Thursday, May 30, 2019

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye and Summer

Just over a month ago, Tabatha suggested that we should have a Naomi Shihab Nye day on Poetry Friday. A few days later, I read that Naomi Shihab Nye had been awarded an honor even greater than our attention on Poetry Friday: she is the new Young People's Poet Laureate.  I even suspected Tabatha of having some inside knowledge that this was about to happen, but she says no, it was just a coincidence.

I have loved NSN's work for a long time, but when I went looking on my poetry shelf, I only found one of her books. The others I have read have been borrowed from the library, it seems. So I chose the poem I'm going to share today from that book, Fuel. It's appropriate for today in many ways, as we clean up the last debris from our students, rushing off to their summer plans.

The Time
Naomi Shihab Nye

Summer is the time to write. I tell myself this
in winter especially. Summer comes,
I want to tumble with the river
over rocks and mossy dams.

A fish drifting upside down.
Slow accordions sweeten the breeze.

The Sanitary Mattress Factory says,
"Sleep Is Life."
Why do I think of forty ways to spend an afternoon?

Yesterday someone said, "It gets late so early."
I wrote it down. I was going to do something with it.
Maybe it is a title and this life is the poem.

I have many NSN posts on this blog, and here are two: this one from National Poetry Month in 2017 and this one from this year's NPM festivities. Both include links to multiple NSN poems I've posted over the years. I can't wait to see what she does for poetry during her tenure as Poet Laureate!

Here's a photo from our campus at this time of year, and here's an ode I wrote last year to the flamboyant tree.

"Summer is the time to write." I did tell myself that in the winter, and now to see if I can find some words in this season. Hoping for productive summer writing for all my Poetry Friday friends!

Mary Lee's got the roundup today!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Poetry Friday: Climbing

We've been climbing in seventh grade. Metaphorically, as we scaled the heights of the school year, but also literarily, as we ended the year with a reading of Peak, by Roland Smith, and then a supplementary non-fiction Everest account, Within Reach, and this video story about an expedition that flew a hot air balloon over Everest, so we could get more insight into stuff like how noisy the streets of Kathmandu are, what yaks look like and how a Gamow bag works. (I also read No Summit Out of Sight, by Jordan Romero, but didn't have time this year to share that with my students. Next year I might swap it in for the other one, because I do like the idea of comparing a fictional account with a non-fiction one, and Jordan is closer to my students' age than Mark Pfetzer, who wrote Within Reach.)

I'm not sure why I have, in the past few years, developed such an interest in Everest. It's not because I want to climb mountains. I'm scared of heights. I can hardly read about the ladders in the Khumbu Icefall without covering my eyes. I get breathless and shivery as I go through these adventures vicariously. Plus, it's expensive to climb Everest. Even if I had that kind of money, there are so many other things I'd do with it.

Partly it's because I've fallen in love with Nepal. I've never been there, but I feel as though I have from all the books I've read. We were reading Peak in April 2015 when the big earthquake took place there. At that point my students remembered our 2010 earthquake very well, and they, and I, were struck hard by the event. We read articles together and lamented what those people were going through, and my kids had a bake sale to raise money, which they sent to a high school friend of my husband's who was working in Nepal. The accounts I read (and they were many) sounded just like ones from Haiti, except that in Nepal it was cold; my students and I couldn't imagine. I cried, imagining.

Probably it's mostly the metaphor. Everest is the ultimate symbol of an almost unattainable goal. George Mallory is famously supposed to have said, when asked why he wanted to climb the mountain, "Because it's there." But cavalier as Mallory was about it, plenty of people have not come back from their attempt to summit. Mallory himself was one of them. He disappeared during his climb in 1924 and his body was found 75 years later, in 1999. There are about 200 dead bodies still on the mountain, lying where they fell, still dressed in their brightly colored climbing clothes. Because of the cold, their corpses don't decay. (Here's more of the "gruesome truth" about that.)

In addition to being difficult, climbing Everest is about preparation, about sitting around a lot waiting for things to happen, and about being stopped by circumstances completely outside your control. You're only on the summit a few minutes; those few minutes are fueled by years of fund-raising, exercising, acclimatization, and scaling lesser peaks. And chances are good you won't make it at all. You might not get there because of sickness, someone else's foolishness, political upheaval, frostbite, bad weather, or dozens of other problems large and small. One guy in Within Reach dropped his mitten and couldn't get it back; that put an end to his summit attempt.

Sounds like life, doesn't it?

(Also, in climbing as in life, you definitely won't make it without other people's help. These books and the video all explore the role of the Sherpas, who work harder than the climbers from outside for less recognition.)

Early in our reading of Peak this year, we read Irene Latham's poem "The World According to Climbers" in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School as our poem of the day (we read four poems a week, Monday through Thursday, and then listen to a song together on Fridays).
Could it be that there's a middle school English teacher who doesn't have this book yet? If so, you should really go order it right now. I'll wait.

The World According to Climbers
by Irene Latham

They place their trust in a firm
handshake, steel-toed boots

and hats with wide brims.
Rope fibers groan as they cling

like beads of dew on mutton grass.
They don't lament the lack of wing,

only the fact that they can't fly

without them. They forget why,
shift their focus to how.

They carry on. There is no
such thing as tomorrow.

Irene's poem became a touchstone for us as we continued to read the book. I would often say, or one of the students would, "Hey, that reminds me of 'The World According to Climbers.'" An example is when Peak's mom tells him, in a somber call on a satellite phone, that he has to become selfish to succeed in summiting Everest. If he doesn't focus, he won't make it. She explains how she had to give up climbing because once she became a mom, she found her focus divided. (And that's a class discussion waiting to happen!) We talked about how climbing happens step by step.

The PFAMS suggests asking, "What risks are worth taking and what risks are not?" Everest puts that question front and center, but my kids face risks in their lives in Haiti all the time. In some ways, they are far less sheltered than American kids their age, living in a country with few safety features. In other ways, they are super-sheltered, at least some of them - check out this post to see what I mean. Talking about risk is always an interesting thing with these students.

I wrote to Irene and told her what her poem had come to mean to me and to the class, and she wrote back with some more background. She sent me the photo she used as inspiration when she wrote "The World According to Climbers."
She was writing poems at the time using photos of United States National Parks. (This one is from Mesa Verde National Park.) She intended to put them in a book but never found a publisher. She also said that her brother used to be a climber, "so I watched and worried and marveled over his adventures many times!" (Now he's become a cyclist, which I guess is marginally safer.) My students love it when I tell them the authors we read are friends of mine. Thanks for sharing all of this with us, Irene, and giving me permission to share it with my blog readers, too!

So we made it to the summit of our school year - today is the last day of classes, and we have three half days next week of exams and then all the graduations. In my newly-acquired free time in the next couple of weeks, maybe I'll write my own climbing poem. When you get to the summit of Everest, you have to head back down right away after posing for a few pictures; the human body can't survive for long at that altitude, called the "Death Zone." My mountain is a little less extreme. For right now, I'm just going to enjoy the view from up here a little longer before I head back down to the valley and start gathering supplies and strength to climb again next year.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Poetry Friday: Heavy Summer Rain

Heavy Summer Rain
Jane Kenyon
The grasses in the field have toppled,
and in places it seems that a large, now
absent, animal must have passed the night.
The hay will right itself if the day

turns dry. I miss you steadily, painfully.
None of your blustering entrances
or exits, doors swinging wildly
on their hinges, or your huge unconscious
sighs when you read something sad,
like Henry Adams’s letters from Japan,
where he traveled after Clover died.

Everything blooming bows down in the rain:
white irises, red peonies; and the poppies
with their black and secret centers
lie shattered on the lawn.

"I miss you steadily, painfully." For some reason there don't seem to be many poems about missing people, but the older I get, the more it seems to be the dominant emotion I experience, as life devolves into a series of goodbyes, sad announcements, and sorrow. Time to go cheer up now as today I receive all my students' final writing pieces! Enjoy everyone else's Poetry Friday offerings here!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Reading Update

We are testing at school this week, and I've finished all my grading and am not proctoring.  I left my Kindle at home by mistake, and I've been kicked out of my classroom because a class is testing in there, so I can't do the stuff that needs to be done in my classroom library or write finals or any of the other jobs that await me, so I'm just sitting around, which led to me writing this blog post at work. What are you reading? What do you recommend for me to add to my list?

Book #42 of 2019 was Felicity, by Mary Oliver. I found this while looking for poetry at the library to download onto my Kindle. I don't think it's her best work.

Book #43 was Career of Evil, the third in the Cormoran Strike series, written by Robert Galbraith, who is actually J.K. Rowling. I read somewhere that these books get less gory as the series goes along, but it hasn't happened yet. This one was very bloody and I hesitate to recommend it because of that, but I love the main characters, Cormoran and Robin. I've got the next one on hold at the library.  

Book #44 was The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See. This is a historical novel set in Jeju Island, South Korea, known for its tradition of Haenyeo, or women divers. I was completely unfamiliar with the place and its history, and it was fascinating to learn about. Content warning for massacres.

Book #45 was The Cruel Prince and book #49 was The Wicked King, both by Holly Black. Of course there's a third book, and of course it doesn't come out until November, so I have to wait until then to find out what happens. These books are about Faerie, not a lovely happy place, but the place inhabited by the kind of wild, unpredictable creatures who are responsible for such phenomena as changelings and souring the milk. Think Titania and Oberon from Shakespeare. These books are definitely not for children. 

Book #46 was The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, by Ben Philippe. This was recommended to me by a couple of friends based on the fact that the main character is Haitian-Canadian. Norris Kaplan enters the world of the American high school when he and his mother move to Austin, Texas. I enjoyed it, though all of the characters turned out to be less impressive than I wanted them to be, which I guess makes it quite realistic. 

Book #47 was The Pocket Enneagram: Understanding the 9 Types of People, by Helen Palmer. This was the only book on the Enneagram that the library had, and I've had it on hold for a while. I found it completely useless for what I wanted it to accomplish, which was to help me understand the Enneagram. It was just too much information in a completely abstract format. I've also been listening to some podcasts where we hear from interviewees who are all these different types of people. That's much more helpful. I do want to read a good book on the Enneagram, though - does anybody have one to recommend? 

I re-read book #48 because of the death of Rachel Held Evans a couple of weeks ago at age 37. I've read all her books, but this one, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, was my favorite. Rachel was known as someone who wasn't afraid to ask questions, and the grief at our loss of her speaks for itself. If only we could have kept reading her work as she continued down her road of faith. When I first read this book, back in 2015, I wrote about it here

Book #50 was Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed, by Sara Hagerty. I finished this one last night. I have to say it was a little scary to me how appropriate it was for some of the very specific things I have been experiencing lately. Almost as though there's an unseen hand directing my reading...

This post is linked to the May Quick Lit post at Modern Mrs. Darcy, here.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Poetry Friday: Youth and Mother's Day

This week I read the story about Patroclus getting killed with my eighth graders. I also read this poem published in 2019, and its references to Patroclus and Achilles and Thetis (Achilles' mother) remind me of one of the reasons I love teaching about the Trojan War; these stories are so timeless.

Thetis was a goddess, so the fact that she was immortal heightened her sense of the mortality of her son Achilles, but a sense of mortality is common to all parents. This week we saw yet another school shooting to remind us of that, plus of course all the other news stories that remind us, week after week after week, all year long.

Happy Mother's Day!

by Tom Sleigh
Smelling of sweet resin the Aleppo pines’
shadows grow taller by the hour. Two identical
twin boys chase each other through the shadows,
the one who’s ten minutes older yelling,
I’m gonna kill you while the younger one
laughs, Kill me, kill me if you can!
Day by day these teatime mortars
keep pecking at the blast wall that the boys
have grown so used to they just keep right on playing.
If they weren’t here in front of me, I’d find them
hard to imagine, just as I sometimes find
my own twin brother hard to imagine.
I’m supposed to be doing a story
on soldiers, what they do to keep from
being frightened, but all I can think about
is how Tim would chase me or I’d chase him
and we’d yell, I’m gonna kill you, just like
these brothers do, so alive in their bodies,
just as Tim who is so alive will one day not be:
will it be me or him who first dies?
But I came here to do a story on soldiers
and how they keep watching out for death
and manage to fight and die without going crazy—
the boys squat down to look at ants climbing
through corrugated bark, the wavering antennae
tapping up and down the tree reminding me
of the soldier across the barracks sitting
still inside himself, listening to his nerves
while his eyes peer out at something I can’t see—
when Achilles’ immortal mother came
to her grieving son, knowing he would soon
die, and gave him his armor and kept the worms
from the wounds of his dead friend, Patroclus, she,
a goddess, knew she wouldn’t be allowed
to keep those same worms from her son’s body.

I know I’m not his father, he’s not my son,
but he looks so young, young enough to be
my son—sitting on his bunk, watching out for death,
trying to fight and die without going crazy, he
reaches for his rifle, breaks it down,
dust cover, spring, bolt carrier with piston,
wiping it all down with a rag and oil,
cleaning it for the second time this hour
as shadows shifting through the pines
bury him and the little boys and Tim
and me in non-metaphorical, real life darkness
where I’m supposed to be doing a story.
Here's the poem, along with links to some of Tom Sleigh's other work. 
This post contains a poem I wrote about Thetis a few years ago.

And here's today's roundup.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Poetry Friday: Earth Day, Eco-anxiety, Prettiness

I don't know if you, Gentle Reader, have noticed, but I try to write positive things about my adopted country of Haiti. There is so much here that is beautiful and worth celebrating, and the vast majority of coverage of Haiti tends to be negative. I try to leave the criticizing (and admittedly, there are things to criticize) to others. (I'm not always successful. I grumble about the electricity situation frequently, for example, most recently here.)

Lately, though, I have been struggling, along with everyone else who reads the news, with eco-anxiety. And although the average Haitian person makes much less trash than the average American (1.5 pounds per person per day in Haiti versus 4.4 pounds per person per day in the United States; sources here and here), the trash here is much more visible than in the States. We don't have public trash receptacles everywhere like in the US; we don't have high-tech waste management; we don't have municipal trash pickup; we are an island and don't have extra space. And those are just the explanations that I, a total non-expert, came up with off the top of my head.

On Earth Day, my husband and I visited an area where a lot of trash has been dumped, and I wrote about it. I hesitate to share what I wrote because I don't want you to think Haiti is somehow guiltier about this than the United States. Please reread the last paragraph. And I will follow up my landfill/hell poem with a haiku about something lovely, just to make myself, and perhaps you, Gentle Reader, feel better.

Rivière Grise, April 22nd, 2019

On Earth Day
we wanted to go for a walk.
We ended up in Gehenna,
on the banks of the Grey River.

Might as well say
we ended up
on the banks of the River Styx.

It had rained all night
and the road was covered with mud.
On either side:
piles of earthquake rubble
piles of styrofoam
piles of plastic
piles of empty cans.

Goats and pigs
nosed around,
and white egrets sat sentinel
atop the mounds.
People picked through the refuse,
seeking treasures.
Smoke rose from
burning heaps of trash.
The air smelled of ashes,
decay and despair,
fire and brimstone.

As far as my eye could see,
these broken, discarded ruins
spread out before us,
eternal landfill.

“What branches grow
out of this stony rubbish?”
asked T.S. Eliot.
Well, a few.
Bright pink chain of love
and purple hallucinogenic datura,
sometimes called devil’s trumpets.
Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal.

Finally we came to the river.
It was dry-season low,
choked with garbage.

I thought of Achilles clogging
the yellow River Scamander with dead bodies,
and how finally the river god rose up,
scolding him for his mad killing spree,
and I imagined a spirit of this grey river doing the same.

I lifted my camera to make an image of the murky water,
and sure enough, from the smoky distance
an angry dreadlocked figure strode forth,

Yelling what, I wondered,
awaiting the spirit’s arrival
at the car window.
Berating the poverty that caused this hellscape?
Cursing those who treated this valley as a dump?
Prophesying a post-apocalyptic future
when the whole planet would resemble this scene?

No, he was yelling at me,
selfish, bourgeois me,
for taking a picture.
I felt ashamed for
seeking prettiness
on Earth Day.
Is looking at beauty
just the art of ignoring the ugly?
Can there be heaven when
there is so much hell?

We drove
away from the Grey River,
hoping we weren’t too late
to get back to the land of the living,
drove fast,
not looking back.

Ruth, from

And here's the haiku, based on this photo I took this week:

Popsicle colors
Pink and white ice cream petals
Sweet afternoon treat

Ruth, from

Each Friday in April, I shared links to my daily blog posts. Here are the last four posts from National Poetry Month.

Jama's hosting today's roundup, so there's bound to be good snacks!

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Spirit of Spring

Our host for today, Carol, has asked us to write about the Spirit of Spring.

In the traditional Christian church calendar (the western version), we are in the season of Eastertide. This season begins with Easter Sunday and continues through Ascension Day (celebrated this year on May 30th) and then Pentecost Sunday, which falls this year on June 9th. Eastertide takes place in springtime in the northern hemisphere. The commemoration of Jesus' resurrection coincides with the resurrection of nature out of the death of winter.

As I pointed out in last month's SJFT post, I live in a place where we don't experience a cold winter. I mean, it feels cold to us; maybe it gets into the sixties some nights. But we don't go through the death, weather-wise, so the resurrection is less dramatic.

The truth of the matter is that our inner weather may often be completely different from the weather outside, anyway. If you live in the tropics and have year-round perfect weather, that doesn't necessarily translate into year-round joy and delight (though it is much easier for me to be cheerful when I'm warm and the sun is shining).

The spirit of spring is the spirit of resurrection, and resurrection only comes after death. As I was meditating on this post, I remembered something a friend, Corrigan Clay, wrote after the earthquake. I asked him then if I could share it on my blog, and he gave me his permission. Here's the original post, with his photo, from 2010. The first words are quoted from the Bible, the book of Ezekiel.
"I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of Man, can these bones live?"

Easter is more overwhelmingly awesome in a graveyard than in a shopping mall.

I urge you: Be where the bones are and breathe out all the life you have been given and watch them start to clatter and rattle...

"Behold, I make all things new."
As we live on this earth, we are surrounded by death. Right now many of us are overwhelmed with what I recently learned to call eco-anxiety, as we witness extinctions and the degradation of our environment taking place before our eyes. We see death in many other ways, too: we see people we love dying; we see dreams dying; we see evil winning. If I didn't believe in the resurrection, I wouldn't be able to go on. Because I do believe in it, I can.

Here are some words Jonathan Martin wrote this year for Easter:
Since this time last year, we've fallen off of some wagons, jumped on to some others. You got a raise or lost the money. You got drunk or sober, married or divorced. People were born, people died. Nothing could stop the rising. Your accomplishments didn’t speed him up, your failure didn’t slow him down. Love got up, in his own sweet time. Death was conquered. Maybe you don’t believe it. So? What you BELIEVE won’t make it more or less true. Resurrection is God's responsibility.
Some people will go to Church & be "strangely warmed" today. Some will leave still disillusioned. Either way, THE WHOLE COSMOS CHANGED. Easter is good news for every blade of grass & every nursing home, every animal on a farm & every angry atheist, every cell & grain of sand. Life conquered death & there's not a thing we can do about it. Receive it as gift, doubt it, be wayward or devout-it's happened & happening. Resurrection is not an edict or summons, but an invitation to know the open secret humming beneath all created things-DEATH IS NOT THE END.
Prayer: Firstborn of the dead, 
we awake this morning to the astonishment of your resurrection. Our hearts have been heavy for too long. Let us be given over now, to the gut-busting joy of new life, unexpected gifts, the surprise of resurrection in the deadest places. We cannot understand how it happens, or what it means. But we do not come to you looking for explanations--we come hungry for joy, ready for awe, desperate for Easter hope. Baptize us in wonder again, risen God. Amen.

"Resurrection is God's responsibility." That's the Spirit of Spring. We can't do a thing to make winter go away, or to bring life from death. But God can.

Visit Carol's blog to see what other participants have written on this topic.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

What I Learned in April

April is National Poetry Month, so this year, as in the past, I learned a lot about poetry, and was introduced to many new-to-me poets and poems. I did daily posts all month, which I very much enjoyed. I read, and wrote, poetry, and that's something that makes me happy, even when the subject matter isn't cheerful. There's just something about that little burst of creative energy, whether other people read and appreciate it or not (though of course I like it when they do).

Early in the month I listened to this podcast, called "Listening to God in Anxiety." Not only did I listen to it, I followed along with my notebook and did all the journaling too. I felt faintly ridiculous doing this on my own in my room, but I found it very helpful and would recommend it. (This is all from a traditionally Christian perspective.) Here's a summary: responding to anxiety by praying about the things that are making us anxious can, paradoxically, backfire, because the added focus on the anxiety-producing problems can cause us to ruminate even more on them. Nader Sahyouni suggests praying with these three postures: first, please; second, thanks; third, yes. Please involves simply asking God to take away the things worrying you, as Jesus did in the Garden, asking God three times to remove the cup of suffering from Him. Thanks means praising God for what He is doing through the troubles you're experiencing, even if He doesn't take them away. And Yes is accepting what God is doing in your life, asking for what Sahyouni calls the "trifecta of grace": grace to let go, grace to know the truth, grace to have more faith. In the second half of the podcast, you'll be guided through thinking about these steps in the context of your own individual life situation. I hope this is as helpful to someone reading this as it was to me!

The morning after listening to this and reflecting on it, I had music playing in my classroom as I was getting ready for the day, and this song came on. It pairs perfectly with the insights from the podcast.

The other thing I learned in April can be summed up by the word "Birds." Back in November I found out about Nokomis, a great blue heron from Maine that has been fitted with a transmitter. She winters in Haiti every year, or at least the past three. I wrote a poem about her, and shared it on Facebook with the Heron Observation Network of Maine, and through that started exchanging emails with a biologist in Maine who works with schoolchildren. In April she sent me a list of questions about birds in Haiti, and in addition to discussing them with my eighth graders, I also did a lot of research on them myself. I made some new Haiti friends (yay for new friends!) and learned about many new-to-me resources, like the Audubon Center of Haiti, Zwazo Yo, The Audubon Society of Haiti, and I've learned in the past that people who are experts in their fields are often unexpectedly willing to share with absolutely clueless beginners, and I found that this time too; I loved having an inbox full of messages from new friends full of enthusiasm and suggestions. Next school year I am hoping to start a bird-watching club of some kind at school, have some speakers visit, and just generally learn much, much more about birds.
National bird of Haiti, the Hispaniolan Trogon. 
Photo source: Société Audubon Haiti

So to wrap things up, I learned again in April that learning makes me happy. To quote Merlin in T.H. White's book The Sword in the Stone:
“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”