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!

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Poetry Friday: Fifty-Fifty

Happy Poetry Friday! You can see today's roundup here.


I found this wonderful poem by Patricia Clark here, and then I wrote my own Kampala version. I'm loving seeing everyone's snow photos -- both my kids sent them -- but I'm also loving being in this warm place that I describe in my poem.


You can have the grackle whistling blackly 
        from the feeder as it tosses seed,

if I can have the red-tailed hawk perched
        imperious as an eagle on the high branch.

You can have the brown shed, the field mice
        hiding under the mower, the wasp’s nest on the door,
if I can have the house of the dead oak,
        its hollowed center and feather-lined cave.

You can have the deck at midnight, the possum
        vacuuming the yard in its white prowl,

if I can have the yard of wild dreaming, pesky
        raccoons, and the roaming, occasional bear.

You can have the whole house, window to window,
        roof to soffits to hardwood floors, 

if I can have the screened porch at dawn, 
        the Milky Way, any comets in our yard.
Fifty-Fifty in Kampala
after Patricia Clark

You can have the peace
of the dark living room,
the glow of your screen,

if I can have the back porch at sunrise
and the raucous alarm clock squawking
of the Hadada Ibis.

You can have all the coffee paraphernalia
in the kitchen

if I can have the sake jar full of feathers
that I’ve gathered from the ground outside.

You can have
the fecundity of the compost bucket,
rotting secretly, silently, endlessly,

if I can have
the last cookie in the cookie jar,
since you aren’t eating sugar these days.

You can have the Vervet monkeys on the roof
gathered in families in the afternoons
and looking down on us

if I can have
the sound of the African Wood-Owl at 2 AM
with you snoring softly beside me.
 ©Ruth Bowen Hersey


Saturday, January 13, 2024

Reading Update

Book #1 of 2024 was River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, by Candice Millard. I live close to the source of the Nile found in these pages, and I've visited it, so that made this book even more interesting to me. This is well-written, deeply researched, and fascinating all the way around. It did make me wonder why things in Uganda are still named after Speke, who turns out not to have been such a hero.

Book #2 was Spare, by Prince Harry. I am glad I read this. I thought it was well-done, and I'm so curious about the process, since I know the Prince worked with a ghostwriter. (I just found this article about the ghostwriter and I'm going to read it as soon as I finish writing this post.)

Book #3 was Debunking the Myths of Forgive-and-Forget, by Kay Bruner. I have some people to forgive. I even put it on my list of goals for the year: "Forgive people." It's not a surprising admission; I can't imagine anyone could get to my age without having been seriously hurt. There are several folks that I keep thinking I've forgiven, and then I'll see their names on social media and feel a clenching in my stomach. I was encouraged while rereading Letters to Malcolm recently to find Lewis' description of realizing at one point that he had finally forgiven someone who had wronged him decades before. It's a process. I'm trying to read some books this year on forgiveness: what it is, how to do it. This was the first, which I'd read before, but which was worth reading again.


Book #4 was Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I've been wanting to reread this book, which I last read about forty years ago, and I enjoyed it so much. I've read most of Adams' books but I'm going to try to see if there are any I've missed. He's a good writer.

Book #5 was Nora Goes Off Script, by Annabel Monaghan. I really enjoyed this one. It's just the right combo of fluff and satisfying story. Surely there will be a movie.

Book #6 was This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub, another book that I enjoyed hugely. It's about time travel and growing old and why and how we love the people we love. And it's on deep discount for Kindle right now, as I just found out while looking for the link.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Poetry Friday: Earthquake

It's Friday, and you know what that means! You can find today's Poetry Friday roundup here. Tracey Kiff-Judson, our host, has done a deep dive into Monopoly tokens. Fascinating!

For me, January 12th will always have a deep significance because it's the anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince at 4:53 on that Tuesday afternoon fourteen years ago. I now live thousands of miles from Port-au-Prince, but those memories are still vivid. 

It has been a while since I wrote an earthquake poem. The last time I posted a collection of my earthquake poems for the anniversary was 2021. You can see that post, along with the new poem I wrote that year, here. I imagine I will write more earthquake poems some day, but I don't have a new one for this year. Today, I am invigilating (proctoring) exams in Uganda. How's that for unexpected? Certainly I would never have foreseen it on January 12th, 2010. 

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

SJT and Poetry Friday and OLW, 2024

Since I started this blog in 2006, I've never posted so little as I did in 2023, and fully half of the posts of the year were in October, when I wrote daily bird poems. Not only did I write very little in 2023, but I didn't read much poetry, either. I read novels and non-fiction. I don't have many of my poetry books here with me in Uganda, and there's not that much poetry to be found around me, either. I read some online, but I only posted in 21 Poetry Fridays last year, and on many of those days, I didn't find the time to make the rounds and read everyone else's contributions.


As always, I thought a lot about a word for the year. It's a time when newness has a big pull on us; we want to believe that things will be different with this new number on the calendar. But I just kept thinking that I wasn't done yet with last year's word, that I didn't want to pick a new one. In spite of my lack of reading and writing poetry last year, I loved my 2023 word, FEATHER. It's filled with the lightness and beauty I craved, and sometimes found, in 2023.  I wrote last January about my reasons for choosing this word, and they haven't changed. It's my second New Year's in the same country, and I'm happy about that; lack of change can be a good thing. 


So this year I'm not changing my word. I'm keeping FEATHER. Maybe I'll just keep it from now on; who knows? 


Today I'm sharing a feathery poem by Matthew Brenneman about three distinctive birds. (Really, once you start paying attention, there's no such thing as a generic bird, any more than there is a generic place or a generic person.)  I'll give you the first few lines of each bird, and then you can follow the links to read the rest. The first thing you learn when you start studying birding is not to anthropomorphize, but I can't help it. Which of these three birds is the most like you? I think at this time in my life, I'm maybe the most like the Barn Swallow of the middle stanza: "there's something to be said/For feathering a kind of heaven/On a few twigs and some frayed bits of thread,/From what she finds that she is given."

Three Birds

Matthew Brenneman

1. Albatross

A thousand miles of gale-lashed sea

Is nothing to this wingèd mariner.

Of all the birds, he would prefer

This emptiness to earth's solidity,

The gray abstraction of the waves

Rolling beneath great tapered wings, whose span

Would dwarf the stature of a man...

Here's the rest.

2. Barn Swallow

A hanging porch-light's broken bulbless cup

Will do as well as anything.

She fits it to her purpose, flying up

With spoils of tugs and rummaging...

Here's the continuation, and then click to the next page for the rest.



3. Snowy Egret


Light rain lifting. Pond like glass.

The shadblow's given way to dogwood and

Forsythia, which summons bees

Through stands of arrowwood and sassafras. 

He loves this marsh, its rich interstices,

This confluence of sea and sky and land.


Here's the rest. 

Check here for the SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday) January roundup, and here for the Poetry Friday roundup for the week.