Friday, March 27, 2020

Poetry Friday: Bay Psalm Book

In 1640, The Bay Psalm Book was the first book to be printed "in British North America," according to Wikipedia. In 2013, a copy of it sold at auction for $14 million. But I'm pretty sure its value to the original users was beyond money. These people understood sickness and death and uncertainty. They also understood that rhyme and meter help to fix ideas in human brains.

Here's Psalm 23 in the Bay Psalm Book version:

The Lord to me a shepherd is,
want therefore shall not I:
He in the folds of tender grass,
doth cause me down to lie:
To waters calm me gently leads
restore my soul doth he:
He doth in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake lead me.
Yeah, though in valley of death's shade
I walk, none ill I'll fear:
Because thou art with me, thy rod,
and staff my comfort are.
For me a table thou hast spread,
in presence of my foes:
Thou dost anoint my head with oil;
my cup it overflows.
Goodness and mercy surely shall
all my days follow me:
And in the Lord's house I shall dwell
so long as days shall be.

Here you can read the text of other Psalms from the Bay Psalm Book, and listen to tunes as well.

Do you notice how in these times, people are sharing art and music and poetry online? And turning to books on their own shelves? Here's a post I wrote yesterday about what I've been reading. What are you reading or listening to that's helping you "fear none ill?" Share in the comments.

The terrific Tabatha has the roundup today.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reading During a Pandemic

It's been a while since my last reading update, although I have a list of five finished books to write about at some point. In the week since we have been banished to our homes for yet another lockdown, this one due to COVID-19, I have been somewhat distracted and had trouble reading much of anything. But here are some thoughts about what I'm reading.

During our last period(s) of distance learning, I abandoned my read-alouds, even though I consider reading aloud to my students one of the most important things I do as a teacher. But this time, feeling a little more comfortable with the tools we're using to send and evaluate our students' work, I decided to record the readings. I'm enjoying it, and the feedback from the students has been...well, OK, I don't expect feedback from my middle schoolers, but at least there hasn't been any negative feedback. I am requiring my students to keep reading, and to write to me about what they are reading, and let's just say that their choices run the gamut from classic to...not. At all. So at least when I am sending them chapters to listen to, I ensure that there's some quality literature in their lives.

Here's what I'm reading with my students. In seventh grade, we are finishing up Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman. I had planned to finish it our last day of school before going to distance learning, because we were going to do that last Monday, but then the government shut schools down by a decree Thursday night, so I had four chapters left. The chapters in this book are very short, and each is in a different voice. There are only thirteen chapters in the whole book. Ironically, the book is about coming together, focusing on a community garden in downtown Cleveland. Tomorrow I'll send out the last chapter, and we'll be done with that book. I'm not sure what we'll read next, but maybe Peak, by Roland Smith. (I wrote a post last May about teaching that book.)

In eighth grade, we are reading The Running Dream, by Wendelin Van Draanen. This is about a girl who loses her leg, and over the last couple of years of teaching it, I have collected a bunch of YouTube videos that go along with it, which I am now sending online for the kids to watch. We're not even halfway through this one, and the students were getting invested in it, and I think it's appropriate to read about struggle right now. After we get done with this, I want to try teaching my favorite unit, on a retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey, The Trojan War, by Olivia Coolidge. I'm not sure how I will condense all the song and dance I usually do into an online presentation, but my husband has had some success with using ShowMe, and he has promised to, um, show me.

I've been reading aloud to my husband; we usually have a book on the go, and the one we're in right now is The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, by Gail Tsukiyama. Here's a passage we read this morning, about Japan in April 1946:

"Still, every day after the firestorm Haru went outside, a scarf covering her face and mouth, her hands bandaged, hoping the world might have returned to the way it was. In her mind, she played I See, a game she and Aki had played as small children. I see a cat . . . , she began, which was followed by Aki's I see a cat with black, black eyes . . . I see a cat with black, black eyes and a long, bushy broom tail . . . I see a cat with black, black eyes and a long, bushy broom tail that sweeps the floor . . . It went on and on until Aki couldn't remember any more and became silly, or gave up, her attention already focused on something else.

Haru looked at the devastation around her. I see a world covered in gray ash. I see a world covered in gray ash with flecks of white bone. I see a world covered in gray ash with flecks of white bone of all those who will never rise again . . . She walked around the sumo stable seeking signs of life, thinking in her twelve-year-old mind that not until she found it would she believe things could return to normal."

As in past crises in my life, I find it oddly comforting to read about people going through worse, and triumphing, or at least surviving.

I've also been reading The Gospel of Trees, by Apricot Irving. This is a memoir by the daughter of missionaries to the north of Haiti. It's well-written and unflinching in its look at the challenges of trying to help people.

I've been reading Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney, for a while now. I'm enjoying it, but somehow have not made much progress on it. I just get distracted so easily these days.

Here's another one I pulled out for inspiration this morning.
I was writing letters to the parents of my students, and wanted to do some of them in French. Perhaps needless to say, this book wasn't much help.

I had a conversation with a friend on another Caribbean island earlier in the week about, among other things, A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (which she just finished, and which I read twice in 2018). Since this is a book about a sudden shrinking of someone's world, it seems very appropriate for right now, and my friend thought so, too. At the end of our discussion, I thought about checking it out again from the library. I also have read some in Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. This one might be a little too on the nose; it's about a woman time traveling back to the middle ages (Black Death, anyone?) during a pandemic in a future setting where time travel is a common reality. And I started The Second Sleep, by Robert Harris, without knowing what it was about. This one might be a little too on the nose as well, but I definitely want to finish it someday, because it's fascinating so far.

I will still blog about the books I finish, including, I hope, some of the ones in this post. What are you reading? What's perfect for a pandemic?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Poetry Friday: Hope

We are at home today after the Haitian government officially announced last night that there are two confirmed cases of the virus here in Haiti. Schools are closed and we're waiting to see what happens next.

Here's a poem while we wait. It's "Blessing of Hope," by Jan Richardson, from her book The Cure for Sorrow.
Blessing of Hope
by Jan Richardson

So may we know
the hope
that is not just
for someday
but for this day -
here, now,
in this moment
that opens to us:

hope not made
of wishes
but of substance,

hope made of sinew
and muscle
and bone,

hope that has breath
and a beating heart,

hope that will not
keep quiet
and be polite,

hope that knows
how to holler
when it is called for,

hope that knows
how to sing
when there seems
little cause,

hope that raises us
from the dead -

not someday
but this day,
every day,
again and
again and

Michelle Kogan has the roundup.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Poetry Friday: Redstart

Sometimes it helps to take your eyes off the news and look at the birds. At least, that's what I'm finding. I suppose anything that's completely unaffected by tidings of virus mayhem would work as well, but there's just something about those birds. I got in the habit of sitting in my chair on my front porch during our weeks of lockdown here in Haiti (for political reasons, not health reasons) in our fall semester. Having to stay home made me decide that I needed to learn to identify the flora and fauna in my own yard, partly to keep from losing my mind and partly just to shift my focus.

I wrote this poem about my birdwatching the other morning, when I saw this guy (photo from


I see the American redstart
first thing in the morning
before I even sit down in my birdwatching chair
and before I can get my binoculars out of their case.

It flashes the brilliant orange on its wings,
vivid against their black background,
as it flies from the ground to a branch above.

I open my Notes app
and type “American” with my thumbs

and surely it is a good thing
that instead of
or even
my predictive text suggests:


Ruth, from

Matt has today's roundup.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Poetry Friday: So Beautiful or So What

I'm not sure how it can be Friday again already, since I haven't yet finished reading all of last week's posts. But it's been a great week. We're finishing up our third quarter of the school year, and I have loads of assignments coming in today that I will spend the next few days grading. We made it through the whole quarter without missing any days of school except the ones previously scheduled (Carnival break took place, even though the festivities in Port-au-Prince were cancelled for the second year in a row). This has been a bizarre and uniquely challenging school year, but I can honestly say I have loved every day of this quarter with my students. Our classes are smaller than they were when we started the year, because many of our families have moved, or at least sent their kids somewhere a little more predictable. The State Department moved the travel advisory number back up to 4 yesterday afternoon (4 is the highest number, the worst number, the level you don't want). To all those undeniable facts, I say, I know, but it was still a wonderful quarter and I'm so thankful for being able to teach in my classroom instead of long-distance over the internet. 

Now we are reading about teachers in other parts of the world having to do the distance-learning thing due to COVID-19 (and of course teachers in China have been dealing with this for months now), and to them I say, I see you, friends, wouldn't want to be you. You have all my sympathy and I hope and hope and hope that the virus (which is officially here on our island, one case in the Dominican Republic, an Italian national) doesn't force us to do the same. I hope you, too, will soon be back in your classroom with your kids, teaching them face-to-face, and appreciating that privilege as never before.

I will soon be posting a Birthday Edition post for Poetry Friday, as I received several poetic gifts on my recent birthday.  I'm not ready to do that yet, but in my current "everything's awful and yet everything's fabulous" mood, there's nothing more appropriate than this anthology that the inimitable Irene sent me.
It's called Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson. I have been loving the beautifully-chosen selections, each one guaranteed to lower one's blood pressure and cause stress to drain out one's fingertips. I promise a review when I have read more of the book.

I also promise a better Poetry Friday post next week, with some, you know, poems in it, but in the meantime, listen to this song by one of my favorite poets, Paul Simon. Here are the lyrics on his site.
"You know life is what you make of it.
So beautiful or so what."

Rebecca over at Sloth Reads has the roundup today. Thanks, Rebecca! Hope I get a chance to read the posts before it's already next Poetry Friday!

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Balance

Clearly I let things get out of balance this month, because the first Thursday crept up on me. On the subject of balance, suggested by our host Fran, I offer this from Walter Brueggemann, from his sermon "Trusting Two Rocks," preached in August 2008. His texts are Isaiah 51:1-6 and Matthew 16:13-20. Brueggemann writes:

"Both stories, both rocks, aim to create a peculiar, self-aware people who will live in the world differently. And that is how these two texts are addressed to us, after they are addressed to ancient Jews and to Jesus' disciples. We in the church now are just like them. We in the church now also live in the midst of a superpower that is not unlike Babylon or Rome. And our superpower, like those ancient superpowers, leaves us off balance with demand and the frantic pace of economic uncertainty and political instability. It is enough to cause you to lose your balance, to retreat into something safe, to quit thinking about it or to just go along.

But these texts say otherwise. These texts say to ancient Jews, to the followers of Jesus, and to us, don't quit thinking, don't quit hoping, don't just go along. Rather, claim your peculiar identity as the people who trust God's promises and who know that God's good purpose will prevail in the world:

So watch for the way in which God comforts and turns places into the Garden of Eden;

Watch for the ways in which a teaching of peace and justice grabs the nations and all parts of God's world;

Listen for the word of rescue that persists in the world.

We are authorized to be in the world differently because we are chips off the old block. We do not need to be aggressive or quarrelsome or anxious or despairing, because God has not quit. We are God's people. We have been so since that ancient day with Sarah and Abraham. The world still revolves around impossibilities that are given by God. We know who we are because we know the story and the God of the story and the Messiah who is among us."

Amen and amen!