Thursday, September 30, 2021

Poetry Friday: Birdtober Day One: Swift


I'm not at all sure that I'll be able to do every day of this Birdtober challenge, but I'm going to try. (Check back during the week to see how I get on, or I'll post links to all of them on Fridays.) Certainly I had to do the first day, for which the prompt is a generic "Swift." There are about a hundred species of swifts throughout the world, but here in Haiti we have the Antillean Palm-Swift, so that's what I wrote about.

Yes, wrote. Birdtober is supposed to be about visual art, but I'm borrowing photos to illustrate, and writing instead.

I learned a lot about the swifts in general and the Antillean Palm-Swift in particular, only a tiny bit of which shows up in the poem. For example, the family name is Apodidae, meaning footless. My first draft used the word "footless," but I replaced it with "footloose," because they aren't really footless. They got that name because they hardly ever use their feet, since they are almost always flying. Antillean Palm-Swifts have purple feet, reportedly. I wouldn't know, because they never hold still, and I only see them flying way way way above me. But I believe it, because Philip Henry Gosse, the British naturalist who first named them in Jamaica in the 1840s, tells us without a trace of regret that he saw a bird clinging to a nest, "which I shot." Presumably he then held it in his hand to examine every part. You can read more of his detailed and fascinating description here. (I'll put links to more of my sources at the end of the post.)

I really wanted to put Gosse himself in the poem, because he was quite the character, but I didn't - this time. Maybe later! 


You'll see in the poem that they build nests, in common with other swift species, using their spit; this species nests in coconut palms.  You'll also see some more of their habits.

Photo Credit: Joshua Vandermeulen,

Antillean Palm-Swift

the sands

and rarely

and sleeps
while flying


and white,


of spit


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


Sources: Antillean Palm-Swift, eBird, Swift WikipediaAntillean Palm-Swift Wikipedia, Antillean Palm-Swift DataZone BirdLIfe InternationalPhilip Henry Gosse, Swifts - info and games 

Catherine at Reading to the Core has today's roundup.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Compliment, Eighth Grade Style

Last week I showed my eighth graders a photo of me as a child. It was part of a presentation where I shared the process I had gone through to write a poem. I told them about an experience I had had, and then showed them my brainstorming, my first draft, research I did to improve my details, and so on. The photo, taken with my brothers long ago and in a galaxy far, far away, illustrated how I looked when the events in the poem took place. 

"Miss!" said one student in amazement and delight, "You used to be pretty!"

I did not respond in the way I wished to, which would have been something like this: "Ah, yes, my child! But that was before....the hideousness!" (Evil cackle.) Instead, I just smiled and thanked her. 

You can read everyone else's slices here.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Poetry Friday: Migrants

Yesterday I saw my first warbler of the year, the first migratory bird this season (except a couple of Ospreys I saw two weeks ago). I'm pretty sure it was a Prairie Warbler, but it's a little hard to identify them when you're a beginner like me, and so many of them are various shades of black and brown and yellow. Here's what I wrote about it:

First migrant this year

Hides behind leafy branches - 

So much I can't see.


The main kind of migrants in the news these days are the human variety. Here in Haiti we have been reeling from the photos and words from Del Rio, Texas. It's easy to stereotype the people under the bridge, but everyone there has a unique story, a complex set of events that led to this moment. 

I've been thinking about Rupa & The April Fishes' song Poder. It talks about what can cross the border and what can't. Obviously birds can and do (we're starting to see them arriving here), but for people it's a lot more challenging. The song on the video is in Spanish, and below is the English translation from the CD liner notes. 



the fish can

the wind can

even money

but not me

the song can

love can

even a little kiss

ay! because of this border

the earth cries, the earth cries

and I do too

in spite of this border

life is like water

it must run

the coyotes can

an ice cream can

even a whisper

but not me

the televisions can

injustice can

even my work

but not me

my thirst can

my gaze can

even my heart

but not me

Rupa Marya

When people who are being deported arrive back in Haiti, lots of them have microphones and video cameras thrust at them and the raw stories come pouring out. Many have crossed nine or ten countries to reach Texas, facing heartbreaking danger and abuse along the way. And now, they are back where they started. All that money, all that risk, all those months of travel thrown away. Home now in a country they no longer recognize, full of so many new problems beyond the ones they originally fled. 

What should be done? It's not clear. But each migrant has a story; we don't know until we listen. There's so much we can't see.


I appreciated this article that goes into the history of the current crisis in depth. There's plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the political aisle in the US, through policies in many countries including the US, Haiti, and Mexico, and in individual decisions. It's long, but well worth reading if you're seeking to understand how things got this way.   

By the way, next Friday is the 1st of October, and I am trying to do at least some of Birdtober this year. I'll be writing, not drawing, and I've only written one post so far, so we'll see how that goes. I thought if I wrote about it here today, I might increase the likelihood that I'll do more! 


Laura has this week's roundup.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Dessalines Day

This is a version of a Facebook post I put up yesterday.

Yesterday was a new holiday in Haiti, Dessalines Day. Yes, we've had Dessalines Day for a long time, but always in October, commemorating the day of his death. This year we are celebrating the day of his birth (and we will still have the holiday in October, as a day of mourning). The US Embassy put this painting of Dessalines on Facebook with their notice that they would be closed on Monday, September 20th. Then the comments started. Some said the Embassy should keep the sacred name of Dessalines out of their mouths (they aren't worthy to speak it). Many muttered about hypocrisy. Someone asked what independence they were talking about (Dessalines is a hero of the Haitian struggle for independence). Isn't the US ashamed to claim to be Haiti's friend, people wanted to know? One said that the US was deporting 275 Haitians to mark the day. Several said, "Bondye wè nou." God sees us.
Some of the people returning to Haiti right now have been out of the country more than ten years. They went to South American countries for jobs, like getting ready for the Olympics in Brazil or construction work in Chile. Now they have undertaken the incredibly difficult and dangerous journey through South America and Central America, reached the border with Texas, crossed it, and boom, they are suddenly back in Haiti. Many of them are children born in one of those countries along the way, kids who've never been to Haiti before at all. The people under that bridge in Texas aren't trying to make some political point; they are trying to find a place where they can work and feed their families. Have you seen the photos of border patrol officials on horseback with whips, rounding up Haitians who are bathing or washing clothes in the river? I assure you that in Haiti people have seen those photos. When I saw them, they were captioned, "Our misery."

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Poetry Friday: History

There were lots of things to write about this week, but unfortunately no time or emotional bandwidth to write. I just know that Frederick Buechner says to pay attention to things that make you cry, and there were a bunch of those this week. 

For example, today a middle schooler wrote an essay about the assassination of the president of Haiti this summer. She described exactly how he died, because it was reported in minute detail in the news. She said it was the worst way of dying she had ever heard of, and she's not wrong. I wish she didn't know all those specifics. I wish I didn't know them. She ended with a list of things the people who didn't like the president could have done instead, if they weren't happy with him. One of them was that they could have sent him an email.

How do you even respond to this? I really don't know. I told her that her piece was hard to read because the true things she wrote are so painful. But, I said, she had done a good job. I fixed her spelling. 

Here's Billy Collins writing about a teacher who tried to tone things down for his students. It wasn't very effective. I find myself wanting to protect my kids from the world, but it's really not possible, is it?

The History Teacher

by Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence

he told them the Ice Age was really just

the Chilly Age, a period of a million years 

when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,

named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more

than an outbreak of questions such as

"How far is it from here to Madrid?"

"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,

and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom

on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom

for the playground to torment the weak

and the smart,

mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home

past flower beds and white picket fences,

wondering if they would believe that soldiers

in the Boer War told long, rambling stories

designed to make the enemy nod off.

Denise has the roundup today. Happy First Roundup, Denise!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Feather Mug

 Starting the morning

with tea in my feather mug

searching for lightness

Friday, September 10, 2021

Poetry Friday: Sonnet 73

It seems like a day for a classic, a poem people have been reading for 400 years. 


TLDR: Yeah, everything and everyone you love will go away, but that's all the more reason to love well while you can. 


Love well today, poetry friends! And here's the roundup.

Sonnet 73

William Shakespeare


That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Another Birding Milestone!

On December 8th I posted about my 92nd day of my eBird checklist streak, meaning that I had posted at least one birding checklist on per day for the preceding 92 days. I was pretty pleased with myself, and I'm even more so today, on the 365th day of my checklist streak. 


A whole year of daily birding! So many beautiful birds, so many heart-lifting moments! And I have to admit, there's also a lot of pleasure in watching the numbers mount: species, lifers, days in a row. I'm competing purely with myself; eBird shows me that I am now the 89,522nd eBirder in the world in terms of how many species I've seen. And 19,881st for number of checklists. So, not exactly a leading light. But if they could measure how much I enjoy it, I'd be a lot higher on the list.  

You can read everyone else's slices here.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Poetry Friday: Something

Something Told the Wild Geese

by Rachel Field


Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered,—‘Snow.’
Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned,—‘Frost.’
All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.
Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,—
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.


It's almost time for the migratory birds to start arriving here in Haiti!  That mysterious "something" is getting ready to send them south! 


If you'd like to contribute to earthquake relief in Haiti, I posted some suggestions here

The inimitable Heidi has today's roundup.

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Not All Virtues are Cheerful

This month's host, Karen, has invited us to reflect on virtues. She sent us a list of them and asked us to choose from the list or write about another virtue. 


Last week my church group talked about the second of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are those who mourn." It was encouraging because I have been mourning lately for many reasons. It doesn't feel blessed to mourn. It feels cursed sometimes. Mourning isn't on the list of virtues, but Empathy is. Feeling the pain of others is not a comfortable experience, but it is a virtuous one. Sincerity is also on the list, as are Authenticity and Honesty. In times of mourning, we should aim for joy, but not for fake cheeriness. 


When I read the book of Psalms, I see a true presentation of emotions that are not all positive. It's OK to express those emotions to God. In Psalm 69, David wrote: 

 "Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies. ... But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good, according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me." 

(And that's all before he gets to the imprecatory part, where he's asking God to make life difficult for the people who have wronged him. Yep, that's in the Bible too. Again, he doesn't have a problem telling God what he's really feeling.) 


Here's to the virtues that hold on when times are tough. Here's to Patience and Tenacity and Fortitude. Here's to keeping on asking God for help, continuing to trust. Here's to climbing, muddy and exhausted, out of the mire, sometime really really soon.