12.30.2013

2013 Year in Review

This picture has nothing to do with this post. It's just a funny shot of
Kiara reading Goodnight Bush and making a face about Dick Cheney.


Well, 2013 has been my most prolific year as a blogger with this being my 51st post. The 52 poems project definitely kept me going. I loved returning to a few of my favorite poets: Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, and Lucille Clifton, but I also discovered how much I love other poets like Seamus Heaney, Richard Blanco, and Naomi Shihab Nye. My poetry posts were not so widely read, though. I don't know how much these stats really tell me. I mean, as of now, my Dukes of Hazzard excerpt is my all-time most read which just shows the power of the label in a search engine. Apparently more people search for 80s tv shows than for poems about forgetting and remembering life.

Still, these were the three posts which got the most hits in 2013. Thanks for reading along and here's to another year of reading, writing, blogging, and living.

Scout!
The third most visited post was titled Conception after a poem in Reflections of Motherhood. I decided to share this after we decided to try to grow our family again. No luck yet, but we're still hopeful!

The next most-read post was about the new year's wishes my students made and some wishes of my own. It surprises me that this was so widely read, but I'm glad for it and I do plan on writing more about my teaching and the state of public education this coming year.

But for 2013, the posts which resonated most was Love that Dog about our family's decision to re-home our dog. I still tear up reading it and still miss Scout. It was tough not hanging her stocking this holiday season and if anyone is in need of a dog stocking, let me know.

See you in 2014!

12.21.2013

52 Poems: Weeks 51 and 52 The End

These are the last poems I'll be posting for a while. 52 poems ends up being quite a lot, so thanks for coming along with me on this year's poetry detour. It reminded me how much words matter. Hopefully, they reminded you of that too.

2013 has been a year filled with teaching, writing, reading, and poetry, but it's also been about a little girl who is growing in a world far away from where I grew up and far away from my immediate family. Here are a couple of poems from my Reflections on Motherhood collection about little Kiara Harper's journey. They were inspired by poems I posted in week 14 of this poem-a-week project, Pablo Neruda's "You Will Remember." and in week 16, Billy Collins' "Forgetfulness." 




Urban Girl
after Pablo Neruda’s “You Will Remember”

You will remember sirens and bright night skies,
the beach and warm winters,
voices in a chorus of languages
and traffic flowing instead of silent water.

You will remember snow as a vacation
an escape to a mountain
rather than a driveway or walk to shovel
or a day off from school.

You will remember family
after a plane ride or a long drive
and the Oregon relatives whose love
stretches from a thousand miles away.



Pictures with Grandpa
after Billy Collins’ “Forgetfulness”

I watch you with your grandpa
and I’m so glad you know him,
that his booming voice
is familiar to your tiny ears,
that his bright white smile
brings out your giggle.

I snap pictures to capture the moments

so when he slips away,
when he can no longer remember your name,
I can show him pictures
of that first Christmas and first birthday
to help jostle loose a memory
of how much he loves you.

And when he is gone
I will show you these photographs
so you will know,
in a time before you can remember
your grandpa loved you
and you loved him too.

12.17.2013

52 Poems: Weeks 49 and 50 A Gift of Words

Right before winter break, I always share a couple of my favorite winter poems with my students. As this 52 poems project nears its end, I thought I'd share them here. I've posted "Good Hours" in the past, but here it is again, along with another Robert Frost favorite, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" which always sounds like it should be the title of a Pearl Jam song. Enjoy.

Good Hours
By Robert Frost

I had for my winter evening walk—

Rie Munoz
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.

And I thought I had the folk within:
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces

Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

I had such company outward bound.
I went till there were no cottages found.
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.

Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,

At ten o'clock of a winter eve.

Rie Munoz's Evergreen Bowl
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

12.12.2013

Through Eyes Like Mine v. Overdue Apologies

So, a couple of times in the past few weeks people have told me they didn't know I had a second book. What? How is this possible? It came out almost two years ago. Apparently, I didn't do a very good job getting the word out about Overdue Apologies, the middle school memoir follow-up to Through Eyes Like Mine.

Well, the early reviews are in, and it seems that the adults prefer Through Eyes Like Mine, and the young adult readers like Overdue Apologies more. My students have given me great feedback, even though I'm a little bit torn about my students reading my books. I don't mind when they read Through Eyes Like Mine, but this year I made the mistake of telling them they shouldn't read Overdue Apologies. So, of course, this made them want to read it. It's been good for me, though. I've had the chance to get more feedback and it's always funny to hear them critique my middle school choices.

"Ms. Nakada, I was mad when you broke up with Robert."

"What ever happened to Robin, or Casey, or Bianca?"

Then, one of my students wrote in a reading journal that she cried as she read the last chapter. She loves her middle school friends and hates to think they will someday drift apart.

She made me consider that it might not be so bad for my middle school students read my middle school memoir. Even though I did some things I'm not proud of, maybe reading my book will help them make better decisions than I did.

So, if you have a reader on your holiday list, here are a couple of books for your consideration.

Through Eyes Like Mine

Overdue Apologies

12.08.2013

52 Poems: Weeks 47 and 48 Pablo Neruda on Keeping Quiet

With the year winding down and headlines reminding me of all that is wrong in the world, I need a poet to remind me to keep quiet. 

Footsteps
after Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”

Now that you are walking
I can hear your footsteps
Pitter patter in the world.
I want to keep quiet,
to silence the noise of the world,
the shots fired on a winter morning,
the distant blast of bombs exploding
at the end of a marathon.
I watch you bravely take first steps
into this world 
of peace and violence,
truth and lies,
and remember to count
to twelve, and keep still.


Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.


It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.


Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.


Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.


What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.


If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

 
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.


11.29.2013

52 Poems: Week 46 Lawson Fusau Inada

Little moments with family over the past few days, and this poem by a former Oregon Poet Laureate.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Grandmother
By Lawson Fusau Inada
(for Grandmothers Miju Inada and Yoshiko Saito)

Except for the fact that Grandmother taught me
chopsticks and Japanese before forks and English,
my relationship with Her wasn't all that much.

As a matter of fact, Grandmother, with Her old-
fashioned ways, was actually somewhat of an extra-
vagant source of confusion and distraction.

For example, just to waste time on a rainy day
in a boring barrack room in our ordinary
concentration camp in Arkansas, She'd say:

"The Great God Thunder is very powerful.
Listen to Him. When He storms, be careful.
Or He will send Lightning to take your navel!"

Or, on just another quiet night in Colorado,
on the way to the shower house, She may pause
in the warm desert sand to simply say:

"Ah, the Full Moon! Look closely, Grandson.
It's the same Moon, and the same Story.
'Two Rabbits with Mallets Pounding Rice.'"

Time passes. Grandmother passes. I've learned
the facts since. Still, in some storms I feel
a twitch, and in the still of certain nights,

with the right chopsticks, I can eat with
the Rabbits who have scattered all the Rice.

11.23.2013

52 Poems: Week 45 Mary Szybist

So the National Book Foundation awarded their National Book Award prizes this week and Mary Szybist won for her poetry collection Incarnadine. She lives in Portland now and I quite liked this poem. Plus, she taught me a new word:

in·car·na·dine
inˈkärnəˌdīn,-ˌdēn/
literary
noun
noun: incarnadine
  1. 1.
    a bright crimson or pinkish-red color.
adjective
adjective: incarnadine
  1. 1.
    of a crimson or pinkish-red color.
verb
verb: incarnadine; 3rd person present: incarnadines; past tense: incarnadined; past participle: incarnadined; gerund or present participle: incarnadining
  1. 1.
    color (something) a bright crimson or pinkish-red.
     
     

    Happy Ideas
    By Mary Szybist

    I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel
    to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.                  
    duchamp
    I had the happy idea to suspend some blue globes in the air

    and watch them pop.

    I had the happy idea to put my little copper horse on the shelf so we could stare at each other
    all evening.

    I had the happy idea to create a void in myself.

    Then to call it natural.

    Then to call it supernatural.

    I had the happy idea to wrap a blue scarf around my head and spin.

    I had the happy idea that somewhere a child was being born who was nothing like Helen or
    Jesus except in the sense of changing everything.

    I had the happy idea that someday I would find both pleasure and punishment, that I would
    know them and feel them,

    and that, until I did, it would be almost as good to pretend.

    I had the happy idea to call myself happy.

    I had the happy idea that the dog digging a hole in the yard in the twilight had his nose deep in
    mold-life.

    I had the happy idea that what I do not understand is more real than what I do,

    and then the happier idea to buckle myself

    into two blue velvet shoes.

    I had the happy idea to polish the reflecting glass and say

    hello to my own blue soul. Hello, blue soul. Hello.

    It was my happiest idea.

11.17.2013

52 Poems: Week 44 Jo Whitehorse Cochran

Because this week little boys and girls will be dressing up like little pilgrims and Indians.

Because even though Chief Wahoo and the Tomahawk Chop are done for the season, the Redskins are still playing and students who question their mascot are censured.

Because I would have hoped more would have changed by now.

Halfbreed Girl in the City School  
by Jo Whitehorse Cochran

are you Mexican
are you Italian
are you Chinese
are you Japanese
spic wetback greaseball slant-eye
you are dark enough to question
you are light enough to ask
you have near black hair brown eyes
and speak slow-english
we are blonde blue eyed
and wear store bought sweaters skirts or pants
you wear homemade clothes out of style
we circle round you and your sister
you hug your sister close she's small and even darker
we kick we tug at braids and coats
we pull "I'm Indian!" out of you


the social worker wants
you to describe your family
she asks
does your father beat you
does your mother
does your father drink
does your mother
do you hate your parents
do you cry
tell me tell me do you
like the reservation better
are you ashamed in the classroom
when you wet your pants
why don't you speak up
why don't you get excused
why don't you go at recess
tell me tell me speak!


you stare out the window
turn an alphabet block in your hand
speak english speak english
the social worker caws
outside Canadian geese pass through your immediate sky
six in an arc going south
if you were a Changer like Star Boy
you could fly with those long-necks
but you must stay and look out this window


Grandma's words pound in your head
they want to strip us of our words
they want to take our tongues
so we forget how to talk to each other
you swallow the rock
that was your tongue
you swallow the song
that was your voice
you swallow you swallow
in the silence

11.15.2013

52 Poems: Week 43 Emily Dickinson on Hope

It's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) so my attention has turned to my current work in progress. But I love using allusions in my drafts, so here is a poem from Ricepaper Superheroes a couple of years ago.
Hope Is a Thing With Feathers
By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

10.28.2013

52 Poems: Weeks 40, 41, and 42 Dorothy Parker, Neil Gaiman, and Edgar Allan Poe

Death in all its humor, beauty, and haunting stillness...
artist: Judy Mackey

Resume
by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.



Conjunctions
by Neil Gaiman

Jupiter and Venus hung like grapes in the evening sky,

frozen and untwinkling,
You could have reached and up and picked them.

And the trout swam.

Snow muffled the world, silenced the dog,
silenced the wind...

The man said, I can show you the trout. He was
glad of the company.
He reached into their tiny pool, rescued a dozen, one by one,
sorting and choosing,
dividing the sheep from the goats of them.

And this was the miracle of the fishes,
that they were beautiful. Even when clubbed and gutted,
insides glittering like jewels. See this? he said, the trout heart
pulsed like a ruby in his hand. The kids love this.
He put it down, and it kept beating.
The kids, they go wild for it.

He said, we feed the guts to the pigs. They're pets now,
They won't be killed. See? We saw,
huge as horses they loomed on the side of the hill.

And we walk through the world trailing trout hearts like dreams,
wondering if they imagine rivers, quiet summer days,
fat foolish flies that hover or sit for a moment too long.
We should set them free, our trout and our metaphors:

You don't have to hit me over the head with it.
This is where you get to spill your guts.
You killed in there, tonight.
He pulled her heart out. Look, you can see it there, still beating. He said,
See this? This is the bit the kids like best. This is what they come to see.

Just her heart, pulsing, on and on. It was so cold that night,
and the stars were all alone.
Just them and the moon in a luminous bruise of sky.

And this was the miracle of the fishes.


Spirits of the Dead

By Edgar Allan Poe

I


Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

II

Be silent in that solitude,

   Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
   In life before thee are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still. 

III 

The night, tho’ clear, shall frown—
And the stars shall look not down
From their high thrones in the heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given—
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever. 

IV 

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more—like dew-drop from the grass. 

V 

The breeze—the breath of God—is still—
And the mist upon the hill,
Shadowy—shadowy—yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token—
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

10.14.2013

52 Poems: Week 39 Naomi Shihab Nye

Today, I taught about genocide, mass suicide, and the devastation of indigenous peoples. Students asked why they were taught lies and yearn to spread the truth. After a long day and night, and after reading poetry for about an hour, I needed "Kindness."

Kindness
By Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Walking to School

This past Wednesday was Walk to School Day. I helped a pass out stickers and fruit roll-ups to Emerson students walking to school. The small town where I grew up is far from urban Los Angeles, but as kids passed by with their friends, I doubt their walks are all that different than the ones Robin, Bianca, and I took most days to school. Those walks were a block of time without adult supervision so we walked slowly toward Pilot Butte or away from its shadow discussing our day, our plans, our fears and dreams. On those walks my friends and I grew closer, or we tested the limits of our bonds and I imagine the same thing happens with my students as they make their way to and from school each day. Here’s an excerpt from Overdue Apologies: a Middle School Memoir, about those long-ago walks.

Morning

Every morning in the house on Jones Road we execute a carefully choreographed dance. Dad starts a fire in the woodstove, and Mom turns on the heater to take the chill off the rooms upstairs. Dad showers and leaves for work before the rest of us race through the shower. Mom makes breakfast and packs lunches. We scarf down pancakes, waffles, or cold cereal. Chet and Laura eat first, and then Mitch and me. We move near one another, through the kitchen, and around the breakfast table. It's a silent dance except for Morning Edition playing on the radio. We brush teeth, and then Chet and Laura rush out to the old Datsun 210 and drive to Mountain View. Mitch and I walk up to Pilot Butte, but not together.
Mornings in Bend are always cold. Even when the sky is clear, the sun's rays can't penetrate the cold of the high desert. In fall, yellow, brown, and red leaves litter the ground and the first snow paints the Cascades a gleaming white. Soon ice will form a slick crust along the roads. Every morning, I leave the quiet chaos of home and wait along the side of Jones Road to walk to school with Robin Crank.
Robin lives across the street with her new-age-mom, step-dad, and two sisters. Her mom buys organic chips and natural sodas. A couple summers ago Robin and I played makeovers with her Fresh 'N Fancy makeup kit, and when I came home wearing pink blush and blue eye shadow Laura said I looked like a clown. Robin has a tetherball pole in her backyard and an indoor pool where we play Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows. Robin's older sister, Heather, is nothing like Laura. Heather wears thick black eyeliner and lipstick. She's into music and film. Laura never wears make-up, and she's into sports. Robin and I have way more in common than our older sisters, but since we went to different elementary schools we've never become close.
Once I start Pilot Butte though, I see another side of Robin. At school she is popular. She's tall and has an asymmetrical haircut streaked from the summer sun. She wears braces and so many cool clothes that she can go three or four weeks without repeating an outfit. Her best friend is Bianca Weston. Bianca and Robin went to Juniper Elementary together. Bianca is skinny with straight light brown hair. She lives in a huge house on Revere. Bianca has great clothes too and she doesn't repeat outfits forever. Kim Mitchell is their other friend. She went to Buckingham, and she's tiny (even shorter than me). She has shoulder length, wavy blonde hair, and she's a spaz.
I don't know how everyone knows in the first week of school, but already Robin, Bianca, and Kim are popular. Maybe it's the clothes and jewelry that only kids with money can afford, or where their dads work, or the size of their houses. I don't know exactly what it is, but the differences between the popular girls and the rest of us are clear.
Popular girls have Polo shirts, Guess jeans, Swatch watches, Trapper Keepers, rubber jelly bracelets, and Lip Smackers. Popular girls have a different attitude. They smile and laugh as they walk through the sixth grade hall. At lunch, they sit with the cool boys and ignore the rest of us. They are in the best class with teachers who are young and cool.
Not-so-popular girls have Levis, hand-me down t-shirts, bare arms, plain blue three ring binders, and chapped lips. We walk nervously through the halls to our lockers. We grab brown bag lunches and sit with girls from lame teachers' classes.
Still, Robin waits for me every morning for the walk to school. Even though my family isn't rich, even though I don't wear exactly the right things or carry the right supplies, I think maybe, just maybe, I could be popular too.

As Robin and I walk down Jones Road, we leave behind the girls we are with our families and head toward the girls we are on our own. Clouds of breath appear and disappear before us as we talk about school, teachers, and mutual friends. Half way down the hill on Revere we stop at the two-story house with a circular driveway and a broad front porch.
Bianca's mom answers the door in her bathrobe. "Morning girls," she says sleepily as she lets us into the warm entry hall. The Weston's house always looks and smells clean. "Bink! Your friends are here," Mrs. Weston yells up the stairway. "Hurry up!" Then Mrs. Weston turns to us.
"Cute sweater, Robin."
"Thanks."
Robin and I look around the entry hall and wait.
"Sorry, guys," Bianca yells. "I'm almost ready."
"Your nails look nice," Mrs. Weston says holding my cold palm in her warm hand. She studies my fingers and the pale pink polish. "Where did you get them done?"
I've never had a manicure. "I did them myself," I say quietly, worried that doing your own nails isn't very cool.
"I wish I had the patience to do mine," Mrs. Weston says examining her French manicure and the red polish on her toes.
My mom files but never paints her nails.
Bianca rushes down the stairs, a messenger bag flung over her navy pea coat. Mrs. Weston looks her daughter up and down. "Your shoes don't match, Bink."
"Mom, they're fine. We're going to be late."  
Sometimes Bianca makes it out the door, sometimes she sprints back upstairs to change. I walk with Robin and Bianca, the two most popular girls, up the path by the irrigation ditch toward school. We take our time, walk slowly, and I start to understand: If I want to be popular I have to be patient. It's totally not cool to want to be cool. I have to watch for a pattern and figure out what it takes to be popular.

9.30.2013

52 Poems: Week 38 Pablo Neruda

A love poem, an autumn image, a love preparing for loss. Such is life and love...

If You Forget Me
Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

9.23.2013

52 Poems: Week 37 John Keats

Apparently this is one of the most anthologized poems ever, but as a relative newbie to poetry, it's new to me. I'm yearning for cooler weather here in LA where "summer has o-er-brimmed their clammy cells" and this poem captures this season of plenty with quiet reflection.

To Autumn
By John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

9.10.2013

52 Poems: Week 36 Night Haiku

Night
by Noriko Nakada

It only takes one
breath, one blink, one sigh, to take
in a starry sky

9.02.2013

52 Poems: Week 35 Seamus Heaney

We lost Seamus Heaney this week. Upon the news, I dove into his poetry because I hadn't read much of his work, and now I can say I feel the loss. Here is "Digging." You can listen to him reading it at The Poetry Foundation site.

Digging
By Seamus Heaney
 
Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

8.27.2013

52 Poems: Weeks 33 and 34 Lucille Clifton

God, I love Lucille Clifton. Her lines are short and her poems are brief, but the references she makes to the strength of women raise me up. She makes me want to live, remember, and write better.  I needed a lift this week and Ms. Clifton provided that. Hopefully she will lift you up as well...

harriet
By Lucille Clifton
if i be you
let me not forget
to be the pistol
pointed
to be the madwoman
at the rivers edge
warning
be free or die
and isabell
if i be you
let me in my
sojourning
not forget
to ask my brothers
ain't i a woman too
and
grandmother
if i be you
let me not forget to
work hard
trust the Gods
love my children and
wait.

Memory 
By Lucille Clifton

ask me to tell how it feels
remembering your mother's face
turned to water under the white words
of the man at the shoe store. ask me,
though she tells it better than i do,
not because of her charm
but because it never happened
she says,
no bully salesman swaggering,
no rage, no shame, none of it
ever happened.
i only remember buying you
your first grown up shoes
she smiles. ask me
how it feels.

8.26.2013

Thank you, Patriots: Our Public School Parents

The first day of school has passed, is today, or is quickly approaching. This morning when I checked in on the internet, I read headline after headline about first days, teaching, and the state of education. As a public school teacher for over 15 years, I've given the topic pretty fair consideration and despite the bleak picture painted by many, things don't look all that different today than they have for many years. Public school families recognize this.

I want to thank them. I want to thank public school parents for doing what I think may be the most patriotic thing you can do today: sending your kid to a public school.

It shows you trust your skills as a parent and the judgement of your child to navigate a multitude of different situations. It shows that you value the good of the whole over the good of a few. It demonstrates that you trust your most valuable resource, your kids, to a system the elites claim to be failing on every level, because you understand that with a public education your children have much to gain.

You don't believe the hype that public education is for other people's children. You don't believe your child will suffer from being around other people's children. You don't believe in segregating your children away from our country's socio-economic and cultural diversity.

Thank you for not fleeing our public schools because you've heard a couple of unsubstantiated rumors. Thank you for being involved, for showing up to school events and seeing first hand that your child is learning and thriving, or has a few missing assignments.

Thank you for believing in the value of a free and fair education for all.

You are public education and so am I.

Here's to a great school year.

8.13.2013

52 Poems: Weeks 30, 31, and 32 William Carlos Williams

It's the first day of school and I need to start the year right: caught up on my poems and back at writing on the daily. I'm thinking a lot about public education and it's perceived success or failure, but I'm going to write about that later. Today I want to post a few poems by William Carlos Williams, short and sweet like a small, cold, ripe plum which you might recall from your school days...

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.


This Is just to say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold


To a Poor Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

7.23.2013

52 Poems: Weeks 27, 28, and 29

Ah, I was doing so well, but vacation does strange things so I didn't post or read any poems for the past few weeks. Here are a few haiku I've penned along with some photos from vacation to get us caught up.


Lincoln
A sweltering day
wading in a cool green pool
cousins sweet laughter










 Portland

Family and friends
on perfect, long summer days
finish with ice cream









 Bend

No longer the town
where I grew up but the
river, the mountains 

7.11.2013

A Visit with Jason at Teachers Fountain


My friend Jason and I met in middle school, those formative years when we are all trying to land on who we are going to be as adults. Over the years we’ve stayed in touch and we manage to get together every so often to catch up. The last time we visited was a couple of years ago while I was in Portland for the holidays. Jason, his wife and two kids welcomed us into their home and we caught up the way you catch up with childhood friends. We talked about jobs, and schools, parenthood, and city living. We sorted through our adult lives and reminisced over fond memories as Connor and Lyla danced around our adult conversation without a single care.

Much has changed since that visit. David and I had Kiara, a huge life-changer, but things have shifted even more dramatically for Jason and his family. The summer after that visit, Connor, Jason's oldest, was diagnosed with brain cancer. I followed Connor's treatment through Jason's emails and Facebook updates. I ached for my friend when I heard the news and celebrated when Connor responded well to treatment. But I didn't get by to visit Jason and his family the last few times I was in Portland. I hoped it was because I was busy, but I know it was, in part, because now, as a mother, I could begin to fathom how hard it must be and have been for Jason and Emily to see their little one fight through surgeries, MRIs, and chemotherapy. I remembered our last carefree afternoon together and knew our next get-together would be very different.

This week we were able to make a visit happen. On a clear, summer Portland afternoon Jason and I sat together as our kids splashed around in Portland's Teachers Fountain. We caught up on our increasingly complicated adult lives and at the end of our visit I hugged my old friend, wished him well and as we parted, I hoped he could feel just how touched I have been by the strength and courage he has shown over the past two years. I am so inspired by who Jason has become: a papa, a teacher, a husband, and a friend. Although I've only caught glimpses into his family's journey, I can see through his kids how well they're weathering this storm. Although so much has changed, Conner and Lyla danced in the sunlight without a single care.

Jason will be running the Portland Marathon this fall to help raise funds for the Children's Cancer Association and Connor continues to raise funds for the Cure Search Walk. Here is a link to their site which provides more information about this courageous family and links to their fundraising pages.

7.01.2013

52 Poems: Week 26: Lucille Clifton

June 27 was Lucille Clifton's birthday so here is a poem to remind us of her and the strength of women we know and don't know.

the lost women
by lucille clifton 

i need to know their names
those women i would have walked with
jauntily the way men go in groups
swinging their arms, and the ones
those sweating women whom i would have joined
after a hard game to chew the fat
what would we have called each other laughing
joking into our beer? where are my gangs,
my teams, my mislaid sisters?
all the women who could have known me,
where in the world are their names?
i need to know their names those women i would have walked with jauntily the way men go in groups swinging their arms, and the ones those sweating women whom i would have joined after a hard game to chew the fat what would we have called each other laughing joking into our beer? where are my gangs, my teams, my mislaid sisters? all the women who could have known me, where in the world are their names? - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/21309#sthash.ILSfLv9p.dpuf
i need to know their names those women i would have walked with jauntily the way men go in groups swinging their arms, and the ones those sweating women whom i would have joined after a hard game to chew the fat what would we have called each other laughing joking into our beer? where are my gangs, my teams, my mislaid sisters? all the women who could have known me, where in the world are their names? - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/21309#sthash.ILSfLv9p.dpuf

6.24.2013

52 Poems: Week 25 Michael Ondaatje

Many of Ondaatje's lines haunt me. There are those graphs from The English Patient about the smell of dog paws and the lines about truth from Running in the Family... but here is a poem which I think might inspire a call of words tonight.

(If you want to read the quotes, here is a link to them on my Goodreads page).


Speaking To You (From Rock Bottom)

Michael Ondaatje

Speaking to you
this hour
these days when
I have lost the feather of poetry
and the rains
of separation
surround us tock
tock like Go tablets

Everyone has learned
to move carefully

'Dancing' 'laughing' 'bad taste'
is a memory
a tableau behind trees of law

In the midst of love for you
my wife's suffering
anger in every direction
and the children wise
as tough shrubs
but they are not tough
--so I fear
how anything can grow from this

all the wise blood
poured from little cuts
down into the sink

this hour it is not
your body I want
but your quiet company

6.16.2013

52 Poems: Week 24 Dick Lourie on Forgiving our Fathers

It's Father's Day and for me it's a fairly uncomplicated day. I don't live close enough to spend the day with my dad, and my husband is easy-going when it comes to holidays like this. But the relationships we have with our fathers, whether our fathers are still with us or not, are complicated.

I love how this poem captures that.

You might recognize it from the last scene in the movie Smoke Signals based on Sherman Alexie's short story "This is What It Means to Say Pheonix, Arizona" from his collection Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?
By Dick Lourie

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

6.11.2013

52 Poems: Week 23 Achilles

On Tuesday, September 25, 2012, I tore my Achilles' tendon. I was coaching our girls' flag football team and we were a couple of players short, so I jumped in to rush the quarterback. I stood there assessing the severity of the injury, then hobbled across the hot asphalt of the South Field, eventually making my way to my classroom on crutches. A visit to the ER diagnosed a ruptured Achilles' tendon and a week later I had surgery. Several splints, a cast, months of physical therapy, and 37 weeks later, I am clear to return to work at full capacity with no follow-up appointment. It took forever and I'm still not 100% but I'm getting there. You can read about it on my sports blog

At the time, it was hard to see any positives about my Achilles' injury, but looking back there are several things I'm grateful for about the timing. It happened in the fall but far enough before winter break that I was out of my boot for the holidays. Kiara wasn't crawling yet so I could still keep an eye on baby-girl while immobile. And now summer is here and I'm in the clear! The body's ability to heal is amazing. So here is "Achilles" from my poetry collection: A Life in Revision: Reflections of Motherhood about that day...

Achilles

On a day when I was not thinking of you
when I was a handful of miles away
playing games in the heat of the day
the tendon that cripples gods
tore and splintered leaving me lame.

I hadn’t been thankful that morning
of walking and holding you in my arms
but it would be several months
before I could ever do that again.

6.08.2013

52 Poems: Week 22 Conception

At Beckie and Gearin's nuptials,
you were there with Gray and Lucas.
If you have been on this ride with us for a while, you know the journey to Kiara started way back in 2009. I wrote a post, Fertile Soil, about the miscarriage which had me worried about getting pregnant again. And if you do the math, Kiara, born in 2012, took quiet some time. I wrote an update in 2010 and then finally announced good news in 2011. And once Kiara arrived, that journey to get pregnant faded away, until we started trying again. Yep, we're trying again. Wish us luck. Here's a poem from my collection about a piece of that journey. A Life in Revision: Reflections on Motherhood.

Conception  

I wish it was more magical,
more an experience of the earth,
a spontaneous moment of passion
between your mother and father
on a tropical vacation during summer break.

Instead, your conception, the beautiful moment
when the egg and sperm collided
and cells divided forming the beginnings of you,
was a sterile miracle
in a doctor’s office on Sunset in Hollywood.

I suppose it was magical
the shots in my belly
the long freeway drive
the hollow straw
and Dr. Jabara on a holiday weekend.

Then there were the weddings we attended
with the secret of you growing in my womb
and the holiday season that passed,
all of us so anxious for your arrival.
It is magic—and miracle.
You are here.

5.26.2013

52 Poems: Week 21 Walt Whitman

I'm exhausted. It's been a long year. I started this school year sending my daughter to day care, leaving a dog at home, and walking on two intact Achilles tendons. The daughter, thankfully, is thriving in day care, but the dog has moved on and one of those tendons is still being rebuilt. So, I need a little push, a little Carpe Diem wisdom from Walt Whitman, to propel me into summer... 

 

O Me! O Life!
By Walt Whitman


O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish; Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?) Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d; Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20247#sthash.UvQEnion.dpuf

O Me! O Life!

  by Walt Whitman
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;   
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;   
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?)   
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;   
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;          
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;   
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?   
   
                                                        Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;   
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20247#sthash.UvQEnion.dpuf

O Me! O Life!

  by Walt Whitman
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;   
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;   
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?)   
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;   
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;          
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;   
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?   
   
                                                        Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;   
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20247#sthash.yMfYYsOd.dpuf

O Me! O Life!

  by Walt Whitman
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;   
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;   
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?)   
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;   
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;          
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;   
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?   
   
                                                        Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;   
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20247#sthash.yMfYYsOd.dpuf