Thursday, February 22, 2024

Poetry Friday: New QWP

I have a birthday coming up, which means that it's almost time to start the next year of my QWP, or Quinquagenarian Writing Project. I started it the year I turned 50, and since then, from birthday to birthday, I've kept a little file of my writing for that year. This year's file is the smallest yet. Apart from my Birdtober poems (daily bird poems in October, following prompts), I've hardly written anything this year. I've already failed at my New Year's writing goals.

I know several reasons I'm not writing a lot, but I think the biggest reason is just that I'm still learning a new job. It's my second year in a new place, with new textbooks and new curriculum and a whole new educational system. I don't have the bandwidth for much beyond work. It's not a bad thing, exactly, but it's a different season creatively. And maybe I just need to accept it and be glad when I do write something, no matter how small.

Meanwhile, since I have no wise birthday poem for myself, here's one I found called Icarus Turns Fifty.


Tabatha has this week's roundup.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Poetry Friday: In Morning

I knew Naomi Shihab Nye would have something to say appropriate to these days, and I was right. I just found this poem she published in December.

In Morning

by Naomi Shihab Nye


The Palestinian child
does not think about being Palestinian,
but only of how his kitten
slept last night
and why is it not
in its basket.
Before he walks to school,
he will find it playing
with neighbor kittens
outside his house
and make sure it has breakfast.


You can read the rest of the poem, and hear her read it, here

I used one of her lines as a strike line (you'll have to click through to see the bit it came from) for this golden shovel:


When the new day wakes me, each
worry rises too, greets the morning,
rubbing its eyes and joining the others that crowd around as we
all, the whole battalion of us, put
on our work boots and dress ourselves
and prepare to pretend we’ve got it all together.

Each morning we put ourselves together.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Margaret has this week's roundup.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Reading Update

Book #7 of 2024 was The Summer Place, by Jennifer Weiner. This may be the first Covid novel I've read, but it won't be the last. (Book #11, in this post, is another.) I find it stressful to read books where absolutely everyone is hiding something from absolutely everyone else, and that's the case with this one. This is my second Jennifer Weiner book. I liked it better than the first, but I didn't love it.

Book #8 was The Heartbreaker, by Susan Howatch. This is the third in a trilogy, and I'm not sure I had ever read it before. I know I had started it, but I don't think I'd finished it. It's about prostitution, and in many places it was hard to read. Towards the end of the book, Gavin remarks, "All you 'religious' people out there who have been looking down your noses at me and wincing at my filthy language and filthy lifestyle should remember that The Bloke himself never flinched or turned away." "The Bloke" is Gavin's name for Jesus.

Book #9 was The Gift of Forgiveness, by Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt. I said in the last Reading Update that I'm looking for books on forgiveness this year. (This was the second I've read since the beginning of 2024. Does anyone have any other suggestions?) I really liked this one, as Pratt had interviewed many people with huge things to forgive. They all had different ways of approaching the idea, and every one was worth reading.

Book #10 was Yours Truly, by Abby Jimenez. While rather unbelievable, it was a fun read.

Book #11, also a Covid story, was Ann Patchett's latest book Tom Lake. The pandemic has forced the Nelson family's three grown daughters to come back together to the family's orchard. While they do all the required tasks, their mother Lara tells them a story they've never fully heard before, the summer that she acted for a regional theater in Tom Lake, Michigan. People so rarely understand each other, and I enjoyed this story of a time when some understanding, while imperfect, was achieved.

Book #12 was Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear. This was a good, readable, and practical book.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Poetry Friday: Halcyon


(Click on the photo to enlarge it. I took the screenshot here.)


Alcman was a Greek poet who wrote in the seventh century BC. This is a translation of one of his poems by A.E. Stallings. (I have a book of hers, somewhere, in a box, in another country.) 

Halcyon as an adjective means idyllically happy, but as a noun it means a kingfisher. The scientific name of many kingfishers includes the word halcyon, including one of our dear friends where I live, the Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis). This bird is so full of energy, so persistent in diving to catch its prey, and so lovely in its song. This is the one I picture when I read this poem. Or maybe the Malachite Kingfisher, which doesn't have halcyon in its name (Corythornis cristatus), but has the purple coloring mentioned in Alcman's description. See below for pictures of both these beautiful birds, plus a haiku.

Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)
 Photo Source:
Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus)
Photo Source:
Kingfisher spies lunch:
swoops down, splashes, shoots back up,
halcyon blue flash
©Ruth Bowen Hersey

More about kingfishers here. And Carol has today's roundup here.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Poetry Friday: Herons

Last Poetry Friday, as I mentioned in my post last week, was a holiday. I didn't really take the day off -- I worked almost all day -- but that meant that I had time on Saturday to read all the Poetry Friday posts. I tried to comment on all of them, too, but an inordinate number of my comments disappeared into the ether. Maybe some of them were just awaiting comment moderation. I hope so. In any case, if your post didn't get a comment from me, please don't be offended. I tried.

I recently discovered this poem about the Great Blue Heron, "Great Blue Heron," by T. Alan Broughton.

Here's a bit from the middle: 

Today the bird stays with me, as if I am moving through
the heron’s dream to share his sky or water—places
he will rise into on slow flapping wings or where
his long bill darts to catch unwary frogs.
And here's another line I love:
I only know this bird by a name we’ve wrapped him in,


After reading the poem, I went through my life list to see how many different kinds of herons I've seen. Fifteen! That's just amazing and makes me feel wealthy beyond imagining! (eBird lists 45 heron species in the world. Further research reveals that egrets and bitterns are also herons and if you include all of those, there are 72 species. But I'm sticking with my original 45, which is just the ones with heron in their common name. And out of that bunch, I've seen a third of them!) 


I'll share my list of the herons I've seen at the end of this post. But before that, here are some heron poems about some of my sightings. After all, as Broughton says, we only know these birds by the names we've wrapped them in.


I've only seen Black Herons once, on a boat ride in December. They're not as common as the other kinds we have here in Uganda. They are known for their umbrella style of hunting, which you can see in the video, where it's speculated that hunching their wings in an umbrella shape reduces the reflections and helps them see what could be on the menu for them.



Black Heron


Rainy morning.
Abandoned black umbrella
hunts menacingly in the hallway.
Sorry - no fish here.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


I have Rufescent Tiger-Herons on seven checklists.  They live throughout much of South America. It's the juveniles that are the stripiest (see the picture), though the adults do have some stripes also.

Juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Tiger-Heron so Rufescent,
I find your diet far from pleasant.
Your dragonflies I won’t be stealing:
To me they sound quite unappealing.

But I do like your stripy feathers,
The way you hunt in all the weathers,
Your strident bullfrog voice so loud,
Your reddish coloring so proud,
Tiger-Heron so Rufescent
I find you immensely pleasant.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey


I have Great Blue Herons on twenty-seven checklists. Birders talk about "spark birds," the ones that make you start being interested in birding, and the Great Blue Heron is one of mine. I found out in 2018 about a GBH fitted with a transmitter that informed scientists she was wintering in Haiti. I wrote two poems about her: Nokomis, the Great Blue Heron, Winters in Haiti in 2018 and Requiem for Nokomis when she stopped transmitting in 2021. I also wrote this poem about a GBH my son watched in Massachusetts.

Cellphone photo of GBH I saw in Georgia last summer

Here's my life list of herons, from the most recent to the longest ago:

Black Heron

Purple Heron

Squacco Heron

Black-headed Heron

Gray Heron

Cocoi Heron

Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Green Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Tricolored Heron

Little Blue Heron

Striated Heron

Whistling Heron

Great Blue Heron



Mary Lee has this week's roundup.



Wednesday, January 31, 2024

SJT: Love is...

When I saw this month's subject, "Love is...," I thought of two poems, and I'll share them below. Both are poems I've shared before on this blog. Be sure to visit our host to see what everyone else shared today.

Love's as Warm as Tears

by C. S. Lewis

Love's as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love's as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts - infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love's as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song hung in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering, "Dare! Dare!"
To sap, to blood,
Telling "Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best."

Love's as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.


You can see the second poem here and also read more by this poet, Kimberly Johnson. 


Foley Catheter

by Kimberly Johnson


I clean its latex length three times a day
                      With kindliest touch,
           Swipe an alcohol swatch

From the tender skin at the tip of him
                      Down the lumen
            To the drainage bag I change

Each day and flush with vinegar.
                       When I vowed for worse
            Unwitting did I wed this

Something-other-than-a-husband, jumble
                       Of exposed plumbing
            And euphemism. Fumble

I through my nurse’s functions, upended
                        From the spare bed
            By his every midnight sound.

Unsought inside our grand romantic
           Another intimacy

Opens—ruthless and indecent, consuming
                        All our hiddenmosts.
            In a body, immodest

Such hunger we sometimes call tumor;
                       In a marriage
           It’s cherish.  From the Latin for cost.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Books about Immigration, Acculturation, and Identity

Recently a friend asked me for a list of book recommendations. She specified: "novels or memoirs focusing on the experience of immigration, acculturation and identity." This is one of my favorite themes, so I was able to come up with a list fairly quickly. Of course there are so many more. Add your ideas in the comments.

Obviously I have to start with some Haitian titles. For many years I read Edwidge Danticat's YA book Behind the Mountains with my seventh graders. It's set in 1999-2000, and based on Danticat's own immigration story from the early eighties. My students (mostly Haitians, but not all) loved this book, with its triple settings of rural Haiti, urban Haiti, and ultra-urban New York. It sparked great discussions. An adult book from Danticat would be her memoir Brother I'm Dying. I've read nearly all of her books and this one is, in my opinion, the best. But any of her fiction or non-fiction is good for these themes.


This one is an oldie but a goodie: Jean Fritz's memoir Homesick: My Own Story, which received a Newbery Honor in 1983 but which is about Fritz's childhood in the 1920s when she was an American growing up in China.


Brick Lane, by Monica Ali, is a novel for adults about Bangladeshi immigrants in London. I liked this for its rejection of what Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche calls "the dangers of a single story." Every immigrant is unique and every immigrant's story is, too.

Emails from Scheherazad, by Moha Kahf, is a book of poetry about her own experience and the Arab-American experience. I loved this book, and also enjoyed her autobiographically-inspired novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. I don't think I've read anything in which I've learned so much about Islam.

Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder, tells the true story of Deo, who fled the Burundi genocide (much less written about than, and related to, the Rwanda genocide). Already traumatized by his past, Deo is traumatized further by his immigration story. Everything I've read by Tracy Kidder is excellent.

People always ask me what my favorite book is. It's hard to answer that question, but this book is definitely on the shortlist: The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, the story of an Indian family in America. 

Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga, is a verse novel for middle grade kids about Syrian refugees who relocate in Cincinnati. Kids often like verse novels because they are quick reads with short, unintimidating lines. But those lines communicate so much. Speaking of verse novels, another good one, which I read with my seventh graders, is Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. This is about Ha, a refugee with her family from the Vietnam War who settles in Alabama. And another, one I've read with eighth graders, is The Language Inside, by Holly Thompson, in which Emma, an American living in Japan, has to move to Massachusetts.

How My Parents Learned to Eat, by Ina R. Friedman, was a favorite in our home when our kids were growing up. It's a picture book about an intercultural marriage. The illustrations are by the amazing Allen Say, and part of Say's own family story is told in his picture book Grandfather's Journey, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1993. This one is great on the feeling of missing one place when you're in the other, no matter which place you're in. Relatable!

Ruth Van Reken's memoir Letters Never Sent: A Global Nomad's Journey from Hurt to Healing is a classic, especially among people with boarding school experiences. Someone just brought it up to me last week, and that happens quite a lot. And of course I have to mention my cyberfriend Marilyn Gardner, and her two wonderfully atmospheric books about growing up in Pakistan, Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid's Journey and Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging.

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, is good on the differences between first generation immigrants and their children. The frame for this story is four Chinese women in San Francisco who get together to play Mah Jong. Each woman has a daughter. Tan's books are often about this kind of theme, and I have enjoyed all the ones I've read.

Americanah, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, is about Nigerian immigrants, and one thing I really liked about this novel is that characters return to Nigeria and see it through emigrant/immigrant eyes. Another thing I really liked is the focus on hair! (An in to this author's work for younger readers would be her first novel Purple Hibiscus.)

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko, is about Chinese immigrants. Once one of my middle school students ended a book talk by warning his classmates about the reading experience, "You can cry!" You can definitely cry when you read this novel, but it's so worth it. In my review here on this blog, I quoted the opening lines:

"'Are you going to leave me again?'
'Never.' His mother took his hand and swung it up and down. 'I promise I'll never leave you.'
But one day, she did."


A fairly recent read for me was Solito: A Memoir, by Javier Zamora. This is about a little boy and his journey from El Salvador to the US. Such a good book, and so very vividly written!

I could go on much more, but these are a start for reading on this topic. You can find more information on many of these books on my blog - just do a search.

Poetry Friday: Golden-winged Warbler

It's early Friday afternoon in Uganda. It's a holiday here (Liberation Day), but I'm hard at work because we just got a new schedule and it's requiring a complete reworking of my thinking. I'm hoping to have a totally free Saturday as a result, though!

Recently the American Birding Association named its Bird of the Year.  Last year was the first time I was even aware that there was such a thing as the ABA Bird of the Year, and I posted about their choice for 2023, the Belted Kingfisher, here.  Liz Clayton Fuller, the illustrator who did the official painting of the bird used on the cover of the ABA magazine, chose to paint the female Belted Kingfisher and she called the result Queenfisher


The 2024 bird hasn't caught my imagination yet in quite the same way. It's one I haven't seen before (unlike the Belted Kingfisher). It's lovely, sure, but it has Near Threatened status, so I'm not terribly likely to see it. I may have to be contented just with knowing it exists. (See the photo from eBird, below.) It's the Golden-winged Warbler. (You can read about the bird and see this year's painting, which incorporates both of its habitats, here.)


You can see from the photo and tell from the name that the golden color of this bird's wings and head is one of its most striking features. Thinking of gold made me remember how I always used to do a week of color poems with my seventh graders in Haiti, using the classic book Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Poetry and Color, by Mary O'Neill. This would always inspire a spate of color poems from my students. I'd start with purple and gold, our school colors. 

I got this photo of Mary O'Neill's gold poem from Amazon. My favorite lines are on the next page, which isn't pictured, and I don't have a copy of the book here with me in Uganda. But here's the rest of the poem:

Gold is the color of
Clover honey
Gold is a certain
Kind of money.
Gold is alive
In a flickering fish
That lives its life
In a crystal dish.
Gold is the answer
To many a wish.
Gold is feeling
Like a king
It’s like having the most
Of everything –
Long time ago
I was told
Yellow’s mother’s name
Is gold…

Mary O’Neill
(from Hailstones and Halibut Bones)

(My favorite lines are the ones about the "flickering fish.")
I'm so thankful to live in a world full of color! (Or colour, as we spell it here in Uganda, with its British-influenced style of English.) Although I won't see any Golden-winged Warblers here, I do often see another brightly colored bird, and you can see my Birdtober poem about Ross's Turaco here, along with glorious photos (obviously, not taken by me). 

You can see today's Poetry Friday roundup here, along with a great piñata poem and some wonderful piñata stamps. Thanks for hosting, Susan!