Friday, June 07, 2024

Poetry Friday: Funeral

This week my husband and I watched a funeral on Facebook Live, a funeral for a married couple, missionaries both in their very early twenties, killed in gang violence last month in Haiti. The young man used to be in a playgroup I went to with my child years ago -- but not that many years -- in Port-au-Prince; while we moms, including his, met together, our children would play and learn Bible stories. At the funeral, one of the pastors read a poem he'd written where he grieved these two, and don't we so often turn to poems, from the Bible or elsewhere, when there's an unbearable loss? So I wrote one too, not so much because it helps as because I'm not sure what else to do, except to pray for those dads, who both spoke with tears in their voices, and those moms, whose grief is so deep, and all the others who have lost these two particular young people. And to pray, too, for all the thousands and thousands and thousands of Haitians who have lost more than I can imagine, their homes and their livelihoods and their country and worst of all, the people they loved, in the last few years.



I know the flamboyan trees were
covered with red blossoms
when it happened
because it was May
in Haiti
and I know
the sound of gunshots
and the sounds of grief
in Haiti

The sounds of grief in Missouri
are not quite as loud and unrestrained
as they lay to rest
two young people who loved Haiti
but the grief is just as real
We don’t grieve as those who have no hope,
they say
Death didn’t win,
they say
And of course those things are true
but you can’t help crying
as you look at their wedding photos from just two years ago
and as you think of
the two thousand five hundred people
already killed
in the first three months of this year
in Haiti

I know it was a beautiful day
when it happened
because it’s always a beautiful day
in Haiti


©Ruth Bowen Hersey



A flamboyan tree in Haiti

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

SJT: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Our topic for SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday) for June is Looking Back, Looking Forward. On Thursday you'll be able to see the roundup of everyone's thoughts here, on Karen's blog.


This is the perfect time for me to look back and look forward, since next week we'll be finishing school for the year. This year was not Haiti-level challenging, but it did have its very difficult moments. (Of course most of those stories are confidential.) And even though we're a long way from Haiti, the Haiti struggles continue to be on our hearts and minds. 

I'm planning on coming back to this same classroom next year; this will be my third year in this job, at this desk, where I sit typing now. So the looking back and forward are less dramatic and heartbreaking than some of my recent transitions. It really is a gentle shift to summer break, and then back to work in August. And for that I am extremely grateful. (Hooray for non-dramatic and non-heartbreaking!)


I've been working on getting my curriculum documents updated. That's a good way to see the big picture, the goals for the whole year, the material we cover in sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh grade. Next year I'll teach a full-blown AP French class to twelfth graders for the first time (I've had students take the exam before, and do well, but this time the whole course will be focused on getting kids ready for the exam next May.) 

I recently read Emily P. Freeman's newest book, How To Walk Into a Room. Here are some words from that book as I think back and forward at the end of this school year. Back over this year, but also back over the last few years.

...there's one thing no one can take from us, one thing we will never leave behind, one thing that is not confined to any past room, current hallway, or future room -- that is the person we have become and are becoming. Hints of our next right thing can usually be found in our last right thing. I have always found this to be true. The sacred things we mark from the ending will be brought forth into our beginnings, not necessarily because of an external thing we bring with us but because of the person we have become. When things end, we come forth changed. We would do well to take some time to pay attention to these changes, to mark them, to honor them and see how they might lead us forward.


As much as I wish everything could be held, named, and either left behind or brought with us, there's a final category that might show up in endings that could keep us from experiencing closure. And that is what I call the "lost" category. It's the smoky, ungraspable, wordless, impossible to categorize absence of a thing. In every ending -- happy, sad, or indifferent -- something is lost. But because something is often also gained, that's what we are encouraged to focus on. We work hard to name the gifts and positive summaries of those gains. We are prone to want to count the blessings, to name the lessons, and to share all the ways our pain has been used for good. Maybe there's nothing necessarily wrong with that desire, but it can keep us from grieving what deserves grief. Something is always lost. And it's important to let the lost things be lost. Honor what you cannot name with space, compassion, and time.


Here's some of what I lost:


I lost Room 23, my classroom for fifteen years in Haiti. I lost that bookshelf full of the professional books I'd gradually brought, a few at a time, in my suitcase from the US. I lost the classroom library of kids' books I'd lovingly chosen. I lost my name on the door, my fingerprints on every surface. I lost the me that taught there.


Instead, I got Room A2, my classroom for two years, and counting, in Uganda.  I got the Petit Nicolas and Astérix and Bill et Boule books, gathered by others, the textbooks and dictionaries I didn't select. And there are things I've added: the francophone flags coloured by last year's fifth graders, the ABC pictures I coloured and used to line the walls. A is for Avion, B is for Bateau, all the way to Z is for Zèbre. My handwriting fills the drawers, my voice echoes through the room.

I spell words in the British way now (see, in that last paragraph?), the way I learned - learnt - to do in school, but haven't done for a long time. I have two years of stories that happened here in A2, funny kid stories and some sad ones too. 

But I still miss Room 23. I miss my Orangina can where I'd put a sprig of bougainvillea. I miss my clipboards and my systems, honed over years. I miss the tree outside and the Haitian birds that perched there. Most of all, I miss those voices, all those children I taught. They have all moved on too, on to high school, college, adulthood. But if I were still there in Room 23, some might have come back to visit. I might even have taught their children; that had just started to happen when we left Haiti. That room was full of my prayers, prayed with and for my students, prayed with and for my colleagues.

"It's important to let the lost things be lost," writes Emily P. Freeman. Goodbye, my lost Room 23. Does anyone remember me there? Hello, Room A2. What awaits me here, next year? What prayers are still to be prayed? Who will I be?

Friday, May 17, 2024

Poetry Friday: If You Know, You Know

It's Saturday morning here in Uganda, but it's still Friday some places, so here's my Poetry Friday contribution.

If You Know, You Know


There are so many things I don’t know
and I long for more explanation of the hashtag.
#iykyk, they type, smugly,
but I don’t get their references.
The things I know are pretty much useless
to anyone but me,
such as
the exact quality of the petrichor
on Church Street
in Kampala
on a Saturday morning
in May.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Reading Update

Book #27 of 2024 was The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. I thought this was entertaining.

Book #28 was The Lazy Genius Way, by Kendra Adachi. I listen to Kendra's podcast (it's one of the few podcasts where I never skip an episode). The book is the underpinning for her lazy genius mindset. Really good.

Book #29 was A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters. This is the first installment in the Brother Cadfael series of mysteries. Brother Cadfael is a twelfth century monk. This was pretty good, and I think I'll try at least one more in the series.

Book #30 was Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan. This is a quick read, set in Ireland in the mid 80s around Christmastime. Although short, it packs a punch.

Book #31 was The Kitchen Front, by Jennifer Ryan. The premise sounded really great to my book club when we picked it, but we didn't love it. 

Book #32 was Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety.  I absolutely loved this story of a long friendship between two couples. I read some Wallace Stegner in college, and I thought that I had read this one, but I hadn't. I'm definitely going to read some more of his books.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Poetry Friday: NPM Day 26: Roundup and Dreaming of Haiti

Welcome to today's Poetry Friday roundup! Please leave your links in the comments and I will round them up the old-fashioned way. I have Comment Moderation enabled, so you won't see your comment right away. I will get to them as quickly as I can.

So far in this National Poetry Month, I have honored the Poetry Fridays only in my heart, but I have managed to post a bit on the other days (doing a bit of spring-cleaning, as I have with various degrees of success almost every NPM since 2019, posting about poetic tabs that have been open on my desktop for a while). This is a really busy season for me at work, with exams and whatnot, but I've been able to visit other people's postings a bit and enjoy NPM festivities. I'm glad I had signed up to host today, as it forces me to participate in things a little more enthusiastically. (I looked up last year's archives and found out that I hosted on the last Friday of the month last NPM too!) 


Have you been following the Progressive Poem? Today's (Friday's) line is being added by Karin Fisher-Golton. Check it out!


Looking for some of the amazingly creative NPM projects out there? Jama has a list here.


On Tuesday I celebrated the eighteenth birthday of my blog. That means I've been writing here for 18 years about Haiti. For the first few years I didn't say where I was; in fact, the first time I actually said I was in Haiti was on January 14th, 2010,  the day the internet came back on two days after the earthquake. The title of my post was "We are alive."


Today Haiti is in its worst shape it's ever been since that awful day. And although I'm seven thousand miles away from there now, in my new home in Uganda, I continue to write about Haiti. I got my strike line for my golden shovel poem from this Guardian article. They interviewed a Haitian journalist who is no longer in the country due to an attempt on his life in 2022. He said, "Often, when I dream about my country, I wake up with tears in my eyes." 


The photo that illustrates the poem is one I took from a small plane as we flew over Port-au-Prince in December 2020. We went to Jacmel, and because gangs were controlling the road between our home and there, we flew instead of driving. It cost more, of course, and we wondered if we should do it because of the money and because of Covid. But I'm so glad we went. We didn't know it would be our last time. A year later, we left Haiti permanently. 



I visit Haiti often
in my sleep, when
you don’t need planes to get there and I
can swoop over Port-au-Prince in a dream,
looking past clouds scattered about
and at the turquoise and deep blue ocean and at my
house, somewhere down there in that beautiful, maddening country
full of hills and valleys and people accustomed to hardship and I
visit familiar places and eat diri ak pwa and talk to friends until I wake.
And then I realize the airport is closed and everything is messed up
and gangs control the streets so recently filled with
struggle, yes, but also laughter among the tears,
and the visit I just dreamed about couldn’t happen in
my real waking life, and the island is so far from here and my
hands grab my phone to read the news and nightmares fill my eyes.

Often when I dream about my country, I wake up with tears in my eyes.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Of course people can write poems about anything, but I think that the places we visit in our dreams are good subjects for poems. Leave your dreams in the comments, and I look forward to reading them! 



Denise is sharing a week's worth of her writing, some with Earth Day themes, some about books she's been reading. And she also got a surprise in the mail! Welcome, Denise; you're my first guest today! (Denise's post came in while it was still Thursday.)

It's a rainy Friday morning in Uganda and this is going to be a full, busy day, but it's starting out well with an inbox full of poems! I'm rounding them up as fast as I can, and in the meantime, check them out in the comments!

Robyn has a mouse in her studio and in her blog post! I know I have read Elizabeth Coatsworth poems before, but I don't remember ever having read this one. It makes you have a lot of sympathy for the mouse!

Susan remembers...and she's written a list poem with some of her very specific, yet relatable, memories. And she explains how writing a poem like this can be a cure for writer's block!

Janice has been writing daily haiku during NPM, and she has an eclectic collection of it for us today. So fun! 

Jama sends this link, but I can't read it yet. I will definitely be back once it's live. Here's her description: "This week I have a review and giveaway for the picture book PIE-RATS by Lisa Riddiough and David Mottram."


Rose has two lovely poems in response to picture books, and each is in a form that is new to me: a trinet and a pensee. They both sound fun to try, and the books sound great, too! 

Laura's combining her magnipoem project of closely observed poems with the Poetry Sisters' prompt for this week: unanswerable questions. The result is intriguing - check it out!

Michelle has been busy all month working on her spring abecedarian, and she shares it with us today, complete with a flipbook so that we can see all the illustrations that go with it. Wow, Michelle! Amazing! She's also written to the Poetry Sisters' prompt of unanswerable questions.

Linda's in with a poem inspired by a sculpture at the Denver Art Museum, and her form is inspired by Irene, and isn't it cool how inspirational NPM is? She's also got a poem at her padlet inspired by a street sign! 

I think Tabatha forgot to share her link, but here it is anyway! She's been writing poems based on short stories. Now I want to read today's short story! (Plus I'd like to know what an electric scorpion might be - see Tabatha's comment.)

Karen has a new-to-me poem by Barbara Crooker on blurbing, following the structure of one of my favorite poems, Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art." Crooker's is called "Artless." I love it!

Matt is celebrating the blessing of two new poetry anthologies, plus a gig at NCTE, where he'll be presenting with some other familiar Poetry Friday friends! Congratulations, Matt!

Linda has finished her NPM poetry alphabet with "Zen." Now I'm wondering what she'll do with the remaining four days! 

Jone, like Matt, has written about the new anthology Bless our Pets. I wish I could tell you more, but for some reason my Uganda network won't ever let me visit Jone's blog! Here's her description, though: "I have a peek into process with some poets form Bless Our Pets."

Tricia has two posts today. The first is her response to the Poetry Sisters' prompt, "Ode to Wonder." And the second is her latest spine poem. I've been enjoying this NPM project a lot, as these fun spine poems have been showing up daily in my Facebook feed. Go back and read some of the earlier ones if you haven't yet! 

It's just after seven and I just got to work. It's pouring still; this is pretty much typical of this school year in Uganda. We skipped the dry season altogether. I heard yesterday that the lake (Victoria) is at an even higher level than in 2020, which was the previous high point. And yet there are already students here; it's Book Week, and today people have been asked to dress as a book character, so there were two eleventh graders with a joint costume they had to perfect before school. (Thanks for asking: I'm Mrs. Baker from The Wednesday Wars. My go-to on such occasions is to be a fictional teacher. For Mrs. Baker I put on some sports shoes with my skirt and blouse, as she does in the book to teach Holling how to run properly.) In addition to Book Week festivities, today I have to teach four classes (it's usually five but the eighth graders are out on a trip), and my tenth graders are taking the second part of their IGCSE French exam (one of them just took shelter from the rain in my classroom to get in some last-minute studying). But in between, I'll be checking back for more poems in my inbox! Happy Poetry Friday! 

Carol has written a poem about Laura Purdie Salas' new book Oskar's Voyage, and she also has a wonderful description of her granddaughter enjoying the book. Nothing better than sharing a fun new book with a kid! 

Bridget is keeping it fresh with a poem about the word lemon.

Marcie has a whole array of offerings in her Learning Roundup, including poems about bats! "Gulping," "gorging," "seed-spreading..." I have been trying to like bats more and be less afraid of them, and this might do the trick!

Amy has been watching crows all month and writing poems about them. Today's is an illustration of how smart these birds are. 

Heidi has been writing environmentalist elfchen. (That's the plural, right? Not elfchens?) I think my favorite is the one that begins: "Haste makes waste." And Heidi, tears came to my eyes when I read in your comment about you welcoming your Haitian student. I hope he meets nothing but love and warm welcome in the United States. 


Sara is writing about impossible questions, along with the Poetry Sisters. They make her think of her dad's riddles.

Irene is sharing haiku - hers and also some from a picture book with a story told in 50 haiku. What a cool idea! 

Mary Lee is also writing with the Poetry Sisters, and she has some pebbles to share.


Sorry, Tricia! You graciously claimed it was your fault that your link was wrong, but I think it was mine. I updated the link above, but here again are Tricia's two links: her response to the Poetry Sisters' prompt and her latest spine poem.


Margaret  has some lovely rainbow haiku from her students.

My workday is done, and I'm heading home now. Maybe there will be more poems arriving later! Stay tuned!

Diane is writing about robins, inspired by Amy's project about crows. The more birds the better, I say! Thanks for your notes in the comments about your Haitian student and about the hymn, Diane. I enjoyed reading them!

Patricia is reading Camille T. Dungy and has written some poems inspired by her book Smith Blue. I have that book in a box somewhere! 


Karen has been writing elfchen (elfchens?) and she has two to share with us, one called "Storm" and one called "Twirling, Twirling." She also has some anthology news.

Liz is asking unanswerable questions with the Poetry Sisters. (She's also announcing the next prompt. I think one of the links I've already posted announced it too, but I didn't point that out. So check it out here.)

Jane is writing free verse with tweens, and she explains the process. It sounds like so much fun!

Karin reminds us to visit the Progressive Poem, which is at her blog today. And tomorrow it will be at Donna's!


Tiel Aisha Ansari doesn't participate in Poetry Friday, but I always like to link to her blog whenever I'm hosting, because I like her work so much. Here's a poem she wrote in March called "Uhtceare."

Well, Friday is winding down here in Uganda (we're seven hours ahead of the east coast of the US at this time of year), and I'm on my way to bed. I'll be back in the morning to post whatever comes in overnight. Enjoy your remaining hours of Poetry Friday, friends!

And now it's Saturday morning! A few links came in while I slept.

Tanita is writing about unanswerable questions with the Poetry Sisters. In her case it led to an amazing poem called "A Garden Remembers." I really enjoyed her notes on her process, too, plus she's sharing the May prompt for us to join in.

JoAnn's also thinking about process. She's in with a yummy looking photo of a pie and a poem about how it comes to be.

And Cathy is thinking about home. "Is home only place?" she asks.

Will there be more?

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 17

There's no mystery about why these tabs are open on my desktop: they're bird poems! (I'm spring-cleaning open tabs this NPM, trying to reduce my digital clutter a bit.) 

The first one is Kat Apel's "Feathers." It starts this way:


Hope in the Lord and

renew your strength.

Soar like an eagle.

Do not grow weary.

You can see the rest here.


I've also got Rose Cappelli's post "Birds, Birds, Birds" open, and it includes two poems, "Morning Routine" and "One Blue Bird."  You can read them here.


And here are a couple of bird videos I've had open for a while, one because it's just so fascinating and the other because I was trying to decide if I could teach "Alouette" to my French students. I mean, it's about plucking out a bird's feathers, so that's not good. But with this funny video, I might just do it.



Heidi added to the Progressive Poem today.

Monday, April 15, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 16

During NPM this year, I'm spring-cleaning my desktop, and getting rid of tabs that have been open too long. I found two poems about grief.

The first one is by Emily Dickinson.

‘Tis good — the looking back on Grief —
To re-endure a Day —
We thought the Mighty Funeral —
Of All Conceived Joy —

Here's the rest.


Here's the second:



by Barbara Crooker


is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.

But I am here, stuck in the middle...


Here's the rest. 

Sarah Grace Tuttle added to the Progressive Poem today.



NPM 2024: Day 15

This "Ode to Teachers," by Pat Mora, has been open on my desktop for a while. It starts like this:


I remember
the first day,
how I looked down,
hoping you wouldn't see
and when I glanced up,
I saw your smile
shining like a soft light
from deep inside you.

Click through to read the rest.


In keeping with the teacher theme, here's another poem on my desktop:


Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry

by Dante Di Stefano


Write about walking into the building
as a new teacher. Write yourself hopeful.
Write a row of empty desks. Write the face
of a student you’ve almost forgotten;
he’s worn a Derek Jeter jersey all year.
Do not conjecture about the adults
he goes home to, or the place he calls home. 
Write about how he came to you for help
each October morning his sophomore year.
Write about teaching Othello to him;
write Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, 
rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
Write about reading his obituary
five years after he graduated.  


Here's the rest. 




Rose is adding the line to the Progressive Poem today.