Things fell apart this week, and as the week ends, we are back 100% online to finish our school year. The government has shut down schools as of June 11th and banned graduations and other end-of-year gatherings. All this is due to our COVID numbers going way up again.
I'm trying to focus on the fact that we spent almost the whole year doing in-person school; we were really only online a few days here and there. We did hybrid school at the beginning; we masked and distanced; we put lessons online all year for the kids who were at home off and on. But we were mostly in each other's presence way more than we thought we would be, back in August when we were contemplating this year.
I read this poem that Jamaal May wrote for Detroit, and it made me think of the city where I live, so often defined in print by what it doesn't have. It doesn't have wealth, at least not spread around. It doesn't have infrastructure. It doesn't have vaccines.
It does have birds, though.
There Are Birds Here
by Jamaal May
There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
and buildings. No.
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
Here's the rest. (You should really go read the whole thing. It's short.)
I spent a lot of time with this poem. Jamaal May is saying many things in it, but I think one of the things he's saying is that just because people aren't wealthy doesn't mean they aren't fully three-dimensional, existing in the world as complete human beings. And it doesn't mean they are pitiful and "ruined," as he says at the end of the poem. And also, they get to make their own metaphors.
At least, I think he is saying those things.
He's definitely saying that there are birds in Detroit. And we definitely have birds here in Port-au-Prince, too.
Here's another poem about birds that aren't metaphors.
by Raymond Carver
A crow flew into the tree outside my window.
It was not Ted Hughes's crow, or Galway's crow.
Or Frost's, or Pasternak's, or Lorca's crow.
Or one of Homer's crows, stuffed with gore
after the battle. This was just a crow.
Here's the rest. (This one is even shorter than the other one.)
I am sorry that the school ended by being online and abruptly without in-person celebrations. I really liked the first poem because it makes me think how people have opinions about Portland, OR even though it's based on the snippets of news.
Birds are such a gift for any city.
Two beautiful (and thought-provoking) poems. Jamaal May's poem is one you want to sit with and re-read and think about. Such beautiful, powerful imagery.
Wishing you and your students the best as you finish the school year.
I love Jamaal's poem -- the way he addresses not being seen, being replaced by assumptions, and the interplay of light and shadow that is the same for everyone. It reminds me of a Moby Dick quote from this week about the mingling of storms and calms.
I read an editorial here not long ago about the fact that some of our own city's neighborhoods are too often shown with the 'bad' news, so rarely with the good. Jamal's poem connected me to that, also to a recent middle-grade book, Amari and the Night Brothers, where she fought to have others stop thinking her home is not worth anything, being in the 'bad' part of town. Sorry for your school's ending, Ruth when you've had a good year. Missing the special ceremonies is a heartbreaker. Thanks for the poems, thoughtful & poignant.
Sorry to hear about the rise in cases and the need to cancel in person school for the rest of the year. Enjoyed both poems; Jamaal's is especially thought provoking. Thanks for sharing!!
Yes, "there are birds here." Your title says it all. Beautiful reflection, Ruth. All the best to you and your sweet students. Enjoy the birds, who are not prejudiced about who they sing for.
People on the outside comment about people and places without really understanding the intricacies that make a place complex. Working with students in urban settings, I witnessed this most of my career. Poetry helps us understand better or provides to time to reflect about situations. Voice is important and these poems definitely have voice, Ruth. Stay grounded while working through the complexities of COVID-driven issues.
I love the way both of these poems push back against stereotypes and metaphors. Great pairing.
Best wishes for whatever end-of-school-year joy you can salvage with the abrupt switch to online learning. And definitely best wishes for your health!
Thank you for posting this poem, Ruth. Like Mary Lee said, I like the way these poems push back against assumptions.
Two really thought provoking poems. I liked the seemingly simple line 'this was just a crow". Because, of course, it ceased to be 'just' a crow when it captured the poet's attention, even if just for a few. And none of us (crows or otherwise) are 'just' anything.
Sorry to hear about your lockdown but glad you are safe and that you got through most of the school year.
Thank you for celebrating the birds in every location, Ruth. And sending you my best as you finish your school year distanced, but connected.
What beautiful poetry. Both are so thought provoking. I love the repetition of, "I mean" in Jamaal's poem. And, the captured moment in the second is so well done. I try to capture moments like that too...but not as successfully.
I'm sorry you've gone back to 100% virtual. It must be terribly disheartening on top of the rising rate of sickness. I'm hoping and praying that you will get to spend some meaningful reading and writing time and that it passes quickly.
Sometimes a crow is just a crow... Sorry for the ending that says nothing about how you have sustained in person all year. I find myself not trusting the numbers anymore. Are we really seeing the end? These two poems are just right. I love how you post daily pictures to show the positive, the real humans of Haiti so to speak. Hang in there!
I'm so sorry for the inglorious end to your year, and yet you know you moved it and them in all the directions they needed to go, Ruth. This poem, this insistent poem of everywhere's birds, whatever beautiful birds may come and stay and go, is going to stick with me. You've had birds too.
Such an important post, I think partly, about who gets to define the lives of other's, sum them up in metaphors, etc. Sorry about the increase in Covid cases but glad to see the kids have had some in person teaching this year. I enjoyed Carver's poem as I did your entire post.
So sorry you're struggling with rising COVID cases, Ruth. I hope that turns around soon.
Thanks so much for sharing these poems, especially the first poem. It has so many layers. Each time I read it, I see something new.
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