I taught for 22 years after Columbine,
And I have had to witness the gradual horror of
my country becoming
the only nation in the world
that accepts gun violence
as a part of going to school.
In Arizona, not once did we
practice for the inevitable.
We had just two lockdowns–
Once for killer bees in the yard
And again when a VP in a neighboring school
became an urban legend
by talking down an eighth grader with a gun.
In Iowa, there were no lockdowns.
For Austin’s hunting “how-to” speech,
He was asked to bring his rifle
to the principal’s office in the morning
instead of storing it his hall locker.
In Manama, the ancient-by-modern
capital city of Bahrain,
my students worried once
that America was going to bomb Iran,
but they never had to worry about
or practice for gun violence.
But now in this place,
it has become inevitable–
It’s a given:
Some American young people will die in their schools.
But all American young people worry and wonder.
They prepare, they lie quietly,
pretending an active shooter
Is in the hallway trying to kill their teacher
trying to kill their classmates
trying to kill them
with a gun.
Join tens of thousands of others on June 5th.
We are going to Denver to demand action.
Please join us.
I’m carrying this poem by Carl Sandburg in my pocket. Click the image to read the poem in text.
I wrote poetry with a group at Ethical ELA. The teachers and other writers are amazingly supportive. In this running April 2020 post, I added each day’s poem throughout the month. The poetry challenge will continue five days each month beginning 16-20 May 2020.
Writing with #Verselove
Thank you, mentors
Thank God for writing
Hearts of longing
Hearts of healing
Brokenness once unspoken
Brokenness poured out in poetry
Poetry of triumph
Poetry of laughter
Laughter in knowing
Laughter in tears
Tears of renewal
Tears of cleansing
Cleaning from old hurts
Cleansing like therapy
Therapy of self-awareness
Therapy of celebration
Celebration of spoken words
Celebration of written words
Words like treasures
Words like flowers
Flowers of magic
Flowers of moods
Moods to relay
Moods to wander
Wander not aimlessly
Wander to ponder
Existence of whispers
Existence of universal truths
Truths to craft in form
Truths to craft freely
Freely speaking our hearts
Freely reading one another
Another day passed
Another poem written
Written in quiet
Written in embrace
Embrace of new friends
Embrace of sure future
Future of hope
Future of #verselove
And another thankful poem I wrote earlier in the month:
An Ode to #Verselove Poets
To my friends:
When I write these it doesn’t mean
I don’t love your poems,
that I’m not truly touched.
But come on, Denise,
that’s all you write.
You are 62 years old.
Learn some precise language
for speaking about what you mean.
How about using a thesaurus?
got me dealing with my own feelings
wisdom from you, my mentors
composing that closing
With your words
my soul you’re jabbing
my heart you’re stabbing
my mind you’re grabbing
my eyes I’m dabbing
Your poems are cathartic
for the arctic
sea in me
reminding me of open wounds
yet to be restored when
given your remedy
A Limerick of My Writing Journey
Wield a half millimeter black roller ball
Indite in my journal, whatever befall
Mind focused on prompt
Diversions I’ll stomp
And tomorrow I’ll pen an overhaul
A List Poem About Why That Limerick is a Lie
While writing it, I…
…answered a teacher query about post-Eid assessment changes
…recorded four Flipgrid video responses
…initiated family trivia night
…answered six What’s App texts
…and two phone calls
…warmed up and ate leftover machboos
…browsed The Washington Post
…watched my husband play a video game
…worked on my genius hour presentation
time…none like the present
8:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., midnight, 3:00 a.m.
tools…any or all
my rollerball is probably lost, so grab a pencil or a conference freebie ball point or my computer
topics…prompts and non-prompts
letters, emails, recipes, students’ feedback, texts, poems, blog posts, lesson plans
In reality, I cannot articulate my writing process.
Them: Too much experience, grad degree
That puts you here on the salary scale
Me: Can we negotiate?
After several interviews like this
I was frustrated, feeling useless
What else would I do?
My mom’s message to me,
a still, small voice,
restoring me and giving me hope:
“You are a treasure waiting to be discovered.”
Like a fortune cookie with a purpose.
Soon after, I received a teaching job,
for the little rural Catholic school
that needed teachers, even Protestants,
and couldn’t afford to pay much–
a junior high ELA teacher
with experience and an MA
The morning after, and for seven years
before coming to Bahrain,
I felt like a treasure
Big brother Responsible, military Officer, sheriff, CHP captain Taught me to swim by throwing me in He was a father fill-in and when I moved across the country for a boy, he Even offered me a return ticket just in case Remembering him today
Baby brother Responsible, teacher and Officer in the union Though we caterwauled and clashed in free-for-alls, He finally grew bigger, so I stopped beating him up. Today, we Enjoy friendship and fellowship Rejoicing today that I have him
Bookend brothers–or the capital letter and period of our Reed sibling sentence. One, the oldest twin, the other, The sweet and welcome baby boy after five girls. Helpers in their careers and families. He was Elder by 18 years, so Rick had a special bond with Keith, but Suddenly, in 2012, Rick’s heart failed and our sentence faltered.
Four Things I’d Say to People Who Are Afraid of Their Spice Cabinet
1 – I used to be too, using cinnamon and basil and oregano and salt and pepper.
When I felt exotic I’d add a pinch of cumin and a smidgen of chili powder. Nothing louder than what you’d find in a steaming bowl of chowder, though.
2 – Then I got older and bolder and experimented. I always loved to eat savory, flavory dishes, so why not recreate them in my kitchen? I can try. And try I do now because you see.
3 – My spices are becoming a touchstone for me. I look in my cupboard and see so many jars of hope, flavors brimming, ideas bubbling, whole leaves, pods, seeds, some crushed and powdered, as the hours are in my life. My time is limited in this place, in Bahrain where the flavors are exquisite and the spices are pennies. My time is limited on this earth. My time is limited in the kitchen, So,
4 – I want to use every hour, every recipe, every moment, every meal to the fullest. To the tastiest. To the joyful hope of a new beginning.
Whose Job is More Important?
the first time I was confronted
with the idea that
I was half an orphan
the assignment was an essay
in third grade
“Whose job is more important–Mother’s or Father’s?”
Well, I penned my composition,
Of course, it was my mother’s job
that was most consequential,
most conspicuous at least
making a coat for me at Christmas
At that time, I had no idea who
had picked up the pieces
of my missing father’s job.
Yes, it was Mother’s job
I compelled and convinced myself
What else could a girl without a father conclude?
Jacob and Rachel–
My husband’s favorite analogy
“Seven years I had to wait for Denise”
Now I know what I didn’t know then.
I could have given myself advice:
At 18 Keith is going to ask you to marry him
Let him down easy
You both still have growing up to do
And in 7 years time
you’ll ask him back
Standing in his kitchen
on the 14th of February
He, sick in his brown fuzzy bath robe
You, saying I’m ready
We’re going on four decades now
We’ve said over the years without those 7 years
We would not be together today.
7 years became a gift of a lifetime
Here is a season that knows it is going to lose the fight.
One day a breeze blows in the twilight,
almost breathing a bit of chill from the Saudi peninsula.
Another one has a humid breeze from the south east
soaking up the water from the Arabian Gulf,
pouring it on the island.
Not in rain, but in oppressive heaviness.
In April there is an angry dance,
One, lovely springtime weather, warm and welcome.
The dance partner, summer day, is a bully–stifling and scorching.
Dominant and tormenting summer.
An unbreakable building, building.
Heat dome lying heavy and unmovable.
Over the Middle East there are no Canadian cold fronts
providing relief for a day or two
Summer in all its oppression will win
At fifteen, you will be in grade 10, with a new stylish haircut and feeling on top of the world.
You will be dreamily thinking about Steve T. and John B. while you sit in accounting class.
Really, why are you in that class? Get up now and go sign up for Algebra.
At fifteen you will dance with Steve, but that’s all, so quit daydreaming.
You will try out for cheerleading, but you won’t make it.
So, pick yourself up and know that everything will be OK.
At fifteen, you will think you want to follow in your sisters’ footsteps and be a secretary.
It’s okay, you haven’t had many role models, but believe it or not, you will get a BA and an MA.
So, get to that Algebra class and take some AP courses while you’re at it.
At fifteen you will think the world revolves around your reputation at school.
Don’t worry, everyone else thinks the same thing and aren’t paying attention to you.
Know that this too will pass and there is another world where all that doesn’t matter.
At fifteen you think you know it all.
At fifteen you don’t know much.
At fifteen you will be forgiven.
Carry on, you make it to 16 and even 61.
One day at a time.
Hey, friend, what are you up to?
Compost stew? Oh, that makes me smile.
Yes, not a pile
Organic bits simmering true.
It’s a stew.
Sent fresh from Mama Earth to you.
Fertile soil, a promise redeemed
“Be fruitful, tender earth,” God beamed.
Compost stew! Yes, not a pile. It’s a stew.
Having a pot of karak tea with you
is more comforting than
the sound and depth of James’ Earl Jones’ voice
the feeling and chills I get when someone plays with my hair
a frosty glass of water after working in the yard
cozying up with a warm, fluffy blanket
the sound of rain, gentle on a tin roof
the smells of fresh bread and rich earth
the throaty full crooning of Gordon Lightfoot
the sight of seeing you come through the door
and joining me at the table in Naseef’s
(when we no longer need to have virtual tea parties)
which is why I’m telling you about it
(Incorporating Robert Frost “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”)
My nightmare is when imperative
To-Do Lists are not done
1) Turn in grades
2) Contact parents with missing assignments (Before #1)
3) Rewrite two virtual entrance exams
4) Write my lesson plan so it can be sent out virtually by 6 pm
5) Prepare for Teach Meet tomorrow.
6) Make a Flipgrid video sample for my students.
My favorite items on the to-do list
1) Write a poem on EthicalELA.
2) Comment on my fellow poets’ work
Didn’t make the cut
The nightmares are ruthless, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Where I Am From
I am from fresh fruit,
from milk in glass bottles delivered to the porch,
always available, and
Smirnoff’s in the cupboard,
for only my dad to reach.
I am from the white stucco tract house
with green shutters
and seven kids (brimming, entangled,
trying to fit into the puzzle)
I am from the sweet guava tree
in the neighbor’s yard offering
for those brave enough to climb.
I’m from camping in rugged Yellowstone
and big smiling teeth,
from Virginia and Richard
I’m from the put-on-a-happy-face and be-cute-at-all-costs family.
From “Clean your plate so the neighbors don’t think we’re starving you,” and
“Come home when the street lights turn on.”
I’m from real Jesus, not rubber Jesus,
and a grandma who helped me understand.
I’m Heinz 57,
from Ohio, on one side,
Texas and Georgia, on the other, some
went west with the railroad and made it to California.
I am from cornbread, pinto beans, macaroni and cheese and enchiladas.
I am from the birth of Scotty, my first nephew full of rubella birth defects
and Aunt Thelma, who made everyone laugh and always had See’s candy.
Photos were stored casually in cardboard boxes in my mother’s closet,
scattered memories, remnants of love and doing our best.
No Hand Shakes
A Hunger Games salute
High five across two meters
Say hello, goodbye, good morning
Smize–smile with your eyes under your mask
Shoulder, hip or foot shakes — just no handshakes
Today I noticed
my sweet basil plant
dying in Bahrain.
Try as I might,
I can’t grow it here
It brought me back to a
better basil time
a summer in Iowa when
I had a basil bush—
exuberant and enormous,
verdant and lush,
nourishing my pride
as a gardener.
So much life
so it demanded to be brought
inside for the winter.
I stuck the shovel in
and carefully pulled out a
of silky clay loam,
the black earth
hugging the roots
of my prodigious prize.
I brought it indoors
in a hulk of a pot
and it satisfied us all winter.
As spring approached
I decided instead of one plant
that next summer
I needed a whole flowerbed
filled with sweet basil.
I clipped and trimmed, and
rooted a dozen-and-a-half
successors, so my
fine plant’s posterity was assured.
I carefully planted each one
giving them plenty of space
to later fill-in
and take over the bed
under our kitchen window.
A year’s feasting forthcoming!
basil butter on garlic toast
broccoli basil soup
tomato, basil & mushroom frittata
cucumber- and basil-infused water
An ekphrastic poem is written in response to a scene or work of art. I used this image from feminist.org, a photo of Alice Paul at the Seward-Belmont House. I wrote a Fib poem and reverse: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21,13, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1, 1.
You wouldn’t believe
What we done made of this country
Slavery gone, racism stayed to our core, women vote,
But Hillary, Kamela, and Elizabeth are all shut down by 2020
You don’t want to know about 46-1
I won’t even go there, my friend
It is not pretty
Glad we don’t
My friend sits over the flame
filled with sweet milky goodness
Both arms faithfully rigid
One points down like the arm of the driver
without functioning break lights
That one arm,
though the color of a stop sign,
Does not say, halt,
It says, drink up, dear
The other arm up,
hand held high,
waits to pour out
libations of luxury
in the morning
a long long time ago
he was 43 years old
the devil’s only friend
the day the music died
he was singing
too many kids to feed
too many emotions to weed
bye bye cigarettes
bye bye vodka
before they married
his widowed bride
was blind to
all the minor keys
in which he played
a telling overture of the whole
rhythm and blues opera
what would an
maybe it was the
seven kids lost in space
trying not to misstep
bad news on the doorstep
they turned out nice
not into vice
stayed out of jail
tried not to fail
cute at all costs
not too many lost
to dysfunction with alcohol
when promoted to chp captain
watched him on the stage
hands clenched in fists of rage
do you think dad would be proud yet
“Your girls have such big teeth!”
was giving my mom a compliment.
My teenage sisters looked at her–
eye rolls postponed until after the goodbyes–
And smiled fakely,
light glinting off the
three piano keyboards,
minus the sharps and flats.)
These Reed teeth
Dominate the genes
Because the next generation
was also initiated into
the big teeth club.
An indelible image
comes to mind:
My daughter’s first dental x-ray
“What is this?” I asked, pointing.
The dentist, not alarmed,
“A secondary incisor,
Her front tooth.
Is that how Reed teeth look in a three-year-old?
Those front teeth were like
masked, menacing miscreants,
lying in wait to strike. How can we stop the invasion? I wondered.
“Aren’t they too big?” I asked.
“She’ll grow into them.”
Sigh of relief.
Staff of life
Loaves freshly baked
Multi grain, whole wheat
Sour dough, comforting white
Not just loaves, but bagels, naan,
Muffins, sweet bread, pancakes, corn bread,
Tortillas, chapati, ciabatta
How many pounds and breads before we’re done?
Yearner of joy
Yearner of purpose
Purpose in knowing
Purpose in giving
Giving to others
Myself even when a mess
Myself even when incomplete
Incomplete in this life
Alone but longing to be together
Alone but able to think
Think of the future
Think of joy
Joy that we are not alone
Joy in humanity
Humanity comes out
Humanity grows in crisis
Crisis of enemies
Crisis of belief
Belief in the good of others
Belief in benevolent leaders
Leaders who can be trusted
Leaders who earn our trust
Trust in leaders
Trust only in God
God who is Bread of Life
God who is Water
Cleansing our souls
Cleansing our thoughts
Thoughts of fear
Thoughts of escape
Escape from the unknown
Escape from the solitude
Solitude has its perks
Solitude becomes old
Old as fear
Old as joy
Joy in the Garden
Joy at the empty tomb
Tomb of life
Tomb of Rising
Rising on Easter
Rising for us