Is hope the thing with feathers?

Yesterday morning, I sat outside while it was still cool and the air was full of song–I wish I could approximate the warbling trills, the notes and the way they quavered in the whispering trees. I sat there long enough that I began to see the birds, hopping from one slender limb to another in the still full lilac bushes.

It’s funny how that happens isn’t it. First you hear the song, full and expansive, and then you hear the single notes, and finally you begin to see. It takes a while. It takes a certain sort of stillness, an attention to the moment at hand.

Anyway, I had my eyes on a tiny little bird I thought might be a chipping sparrow. To tell the truth, a friend mentioned a chipping sparrow to me one day, and I fell madly in love with the name–chipping sparrow.  I love the sound of that word–chipping. And while I never looked the bird up, I imagined I saw her everywhere. Anytime I saw a little bird, I thought to myself–I wonder if that is a chipping sparrow.

So I watched this little bird flit around in the green of the lilac bushes and I thought over and over–chipping sparrow.  It’s likely that I even greeted her in my own sing-songy attempt at morning glory, “Well, hello chipping sparrow,” I probably said because I have taken to speaking to birds and trees and even rocks and cicadas and worms trying like hell to make their way across the massive concrete slabs we call sidewalks.

At some point during this birdsong/cool air/ sun-shining-through-the green-tops-of-pine-trees series of moments strung together in what almost seemed like a prayer, that little bird flew up from the lower branches of the lilac bush and lit on the chair directly across from me. I could have touched her.

I didn’t try. I still remember the day I ran around my grandmother’s yard with a salt shaker because my father told me if I could salt a bird’s tail, I could catch him. Let’s just pretend that only happened once.

“Look at me,” she seemed to be saying as she gingerly danced her teeny little bird feet on the chair’s back, giving me a full view of her chunky little body, her long beak, her warm cinnamon-colored back, “do I look like a chipping sparrow, lady?”

I’m not a birder, but I’ve had wrens in my hanging baskets before, and I knew this little chirper was a Carolina Wren. And as soon as, not a moment before, the knowledge came to me, as soon as I felt that delight and wonder at being able to name such a delicate and wild thing, Ms. Carolina Wren flew off (no, I do not know she was a she, but it’s my story). She didn’t fly far though. She flew to the ground beneath the lilac bushes, and she rustled around with a sister or two in the pine needles foraging for wren things, I suppose.

I sat there for a very long time or for a few minutes. Time slowed down or perhaps it sped up or maybe it did just what time does and kept marching on and soon I found myself mired in the day at hand.

And the day turned out to be a doozy. Last night, my daughter, Peanut, received some very sad news–two of her childhood friends were involved in a tragic accident. I sure would like to bring this essay around, to bring the little wren back, to illuminate the harsh wonder of the world we live in, but I can’t twist the story to my liking, can’t stitch it up all neat and fine.

All day long, after my encounter with the little wren, Emily Dickinson’s poem was in my head:

“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.

 

*****

I have always loved that image–of hope being a winged thing–but this morning I am wondering if we do hope a disservice by imagining it thus. Hope isn’t ethereal at all. Hope is dogged and rough and resilient. Hope resides in the dimmest doorways and the darkest corners of our lives. Hope grows up from the disaster and the dirt, the fertile floor of grief.

Hope demands of us, we would-be-practitioners, determination. As Vaclav Havel wrote, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

I would contend that hope is in that late night knock on my door. My daughter reaching out for comfort when there is none to be had. That’s where hope settles in, that is where hope begins the growing of wings.

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.





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.

Connection: Anne Lamott and Naomi Shihab Nye

Last night, alone in the king-sized bed I was lucky enough to crawl into after traveling with my parents to St. Louis for an early morning doctor’s appointment, I opened Anne Lamott’s newest book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering MercyIn order to understand just how freaking delighted I was, you have to know that I love Anne Lamott. I have loved her for years. When I am down, I go to my Anne Lamott shelf and read from one of her many books. I love her so much that this shelf is in constant need of replenishment because I am constantly giving Anne’s books away (this might be a theme with me).

Often, if I need a hit of Anne, I go to the Salon archives of the columns Anne has written for Salon.com over the years, or I check out her FB page on which she shares what it means to be human. I need that so much–that sharing of what it means to be human–that when a new Anne Lamott book is released, I await its arrival with a greedy giddiness that I typically save for a glass of red wine after a long day.

I was greedy, giddy, and tired last night when I opened that beautiful new book. Goddess, there is something beautiful about a small book, isn’t there. The way it feels in the hands–compact and dense. The way the heavy paper feels against the fingertips. The slight give of the spine when you begin to read. Yes, I was greedy, giddy, and tired last night, but grateful too. Grateful to have a few moments with a new book before slipping into sleep in preparation for an early morning.

I was unprepared for the epigraph–Famous–a poem by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye, another writer I would follow into the dark. (an interesting tidbit–Nye was born in St. Louis, MO) A good poem can make me cry. I cried last night because I felt connected–that is what poetry does–it connects us. And that’s why I’m sharing a few lines of the poem here even though I said I would try to share poems only from the public domain.   I encourage you to follow the link so you can read the entire poem.

a few lines from Famous

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

And if you love this one–you will–read more poems.

And check out Hallelujah Anyway too–you won’t regret it!