Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Odes

It's that time of year again: at Thanksgiving, I always read Pablo Neruda odes with my eighth graders, encouraging them to think about ordinary things they are thankful for, and to write their own odes.  I'm working on mine, but in the meantime, here's the master himself.  (I won't be reading this one with my eighth graders, in case you're wondering.)

Ode to Life
Pablo Neruda
(translated into English by George D. Schade)

All night long
the pain kept hitting me
with an axe,
but sleep
like dark water washed away
the bloody stones.
Today I'm alive again.
I lift you up,
on my shoulders.

Oh life,
clear cup,
you get full
of dirty water,
of lifeless wine,
of agony, losses,
appalling spiderwebs,
and many think
you'll keep forever
that color of hell.

Not true.

A lingering night passes,
just one minute passes
and everything changes.
The cup of life
fills up
with transparency.

Spacious work
awaits us.
Pigeons are born at one stroke.
Light reigns again over the earth.

Life, the poor
thought you were bitter.
They didn't get out of bed like you
and face the wind of the world.

They received the blows
without seeking you,
they drilled themselves
a black hole
and became submerged
in the mourning
of a solitary pit.

It's not true, life,
you are
as the one I love
and between your breasts you
have a smell of mint.

you are
a full machine,
happiness, sounds
of storm, tenderness
of delicate oil.

you are like a vineyard:
you treasure and dole out light,
transforming it into a grape cluster.

Whoever disowns you
should wait
a minute, a night,
a long or short year,
to emerge
from his mistaken solitude,
to question and fight, to join
hands with other hands,
not to adopt or flatter
but reject it, shaping
it like a wall,
like the stonecutter with the stone,
should snip out unhappiness
and make pants
out of it.
Life waits for us
all of us
who love
the savage smell
of sea and mint
nestled between its breasts.

 (Here's last year's ode post, containing a link to others I've written. )

And here's today's roundup.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Poetry Friday: Love and Loss

In Mary Oliver's poem "In Blackwater Woods," she says that there are three things we have to learn in life.  One is "to love what is mortal."  The second is "to hold it/ against your bones knowing/ your own life depends on it."  The third is "when the time comes to let it/ go,/ to let it go."  You can read that whole poem here.

I am very good at the first two things Oliver says I must learn, but very bad at the third one.  This is a time of letting go in my life, not because of death (not this time), but because of people moving on in life to new situations.  Relationships aren't ending, exactly, but they are changing.

So much poetry is about loss.  I had a professor once who said that all poetry is about death, because everything we write about, we will lose.  That's part of being human.  Change is a form of loss, and change is a constant.

I posted this poem for Valentine's Day in 2012.  It's appropriate again now as I think of letting go.  "Time will come and take my Love away."  Whatever or whoever our Love is, that's the truth. 

Sonnet 64
William Shakespeare

When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup, at Wee Words for Wee Ones.

Sunday, November 08, 2015


When Irene Latham invited me to join in her celebration of ten years of blogging by contributing a post on the theme of WILD, I remembered a quote by Czeslaw Milosz that I read a few years ago, as well as the poem I wrote in response.  The quote came from Milosz's poem, Ars Poetica.

Happy tenth anniversary, Irene!  Thanks for all you do to inspire and encourage poetry online and in our lives!


In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.  - Czeslaw Milosz

Is there a tiger in me?
Ready to spring out and stand in the light, blinking,
Lashing its tail?

More like a groundhog, maybe,
Peering for its shadow,
Trying to forecast the weather
To figure out what to do next,
What contingency plans to make.

Or a sheep,
Wondering what everyone else is doing,
Baaing in wooly conformity.

At the most scandalous,
A house cat in search of supper.
Ferocity, but domesticated,
Hunting instincts lost several generations back.

But a tiger?
Too large, too loud,
Its lashing tail too apt to knock china cups off the table,
Its stripes designed for Asian forests,
And here, in my living room, serving as advertisement
rather than camouflage.
A tiger?

And yet…
Sometimes a whisper of fur,
A flash of brown and orange,
A gleam of golden eyes.
Something I didn't know I had in me.

Ruth, from

Check out Irene's post and the roundup of other WILD! entries.

I Used to Think

I wrote this post for Sarah Bessey's synchroblog.

I used to think that by the time I was the age I am now, I’d have life figured out.  I’d be able to shave my legs without cutting myself, every time.  I’d be able to make Christmas cookies without all the dough sticking together.  I’d know how to respond to criticism gracefully.  I wouldn’t be insecure.

Turns out, I don’t have anything figured out.  And especially that last one.  I think I’m almost as insecure as I ever was, almost as insecure as my middle school students, except that now my insecurities are over different things.  I don’t have problems talking to boys any more, and I rarely worry about the condition of my skin.  Instead, I wonder if I’m communicating at all with kids who think I am so very very old.  I feel irrelevant sometimes.  I worry about whether I’ve accomplished anything worthwhile, and whether I ever will. 

I still get competitive, still feel that I’m not enough, that other people have got it together in a way I never will.  Other people are better friends, better moms, better teachers.  Other people are cooler and more fun.  Other people are aging more gracefully.  I’m mortified to admit that I still get jealous, just like I did when I was fourteen.  Instead of thanking God for what He’s given me, I brood about what I don’t have.  I fight against changes, kicking and screaming and demanding to have the past back again. 

Oh, some things are better.  I’m not the first year graduate student who used to obsess for hours over the mistakes I made teaching, for example.  Now I can shrug and say, “I was wrong.  Here’s what I should have said.”  Sometimes I have moments of awareness that I’ve made some progress, that I reacted maturely to a situation, that I trusted God instead of worrying, that I behaved like the person I want to be.  But sadly such moments are not as frequent as I’d like.

I’m starting to think that I’ll never have life figured out.  I hope I’ll keep caring less and less about what others think of me, and that I’ll learn more and more not to worry about the future, but the fact is that every age I reach has its own challenges.  I’ve got lots of experience being a person, but none living this particular day.  I’ve got years of experience being a mom, but none with these particular kids at these particular ages.  As Sara Groves writes, “The path is worn, but for us it’s new.”  It’s not about figuring it all out and then resting peacefully until death.  It’s about living each day, following Jesus.  It’s about trusting God for this day, for this moment.  I’m learning that not having life figured out is just synonymous with being alive.

Reading Update

Book #46 of 2015 was All the Light we Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Book #47 was Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Book #48 was Listen, Slowly, by Thanhha Lai
Book #49 was As Soon as I Fell: A Memoir, by Kay Bruner
Book #50 was Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life, by Kathleen Norris
Book #51 was Feeling Sorry for Celia, by Jaclyn Moriarty
Book #52 was The Taming of the Queen, by Philippa Gregory
Book #53 was The Ghosts of Ashbury High, by Jaclyn Moriarty
Book #54 was Euphoria, by Lily King
Book #55 was Untwine, by Edwidge Danticat
Book #56 was In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers who Tried to Build a Perfect Language, by Arika Okrent
Book #57 was Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt
Book #58 was Holy the Firm, by Annie Dillard
Book #59 was The Longing for Home: Reflections at Midlife, by Frederick Buechner
Book #60 was The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Book #61 was Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Book #62 was Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine