Today I did one of the last things I will need to do as a teacher at my school. I spent three hours in my room for a final cleaning and organizing blitz. It’s been since February 2020 that I had spent any significant time there. Over the past year and a quarter, I have stopped in occasionally to grab something, but that’s it.
I spent some time today with the teacher who replaced me this year. She had end-of-the-year paperwork to complete, which included listing the resources in her classroom. It was sadly ironic, though, because she hasn’t had this or any classroom this year. She and I looked through the materials, and I identified the resources she needed to be aware of if school ever goes back to anything pre-Covid-like.
I then spent the next 2.5 hours pulling things out of closets and looking through supplies I had neglected for years! Two cupboards in particular had not received any attention when we stopped teaching in person.
Too many times I said, “Oh, there is ______!” (that hammer my husband’s been looking for; my hot glue gun; that new journal Fatima gifted me, etc., etc., etc.) I ended up carrying four bags home for a variety of purposes–to return things to people I borrowed them from, to give away to friends I know will appreciate them, to add to my own supplies from things I purchased and still needed, a book to read, and a few things to repair or work on that will go back to school.
I told myself I would not bring any more than I could carry in one trip, and I managed to do that. I carried all four bags for the several blocks home, with a few breaks to set it down and rest. (How does that weight thing work? I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last year, and today I felt I needed Super-Woman-strength as I carried an extra thirty pounds home. When I had that extra 30 pounds on my bones and not in my hands, I didn’t even notice it. Hmmm….)
This weekend I wrote a tritina because of Liz Garton Scanlon’s Poetry Friday post. It was there she mentioned the sestina, as well. I had heard of this 39-line French form with six stanzas, and the same six words rotating at the end of each stanza, but I didn’t have much confidence or interest in trying one myself. After trying a tritina, though, I thought I’d give it a go. I started a list of favorite words, trying to decide which six to use. I wrote hope, launch, and cry on my list.
Why cry? I thought. Because I need some sad words in my poem too, I answered myself.
Then I realized what an impossible task it would be to pick the right six words. I need a topic, I thought. So I started brainstorming: family, pandemic, food, vacation, etc.
Instead of continuing with my sestina drafting, though, I decided to go to bed. Before I slept, I sent a last-minute appeal text to my family WhatsApp group:
I woke up in the morning to these words, two from each family member. (Are these really favorite words?)
With bizarre, turpitude and exhume, I figured I didn’t need any sad words, so I left cry off my list.
So now the challenge begins. First of all, I only need six words for my sestina, but I gave myself a bit of a buffer zone by asking for two words. I can choose from these twelve–the six I will use for my end lines, for they will be repeated seven times each. And the other six words I will try to fit in one time anywhere in the poem.
When I looked at these words, no subject jumped out. That’s for sure. So I went to read the newspaper, actually The Washington Post, online version. When I read this opinion piece by Jonathan Capehart, “Kamala Harris Speaks the Truth About Race Unafraid,” I thought, Ah-ha. Here is my subject. Living overseas, I see all the -isms and -phobias that the U.S. has, plus some. The world has systemic injustice and inequity issues, and America is part of the world. I don’t understand how some people in the U.S. argue that America does not have a problem with racism (or any other -ism or -phobia) (e.g., one hundred years ago today) Do others want to immigrate to the U.S. because it’s perfect and their country isn’t? No, they can see the truth. But at least we say there is liberty and justice for all. With every generation, in every century we have to go “further up and further in” to a just nation, a union becoming more perfect. Speaking the truth–admitting, repenting, and repairing problems–is what makes America good.
I was thinking of these things when I drafted my first sestina:
Speak the Truth: A Sestina
America: It is sunlight and a future, but dappled, Still needing to exhume the tangled turpitude Of isms: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism. The zenith Of America will near as it produces its delicate Song of the ages. It will usher in inclusive kindness And bring forth a love song of rambunctious hope.
Over the past eight years I have met people of hope In this country of invited workers sweetly dappled From all over the globe. We’ve met many in kindness, Sometimes coming from countries where the turpitude Of governance makes their citizens retreat to this delicate Pearl in the Gulf. For them, Bahrain is the zenith.
Thankful their career brought them to earn in this zenith, They send money home to their families in hurting hope. We’ve met people from 131 nations here in this delicate Population of one-and-a-half million. The light is dappled Across the land as people are launched from turpitude And given a renewed promise to germinate kindness.
When people find that we are from America, kindness Rises. “Tell us more.” Many long for the ultimate zenith Of their immigration–to move to America. Moral turpitude During the past few years, notwithstanding. They hope. America the Beautiful is beautiful, even though dappled With phobias–gay, trans, Asian, Islam. Speak the truth–delicate
Harsh, truth–not an attack on the U.S. We aren’t delicate. America dares to weed out -isms and -phobias, choosing kindness. Look at the color and fearlessness of the current dappled Administration. America is not yet perfected to its zenith. Let us not go back to when America was “great,” but hope That, in the future, we will continue to uproot turpitude.
All people are created equal, and it’s turpitude That bizarrely distorts equality all over this delicate Earth. No matter how great Bahrain is, people see more hope Where a Black woman with Asian roots takes her power. Kindness
In America, land of the free; liberty and justice–the zenith. It is hard, but America faces unafraid our history dappled
In non-anxious, bold turpitude; Yet, at times we choose kindness. We battle to help the delicate soul of America reach her zenith. Hope like Kamala brightens the complexion of America dappled.
By Denise Krebs
Postscript: Poetry gives heart and soul to numbers and patterns. I love to puzzle words, syllables, and meter together to fit poetry forms. However, after being in this process for a while today, wrestling with the six words at the end of each line, I couldn’t also think about iambic pentameter. I can’t even manage consistent meter in a short poem. After counting the syllables in the first few lines, I stopped! I’m publishing this draft without worry of iambs and meter. At least for now. I’ve learned that sestinas are a challenge!
Here is a Sestina generator to help you make a template with the word order for each stanza. I discovered it after I made mine.
If you’ve written a sestina, please share a link in the comments. I’d love to read it.
Yesterday was my husband’s fourth day off from work in a row. It was Eid Al-Fitr over the long weekend, and now he is back at work. Normally he works six days a week, so we don’t usually have such an extended time to revivify. It’s been a great week.
Yesterday’s pleasant and relaxed day included:
a long walk at the mall because it’s already too hot to walk outside
sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee (for him) and tea (for me)
shopping for a few needed items at the grocery store
time in the kitchen making applesauce and roasting broccoli, carrots, green beans, zucchini, and butternut squash (I love having Tupperwares full of healthy food in the fridge ready to dish up and warm throughout the week)
Tweeting out a request for help to identify the tree below that I noticed at the mall
and finally going out to a neighborhood store to get a 5-gallon water refill
On the way up the elevator, after our walk to the store, my husband asked me if I was really happy not working fulltime this year. (After the first quarter this year, I began volunteering at my school.) Without hesitation I said, yes. It is the first year I’ve felt that I am living first and teaching second. For years in the past, I explained, I chose teaching over living. Teaching always held a disproportionate amount of my heart and time. That is a sad truth.
This is the tree I saw at the mall. It reminded me of the jacaranda tree, which I grew up with in California, except for these vibrant flowers.
I tried to figure out what this tree was, but I’m out of practice using a dichotomous key and I couldn’t identify it. I sent a tweet and Brenda kindly answered within five minutes, (reminding me of when I used to like Twitter.)
Today’s poem was inspired by this Flamboyant tree, also called Royal Poinciana tree (Delonix regia) and Flame of the Forest tree in India, as Prarthana later pointed out on Twitter. Our tree here in Bahrain is young or perhaps the climate is not quite right for all those gorgeous and showy blooms. I’ll be keeping my eye on it and see if it adds more color this summer.
Oh, my! I am really inexperienced with throwing surprise parties. Especially on Zoom.
Carrot cake, with its spicy and sweet aromas wafting throughout our flat and hallway, ensures that I can’t bake his surprise birthday cake here at home.
However, I figured I would be able to mix the batter here, but even that got a little complicated. My husband works in the same building where we live, so he is known to pop in during the day to retrieve something or take a quick break. There is only one fail-proof safe time when he is in a meeting and that is 7:30-7:50 a.m.
Seven to 7:30 is also pretty good, but if he gets to his office and has forgotten something, even that 30-minute period is at risk. I stayed up late the night before and woke at 7:00, so I jumped into action.
I got out 8 eggs, hid them in a pan with a lid on it. Broke them one by one into a big rectangular Tupperware. Then poured in two cups of oil. I was always a bit nervous and concocting a believable lie should he pop in. Relief. I was safe so far. I took a quick shower and got dressed.
At 7:30, I was finally safe for 20 minutes. I got out the food processor, quickly peeled some carrots, grated them and measured out 6 cups into the tub with oil and eggs. Then I buried it in the fridge among all the other similar tubs.
Next was clean-up! Oh, the ubiquitous carrot gratings! I kept wiping and cleaning, picking them up off the floor. The orange spots of carrot juice and tiny orange shavings screamed, “See me in all my fluorescent glory!” I was supposed to be getting ready for Zoom school not finding another shred of carrot. “Why in the world are you grating carrots?” I heard my husband ask in my imagination where he was coming home for coffee and saw carrot remains.
As I watched the clock, and kept finding more evidence, I felt like a nervous criminal trying to clean up a crime scene. Finally, I thought I had it all picked up. I even went into the bathroom and checked my smile to make sure all the end pieces I’d been munching on were not wedged anywhere conspicuous. I grabbed my bag of carrot cake trash–eggs shells, empty oil bottle, carrot residue–and went down to the dumpster.
There when I returned back to my flat was my husband in the clean kitchen, thankfully with absolutely no question about carrots. I began to make myself a cup of tea, and he said, “Wow, thanks for emptying the trash…” (It had been sitting by the front door since last evening.) “…and before your tea even!”
This adventure happened twice this week–double recipes of carrot cake mixed up surreptitiously and then taken to a friend’s on the way to school to bake and freeze at their home.
Finally, on Sunday evening we had the successful and sweet party! Several times over the last 24 hours, he has said, “Thank you for last night.”
I waited until yesterday, his official birthday to deliver the small cakes I had baked. Between school and time with my husband, I hadn’t had enough free time to bake, thaw, frost and delivery before the party.
Carrot cake: our family recipe for anniversaries, births, weddings, baptisms of Shredded carrots freckling the kitchen So many fluorescent flecks threatening to spoil the surprise Z O O M into the meeting at 7:00 p.m. Bahrain time, 9:00 a.m. Pacific, for this pandemic party Carrot cakes stealthily baked with love in tiny aluminum pans delivered to participants to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of my beloved– this man, so good and kind and passionate– with carrot caky goodness