Thursday, November 28, 2019

Poetry Friday: Ode to my Work

Every year I read Pablo Neruda odes with my eighth graders around Thanksgiving. Here's last year's ode post, with links to other ode posts, and odes, from every year since 2010. Of course, this year I'm teaching my students over the internet because of Haiti's unrest, but that doesn't mean we can't read and write odes. I sent them some links to ode videos on YouTube, like this one:
and this one:

I suggested they choose something to write about that they really, really love. And then I tried to do the same. As I'd advised my students, I made a list of things I was thankful for, things I really, really love. And I kept coming back to teaching, and my job, and, well, them. Those students.

Here's my first draft. Their first drafts are due tomorrow, so I've only read one so far, and I can't wait to read the rest.

Ode to my Work (first draft)

Work to do,
problems to solve,
a place to belong:
my job.

A paycheck is good,
but oh, Work,
you are so much more to me than that.
On days when burning barricades
keep me from you,
how I miss you!

I miss greeting my students,
learning their language,
finding ways to reach them.
I miss the conversation.
I miss the words:
the books we read together,
the mentor texts,
the new vocabulary.

I miss school lunch,
break duty with my whistle hanging around my neck,
meetings with my colleagues,
managing my classroom library.

I miss creating my lesson plans,
planning how I want the time to go.
Of course,
sometimes it doesn’t go
exactly the way I had in mind,
but that’s the best part,
adapting and adjusting,
explaining it a different way,
figuring out how to make it work.

Figuring out how to make it work, Work,
that’s what I love about you.

I miss stepping into my room,
a room to which I have the key,
a room with my name on the door,
a room I set up,
a room with my handwriting on the board,
my fingerprints everywhere.
I miss the me-shaped space.

Ruth, from

When I wrote "I miss the conversation," I meant the literal conversation with my students, but I also meant the Great Conversation, and our little part in it. But of course, that Conversation goes on. I'm inspired by Neruda (by way of Nancie Atwell), and last week my poem about the ovenbird, inspired by the bird itself (by way of Robert Frost) and illustrated by a photo from, inspired Michelle Kogan to create this wonderful picture, which she posted on Facebook one day last week as a greeting to all her friends with a birthday that day (and which she graciously granted me permission to post here, also):

Here's this week's roundup, all the way from Switzerland.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Poetry Friday: Ovenbird in Haiti

This morning I sat on my rocking chair on my front porch, clutching my binoculars, looking for birds. I didn't see much life today, but I did see one guy whom I'd never seen before, an addition to my list. I quickly identified him with the Merlin app on my phone: an ovenbird.

Here's a photo from to show you how he looked; he was a perfect specimen.
I immediately thought I remembered that Frost had written an ovenbird poem, so I looked it up and found it a little bit of a downer after watching this confident, cheerful bird. After his, I'm going to share my poem about the ovenbird. Although Frost spelled the name as two words, all my bird sources spell it as one, so I'm sticking with one for my poem.

The Oven Bird
by Robert Frost

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Ovenbird in Haiti
by Ruth, from

Greetings, winter visitor to my yard,
jauntily strutting about in search of bugs to eat,
holding your orange stripy head up!
You don't seem to me to be talking about diminishment,
whatever Robert Frost had to say,
but then again, you're on a Caribbean vacation,
relaxing over your exotic snack,
so perhaps you're saving your philosophizing
for another time.
Make yourself at home, beady-eyed tourist,
puffing out your pale chest,
streaked with brown.
Welcome to a new November day!

We're still not having regular school here in Haiti, but doing our best with distance learning. I just can't wait to get back to teaching in my classroom and seeing my students' faces. But in the meantime, I'm learning new things every day.

I forgot that our host today, Rebecca at Sloth Reads, had asked us to write about food. I decided my poem counts, since my visitor from the north was definitely eating. My books and app told me that these birds are usually found on the ground, looking for food, and sure enough, that's exactly where mine was. Head on over to Rebecca's site to see what others have to share today.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Poetry Friday: First Frost

Here in Haiti this fall of our discontent drags on. We are still not having school, still sitting at home smelling burning rubber as angry protestors man flaming barricades and demand that motorists pay for the privilege of passing. This week was a bit calmer in our area, but not in other parts of the city and the country.

Meanwhile, far north of here, winter seems to be getting an early start. A friend took some photos of the first frost and sent them to me, and it felt so good to think and write about something other than what's going on here (my largely stalled NaNoWriMo project, like my life, consisted of Haiti topics). I got permission to share the photos along with my poem.

First Frost

Into my tropical reality
comes a glimpse of another world,
a stillness before the day’s business begins,
first frost,
every surface edged with a fuzz of ice,
your mother’s tree outlined with a fringe of cold,
the garden hose lying idle,
the withered yellow flower that somehow still manages beauty
and you, crunching across the grass to document it,
following the visible puffs of your own breath,
taking dozens of pictures to freeze this moment
because, like all moments,
it will thaw and pass away.

Ruth, from

Another reminder that life goes on in spite of the stalled political, economic, and educational situation here in Haiti came this week with a transmission from Nokomis, the great blue heron banded in Maine who likes to spend her winters here in the sunny Caribbean. (Here's my post and poem about her from exactly a year ago today.) She hadn't been heard from in a while, but now they found out that she's in Cuba and on her way south.
Source: Heron Observation Network of Maine

And another thing happening the way it's supposed to: today's Poetry Friday roundup! Head over there to see what people are sharing today, and to join in the celebration of the arrival of The Best of Today's Little Ditty: 2017-2018!

Friday, November 08, 2019

Poetry Friday: An Incomplete Picture

I read an article this morning with the headline: "International Media Often Paints an Incomplete Picture of the Situation, says Haitian Studies Association." It's not really surprising that that should be the case. Every picture is incomplete; every sound byte is from one person's perspective; every opinion is formed by one person's experience.

Like everywhere else, most people aren't as concerned with the politics as with their daily struggle to get to work, to earn a living, to provide for their families. Some people feel strongly; presumably they are the ones out demonstrating. Others are just waiting to see what will happen and don't necessarily think that a change of who's at the top will change their lives much one way or the other. I've heard people speak passionately on both sides of the current struggle, and each one was giving an incomplete picture.

Right now children in Haiti can't go to school. Businesses can't function normally. Hospitals can't treat people. Yesterday in my area things seemed almost normal, but then I talked to someone who had taken two hours to get to work (about seven miles), and she said they had to weave around all different back roads and cross several barricades (sometimes paying for the privilege).

Here's a six minute video in English giving some background.

Even in my own head and heart, any moment is an incomplete picture. Sometimes I feel hopeful and encouraged. (A student sent me some writing that was such a good start!) Sometimes I am discouraged and can't see any hope anywhere. (I got an email from an administrator at work with the word "predictable-ish" in the subject line!) I read about street merchants having their artwork cut up and burned by protesters. But I also had a chai party with a bunch of colleagues and people were speculating that maybe the worst was over already. Yesterday I read about people getting burned by an attack on public transport (both sides blamed the other). But then also yesterday, there was traffic out and "people were timidly resuming their activities," as the local media always expresses it. (I love that word "timidly" because it really is perfect. You can sense the tension everyone is experiencing, and people are ready to run and hide at a moment's notice.)

And today I saw a bird in my yard that I'm pretty sure was this guy:

Like the timid people in the streets, he flew away when I attempted to examine him a bit more closely.

It's all partial and incomplete.

I've been trying to do NaNoWriMo, with very limited success. I'm to the point where I hate everything I write and know for a fact that I have no words worth reading. Since my own writing is going so badly, here's someone else's for Poetry Friday this week. As Douglas Dunn says in this poem, "I Am a Cameraman," each sentence of mine "shrugs off every word I try."

I Am a Cameraman
by Douglas Dunn

They suffer, and I catch only the surface.
The rest is inexpressible, beyond
What can be recorded. You can't be them.
If they'd talk to you, you might guess
What pain is like though they might spit on you.

Film is just a reflection
Of the matchless despair of the century.
There have been twenty centuries since charity began.
Indignation is day-to-day stuff;
It keeps us off the streets, it keeps us watching.

Film has no words of its own.
It is a silent waste of things happening
Without us, when it is too late to help.
What of the dignity of those caught suffering?
It hurts me. I robbed them of privacy.

My young friends think Film will be all of Art.
It will be revolutionary proof
Their films will not guess wrongly and will not lie.
They'll film what is happening behind barbed wire.
They'll always know the truth and be famous.

Politics softens everything.
Truth is known only to its victims.
All else is photographs - a documentary
The starving and the playboys perish in.
Life disguises itself with professionalism.

Life tells the biggest lies of all,
And draws wages from itself.
Truth is a landscape the saintly tribes live on,
And all the lenses of Japan and Germany
Wouldn't know how to focus on it.

Life flickers on the frame like beautiful hummingbirds.
That is the film that always comes out blank.
The painting the artist can't get shapes to fit.
The poem that shrugs off every word you try.
The music no one has ever heard.


Irene has today's roundup.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Saints

Today our host Margaret asked us to reflect on the subject of saints. I become more interested in saints all the time; not just the ones the church has designated as saints, but the people around us, alive and dead, whom scripture calls the "great cloud of witnesses."

Here are the two songs that come to mind most when I think of saints.

Great Cloud of Witnesses
by Carolyn Arends

I was just four, my grandmother’s place
I knelt by her sofa and started this race
And now I’ve been running for such a long while
I’ve kind of lost track of the miles
Sometimes I press on, sometimes I look back
Sometimes I just lie in the road on my back
When I’ve got to get up and I don’t know how
I hear in the distance the roar of a crowd

It’s the great cloud of witnesses
Cheering me on each step that I go
It’s the great cloud of witnesses
They say the finish is worth every inch of the road

Moses is there, up in his seat
With my Grandad Wilfred, my Nana Bernice
There’s Abraham, Isaac and my buddy Rich
And I think they’re shouting "Don’t quit!"

So if you are tired, and your back is sore
If you’re not so sure you can run anymore
Then just take a moment and listen real close
Do you hear a sound like a heavenly host?

It’s the great cloud of witnesses
Cheering us on each step that we go
It’s the great cloud of witnesses
They say the finish is worth every inch of the road

It’s friends and relations and each generation of saints who believed
And received The Prize
They have looked into His eyes

It’s the great cloud of witnesses … 

This world is so full of discouraging facts, but I am thankful for the people I can look at as inspirations, role models, sources of encouragement, those people who are following our progress, praying for us, thinking the best of us and for us. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Reading Update

The image above was posted on Facebook this week by Pascal Antoine, Founder and President at Haitixchange. I loved the sentiment it expresses. The Kreyol text says: "A locked-down country doesn't mean a locked-down mind. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn something new and make yourself better." (Peyi lock is what people are calling the current situation in Haiti, when we all stay home due to streets blocked with burning barricades.)

This is the Haitian way; make the best of things. I've seen it again and again during my time here. People don't sit around and mope; they get up and hustle and provide and try and keep trying. After the earthquake, I read this post about a new phrase, "Haitian up." "Hospital workers," reports the article, "say they've rarely seen patients so stoic in the face of horrific loss and adversity. 'We've created the phrase "Haitian up," says Dr. Justine Crowley, meaning, 'toughen up or buck up.'"

I have been trying to follow the advice to Haitian up and learn something new, and one way I do that is by reading books. I am very aware of the layers of privilege that have allowed me to spend large chunks of my extra time in these days reading. I have an education; I have access to books in my first language; I have enough to eat and drink to provide me with energy I need; I am healthy.

Here are some books I've been reading lately.

Book #93 of 2019 was Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry. My friend Janet, who wrote and published her dissertation on Wendell Berry, recommended this book in an email exchange about our daughters going to college and ways to navigate this enormous life change. This was my first Wendell Berry novel, and it won't be my last. "I began to know my story then," says Hannah when she loses her first husband. "Like everybody's it was going to be the story of living in the absence of the dead. What is the thread that holds it all together? Grief, I thought for a while. And grief is there sure enough, just about all the way through. From the time I was a girl I have never been far from it. But grief is not a force and has no power to hold. You only bear it. Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery. Sometimes too I could see that love is a great room with a lot of doors, where we are invited to knock and come in. Though it contains all the world, the sun, the moon, and stars, it is so small as to be also in our hearts. It is in the hearts of those who choose to come in. Some do not come in. Some may stay out forever, some come in together and leave separately. Some come in and stay, until they die, and after....I am there with all the others, most of them gone but some who are still here, who gave me love and called forth love from me. When I number them over, I am surprised how many there are. And so I have to say that another of the golden threads is gratitude."

Books #94, #95, and #96 were the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, by Laini Taylor. (I read these on my Kindle, but the only link I can find to the trilogy is a boxed paperback set). I read these several years ago, and enjoyed them again the second time through. I really appreciate Laini Taylor's storytelling skill. Her characters are so believable, which is an odd thing to say about monsters and angels and people of other worlds, but a true thing. The story is absorbing and as such, a perfect series to read during my current life situation.

Book #97 was The Horse and his Boy, by C. S. Lewis. I've been reading this series since I was seven years old. These are the books I turn to when I need a comfort read.

(Quotes from the illustrations, in case you can't read them: "Don't speak to me, don't speak to me," said Tumnus. "I'm thinking. I'm thinking so that I can hardly breathe.Wait, wait, do wait." And then later, this perfect description: "One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them; so that Aravis (though she remembered them years later) had only a vague impression of grey lawns, quietly bubbling fountains, and the long black shadows of cypress trees.")

Book #98 was A Better Man, by Louise Penny, the latest Chief Inspector Gamache novel. I like but don't love this series. I'm sure I'll read the next one, too.

Book #99 was Reckless in Red, by Rachael Miles. The author of this series, the Muses' Salon Series, is a friend from graduate school. I enjoy her knowledge of the period; a favorite scene in this book was the gathering of women discussing the recent revision Coleridge has put out of Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Other things I loved: the way the main character imagines everyone she meets as part of a painting, the plot twist involving grave robbery, the shop called The African's Daughter, run by Constance Equiano (I hope she'll be writing a book where this character is the protagonist).

Book #100 was John James Audubon: The Making of an American, by Richard Rhodes.
It took me a long time to read this book, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I so often reach for my Kindle instead of a giant book. My Kindle easily goes with me from place to place; it's lightweight and doesn't take up a lot of space. I can read it when I wake up in the night without turning on a light and waking my husband because it's backlit. In principle I prefer real books, but in practice I am afraid I am very much a convert to reading on the Kindle.

I liked this book so much, and learned so much from it. I am interested in Audubon for obvious reasons: he was born in Haiti and he loved birds so much that most people know his name today as the name of a bird conservation organization. My favorite quote from the book is from a letter to his wife, from whom he was separated for years by his work on his masterpiece Birds of America. "'For God's sake, my Lucy,' he added passionately, 'do not be troubled with curious ideas such as my liking the birds better than thee, &c., &c., &c. Come and be mine.'" The subtitle, "The Making of an American," refers to Audubon's life-long efforts to make himself part of his adopted country. (Another way to put that would be his life-long efforts to hide his origins. More on that fascinating topic can be found in this article, "Audubon's Haiti.") Audubon was forced by the prevailing culture of the day to be ashamed of his mixed race heritage and lived in fear of someone finding out.

One of the main reasons I read biographies is to learn about the struggles the subjects had. We all know what people are famous for, but a biography can show you more about what people worried about, what their financial issues were, how they failed, whom they loved. Audubon was a remarkable, one of a kind man, but he also had many problems. That he succeeded with his amazing achievement, Birds of America, is a testament to his perseverance and hard work. He had such a vision for what he wanted to do, and he just kept at it, even when those closest to him didn't really get it. He kept improving his artistic technique and knowledge. And he did like the birds. I don't know if he liked them more than Lucy, but it was at any rate close. It's so inspiring to read about someone motivated by a genuine passion for a scientific subject.

The other thing that I will remember from this book is Audubon's descriptions of the enormous bounty of wildlife when he was discovering America for himself. Again and again he tells of scenes where there were thousands of birds. Some of these birds are now extinct; the survivors exist in far smaller numbers today. Audubon saw it happening in his own lifetime. It's just heartbreaking to see what our ancestors did to slaughter everything they found. Audubon killed too, but at least he did it to preserve. We owe so much of what we know about birds to him.

I'm so thankful that these books are helping me get through this time of peyi lock. I'm going to keep reading! Send me suggestions for books you think I'd like!

Friday, November 01, 2019

Poetry Friday: Lockdown Yoga

My friend Alexis Kreiner wrote this poem when friends in the US kept telling her to do plenty of self-care during this lockdown in Haiti. Specifically, many suggested yoga. Alexis says she doesn't ever write poetry, but she just couldn't bypass this opportunity. Thanks for letting me share it, friend!

If you don't live in Haiti, you won't fully appreciate all Alexis' clever references, but you will pick up on the fact that all of us here in Haiti are tired of lockdown and want to go back to our regular lives.

DO YOGA, THEY SAID (by Alexis) Welcome, To lockdown yoga, A manifestation, Of mindfulness, Attempted self-care, And deliberate ignoring. To begin, We inhale, The charcoal smoke, From the neighbor, And we exhale, All plans for the week. We bend, Forward to the mat, Stretching the muscles, Beginning to atrophy, From Netflix "self-care." We sit, Cross-legged now, Raising our arms, Above as a flame, We call this one, The 'burning tire.' We descend, Back lying on mat, Legs outstretched, We move now, Into my favorite pose, The 'road barricade.' We raise, Our aware bodies, Bringing our focus, To the present, While fully ignoring, The shots fired. We lift, Arms above head, Slowly leaning back, Going steeper, And painfully long, Just like the weeks. We bring, Ourselves back, To our center place, Stretching shoulders, Holding in core, And desire to scream. We pretend, This helps something, Stops the rocks, Flying at windows, Angrily claiming this, Self-care damn it. We thank, Our tense bodies, And high lakou walls, And admit honestly, Feeling more stressed, By lockdown yoga.

Tabatha has today's roundup.