Friday, July 12, 2024

Poetry Friday: Sunflakes

Sunflakes

by Frank Asch


If sunlight fell like snowflakes,
gleaming yellow and so bright,
we could build a sunman,
we could have a sunball fight,
we could watch the sunflakes
drifting in the sky.

 

Here's the rest. 

 

We're about halfway through the summer; enjoy today's sunflakes! It'll be back to school before you know it! 

 

Robyn has today's roundup. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

SJT: I don't know

Welcome to July's Spiritual Journey Thursday. Please leave your links in the comments and I will round them up. We skipped the first Thursday in July because it was a holiday, but also because I had forgotten I had even signed up to host this month. It was on my calendar, but I hadn't looked at it. I'm in the part of the summer when I don't know what day it is. Also, we are traveling (we were in seven states yesterday), and completely out of our routine. I have a reminder on my phone to take my daily medications, but it's on the Uganda time zone (EAT: East African Time), so although it is set for 5:30 AM at home, here it appears at either 9:30 or 10:30 PM, depending on whether we're in Eastern time zone or Central. Oh well. I see it in the morning, swallow my pills, and call it good. 


All of this fits well with the theme I chose for this month: I don't know. That is the theme, not my statement about it. I don't know. The older I get, and the longer I walk on this path of faith and trust, the fewer things I am 100% sure about. I used to have answers for many more questions than I do now. While I knew I didn't understand everything that happened to me, I figured that someday I would. I'm not so convinced of that any more. My life isn't a novel where there I can be guaranteed a satisfying dénouement; the story could be told in many different ways, but to make it a clear narrative, humanly speaking, you'd have to leave out large quantities of inexplicable junk. And I'm often left mystified about what to do next. Every moment is brand new, and all my years of experience making tough decisions and figuring out the upcoming path don't necessarily help with today's dilemmas. 


Here's a quote from Emily P. Freeman's latest book. (Yes, I've been quoting from it a lot lately. I really recommend it. It's called How to Walk into a Room and you can read more about it here.) Emily talks about different kinds of fires in chapter 5, and asks: "What kind of fire is this anyway? Is God standing by, ever the expert, bearing witness to the refining, making space for new, good growth in this planned, controlled burn? Or is this a fire that has caught God by surprise? Is this a fire of destruction, taking the waste and the wellness alike? Sometimes our questions don't reflect facts, reason, logic, or good theology. Sometimes our questions reveal our lack of faith, our fear, or our confusion. Ask them anyway. God has what it takes to sort it out."

 

Below I've posted a video of an a cappella group singing the song "I Know Whom I Have Believed." Each verse is a list of all the things the songwriter doesn't know, but then each ends with a Bible verse, 2 Timothy 1:12: "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day." My list of things I don't know would be a bit different, but I can hold on to that thing that I do know: God is still with me and can hold all my questions and help me navigate each day. Even if I never figure out any of the answers.


 

Back in 2010 I used the metaphor of a GPS when I wrote about dealing with family life after the earthquake in Haiti displaced us. I still think it's a good metaphor. In the borrowed car we're driving on our summer odyssey, the GPS is built in, and the car helpfully tells us where we should go next. But if we turn off the path, on purpose or by mistake, it's immediately recalculating, trying to give us a new suggestion. "Make a legal U-turn," the voice calmly counsels. And I love the little excited lilt when it says, "Turn left at the end of the road." As though the end of the road is going to bring some exciting surprises. And maybe it will. I don't know. 


From Henri Nouwen's book Lifesigns: "'Do not be afraid, have no fear,' is the voice we most need to hear. This voice was heard by Zechariah when Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, appeared to him in the temple and told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son; this voice was heard by Mary when the same angel entered her house in Nazareth and announced that she would conceive, bear a child, and name him Jesus; this voice was also heard by the women who came to the tomb and saw that the stone was rolled away. 'Do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.' The voice uttering these words sounds all through history as the voice of God's messengers, be they angels or saints. It is the voice that announces a whole new way of being, a being in the house of love, the house of the Lord....The house of love is not simply a place in the afterlife, a place in heaven beyond this world. Jesus offers us this house right in the midst of our anxious world." 

 

Here are links to other SJT contributors' posts:

 

Patricia's beautiful post shares some things she doesn't know, and the way her IDKs inform her prayers.


Denise also shares what she does about the I don't knows in a post filled with goodness.


Margaret didn't know, but then she acted anyway. Way to go, Margaret!

 

Leigh Ann has written about wisdom, as she's been studying the Biblical book of Proverbs. "Chapter 8 taught me that everywhere I look, wisdom is calling out," she writes. "But what keeps me from not seeing it or keeps me in the I don't know? Am I taking the time to search for wisdom or to notice it. Sometimes, it's easier to just say, 'I don't know.'"

 

Ramona wrote about the ultimate I don't know, death. Beautiful, Ramona! 

 

Bob reminds us that it's OK not to know. Because God knows.


Carol tells us about the uncertainties she's been facing lately. So many difficulties, and yet Carol has found wisdom in them! 


Karen has a wonderful description of her VBS experience this week!


Keisha wrote a poem called "I don't know."

Friday, June 07, 2024

Poetry Friday: Funeral

This week my husband and I watched a funeral on Facebook Live, a funeral for a married couple, missionaries both in their very early twenties, killed in gang violence last month in Haiti. The young man used to be in a playgroup I went to with my child years ago -- but not that many years -- in Port-au-Prince; while we moms, including his, met together, our children would play and learn Bible stories. At the funeral, one of the pastors read a poem he'd written where he grieved these two, and don't we so often turn to poems, from the Bible or elsewhere, when there's an unbearable loss? So I wrote one too, not so much because it helps as because I'm not sure what else to do, except to pray for those dads, who both spoke with tears in their voices, and those moms, whose grief is so deep, and all the others who have lost these two particular young people. And to pray, too, for all the thousands and thousands and thousands of Haitians who have lost more than I can imagine, their homes and their livelihoods and their country and worst of all, the people they loved, in the last few years.



Funeral

 

I know the flamboyan trees were
covered with red blossoms
when it happened
because it was May
in Haiti
and I know
the sound of gunshots
and the sounds of grief
in Haiti


The sounds of grief in Missouri
are not quite as loud and unrestrained
as they lay to rest
two young people who loved Haiti
but the grief is just as real
We don’t grieve as those who have no hope,
they say
Death didn’t win,
they say
And of course those things are true
but you can’t help crying
as you look at their wedding photos from just two years ago
and as you think of
the two thousand five hundred people
already killed
in the first three months of this year
in Haiti


I know it was a beautiful day
when it happened
because it’s always a beautiful day
in Haiti

 

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

 

 

A flamboyan tree in Haiti


Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.


Tuesday, June 04, 2024

SJT: Looking Back, Looking Forward


Our topic for SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday) for June is Looking Back, Looking Forward. On Thursday you'll be able to see the roundup of everyone's thoughts here, on Karen's blog.

 

This is the perfect time for me to look back and look forward, since next week we'll be finishing school for the year. This year was not Haiti-level challenging, but it did have its very difficult moments. (Of course most of those stories are confidential.) And even though we're a long way from Haiti, the Haiti struggles continue to be on our hearts and minds. 


I'm planning on coming back to this same classroom next year; this will be my third year in this job, at this desk, where I sit typing now. So the looking back and forward are less dramatic and heartbreaking than some of my recent transitions. It really is a gentle shift to summer break, and then back to work in August. And for that I am extremely grateful. (Hooray for non-dramatic and non-heartbreaking!)

 

I've been working on getting my curriculum documents updated. That's a good way to see the big picture, the goals for the whole year, the material we cover in sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh grade. Next year I'll teach a full-blown AP French class to twelfth graders for the first time (I've had students take the exam before, and do well, but this time the whole course will be focused on getting kids ready for the exam next May.) 


I recently read Emily P. Freeman's newest book, How To Walk Into a Room. Here are some words from that book as I think back and forward at the end of this school year. Back over this year, but also back over the last few years.


...there's one thing no one can take from us, one thing we will never leave behind, one thing that is not confined to any past room, current hallway, or future room -- that is the person we have become and are becoming. Hints of our next right thing can usually be found in our last right thing. I have always found this to be true. The sacred things we mark from the ending will be brought forth into our beginnings, not necessarily because of an external thing we bring with us but because of the person we have become. When things end, we come forth changed. We would do well to take some time to pay attention to these changes, to mark them, to honor them and see how they might lead us forward.

 

As much as I wish everything could be held, named, and either left behind or brought with us, there's a final category that might show up in endings that could keep us from experiencing closure. And that is what I call the "lost" category. It's the smoky, ungraspable, wordless, impossible to categorize absence of a thing. In every ending -- happy, sad, or indifferent -- something is lost. But because something is often also gained, that's what we are encouraged to focus on. We work hard to name the gifts and positive summaries of those gains. We are prone to want to count the blessings, to name the lessons, and to share all the ways our pain has been used for good. Maybe there's nothing necessarily wrong with that desire, but it can keep us from grieving what deserves grief. Something is always lost. And it's important to let the lost things be lost. Honor what you cannot name with space, compassion, and time.

 

Here's some of what I lost:

 

I lost Room 23, my classroom for fifteen years in Haiti. I lost that bookshelf full of the professional books I'd gradually brought, a few at a time, in my suitcase from the US. I lost the classroom library of kids' books I'd lovingly chosen. I lost my name on the door, my fingerprints on every surface. I lost the me that taught there.

 

Instead, I got Room A2, my classroom for two years, and counting, in Uganda.  I got the Petit Nicolas and Astérix and Bill et Boule books, gathered by others, the textbooks and dictionaries I didn't select. And there are things I've added: the francophone flags coloured by last year's fifth graders, the ABC pictures I coloured and used to line the walls. A is for Avion, B is for Bateau, all the way to Z is for Zèbre. My handwriting fills the drawers, my voice echoes through the room.


I spell words in the British way now (see, in that last paragraph?), the way I learned - learnt - to do in school, but haven't done for a long time. I have two years of stories that happened here in A2, funny kid stories and some sad ones too. 


But I still miss Room 23. I miss my Orangina can where I'd put a sprig of bougainvillea. I miss my clipboards and my systems, honed over years. I miss the tree outside and the Haitian birds that perched there. Most of all, I miss those voices, all those children I taught. They have all moved on too, on to high school, college, adulthood. But if I were still there in Room 23, some might have come back to visit. I might even have taught their children; that had just started to happen when we left Haiti. That room was full of my prayers, prayed with and for my students, prayed with and for my colleagues.


"It's important to let the lost things be lost," writes Emily P. Freeman. Goodbye, my lost Room 23. Does anyone remember me there? Hello, Room A2. What awaits me here, next year? What prayers are still to be prayed? Who will I be?


Friday, May 17, 2024

Poetry Friday: If You Know, You Know

It's Saturday morning here in Uganda, but it's still Friday some places, so here's my Poetry Friday contribution.


If You Know, You Know

 

There are so many things I don’t know
and I long for more explanation of the hashtag.
#iykyk, they type, smugly,
but I don’t get their references.
The things I know are pretty much useless
to anyone but me,
such as
the exact quality of the petrichor
on Church Street
in Kampala
on a Saturday morning
in May.

 

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

 







Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Reading Update

Book #27 of 2024 was The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. I thought this was entertaining.


Book #28 was The Lazy Genius Way, by Kendra Adachi. I listen to Kendra's podcast (it's one of the few podcasts where I never skip an episode). The book is the underpinning for her lazy genius mindset. Really good.


Book #29 was A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters. This is the first installment in the Brother Cadfael series of mysteries. Brother Cadfael is a twelfth century monk. This was pretty good, and I think I'll try at least one more in the series.


Book #30 was Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan. This is a quick read, set in Ireland in the mid 80s around Christmastime. Although short, it packs a punch.


Book #31 was The Kitchen Front, by Jennifer Ryan. The premise sounded really great to my book club when we picked it, but we didn't love it. 


Book #32 was Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety.  I absolutely loved this story of a long friendship between two couples. I read some Wallace Stegner in college, and I thought that I had read this one, but I hadn't. I'm definitely going to read some more of his books.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Poetry Friday: NPM Day 26: Roundup and Dreaming of Haiti

Welcome to today's Poetry Friday roundup! Please leave your links in the comments and I will round them up the old-fashioned way. I have Comment Moderation enabled, so you won't see your comment right away. I will get to them as quickly as I can.


So far in this National Poetry Month, I have honored the Poetry Fridays only in my heart, but I have managed to post a bit on the other days (doing a bit of spring-cleaning, as I have with various degrees of success almost every NPM since 2019, posting about poetic tabs that have been open on my desktop for a while). This is a really busy season for me at work, with exams and whatnot, but I've been able to visit other people's postings a bit and enjoy NPM festivities. I'm glad I had signed up to host today, as it forces me to participate in things a little more enthusiastically. (I looked up last year's archives and found out that I hosted on the last Friday of the month last NPM too!) 

 

Have you been following the Progressive Poem? Today's (Friday's) line is being added by Karin Fisher-Golton. Check it out!




 

Looking for some of the amazingly creative NPM projects out there? Jama has a list here.

 

On Tuesday I celebrated the eighteenth birthday of my blog. That means I've been writing here for 18 years about Haiti. For the first few years I didn't say where I was; in fact, the first time I actually said I was in Haiti was on January 14th, 2010,  the day the internet came back on two days after the earthquake. The title of my post was "We are alive."

 

Today Haiti is in its worst shape it's ever been since that awful day. And although I'm seven thousand miles away from there now, in my new home in Uganda, I continue to write about Haiti. I got my strike line for my golden shovel poem from this Guardian article. They interviewed a Haitian journalist who is no longer in the country due to an attempt on his life in 2022. He said, "Often, when I dream about my country, I wake up with tears in my eyes." 

 

The photo that illustrates the poem is one I took from a small plane as we flew over Port-au-Prince in December 2020. We went to Jacmel, and because gangs were controlling the road between our home and there, we flew instead of driving. It cost more, of course, and we wondered if we should do it because of the money and because of Covid. But I'm so glad we went. We didn't know it would be our last time. A year later, we left Haiti permanently. 

 

 


I visit Haiti often
in my sleep, when
you don’t need planes to get there and I
can swoop over Port-au-Prince in a dream,
looking past clouds scattered about
and at the turquoise and deep blue ocean and at my
house, somewhere down there in that beautiful, maddening country
full of hills and valleys and people accustomed to hardship and I
visit familiar places and eat diri ak pwa and talk to friends until I wake.
And then I realize the airport is closed and everything is messed up
and gangs control the streets so recently filled with
struggle, yes, but also laughter among the tears,
and the visit I just dreamed about couldn’t happen in
my real waking life, and the island is so far from here and my
hands grab my phone to read the news and nightmares fill my eyes.

Often when I dream about my country, I wake up with tears in my eyes.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey



Of course people can write poems about anything, but I think that the places we visit in our dreams are good subjects for poems. Leave your dreams in the comments, and I look forward to reading them! 

 

 


Denise is sharing a week's worth of her writing, some with Earth Day themes, some about books she's been reading. And she also got a surprise in the mail! Welcome, Denise; you're my first guest today! (Denise's post came in while it was still Thursday.)


It's a rainy Friday morning in Uganda and this is going to be a full, busy day, but it's starting out well with an inbox full of poems! I'm rounding them up as fast as I can, and in the meantime, check them out in the comments!


Robyn has a mouse in her studio and in her blog post! I know I have read Elizabeth Coatsworth poems before, but I don't remember ever having read this one. It makes you have a lot of sympathy for the mouse!


Susan remembers...and she's written a list poem with some of her very specific, yet relatable, memories. And she explains how writing a poem like this can be a cure for writer's block!


Janice has been writing daily haiku during NPM, and she has an eclectic collection of it for us today. So fun! 


Jama sends this link, but I can't read it yet. I will definitely be back once it's live. Here's her description: "This week I have a review and giveaway for the picture book PIE-RATS by Lisa Riddiough and David Mottram."

 

Rose has two lovely poems in response to picture books, and each is in a form that is new to me: a trinet and a pensee. They both sound fun to try, and the books sound great, too! 


Laura's combining her magnipoem project of closely observed poems with the Poetry Sisters' prompt for this week: unanswerable questions. The result is intriguing - check it out!


Michelle has been busy all month working on her spring abecedarian, and she shares it with us today, complete with a flipbook so that we can see all the illustrations that go with it. Wow, Michelle! Amazing! She's also written to the Poetry Sisters' prompt of unanswerable questions.


Linda's in with a poem inspired by a sculpture at the Denver Art Museum, and her form is inspired by Irene, and isn't it cool how inspirational NPM is? She's also got a poem at her padlet inspired by a street sign! 


I think Tabatha forgot to share her link, but here it is anyway! She's been writing poems based on short stories. Now I want to read today's short story! (Plus I'd like to know what an electric scorpion might be - see Tabatha's comment.)


Karen has a new-to-me poem by Barbara Crooker on blurbing, following the structure of one of my favorite poems, Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art." Crooker's is called "Artless." I love it!


Matt is celebrating the blessing of two new poetry anthologies, plus a gig at NCTE, where he'll be presenting with some other familiar Poetry Friday friends! Congratulations, Matt!


Linda has finished her NPM poetry alphabet with "Zen." Now I'm wondering what she'll do with the remaining four days! 


Jone, like Matt, has written about the new anthology Bless our Pets. I wish I could tell you more, but for some reason my Uganda network won't ever let me visit Jone's blog! Here's her description, though: "I have a peek into process with some poets form Bless Our Pets."


Tricia has two posts today. The first is her response to the Poetry Sisters' prompt, "Ode to Wonder." And the second is her latest spine poem. I've been enjoying this NPM project a lot, as these fun spine poems have been showing up daily in my Facebook feed. Go back and read some of the earlier ones if you haven't yet! 


It's just after seven and I just got to work. It's pouring still; this is pretty much typical of this school year in Uganda. We skipped the dry season altogether. I heard yesterday that the lake (Victoria) is at an even higher level than in 2020, which was the previous high point. And yet there are already students here; it's Book Week, and today people have been asked to dress as a book character, so there were two eleventh graders with a joint costume they had to perfect before school. (Thanks for asking: I'm Mrs. Baker from The Wednesday Wars. My go-to on such occasions is to be a fictional teacher. For Mrs. Baker I put on some sports shoes with my skirt and blouse, as she does in the book to teach Holling how to run properly.) In addition to Book Week festivities, today I have to teach four classes (it's usually five but the eighth graders are out on a trip), and my tenth graders are taking the second part of their IGCSE French exam (one of them just took shelter from the rain in my classroom to get in some last-minute studying). But in between, I'll be checking back for more poems in my inbox! Happy Poetry Friday! 


Carol has written a poem about Laura Purdie Salas' new book Oskar's Voyage, and she also has a wonderful description of her granddaughter enjoying the book. Nothing better than sharing a fun new book with a kid! 


Bridget is keeping it fresh with a poem about the word lemon.


Marcie has a whole array of offerings in her Learning Roundup, including poems about bats! "Gulping," "gorging," "seed-spreading..." I have been trying to like bats more and be less afraid of them, and this might do the trick!


Amy has been watching crows all month and writing poems about them. Today's is an illustration of how smart these birds are. 


Heidi has been writing environmentalist elfchen. (That's the plural, right? Not elfchens?) I think my favorite is the one that begins: "Haste makes waste." And Heidi, tears came to my eyes when I read in your comment about you welcoming your Haitian student. I hope he meets nothing but love and warm welcome in the United States. 

 

Sara is writing about impossible questions, along with the Poetry Sisters. They make her think of her dad's riddles.


Irene is sharing haiku - hers and also some from a picture book with a story told in 50 haiku. What a cool idea! 


Mary Lee is also writing with the Poetry Sisters, and she has some pebbles to share.

 

Sorry, Tricia! You graciously claimed it was your fault that your link was wrong, but I think it was mine. I updated the link above, but here again are Tricia's two links: her response to the Poetry Sisters' prompt and her latest spine poem.

 

Margaret  has some lovely rainbow haiku from her students.


My workday is done, and I'm heading home now. Maybe there will be more poems arriving later! Stay tuned!


Diane is writing about robins, inspired by Amy's project about crows. The more birds the better, I say! Thanks for your notes in the comments about your Haitian student and about the hymn, Diane. I enjoyed reading them!


Patricia is reading Camille T. Dungy and has written some poems inspired by her book Smith Blue. I have that book in a box somewhere! 

 

Karen has been writing elfchen (elfchens?) and she has two to share with us, one called "Storm" and one called "Twirling, Twirling." She also has some anthology news.


Liz is asking unanswerable questions with the Poetry Sisters. (She's also announcing the next prompt. I think one of the links I've already posted announced it too, but I didn't point that out. So check it out here.)


Jane is writing free verse with tweens, and she explains the process. It sounds like so much fun!


Karin reminds us to visit the Progressive Poem, which is at her blog today. And tomorrow it will be at Donna's!

 

Tiel Aisha Ansari doesn't participate in Poetry Friday, but I always like to link to her blog whenever I'm hosting, because I like her work so much. Here's a poem she wrote in March called "Uhtceare."


Well, Friday is winding down here in Uganda (we're seven hours ahead of the east coast of the US at this time of year), and I'm on my way to bed. I'll be back in the morning to post whatever comes in overnight. Enjoy your remaining hours of Poetry Friday, friends!


And now it's Saturday morning! A few links came in while I slept.


Tanita is writing about unanswerable questions with the Poetry Sisters. In her case it led to an amazing poem called "A Garden Remembers." I really enjoyed her notes on her process, too, plus she's sharing the May prompt for us to join in.


JoAnn's also thinking about process. She's in with a yummy looking photo of a pie and a poem about how it comes to be.


And Cathy is thinking about home. "Is home only place?" she asks.


Will there be more?






Wednesday, April 17, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 17

There's no mystery about why these tabs are open on my desktop: they're bird poems! (I'm spring-cleaning open tabs this NPM, trying to reduce my digital clutter a bit.) 


The first one is Kat Apel's "Feathers." It starts this way:

 

Hope in the Lord and

renew your strength.

Soar like an eagle.

Do not grow weary.


You can see the rest here.

 

I've also got Rose Cappelli's post "Birds, Birds, Birds" open, and it includes two poems, "Morning Routine" and "One Blue Bird."  You can read them here.

 

And here are a couple of bird videos I've had open for a while, one because it's just so fascinating and the other because I was trying to decide if I could teach "Alouette" to my French students. I mean, it's about plucking out a bird's feathers, so that's not good. But with this funny video, I might just do it.

 


 


Heidi added to the Progressive Poem today.


Monday, April 15, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 16

During NPM this year, I'm spring-cleaning my desktop, and getting rid of tabs that have been open too long. I found two poems about grief.


The first one is by Emily Dickinson.


‘Tis good — the looking back on Grief —
To re-endure a Day —
We thought the Mighty Funeral —
Of All Conceived Joy —

Here's the rest.

 

Here's the second:

 

Grief

by Barbara Crooker

 

is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.

But I am here, stuck in the middle...

 

Here's the rest. 



Sarah Grace Tuttle added to the Progressive Poem today.

 

 

NPM 2024: Day 15

This "Ode to Teachers," by Pat Mora, has been open on my desktop for a while. It starts like this:

 

I remember
the first day,
how I looked down,
hoping you wouldn't see
me,
and when I glanced up,
I saw your smile
shining like a soft light
from deep inside you.

Click through to read the rest.

 

In keeping with the teacher theme, here's another poem on my desktop:

 

Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry

by Dante Di Stefano

 

Write about walking into the building
as a new teacher. Write yourself hopeful.
Write a row of empty desks. Write the face
of a student you’ve almost forgotten;
he’s worn a Derek Jeter jersey all year.
Do not conjecture about the adults
he goes home to, or the place he calls home. 
Write about how he came to you for help
each October morning his sophomore year.
Write about teaching Othello to him;
write Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle, 
rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
Write about reading his obituary
five years after he graduated.  

 

Here's the rest. 

 

 

 

Rose is adding the line to the Progressive Poem today.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 13

I've been posting somewhat less than daily during this National Poetry Month, doing some spring-cleaning of poetic links that are open on my desktop. Some of the links have been there a long time and need to be closed. 


Today I have a couple of quarantine links. The first one is a poem published in 2008.



Quarantine

by Eavan Boland


In the worst hour of the worst season

of the worst year of a whole people

a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.


Here's the rest.

 

The other link is a crowdsourced poem from NPR, published in May 2021. Kwame Alexander put together lines sent in by listeners to create the poem, and I noticed right away that Poetry Friday regular Margaret Simon was among the contributors.


The poem begins like this:


"I Wake with Wonder"


Every Morning

I wake with wonder

and dive into the day

I grasp for my phone like a lifeline, a buoy,

I rise among the displaced dreams of yore

Supplanted plans, disrupted from the year

So distanced from all social life before


Here's the rest.

 

I was just thinking this week how long it's been since I took a moment to be grateful for the fact that I no longer have to teach online or wearing a mask. 

 

Today Denise Krebs is adding her line to the Progressive Poem. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Reading Update

Book #21 of the year was Emily P. Freeman's latest book, How to Walk Into a Room: The Art of Knowing When to Stay and When to Walk Away. I pre-ordered this (using birthday money), so I got it the day it came out, and once I started reading it I couldn't stop. I devoured it, and I know I will go back and re-read it more slowly. 


Most of the reviews I have read said some version of "I wish I had had this during the time when I left my job/moved to a new city/took my kid to college." I felt the same as I read it, that it would have been so helpful during innumerable transitions I've made in my life, particularly in the last few years. But it is still useful to go back and reflect on those events using Emily's excellent questions. She writes beautifully about dealing with all kinds of decisions and changes, and she also shares some of her own experiences as examples and inspiration. A taste:


"First, you can't always take with you the kind of clarity that comes from setting the story straight. If the ending you get is one that involves systems, community, business, family, money, or love (which is almost all endings), then there's a good chance you'll have to contend with multiple perspectives, different renditions of the story, misinformed opinions, and straight-up gossip. Even if things ended reasonably well, you may still have various versions of the when, why, and how of your exit. The story is too sticky, too webbed, too large for the kind of explanations you hoped for. Versions will keep revealing themselves that you didn't even know existed. You thought the story was easy enough to tell. But there's no linear narrative that holds all the perspectives of everyone involved, and before you reach the door you realize the chatter has risen to a roar. You thought you'd found the perfect box to bring your closure with you, but what you thought was managed just pops right out: no corners, too round, extra sharp, a little pokey, and also, it's leaking. There is no box that will contain it, no bag that will cover it, no arms large enough or strong enough to carry it. The reality is, you can only rarely take clarity with you, and you can't always leave the full story behind. You wanted closure, but you get this sideways ending instead, something hanging in the air, tears by the elevator, a bag left at your door, an unanswered text, an ending without a goodbye."


Whew. Amen to all of that.


Book #22 was Shark Heart: A Love Story, by Emily Habeck. Wren's husband has just been diagnosed with a Carcharodon carcharias mutation. That is, he's turning into a shark. You can imagine that might be hard, and it sure is.


Book #23 was Trust, by Hernan Diaz, winner of last year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This book made me think of that quote from Emily P. Freeman's book above, because it's about different versions of the same story and how we often don't ever know the whole story about the people around us. 


Book #24 was The Vaster Wilds, by Lauren Groff. I couldn't stop reading this, and when I was done gulping it down, I just kept saying, "What did I just read?" The story is gruesome beyond belief, and contains starvation, horrible disease, violent assault, abuse of various kinds, and more. I am not sure I would have read it if I had known everything that was in it, but I guess it was effective, since it left me in a daze for hours. 


Book #25 was Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt. This is a sweet, charming story, kind of the opposite of The Vaster Wilds. It has an octopus narrator, a tough old lady, and an old mystery that is solved by a series of coincidences and of course the octopus. I enjoyed it immensely.


Book #26 was Happiness Falls, by Angie Kim. I couldn't put this one down; it was intense and twisty. I read it quickly and then put Kim's other book on my TBR. This book, like several I've read lately, is set during the pandemic.


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 11

This morning (Thursday) I'm going back to work after an Easter break that got extended an extra day by Eid being a day later than the calendar said. 


Here's a poem that's been open on my desktop for a long time.


Origin Story

by Leah Naomi Green


"What is dying is the willingness to be in denial." angel Kyodo williams

 

The heron flew away

and I wanted to tell someone 


how long it stayed,

how close I got,

 

how much I missed it

even as it stood 

 

to watch me, 

large-eyed animal

 

that I am, terrible 

at believing what I can't see.


Here's the rest. This poem won the 2019 Walt Whitman Award.

 

Buffy is adding the line to the Progressive Poem today.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 10

Today I'd like to share a Jim Daniels poem that has been open on my desktop for a long while. (That's what I'm doing this NPM: spring-cleaning the open tabs on my desktop. You wouldn't even believe me if I told you how many there are.) 


Jim Daniels poems are often about one ordinary moment that has deeper resonance. In this 2019 NPM post I shared a couple of his pieces. This one, like both of those, introduces the situation in its title:


Brushing Teeth with My Sister after the Wake

 
 
at my kitchen sink, the bathroom upstairs
clogged with family from out of town
spending the night after the wake
and the after—wake—cold beverages
have been consumed and comfort food,
leftovers bulging both the fridge
and the mini-fridge. In our fifties, both
half-asleep half-awake, we face each
other.

 

Here's the rest. 

 

I'd like to borrow a line from this poem to write about, and here it is:


"We may never brush our teeth together again."

 

"We may never ________________ together again."

 

 

Today Linda is adding her line to the Progressive Poem. 

 

NPM 2024: Day 9

I'm not sure how long this poem has been open on my desktop. It was posted on the Writer's Almanac in 2008, but I'm sure I haven't been reading it since then -- or have I? In any case, I love this poem about being where we are and appreciating the glory that is already around us. This morning I didn't go anywhere amazing to see birds; I just took a quick walk to the junior campus of the school where I work, and saw eighteen species. There was a Woodland Kingfisher on a soccer goal, and there were lots of birds munching on the flying ants whose discarded wings made a carpet under my feet. 


All That Is Glorious Around Us

by Barbara Crooker

 

is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled
overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day
of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car,
160,000 miles, still running just fine.

 

Here's the rest. 

 

Karen's adding today's line to the Progressive Poem. 

Monday, April 08, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 8 - The Progressive Poem is Here!

 

I've participated in the Progressive Poem every year starting with the first one in 2012. I was thinking that this year was my earliest appearance, but when I went back and looked at all of them, I saw that I wrote the seventh line in 2020. That was the year we used song lyrics. And this year we're writing couplets. 


It's always hard to find the balance between lyrical description and making something happen. There's also a bit of a pattern to follow, so I'm thinking I want some kind of off-rhyme at least. I know that morning is coming, and we're starting to see colors (red and brown) as the sun comes up. While sunrise is always beautiful, the light increases the danger. There's a border ahead, and there's a group going there. Courage is required, and fortunately, they're carrying that.

 

 

Here's the poem so far, as it came to me, with my couplet in bold at the end.


cradled in stars, our planet sleeps,
clinging to tender dreams of peace
sister moon watches from afar,
    singing lunar lullabies of hope.

 

almost dawn, I walk with others,
    keeping close, my little brother.
hand in hand, we carry courage
escaping closer to the border.

 

My feet are lightning;
My heart is thunder.
Our pace draws us closer
to a new land of wonder.

 

I bristle against rough brush —
poppies ahead brighten the browns.
Morning light won’t stay away —
hearts jump at every sound. 

 

You can keep following the poem's journey by visiting the blogs below:


April 1 Patricia Franz at Reverie
April 2 Jone MacCulloch
April 3 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
April 4 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
April 5 Irene at Live Your Poem
April 6 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
April 7 Marcie Atkins
April 8 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a God Forsaken Town
April 9 Karen Eastlund
April 10 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
April 11 Buffy Silverman
April 12 Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
April 13 Denise Krebs at Dare to Care
April 14 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
April 15 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
April 16 Sarah Grace Tuttle
April 17 Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe
April 18 Tabatha at Opposite of Indifference
April 19 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
April 20 Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect
April 21 Janet, hosted here at Reflections on the Teche
April 22 Mary Lee Hahn at A(nother) Year of Reading
April 23 Tanita Davis at (fiction, instead of lies)
April 24 Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
April 25 Joanne Emery at Word Dancer
April 26 Karin Fisher-Golton at Still in Awe
April 27 Donna Smith at Mainly Write
April 28 Dave at Leap of Dave
April 29 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
April 30 Michelle Kogan at More Art for All

 

Saturday, April 06, 2024

SJT: Everyday Miracles and NPM 2024: Day 6

We went away for a few days and although I had scheduled some posts for while I was gone, I missed this month's SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday). Our host, Bob, chose the topic "Everyday Miracles," and posted here


It felt miraculous to get some much-needed time off at Lake Nabugabo, a beautiful and birdy spot. I took lots of pictures, and it's surprising how many of them were of the sky. (I didn't take any at night because I knew I couldn't do justice to the starscape, but take my word for it: that was gorgeous too!) Staring at the sky, so far above us, is therapeutic when so much down here on earth is challenging. So here are some of my sky photos and Mary Chapin Carpenter's song "Sometimes Just the Sky." Her words will also serve as poetry for today's National Poetry Month post.






 

Margaret has today's line for the Progressive Poem. Mine's coming up on Monday! 




Wednesday, April 03, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 4

I've had the Billy Collins poem "Birds of America" open on my desktop for a while. (During NPM I'm spring-cleaning tabs that have collected on my desktop. Once I post them I can close them.) It addresses a birder's dilemma. Audubon, from whom we learned so much about birds in an era before binoculars and before the kind of cameras that could get decent bird pictures, made his pictures not from life but from death. He just shot his models and then arranged them realistically to do his painting. And sure, that was really the only way back then to get all the details he needed, but he seemed to enjoy it entirely too much. (Check out my post here about the way he wrote about the American Woodcock, how fun it was to mow them down and other equally delightful musings.) 


The Birds of America

by Billy Collins


Early this morning

in a rumpled bed,

listening to birdsong

through the propped-open windows,

 

I saw on the ceiling 

the figure of John J. Audubon

kneeling before

the pliant body of an expired duck.

 

You can read the rest here. (You'll have to click over to the next page for the last stanza.)


Leigh Anne has today's line for the Progressive Poem.


Tuesday, April 02, 2024

NPM 2024: Day 3

Sarah Kay's poem "Jakarta, January" was very relatable to me when I first read it, I don't know when, and kept it open on my desktop for future reference. (I'm trying to spring-clean some of these perpetually open tabs during NPM again this year.) The persona of the poem is teaching in an international school and navigating how to tell kids (or not) about something awful that has just happened where they live (except that they and their school are "on the lucky side of town," in Sarah Kay's felicitous phrase). That's a situation in which I found myself all too often while teaching in Haiti. 


Here's the beginning of the poem: 


Jakarta, January

by Sarah Kay

After Hanif Abdurraqib & Frank O'Hara

 

It is the last class of the day & I am 

teaching a classroom of sixth graders

about poetry & across town a man has

walked into a Starbucks & blown

himself up while some other men

throw grenades in the street & shoot 

into the crowd of civilians


Here's the rest.

 

Janice has today's line of the Progressive Poem. 


NPM 2024: Day 2

It's a gloomy, gray/grey morning here in Kampala, but it's a holiday from work, so I'm appreciating it anyway. Today's link has been open even longer than yesterday's, because Linda posted it in 2021. (I'm doing some poetic spring-cleaning during NPM, posting poems from tabs on my desktop that have been open for too long and now need to be closed.)

 

The first thing I noticed about this poem is that it's by Russell Hoban, best known by me for the Frances books, like Bread and Jam for Frances. I can imagine the conversation in the poem happening between Frances and her dad. The poem starts like this: 


Jigsaw Puzzle

by Russell Hoban


My beautiful picture of pirates and treasure

is spoiled, and almost I don't want to start

to put it together; I've lost all the pleasure

I used to find in it: there's one missing part. 


You can read what happened here.



Last month was our poetry month at school; kids and teachers were presented with 31 prompts, one for each day of the month. Although I didn't much like most of the poems I wrote to those prompts, I was pleased that I wrote so much in March. The "don't break the chain" strategy works very well to motivate me, and especially when others will see what I did (I'm an Obliger, in the Four Tendencies model created by Gretchen Rubin - you can read more about that here). Below is one I wrote for the prompt "I thought." 



I thought


I thought at the beginning
that I knew the end.
I thought I knew that guy’s name
but confused him with his friend.
I thought I knew the lyrics,
but it was a different song.
So many things I used to think:
It turns out I was wrong.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


Sadly I can't read today's line for the Progressive Poem because my system doesn't let me go there. Yes, I've tried from other networks and using other browsers, but I just can't access Jone's blog from Uganda. But you probably can, so go here for line 2: Jone's blog.


Monday, April 01, 2024

It's National Poetry Month!

It's April, and that means National Poetry Month! I am not planning to do daily posts this year, but I do hope to post slightly more than I usually do in the rest of the year. As I have in the past, I will be doing some spring-cleaning of my desktop by posting poetic tabs I've had open for a while. Then I will be able to close the tabs. 


For example, I've had this tab open since Jama posted it in March of 2022. That's right - two years. It's a wonderful poem called "What is the Pond Doing?" by Diana Hendry. 


It starts like this:

 

What is the Pond Doing?

by Diana Hendry

(for Ruairidh, who asked)

 

Wobbling like a wobbly jelly

Being a bucket for the rain

Sending flash-backs to the sun

Cheeking the sky

Giving the moon a bath

Letting swans, ducks and winter leaves ride on its back

 

You can read the rest here


Today is the beginning of the 2024 Progressive Poem, and the first line is here. I'll be adding my line on the 8th.



Friday, March 29, 2024

Poetry Friday, Good Friday

We met in Kampala to remember the cross. A series of readers read the story aloud in a series of accents. Gray Parrots flew overhead, their red tails flashing; back and forth they flew. At the part about the cock crowing after Peter’s denial of Jesus, it wasn’t a rooster that called, but a group of Eastern Plaintain-Eaters, with their mocking laughter.

Many people stayed with Jesus that day; we heard about the women following, wailing and sobbing. We heard about His friends at the foot of the cross. And His mother. When Mary took her eight day old baby to the temple, she had been told by the old man, Simeon, that a sword would pierce her heart, but I’m sure she never imagined this particular piercing pain she felt as she looked up at her dying child.

We walked home in the dark after taking Communion with pieces of white Ugandan bread dipped in Ribena. Body and blood. Grief in a tropical evening.

She stayed til the end
then held the dead body close,
her crucified son

 

©Ruth Bowen Hersey



Tricia has the roundup here.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Poetry Friday: Bird Heart

 

I was looking at an Antillean Mango in my yard on Delmas 83 in Port-au-Prince one day four years ago, right at the moment when the news came that the streets were on fire (again) and we needed to stay home. 

 

What grief could that bird's heart know? None, I imagined; the bird looked so happy, dancing up there on the wire as we rushed worriedly back into the house. I felt jealous of its obliviousness, even while reminding myself that it had plenty of its own problems. 


Now I'm seven thousand miles away from that yard where the hummingbird danced. My little bird heart can't hold all the emotions I feel about Haiti. The love and sadness and guilt and fear fly all around me like feathers in a hurricane. Why am I not there, looking up at a hummingbird and smelling the burning?  


©Ruth Bowen Hersey




Rose has this week's roundup.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Reading Update

Book #13 of the year was Stone Blind, by Natalie Haynes. It's the story of Medusa, and it's weird and great.

 

Book #14 was Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, by Bruce Feiler. The main thing I got from this book is that life isn't linear. There are no predictable stages that everyone goes through. At all. The book is made up of an enormous series of interviews with people who have gone through every imaginable life change. Check out his website here. This is a truly fascinating book about how people navigate change.


Book #15 was The Leftover Woman, by Jean Kwok. It's a story of cross-cultural adoption and it's just all-around sad. Nobody comes out very well.


Book #16 was The Frozen River, by Ariel Lawhon. I read this with my book club, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The main character is a midwife, so that's always a plus, and the historical setting was fascinating and well-handled. It was a mystery, and there were lots of characters, and it's based on true events (plus there's a detailed author's note at the end explaining what's real and what's not). I recommend this one!


Book #17 was The Rachel Incident, by Caroline O'Donoghue. The incident referred to in the title is just awful, messing up several lives in permanent ways. The reviews make it sound light-hearted and sparkling, but I didn't really find it either. Plus there's so...much...drinking.


Book #18 was Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling. I read the first one in this series last year. The protagonist has no arms, and in this book she starts high school. It's painful. 


Book #19 was Jhumpa Lahiri's Roman Stories. Lahiri wrote this book of short stories in Italian (her third language, I believe), and then translated the stories back into English with a translator. I mean - that's just so amazing. The characters in these stories all live in Rome, but they are all from other places. Living in Rome is beautiful but also difficult. The writing is wonderful, but I feel like I should read the stories again, because they all ran together a bit. Here's a taste:


"Regardless, she thinks that it's good to live in a place that's both familiar and full of secrets, with discoveries that reveal themselves only slowly and by chance."


And another:


"It's strange that maternal anxiety grows with time, that you get worse with the years. I'd have thought the opposite, but how can we bear the distances, the absences, the silences our own children generate?"


Book #20 was You Could Make This Place Beautiful, Maggie Smith's memoir about poetry, divorce, and recovery. I liked this, because it's so much the way we - or at least I - process trauma. It's very recursive and she tries on one metaphor after another. I enjoyed reading it, and it made me want to write.