Friday, July 17, 2020

Poetry Friday: Summer Poetry Swap

Much thanks to Carol Varsalona, who sent me a lovely digital journal for the Summer Poetry Swap. Here are some screen grabs of it:

The thoughtfulness and creativity of these Poetry Swaps never cease to amaze me. They have really been bright spots this year.

Jone Rush MacCulloch is hosting the roundup today. Check out what everyone is posting!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Reading Update

In an effort to lower my snarkiness level, I am going to write a post about what I've been reading. It's a challenge to find the perfect book to read in these times, as I've remarked before. I had chosen A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Bakman, to read aloud to my husband, and I abandoned it because it was the - whatever the opposite of a sweet spot is - combination of depressing and triggering and attempted but not succeeded endearing. I don't want fluff to read, but I can't handle majorly traumatic right now. Learning new things is good, up to a point. I feel as though I am not reading much, but then I see that I've finished eleven books since this time last month, so I guess that's not too much of a slump.

Book #28 of this weird and increasingly horrifying year was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. I thought I knew quite a bit about this book, but it's way more interesting and quirky than I realized. A memorable moment is her high school graduation, when she describes singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" after a humiliating and obnoxious speech by a white man, and for the first time in her life really hearing the words.
We've been singing this at our church for the last few years, and it is such a beautiful song and so packed with meaning. I am sorry it took me so long to find it.

Book #29 was The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by Suzanne Collins, the prequel to the Hunger Games books. This is the story of future Panem president Corialanus Snow. I found it depressing but absorbing.

Book #30 was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I had somehow formed the impression that this was a light, fun read. Not so much.
Here's a taste: "He'd elected to look after me himself. I'd been pondering this, and concluded that there must be some people for whom difficult behavior wasn't a reason to end their relationship with you. If they liked you - and, I remembered, Raymond and I had agreed that we were pals now - then, it seemed, they were prepared to maintain contact - even if you were sad, or upset, or behaving in very challenging ways. This was something of a revelation."

Book #31 was The Clergyman's Wife, by Molly Greeley. I'd like to discuss this Pride and Prejudice sequel with a group. The clergyman's wife of the title is Charlotte Lucas Collins. There were things I really liked about this and things I really hated. One thing I liked was that it maintained the mournful ambiguity of the original presentation of Charlotte's story. I was glad to see things through Charlotte's eyes, rather than Lizzy's, because let's face it, however delightful Lizzy is, it does get tiresome to see her laughing merrily at everyone. Jane Austen herself sees there's more to Charlotte, I think. I also really liked the way I started to see endearing qualities about Mr. Collins. Again, having Lizzy a long way away helped with that. Please read it and let's talk about it.

Book #32 was Beach Read, by Emily Henry. I didn't love this, but it did hold my interest. And I enjoyed the focus on January's past, her family and her friendships. I enjoyed the portrayal of novel-writing, too.

Book #33 was Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson. Wow! I loved this book! It was so quirky and unpredictable and I realized how long it had been since I had read something that just completely surprised me. It's also heartbreaking and beautiful in a very ugly and painful way. And the characters, while wildly improbable things happen to them, are completely believable. A lot of people won't like the language.
Here's a taste: "This was how you did it, how you raised children. You built them a house that was impervious to danger and then you gave them every single thing that they could ever want, no matter how impossible. You read to them at night. Why couldn't people figure this out?"

Book #34 was a re-re-re-re-re-read, Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen. I hope some day I won't have the need to reread this book constantly, but so far I still need it. It's such a great reminder of how much God loves us, and how that's what we need, not the love and approval of other people. At least, we don't need the love and approval of other people nearly as much as we think we do. See how I can type those words and even believe them? Some day I will live as though I believe them.

Book #35 was Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. "There were so many things that could not be said, and this had occurred to Cindy with more frequency and it made her heart ache." This is a sequel to Olive Kitteredge, which I read and reviewed here in 2010. Like the original, this one is told in interconnected short stories, and like the original, it's about loneliness. The characters are so finely drawn and their experiences are so realistic that they made me squirm. Elizabeth Strout is an amazing writer.

Book #36 was Meg & Jo, by Virginia Kantra. This is a retelling of Little Women, but happening today. I liked many things about it, but I wasn't sure I wanted to know that much about the sex lives of the March girls. But I saw there's going to be a sequel about the other two sisters, and I will totally read it.

Book #37 was Healing Maddie Brees, by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson. I had started this several months ago, but for some reason not finished it. It's beautifully written and a very realistic, serious look at a marriage. I recommend it.

Book #38 was The House Girl, by Tara Conklin. One of the goosebumps moments in this book - and there were quite a few - was when Lina, a lawyer working on a case that would demand reparations for slavery, is sitting in her room writing down what happened to a bunch of people in a historical document, from bad living conditions to abuse to rape to murder: "Lina wrote on her yellow legal pad: The harm is immeasurable." There's a lot going on in this story - motherhood, art, workplace politics, hideous racism, the Underground Railroad - yet somehow it never seemed too much. I thought Tara Conklin handled it beautifully and gave me a fresh look at a subject I've read about countless times before. It reminded me a little bit of Kindred, by Octavia Butler, which I read in 2016 and reviewed here, but without the time travel. Like that book, it makes absolutely zero effort to turn slavery into a pretty story. It's hard to read, but read it.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Poetry Friday: Welcome to the Poetry Party

Welcome, fellow poetry lovers! I'm excited to welcome you to my blog to share your links. I have been participating in Poetry Friday for thirteen years, and yet this is the first time I have hosted. It's not that I didn't want to invite all of you over, it's just that I have always feared technical difficulties. My internet here in Haiti is slow and often unreliable, so I offer that in advance as an explanation if it takes a little bit before you see your link here. Please leave it in the comments. Moderation is enabled, so you won't see your comment right away, but I will get to it as fast as I can, and round up everybody's contributions the old-fashioned way in the body of this post. I guess this is the Poetry Friday version of giving you instructions about the dish you brought to share at a real-life party, with food and music and conversation - remember those? Put it over there on the table. Do you have something to serve it with? Looks delicious! Thanks so much for coming! 

As I tried to decide what I myself would bring to the feast, I started looking for poems about parties, the analog kind. I found some fun ones, like Adrienne Su lamenting that her guests have thrown away her non-disposable chopsticks. (Please, don't do that at my house. Like Adrienne's, our chopsticks are reusable, and we do use them, several times a week. This year my daughter is living in a house where we've never been with people we've never met, and my husband and I contributed a couple of packages of reusable chopsticks to their kitchen because that's just civilized.)

After the Dinner Party
by Adrienne Su

Dropping napkins, corks, and non-compostables
into the trash, I see that friends have mistaken
my everyday chopsticks for disposables

helpfully discarding them alongside inedibles:
pork bones, shrimp shells, bitter melon.
Among napkins and corks, they do look compostable:

off-white, wooden, warped from continual
washing - no lacquer, no ornament. But anyone
who thinks these chopsticks are disposable

doesn't live with chopsticks in the comfortable
way of a favorite robe, oversized, a bit broken.

Here's the rest.

And here's one by Jason Shinder:

The Party
by Jason Shinder

And that's how it is; everyone standing up from the big silence

of the table with their glasses of certainty and plates of forgiveness
and walking into the purple kitchen; everyone leaning away from the gas stove

Marie blows on at the very edge of the breaking blue-orange-lunging-

forward flames to warm another pot of coffee...

Here's the rest.

I really miss hanging out with people. On Wednesday morning as my husband and I were perusing Facebook together before starting our day, I commented to him that a lot of our friends were saying (usually in anniversary paeans) that their spouse was the one person in all the world they would have chosen to be quarantined with. I assured him that I feel that way too, but that while he is great and all, and I'm so happy that I picked him and had kids with him and ultimately ended up with him in this Year of our Lord 2020 when we are all locked indoors for many a month, I am extremely ready for some hanging out time with others. So again I say, welcome, welcome! Stay a while and chat! Share your writing or that of others that you've been appreciating lately! Share lots of words; I am totally up for that. In fact, you may have trouble leaving, as I'm likely to step outside with you in the moonlight and detain you in the driveway for just a few more minutes of conversation.

I'm organizing your contributions on the buffet table according to when they show up, from Thursday afternoon when this post goes live (hi, friends from Australia, plus anyone else who just likes to get a head start) until Friday night.


Our first guest is all the way from Switzerland! Welcome, Bridget Magee! She has brought a whole platter of goodies, what she calls "Writer's Retreat Wee-Sources." No matter where you are, these are opportunities to write in community, and boy, do we need that right now!

April Halprin Wayland arrived next, and even though her link doesn't go live until tomorrow morning, I'm going to post it here on the appetizer table. I'll visit it in the morning and update you on it further - all I know now is that she's going to share a tip from anthologist and poet extraordinaire, Lee Bennett Hopkins. I'm sure it will be delicious! Here's the link, for tomorrow.  (I was right - it's a good one! Check it out!)

Every Thursday I see Margaret Simon's "This Photo Wants to be a Poem" feature as kind of an introduction to Poetry Friday. Here's today's beautiful inspiration - a Bedouin bride! 

Michelle Kogan stopped by with some James Baldwin to share. She's been reading his poem "Staggerlee Wonders," and then she wrote her response to it. This is challenging fare, but we need it. Here's Michelle's post.

Tabatha's sharing wonderful poetry swaps! Thanks, Tabatha! (She's also brought a pitcher of blueberry-chamomile lemonade after "accidentally" buying 17 lemons. Accidentally, Tabatha? You're not going to share the story after that intriguing hint?) Update: I begged Tabatha to explain further, and here's what she said in the comments: "Sorry, Ruth! I get a box of fruit and veg every week from a place that sells ugly produce, and when I opened the box yesterday, it had SO MANY LEMONS in it. They just kept coming. I thought I was ordering three lemons, but I actually ordered three sets of five. Ha ha?? (I also had two in my Whole Foods delivery order -- forgot that I had ordered some already -- and I already had one. So my total is 18.) Guess I'm starting a lemonade stand!"

What could be more delicious than a villanelle? That's what Janice Scully is sharing this week!


I woke up to an inbox full of poems! That sure is better than the scrolling of the news that often starts my day.  Welcome, friends!

Little Willow always brings intriguing dishes to the party, and this week is no exception, even though as always I have problems commenting on her blog.  Here's her contribution!

Matt's generosity to the potluck leaves me reeling - he's brought wild berry shortcake with homemade biscuits, plus homemade mac and cheese, plus a mac and cheese poem! Enjoy the bounty!

Linda has a bunch of what she calls "clunker lines," but let me tell you, folks, there are some with great potential! Take one of hers and leave one of your own! She also has a lovely poetry swap. Take a taste!

Myra's brought a whole buffet of her own, with links to ten favorite PF posts from the time Gathering Books has been participating - since 2011!

I'm running into Carol Varsalona everywhere this week! She sent me a poetry swap (which I'm going to be sharing next week), we both contributed to This Photo Wants to be a Poem (see the link on the Appetizer table), and now she's brought a dish to pass at my party! Here it is! 

Welcome to Kat, first to show up from the Australian contingent! She's sharing poetry swaps today, too!

Linda's in with a sad reflection on the gun violence that shattered the July 4th holiday weekend. We share your grief, Linda.

Laura's got more swaps - that seems to be a theme this week! She's receiving from Margaret Simon, and she's responding with a poem of her own.

Whew. I need to sit down for a moment after all those posts and all those exclamation marks in my roundup. Keep the links coming and I'll be back to add them!

Oops! Before I sit down, I just realized I almost overlooked Mary Lee's contribution to the buffet table. She wrote an In One Word poem with the word FALLIBILITY.  It's perfect as the teachers among us (and there are many) look forward to the coming school year with a mixture of fear and hope.

BRUNCH (Friday mid-morning)

Margaret Simon tried out Irene Latham's nestling technique shown in Irene's new book "This Poem is a Nest." I can't wait to get my hands on that book, and I love Margaret's take on the idea, too! See what you think here!

Tim Gels wrote about a hike, and I have to say I am a bit jealous. It sounds so beautiful and restorative! Thanks, Tim!

Amy's sharing a beautiful moment that broke through sadness for her this week. I can't agree more with her assessment that "This is the power of paying attention...and too, the power of writing." You can enjoy Amy's moment here.

(By the way, Tabatha reappeared in the comments, explaining more about how she "accidentally" bought so many lemons, which she then turned into lemonade. Read all about it in the comments, or up on the appetizer table, where I cut and pasted it.)

MAIN DISHES (Friday afternoon)

Karen Edmisten shares a haiku about parties and laments that she and her family weren't able to celebrate her daughter's home-school graduation with proper fanfare. So sorry, Karen! I hope you're able to make up for it in the future!

Carol has two original poems today at her site The Apples in My Orchard. Maybe she'll bring some apples too? Cider? Apple butter?

Jane is going funny and light-hearted today, with a poem that was a favorite of mine as a child, and she sort of sounds like she's apologizing for it at first. I've been there, Jane - but I agree with you that we need funny and light-hearted more now than ever! Thanks for the laugh!

Rose has an original poem today, based, like Margaret Simon's above, on Irene Latham's new book. So cool, and I can imagine doing this with students, too. Here it is.

DESSERTS (Friday evening)

I never ate green beans for dessert, but I may have to start, since the last post I got yesterday was this one from Susan Bruck praising green beans! Thanks, Susan!

And hey, I just visited Irene Latham's blog and saw that she posted yesterday too, and there are strawberries involved!

Thank you, everyone, for coming to the party! I hope you enjoy perusing all the poems and leave lots of encouraging comments wherever you go. Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, July 03, 2020

Poetry Friday: When People Say...

John Green referenced this poem on his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed, which I frequently listen to with my son. In June's episode, he reviewed seventeen suggestions from listeners. One was the pandemic. While he acknowledged that people like to find silver linings and say that everything is really good even though it looks bad, he gave the pandemic one star, his lowest rating.

When people say "we have made it through worse before"
by Clint Smith

all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones
of those who did not make it, those who did not
survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who

did not live to watch the parade roll down the street.

Here's the rest.

Tune in next week when I will be hosting Poetry Friday here on my blog for the first time. Today's roundup is hosted by Linda Mitchell here.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Poetry Friday: Deserts

My daughter has lived in the desert this year. It's the first time she's lived somewhere I haven't been, and I squint at the rare photo she sends in an effort to understand what she experiences, what she sees. I don't know her friends, I don't know her life.

Each day I look at the temperature where she is and groan at how hot it is. (Yesterday it was 109 degrees.) "It's a dry heat," yes, but it's still unbelievable. She says you can't comfortably go outside during the day. I read an article about how homeless people die every year of heat in her city; air conditioning is nearly a necessity.

This past week I have thought a lot about deserts. We had several days of a dust cloud from the Sahara hanging over our normally idyllic blue skies. Here's an article about it. Experts named the cloud "Godzilla." It's a regular phenomenon to have desert dust in the atmosphere, but this was the thickest in fifty years, and this was the first year I was aware that they actually gave it a name. I read that we could expect extra beautiful sunrises and sunsets, but that turned out to be false; we couldn't see anything in the sky except grey, or feel anything but oppressive, heavy, heat. The Ministry of Health took a moment from their Coronavirus updates to tell us to be careful of this dust; don't exercise, stay indoors, wear your mask (at least you have a mask - see, it's multipurpose!). Now Godzilla has moved on, but reportedly we will get some more effects from it tomorrow.

I've also been reading poems about deserts, in a book called A Nostalgist's Map of America, by Agha Shahid Ali, a poet from Kashmir who wrote in English and became a U.S. citizen. He merges all the deserts of his life in his poems. Although I've been trying to learn more about him and read more of his work, I find my favorite poem so far is still the first one of his I read, "Snow on the Desert."

I had hoped to travel this year to visit my daughter and to see her home, but like so many things we'd planned, it didn't happen. I have to imagine what it's like, using my various source materials, and unfortunately those materials include articles about how COVID-19 is spreading there and how there, as everywhere in the US now, people are marching against their local examples of violence.
I bought a used copy of Agha Shahid Ali's book, and it's clearly been a textbook, judging by the marginal notes, some of which seem a bit confused. Here's my favorite example:
I imagine the professor explaining in passing, "Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus..." and then assuming comprehension from the students, but this student has scribbled, "and Orficace (he?)" and then after the first line of the poem, "I am a woman," added, apparently a little bewildered, "author a guy."

This summer I'm locked down, but it also feels a bit like wandering in a desert, a desert where I don't see a clear path and I don't get all the references in the poetry (Orficace?) and it's hot and hard to breathe.

Here's today's roundup. And over at Kat's blog, she's sharing some Summer Poem Swaps, including some I sent her. You can read them here

Friday, June 19, 2020

Poetry Friday: A Poetry Swap, and Pushing Statues into the Water

I recently received several beautiful poems from Kat Apel as part of the Summer Poetry Swap (organized by Tabatha Yeatts - thanks, Tabatha!). Here they are:

The Lord himself goes before you and with you;
He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged.

He will never leave you nor forsake you;
He numbers the hairs on your head
and preserves your every tear.

Do not be afraid,
for the Lord your God will be with you;
Sleep in sweet peace.

Do not be discouraged,
but let God's unfailing love
comfort you.

That poem is a trimeric, which I confess I had to look up. Here's a nice clear definition of how it works.  Its words couldn't be more appropriate for this time of my life. Thanks so much, Kat!

I love that Kat knows I am a bird-lover.  The two other poems she sent are both bird-related.

Carolling Australian Magpies
Cracticus tibicen / Family Artamidae


black and white
warbling magpies
gargle sweet notes
into a new 
                dawn chorus.

Abound in hope,
believing there is
life brighter than the
noonday. Wait with patience for the thing
you cannot see. Face suffering with
rejoicing - shelter under the feathers
of His wings. Like the mustard seed that
matures for birds to find perches 
in its branches, grow in
faith as you put your hope in the
Lord. Seek him with all your heart and soul.

This is a golden shovel poem, and I bolded the last word of each line so you can see the quote Kat used; it's Emily Dickinson's line: "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul." Perfect!

Thank you, Kat, for all three of these wonderful poems!

This week I read a poem written by the City Poet of Bristol, England, Vanessa Kisuule, on the occasion of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston getting pushed into the harbor in Bristol by Black Lives Matter protestors. It begins:

You came down easy in the end
The righteous wrench of two ropes in a grand plié.

Read the rest, right up until the devastating last line, here. Better yet, listen to her read it herself - wow, it packs a punch!

Here are videos of the statue going into the water and then being retrieved - I read that it's going to end up in a museum. (Look at how easily it is handled - especially notable after reading/listening to the poem! It is not heavy at all.)

In the city where I live, a statue was pushed into the ocean in 1986. That was before I moved to Haiti, so I looked up a newspaper article about it (unfortunately, that was pre-YouTube) here. The Chicago Tribune found the choice of Columbus' statue as a target of protestors' ire to be "whimsical." I don't know if some of the places they destroyed were chosen whimsically, but I'm pretty sure Columbus wasn't, because even back then, he was definitely associated with bad things in people's minds here. For the first couple of years we lived in Haiti, we still had a holiday for Discovery Day, December 5th, when Columbus got to Hispaniola (he's the one that named the island that, Little Spain). Then one year (I can't remember exactly when), we had school that day. My husband asked a Haitian friend why the change, and his dry response was, "Can you say genocide?" I found this photo of the statue in situ (notice the title the website has given it), and this one of where it lives now (bonus at that link: a Twitter thread suggesting what is to be done with these statues that are being taken down all over the place). I read a provocative essay on Facebook by author Philippa Gregory last week with her own suggestion: statue gardens where these disgraced statues lie flat on their backs.

It all went so wrong,
Christophe Colombe!
Your boat sank here, off the shore of Haiti,
and then almost 500 years later, you did, too.
Now you live in the Bureau of Ethnology
Where you have taken a knee.

Ruth, from

P.S. Happy Juneteenth!

Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect, is hosting today's roundup.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Fragments of Light

"Survivors deserve crosses too."

This absorbing novel, Fragments of Light, by Michèle Phoenix, is about several types of survivors, and it explores the fact that surviving isn't as simple as just making it through. Often the trauma you've survived leaves scars on you and those around you. In Ceelie's case, the trauma was cancer, and she's just starting to come to terms with all the scars her illness left on her body, her mind, and her marriage. Right there for her is her friend Darlene, and it's through this friend that she learns about another survivor, this time a veteran of World War II. Coming back alive was just the beginning for him, too.

Whether she's writing about the French résistance in 1944, a hospital room in Illinois, a trip to Normandy, or the emotional minefields of a long marriage or a new friendship, Michèle Phoenix sensitively navigates what it means to survive. What comes after you ring the bell saying you've "Completed Treatment" or after you've left behind battles fought and won?

Get to know Ceelie, Nate, Darlene, Cal, Sabine, Lise, and others with struggles to go through in this beautiful book. The journey of a survivor is rarely neat and tidy, and can take you to some unexpected places. Find out why one of these characters concludes: "Survivors deserve crosses too."
Michèle Phoenix grew up as a TCK in France, and in addition to her career as a novelist (this is her fifth book, and the second I've read - this post contains a brief review of the other one), she works as a speaker and therapist specializing in TCK issues. She's also a breast cancer survivor. She knows complexity, and she knows survival.

Watch this video of the author meeting a veteran called Albert in Normandy. He was one of the inspirations for this novel, so much so that she even named a character after him.
I got an ARC of this book from in exchange for an honest review. This was book #29 I read in 2020.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Reading Update

Book #27 of 2020 was The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel. I loved Station Eleven, which I read back in 2016. This one didn't resonate quite as much with me because of the subject matter, a financial scandal, but it is beautifully and brilliantly written. I will definitely read more by this author.

Book #28 was a pandemic-related re-read, Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. I first read it back in 2014, and current events brought it back to my mind, so I started looking through it, and got pulled in. Trigger warnings galore with this one. The setting is a future Oxford University (2054) where time travel has been figured out and is a regular part of life for historians. Even though the Middle Ages has been given a blanket rating of ten (too dangerous to visit) for time travel, Kivrin wants to go there. There's a virus outbreak in 2054, university politics, and then the country of the past: all of them make this fascinating reading. What was it like fighting a contagious illness at a time when so little was known about how it all works? I feel as though I could answer that question by just describing what's happening around me. As I type this, I can hear a large, raucous church gathering singing joyously in my neighborhood. I'm happy they're joyous, but I wonder about the germs they are sharing, as the number of cases of Coronavirus jumps here in Haiti each day.

Book #29 was Fragments of Light, by Michèle Phoenix. I loved this novel, and felt privileged to read an ARC of it. You can find a full review of it here.

Book #30 was The Gospel of Trees: A Memoir, by Apricot Irving. Apricot's parents were missionaries in the northern part of Haiti, and as an adult, Apricot takes an unflinching look at what happened to the family, to their aspirations and missionary goals. She writes beautifully, and she has a lot of courage.
Here's a sample: "The evacuation had torn a hole in the narrative. The missionary confidence that we were hope-bearers, shining with Christ's love had been replaced with a fundamental uncertainty: Were we even wanted? There was a palpable sense of failure in the room." 
A bonus for me in reading this book was meeting the character Suzette Goss-Geffrard, a person I have met in real life. At a time when everyone is reflecting on social media about their experiences with racism, I think about working with Suzette as a colleague at the school where I teach here in Haiti. At that point in my life I had lived only a few years in the United States, and I understood very little about the history of racial issues and what it was like to live there as a person with dark skin. I also thought I understood it all, having grown up in Kenya. Suzette very patiently and kindly undertook my education, and explained many things to me which I very much needed to hear. In this book she comes across as a fantastic teacher, the first one to tell the author that she would be a writer. For me she was a fantastic teacher too, and though I very rarely see her these days, I am grateful to her.

Book #31 was The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley. I'm a sucker for books where people can read each others' minds. Communication - real communication - is so challenging in real life, and I guess that's why it's so appealing to me to imagine being able to just step into other realities through thoughts. The Firebird of the title is a piece of art, and Nicola, the main character, who works for an art gallery, is trying to find out more about it - actual proof, as opposed to the knowledge she has about its history just from touching it. In the process we learn about the history of the Scottish in Russia. Did you know there even was such a history? I sure didn't! I liked this and will look for more by this author.

Book #32 is another pandemic-related choice, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne. You're probably already familiar with the best passage from this book, Donne's most famous piece of writing, beginning, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main," and ending "never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." But the whole book is like that, with those endless, lyrical sentences. Donne wrote these meditations while he was seriously ill, and it kind of reminded me of fever dreams I've had before, when everything seemed to fit together and make sense. In his case he can also write incredible sentences with truly enormous amounts of scripture in them, but I also found his points were often hard to remember when I was done, just like insights when your fever breaks. By reading this I learned the word "pestiducts," which is another way of saying, "disease vectors," but a much better way, I think you'll agree. (Usage: Since we are all potential pestiducts, we wear masks when we go out in public.)
Here's a sample from this book: "We say that the world is made of sea and land, as though they were equal; but we know that there is more sea in the Western than in the Eastern hemisphere. We say that the firmament is full of stars, as though it were equally full; but we know that there are more stars under the Northern than under the Southern pole. We say the elements of man are misery and happiness, as though he had an equal proportion of both, and the days of man vicissitudinary, as though he had as many good days as ill, and that he lived under a perpetual equinoctial, night and day equal, good and ill fortune in the same measure. But it is far from that; he drinks misery, and he tastes happiness; he mows misery, and he gleans happiness; he journeys in misery, he does but walk in happiness; and, which is worst, his misery is positive and dogmatical, his happiness is but disputable and problematical: all men call misery misery, but happiness changes the name by the taste of man."
Vicissitudinary. I mean, you have to love that, right?

Book #33 was The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, by Gail Tsukiyama. I read this one aloud to my husband, which took a while because it is 422 pages long. Set in Tokyo, it spans the time between 1939 and 1966, and follows the careers of two brothers, one a sumo wrestler and the other a maskmaker for traditional Japanese Noh theater. This is a beautiful book. I could have done with less of the sumo description, but that was my husband's favorite part. My favorite part was watching the people of Tokyo go through the trauma of the war but then recover from it. Tsukiyama does a masterful job of showing the way past experiences live on in our minds, but how we can sometimes transcend them.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Poetry Friday: Nikki Grimes and a Poetry Swap

Today's roundup host, the inimitable Irene, has requested that we honor Nikki Grimes today. What a wonderful idea! Irene points out that Nikki has won many awards lately for her writing, and because of the pandemic, the in-person celebrations have been much diminished. I hope Poetry Friday will help make that feel just a little bit better.

I have shared Nikki Grimes' work with my students. Her poem "Hanging in the Park" came up on my computer when I searched her name; it describes kids watching the guys playing basketball and wishing that one of them would go be a star, shine for the neighborhood, represent them.

Here are some clips of her reading her poems.

And here she is talking about her childhood and her writing:

Congratulations to Nikki Grimes and thank you for the way your work is a mirror and a window for our students and for us teachers, too!

Another poetic event this week was receiving my first Poetry Swap of the summer. Thanks so much to Tabatha Yeatts for creating these opportunities to brighten up the summer. I heard from Tricia, of the Miss Rumphius Effect, who sent me a found poem from Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. I thought of Kingsolver's book again after seeing that protestors in Belgium are removing statues of King Leopold II. (See here, for example.) The novel, and history, and Tricia's poem, all remind us that actions have consequences, sometimes extremely far-reaching ones.

In the Shadow of Violence and Oppression
Lines excerpted and adapted from The Poisonwood Bible, copyright 1998 by Barbara Kingsolver, p. 8-10

The whole world turns on an axis
as it barrels through space

While on a more earthly plane
I have seen things
you'll never know about

Memories rise out of me
days darkly colored
weigh on me

I am one more soul walking free
in a white skin

I'll confess the truth - I was there
a party to failed relations
and monstrous things thundering down

I want you to find me innocent
but I am not

I looked past it
did not speak of it
never managed the full truth

How can I live with it?
How will you?

found by Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Be sure to check out Irene's roundup here to see what others have shared today!

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.


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

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

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

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.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Reading Update

I haven't written a Reading Update since February, so although my lack of focus has slowed down my reading considerably, I still have plenty of books to report.

Book #15 of 2020 was White Rose, by Kip Wilson, a verse novel about a teenager who joins the Resistance against the Nazis during World War II.

Book #16 was a gift from my son for my birthday, 363 Days of Tea, by Ruby Silvious. I loved this book, which consists of photos of a year-long art project in which the author repurposed used tea bags as tiny canvases for her creations. For a look at some of the amazing and beautiful results, check out this gorgeous blog post at Jama's Alphabet Soup. This is where I first learned about the book, and put it on my wishlist, back in 2011.

Book #17 was I'll Be Your Blue Sky, by Maria de los Santos. I remember enjoying this book, but honestly, I don't remember much more than that about it.

Book #18 was Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano. This is about Edward, who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. It's the story of how he recovers from this terrible experience.

Book #19 was Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer with extensive experience of the racial injustice inherent in the US system. In this book, Stevenson shows us case after case of people he worked with who ended up on death row. Recommended.

Book #20 was Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney. An author's note tells us that Lillian Boxfish is based on a real person, Margaret Fishback, and her career in advertising beginning in the 30s. I really enjoyed all the details of the time period. The frame of the story is a walk Lillian Boxfish is taking in New York City on New Year's Eve, 1984.

Book #21 was The Second Sleep, by Robert Harris. There's not much I can tell you about the story without giving away the big surprise, so I'll just say I liked this book. I can imagine it getting made into a movie at some point.

Book #22 was The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng. While reading this I learned a lot about Japanese gardens, tea plantations, and the Japanese occupation of Malaysia during the second World War. I found it an absorbing book.

Book #23 was Dreamers of the Day, by Mary Doria Russell. I am not sure if I bought this for my Kindle because it was on sale at a really low price, or if it was because my daughter, a huge Mary Doria Russell fan, recommended it. Either way, I didn't know what it was about, and almost stopped reading once I realized - would you believe, it begins with the 1918 flu pandemic! In spite of the topic, the book pulled me in, and I ended up enjoying it very much. It includes a trip to Egypt and a chance to get to know T. E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. But, fair warning, it also includes this passage and others like it: "Without literature as a guide, I expect you think of the flu as a homey, familiar kind of illness, not a horrifying scourge like the black plague or smallpox. You may believe you know what the flu epidemic was like for us. Pray, now, that you never learn how wrong you are."

Book #24 was In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle. I was totally wrong about this book; I thought at first it was a rom-com, due to the beautifully set up premise at the beginning, and what a relief that would be! But no, it's full of grief and trauma, just like all the other books I've been reading lately. In the meantime, there were way more descriptions of what people were wearing than I'm used to.

Book #25 was Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah. Yup, more grief and trauma. I loved that this one was about a long friendship, which I think in many ways is a lot harder to write about than romance.

Book #26 was Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid. Everyone is reading this right now, so I was amazed that it became available so quickly from the library. This book is so full of uncomfortable situations, leaving you feeling off-balance in the very best way. It explores race, prejudice, dating, and childcare, all issues that can lead to rage very quickly. This would be a great book club read. Check out this interview with the author.

I'm in the middle of several other books, so I hope my next reading update will appear a lot more quickly than this one did! 

Friday, May 01, 2020

Poetry Friday: May

May Night Poem
by Sara Teasdale

The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.

Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing --
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.

I imagine the spring flowers are out as normal. There aren't actually that many I can see from my yard, but the flowering trees that are visible, like a frangipani and African tulip across the street, are starting to look very lovely. I haven't been out in quite a while. I'm not sure my heart is very fresh and fearless most of the time, but there are moments when it is, and I try to enjoy those moments to the fullest. I'm very grateful for the good health and safety my family is enjoying right now.

Elizabeth Steinglass has today's roundup.