Sunday Poetry

June 28, 2020

It has become cooler outside of the house than in, especially on my balcony when it’s shaded. I like to write with a breeze across my face.

I asked some of my students in one of their journal entries to write about change:

Are you someone who welcomes change? Or do you usually want things to stay the same? What’s something that has changed in your life, and how did you react? 

I’ll quote a few of them here:

* Something that had changed in my life is when my sister was born. I dont exactly remember how i reacted but i know that i was some what happy but not really. I liked being a only child.

* I do accept small changes but i prefer things to stay the same because im not very good at accepting changes

* For example, the Covid-19 outbreak was a very quick transformation to a completely different lifestyle. . . .  Of course I believe this quarantine should continue if the case numbers aren’t going down, I just wish this would all be over soon.

 

It’s a good thing to think about. I think most of the time, I do all right with change. Teaching has taught me to be flexible, and the more I shed my tendency towards perfectionism, the more I’m able to see each new hurdle as an experiment. I’ve become more comfortable with going into a new situation with a plan, making adjustments, and then reflecting on what I’ve learned. It’s cyclical, so there’s no point at which you stop and declare failure. You just kind of keep going around.

The thought of settling down and choosing a home used to mortify me, like I would be condemning myself to inglorious boredom if I ever reached a place where I was satisfied with my life. I think that I’m pretty happy with how I’m living now, but change is still on my mind. There’s so much I want to do to push things forward, so many injustices to challenge, so many trends to reverse. I want to “make a difference” in the field of education — oh, how naive and insipid that sounds! It’s potato salad with no mustard. But it’s true! And yet, that phrase means something new now. Instead of just dreaming about someday doing something, I am considering my next moves in search of the way I will advance. I know that I’m constantly growing in my work and in what I learn and in the net effect I have on the world.

Change is good, I think. It’s the opposite of old yogurt.

See you next week,

Nora

 

change the moon
change the soles of your shoes for new
your soul for new pasture
your soul for city jeans and boots
boot out no recompsense,
no kindness,
no jam left in the drawer.

Poems to Read this Week

i know i am in love again when

Raena Shirali

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Buy her book, Gilt,  at your local independent bookstore

Sada do pal da hai saath, Karachi

Hafsa Zulfiqar

Hafsa 1Hafsa 2

Hafsa 3

In Anti-Heroin Chic, Issue 15 (June 2020)

won’t you celebrate with me

Lucille Clifton

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Thank you for reading. If this post contributed to your life in a positive way, please join me in donating to my friend Martez’s fundraiser to create mental health self-care kits for Alabama high school seniors.

Sunday Poetry

June 14, 2020

I am always looking for ways to quiet my mind, because it’s an extraordinarily busy place. Right now it is the sun on my skin as I sit out on my balcony in a modicum of clothing. The sun’s warmth on my belly is enough to occupy my thoughts. I close my eyes and imagine myself filling up from the outside in with healing warmth. I imagine my skin becoming less irritated, healthy rosiness returning to my cheeks, my brown hair streaking with gold. It’s a kind of meditation, I guess, invigorated by the cool breezes that flow over me and the scent of blossoming trees in my neighborhood.

Poetry does this for me, too: when I am writing a poem, even if it’s only for a few minutes, it fills me up. I don’t necessarily go into a trance. I don’t get all the way quiet. It’s more like the quality of energy is different. Associations come more freely. Instead of harnessing the power of my brain and setting it to work on problems, my brain is using me. Many writers, like Natalie Goldberg, have referred to this as “channeling.” That’s an almost – match for me, though I think I am channeling myself, not a higher power.

My soul gets quiet when I read poetry, too. Poetry can tell stories and inspire action and get us fired up (of course), but primarily I see it as entering a moment. A lot of poets work in a sort of meditative mode; Mary Oliver and C.D. Wright come to mind, along with prose writer Marilynne Robinson. Finding these contemplative examples helps me live in the world of the poem for a few minutes. It is essential self-care. I don’t pray; this is close.

I hope you can find some quiet moments in the coming week. With so much of the world in an uproar and feeling so unsafe, preserving quietude feels important. I’m trying to take on and question this silence — my silence, and my peace, and the privilege that grants me these things — in the poem below. I wish everyone’s mornings were as alive and as safe as mine.

See you next week,

Nora

The man next door whistles “Ode to Joy” 

Sunday is for strawberry jam
and flowers in a blue vase
the pollen I’m finding on my floors
and the songs I hum when I sweep
almond milk
a question for my coffee
what will you make of words today?
what mess could be swept up?
I ship nothing home, take nothing with me,
start each day
eyes open.

Poems to Read this Week

I will continue sharing the work of at least one Black poet here each week. It is a reminder to myself that Black history could fill every month, and that I could read Black poets forever and never run out of poems. Today, one of my favorites from Ross Gay.

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The following three poems are from American Poetry Review, July/Aug ’19, which can be purchased here. I think they are their own versions of contemplative moments, but they also complicate the idea of silence.

Why Not Me

Alice Bolin

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Grizzly

Ellen Bass

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We Know It’s a Spell But We Don’t Know What For

Heather Christle

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Thank you for reading. If this post contributed to your life in a positive way, please join me in donating to my friend Martez’s efforts to provide self-care kits to high school seniors in Alabama

 

Sunday Poetry

June 7, 2020

I am stubbornly clinging to hope that things will change.

As millions of people march across the country, and social media is transformed into an endless testimony of rage and grief and demands, it seems like things are changing. And yet, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have joined the ranks of the fallen; the latest in a long line of names chanted and memorialized in hashtags. The latest in a list of people who have been brutally, extra-legally, and savagely murdered for their race. I don’t think any of us can kid ourselves that they will be the last.

But I am heartened by the conversation I had with a student who was frustrated and determined that her generation would do better. By my friends on facebook confronting their white privilege and their uncritical support of the police. By the estimated 10,000 people who marched in Providence on Friday. By the children and the bail funds and the reading lists and the efforts of my fellow educators to get training and get better.

What does poetry have to do with all of this? Isn’t the work elsewhere?

Yes, it is, and also — poetry is the best way I know to teach empathy. When I enter into the world of a poem, I feel like I am living through the speaker’s images and language like breath. I know that I can never know what it is to face racism or to fear for my life because of my identity. I get closer by reading poems by incredible Black poets and other writers of color.

Writing poetry is also an exercise in empathy. You’ll see my effort to connect with Breonna Taylor in the poem below. I hope this can be a tiny part of the memorials erected to her memory.

See you next week.

Nora

Galileo Looks at the Sky
for Breonna Taylor 


there must be

a lot of butterflies that visit this yard,
this bonanza awash with color
amazing migration. How do they do it?
Watching a monarch flutter from one flowerhead
to the other.  I cannot fathom how they do it.
two bunnies chase each other in the next lawn
I stop to watch them, think of innocence
and the quickness of pursuit 

there must be
a reason that the moon
moves so much in the late afternoon
dusk, as if it is being chased 

there must be
something you loved:
dancing in the car or
watching fireworks or ice cream
sundaes or helping people or
calling your mom or reading or life;
like me, I am sure you loved life,
wanted to live it
I might not know a lot but I know that. 

there must be
a reason bullets move the way they do
I am looking at the sky
and asking.
It doesn’t make sense
It doesn’t make sense
It doesn’t make any sense. 


Lines in italics were contributed by Trisha Ricketts

Voice Recording: Galileo Looks at the Sky

 

Poems to Read This Week

My Phone Autocorrects ‘Nigga’ to ‘Nights’

Karisma Price

My Nights Karisma Price

Follow Karisma Price @itsKayPrice

 

When people say, “we have made it through worse before”

Clint Smith

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In Wildness, May 2019

Check out Clint Smith’s website for more writing

 

 

 

Thank you for reading. If reading this post contributed positively to your life, join me in donating to my local bail fund, FANG Collective, or to Until Freedom

Friday Reading Rainbow

Magic, Mystery, and Enchantment

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You know when you find a novel that just fills your heart and your head at the same time, so much so that you’re thinking about the mysteries it holds even when you’re not reading it? You can’t wait to get back to it, but you also want to stretch it out so it never ends? I found that in Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield.

A brief synopsis: On the night of the winter solstice in 1887, an injured man and a dead little girl arrive at The Swan, a riverside inn on the Thames. As Rita, the plucky nurse, treats the man, the girl is laid up in the cold room. The Swan, famous for its storytelling, gets a surprise later that evening when the girl – soaked to the bone and barely breathing, suddenly opens her eyes – and comes back to life.

The events of this night spread out (like the tributaries of the river, according to Setterfield’s clever chapter divisions). Three different families claim (or attempt to claim) the girl as their own, but no one is really sure of the truth. Was she dead or only mostly dead? Will she speak again, and tell everyone who she is? Who had an interest in finding her or losing her?

The book is full of lovely characters, people you actually wish you knew, and their backstories are freely told (the whole idea centers around storytelling and folktale). Woven with the realities of family, love, and longing  is an air of magic and superstition, including the belief the riverfolk hold in Quietly, the ferryman who takes you “across the river” when it’s your time to go, and saves you if you have more to do in life. Along with this retelling of Chyron and the river Styx, fairy tale references abound. It’s an enchanting read, and I’m looking forward to seeing the mysteries resolve themselves (or not!)

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———

 I decided to dedicate this Friday’s post on what I’m reading to magic, mystery, and enchantment. I used to read lots of fantasy when I was a kid, and though I haven’t really invested my reading into adult fantasy, I really enjoy things that have a touch of magical realism or mythology. There are books that just feel special and immerse you in a different world, and they can be inspiring. Some of my favorite magical books from my childhood and young adulthood include: Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy, Half-Magic by Edward Eager, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Redwall books, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, The Harry Potter series (obviously. I’m a millennial), and so many more.

Here are some places I’m finding magic these days:

Poetry

So much poetry verges on magic, because poetry takes words and makes them new. Here’s one of my recent favorites: ““Trees and What They Whisper,”  by Lynette Mejia.

 

Film / TV

I’m so pleased that Outlander is on Netflix and I don’t have to pay extra for it. The show is based on a time-traveling nurse from 1945 who finds herself in 18th Century Scotland, and it provides steamy romance and drama. Excellent escapism.

This week I went to the theatre to see All is Well, a Kenneth Branagh-directed film about the end of Shakespeare’s life. If you’re well-versed in the bard’s work (pun intended), you’ll enjoy this homage. Branagh’s directing is just gorgeous…. this is a slow, quiet, atmospheric movie. There were so many moments that stood out to me, but I’ll share one. When Shakespeare returns home to Stratford, he decides to create a memorial garden for his son, Hamnet. For the first third or so of the movie, he toils alone in the garden, and nothing really grows for him. But as he reconnects with the people in his family and community, they start helping him in the garden, and it is then that he finds success. There are some happier moments, but on the whole, this is a sad, sad movie. Use caution.

 

Next novels on my reading list

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Though these are very different from Once Upon a River, I’m hoping to extend my sense of expansive magic by reading them. Both have a sort of mythological largeness to them, I think. Everything Under is supposed to be an Oedipus retake? I’m troubled but intrigued.  If you have other recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Have a great reading week, everyone!

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