Thursday, May 24, 2018

Poetry Friday: More than Meets the Eye

This week I'm participating in a photo exchange called "More than Meets the Eye," organized by Margaret. She asked people to sign up, and then she matched us up with a partner who lived somewhere else. The instructions were to send a photo from where you lived to the other person, and then to write a poem about the photo you received.

I got a photo from Heidi. As soon as I saw it, I thought of Karla Kuskin's poem "Write About a Radish," which begins "Write about a radish./ Too many people write about the moon."

Here's the photo and my poem:

When Margaret told us to send a photo of where we live,
I sent a view of a far-off beach,
and you could see the sky and the ocean and palm trees
stretched out for miles and miles and
this is where I live,
at least after you drive for two hours
and stand on a mountain
and think about being at the end of the road
and how beautiful it’s going to be when you get there

When Heidi sent a photo of where she lives,
it was a close-up of six radishes
freshly pulled from the ground,
and they were cherry-red,
so red that from now on the expression must be radish-red,
and their leaves were fresh and green
and the soil was black and
this is where she lives,
when you get down on your hands and knees
and think about being here where you are
and how beautiful it is right this moment

So I Googled radishes and read about
how they were the first European plant to be introduced to the new world
and how they have 18 chromosomes
and deter aphids
and have 18% of your requirement of Vitamin C
and then I thought here I go again, standing on a mountain,
looking at all the radishes in the world,
instead of at these radishes that Heidi sent me

and so then I put out my hand
and grabbed a radish off of my computer screen
and took a bite out of it
without even washing off the clumps of dirt,
and it was sharp and crunchy
like the essence of salad
and I looked at the the marks my teeth had made in it
and felt its curve with my fingers,
and there were still five more radishes
and I thought what am I waiting for?

Here's Heidi's poem about my photo.

This was so fun, and I think we ought to do it again, sooner rather than later.  As well as creating this challenge, Margaret is also our Poetry Friday host this week, and you can see her roundup here

Friday, May 18, 2018

Poetry Friday: Confession

As I was thinking about the themes in the new anthology Imperfect, which I reviewed last week, I remembered a poem I wrote back in 2011 about confession.  I had fun writing it because of the combination of my French class in high school and words from the General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer.

Even after twenty plus years living here in Haiti, I still often get a sudden jolt of pleasure from the realization that I live in a francophone country and get to speak three languages (English, French, Kreyol) every day.  How amazing is that?  This poem began with one of those moments of realization.


Today I answered my phone
and briskly told the caller he had the wrong number. 
"Vous vous êtes trompé, Monsieur."
Sir, you made a mistake.

Then I had a flashback to my high school French class,
when we spent a whole period drilling
the verb se tromper,
reflexive, literally meaning
to deceive oneself.

Back then, memorizing lists of francophone countries,
I didn't know I'd live in one of them
and use those phrases I'd learned.

With Miss Murray
we practiced
telling a hapless Gallic Monsieur that he had the
wrong room
wrong number
wrong date
"Excusez-moi, Monsieur.  Vous vous êtes trompé de salle. "
" numéro."
" date."
"Vous vous êtes trompé, Monsieur."

What a mess that imaginary Monsieur had made of everything!

But it might have been more useful to practice
saying that I,
the first person singular,
had messed up.
Je me suis trompée
I deceived myself.
Translated: I made a mistake.

Through ignorance
through weakness
and through my own deliberate fault.

At sixteen I didn't know
how often I'd have to say
those words in my life,
in whatever language was appropriate.

I have the wrong room
the wrong number
the wrong date.
I have said the wrong thing.
I spoke too soon, or not soon enough,
Or not at all.
I fell short.
I sinned.
I am, quite simply, wrong.

I was mean, I hated,
I was selfish and petty,
I was ungrateful and unkind.
My thoughts, if they appeared on the blackboard
of my high school French class,
would embarrass me.

I have left undone the things that I ought to have done
And I have done those things that I ought not to have done

Oh sir,
mysterious caller,
you do indeed have the wrong number
But little do you know how very minor
is your offense
compared to my own.
Forgive me, oh stranger on the telephone,
For indeed,
Je me suis trompée. 

Ruth, from

This is completely unrelated, but I can't help sharing the ghazal my daughter texted me for Mother's Day.  (She's been in a ghazal mood for a while, as you can see by the one she sent me back in April, and that post has a link to some information on how ghazals work, in case you aren't familiar with them.)  This one is by Aimee Nezhukumatathil.  

I have Poetry Friday off this week to celebrate the Haitian flag.

Today's roundup is here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Poetry Friday: Imperfect

There's so much to love in this new anthology for middle schoolers, Imperfect: Poems about Mistakes.  Tabatha Yeatts has collected an appealing mixture of poems old and new (including a few by middle schoolers), interspersed with quotes perfect for inscribing on binders. At a time in your life when mistakes can feel enormous, permanent, impossible to get over (and really, is there any other kind of time in your life?), this book brings a great big dose of perspective.

Brenda Davis Harsham categorizes mistakes as three-alarm, two-alarm or one-alarm in her "Three-Alarm Mistakes," a poem that started me imagining how fun it would be to brainstorm those with my students.   Mistakes do come in all shapes and sizes, and all are represented here, in seventy poems both funny and serious.

Is the mistake being mean to someone, like in "To the boy playing with his army men on the front lawn," by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes? Is the mistake not speaking up when you really had plenty to say, like in Suzy Levinson's "Lots of Things"?  Did a vampire get seriously hurt, like in Heidi Mordhorst's "Vampire Vs. Venti"? Was it a mistake that ended up turning into an invention, like  in "Persistence, or In Praise of Post-It Notes," by Keri Collins Lewis? Mary Lee Hahn writes about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Irene Latham takes on the voice of the Titanic.

All of these imperfections lend themselves perfectly to poetry.  In Tabatha Yeatts' introduction, she quotes Kellie Elmore: "Poetry will die when love and pain cease to exist."  Since both love and pain abound in middle school, poetry abounds there too.  As Liz Garton Scanlon asks in her series of haiku entitled "Haiku for How to Screw Up Middle School,"

Will this never end?
Middle school's not forever,
You can do this thing.

I started reading this anthology last weekend on our eighth grade retreat, an annual event when we take our oldest middle schoolers, soon to leave us, off to somewhere beautiful overnight and spend some time introducing them to what awaits them in high school.  (Credits! Time management! Setting goals!)  Middle school certainly isn't forever, we're reminded each year as we pass on another class we've come to love.  They don't go far - just upstairs - but they do go away.  As I told them about GPAs, I tried hard to balance advice to take academics seriously right from the first day of ninth grade with the comforting fact that all is not lost - life is not over - if you get a D.  Poetry like this helps as we try to share our experience (compared to a map in Carl Sandburg's poem "Experience") while still recognizing that the way is theirs to choose.  It will be an imperfect way, but they are going to be fine.

Yes, there's a lot to love in this book, and one thing I must mention is the beautiful cover.  It depicts the Japanese art of kintsugi, mending cracks using gold. Instead of trying to hide mistakes or broken places, we can look at imperfections as part of our history, something to be honored as contributing to who we are now. What better metaphor for growth, in middle school and beyond?

Here are some other people's takes on this anthology.

Jama has this week's roundup.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Poetry Friday: Mail Day

Where I live, in Haiti, we subscribe to a service that delivers our mail once a week on an airplane. This used to be a much bigger deal when we first moved here, when many more things were done by mail. Now, we do bill-paying and correspondence online, so we don't await mail day as eagerly as we used to. 

But I've been waiting for some mail for a little while, and today I got two poetry-related packages.

I'm leaving tomorrow to go on the Eighth Grade Retreat and I'm trying to get next week's lesson plans ready (the sub plans for tomorrow are already done and laid out on the desk), and I can't wait until I get home to do my Poetry Friday post for tomorrow because our internet is out at home.  I was tempted to just skip Poetry Friday this week, but I really wanted to show you what I got in the mail. 

So here it is:
A random number generator chose me to win this book when I left a comment on JoAnn Early Macken's blog.  I'm looking forward to reading it!

And then there's this anthology. And I'm in it! And I'll post a review next week when I've had a chance to read it!
So that's my Poetry Friday post for this week.  But I'm sure other people have written posts with actual poetry in them, and you can find those here, at Brenda Davis Harsham's blog

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Special Days

I've recently started blogging with a group writing about spiritual themes on the first Thursday of each month.This month our host Violet has invited us to reflect on special days.

I grew up with a bit of a weird combination of low-church evangelicalism and high-church Anglicanism. Throw three different countries into the mix (each with its own holidays), plus more after I grew up, and you'll understand that my experiences of special days in spirituality is a bit of a mixed bag. A few years ago, I posted this piece about how Haitian Mother's Day was treated as a bigger deal in the "aggressively Protestant" church we were then attending than just about any other day of the year, with the possible exceptions of Christmas and Easter. It still makes me smile to remember all the men in the congregation obediently kissing each woman in the room on both cheeks during the service at the leader's request.

I have grown to appreciate the church year much more, as a way of reviewing the whole story of Christ's life each year, rather than just as a wonderful source of days off from school. We start at the beginning of December with Advent, preparing again for Jesus' birth. The other day we had the word "advent" as a vocabulary word in class, both with a lower case a and an upper case one, and one of my students, who is the son of a pastor, told me that he was pretty sure that Advent wasn't a Christian concept, as the vocabulary book claimed, because he had never heard of it before. I found it hard to imagine that he had grown up in the Christian church and attended a Christian school for most of his life, and never heard of Advent. Wreaths? Candles? Advent calendars? I probed, but none of these things rang a bell. To me, though, Advent is especially important because of the terribly busy time surrounding it. I love taking the time to reflect and prepare.

Then it's Christmas, then Epiphany (celebrating the Wise Men visiting the baby Jesus), then Lent, culminating in Holy Week and then Easter.  Next comes Pentecost, or the birthday of the church, and then "The Season after Pentecost" (as my Book of Common Prayer calls it) or "Ordinary Time," as I understand it's often referred to in the Catholic church. That lasts until Advent starts again.  In between there are, of course, special church holidays here and there.  Living in a largely Catholic country, I even get days off for some of them, like Ascension Day, this month.

But then there are the special days that have nothing to do with the church. I have a natural tendency to value anniversaries, made more intense (worse?) by the "On This Day" feature on Facebook, which reminds me of some I would have otherwise forgotten. As the years go by, each day has more and more memories attached to it, both positive and negative. There are days which are important to many, like January 12th, when goudou-goudou struck Haiti.  (Here's a poem I wrote about that one on the 22-month anniversary.) There are days which matter only to our family, like family birthdays. Then there are more private ones, like the day my husband first kissed me.  (He and I talk about that day every year.) Some I hardly even mention to anyone else; I just honor them in my heart. There's the beginning of an important friendship; the day I had a memorable conversation; the day a job was lost; the day a tiny baby was lost: a child known to nobody, a child who had never yet seen the light. That last one is on a day that is special for another reason, a happy one, so I let the happy reason be the important one, and just keep the sorrow to myself.

I said these days had nothing to do with the church, and of course that's true, in the conventional sense. Nobody's going to have a service. But those days matter in my spiritual growth, too. Those are milestones in my life which I look back on, times when God was present with me through joy and sadness. They may be Ordinary Time to everyone else, but to me those days matter, even if commemorated only with a fuzzy photo of my verse-a-day calendar, or a quiet conversation, or a few tears in my shower in the morning.
"My times are in your hands," says Psalm 31, and so I have to believe those days matter to God, too.  On some of them He felt very close, and on others very far away, but He was always there.  And M.S. Merwin reminds me that there's another day coming, an anniversary that passes each year without my knowing it: the anniversary of my death.

For the Anniversary of my Death
by M.S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Here's the rest of the poem.

That day, when it comes, will be remembered by a few people, for a while, and then forgotten. As people continue to celebrate the special days of the church year, my personal special days will fade, and people of the future will have other reasons to celebrate and other reasons to be sad.

And in the meantime, "my times are in your hands," the Psalmist prayed, and I pray.  Each day is another chance to grow, to learn, to serve, to worship.  Each day is a special day.

Head over to Violet's place to see other people's reflections on this topic.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

What I Learned in April

Once again (just like in January, February, and March),  I ended the month with a very short list of what I learned.

I started the month by discovering a series on YouTube about the history of fashion. In each episode, Amber Butchart examines a famous painting or other piece of art (in the one below, it's the effigy on a tombstone), focusing on what someone is wearing. Then some amazing tailors recreate the outfit and Amber puts it on. This is fascinating stuff.

April was National Poetry Month, a time always filled with loads and loads of poetic activities, way more than I have time to participate in or even follow at a distance. Like other members of the poetic community (which sounds like it would be a fun place to live), I console myself with the knowledge that I "do poetry" all year long.

One thing I do participate in is the annual Progressive Poem. This year's ended at Dori's blog yesterday, and at that link (plus in earlier posts right here on my blog) you can see a list of all the contributors. This year our protagonist was a seed. Here you can also read all the previous Progressive Poems since the beginning in 2012.  I've written a line in all of them!

Another poetry-related happening this month was that an anthology came out with a poem in it by me. I will write more about this anthology when I receive my copy, which I'm hoping will be very soon. So far I have read other people's reviews and reflections but not held the book in my own hands. You can order a copy here

My writing is going to be appearing soon in another book, this one an e-book coming out in three weeks. You can pre-order it now here.  Rachel Pieh Jones, otherwise known as Djibouti Jones, collected these essays that were part of a series about TCKs on her blog a few years ago, updating them with interviews with the authors and some other additional content. This one I have held in my hand (well, I've downloaded it to my Kindle from the copy Rachel sent me), and I'm enjoying reading it (I'll post a review when I get done). It's coming out just in time for graduation and the annual migration of the TCKs (the American ones, anyway) away from their overseas homes to college in the US.

I ended the month in an appropriately poetic fashion by listening to a podcast of Krista Tippett's interview with Michael Longley on her radio show On Being. He talks about his writing, living in Northern Island, the "Troubles" (and the reason he hates that term), and his belief that going back to the same beautiful place again and again can be even better for your writing than traveling to lots of new places. Some of these topics may be in the unedited version of the podcast, because after I listened to the produced radio version, I went back to listen to that. The On Being podcast always comes out in both versions, and while I very rarely listen to the longer one, every once in a while there's a conversation that seems worth it. This was one.

This month I started something else that's new to me. While I don't dye my gray hair, I have started feeling self-conscious about how my writing shows my age. I'm speaking specifically of the way I learned many - ahem - years ago to type two spaces after each period. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, one of the last classes to do so in my high school before computers were introduced, and I keep seeing and hearing in more and more sources that it's just not the done thing any more. Even my daughter complained, saying that it was the thing I do that irritates her the most. So I'm working on fixing that. I often type a whole page and then realize I have gone back to my old habit, but I'm trying to form a new habit. It's good for the brain to form new habits, right? Especially at - ahem - my age.