Friday, September 27, 2019

Poetry Friday: The Republic of Poetry

The Republic of Poetry
by Martín Espada

for Chile

In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.

Here's the rest of the poem.

Don't you wish you lived in the Republic of Poetry today? It sounds like a better place to be than where I actually am, here in Haiti, with the lockdown and the videos on Facebook of things burning and the underlying anxiety that's been going on for over a year now. This particular lockdown is heading for the end of its second week; since September 16th, we've had a day and a half of school. I'm sending assignments to my students, and they're sending work back, but it's a little hard for them and me to focus when things are falling apart around us.

Go read about the Republic of Poetry. Nothing to see here.

Here's today's roundup.

(If you want to read about what's going on in Haiti, The Miami Herald is a good place to start.)

Friday, September 20, 2019

Poetry Friday: Unleaving

When I wrote my What I Learned in May post this year, I commented that my growing interest in birds seems to coincide with birds disappearing. I didn't realize how right I was. Yesterday's news story about the bird population in North America, and its stunning, overwhelming decline in the past fifty years, horrified me.

I'm not aware of an organized climate strike here in Port-au-Prince today, but we've been out of school all week due to fuel strikes, and you know, those things are not unconnected. We're dependent on fossil fuels here on our island, and we have to import them all, and not only are they going to run out some day, but also burning them is causing damage to our planet. So many unsustainable situations! It's still not fully light yet as I'm writing these words, but people in other parts of the world are already marching, carrying signs reminding us that there is no Planet B.

I am going to write a requiem for the birds, but in the meantime I thought of this Hopkins poem, and the way it reminds us that grieving for loss of natural things is partly grieving for our own mortality.  I hope we can preserve something for the next generation, so that after we are gone, there will still be a beautiful planet for them to enjoy.

Spring and Fall
Gerard Manley Hopkins

to a young child

Márgaret, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's springs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

By the way, I missed Rebecca's post of a couple of weeks ago where she shared her Summer Poetry Swaps, including a poem I wrote about a sloth.

Linda is hosting the roundup today.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Poetry Friday: Things You Didn't Put on Your Résumé

This poem was on the Writer's Almanac this week.

Things You Didn't Put on Your Résumé
by Joyce Sutphen

How often you got up in the middle of the night
when one of your children had a bad dream,

and sometimes you woke because you thought
you heard a cry but they were all sleeping,

so you stood in the moonlight just listening 
to their breathing,

(Here's the rest.) 

We're so much more than our résumés. This poem is mostly about motherhood, and certainly there are many things about being a mother that I consider my greatest strengths. But even as a teacher, my résumé will never contain all my skills. Like the fact that I  once swallowed a fly, and went right on teaching.

I had some moments this week when I felt as though I was a great teacher. I had lots of moments when I felt the opposite, too, but I chose to focus on the good when I wrote this:

Things You Didn't Put on Your Résumé
by Ruth from

How you love the characters in the Iliad
almost as much as the students in your class.

How happy it makes you when your students beg you
to read aloud one more chapter.

How many of your kids read their "first fat book" 
while they are in your care.

How you learn from reading their writing about soccer, and Fortnite,
and getting pointe shoes, and living their lives.

How you once swallowed a fly while you were teaching
and didn't even interrupt the lesson.

How about you? What skills do you have that aren't on your résumé?

Here's today's roundup. 

P.S. This week I found a photo of one of my poems on Facebook, posted by a friend who didn't know it was mine. The photo was from  this anthology, Imperfect: poems about mistakes: an anthology for middle schoolers, edited by our own Tabatha Yeatts. You should get a copy! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Reading Update

Book #72 of 2019 was Birds of a Feather, the second Maisie Dobbs book, by Jacqueline Winspear. I'll probably continue reading this series. It's fun to see how many I still have left; thirteen, I believe.

Book #73 was Les Oiseaux d'Haiti, by René Durocher, a book of gorgeous photos of the birds on this island where I live.

Book #74 was The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson. Set in Eastern Kentucky in 1930s, this book recounts the adventures of Cussy Mary Carter, a traveling librarian who also happens to be one of the Blue people. (She suffers from methemoglobinemia, which causes a blue skin color.)

Book #75 was Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger. While there were wonderful moments in this book, I didn't love it as I'd hoped I would.

Book #76 was Everything Inside, Edwidge Danticat's new book of short stories. I'm a bit of a completist when it comes to Danticat, whose characters and settings are so familiar to me, since they are all connected to Haiti in one way or another. This book doesn't disappoint.

Book #77 was Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa, by Rachel Pieh Jones. Highly recommended. Read my full review here.

Book #78 was Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor. This is the second book in the Strange the Dreamer series. I read the first one in 2017. Taylor is just such a good storyteller. 

Book #79 was Grateful: The Subversive Power of Giving Thanks, by Diana Butler Bass. I liked this and found it thought-provoking; it went beyond the basics of the topic. Some will find it way too political, as it was written in the three months after the 2016 presidential election in the US.

Stronger than Death

I don't even remember when I first started reading Rachel Pieh Jones' blog, Djibouti Jones. I know it was a long time ago. I visited for her perspective on making a life in a place that could be challenging. I kept going back for her writing about sending her children to boarding school, her book recommendations, her meditations on fear and risk. And as she posted her (increasingly impressive) publications, I always clicked through and read what she had to say.

So it was natural that I would want to read her new book, Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa, coming out in October.
Rachel has been working on this labor of love for five years, so some glimpses have shown up in her blog. I knew of her interest in TB, in Italian, in all things Somalia.

Nonetheless, I was blown away by this book and by Annalena Tonelli. This is a complex, category-evading look at a woman most people have never heard of. That's how Annalena wanted it; she deliberately maintained a low profile in the service of her patients and her work. She put all her energy and efforts into loving and treating the people in front of her and raising money so that she could keep doing just that. "Annalena," writes Rachel, "followed the example of Jesus, who never spoke of results. She believed in the power of presence." She didn't waste her energy agonizing over metaphysics, either; "I learned to bend my head in front of the mystery of pain, suffering, and evil," she wrote. "I do not want to know why. I will not torment myself unnecessarily. There is no answer. It is the mystery hidden from the foundations of the earth."

Annalena had plenty of opportunity to witness pain, suffering, and evil, as she battled tuberculosis, hunger, bureaucracy, terrorists and criminals, all the way through to her death, which begins the book. Yet Rachel concludes, "I think Annalena made a choice, a conscious decision, to focus on joy and hope. Had she focused on sickness and death, she would have despaired....Annalena taped a list of the Wagalla dead [victims of a massacre] to the walls of her Merka room and said they often came to her in her dreams, one by one, during the night. But in the morning, when she woke before sunrise and sipped a cup of kawa, Somali coffee, she would look out the three windows of her room that opened onto the sea and watch boats bob and sway in the silvery-gray water. 'The sky is clearing,' she wrote. 'A new day. God is not yet tired of men.'"

Annalena's character comes through loud and clear in this story. She is an inspiring and radical role-model who deserves to be more widely known. The way she learned the names of her patients and all their family members, her meticulous record-keeping in clinical work, her mentoring of others, her ability to deny herself even to the point of hardly eating or sleeping, her sense of humor: all of these qualities, and more, resonate. Rachel herself clearly finds Annalena someone to learn from, and I loved the glimpses of Rachel searching for encouragement for her own journey. She marvels over Annalena's commitment and compares it to her own. She asks everyone she interviews why Annalena stayed in the difficult place she chose to work, and why the interviewee stayed, and how. "Some people," says Antonio, one person she talks to about Annalena, "feel a challenge when they see Annalena's life and then they can't do it. There can be complicated feelings." Rachel doesn't shy away from these complicated feelings, and to me her obvious connection with Annalena is one of the great strengths of this book.

"I trust in a resurrection," wrote Annalena. "I let every event settle and rest in the intimate presence of God." Reading about her makes me want to do the same.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Poetry Friday: Heart

This Rita Dove poem showed up on Facebook yesterday because she won this year's Wallace Stevens Award (congratulations!). I love the poem, and shared it here back in 2011. As I read it, I remembered that I wrote a poem about my heart recently, so here they both are, hers then mine.

Heart to Heart

It's neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn't melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can't feel

It doesn't have
a tip to spin on,
it isn't even
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want --  

But I can't open it:
there's no key.
I can't wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it's all yours, now --
but you'll have
to take me,

Rita Dove

My Heart
My own heart let me more have pity on - Hopkins

I woke with the same heart I had last night.
No transformation happened while I slept.
Same useless, softy heart that fell apart
Just yesterday (along with eyes that wept

And brain that’s still fixating on it all).
Why can’t I have a better, stronger heart?
A heart that chills, deals, moves on, gets a grip?
A lovely, sparkly, shiny work of art?

My own heart I just can’t have pity on;
Instead there’s the embarrassment and shame
I feel right now at all the ways I feel,
the feelings both without and with a name.

I am so sick of every bump and scar,
Oh heart, I am so tired of how you are!

Ruth, from

This week's roundup is here.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Nudges

Our host Ramona invited us to reflect this month on the topic of "Nudges."

This has been a surprisingly difficult one. I think that it's a hard subject to put into words because it's so fuzzy. I probably make many of my daily decisions based on my intuition, but how much of that is a spiritual "nudge" from God and how much is my collected experience of life, and how much is just pure impulse in the moment? I can't easily break it down.

How interesting that I am often so quick to assign motives to other people, and to think I know exactly what they were thinking when they said or did a certain thing, when it is so challenging for me to unravel my own reasons for doing whatever I do!

I sometimes wonder how my life would be if some of those little nudges of the past hadn't happened. What if my parents had never met? What if my husband hadn't decided to transfer to the college where I was? What if he hadn't stopped by the college education department bulletin board to read about the schools advertising for teachers and to learn about the school in Haiti where our two children have had their entire education and where we have worked for more than twenty years now?

These nudges are mysterious, but I trust that God works through them and brings good.

Check out Ramona's blog to see what everyone else has to say on this subject.