Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Not Giving Up

Sometimes someone else's words help most.


Instructions on Not Giving Up
Ada Limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.


I wrote some about this poem here.  

Friday, June 18, 2021

Poetry Friday: Hispaniolan Woodpecker


Photo Credit: Gil Ewing, eBird.com

I remember
the first time I saw
a Hispaniolan Woodpecker
in my yard:

the powerful beak
the yellow cartoon character eye
the black and yellow basketwork of the back
the bright red head.

It was the first time I knew
there was such a bird.
I imagined it rare,
perhaps unique,
an anomaly
about to burst,
into flame.

I hear them every day
and often see them.
(Once, four on the same branch.)
Not a surprising bird,
but one of the most common.

And yet perhaps that gasp
from the first time,
that leap of my heart,
was the most appropriate response,
after all.

Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

Buffy has the roundup today at BuffySilverman.com.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Striking the Set


Montessori teachers call cleaning up their classrooms at the end of the year "Striking the Set." Just like you have to take down the scenery after the last performance of a play, so you take down the carefully-thought-out scenery of your room, all the things you hung up or placed just so to facilitate learning. Of course, for us, as for teachers around the world, there have been multiple sets this year. Sometimes it was a Zoom screen where we taught, sometimes the online portal where we'd posted lessons, and sometimes - really quite often for us, thankfully - our classrooms. But really, every year there are multiple sets. You don't ever know where and when and how the learning is taking place, and quite often it's not where and when and how you think. I know that from kids who come back and tell me the thing they remember best about my class, and I lean forward, excited to find out what it is...and it's usually something like, that story I told (what story - could it have been from a different teacher?), or the fact that I had bean bag chairs in my room that they could use for silent reading. Rarely is there a word about the lessons I polished so lovingly.

So anyway, I'm striking my set today, but before cranking the Paul Simon music to which I traditionally do this task, I first went out birding on our campus and saw/heard six species, all familiar friends to me by now: House Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Antillean Palm-Swift, Gray Kingbirds, Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo, and two tiny Vervain Hummingbirds. How did I learn all those names and how to recognize each one so easily? Months and months of daily birding, checking my app, reading my bird books, consulting eBird. 

Back to my room to strike the set, and to reflect on how glad I am that the other set will stay up all summer and still be there when I get back to start again: the trees, bushes, wires, roofs of our campus, all the places where I've loved seeing birds this whole school year.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Reading Update

Book #47 of the year was As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meissner. This is a historical novel about the Spanish Flu pandemic of a century ago. I enjoyed the book, though it asks the reader to accept a pretty big coincidence at the center of the plot. Well, coincidences do happen. I always like stories about people healing from trauma, and I think ultimately that is what this story is about.

Book #48 was The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. I loved this post-apocalyptic, post-pandemic novel even though it is violent and profane to a degree I don't usually choose. But it's so very well-written and puts you right there in this heartbreaking, destroyed world. And it is full of birds and poetry. I loved it so much that as soon as I finished it, I went looking for more by this author, and book #49 was his 2019 book The River. In this one the crisis is more localized and not quite as dramatic, but still plenty dramatic. Again, lots of violence. Again, many little perfectly-described bird sightings. Again, outdoors and survival and being pushed to the very limit. And more poetry! Here's a little snippet: "Last night's freeze had taken care of the mosquitoes. Wynn heard the knock of stone as Jack moved outside, and he also heard the slow creek making the faintest ripple. He thought of the Merwin poem about dusk that he loved so much. Merwin describes the sun going down believing in nothing, and how he hears the stream running after it: It has brought its flute it is a long way. It killed him. The one and only sun without belief in anything and the little stream believing so hard, believing in music even. What he loved about poetry: it could do in a few seconds what a novel did in days. A painting could be like that, too, and a sculpture. But sometimes you wanted something to take days and days." I've got more by Heller on hold at the library. Hope it takes days and days to read. 

Book #50 was Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young. This is a YA title set in a Viking-like world where Eelyn is a teen-aged warrior. Very violent, this book is nevertheless a gripping story of family and clan and being at home. 


Book #51 was A Vow So Bold and Deadly, by Brigid Kemmerer, the third in the Cursebreaker series, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I read the first two books in December and January, and I've been waiting (none too patiently) ever since for my hold on the third one to come through from the library. I liked the third installment, especially the insights into what it's like to lead, not just to be in charge but to manage people, with all their expectations and needs. 


Book #52 was a teaching book and a reread (for the third time - here's what I wrote about it in 2011), The 9 Rights of Every Writer: A Guide for Teachers, by Vicki Spandel. This is a great book for teachers. I really love the way it refocuses what exactly we're trying to do when we teach writing. I especially enjoyed the chapter on why we shouldn't teach formulas for writing. Some curriculum teaches writing that way and I just hate it. No, good writing is never formulaic. "I know the argument: formula is better than no organization at all," writes Spandel. "This is like saying that thinking in a confused way is better than not thinking at all. Is it? Formulaic writing will take our young writers to the upper limits of mediocrity. . . . We cannot possibly create enough formulas to fit every situation. Nor should we. The very presentation of a formula or outline suggests a belief that writing is simple and reductive, when we ought to be teaching just the opposite. We ought to tell students the truth: that writing is complex, and that every single writing situation is different, and must be thought through as carefully and sensitively as a conversation with someone one has never met but would like to have for a friend." This last section is underlined in my copy and my handwriting in the margin says "Yes!" To the extent that I have ever allowed myself to be drawn into this whole horrid formula nonsense (and, in my defense, it wasn't all the way), I repent and make a new commitment not to do it again!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Poetry Friday: Vanishing

This poem by Brittney Corrigan is about the ongoing decrease in the number of birds in the world. I've been wanting to write my own poem on this topic for a while, but in the meantime here's part of hers:


by Brittney Corrigan

... the birds quietly lessen

themselves among the grasslands.

No longer a chorus but a lonely,

indicating trill: Eastern meadowlark,

wood thrush, indigo bunting --

their voices ghosts in the 

chemical landscape of crops.

...Color drains from

our common home so gradually,

we convince ourselves

it has always been gray.

Little hollow-boned dinosaurs,

you who survived the last extinction...

Click on over to read the rest.


I have been attending some of the Zooms put on by BirdsCaribbean and learning so much. Today I heard about birding on Abaco, one of the islands of the Bahamas, and the progress in recovering from Hurricane Dorian. A couple of weeks ago I watched as a woman teared up describing her first sighting of a hummingbird after the hurricane. 


The vanishing makes what's left even more precious.


Carol has this week's roundup.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Is It Almost Over?


I started doing Slice of Life back in September, and I hadn't missed a week, until the last two. Somehow it got to be too much, and producing a slice of life felt like being asked to slice soup, or ocean water. A few things happened, like we went back to online school, and everything for my son's graduation got canceled or went online, oh yeah and my family got sick (that feels like a long time ago now, being at the beginning of the two weeks I missed).

Here in Haiti, the COVID numbers soared, and the hospitals got overwhelmed, and there was gang fighting (nothing new, but it intensified). 

Normally we get done with school at the end of May, and the first week of June is final exams and cleaning our classrooms and segueing into summer, but this year we started three weeks late, so we're not done yet, even though we're finishing earlier, because of the COVID numbers, than the calendar says. It is almost over, but oh, it feels eternal. Especially now that we're back to Zooming, and sending out assignments that aren't getting done. 

And yet at the same time, the days are flying by, as my son graduated, and as he goes through the books in his room and chooses the ones he wants to donate to my classroom library, and as he sorts his clothes that don't fit him any more and in various ways ends his time living at home. Is it almost over? Yes.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Poetry Friday: There Are Birds Here

Things fell apart this week, and as the week ends, we are back 100% online to finish our school year. The government has shut down schools as of June 11th and banned graduations and other end-of-year gatherings. All this is due to our COVID numbers going way up again. 

I'm trying to focus on the fact that we spent almost the whole year doing in-person school; we were really only online a few days here and there. We did hybrid school at the beginning; we masked and distanced; we put lessons online all year for the kids who were at home off and on. But we were mostly in each other's presence way more than we thought we would be, back in August when we were contemplating this year.


I read this poem that Jamaal May wrote for Detroit, and it made me think of the city where I live, so often defined in print by what it doesn't have. It doesn't have wealth, at least not spread around. It doesn't have infrastructure. It doesn't have vaccines. 

It does have birds, though. 

There Are Birds Here

by Jamaal May

For Detroit


There are birds here,

so many birds here

is what I was trying to say

when they said those birds were metaphors

for what is trapped

between buildings

and buildings. No.


And no

his neighborhood is not like a war zone.

I am trying to say 

his neighborhood

is as tattered and feathered

as anything else,

Here's the rest.  (You should really go read the whole thing. It's short.)

I spent a lot of time with this poem. Jamaal May is saying many things in it, but I think one of the things he's saying is that just because people aren't wealthy doesn't mean they aren't fully three-dimensional, existing in the world as complete human beings. And it doesn't mean they are pitiful and "ruined," as he says at the end of the poem. And also, they get to make their own metaphors.

At least, I think he is saying those things. 

He's definitely saying that there are birds in Detroit. And we definitely have birds here in Port-au-Prince, too. 


Here's another poem about birds that aren't metaphors.



My Crow

by Raymond Carver


A crow flew into the tree outside my window.

It was not Ted Hughes's crow, or Galway's crow.

Or Frost's, or Pasternak's, or Lorca's crow.

Or one of Homer's crows, stuffed with gore

after the battle. This was just a crow.

Here's the rest. (This one is even shorter than the other one.)


Margaret has the roundup this week.