Friday, October 25, 2019

Poetry Friday: Still More about Windows

Three years ago, I wrote for Poetry Friday about reading the poem "After the Blizzard, Outside My Window," by Lesléa Newman, from the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, with my seventh graders. They surprised and amused me with their reaction, and I wrote a sonnet, "Why I Can't Look out the Window," about what they said. Then last year, I shared my sonnet plus another poem, "Out the Window," that I wrote about the next year's seventh graders' comments in a class discussion on what was outside their windows.  Most of them said there was absolutely nothing interesting outside their windows, but I found their Haitian views interesting.

This year, I was looking at my window poems and thinking about what children can see out their windows in this time of unrest and confusion in our island home. Many children are sitting at home now with little to do but look out the window, since thousands of schools all over Haiti are closed. Those who look out may find burning tires, large groups of demonstrators, clouds of tear gas. Everything beautiful is still there, too, but sometimes it's hard to see it.
A bird outside a window at my house; I believe it's a gray kingbird.

As I was contemplating these thoughts and a possible poem, my husband sent me some images that have been making the rounds on social media. They show people covering windows with concrete blocks. It's typical here to protect windows, whether in homes or businesses, with metal bars, but apparently these stores wanted more; rioters have been breaking windows with rocks, so it may not be a bad idea. Windows are expensive to replace. But windows are also designed to see through.

I wrote this poem in response:

Block it Up

Block it up,
cover the glass
with concrete,
protect what’s inside
from angry crowds,
turn the window
into a wall.

Block it up,
block it up!

How will anyone see in?
How will anyone see out?

It doesn’t matter!
Better closed than smashed!
Better blocked than vulnerable!

Something there is that loves a wall.

Block it up!

Ruth, from

Oh, friends, what a struggle it is to figure out how far to be open, and how far to protect ourselves and stay safe! I mean that in every possible way from entirely metaphorically to extremely literally.

Today, on this Poetry Friday, the Catholic church in this country has called for a day of prayer and fasting for an end, with peace and justice, to the crisis in Haiti. If you're so inclined, we would welcome your participation. We're tired and ready for the walls of separation to come down. We're ready to see better things when we look out the window.

Karen Edmisten has the roundup today.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Poetry Friday: Catching Up

Due to Haiti's political situation, I've been spending many days at home over the past few weeks. One thing I've done to pass the time is listen to podcasts. One of my favorites is The Slowdown, hosted by the last Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith. Because it's daily, I quickly get way behind, but this week I listened to a lot of them, and I wanted to share a few of the poems I especially enjoyed.

The Boatman, by Carolyn Forché

Europa Nostra, by Nathalie Handal

What Does It Say, by Tess Gallagher

Haiku, by Etheridge Knight

Jama has the roundup today, so you can be sure there will be good snacks! Happy Friday!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Reading Update

One advantage of not going to work and in fact hardly venturing beyond one's front gate is having extra time to read. Please send me suggestions of low-stress books to read. Funny books? Cheerful books? Absorbing books that will make me forget what's going on around me? Particularly books that I can download for free from the public library in the US that I frequent from afar? Leave them in the comments, please and thank you.

Book #80 of 2019 was Winter Morning Walks, by Ted Kooser. These are poems Kooser wrote and sent his friend Jim Harrison on a postcard. They are lovely and evocative and made me want to go on walks. (Here's a Poetry Friday post I wrote including a poem from this book.)

Book #81 was The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. I didn't get this book at all, and had to force myself to finish it (because we're going to discuss it in my book group). The fault probably lies with me, because many other people have liked it a lot.

Book #82 was a re-read, Invitation to Tears: A Guide to Grieving Well, by Jonalyn Fincher and Aubrie Hills. I wrote a little bit about it here.

Book #83 was another re-read, Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. I read it aloud to my husband, and we both liked it. I am a big Kingsolver fan, but reading this aloud made the didactic elements of the story stand out to me more than they did when I read it silently. I wrote about this book here back in 2013.

Book #84 was an old favorite, Persuasion, by Jane Austen. In spite of the troubles, two friends came over and we drank tea and talked about this book, and that was just what I needed. Incidentally, this time of reading it, this novel seems much more about dealing with difficulties than I had realized in the past. Anne's inability to have agency in so many of her life choices felt more stifling to me than I remember.

Book #85 was Aerie, by Maria Dahvana Headley. This was a sequel to Magonia, reviewed here. I really liked it, but I thought it was quite talky and I couldn't picture my students having the patience for it.

Book #86 was Educated, by Tara Westover. I had this book on hold at the library for months and months, and finally it came through. I enjoyed reading it but found the descriptions of abuse difficult. It's an amazing look at how you can live in a subculture and be completely unaware of the outside world and the way others see things. I also appreciated Westover's reflections on how memory works and how she gradually became able to look at her past with more and more courage and honesty. Recommended.

Book #87 was The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty. I liked this pretty well; it kept me reading.

Book #88 was The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall. This was a recommendation from a friend for a comforting read (kind of like what I asked for in the first paragraph of this post). I enjoyed it, and the only thing that would have improved it for the purpose would have been if I had already read it when I was a tween.

Book #89 was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis. This is the ultimate comfort read, tried and true. It's the first book I read after the earthquake. When I decided I needed to read it, though, I couldn't find it. My son informed me, after hunting in my daughter's room, that all of C.S. Lewis' other books were in there, but not that one. I put out a lament on Facebook, and the next day a friend delivered a copy. It was just the ticket.

Book #90 was another re-read, Night of Cake and Puppets, by Laini Taylor.

Book #91 was a re-read, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen. I really liked this the first time I read it, but this time it just depressed me. I'm sure the fault is with me and not the book.

Book #92 was another read-aloud to my husband. It was written by a schoolmate of his from Japan and it's called Growing Up Gaijin: An American Kid in 1960s Japan, by Ladd McDaniel. My husband and I enjoyed this very much; it was enough removed from our current surroundings to be relaxing and fun to read, and there was a lot in it that he could relate to, having also grown up as an American kid in Japan in the 1960s.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Poetry Friday: Fire

Today I will stay home and grade student assignments and send out encouraging notes and work on cheerfulness because things could be much worse. Four weeks of lockdown here in Haiti, but I haven't been hungry and the weather is lovely. Nobody is dropping bombs on me, and that's not something everyone can say. We even got to have two half-days of school this week (and they were wonderful).

And yet...

Usually I have an idea about midweek of what I want to post for Poetry Friday, but this week I woke Friday morning not knowing. I went to Poetry Foundation to find something. Let's see, how am I feeling today, I asked my fingers, and they idly typed in: "Anger." "Rage." "Fire."


So anyway, here's a poem I found to post.

Fire and Ice
Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Here is a poem I wrote called "Fire." I wrote it during another time of unrest in Haiti.

Here is today's roundup.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Poetry Friday: Lockdown

So as I've mentioned in my last couple of posts, we are in lockdown status here in Haiti. Yesterday we had a half day of school - the first this week - but today we are out again, due to huge protests that are supposedly going to take place. Protesters are marching in the streets with the goal of getting the current president to resign. In the process there has been a lot of burning and looting and general chaos. Plus, the whole country has basically shut down; people aren't going to work or school, and we're all waiting to find out what happens next.

We've been attempting to continue classes by using various online tools, and in some ways I feel as though I am just pretending things are normal. For example, today is the due date for final copies of all writing in my middle school classes, and I'm trying to stick to the due date. What that means is that I'm sitting in my classroom on the almost abandoned campus, because our internet at home isn't working. (Haiti runs on imported fossil fuel. There are fuel shortages. Nothing is working correctly.) It doesn't matter; I'm still reading students' work and putting down grades. Better to grumble under my breath about punctuation errors than about things falling apart around me.

On Wednesday, when the internet was working, I was texting with C., a friend here in Haiti. (She's also in my writing group.) I told her I was getting frustrated with life in lockdown. She suggested that I make something.  She said she'd made bread and kombucha, and was feeling much better as a result. I told her I'd make a poem, and she agreed that would probably work, too. Then she added, "You are required to use these five random words in your poem. And yes, your final grade will be affected."

The words she gave me? Lilac, popcorn, domino, traffic, trampoline.

I wrote my poem. I sent it to C., remarking that only I could take those words and still wind up with an emo poem, however nonsensical. She read it to her preschooler, who giggled. I giggled too, and life felt better.

My heart is like a trampoline,
You bounce with hob-nailed boots.

The dominoes all topple
As though they were in cahoots.

The air smells sweet, of lilacs,
with popcorn undertones,

And here comes lots of traffic
to break my fragile bones.

So here I am grading, and C. has promised to give me another five random words the next time I need them. Life's as normal as I can make it at this moment.

Here's today's roundup.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

First Thursday Spiritual Journey: Beauty

On this, the first Thursday in October, our host, Karen Eastlund, has invited us to reflect on the subject of beauty.

I spent a lot of time at home this month. And this wasn't the first lockdown of the year. Haiti has had a challenging year, and there have been several multi-week periods of strikes and protests. Of course the effects of this go way beyond my little life, but for my family, and for many others, what it means is virtual house arrest. We stay home because fuel is hard to come by, we stay home because our places of work are closed, and we stay home, sadly, because at times it is dangerous to go out.

So we look for beauty where we are.

I'm on my third year of a daily photo practice, where I follow prompts from the Capture Your 365 website. Yesterday's prompt was "Framing." I posted this photo:
I've been sitting on this porch watching birds during my forced staycation, rocking in that chair and peering through my binoculars and even recording some bird sounds on my phone. It's a peaceful spot, and it is beautiful to see the birds, but of course you can't see any birds in this photo. You can see the lovely stonework of the porch, and the lovely red tiles that I enjoy, and my lovely Haitian rocking chair, but you can also see many flaws.

Some of my Facebook friends were quick to comment on how beautiful the spot was, and a couple even said I should use it as a background for taking family portraits. Really, I wondered? Don't they see that the wall in front of the chair needs painting? Don't they see the barbed wire on the outer wall between the house and the road? (Nobody thinks barbed wire is beautiful.) Don't they see that the front yard is a wasteland? And that wall around the house used to be quite pretty, but last year a woman ploughed through it on her first driving lesson, and what replaced it isn't nearly as nice. You don't see my husband's bike repair equipment, because I got my son to move it for the photo, but that's usually there too. It's just like when I look at a photo of myself; I have to squint to avoid seeing all the things that are wrong and need to be fixed right away.

One of the reasons I do my daily photo project is that I want to be where I am, to appreciate what is around me instead of wishing myself elsewhere.  Sometimes the beauty is in how you look. Yes, this is a beautiful spot, and I love it. I love sitting there and exploring the beautiful world in front of me, listening to the sounds and gazing at the sights, enjoying the "good and perfect gifts" God has given me. (James 1:17 - "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.")

I choose to focus on what's beautiful.

Check out Karen's blog to see what others have posted on this topic!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

What I Learned in September

September began normally in Haiti and ended abnormally. We had two weeks of regular school before strikes and protests erupted again and sent us into lockdown for most of the last two weeks of the month.

In addition to learning more about surviving at home for days at a time and attempting to instruct my students over the internet, I also gained knowledge in a few other areas in September.

Here's an interesting article on the benefits of teaching work by living writers. I'm not sure my students give too much thought to who wrote the work they read, but I try to follow this advice when I can. I've had writers visit my classes, shown videos of interviews with writers, and shared my own work with my students. I also try to read pieces written by people their age whenever I can. You hear a lot about the benefits of talking to authors over Skype, but more and more authors are charging for this, and while I understand their need to earn a living, I don't have the resources to welcome them in.

In September I continued to pursue more knowledge of birds. And there was plenty of knowledge out there, as a groundbreaking and heartbreaking study came out this month detailing how the population of birds in North America has decreased by over 3 billion in the last fifty years.  Other bird-related things I learned: songbirds are being taken from the forests around Miami for various reasons explained in the article; house sparrows have successfully become city-dwellers around the world because they can digest gluten (bonus: I learned to identify house sparrows that live on our campus); and many fascinating facts about Audubon in this article (I've mentioned before that Audubon was born in Haiti, and this essay explores how he saw himself and how his mixed-race identity affected him - it's so interesting). On the subject of Audubon, I continued to read John James Audubon: The Making of an American, by Richard Rhodes. I'll have a complete review of that as soon as I'm done. I also learned to identify a palmchat in my yard. Palmchats are the official birds of the Dominican Republic, and they are beautiful and noisy.

I read this article recommending books to read about the earth and climate change. While I've read some of the authors mentioned, I haven't read any of these books. 

This article is about the glories of tomatoes and the tomato season, which was a bit late this year. I loved the article, and agreed with its fulsome praise of tomatoes, but then was soon saddened to learn that its source, The Atlantic, would soon become less accessible, because the magazine is finally putting up a paywall. Oh, Atlantic, how I have enjoyed reading your articles for free! How sad I am to have to start rationing that pleasure just like I already ration my enjoyment of The New York Times, The New Yorker, and many other publications. Again, I understand why you have to make a living, but I also have to make a living and can't spend my entire salary on the privilege of reading everything there is on the internet (much as I'd like to). 

I don't think The Paris Review has a paywall yet, and I read some wonderful articles there this month. Here are two: "For the Love of Orange," "The Currency of Tears."

"School is Not Supposed to Be Fun All the Time", argues this article.  I want to discuss it with my colleagues (and will, just as soon as I can get back to school and get some of them to read it). 

I won't list lots of articles on the current situation in Haiti, but this one (in French) is especially sad because it describes how the current round of protests started on the third day of the Haitian school year (since our school is on an American calendar, we start several weeks earlier). 

I listened to many podcasts as I sat at home for the last couple of weeks of the month, and this one was especially interesting. Jonathan Martin interviews Brad Jersak. After I listened to it, I asked my husband to listen to it with me, and we're going to order Jersak's latest book so we can learn more. In addition to podcasts, I was grateful for fairly reliable internet and for Netflix. Many of my expat friends, however, were sharing this article from Christianity Today about how maybe having access to so much media from our passport countries can keep us from fully engaging in the cultures where we live. I can see the argument; it reminds me of the reason parents weren't allowed to visit us in boarding school. It's hard to adjust to a place or a situation when you are constantly distracted from it. It's a balance everyone has to find, and it's nothing new, but the internet certainly ramps it up. I for one am not going to complain about the opportunity to escape for a little while from the current situation into media, whether books or magazines, movies or podcasts. 

What did you learn in September? What should I read or pay attention to? What are your thoughts on the links I've posted?