Friday, January 30, 2015

Poetry Friday: Cats Sleep Anywhere

I posted back in October that we got a cat.  We have very limited experience with cats, so we have been figuring out Pangur Ban as we've gone along, from the way she would hide at first so that we thought she had run away to her weird behavior lately that sent us to Google to figure out - oh, in heat already?

This poem, "Cats Sleep Anywhere,"  is one of the first ones my now senior in high school daughter memorized, not because anyone asked her to, but because, sitting in her grandmother's lap, she heard something she loved, and wanted to repeat, and own forever.  I have to confess that I rarely see our cat sleep.  Mostly I see her climbing and stalking and scampering and jumping.  I take blurry photos of her moving, and only occasionally catch her sitting still, let alone sleeping.

But apparently, cats sleep anywhere.  I wish I had a recording of my daughter, at three or even younger, saying in her high, sweet voice, "ANYwhere!  THEY don't care!"

Cats Sleep Anywhere

Cats sleep anywhere, any table, any chair.
Top of piano, window-ledge, in the middle, on the edge.
Open drawer, empty shoe, anybody's lap will do.
Fitted in a cardboard box, in the cupboard with your frocks.
Anywhere! They don't care! Cats sleep anywhere.

Eleanor Farjeon

What poems have you memorized, just because you wanted to keep them forever?

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Poetry Friday: NPM Poster

It is always exciting every year when the new National Poetry Month poster is unveiled.  This year's is very different from previous posters.

It will definitely catch the eyes of my middle schoolers.  And the poem, "Eating Poetry," by Mark Strand, is equally fun.

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

Here's the rest.

I've been busy all day, and I'm just now getting to post something at almost five.  I'm sure I'm not the first to share the poster!  I'm headed over here to see what everyone else has for today! 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Poetry Friday: Late at Night in Bed

Last night I woke with a scary scenario in my head and then lay awake worrying for a while.  Since my word for this year is "unafraid," I probably shouldn't even admit to these fears.  This poem is about the sounds we hear in the dark, and the way we interpret them, and the truth we keep from new parents, which is: even once your baby sleeps through the night, you won't.  Not like you used to.

Late at Night in Bed

By Gregory Djanikian
My wife tells me she hears a beetle   
Scurrying across the kitchen floor.   
She says our daughter is dreaming   

Too loudly, just listen, her eyelids   
Are fluttering like butterflies.

What about the thunder, I say,
What about the dispatches from the police car   
Parked outside, or me rolling over like a whale?

She tells me there’s a leaf falling
And grazing the downstairs window,
Or it could be glass cutters, diamonds,
Thieves working their hands toward the latch.   
She tells me our son is breathing too quickly,   
Is it pneumonia, is it the furnace
Suddenly pumping monoxides through the house?

So when my wife says sleep, she means   
A closing of the eyes, a tuning   
Of the ears to ultra frequencies.

(It is what always happens
When there are children, the bed   
Becoming at night a listening post,   
Each little ting forewarning disaster.) 
I shared this poem before back in February of 2009.  You can see that post here.
And here's today's roundup.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go

I have read very few earthquake books.  We have several on our shelves about the earthquake that struck Haiti five years ago today, but reading them is more than I can handle yet.  (Here I posted my thoughts about the earthquake book by Amy Wilentz.  Earlier I read Kent Annan's book and wrote about it here.)  I almost didn't read Hold Tight, Don't Let Go, by Laura Rose Wagner.  Ultimately, though, I couldn't resist a YA novel (recommended for Grade 9 and up) about the earthquake, and I pre-ordered it.  It came out on January 6th, and I started reading it right away.

"When it begins," Magdalie tells us, "I am shelling pigeon peas, pwa kongo, into a metal bowl under the almond tree in Madame Faustin's garden.  I sit on the low wooden chair, my knees apart, the unshelled peas nestled in my old yellow skirt, so faded it's almost white....Then, out of nowhere, groans a deep, furious noise, a deafening growl and then a terrible shaking.  The sound and the shaking become one sensation - I can't separate the two - and the world collapses. ...

Everything explodes in white: a chalky cloud of cement powder engulfs me, engulfs the house, engulfs the entire city of Port-au-Prince.  With a roar we are all swallowed.  The house is gone.  The city is gone.  The world is no wider than I am.  I can't see more than inches from my face.  Then the sound of the people rising up in prayer and song - the furious, screaming gratitude of the just saved.  Jezi!  Jezi!  and Mèsi Seyè!  Thank you, Lord!  My knees are bleeding.  The blood is warm.  My bare toes flex, scrape the dust.  Somehow, I am not dead.  The pwa kongo are scattered around me."

We follow Magdalie from this point, as she faces both her grief and the enormous challenges of her new life.  Wagner obviously knows and loves Haiti.  (There are many Creole words sprinkled through the book, and a glossary at the end gives definitions.  There's also a note about Haitian history.)  She does a wonderful job of exploring the terrain of recovering from trauma, both the pain of loss and the joy to be alive.  I loved the descriptions of ordinary Haiti, like a scene early in the book when Magdalie and her cousin Nadine have a manicure emergency in the tent camp where they live.  It's such a perfect illustration of how life goes on even when everything has fallen apart.  Here's a description of their tent home:

"A thick band of sunlight splashes across the inside of our home: the swept-dirt floor, the battered suitcases full of clothes, Tonton Élie's half-fixed circuit boards, and a huge wall calendar, distributed by Prestige beer, featuring two women in bikinis on a beach.  All the noise of the camp flows into our private world: the revving of motorcycle taxis, the bleating of goats, the squalling of babies, the sound of a woman washing her clothes and singing an evangelical hymn."  

Recalling her Manman, Magdalie says, "Manman believed in vodou, and she believed in the Church.  She believed in healing plants and she believed in antibiotics.  Manman could believe in everything.  She had a lot of faith."  Following her Manman's example, Magdalie seeks healing from her quake-induced anger in vodou.  She also faces disappointment and exploitation, and finds friendship, as she tries to find other ways to make her life work out.  Will she get a visa to leave Haiti?  Will she find someone to give her a start so she can finance her education?  Will she figure out whom she can trust, as a young girl in a tent camp?  Will she be able to trust in the future enough to get close to people at all?  "Since January 12," she comments (so accurately), "every good-bye feels like it might be forever."

Wagner doesn't try to hide from the harsh realities of life, but nor does she miss what is beautiful about Haiti.  A trip Magdalie takes to the countryside shows the advantages and disadvantages of city and country living, and how residents of each environment tend to romanticize the other.  Magdalie describes the countryside near Jeremie this way: "There are trees, trees, trees as far as I can see, and a shimmering ocean brighter blue than a Samaritan's Purse tarp."  There is beauty in the city, too: "our camp is beautiful, framed against the dusk, in the darkening pink of the hazy sky."

I think this book succeeds so well because it is such an honest, unblinking portrait of one person's experience.  It doesn't attempt to explain or pontificate, but compassionately shows us Magdalie's life.  The characters are believable, defying categorization just like real people do. While at times the book was painful to read, there was some catharsis through Magdalie's experience.  And I loved it that Wagner ended with a hopeful imagining of Haiti's future in January 2020.  "I am only one witness, of millions," Magdalie says.  "It doesn't matter what I say.  It doesn't change a thing."  And yet her story does help others enter into the depth and complexity of life in Haiti, a country which is so much more than what you see in the news, so much more than "the poorest country in the western hemisphere."

Thank you, Magdalie, and Laura Rose Wagner, for sharing this ugly, beautiful, tragic, redemptive story, and reminding us: "hold tight, don't let go."

This post is linked to the January 16th Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reading Update

Book #1 of 2015 was Brown Girl Dreaming, a beautifully written verse memoir by Jacqueline Woodson, who grew up in the 60s in South Carolina and New York.  I passed this one straight on to one of my eighth graders, who's enjoying it now. 

Book #2 was The Heart of Haiku, a Kindle Single by Jane Hirshfield.  It's a fascinating and very informative essay about the seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho. 

Book #3 was the new YA novel about the Haitian earthquake, Hold Tight, Don't Let Go, by Laura Rose Wagner.  You can read a review of this book here.

Book #4 was a hilarious and oddly touching "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary novel" called Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn.  The island of Nollop is named for the author of the most famous pangram (a sentence containing all the letters of the alphabet), "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."  When the statue of Nollop begins losing letters, the government decides that each fallen letter must be eliminated from the language.  The characters are forced to compose their letters to one another using fewer and fewer letters.  By the end of the book, the reader understands much better exactly how precious language is, so this charming and funny story makes some clever points about censorship and expression. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Vocabulary

Monday will mark five years since the day the earth shook in Haiti and everything changed in our lives.  On January 14th, the first day we got back online, I wrote a post entitled "We are alive."  (You can read it here.)  Over the next several months I told and retold the story on this blog.  (If you look in my archives beginning January 2010, you can read those posts.)  I will be telling and retelling it the rest of my life, in different ways, I am sure.

Everyone is putting out the anniversary articles right now.  I can't bring myself to read most of them.  One has a title like "Five Years After the Earthquake, Haiti is Still on Shaky Ground."  Really?  I can't appreciate clever turns of phrase when thinking about such a heavy, heavy event, and when remembering those who died in that moment.  Forty-seven thousand?  Eighty-five thousand?  Two hundred and thirty thousand?  Three hundred thousand?  All of those figures have been bandied about (see more on that here).  We'll never know how many. 

Here's a poem I wrote back then and posted for the first time in April 2010:

Earthquake Vocabulary

Here are some words I’d rather you not use metaphorically:
Richter scale,

Here are some words I used before but shouldn’t have:

Here are some words I used to know:

Here’s a word I thought I knew but really didn’t:

by Ruth, from

There are times to discuss and evaluate.  But right now it's a time to grieve.  A time to remember that day and the days afterward, when we lived on adrenaline and survivor's guilt and sheer giddy joy to be alive.  A time to mourn those we lost.  A time to marvel that life has gone on for five years, and at the very same moment, to feel that maybe it was yesterday, so fresh are the memories of 4:53 that afternoon.

Tabitha has today's roundup here.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Poetry Friday - One Little Word

I didn't post last week, since we went to Jacmel, in Southern Haiti, for a few days.  We had a beautiful and restful time.  This in-between time, in between years and semesters, is a great time to think back over the past year and the one to come, and I have been spending some time doing that.

Last year I chose the word "Garden" for my One Little Word.  (You can follow links in that post to the other OLWs I have chosen since I started doing this: "Look" in 2009, "Loved" in 2010, "Trust" in 2011, "Heal" in 2012, "Shalom" in 2013.)  I am very dissatisfied with how I did with 2014's word.  I wrote pitifully little last year in general, and hardly any on my chosen theme.  The long, grading-free hours of Christmas break often lead me to think unrealistic thoughts about how productive I'll be in the coming year in my own writing.  So much of my writing energy is focused on reading what my students produce.  I have to write more!  It's on the list of resolutions every single year.

My daughter gave me this book for Christmas, and I'm going to continue, while reading it, to pursue the "Garden" idea.  (I just love these beautiful little Everyman editions.)  Maybe I'll choose the same word again in 2016.

But in the meantime, 2015 will be a year of transition for our family.  The same daughter who gave me the book has been applying to colleges.  She's already been accepted into three and deferred at one (they'll look at her again in the spring).  One of the colleges she's looking at (Barnard) asked applicants to write an essay based on a quote from Anna Quindlen, who said that when she was a student there she "majored in unafraid."  When, the prompt asked, have you majored in unafraid?

I really need to major in unafraid this year, as I send my nearly grown-up baby away to another country.  So my word for 2015 is "Unafraid."

Here's a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, a very old-fashioned poem about a very up-to-date issue in my life, and maybe yours too, Dear Reader.  The video just shows the beginning, used in the movie, "The Mortal Storm," in 1940.

God Knows
Minnie Louise Haskins

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

Miss Rumphius is hosting our roundup today.   Go take a look at what others have posted on this first Poetry Friday of 2015!