Friday, June 21, 2019

Poetry Friday: Rain

As a Facebook friend put it, "This has been the Aprilest June ever." I'm visiting my parents in the US, and it has been raining and raining and raining. Yesterday when the rain let up for a few minutes, I went outside and took some photos, and kept thinking about Langston Hughes' famous rain poem. It's about April, but I'm going to post it anyway, in a video at the bottom after some of my pictures.

You can read it here.

And here's today's roundup.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Poetry Friday: Heaven

I've been gearing up for days to write a poem, and it still hasn't happened, but a friend posted these Wendell Berry lines on Facebook this week:

The painter Harlan Hubbard said
that he was painting Heaven when
the places he painted merely were
the Campbell or the Trimble County
banks of the Ohio, or farms

and hills where he had worked or roamed:

a house’s gable and roofline

rising from a fold in the hills,

trees bearing snow, two shanty boats

at dawn, immortal light upon

the flowing river in its bends.

And these were Heavenly because

he never saw them clear enough

to satisfy his love, his need

to see them all again, again.

Wendell Berry, from Leavings

I love the idea of those Heavenly things we keep looking at, keep seeing new sides of, new aspects. Maybe a place or an object stops being lovable to us the day we stop looking at it.

Recently my husband and I were sitting at a table in a restaurant. He told me I looked beautiful. I handed my camera to him and said, "If I look beautiful, take a picture so I can see what you see."

When I looked at his picture of me, all I could see were flaws, but it also made me smile because after all these years, he still wants to keep looking at me, to keep seeing me again and again and again, even as time and gravity and childbirth have taken their toll. Like Harlan Hubbard, painting and repainting those same homey Ohio scenes, he still hasn't seen me "clear enough." He keeps looking.

Here's this week's roundup.

Reading Update

Book #51 of the year was The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More, by Bruce Feller. I liked this book and its cheerful, can-do approach to fixing little things that drive people crazy about their families.

Book #52 was a re-read, Brian D. McLaren's Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. I wrote about it before here in 2013 and here in 2018.

Book #53 was No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits, by Jordan Romero. This is another addition to my reading about mountain climbing; I wrote a bit about that here. Book #54 is yet another: Within Reach: My Everest Story, by Mark Pfetzer.

Book #55 was Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith, another in the Cormoran Strike series. I like this series and I'll definitely read the next one that comes out.

Book #56 was I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron. A friend recommended this to me. While I liked some of the essays in this, I didn't really feel bad about my neck before reading the book, and now I do. So thanks, Nora.

Book #57 was God's Favorite Place on Earth, by Frank Viola. This book is about Bethany, the place where Jesus often stayed with his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Book #58 was An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic, by Daniel Mendelsohn. Amazon kept recommending this for me based on my previous reads, and this time Amazon got it right. I absolutely loved this book. Mendelsohn is a literature professor, and his dad comes one year to his Odyssey seminar. Then the two go on an Odyssey cruise together. In between, the story of their relationship and the dad's childhood are woven together. I'm a sucker for these examinations of how mythology reflects our lives. Here's a taste of the writing: "It was from Fred that I understood that beauty and pleasure are at the center of teaching. For the best teacher is the one who wants you to find meaning in the things that have given him pleasure, too, so that the appreciation of their beauty will outlive him. In this way - because it arises from an acceptance of the inevitability of death - good teaching is like good parenting." Oh, Daniel Mendelsohn, you are speaking my language.

Book #59 was No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending, by Esther Fleece Allen.

Some of the same themes in this book were also in book #60, a memoir written by a friend from childhood: The Colors of My Country, by Esther Lee Barron. I recognized many of the people and places in this, and I really appreciated how Esther's vignettes let her past be what it was: she didn't try to prettify the sadness and loss. Sure, God can bring good out of the difficulties we face, but they still hurt; they hurt badly. It took so much courage for her to write about this, and I applaud her. C.S Lewis wrote that one of the reasons we read is so we don't feel alone, and when I read about Esther's cross-cultural meanderings I feel less alone with my own. Great job, Esther!

Book #61 was Pacifica, by Kristen Simmons. This is another in the dystopia/post-apocalyptic genre, about a world drowned by climate change. I had read another book by Kristen Simmons before, but this one was much, much better. It was atmospheric and believable, and I liked the characters. The book reminded me a lot of Paolo Bacigalupi; I wrote about his books here, here, and here.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Poetry Friday: Living in Two Places

Since last Poetry Friday I have traveled to a different planet; it's impossible to believe that the United States and Haiti are in the same galaxy, and though I know they are, and am well aware of the implications of that, for a moment I like to pretend otherwise. (Here's a post on the falsehood of that "two planets" theory I'm trying to keep alive in my head.)

where we are
by Gerald Locklin

(for edward field)

i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawaii and switzerland.

there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

Michelle has today's roundup.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Connection

Today's host Ramona asked us to write about connection. Connection is very important to me; I value my friends and family and wish for more time with them. But so much of my experience of connection involves separation. I feel pain because I am far from those I love, because either I leave or they do. Sometimes it feels as though it would be easier never to make connections, since it is so difficult to lose them.

Henri Nouwen, in his book Life of the Beloved, addresses this problem. He talks about how we are "called to give our very lives to one another and that, in so doing, we become a true community of love," but adds that we can give ourselves away because we can
"trust that our little lives will multiply themselves and be able to fulfill the needs of countless people....The fruitfulness of our little lives, once we recognize it and live it as the life of the Beloved, is beyond anything we ourselves can imagine. One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil. For this seed to bear fruit, it must die. We often see or feel only the dying, but the harvest will be abundant even when we ourselves are not the harvesters. How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it...and that -- even then -- there will be leftovers!"
If we do believe this, we can invest ourselves in the people God puts in our lives at any given time, even if the connection is short and soon broken. We can trust that God will keep giving us people to invest in.

You know what? That is a lot easier said than done. I have recently lost several close friends, and it's challenging to keep making new friends at all. Anybody who's read this blog much at all has seen this as a recurring theme in my life. Nouwen's words help me think about it and deal with it.

Be sure to visit Ramona's blog to see how others have responded to this prompt.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

What I Learned in May

I started last year's "What I Learned in May" post by writing, "I don't think people learn much in May, at least not the school kind of learning. May is mostly disrupted schedules, noisy celebrations, chaos of many varieties. There were projects and exams, yes, but mostly, if you haven't learned it by now, you probably won't, not this year."

I feel the same way this May. Yesterday in our last meeting of the year, my colleagues and I were invited to reflect using a series of questions. What were we proud of? What was a time we felt joyful and inspired? What was the most valuable thing we learned? I couldn't answer those questions very well. I did better with the negative ones. What was frustrating? What caused stress? What was the biggest mistake we made this year and how can we avoid making it again in the future?

May isn't the time for feeling good about my teaching. I just read all that work, posted all those grades. I know exactly what we accomplished this year, and what we didn't. Give me a few weeks of peace and quiet, and I'll be enthusiastic again by August.

I do have a small file on my desktop of links from this month, though, so here goes:

My brother sent me this podcast about language use in France, and specifically how you can and can't refer to race. So interesting, especially when listened to in Haiti, home of one part of France's stinky history of slavery and inequality.

Rachel Held Evans died at 37.

Dina Nayeri writes on how family separation at the southern border is "a literal hell constructed for children." That description makes it sound like a ranty political piece, and it's not, at all: it's a beautiful, reflective description of what Nayeri knows about how little kids' minds work, based on her own translation of her two year old daughter's ways of seeing the world. Who is listening to little kids who are separated from their parents, she asks?

Here's another one from, this one about mothers who are writers, and to what extent our children's stories do and don't belong to us.

Jean Vanier died at 90.

That's all I wrote down in my "What I Learned in May" file. No doubt I learned more than that. I started an eBird account, for example, and learned to identify some birds. I wondered, reading about mass extinctions, whether I'd just started paying attention to birds right when they all were about to go away. I started making plans for a birdwatching club next year at school, even if I'm the only one out there peering up into the branches.

I cleaned out my classroom and ended another school year.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye and Summer

Just over a month ago, Tabatha suggested that we should have a Naomi Shihab Nye day on Poetry Friday. A few days later, I read that Naomi Shihab Nye had been awarded an honor even greater than our attention on Poetry Friday: she is the new Young People's Poet Laureate.  I even suspected Tabatha of having some inside knowledge that this was about to happen, but she says no, it was just a coincidence.

I have loved NSN's work for a long time, but when I went looking on my poetry shelf, I only found one of her books. The others I have read have been borrowed from the library, it seems. So I chose the poem I'm going to share today from that book, Fuel. It's appropriate for today in many ways, as we clean up the last debris from our students, rushing off to their summer plans.

The Time
Naomi Shihab Nye

Summer is the time to write. I tell myself this
in winter especially. Summer comes,
I want to tumble with the river
over rocks and mossy dams.

A fish drifting upside down.
Slow accordions sweeten the breeze.

The Sanitary Mattress Factory says,
"Sleep Is Life."
Why do I think of forty ways to spend an afternoon?

Yesterday someone said, "It gets late so early."
I wrote it down. I was going to do something with it.
Maybe it is a title and this life is the poem.

I have many NSN posts on this blog, and here are two: this one from National Poetry Month in 2017 and this one from this year's NPM festivities. Both include links to multiple NSN poems I've posted over the years. I can't wait to see what she does for poetry during her tenure as Poet Laureate!

Here's a photo from our campus at this time of year, and here's an ode I wrote last year to the flamboyant tree.

"Summer is the time to write." I did tell myself that in the winter, and now to see if I can find some words in this season. Hoping for productive summer writing for all my Poetry Friday friends!

Mary Lee's got the roundup today!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Poetry Friday: Climbing

We've been climbing in seventh grade. Metaphorically, as we scaled the heights of the school year, but also literarily, as we ended the year with a reading of Peak, by Roland Smith, and then a supplementary non-fiction Everest account, Within Reach, and this video story about an expedition that flew a hot air balloon over Everest, so we could get more insight into stuff like how noisy the streets of Kathmandu are, what yaks look like and how a Gamow bag works. (I also read No Summit Out of Sight, by Jordan Romero, but didn't have time this year to share that with my students. Next year I might swap it in for the other one, because I do like the idea of comparing a fictional account with a non-fiction one, and Jordan is closer to my students' age than Mark Pfetzer, who wrote Within Reach.)

I'm not sure why I have, in the past few years, developed such an interest in Everest. It's not because I want to climb mountains. I'm scared of heights. I can hardly read about the ladders in the Khumbu Icefall without covering my eyes. I get breathless and shivery as I go through these adventures vicariously. Plus, it's expensive to climb Everest. Even if I had that kind of money, there are so many other things I'd do with it.

Partly it's because I've fallen in love with Nepal. I've never been there, but I feel as though I have from all the books I've read. We were reading Peak in April 2015 when the big earthquake took place there. At that point my students remembered our 2010 earthquake very well, and they, and I, were struck hard by the event. We read articles together and lamented what those people were going through, and my kids had a bake sale to raise money, which they sent to a high school friend of my husband's who was working in Nepal. The accounts I read (and they were many) sounded just like ones from Haiti, except that in Nepal it was cold; my students and I couldn't imagine. I cried, imagining.

Probably it's mostly the metaphor. Everest is the ultimate symbol of an almost unattainable goal. George Mallory is famously supposed to have said, when asked why he wanted to climb the mountain, "Because it's there." But cavalier as Mallory was about it, plenty of people have not come back from their attempt to summit. Mallory himself was one of them. He disappeared during his climb in 1924 and his body was found 75 years later, in 1999. There are about 200 dead bodies still on the mountain, lying where they fell, still dressed in their brightly colored climbing clothes. Because of the cold, their corpses don't decay. (Here's more of the "gruesome truth" about that.)

In addition to being difficult, climbing Everest is about preparation, about sitting around a lot waiting for things to happen, and about being stopped by circumstances completely outside your control. You're only on the summit a few minutes; those few minutes are fueled by years of fund-raising, exercising, acclimatization, and scaling lesser peaks. And chances are good you won't make it at all. You might not get there because of sickness, someone else's foolishness, political upheaval, frostbite, bad weather, or dozens of other problems large and small. One guy in Within Reach dropped his mitten and couldn't get it back; that put an end to his summit attempt.

Sounds like life, doesn't it?

(Also, in climbing as in life, you definitely won't make it without other people's help. These books and the video all explore the role of the Sherpas, who work harder than the climbers from outside for less recognition.)

Early in our reading of Peak this year, we read Irene Latham's poem "The World According to Climbers" in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School as our poem of the day (we read four poems a week, Monday through Thursday, and then listen to a song together on Fridays).
Could it be that there's a middle school English teacher who doesn't have this book yet? If so, you should really go order it right now. I'll wait.

The World According to Climbers
by Irene Latham

They place their trust in a firm
handshake, steel-toed boots

and hats with wide brims.
Rope fibers groan as they cling

like beads of dew on mutton grass.
They don't lament the lack of wing,

only the fact that they can't fly

without them. They forget why,
shift their focus to how.

They carry on. There is no
such thing as tomorrow.

Irene's poem became a touchstone for us as we continued to read the book. I would often say, or one of the students would, "Hey, that reminds me of 'The World According to Climbers.'" An example is when Peak's mom tells him, in a somber call on a satellite phone, that he has to become selfish to succeed in summiting Everest. If he doesn't focus, he won't make it. She explains how she had to give up climbing because once she became a mom, she found her focus divided. (And that's a class discussion waiting to happen!) We talked about how climbing happens step by step.

The PFAMS suggests asking, "What risks are worth taking and what risks are not?" Everest puts that question front and center, but my kids face risks in their lives in Haiti all the time. In some ways, they are far less sheltered than American kids their age, living in a country with few safety features. In other ways, they are super-sheltered, at least some of them - check out this post to see what I mean. Talking about risk is always an interesting thing with these students.

I wrote to Irene and told her what her poem had come to mean to me and to the class, and she wrote back with some more background. She sent me the photo she used as inspiration when she wrote "The World According to Climbers."
She was writing poems at the time using photos of United States National Parks. (This one is from Mesa Verde National Park.) She intended to put them in a book but never found a publisher. She also said that her brother used to be a climber, "so I watched and worried and marveled over his adventures many times!" (Now he's become a cyclist, which I guess is marginally safer.) My students love it when I tell them the authors we read are friends of mine. Thanks for sharing all of this with us, Irene, and giving me permission to share it with my blog readers, too!

So we made it to the summit of our school year - today is the last day of classes, and we have three half days next week of exams and then all the graduations. In my newly-acquired free time in the next couple of weeks, maybe I'll write my own climbing poem. When you get to the summit of Everest, you have to head back down right away after posing for a few pictures; the human body can't survive for long at that altitude, called the "Death Zone." My mountain is a little less extreme. For right now, I'm just going to enjoy the view from up here a little longer before I head back down to the valley and start gathering supplies and strength to climb again next year.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Poetry Friday: Heavy Summer Rain

Heavy Summer Rain
Jane Kenyon
The grasses in the field have toppled,
and in places it seems that a large, now
absent, animal must have passed the night.
The hay will right itself if the day

turns dry. I miss you steadily, painfully.
None of your blustering entrances
or exits, doors swinging wildly
on their hinges, or your huge unconscious
sighs when you read something sad,
like Henry Adams’s letters from Japan,
where he traveled after Clover died.

Everything blooming bows down in the rain:
white irises, red peonies; and the poppies
with their black and secret centers
lie shattered on the lawn.

"I miss you steadily, painfully." For some reason there don't seem to be many poems about missing people, but the older I get, the more it seems to be the dominant emotion I experience, as life devolves into a series of goodbyes, sad announcements, and sorrow. Time to go cheer up now as today I receive all my students' final writing pieces! Enjoy everyone else's Poetry Friday offerings here!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Reading Update

We are testing at school this week, and I've finished all my grading and am not proctoring.  I left my Kindle at home by mistake, and I've been kicked out of my classroom because a class is testing in there, so I can't do the stuff that needs to be done in my classroom library or write finals or any of the other jobs that await me, so I'm just sitting around, which led to me writing this blog post at work. What are you reading? What do you recommend for me to add to my list?

Book #42 of 2019 was Felicity, by Mary Oliver. I found this while looking for poetry at the library to download onto my Kindle. I don't think it's her best work.

Book #43 was Career of Evil, the third in the Cormoran Strike series, written by Robert Galbraith, who is actually J.K. Rowling. I read somewhere that these books get less gory as the series goes along, but it hasn't happened yet. This one was very bloody and I hesitate to recommend it because of that, but I love the main characters, Cormoran and Robin. I've got the next one on hold at the library.  

Book #44 was The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See. This is a historical novel set in Jeju Island, South Korea, known for its tradition of Haenyeo, or women divers. I was completely unfamiliar with the place and its history, and it was fascinating to learn about. Content warning for massacres.

Book #45 was The Cruel Prince and book #49 was The Wicked King, both by Holly Black. Of course there's a third book, and of course it doesn't come out until November, so I have to wait until then to find out what happens. These books are about Faerie, not a lovely happy place, but the place inhabited by the kind of wild, unpredictable creatures who are responsible for such phenomena as changelings and souring the milk. Think Tatiana and Oberon from Shakespeare. These books are definitely not for children. 

Book #46 was The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, by Ben Philippe. This was recommended to me by a couple of friends based on the fact that the main character is Haitian-Canadian. Norris Kaplan enters the world of the American high school when he and his mother move to Austin, Texas. I enjoyed it, though all of the characters turned out to be less impressive than I wanted them to be, which I guess makes it quite realistic. 

Book #47 was The Pocket Enneagram: Understanding the 9 Types of People, by Helen Palmer. This was the only book on the Enneagram that the library had, and I've had it on hold for a while. I found it completely useless for what I wanted it to accomplish, which was to help me understand the Enneagram. It was just too much information in a completely abstract format. I've also been listening to some podcasts where we hear from interviewees who are all these different types of people. That's much more helpful. I do want to read a good book on the Enneagram, though - does anybody have one to recommend? 

I re-read book #48 because of the death of Rachel Held Evans a couple of weeks ago at age 37. I've read all her books, but this one, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, was my favorite. Rachel was known as someone who wasn't afraid to ask questions, and the grief at our loss of her speaks for itself. If only we could have kept reading her work as she continued down her road of faith. When I first read this book, back in 2015, I wrote about it here

Book #50 was Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed, by Sara Hagerty. I finished this one last night. I have to say it was a little scary to me how appropriate it was for some of the very specific things I have been experiencing lately. Almost as though there's an unseen hand directing my reading...

This post is linked to the May Quick Lit post at Modern Mrs. Darcy, here.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Poetry Friday: Youth and Mother's Day

This week I read the story about Patroclus getting killed with my eighth graders. I also read this poem published in 2019, and its references to Patroclus and Achilles and Thetis (Achilles' mother) remind me of one of the reasons I love teaching about the Trojan War; these stories are so timeless.

Thetis was a goddess, so the fact that she was immortal heightened her sense of the mortality of her son Achilles, but a sense of mortality is common to all parents. This week we saw yet another school shooting to remind us of that, plus of course all the other news stories that remind us, week after week after week, all year long.

Happy Mother's Day!

by Tom Sleigh
Smelling of sweet resin the Aleppo pines’
shadows grow taller by the hour. Two identical
twin boys chase each other through the shadows,
the one who’s ten minutes older yelling,
I’m gonna kill you while the younger one
laughs, Kill me, kill me if you can!
Day by day these teatime mortars
keep pecking at the blast wall that the boys
have grown so used to they just keep right on playing.
If they weren’t here in front of me, I’d find them
hard to imagine, just as I sometimes find
my own twin brother hard to imagine.
I’m supposed to be doing a story
on soldiers, what they do to keep from
being frightened, but all I can think about
is how Tim would chase me or I’d chase him
and we’d yell, I’m gonna kill you, just like
these brothers do, so alive in their bodies,
just as Tim who is so alive will one day not be:
will it be me or him who first dies?
But I came here to do a story on soldiers
and how they keep watching out for death
and manage to fight and die without going crazy—
the boys squat down to look at ants climbing
through corrugated bark, the wavering antennae
tapping up and down the tree reminding me
of the soldier across the barracks sitting
still inside himself, listening to his nerves
while his eyes peer out at something I can’t see—
when Achilles’ immortal mother came
to her grieving son, knowing he would soon
die, and gave him his armor and kept the worms
from the wounds of his dead friend, Patroclus, she,
a goddess, knew she wouldn’t be allowed
to keep those same worms from her son’s body.

I know I’m not his father, he’s not my son,
but he looks so young, young enough to be
my son—sitting on his bunk, watching out for death,
trying to fight and die without going crazy, he
reaches for his rifle, breaks it down,
dust cover, spring, bolt carrier with piston,
wiping it all down with a rag and oil,
cleaning it for the second time this hour
as shadows shifting through the pines
bury him and the little boys and Tim
and me in non-metaphorical, real life darkness
where I’m supposed to be doing a story.
Here's the poem, along with links to some of Tom Sleigh's other work. 
This post contains a poem I wrote about Thetis a few years ago.

And here's today's roundup.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Poetry Friday: Earth Day, Eco-anxiety, Prettiness

I don't know if you, Gentle Reader, have noticed, but I try to write positive things about my adopted country of Haiti. There is so much here that is beautiful and worth celebrating, and the vast majority of coverage of Haiti tends to be negative. I try to leave the criticizing (and admittedly, there are things to criticize) to others. (I'm not always successful. I grumble about the electricity situation frequently, for example, most recently here.)

Lately, though, I have been struggling, along with everyone else who reads the news, with eco-anxiety. And although the average Haitian person makes much less trash than the average American (1.5 pounds per person per day in Haiti versus 4.4 pounds per person per day in the United States; sources here and here), the trash here is much more visible than in the States. We don't have public trash receptacles everywhere like in the US; we don't have high-tech waste management; we don't have municipal trash pickup; we are an island and don't have extra space. And those are just the explanations that I, a total non-expert, came up with off the top of my head.

On Earth Day, my husband and I visited an area where a lot of trash has been dumped, and I wrote about it. I hesitate to share what I wrote because I don't want you to think Haiti is somehow guiltier about this than the United States. Please reread the last paragraph. And I will follow up my landfill/hell poem with a haiku about something lovely, just to make myself, and perhaps you, Gentle Reader, feel better.

Rivière Grise, April 22nd, 2019

On Earth Day
we wanted to go for a walk.
We ended up in Gehenna,
on the banks of the Grey River.

Might as well say
we ended up
on the banks of the River Styx.

It had rained all night
and the road was covered with mud.
On either side:
piles of earthquake rubble
piles of styrofoam
piles of plastic
piles of empty cans.

Goats and pigs
nosed around,
and white egrets sat sentinel
atop the mounds.
People picked through the refuse,
seeking treasures.
Smoke rose from
burning heaps of trash.
The air smelled of ashes,
decay and despair,
fire and brimstone.

As far as my eye could see,
these broken, discarded ruins
spread out before us,
eternal landfill.

“What branches grow
out of this stony rubbish?”
asked T.S. Eliot.
Well, a few.
Bright pink chain of love
and purple hallucinogenic datura,
sometimes called devil’s trumpets.
Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal.

Finally we came to the river.
It was dry-season low,
choked with garbage.

I thought of Achilles clogging
the yellow River Scamander with dead bodies,
and how finally the river god rose up,
scolding him for his mad killing spree,
and I imagined a spirit of this grey river doing the same.

I lifted my camera to make an image of the murky water,
and sure enough, from the smoky distance
an angry dreadlocked figure strode forth,

Yelling what, I wondered,
awaiting the spirit’s arrival
at the car window.
Berating the poverty that caused this hellscape?
Cursing those who treated this valley as a dump?
Prophesying a post-apocalyptic future
when the whole planet would resemble this scene?

No, he was yelling at me,
selfish, bourgeois me,
for taking a picture.
I felt ashamed for
seeking prettiness
on Earth Day.
Is looking at beauty
just the art of ignoring the ugly?
Can there be heaven when
there is so much hell?

We drove
away from the Grey River,
hoping we weren’t too late
to get back to the land of the living,
drove fast,
not looking back.

Ruth, from

And here's the haiku, based on this photo I took this week:

Popsicle colors
Pink and white ice cream petals
Sweet afternoon treat

Ruth, from

Each Friday in April, I shared links to my daily blog posts. Here are the last four posts from National Poetry Month.

Jama's hosting today's roundup, so there's bound to be good snacks!

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Spirit of Spring

Our host for today, Carol, has asked us to write about the Spirit of Spring.

In the traditional Christian church calendar (the western version), we are in the season of Eastertide. This season begins with Easter Sunday and continues through Ascension Day (celebrated this year on May 30th) and then Pentecost Sunday, which falls this year on June 9th. Eastertide takes place in springtime in the northern hemisphere. The commemoration of Jesus' resurrection coincides with the resurrection of nature out of the death of winter.

As I pointed out in last month's SJFT post, I live in a place where we don't experience a cold winter. I mean, it feels cold to us; maybe it gets into the sixties some nights. But we don't go through the death, weather-wise, so the resurrection is less dramatic.

The truth of the matter is that our inner weather may often be completely different from the weather outside, anyway. If you live in the tropics and have year-round perfect weather, that doesn't necessarily translate into year-round joy and delight (though it is much easier for me to be cheerful when I'm warm and the sun is shining).

The spirit of spring is the spirit of resurrection, and resurrection only comes after death. As I was meditating on this post, I remembered something a friend, Corrigan Clay, wrote after the earthquake. I asked him then if I could share it on my blog, and he gave me his permission. Here's the original post, with his photo, from 2010. The first words are quoted from the Bible, the book of Ezekiel.
"I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of Man, can these bones live?"

Easter is more overwhelmingly awesome in a graveyard than in a shopping mall.

I urge you: Be where the bones are and breathe out all the life you have been given and watch them start to clatter and rattle...

"Behold, I make all things new."
As we live on this earth, we are surrounded by death. Right now many of us are overwhelmed with what I recently learned to call eco-anxiety, as we witness extinctions and the degradation of our environment taking place before our eyes. We see death in many other ways, too: we see people we love dying; we see dreams dying; we see evil winning. If I didn't believe in the resurrection, I wouldn't be able to go on. Because I do believe in it, I can.

Here are some words Jonathan Martin wrote this year for Easter:
Since this time last year, we've fallen off of some wagons, jumped on to some others. You got a raise or lost the money. You got drunk or sober, married or divorced. People were born, people died. Nothing could stop the rising. Your accomplishments didn’t speed him up, your failure didn’t slow him down. Love got up, in his own sweet time. Death was conquered. Maybe you don’t believe it. So? What you BELIEVE won’t make it more or less true. Resurrection is God's responsibility.
Some people will go to Church & be "strangely warmed" today. Some will leave still disillusioned. Either way, THE WHOLE COSMOS CHANGED. Easter is good news for every blade of grass & every nursing home, every animal on a farm & every angry atheist, every cell & grain of sand. Life conquered death & there's not a thing we can do about it. Receive it as gift, doubt it, be wayward or devout-it's happened & happening. Resurrection is not an edict or summons, but an invitation to know the open secret humming beneath all created things-DEATH IS NOT THE END.
Prayer: Firstborn of the dead, 
we awake this morning to the astonishment of your resurrection. Our hearts have been heavy for too long. Let us be given over now, to the gut-busting joy of new life, unexpected gifts, the surprise of resurrection in the deadest places. We cannot understand how it happens, or what it means. But we do not come to you looking for explanations--we come hungry for joy, ready for awe, desperate for Easter hope. Baptize us in wonder again, risen God. Amen.

"Resurrection is God's responsibility." That's the Spirit of Spring. We can't do a thing to make winter go away, or to bring life from death. But God can.

Visit Carol's blog to see what other participants have written on this topic.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

What I Learned in April

April is National Poetry Month, so this year, as in the past, I learned a lot about poetry, and was introduced to many new-to-me poets and poems. I did daily posts all month, which I very much enjoyed. I read, and wrote, poetry, and that's something that makes me happy, even when the subject matter isn't cheerful. There's just something about that little burst of creative energy, whether other people read and appreciate it or not (though of course I like it when they do).

Early in the month I listened to this podcast, called "Listening to God in Anxiety." Not only did I listen to it, I followed along with my notebook and did all the journaling too. I felt faintly ridiculous doing this on my own in my room, but I found it very helpful and would recommend it. (This is all from a traditionally Christian perspective.) Here's a summary: responding to anxiety by praying about the things that are making us anxious can, paradoxically, backfire, because the added focus on the anxiety-producing problems can cause us to ruminate even more on them. Nader Sahyouni suggests praying with these three postures: first, please; second, thanks; third, yes. Please involves simply asking God to take away the things worrying you, as Jesus did in the Garden, asking God three times to remove the cup of suffering from Him. Thanks means praising God for what He is doing through the troubles you're experiencing, even if He doesn't take them away. And Yes is accepting what God is doing in your life, asking for what Sahyouni calls the "trifecta of grace": grace to let go, grace to know the truth, grace to have more faith. In the second half of the podcast, you'll be guided through thinking about these steps in the context of your own individual life situation. I hope this is as helpful to someone reading this as it was to me!

The morning after listening to this and reflecting on it, I had music playing in my classroom as I was getting ready for the day, and this song came on. It pairs perfectly with the insights from the podcast.

The other thing I learned in April can be summed up by the word "Birds." Back in November I found out about Nokomis, a great blue heron from Maine that has been fitted with a transmitter. She winters in Haiti every year, or at least the past three. I wrote a poem about her, and shared it on Facebook with the Heron Observation Network of Maine, and through that started exchanging emails with a biologist in Maine who works with schoolchildren. In April she sent me a list of questions about birds in Haiti, and in addition to discussing them with my eighth graders, I also did a lot of research on them myself. I made some new Haiti friends (yay for new friends!) and learned about many new-to-me resources, like the Audubon Center of Haiti, Zwazo Yo, The Audubon Society of Haiti, and I've learned in the past that people who are experts in their fields are often unexpectedly willing to share with absolutely clueless beginners, and I found that this time too; I loved having an inbox full of messages from new friends full of enthusiasm and suggestions. Next school year I am hoping to start a bird-watching club of some kind at school, have some speakers visit, and just generally learn much, much more about birds.
National bird of Haiti, the Hispaniolan Trogon. 
Photo source: Société Audubon Haiti

So to wrap things up, I learned again in April that learning makes me happy. To quote Merlin in T.H. White's book The Sword in the Stone:
“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

NPM: Day 30

Poems definitely add value to my life, but I have to say that the thirty days of National Poetry Month always wear me out. This year was no exception. At least I did a little desktop decluttering with my month-long project of posting links I've been saving, then closing the open tabs. We won't comment on the fact that I've accumulated almost as many new tabs.

For the last day of National Poetry Month, I'm sharing a poem that has only been on my desktop for a few days. It was chosen as Poem of the Day by for April 22nd, and it made me snicker.

The Creative Drive
by Catherine Barnett

A recent study found that poems increased
the sale price of a home by close to $9,000.
The years, however, have not been kind to poems.

The Northeast has lost millions of poems,
reducing the canopy. Just a few days ago,
high winds knocked a poem onto a power line

a few blocks from my house.

Here's the rest.

The last line of the Progressive Poem is here!  Thanks for another fun collaboration, everybody! Let's all write our individual poems instead for a while, but see you again next year!

2 Kat @ Kathryn Apel
4 Jone @ DeoWriter
5 Linda @ TeacherDance
6 Tara @ Going to Walden
8 Mary Lee @ A Year of Reading
9 Rebecca @ Rebecca Herzog
10 Janet F. @ Live Your Poem
12 Margaret @ Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine @ Dori Reads
17 Amy @ The Poem Farm
18 Linda @ A Word Edgewise
20 Buffy @ Buffy's Blog
21 Michelle @ Michelle Kogan
22 Catherine @ Reading to the Core
25 Jan @ Bookseedstudio
26 Linda @ Write Time
27 Sheila @ Sheila Renfro
29 Irene @ Live Your Poem
30 Donna @ Mainely Write

Monday, April 29, 2019

NPM: Day 29

I've been reading poems about the natural world with my eighth graders this month. Here are two bird poems I shared with them.

by Craig Arnold

Of many reasons I love you here is one

the way you write me from the gate at the airport
so I can tell you everything will be alright

so you can tell me there is a bird
trapped in the terminal      all the people
ignoring it       because they do not know
what to do with it       except to leave it alone
until it scares itself to death

Here's the rest.

Here's a post from 2013 in which I explained why I think this is a perfect love poem.

And here's "Hummingbird Abecedarian," by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. We also enjoyed some YouTube hummingbirds.

Here's today's line in the Progressive Poem.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

NPM: Day 28

This link from Linda's TeacherDance blog has been open on my desktop for a while. Linda is constantly creative and full of teaching ideas. This one talks about having her students write poems about all different kinds of love. Linda is also a commenter par excellence, and I always love her thoughtful remarks on my posts.

Linda is also a kindred spirit as someone who takes goodbyes seriously. Here's one of her poems, written to say goodbye to her students at the end of the year.

Thanks, Linda!

Here's today's line in the Progressive Poem.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

NPM: Day 27

This link from Heidi's Juicy Little Universe has been open on my desktop for a while.  She shares a Jane Hirshfield poem first about people making the world better in their own ways, and then her own poem about the Building Services people at her school. It touched me, and I wanted to imitate it, and maybe sometime I will, but now that I've posted the link here, I can close the tab.

Thanks, Heidi, for so many inspirations your writing has given me through the years!

Today's line for the Progressive Poem is here,

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Poetry Friday: Dreams Deferred (NPM: Day 26)

This month for National Poetry Month, I have been sharing links that are already open on my desktop. Today's post comes more from what's been happening in my classroom, though the poem I'm sharing is open on my desk, in a file called "Poems to Memorize for Seventh Grade." (I wrote about that here.) This week someone recited the following poem:


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

I love the very simple, straightforward way Langston Hughes' poems are written (here's another of his I shared earlier in the month). In this one, he piles perfect image on perfect image as he describes what it's like to wish and hope for something and to be continually disappointed.

This week my eighth grade students responded to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech by writing down some of their own dreams for Haiti. Each student wrote a longer response, but I only chose one sentence to post from each piece.
Some of these dreams have been deferred, and some for a long time. But we keep dreaming. We keep trying. And we hope none of the dreams explode.

Here's what else I posted this week.
On Saturday I posted a prose article that reads like a poem, and found a poem in its lines.  It's about workers in India who make perfume that smells like the rain.
Sunday was Easter, and I posted three poems about the resurrection.
On Monday I posted a John Ashbery poem about what we write about, plus a poem of mine about what I write about.
On Tuesday it was my blog's 13th birthday! Happy birthday to me!
On Wednesday I shared a Louise Glück poem and mused about connections between writing and photography.
On Thursday I linked to some poems about churches, including Notre Dame, and also to an article about grieving buildings.

Today's line for the Progressive Poem is here

2 Kat @ Kathryn Apel
4 Jone @ DeoWriter
5 Linda @ TeacherDance
6 Tara @ Going to Walden
8 Mary Lee @ A Year of Reading
9 Rebecca @ Rebecca Herzog
10 Janet F. @ Live Your Poem
12 Margaret @ Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine @ Dori Reads
17 Amy @ The Poem Farm
18 Linda @ A Word Edgewise
20 Buffy @ Buffy's Blog
21 Michelle @ Michelle Kogan
22 Catherine @ Reading to the Core
25 Jan @ Bookseedstudio
26 Linda @ Write Time
27 Sheila @ Sheila Renfro
29 Irene @ Live Your Poem
30 Donna @ Mainely Write

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.  

NPM: Day 25

Last Poetry Friday Glenda Funk posted some poems about Notre Dame, one by Fleda Brown and one by herself. I've been thinking I want to write a poem about it, too, but haven't yet.

Why do we feel such an attachment to beautiful places? This week a BBC article asked that question, using as examples the National Museum in Brazil that burned last year, the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria that was destroyed by bombing in 2017, Dresden's Frauenkirche that was destroyed by bombing during World War II - and, oh yes, a very familiar building to us here in Haiti, the National Palace, knocked down by the earthquake in 2010. The BBC talked to a woman who was in Port-au-Prince in 2010, and in Paris last week when Notre Dame burned. I think I can imagine some of what she must be feeling right now.
Palais National, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Getty Images

By the way, this article uses the figure of 160,000 people killed in the earthquake; that's a figure I haven't seen before. I wrote about some of the controversy about how many died in this post back in 2011. The BBC article touches on the guilt you can feel missing buildings - like, for example, the wonderful Ste. Trinité Episcopal Cathedral that also collapsed in the earthquake - when human beings were lost too, so much more precious than mere structures.

Fleda Brown's poem, linked in the first paragraph of this post, has an epigraph from a Philip Larkin poem. I looked it up and read it; it was somewhat familiar but it had been a long time since I'd looked at it, and in the context of Notre Dame it struck me. (Here it is.) In the poem, Larkin visits a church in England, as I have done many times. When I lived there, you usually found churches unlocked during the week, and there would be pamphlets in the back detailing the history of the place, and a box to donate to its upkeep. Larkin imagines a time in the future when people won't even know what churches are. "Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?" he asks. Although he calls this particular church he's visiting an "old barn," he also recognizes: "A serious house on serious earth it is."

Notre Dame is the same: "a serious house on serious earth." It's a real place of worship, used regularly and in use for Mass when the fire started. It took hundreds of years to build up all the seriousness that this house contains, years when people came there to worship, which is one of the most serious pursuits human beings can engage in. We've all been learning more about Notre Dame's history, or remembering long-forgotten facts. They almost knocked it down after the French Revolution put an end to Catholicism, supposedly forever. Victor Hugo stirred up pride in it again. There were bees living on the roof and they survived the fire.

In the midst of articles telling all these facts and many more about Notre Dame were reminders that other churches have been destroyed recently, by arson, in the United States and Haiti. And then this past weekend, bombings in Sri Lanka targeted Christians celebrating Easter Sunday. More destruction of buildings, and though the humans lost are of far greater worth, it still tears my heart to see the photos of roofs open to the sky.

Let's face it: there's a lot to be sad about during this National Poetry Month, this "cruelest month" of April.

Today's line for the Progressive Poem is here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

NPM: Day 24

This poem by Louise Glück has been on my desktop for a while. It's called "A Summer Garden," and it begins with finding a photo.

Several weeks ago I discovered a photograph of my mother
sitting in the sun, her face flushed as with achievement or triumph.
The sun was shining. The dogs
were sleeping at her feet where time was also sleeping,
calm and unmoving as in all photographs.

I wiped the dust from my mother’s face.
Indeed, dust covered everything; it seemed to me the persistent
haze of nostalgia that protects all relics of childhood.

In four separate sections, Glück explores the photo: the photo itself, as an object, being used as a bookmark; the scene in the photo; the memories it preserves. The photo has frozen a moment "like an afternoon in Pompeii." I love the complex way this poem looks at a single photograph.

When I look for writing ideas, I often use photos. I started this a few years ago with haiku; I would write a haiku to match a photo that I loved. Sometimes when I'm given a particular topic, I use photos to help me get inspired. An example of that is when I've been asked to speak at an eighth grade graduation; I always start by scrolling back through the dozens and dozens of photos I've taken of the class during their two years with me. Sometimes I take photos specifically so I can write about an experience or a scene; the photo helps me to fix some of the details in my mind.

Photography functions in so many different ways for me. Sometimes I draw closer to an object or a person by taking pictures; I explore its angles and look at it from different points of view. Other times I distance myself from a situation by taking pictures, like the first time my husband drove me around Port-au-Prince six months after the earthquake, when I couldn't bear to look directly at the destruction; the camera mediated it somehow, made it possible to think of myself as a passionless observer. Writing has served all of these functions, too, at various times. I know I distanced myself from the earthquake by writing about it so much; if I could make it into a poem or essay over which I had control, it seemed less likely to bury me in fear and panic. At the same time, by writing about it I examined each element of it and knew it more.

In the poem the photo is of her mother, and there are two children in it. When I look at photos of myself as a child, I'm looking at a mystery. That's me, and yet it's such a long-ago me that I can't really identify myself. I'm wiping the dust away, just as Louise Glück does in the poem. I'm peering into the past to see if that person is someone I recognize at all.

The title of this poem, "A Summer Garden," makes it sound generic, but it's quickly clear that this is a specific summer garden, with a very specific person sitting in it: the poet's mother. I love how specific a photo is. You could search for a stock photo of a tree, for example, but every photo of a tree is of a particular tree. It's a certain kind, in a certain place; it's a certain height and width; it's going through a certain season of the year. Especially if you're the person who took the photograph, you know a whole background to it that keeps it from ever being generic.

This article, "The Version We Remember: On the Truth and Fiction of Photography," has only been open a short time on my desktop; it was fascinating reading because it's about photos and memory, and the way we remember an experience in one way, which may not even be the way it happened.

What about you? How have you used photography in your writing? How is a poem like a photo? How is it different?

Today's line for the Progressive Poem is here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

NPM: Day 23: Happy Blog Birthday to Me!

Today I've been blogging 13 years. When I started blogging I had already read somewhere that blogs were "over," and certainly now people say that, but I continue to find my little corner of the internet to be a place where I bloom and grow.

During this NPM, I've been posting from my open tabs on my desktop, and I've started in these three weeks to see that as a wonderful cross-pollination. When I sheepishly confessed that I had had three open tabs from Irene Latham's blog, plus one of her poems from someone else's blog, Irene commented: "Dear Ruth - this post makes me blush and fills me with gratitude and love for you, and for the internet, actually. :) So many times I marvel at this community! I'm honored and humbled to know something I've written may have been an open tab on your computer. Your words and life have been that for me as well, so many times." (You can read that post here.) Wow! What a thought! It hadn't occurred to me that tabs from my site might be open on other desktops.

And then Linda posted that a Pablo Neruda poem I'd shared had gotten her thinking in a creative direction, and Heidi reposted an Ada Limón poem I'd shared, and then I thought back to last May when Margaret organized an exchange. She matched participants up with someone who lived somewhere else in the world, and we sent each other photos, and then wrote poems about each others' photos. Heidi wrote this about mine and I wrote this about hers, and what fun! There's the Progressive Poem every year, and there are poetry swaps in the winter and the summer, and then there are encouraging comments left on posts by people who come to feel like friends even though we've never met. (I have met some of them, too!)

I have a real-life writing group, where we sit in a room together and share what we're working on, and that is life-giving and nourishing. I have my students, and I write with them all the time (not that I count on their responses for any kind of encouragement, but they teach me in other ways). I share writing with family and friends a lot, too. But there's just something about my online writing community. I've mostly talked about Poetry Friday people, but it's not just those folks; some readers tell me straight up they aren't interested in my poetry posts, but just my Haiti ones, or just my Reading Updates. I've got my Spiritual Journey First Thursday buds, my Facebook friends, my online moms' group. They're part of my online community too. (Some posts I'm not sure anybody reads, except for me, but I go back and remember what I was thinking at a certain point, and what books I was reading.)

I'm very glad I started blogging 13 years ago, and stepped it up after the earthquake when I needed a place to mourn, and then gradually became more and more active in different directions of writing. At first blogging didn't feel like real writing, but now it does, and I'm so grateful for my little adolescent blog where I can sing softly to myself, "Happy Birthday to me!" Thank you, readers! Here's to more years of sharing and cross-pollination!

Today's line for the Progressive Poem is here.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reading Update

Book #36 of 2019 was a devotional by Christine Harms called In the Face of Injustice. For thirty days, there's a daily Bible reading, a prayer, and a link to a related song on YouTube - all on the theme of dealing with the injustice that so often surrounds us in this world. At that link, you can get it FOR FREE until the end of April! Go get it right now! After that it will be available on Amazon.

Book #37 was a re-read, In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I wrote about it here. I went back to this book because I read an article about Lahiri editing a book of short stories in Italian. Imagine: Jhumpa Lahiri didn't start studying Italian until she was in college, and now she has written a book in it and edited an anthology full of some of the biggest names in the Italian publishing world. This just amazes me. In the book she talks about how when she moved to Italy, she gave up reading and writing in English, something I can't even fathom doing. This book is a bilingual edition; Lahiri wrote it in Italian, and then someone else translated it into English.

Book #39 was another re-read, Rob Bell's How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living. I wrote about it before here.

Book #40 was The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity, by Stephen W. Smith. I thought this had a lot of useful insights, and I was only momentarily put off by his using of the Haiti earthquake as an example of badness: "Our faith is a story. The events of 9/11, earthquakes in Haiti, and economic downturns bring us to our knees." Indeed.

Books #38 and 41 were the two most recent Inspector Gamache novels, Glass Houses and Kingdom of the Blind, by Louise Penny. I really didn't enjoy the drug plotlines, but overall I have liked this series and will probably read the next one when it comes out.