In Thanks For Teachers Who Start the New School Year with Smiling Faces and Open Hearts

This morning I had the great pleasure to spend 45 minutes with some of the best folks in town–a small dedicated group of teachers at St. Joseph School where my sister is principal. I have a long history with this little school I attended from 5th through 8th grade. It’s where I and my children learned to laugh and write and share and reason and love, and my grandchildren will know many of these same special people, walk these same wide and welcoming hallways.

I’ve written here before about two of my favorite authors, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brian Doyle, and how both died this year way too early. I remain shocked and saddened by the loss–for their families and for the world at large. We need their big love, their creative gifting, their exuberance and unbridled joy now more than ever before.

Earlier this summer, I shared a couple of Prayers for Ordinary Things that my friend, Julie and I wrote one morning in a coffee shop. We modeled our prayers on the delightful, funny, heartfelt prayers Doyle wrote and collected in A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. Reading Doyle’s prayers and then writing my own lifted my heart still smarting not only from the disastrous election but from the rise of intolerance and hate. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember how lovely the world remains. It’s called cultivating gratitude, and it’s an essential practice for me these days.

So when my sister asked me if I would lead the teachers in writing their own prayers of gratitude as they enter the new school year, I said, “Yes,” even though I knew it would require me to stand up in front of people and admit, even espouse how much I love writing and reading and poetry. Why is this so hard?

It’s vulnerability, of course. Still at 50 years old, I don’t want to be seen as a dorky poetry geek, even though I am indeed a dorky poetry geek and not the least bit cool. It’s hard to share our hearts with others. And yet, it is the most important thing we can do. This morning those teachers and their writing blew the top of my head right off. They wrote the most beautiful poems/prayers and they read them with laughter and tears and a little shyness and tremendous vulnerability.

So as school resumes, I give thanks for teachers who start the new school year with smiling faces and open hearts, who will spend the next several months wiping noses and calling out bad behavior and shining light on good deeds and listening to ridiculous and silly stories; who will walk the perimeters of playgrounds holding small gloved hands; who will chase loiterers out of bathrooms and rouse sleepers at their desks; who will stay up late grading papers and creating accessible lessons and tests and assignments that will not only stimulate eager minds but also open them to bigger and wider possibilities; who will make the hardest tasks fun and the funnest activities meaningful; who will laugh with and cry over and sometimes yell the tiniest bit at the students who have burrowed their way like small wiggly worms into their unsuspecting hearts; who will foster friendships and cultivate collegiality and model restraint and passion and goodwill and hope and joy; who are the bravest of the brave for the love they offer again and again and again against all odds to our lucky children entrusted to their great and devoted care.

A Little Sustenance–Poems for the Weekend

I can’t remember not loving poems.

A little girl, I loved reciting rhymes, delighted with the rhythm and cadence and sheer joy in taking words in, memorizing them, and speaking them back into the world.

Poems have a shape, a form, even when they don’t follow any formal scheme. They are containers for memory, experience, grief, joy, story, or the lack of story.

Poems can thrum with electricity, crackle with surprise, or list with unease. Poems do everything prose does in a modicum of the space.

Poems meet you where you are. That’s what I love about them. Most folks believe that a poem must mean what the poet meant when she wrote it.

I don’t.

I believe the poet releases the poem to the world and it begins to breathe on its own. It finds a reader where she lives and it weaves its magic into her experience.

National Poetry Month will be over this weekend, so I thought I would link here to a few more of my favorite poems. I hope they feed you the way they feed me.

The Envoy by Jane Hirshfield

One day in that room, a small rat.
Two days later, a snake.
Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.
************************************
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise.
*************************************
Listen to Mary Oliver read Wild Geese
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
*************************************
Each of these links will take you to a treasure trough of poetry.
I’d love it if you shared the names of or links to poems you find, poems that move you to read them over and over again.
Happy Poetry weekend!!!

A Bold Thursday–Lucille Clifton

“I do not feel inhibited or bound by what I am. That does not mean that I have never had bad scenes relating to being Black and/or a woman, it means that other people’s craziness has not managed to make me crazy.”
Lucille Clifton

Sometimes I need a little swagger.

There are days (too many) when I get caught in front of the mirror staring down a minor blemish or hair gone wild with frizz or that rib fat that sprouted the night of my 40th birthday.

It is too damned easy to see lack. Especially when I’m tired, or the sunny spring days have turned gray and rainy and the sidewalks are littered with debris from yesterday’s storms that ripped through town.

It’s too damned easy to hunker down, to moan as president trump says the newest dumbest thing–how about dismantling the courts or pulling the insurance rug out from under those who have preexisting conditions. Sometimes the world is overwhelming.

On days like this one, Lucille Clifton is what I need. Clifton’s poems remind me to be bold.  Clifton reminds me that I cannot let “other people’s craziness” (or my own) tell me who I am.

Here are a few lines from homage to my hips. Follow the link to read the rest of the poem and then let’s all put on a little swagger for a day or two.

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
***

God Says Yes to Me–Kaylin Haught’s wonderful reminder

I worked at a community college for 15 years. I taught Ged courses, and ABE reading, English, science, social studies, and US and IL constitution. Mostly I tried to help folks to improve their skills, but there were always tests. Many of the people who came through room number 210 needed to pass their GED to further their education or to apply for a dwindling number of factory jobs that recently started requiring a high school diploma or GED for hire.

During that time, I worked for a mighty little half-pint of a woman named, Donita. In my life, I’m not sure I’ve known a person more intent on using the full power of her position and time to help others. She worked tirelessly for the folks who needed our services. She listened to their stories and used those stories to implement the best strategies for individual learning.

And while our main goal was to get these folks through our program and onto the next best thing, she gave her instructors lots of leeway–if it worked, we had the go-ahead.

I’m a poet and writer. I could see no better way to boost reading and comprehension skills than to read poems together with the students. And so, with Donita’s blessing, that is what we did. She made sure each student had a poetry book-Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry edited by Billy Collins.

Poetry 180 is the book form of Collins’ ambitious program during his tenure as Poet Laureate of the United States to make poetry accessible to everyone. The book features 180 poems–a poem for each day of the school year–to be read in high schools. Collins says the idea behind the project was to “assemble a generous selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically “get” on first hearing–poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate.”

Like I said, my boss, the mighty Donita, purchased these books for the students, and we read and read and read. Folks who never read poetry before, sat in circles and read the poems they liked to one another. It was magnificent. And their reading skills improved. I have always believed that a poem is a microcosm of a world, and if you truly enter that world everything expands. It is magical.

Today, I want to share a couple of lines from a poem I first read in Poetry 180, by Kaylin Haught. I encourage you to follow the link so you can read the rest of the poem, and then spend a little time on the website checking out other poems.

 

God Says Yes to Me

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes




Elizabeth Barrett Browning–On Love

51 years ago today, my parents were married. 25 years ago today, my oldest daughter, Isky was born. Two days ago, my husband’s mother, Grace, died after a long illness. I’ve been thinking about how the ways these three life events come together–how we can celebrate the whole of a lifetime by honoring the weave of love.

Here is a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that calls to that love.

Sonnet 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.





Briefly it enters . . . Jane Kenyon

It’s Friday. Much cooler today than it was yesterday. I’m inside, but my feet are cool in my flip-flop slippers. Does anyone use the word thongs anymore for flip-flops? I first typed “my feet are cool in my thongs” and realized that folks would wonder why my feet were slipped into my underpants. Does anyone ever say underpants? Is a thong considered underpants?

Even if the above questions are appropriate for a woman my age–born after the underwear/thong revolution, I’m getting off track here. Another time, perhaps.

***

With Easter only a few days in the past, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and church and religion and spirituality. There is so much I do not like about organized religion/Catholicism, and yet in church on Sunday morning all the perceived separation I feel on a regular basis (perhaps more regular after the November election) slipped away. It dissolved in the choir’s one-voice. I don’t always feel that way in church. Sometimes I feel it when I’m out walking–suddenly I am the birds singing, or the tree budding out, or the dandelions growing up between the sidewalk cracks.

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks, a poem by the late Jane Kenyon reminds me that the heart of love is this very oneness. I am sharing a couple of lines here, and  hope you will follow this link to read the rest of the poem:

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….
**

Emily Dickinson

The birds continue to sing. That is what I think every morning when I wake up around 4:45 and hear the cacophony of bird song. I don’t get up then–Goddess no–but I do lie there, very still, and listen for a few minutes. Birdsong in the morning gives me great hope.

So today I share one of my favorite all-time poems by Emily Dickinson

#314

“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.

Kindness for Easter

I haven’t posted a poem here for a couple of days. Because life.

But I have been thinking a lot about mercy (thanks to Anne Lamott) and what it means to be kind. It’s hard work, harder than being angry, harder than hating. It’s work that I must do, but I have to tell you that lately it’s been more difficult that usual.

It feels like we, as a country, are hurtling towards destruction tossed about by a mad tweeter whose decision-making process is commandeered by a narcissistic devotion to good polls.

It’s fucking scary–there are bombs involved, big-ass bombs.

And yet, the dogwood trees bloom, and a single chipmunk runs beneath the just-about-to-bloom lilac bushes in the back yard. My grandkids come over and swing high on our wobbly old swing set. Old friends send pictures of their reunion, my daughter brings sushi home, and for the first time in 26 years, we do not hide eggs in the back yard.

Life, no living is a beautiful thing.

This big-hearted love for the world always brings me to poetry where I can find that love distilled. This morning, I am sharing with you a few lines from Naomi Shihab Nye‘s poem,  Kindness. I hope you will follow the link and read the rest of the poem. Happy Easter, friends.

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.

Clear-Eyed and Joyful: On Spring

I’ve pretty much been a grump this winter. And it’s been a fairly mild winter–so what’s up? We’ve experienced nice, warm, sunny days in January, February and March, and you know how I felt about those days? I felt mean and dissatisfied and glum.

If someone said to me, as lots of people did on one of those delightfully moderate days:

“What a beautiful day, huh!”

or

“We sure are lucky this year with weather!”

or

“It feels like spring!”

I smiled buoyantly, nodded my head, and said something like, “Sure thing!” But what I was thinking was more like this:

“Have you ever heard of global warming? It’s February, for God’s sake. We should be trudging through snow, or running to the IGA for supplies to get us through an ice-storm! This isn’t normal, people. I know it’s pretty and all that, but we are like those damn frogs boiling to death in a cup of water heated so slowly we forget to jump out!”**

I looked like a chipper little spring worshipper, but I was muttering and mumbling and not enjoying a minute of the beautiful weather. Hmmm…what would we call this sort of behavior? We could call it clear-eyed and unsentimental. Or we could call it indignant, judgy, self-righteous, and joyless. I’m okay with clear-eyed, but I hate the last four.

I’ve been posting poems here in celebration of National Poetry Month. In looking for poems to post, I’ve read a lot of older poems, poems that have been out in the world for so long, they belong to everyone. The other day I did a search for “spring” poems on Poets.org, and this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) popped up.

Spring

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

 

Wow! I’ve got something in common with Edna St. Vincent Millay, I thought. Instead of enjoying the lovely weather, I’ve been pissed off that it is only disguising our ultimate demise, death, and destruction. (of course, Edna wrote a kick-ass poem about it, while I walked around with a fake smile)

 

I read the poem over and over. I knew it was speaking directly to me, and finally I got what it was saying.

 

Don’t be such an asshole, Bridgett! 
You can enjoy beauty.
It’s always a gift, even when it’s a sign of global warming.
 You can smile and mean it.
You can raise your face to the sun.
Don’t take yourself so fucking seriously.
You can be clear-eyed and joyful–holding two truths at the same time.

 

I get so caught up, folks. I get so caught up in worry and fear.

 

Yes, I’m terrified about the multitude of ways we are destroying our planet and the new administration’s seeming determination to speed that process up, but it’s just silly not to enjoy a beautiful day.

 

So the next time someone says to me–“Beautiful day, huh,” I’ll answer, “It is.”

And mean it.

**According to Wikipedia, the whole frog scenario is false. A frog will indeed jump out of water as it heats up.