Friday, May 29, 2020

Poetry Friday: Let America Be America Again

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed -
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

Here's the rest of this poem, as relevant today as when it was first published in July 1936.

Here's this week's roundup.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Poetry Friday: Pandemic Birding

Next week we're finishing up with school. Every year at this time I am grading huge piles of work and fretting that nobody learned as much as I had hoped. Every year at this time I am convinced I won't finish everything, and this will be the first year in my teaching career when I will not turn in my grades at all and just, I don't know, suffocate under a mound of unevaluated student writing. This year, all that is happening times a million. Of course, this year the writing is all in Google Docs, so the suffocation would be virtual. The perfect end to 2019-2020, when we here in Haiti spent more than fifty percent of our teaching time in lockdown, first for political crisis and then for health crisis.

Meanwhile, on Sunday I wrote this poem.

Palmchat, Source

Pandemic Birding, Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Today my brother wrote to tell me
that the nighthawks are back.
A friend texted a description of a bird
and then a photo of a scarlet tanager.
Another sent a video from a walk she took,
in which I could clearly hear woodpeckers.

My online birding group had a Big Day today
and birders all over the world added their finds to a spreadsheet.
It felt good to check for numerical updates on a list
that had nothing to do with sickness and death.
(We were just over a thousand species, last I looked.)

It’s not always easy to know
what to say to each other, these days,
as tragedies mount
and interpretations vary,
but then, we have the birds to report on,
and they’re doing what they’re supposed to,
behaving the way the books and apps predict,
going about their daily routines,
unaffected by human affairs.

I sat and watched palmchats today,
the national bird of the Dominican Republic,
our neighbor to the east.
They were enjoying the fruit
in the ficus tree in my yard.
There weren’t very many other birds out,
maybe because the palmchats were so noisy,
eating and hanging out close to each other,
the way - remember? - people used to.

Ruth, from

You can see more pictures of palmchats, and listen to how they sound, here.

Carol Varsalona has today's roundup, and it looks as though she and I were on the same wavelength, with seeking relief in nature.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Poetry Friday: Store My Soul with Beauty

This poem was in the Academy of American Poets poem-a-day email back in March. I love the idea in it of storing up beauty so that you can experience it later when beauty is scarce.

I wouldn't exactly say beauty is scarce right now - there's still plenty to be found at home if I look closely - but I do miss the variety of beauty I generally get to experience, beauty of plants and people and moments.

The Days to Come
by Medora C. Addison

Now shall I store my soul with silent beauty,
Beauty of drifting clouds and mountain heights,
Beauty of sun-splashed hills and shadowed forests,
Beauty of dawn and dusk and star-swept nights.

Now shall I fill my heart with quiet music,
Song of the wind across the pine-clad hill,
Song of the rain and, fairer than all music,
Call of the thrush when twilight woods are still.

So shall the days to come be filled with beauty,
Bright with the promise caught from eastern skies;
So shall I see the stars when night is darkest,
Still hear the thrush's song when music dies.

I've been thinking a lot about a trip we took in December when my daughter was visiting. We wanted to drive to Jacmel, in the south, because we usually do that for a few days after Christmas, and we missed in 2018 because of political troubles. We didn't want to miss again, even though in 2019 there were still political troubles. We decided to go. And I'm so glad we did! I have been feasting on those beautiful scenes, in memory and photography, during these days of being locked inside my gates.

I'm blessed to have so many trips, conversations, experiences, all in my memory, ready to revisit when I need to.

In 2012 I wrote a post with a similar idea, about Wordsworth and Tintern Abbey and the Kentucky woods. And, in a somewhat related idea, last week I wrote about how good stories help to protect us from times like these.

Jama has this week's roundup.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Poetry Friday: The Trojan Horse

My eighth graders are listening to the story of the Trojan Horse today. Did you know that it isn't even in the Iliad? Most of the details in the story come from the Aeneid. Today's section was about how the Trojans, finally released from the city walls after ten years of fighting, discover the Horse on the beach, and then find Sinon, the spy, hiding in the reeds with his prepared speech to convince them to pull it into the city.

I'd rather teach this wonderful tale in person, but I'm glad for the technology that lets me record it and send it to my kids. There are few better protections against bad times than good stories. 

Here's a slightly later part, from a translation of the Aeneid by David Ferry:

And now the heavens shift and night comes in
And covers with its darkness earth and sky
And the tricks of the Myrmidons. Throughout the city
The Trojans, wearied by joy, lie fast asleep.
And now the Greeks set out from Tenedos,
Their ships proceeding in an ordered line,
Under the friendly light of the silent moon,
Making their way toward the shore they know so well.
And when the royal galley's beacon light
Is lighted, Sinon sees it, and quietly goes,
Protected by malign complicit fates,
And furtively opens up the Horse's flank
And frees the Argive warriors from its womb.
The Horse releases them to the open air,
And joyfully they come out: first come the captains
Thessander, and Sthenelus, and dire Ulysses,
Lowering themselves to the ground by means of a rope,
And Acamas and Thoas, and Pyrrhus, Achilles' son,
And Machaon the prince, and Menelaus,
And Epeus, he, who contrived the wooden horse
That fooled us so. And when they enter the city,
That's deep submerged in wine and unknowing sleep;
They surprise and kill the watch, and open the gates
To welcome in their comrades from the fleet,
Letting them in for what they are going to do.

David Ferry's translation of Virgil (Source)

You can see the perspective; to Aeneas, telling this story later, the Greeks are definitely the bad guys, "protected by malign complicit fates."

Wishing you only benign complicit fates this Poetry Friday. Check out the poetry others are sharing at today's roundup.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Community

Our host for this month, Ramona, asks: "How has this time of COVID-19 strengthened your sense of connection and community?"

I don't know that it has. It's strengthened my awareness of how much I need connection and community, for sure. I miss people, and conversations, more than I can say. I'm thankful for people who love me and whom I love here at home and a safe place to be, but I miss the constant interactions at school, the way my students make me laugh daily, the chance to get out of my own life and my own head. Technology doesn't cut it, partly because it doesn't work well enough to make real-time conversations easy; my internet connection is slow and unreliable (but oh, I'm so thankful for it). We are repeatedly thrown off our connection with our Zoom church; smaller groups are better but still not great. (I keep trying to add a photo to this post, but the connection is too slow today and I'm finally giving up in frustration.)

I am grateful for technology-aided conversations I am able to have: church, a call from a colleague, conversations with my counselor, family Zoom meetings with my parents and siblings and their families, talking with the occasional friend in the States, texting.

I want more.

I am surprised how much I need people. I went into this lockdown after a nine or ten week break from lockdown caused by political problems. I loved every day of getting to teach in my classroom, and I took advantage of every day. And now back to this. I'm starved for people. It stretches bleakly ahead, as here in Haiti we are still early in the whole horrible scenario.

I have nothing helpful or positive to say today, but fortunately I have lots of books, so here's some Walter Brueggemann, from his Collected Sermons:

As I pondered over "deep waters," I heard this other text in which God assures:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. Isaiah 43:1b-2a

This promise is that God will come to be in the waters with us, submitting to the chaos, and by submitting, transforming the waters. So we dare imagine that Jesus did not die abandoned on Friday. As he submitted to the sweeping, surging waters, his God and parent were present in the chaos, thereby transforming the waters into a place of rescuing communion. ...

The world now waits to see whether the faithful church can enter its Friday of chaos, enter in hope and resistance, to trust enough to let the threat become the home of rescue. The transformation requires profound faith and high hutzpah. How dare anyone under such threat say in triumph, "It is finished!"? Such nerve called trust causes the waters to recede, and life in all its fruitfulness may begin again, on Friday toward Sunday. (From a sermon preached by Walter Brueggemann on Good Friday, 1992, at All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta.)

Check out Ramona's blog to see what others have to say on this subject.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Reading Update

I haven't written a Reading Update since February, so although my lack of focus has slowed down my reading considerably, I still have plenty of books to report.

Book #15 of 2020 was White Rose, by Kip Wilson, a verse novel about a teenager who joins the Resistance against the Nazis during World War II.

Book #16 was a gift from my son for my birthday, 363 Days of Tea, by Ruby Silvious. I loved this book, which consists of photos of a year-long art project in which the author repurposed used tea bags as tiny canvases for her creations. For a look at some of the amazing and beautiful results, check out this gorgeous blog post at Jama's Alphabet Soup. This is where I first learned about the book, and put it on my wishlist, back in 2011.

Book #17 was I'll Be Your Blue Sky, by Maria de los Santos. I remember enjoying this book, but honestly, I don't remember much more than that about it.

Book #18 was Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano. This is about Edward, who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. It's the story of how he recovers from this terrible experience.

Book #19 was Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer with extensive experience of the racial injustice inherent in the US system. In this book, Stevenson shows us case after case of people he worked with who ended up on death row. Recommended.

Book #20 was Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney. An author's note tells us that Lillian Boxfish is based on a real person, Margaret Fishback, and her career in advertising beginning in the 30s. I really enjoyed all the details of the time period. The frame of the story is a walk Lillian Boxfish is taking in New York City on New Year's Eve, 1984.

Book #21 was The Second Sleep, by Robert Harris. There's not much I can tell you about the story without giving away the big surprise, so I'll just say I liked this book. I can imagine it getting made into a movie at some point.

Book #22 was The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng. While reading this I learned a lot about Japanese gardens, tea plantations, and the Japanese occupation of Malaysia during the second World War. I found it an absorbing book.

Book #23 was Dreamers of the Day, by Mary Doria Russell. I am not sure if I bought this for my Kindle because it was on sale at a really low price, or if it was because my daughter, a huge Mary Doria Russell fan, recommended it. Either way, I didn't know what it was about, and almost stopped reading once I realized - would you believe, it begins with the 1918 flu pandemic! In spite of the topic, the book pulled me in, and I ended up enjoying it very much. It includes a trip to Egypt and a chance to get to know T. E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. But, fair warning, it also includes this passage and others like it: "Without literature as a guide, I expect you think of the flu as a homey, familiar kind of illness, not a horrifying scourge like the black plague or smallpox. You may believe you know what the flu epidemic was like for us. Pray, now, that you never learn how wrong you are."

Book #24 was In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle. I was totally wrong about this book; I thought at first it was a rom-com, due to the beautifully set up premise at the beginning, and what a relief that would be! But no, it's full of grief and trauma, just like all the other books I've been reading lately. In the meantime, there were way more descriptions of what people were wearing than I'm used to.

Book #25 was Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah. Yup, more grief and trauma. I loved that this one was about a long friendship, which I think in many ways is a lot harder to write about than romance.

Book #26 was Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid. Everyone is reading this right now, so I was amazed that it became available so quickly from the library. This book is so full of uncomfortable situations, leaving you feeling off-balance in the very best way. It explores race, prejudice, dating, and childcare, all issues that can lead to rage very quickly. This would be a great book club read. Check out this interview with the author.

I'm in the middle of several other books, so I hope my next reading update will appear a lot more quickly than this one did! 

Friday, May 01, 2020

Poetry Friday: May

May Night Poem
by Sara Teasdale

The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.

Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing --
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.

I imagine the spring flowers are out as normal. There aren't actually that many I can see from my yard, but the flowering trees that are visible, like a frangipani and African tulip across the street, are starting to look very lovely. I haven't been out in quite a while. I'm not sure my heart is very fresh and fearless most of the time, but there are moments when it is, and I try to enjoy those moments to the fullest. I'm very grateful for the good health and safety my family is enjoying right now.

Elizabeth Steinglass has today's roundup.