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:



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
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.


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


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.

Friday, March 08, 2024

SJT and Poetry Friday: Praise What Comes

Parker Palmer posted a poem this week that resonated with me and I'm going to share it today. I decided that it can do double duty for SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday) and PF (Poetry Friday). The SJT theme for March is Gathering Goodness. (You can find the roundup here at Ramona's place.) And Laura's hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup.


There have been lots of hard things lately. I won't go into them except to mention that watching Haiti deteriorate still further has been painful. I feel helpless and a bit guilty for not being there and suffering along with everyone else. 


There's more tough stuff too, but I'm trying hard to gather goodness, focusing on positive things like our lakeside Sports Day yesterday (see photo), our day off today for International Women's Day, the fact that I got in to see a dentist right away without an appointment and am now pain-free, our poetry month celebrations at school (March here, not April) for which I'm writing daily, and the lifer Red-headed Lovebirds that I saw last weekend (see photo from eBird).

Photo Source:

This link has three lovely poems from Jeanne Lohmann, all three of which speak to my current condition, but the one that Parker Palmer posted (and he probably picked a peck of pickled peppers, too) was the second at the link, "Praise What Comes." Here's part of it:

Surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven't deserved
of days and solitude, your body's immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise
talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep.
from "Praise What Comes," by Jeanne Lohmann

Friday, March 01, 2024

Poetry Friday: Holy

I've been doing a writing project during Lent, using daily prompts, and today's word, Holy, made me think of this poem that I've posted twice before here, once in 2012 and once in 2016. (Here's the more recent one, and it has a link to the other.) I love this poem because it's about nature in an urban context, and the way it can dazzle and rearrange our brains to be exposed to natural beauty.

Dennis Craig

I have never learnt the names of flowers.
From beginning, my world has been a place
Of pot-holed streets where thick, sluggish gutters race
In slow time, away from garbage heaps and sewers
Past blanched old houses around which cowers
Stagnant earth.  There, scarce green thing grew to chase
The dull-gray squalor of sick dust; no trace
Of plant save few sparse weeds; just these, no flowers.

One day, they cleared a space and made a park
There in the city’s slums; and suddenly
Came stark glory like lightning in the dark,
While perfume and bright petals thundered slowly.
I learnt no names, but hue, shape and scent mark
My mind, even now, with symbols holy.
You can find today's roundup here, at Linda's place. And below, please enjoy some recent flower photos taken here in Kampala, Uganda.


Thursday, February 22, 2024

Poetry Friday: New QWP

I have a birthday coming up, which means that it's almost time to start the next year of my QWP, or Quinquagenarian Writing Project. I started it the year I turned 50, and since then, from birthday to birthday, I've kept a little file of my writing for that year. This year's file is the smallest yet. Apart from my Birdtober poems (daily bird poems in October, following prompts), I've hardly written anything this year. I've already failed at my New Year's writing goals.

I know several reasons I'm not writing a lot, but I think the biggest reason is just that I'm still learning a new job. It's my second year in a new place, with new textbooks and new curriculum and a whole new educational system. I don't have the bandwidth for much beyond work. It's not a bad thing, exactly, but it's a different season creatively. And maybe I just need to accept it and be glad when I do write something, no matter how small.

Meanwhile, since I have no wise birthday poem for myself, here's one I found called Icarus Turns Fifty.


Tabatha has this week's roundup.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Poetry Friday: In Morning

I knew Naomi Shihab Nye would have something to say appropriate to these days, and I was right. I just found this poem she published in December.

In Morning

by Naomi Shihab Nye


The Palestinian child
does not think about being Palestinian,
but only of how his kitten
slept last night
and why is it not
in its basket.
Before he walks to school,
he will find it playing
with neighbor kittens
outside his house
and make sure it has breakfast.


You can read the rest of the poem, and hear her read it, here

I used one of her lines as a strike line (you'll have to click through to see the bit it came from) for this golden shovel:


When the new day wakes me, each
worry rises too, greets the morning,
rubbing its eyes and joining the others that crowd around as we
all, the whole battalion of us, put
on our work boots and dress ourselves
and prepare to pretend we’ve got it all together.

Each morning we put ourselves together.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey

Margaret has this week's roundup.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Reading Update

Book #7 of 2024 was The Summer Place, by Jennifer Weiner. This may be the first Covid novel I've read, but it won't be the last. (Book #11, in this post, is another.) I find it stressful to read books where absolutely everyone is hiding something from absolutely everyone else, and that's the case with this one. This is my second Jennifer Weiner book. I liked it better than the first, but I didn't love it.

Book #8 was The Heartbreaker, by Susan Howatch. This is the third in a trilogy, and I'm not sure I had ever read it before. I know I had started it, but I don't think I'd finished it. It's about prostitution, and in many places it was hard to read. Towards the end of the book, Gavin remarks, "All you 'religious' people out there who have been looking down your noses at me and wincing at my filthy language and filthy lifestyle should remember that The Bloke himself never flinched or turned away." "The Bloke" is Gavin's name for Jesus.

Book #9 was The Gift of Forgiveness, by Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt. I said in the last Reading Update that I'm looking for books on forgiveness this year. (This was the second I've read since the beginning of 2024. Does anyone have any other suggestions?) I really liked this one, as Pratt had interviewed many people with huge things to forgive. They all had different ways of approaching the idea, and every one was worth reading.

Book #10 was Yours Truly, by Abby Jimenez. While rather unbelievable, it was a fun read.

Book #11, also a Covid story, was Ann Patchett's latest book Tom Lake. The pandemic has forced the Nelson family's three grown daughters to come back together to the family's orchard. While they do all the required tasks, their mother Lara tells them a story they've never fully heard before, the summer that she acted for a regional theater in Tom Lake, Michigan. People so rarely understand each other, and I enjoyed this story of a time when some understanding, while imperfect, was achieved.

Book #12 was Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear. This was a good, readable, and practical book.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Poetry Friday: Halcyon


(Click on the photo to enlarge it. I took the screenshot here.)


Alcman was a Greek poet who wrote in the seventh century BC. This is a translation of one of his poems by A.E. Stallings. (I have a book of hers, somewhere, in a box, in another country.) 

Halcyon as an adjective means idyllically happy, but as a noun it means a kingfisher. The scientific name of many kingfishers includes the word halcyon, including one of our dear friends where I live, the Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis). This bird is so full of energy, so persistent in diving to catch its prey, and so lovely in its song. This is the one I picture when I read this poem. Or maybe the Malachite Kingfisher, which doesn't have halcyon in its name (Corythornis cristatus), but has the purple coloring mentioned in Alcman's description. See below for pictures of both these beautiful birds, plus a haiku.

Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)
 Photo Source:
Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus)
Photo Source:
Kingfisher spies lunch:
swoops down, splashes, shoots back up,
halcyon blue flash
©Ruth Bowen Hersey

More about kingfishers here. And Carol has today's roundup here.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Poetry Friday: Herons

Last Poetry Friday, as I mentioned in my post last week, was a holiday. I didn't really take the day off -- I worked almost all day -- but that meant that I had time on Saturday to read all the Poetry Friday posts. I tried to comment on all of them, too, but an inordinate number of my comments disappeared into the ether. Maybe some of them were just awaiting comment moderation. I hope so. In any case, if your post didn't get a comment from me, please don't be offended. I tried.

I recently discovered this poem about the Great Blue Heron, "Great Blue Heron," by T. Alan Broughton.

Here's a bit from the middle: 

Today the bird stays with me, as if I am moving through
the heron’s dream to share his sky or water—places
he will rise into on slow flapping wings or where
his long bill darts to catch unwary frogs.
And here's another line I love:
I only know this bird by a name we’ve wrapped him in,


After reading the poem, I went through my life list to see how many different kinds of herons I've seen. Fifteen! That's just amazing and makes me feel wealthy beyond imagining! (eBird lists 45 heron species in the world. Further research reveals that egrets and bitterns are also herons and if you include all of those, there are 72 species. But I'm sticking with my original 45, which is just the ones with heron in their common name. And out of that bunch, I've seen a third of them!) 


I'll share my list of the herons I've seen at the end of this post. But before that, here are some heron poems about some of my sightings. After all, as Broughton says, we only know these birds by the names we've wrapped them in.


I've only seen Black Herons once, on a boat ride in December. They're not as common as the other kinds we have here in Uganda. They are known for their umbrella style of hunting, which you can see in the video, where it's speculated that hunching their wings in an umbrella shape reduces the reflections and helps them see what could be on the menu for them.



Black Heron


Rainy morning.
Abandoned black umbrella
hunts menacingly in the hallway.
Sorry - no fish here.


©Ruth Bowen Hersey


I have Rufescent Tiger-Herons on seven checklists.  They live throughout much of South America. It's the juveniles that are the stripiest (see the picture), though the adults do have some stripes also.

Juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Tiger-Heron so Rufescent,
I find your diet far from pleasant.
Your dragonflies I won’t be stealing:
To me they sound quite unappealing.

But I do like your stripy feathers,
The way you hunt in all the weathers,
Your strident bullfrog voice so loud,
Your reddish coloring so proud,
Tiger-Heron so Rufescent
I find you immensely pleasant.

©Ruth Bowen Hersey


I have Great Blue Herons on twenty-seven checklists. Birders talk about "spark birds," the ones that make you start being interested in birding, and the Great Blue Heron is one of mine. I found out in 2018 about a GBH fitted with a transmitter that informed scientists she was wintering in Haiti. I wrote two poems about her: Nokomis, the Great Blue Heron, Winters in Haiti in 2018 and Requiem for Nokomis when she stopped transmitting in 2021. I also wrote this poem about a GBH my son watched in Massachusetts.

Cellphone photo of GBH I saw in Georgia last summer

Here's my life list of herons, from the most recent to the longest ago:

Black Heron

Purple Heron

Squacco Heron

Black-headed Heron

Gray Heron

Cocoi Heron

Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Green Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Tricolored Heron

Little Blue Heron

Striated Heron

Whistling Heron

Great Blue Heron



Mary Lee has this week's roundup.



Wednesday, January 31, 2024

SJT: Love is...

When I saw this month's subject, "Love is...," I thought of two poems, and I'll share them below. Both are poems I've shared before on this blog. Be sure to visit our host to see what everyone else shared today.

Love's as Warm as Tears

by C. S. Lewis

Love's as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love's as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts - infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love's as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song hung in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering, "Dare! Dare!"
To sap, to blood,
Telling "Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best."

Love's as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.


You can see the second poem here and also read more by this poet, Kimberly Johnson. 


Foley Catheter

by Kimberly Johnson


I clean its latex length three times a day
                      With kindliest touch,
           Swipe an alcohol swatch

From the tender skin at the tip of him
                      Down the lumen
            To the drainage bag I change

Each day and flush with vinegar.
                       When I vowed for worse
            Unwitting did I wed this

Something-other-than-a-husband, jumble
                       Of exposed plumbing
            And euphemism. Fumble

I through my nurse’s functions, upended
                        From the spare bed
            By his every midnight sound.

Unsought inside our grand romantic
           Another intimacy

Opens—ruthless and indecent, consuming
                        All our hiddenmosts.
            In a body, immodest

Such hunger we sometimes call tumor;
                       In a marriage
           It’s cherish.  From the Latin for cost.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Books about Immigration, Acculturation, and Identity

Recently a friend asked me for a list of book recommendations. She specified: "novels or memoirs focusing on the experience of immigration, acculturation and identity." This is one of my favorite themes, so I was able to come up with a list fairly quickly. Of course there are so many more. Add your ideas in the comments.

Obviously I have to start with some Haitian titles. For many years I read Edwidge Danticat's YA book Behind the Mountains with my seventh graders. It's set in 1999-2000, and based on Danticat's own immigration story from the early eighties. My students (mostly Haitians, but not all) loved this book, with its triple settings of rural Haiti, urban Haiti, and ultra-urban New York. It sparked great discussions. An adult book from Danticat would be her memoir Brother I'm Dying. I've read nearly all of her books and this one is, in my opinion, the best. But any of her fiction or non-fiction is good for these themes.


This one is an oldie but a goodie: Jean Fritz's memoir Homesick: My Own Story, which received a Newbery Honor in 1983 but which is about Fritz's childhood in the 1920s when she was an American growing up in China.


Brick Lane, by Monica Ali, is a novel for adults about Bangladeshi immigrants in London. I liked this for its rejection of what Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche calls "the dangers of a single story." Every immigrant is unique and every immigrant's story is, too.

Emails from Scheherazad, by Moha Kahf, is a book of poetry about her own experience and the Arab-American experience. I loved this book, and also enjoyed her autobiographically-inspired novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. I don't think I've read anything in which I've learned so much about Islam.

Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder, tells the true story of Deo, who fled the Burundi genocide (much less written about than, and related to, the Rwanda genocide). Already traumatized by his past, Deo is traumatized further by his immigration story. Everything I've read by Tracy Kidder is excellent.

People always ask me what my favorite book is. It's hard to answer that question, but this book is definitely on the shortlist: The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, the story of an Indian family in America. 

Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga, is a verse novel for middle grade kids about Syrian refugees who relocate in Cincinnati. Kids often like verse novels because they are quick reads with short, unintimidating lines. But those lines communicate so much. Speaking of verse novels, another good one, which I read with my seventh graders, is Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. This is about Ha, a refugee with her family from the Vietnam War who settles in Alabama. And another, one I've read with eighth graders, is The Language Inside, by Holly Thompson, in which Emma, an American living in Japan, has to move to Massachusetts.

How My Parents Learned to Eat, by Ina R. Friedman, was a favorite in our home when our kids were growing up. It's a picture book about an intercultural marriage. The illustrations are by the amazing Allen Say, and part of Say's own family story is told in his picture book Grandfather's Journey, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1993. This one is great on the feeling of missing one place when you're in the other, no matter which place you're in. Relatable!

Ruth Van Reken's memoir Letters Never Sent: A Global Nomad's Journey from Hurt to Healing is a classic, especially among people with boarding school experiences. Someone just brought it up to me last week, and that happens quite a lot. And of course I have to mention my cyberfriend Marilyn Gardner, and her two wonderfully atmospheric books about growing up in Pakistan, Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid's Journey and Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging.

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, is good on the differences between first generation immigrants and their children. The frame for this story is four Chinese women in San Francisco who get together to play Mah Jong. Each woman has a daughter. Tan's books are often about this kind of theme, and I have enjoyed all the ones I've read.

Americanah, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, is about Nigerian immigrants, and one thing I really liked about this novel is that characters return to Nigeria and see it through emigrant/immigrant eyes. Another thing I really liked is the focus on hair! (An in to this author's work for younger readers would be her first novel Purple Hibiscus.)

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko, is about Chinese immigrants. Once one of my middle school students ended a book talk by warning his classmates about the reading experience, "You can cry!" You can definitely cry when you read this novel, but it's so worth it. In my review here on this blog, I quoted the opening lines:

"'Are you going to leave me again?'
'Never.' His mother took his hand and swung it up and down. 'I promise I'll never leave you.'
But one day, she did."


A fairly recent read for me was Solito: A Memoir, by Javier Zamora. This is about a little boy and his journey from El Salvador to the US. Such a good book, and so very vividly written!

I could go on much more, but these are a start for reading on this topic. You can find more information on many of these books on my blog - just do a search.

Poetry Friday: Golden-winged Warbler

It's early Friday afternoon in Uganda. It's a holiday here (Liberation Day), but I'm hard at work because we just got a new schedule and it's requiring a complete reworking of my thinking. I'm hoping to have a totally free Saturday as a result, though!

Recently the American Birding Association named its Bird of the Year.  Last year was the first time I was even aware that there was such a thing as the ABA Bird of the Year, and I posted about their choice for 2023, the Belted Kingfisher, here.  Liz Clayton Fuller, the illustrator who did the official painting of the bird used on the cover of the ABA magazine, chose to paint the female Belted Kingfisher and she called the result Queenfisher


The 2024 bird hasn't caught my imagination yet in quite the same way. It's one I haven't seen before (unlike the Belted Kingfisher). It's lovely, sure, but it has Near Threatened status, so I'm not terribly likely to see it. I may have to be contented just with knowing it exists. (See the photo from eBird, below.) It's the Golden-winged Warbler. (You can read about the bird and see this year's painting, which incorporates both of its habitats, here.)


You can see from the photo and tell from the name that the golden color of this bird's wings and head is one of its most striking features. Thinking of gold made me remember how I always used to do a week of color poems with my seventh graders in Haiti, using the classic book Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Poetry and Color, by Mary O'Neill. This would always inspire a spate of color poems from my students. I'd start with purple and gold, our school colors. 

I got this photo of Mary O'Neill's gold poem from Amazon. My favorite lines are on the next page, which isn't pictured, and I don't have a copy of the book here with me in Uganda. But here's the rest of the poem:

Gold is the color of
Clover honey
Gold is a certain
Kind of money.
Gold is alive
In a flickering fish
That lives its life
In a crystal dish.
Gold is the answer
To many a wish.
Gold is feeling
Like a king
It’s like having the most
Of everything –
Long time ago
I was told
Yellow’s mother’s name
Is gold…

Mary O’Neill
(from Hailstones and Halibut Bones)

(My favorite lines are the ones about the "flickering fish.")
I'm so thankful to live in a world full of color! (Or colour, as we spell it here in Uganda, with its British-influenced style of English.) Although I won't see any Golden-winged Warblers here, I do often see another brightly colored bird, and you can see my Birdtober poem about Ross's Turaco here, along with glorious photos (obviously, not taken by me). 

You can see today's Poetry Friday roundup here, along with a great piñata poem and some wonderful piñata stamps. Thanks for hosting, Susan!