousand people, more or less, continue to live in tents. While the tents are not everywhere as they were, there are still large tent cities, and those who have been resettled are not necessarily in good conditions. The Miami Herald published a photo essay about one family whose excitement about moving on from a tent city has given way to disappointment and deeper poverty than they were in before the quake; you can look at that here.

It's as though we're all covered with a film of black smoke, still wiping off the remains of the earthquake, off of Haiti, and off of our lives and our souls.

This morning the roadworking equipment is out there, in response to the protesters.  (Oh, look!  They got what they wanted!  How about that?  It works to go out in the street and burn things!)  I can feel the house shaking as they roll the road.  I don't like feeling the house shaking.  In fact, it makes me feel slightly sick.  But I don't run outside; I stay here and keep typing away.

As I type I'm listening to an album that I listened to many times after the earthquake, Steven Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise."

Beauty has already risen, and it will continue to, I know, even as new ashes continue to accumulate.  I read my blog posts from those first days, from the 14th when I got back online for the first time and reported that we were alive, from the days after when I agonized over my guilt for leaving the country, being evacuated with my children while others stayed behind and did something about the situation.  And yet I see, too, the way God took care of us, provided everything we needed, including wonderful people who may never understand how much their help and support meant to us.  Beauty, in the middle of the worst time of my life.

But we're still rising from those ashes, too, the ones from three years ago, as we wipe up yesterday's ashes.

Of course today I am remembering the details of that day, and if you want to read our story, you can go back and read my posts from January of 2010.   Today, I am thinking of that moment, 4:53 PM.  I am thinking of friends who died, and of other friends who were injured.  I am thinking of how everyone's lives changed.  I am wiping ashes off of my soul.  I am waiting for beauty. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Poetry Friday: This Quilt

I wrote this poem in 2011. Back then, everything I wrote turned out to be about the earthquake, whether I intended it or not. This poem is no exception. I chose it for today because during this weekend's three year anniversary of the earthquake, I want to focus on how the love and support and comfort of friends and family got me through those horrible days.

This Quilt

Ladies in southern Indiana made this quilt.
It's not the fancy kind you'd buy in a store.
It's the kind made from real scraps,
Somebody's apron and somebody's shirt and somebody's pants
All stitched together on Thursday nights at the Sewing Circle
To send to the missionaries.

This quilt sat in the provision closet in the mission headquarters
Until a mother chose it to keep her tow-headed children warm
On winter nights in Tokyo
And when I married one of her boys, this quilt became mine.

This quilt warmed me as I slept.
Stretched out on the floor
It gave my babies a soft place to play.
A fat, healthy Haitian baby played on it too
And this quilt hung many times on my Caribbean clothesline
And faded lazily in the sun.

Somebody's Sunday dress from Indiana
Chopped up into squares
Shook gently over sleeping children in Japanese earthquakes,
So commonplace that no one even woke.

Somebody's child's school skirt
Cushioned sleepers in my courtyard
After a Haitian earthquake chased everyone out from under a concrete roof.

Ladies in southern Indiana never knew
As their conversation meandered
Over the colorful fabric in their laps
Where this quilt would go
And what wordless comfort it would bring
In places they would never see.

Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup, at No Water River.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Poetry Friday: The End and the Beginning

I went looking for poems about peace and found this article; from the poems suggested I chose this one, by Wisława Szymborska, because it illustrates so clearly that true peace is much more than the absence of fighting.  It also reminds me of rebuilding after an earthquake; a week from tomorrow we will commemorate three years since our earthquake on January 12th, 2010.

The End and the Beginning

By Wisława Szymborska
Translated By Joanna Trzeciak

After every war someone has to clean up.
Things won’t straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

You can find more information about this poet here. And here's 2013's first Poetry Friday roundup!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

One Little Word for 2013

I have been thinking a lot about my One Little Word for this new year. Last year my word was HEAL. (At that link you can see my words for each year since I started doing this in 2009.) As I thought about what I wanted to focus on in 2013, I noticed that I have been drawn lately to thoughts about peace. I posted two songs in December about peace (here and here). In our secondary chapels at school, we've been discussing the fruit of the spirit, and recently our friend Robbie shared a version of this meditation on peace, what it is and isn't.

As I thought about it, though, I wasn't sure I wanted to choose the word peace. When I looked it up in the thesaurus, I found words like privacy, solitude, ease. I have nothing against those concepts; in fact, they are probably way too important to me. They point to a conception of peace that is largely me-focused. I need some of that kind of peace in my life, but more than that, I need the peace Robbie referred to, the shalom that can be defined as completeness, wholeness. Cornelius Plantinga defines it this way (I found this quotation at the Wikipedia article linked above):
"The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be."

So I decided that instead of peace, my OLW this year would be SHALOM.  I could spend a lifetime, or at least a year, unpacking all the meanings of this word, and the rightness, the way things ought to be inherent in it.   SHALOM isn't an absence of conflict, a walking-on-eggshells "keeping the peace," but an active promoting of restoration and wholeness.

This year, I want to think more about what this SHALOM means on a personal level, in my little world, and in the larger world around me.