Friday, October 26, 2018

Poetry Friday: Philosophy


Over FaceTime,
my daughter and I
study for her
college philosophy class.
She has a list of quotes
she is supposed to evaluate,
explain in context.

I squint at her face,
listen to her voice,
amplified through my computer speakers
from 1800 miles away.
I look for clues:
how is she really doing?

she tells me,
was a Stoic.
He believed in
If, instead of an onion
or a shellfish,
you are given a wife or child,
that’s great.
Be glad.
But don’t get attached.

I tell my daughter,
is trying to get us to fake ourselves out,
to pretend that the people we love
are as replaceable as onions,
as numerous as shellfish,
which back then,
in the first century AD,
were more numerous than they are now.

Yes, she says,
he taught that you shouldn’t wish
for things to be the way you want them to be.
you should want them to be the way they are.
You should never say that you have lost something
but that it has been returned.
It wasn’t ever yours.
Don’t view anything as permanent,
but as a traveler views a hotel.

Epictetus was a slave
and couldn’t walk very well
and adopted a child when he was an old man,
and when he says not to wish for things to be
the way you want them to be,
I assume his advice is well-meaning
and that he took it himself.

My daughter smiles,
moves on to the next philosopher,
but I am still evaluating,
explaining in context,
realizing once more
how far away she is,
and that she stayed in my home temporarily
as a traveler in a hotel,
and then swam away like a shellfish,
that I have a little tear in my eye
as though I had been slicing an onion,

how attached I am to her,
Epictetus notwithstanding.

Ruth, from

Epictetus, Source:

I had already written this post when I found this poem by Alice Walker called "How Poems are Made." It was such a perfect description of writing "Philosophy," and others I've written this week too, that I felt I had to include it.  How often have I felt I love too much? It's embarrassing. What a relief to be able to put that "leftover love" into a poem.

How Poems are Made
by Alice Walker

Letting go
In order to hold one
I gradually understand
How poems are made.

There is a place the fear must go. 
There is a place the choice must go. 
There is a place the loss must go. 
The leftover love.
The love that spills out
Of the too full cup
And runs and hides
Its too full self
In shame.

I gradually comprehend
How poems are made
To the upbeat flight of memories.
The flagged beats of the running
Here's the rest of it. (You should click over and read it. Go on. It's short.)

And here's today's roundup. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Poetry Friday: More About Windows

 Photo I took yesterday from my classroom window

Two years ago, I wrote for Poetry Friday about the first time I shared the poem "After the Blizzard, Outside my Window," by Lesléa Newman, with my seventh graders. You can find that poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School. It's a sonnet, and it describes the natural world after a snowstorm, as seen through the window. It concludes with the couplet: "To think that all of this is mine for free/ The world is so much better than TV!" In my 2016 post, I told you about my students' response to this lovely poem, and to my suggestion that they could write about what they see out of their windows (not blizzards, here on our tropical island). I wrote a response to their response, and then last year I shared Newman's poem again with my new class, plus my sonnet. I asked them to write in their notebooks about what they see out their windows, and then I used what they said to write another poem. (A vocabulary note for the second one: a djab is a spirit.)

Today, I shared the original poem and my two responses with my current class of seventh graders. They didn't have much to say, but I'll keep you posted on whether I get some window poems from them in the weeks to come.

Here is the poem I shared two years ago, and the one I wrote last year.

Why I Can’t Look Out the Window

You say the world is better than TV
And I imagine that you haven’t lied
But when I go out on my balcony
My mother tells me to come back inside.
She worries about kidnapping and such
And anyway, all I can see is wall
Topped with barbed wire, painful to the touch,
And really, there is nothing else at all.

Well, there’s a power line, and there’s a bird
And blue skies way up there, with wispy cloud
But Mom is asking if I haven’t heard.
I’d look some more, but I am not allowed.

I will explore the world once I am able
But while I’m waiting, I’ll make do with cable.

Ruth, from

Out The Window

I asked my students what they see when they look out their windows.

One said he sees a market,
with people who sell spaghetti
and get into fistfights over soap.

One said her window is a normal window during the day
but one night, something smashed into it and broke it,
and she doesn’t know what.

One said as she looks out her window,
her grandmother tells her to stop looking,
because the djab will see her
and take her soul.

One said he once saw thieves
taking the headlights off
the family car.

One said he saw
a cat catch a bird.

They all agreed there was nothing interesting outside their windows.

One said that whenever her grandmother visits from the United States,
she gazes out the window for hours,
staring at boring old Haiti.

Granmè,” my student says,
“What are you looking at?”

“The mountains,” replies her grandmother.
“They are so beautiful.
And there’s always something different to see.”

Ruth, from

Brenda has today's roundup.

Saturday, October 13, 2018


Here's something I've recently started using in my classroom, with excellent results. It's from Kylene Beers' book Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, written with Robert E. Probst. But honestly, I haven't even read the book yet, though it's on my wish list. A while back I joined a Facebook group of teachers who were using the book to teach reading. I read their posts and learned about the Signposts, six elements of plot. There's nothing new about these, but they are so clearly and simply explained in the materials. Here they are:

The teachers on the Facebook group, being teachers, are full of creative ways to teach these Signposts, using short stories and videos and exercises. But all I did was to take a few minutes to introduce each one in class one week (one each day Monday through Thursday, and two on Friday). We had just finished our first read-aloud in each class, and so I used that book to give four or five examples of the Signpost I was discussing, and then asked the students to add some. In each class, kids were able to come up with some immediately.

Next, I started bringing up the Signposts with everything we read together. Sometimes when I had a few minutes left at the end of class I would ask, "Which Signposts have you seen so far in this book?" I started asking open-ended questions on quizzes about the Signposts. Right from the beginning, the kids came up with examples I hadn't even thought of.

I have the six Signposts on the wall in my classroom, and I refer to them all the time. They are easy to understand and they facilitate discussion. Since all they are is elements of plot, they work with picture books, novels, plays - even narrative poetry. They are a great addition to my toolbox, and I'm looking forward to reading the book and learning more about how to use them.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Poetry Friday: Personal

Since my last Poetry Friday post, we had an earthquake here in Haiti. It was a long way away from me, but yes, I felt it.

After that it was a pretty normal week, finishing up the first quarter of our school year, grading students' work, not writing anything much of my own because my head was so full. But I kept thinking back to that earthquake, those few moments of oh yeah, that's what it feels like.

Here's an article about Saturday's quake, which hit the northern part of the island. Seventeen people were killed, in the latest count, and nearly 350 injured. Reportedly, many of the injuries came when people, terrified by memories of the destruction in 2010, jumped out of windows when they felt the ground begin to shake. The experts tell you to get under something and stay put, but let me tell you: when you've been through a major earthquake, every single instinct you have is to get out.

 Poster in Kreyol from the Haitian Ministry of Communication

Goudougoudou, in the above poster, is a Kreyol word for earthquake. People started using it after 2010. It's onomatopoeia, based on the ominous rumbling noise when all that concrete shook with all that force.

On Thursday I spent some enjoyable time reading Tony Hoagland poems at the Poetry Foundation website, and I chose this one, "Personal," to share for Poetry Friday. My favorite lines are these:

Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts

but I couldn't and I didn't and I don't
believe in the clean break;

I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,

I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back

and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I'm-Sorries

like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.

Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?

(Here's the whole thing.)

I wouldn't exactly say I don't believe in the clean break; some people seem perfectly able to achieve it. They get over things and move on, leaving behind situations, people, traumas. At least on the outside, they seem unaffected. I think the compound fracture is more common, though, based on my own experience, and conversations with others, including a couple I had this week about the disgruntled, angry, overwhelmed, scared mixture of emotion we were feeling after the earthquake, icky unwelcome Saturday night visitor. Get over it, some say, and I reply, Well, I don't want to make a scene, but I can't seem to help it, some days.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Yes, I Felt It

The USGS has a webpage called Did You Feel It?, and that's the question we're all asking today.  Did you? Many of us here in Port-au-Prince didn't feel the 5.9 magnitude earthquake because its epicenter was a long way north of us, but I felt it.  I was lying on my bed reading, and suddenly the bed started to move. I typed "Earthquake" on Facebook, and within seconds there were many other posts affirming that yes, that's what it was. I wasn't imagining it. My husband came upstairs immediately and asked the same question: "Did you feel it?"
A Facebook friend in Cap Haïtien posted that it was raining there, but everybody was out in the street. A few minutes later someone commented that it was raining in 2010 also (not here in Port-au-Prince, it wasn't), and then that it was raining in 1842, referring to the major quake that destroyed San Souci Palace. Another northern friend recommended that nobody should sleep under a concrete roof, since you never know: is that it? Is there more coming? Will there be aftershocks, or, worse, was that a foreshock (yes, that's a thing) of something even bigger?

I don't mind admitting that I'm terrified of earthquakes. My floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the living room is bolted to the wall now, but I'll never forget the sight of it fallen on the floor in 2010, and my rocking chair where I nursed my son flattened in front of it. I'll never forget my husband coming home in tears after his first time driving in the city the day after, telling about bodies piled up. I'll never forget the sight of hundreds of Haitian people sleeping in the streets. My bed just moved a little last night, but all of those thoughts, and more, were immediately in my mind.

Yes, I felt it.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Reading Update

Book #71 of 2018 was The Summer Wives, by Beatriz Williams. I didn't especially enjoy this, and I don't think I'll look for any more of Williams' books.

Book #72 was The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. I wrote some more here about how and why I picked this book. The second one in the series, Sea of Monsters, was book #78, and I'm reading the third one now.

Book #73 was The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. Victorians, friendship, strangeness: oddly compelling.

Book #74 was Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, about people unlikely to be brought together; all they have in common is the time in 1974 when someone walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers. Beautifully written and winner of the National Book Award.

Book #75 was The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. I hated this book. I didn't like any of the characters or care what happened to them, and I hated the loveless, nihilistic world in which they lived, or didn't live. I read more than half of it one night when I couldn't sleep, and needless to say, it was a terrible choice. I have no idea why I kept reading, and I don't think you should bother starting.

Book #76 was Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie. This is, to date, the only Salman Rushdie book I have succeeded in finishing. One of my friends from my writing group loaned it to me with high recommendations. I loved it, and it made me want to try some of the others again.
Book #77 was The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. I read most of this in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, too, and since it's about Nazi-occupied France and the Resistance, it was another poor choice for inducing restful sleep. While well-written and fascinating, it was also horrifying. And also, I'm tired of not sleeping.

Book #79 was a re-read, P.D. James' Jane Austen sequel, Death Comes to Pemberley. I gulped this down right after it came out back in 2012, and it stood up to a re-reading. It's better than most Austen fan-fiction, but the characters aren't as alive as in their original book, nor are they as alive as P.D. James' own creations. And yes, this too was partially read in the middle of the night.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Poetry Friday: Antidotes to Anxiety

There's a lot to be anxious about these days, isn't there? I sat at lunch yesterday with three other mothers, and we talked about the things we worry about, the things that threaten our children. They are real things; we live in a dangerous world. We talked about trusting God and being prepared, that balance that is so hard to find.

I'm not going to tell you what our specific concerns were, because maybe our list isn't yours, and I don't want to add more worries to you, my friend. You have enough already, if you watch the news, or love other human beings, or live on this planet. Today, instead, I have some antidotes: a Wendell Berry poem that's been on my mind lately, a Mary Chapin Carpenter song I just downloaded, and some photos I took yesterday to focus myself on the beauty of the here and now.

So here you go. I hope something here works for you. Feel free to share in the comments any additions to my offerings.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Here are the words to this beautiful song:

Sometimes Just the Sky
Mary Chapin Carpenter

Noises in my head
And endless should-haves rain
On me like a storm
Like a hurricane
Losses piled up like wood
Stacked stories high
Feels like I've been framed
I have no alibi

Used to be that all I needed
Was what I didn't possess
Yearning makes you who you
End up as, more or less
Whatever choice I made
That worked out
Was just a lucky guess
Just a lucky guess

Adventures half-discarded
Half held onto now
Dancing on the ledge
To the edge somehow

I can still pick out the faces
Though I forget the names
And places that I've gone
But the urge remains
To throw caution to the wind
Or is it to the stars?
To hold out my open hands
Despite my empty arms
To wear my heart down on my sleeve
Just like a battle scar
These are battle scars

There's comfort in a late night
Kitchen's radio
And in a letter sent
Lists of what you know
When you don't know anything
You make another one
It's good to write it down
Starting with the sun
And sometimes church bells
Trees and seasons
Marking times gone by
Sometimes starlings swell
Some tidal moons
And filled up eyes
Sometimes everything at once
But sometimes just the sky
Sometimes just the sky

I've written here before about my daily photography habit. Today's prompt is "One View, Four Ways," and it was a good one. I woke up Thursday morning in a severe funk, and taking several sets of four photos - our gate, a tree, hibiscus flowers - helped change my perspective. I picked the hibiscus to share, and I hope it does the same for you.

Each day is a hand-made treasure, and that's true even in the middle of the mess that the world is. Do something that won't compute. Laugh. Make lists of things you know. And gaze at beauty. Each hibiscus flower (or autumn leaf, or whatever you have handy - even if it's just the sky) is worth gazing at, and then gazing at again.

Tabatha has today's roundup.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Humor

For October's Spiritual Journey First Thursday, our host Jan has asked us to write about humor.

Humor is a gift from God, but like all His gifts, it can be used well or badly. One of my favorite scenes in the Narnia books is the one where all the old heroes of Narnia are gathering in The Last Battle. 
Everyone you had ever heard of (if you knew the history of these countries) seemed to be there. There was Glimfeather the Owl and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, and King Rilian the Disenchanted, and his mother the Star's daughter and his great father Caspian himself. And close beside him were the Lord Drinian and the Lord Berne and Trumpkin the Dwarf and Truffle-hunter the good Badger with Glenstorm the Centaur and a hundred other heroes of the great War of Deliverance. And then from another side came Cor the King of Archenland with King Lune his father and his wife Queen Aravis and the brave prince Corin Thunder-Fist, his brother, and Bree the Horse and Hwin the Mare. And then - which was a wonder beyond all wonders to Tirian - there came from further away in the past, the two good Beavers and Tumnus the Faun. And there was greeting and kissing and hand-shaking and old jokes revived, (you've no idea how good an old joke sounds when you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years) and the whole company moved forward to the centre of the orchard.
I love the old jokes being revived after five or six hundred years. I've never experienced that, but I have experienced old jokes being retold after twenty-five or thirty, and it's pretty great. There's nothing like laughing with friends or family.  Proverbs 17:22 says, "A joyful heart is good medicine."

We heard in the news this past week, though, about another old joke; this one was from 36 years before. It had been written in a high school yearbook, and it was a joke about someone else, a demeaning joke. It made some people laugh, but it hurt the girl who was its punchline, even all this time later.

Humor can heal, and it can wound. Maybe some good tests of a joke are whether we'd like to hear it repeated five or six hundred years from now, and whether the punchline is another human being that God created.

But we have to laugh; the best kind of friends are the ones who help us to see the funny side of whatever we are obsessing over at that particular moment. I love the Wendell Berry quote: "Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts."

Of course, what makes us laugh is quite idiosyncratic. I am very blessed to be married to a man who makes me laugh, to have children, family, friends, and students who make me laugh, and to have a sense of the absurd that keeps me snickering much of the time. Laughter helps me regain my perspective when I've lost it; it helps me have patience with my goofy middle schoolers; it takes my mind off whatever has me tied in knots.

As I've been writing this post, so many examples have come to mind of times when humor has been life-saving, but they are hard to write specifics about because of the "you had to be there" quality that so many jokes have. I thought about a fellow teacher who would sit next to me in faculty meetings and pass me notes or mutter a word or two under his breath as though we were in seventh grade; a large part of the humor would be the deadpan expression on his face as he would slide me a piece of paper with his comment on it, and the obvious pleasure he took in watching me try not to laugh aloud. Faculty meetings have never been the same since he left our school. I thought about a friend who took me out to lunch a couple of weeks after the earthquake and had me smiling and laughing even though at that point the world seemed a very dark place to me. I thought about a certain meal during that same time period with my parents and my brothers and their families where we all ate Ethiopian food and joked until we hurt both from overeating and from laughter. I thought about today (Sunday, the day I'm writing this post), when my husband made me laugh, and when I took a screenshot of my daughter and me laughing together over FaceTime. I thought about my son laughing in his sleep when he was a baby, just that pure delight.

Laughter really is one of those "good and perfect gifts" referenced in the book of James: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." I'm so thankful for laughter. The things we laugh at may change; the people we laugh with may change; God's faithfulness to give us what we need never changes.

Let's laugh today, even though we have considered all the facts.

You can visit Jan, our host, here.