This week I wrote a lot of poems; I was not a student of meter. In fact, what’s meter? I was just cranking out poems. So, Linda, I’m sure I have lots of bad lines for the clunker exchange. Linda Mitchell is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today, and she has lots of “clunker” lines to exchange. Go on over and visit to join in the fun.
It was time for the June Open Write at Ethical ELA. That was fun! I have five days worth of poems from this lovely community of teacher-poets. Days One, Two, Three, Four and Five, if you are interested. Next Open Write will be July 17-21. You are welcome to join us.
I was on the committee to create a keepsake book for our principal and his family who are leaving next week to go back to the United States. I wrote one for each of the family members. These are the pages from the book that I wrote, after I removed the photographs of family, students, and staff, for the sake of privacy.
I did spend some time thinking about Poetry Friday before I got so busy this week. I wrote a definito poem created by Heidi Mordhorst. In Heidi’s words, a definito is a free verse poem of 8-12 lines (aimed at readers 8-12 years old) that highlights wordplay as it demonstrates the meaning of a less common word, which always ends the poem. Quite a fun way to learn and write about new vocabulary words. You can read lots of great examples here on her definito post.
When your family’s had a busy week
and dinner plans look bleak, just bits and
smidges of food left in dishes in the fridge–
tofu tetrazzini, a few pieces of beet,
a tub of butter, stale bread of sprouted wheat
a bowl of Gramma’s pasta, some sticky, gooey treats,
a few peaches and some plums, so cold and sweet,
four hard boiled eggs, and just a shred of meat…
then dinner becomes a rehash of this mishmash.
All those leftovers for dinner are manavelins.
And finally, here is one more poem I wrote to read at a 5C class poetry slam, the only grade 5 class I continued to co-teach throughout the school year. I taped it up near my camera, and everyone thought I had memorized it. I’m developing some bad habits with Zoom! (Or at least habits I’ll miss after this Zoom chapter.)
Have you ever used the word manavelins?
Do you think I captured it in my definito of manavelins?
I appreciate the beautiful photos Margaret shares–sometimes her own and something from friends with beautiful Instagram accounts to follow. I had never noticed elderflowers before, even though I grew up in southern California, where I read that they grow. Margaret’s poem taught about the medicinal value of the elderflower. I went to do a little more research on these beautiful flowers. I learned that Meghan and Harry had a lemon and elderflower wedding cake. I tried a dodoitsu, which is a four-line poem, no meter or rhyme constraints, with a syllable count of 7-7-7-5, and the poem can be about love or work with a comical twist. (Oops, I hope you don’t think my last line is funny.)
Elderflowers like snowflakes
What will each bud grow to be?
Spirits for a new pastry?
Stem to grace a grave?
This week I’ve been struck by all the small images, memories, and moments that inspire poetry for me and others. In “Supple Cord,” Naomi Shihab Nye remembered and shared this sweet childhood ritual linking her with her brother.
My brother, in his small white bed,
held one end.
I tugged the other
to signal I was still awake. continued
Margaret Simon is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. I have been inspired to write beside Margaret many times over the past year. Inspired here by “Zen Tree” and here by “Peep Eye”, and so many times at Ethical ELA, like here and here for two. I will be going back to her “Today’s Poem” again for inspiration, the poem that “gazes beyond the trees imagining…”
Margaret‘s “This Photo Wants to Be a Poem” has been a fun challenge and further inspiration for me lately. On Wednesdays, Margaret posts a photo, and others write a small collection of poems about one image–each always unique, with rich imagery that goes deep into the photo. Each person interprets and sees something beautiful. This week the image was of a bird’s nest in the garden at Margaret’s school. I was impressed with her student, Kaia, who wrote a letter to the superintendent to get improvements made in the garden for next year. Thank you, Margaret, for encouraging Kaia’s voice! I don’t think there is much more important work teachers do than making space for children to recognize, develop, and use their voice. (Of course, I do acknowledge that teaching history, civics, reading and critical thinking skills to know how to use that voice is vital, as well.) Here’s the poem I wrote copy-pasted here. It wasn’t about the bird nest photo, but about Kaia and Ms. Simon who assessed the garden after a long dormant Covid season.
A voice can be
a power displayer
a truth conveyer
a path lighter
a garden inviter
a hardship remover
a world improver
Your voice can be
Speaking of generators: I ran across this interesting Poem Generator, so I gave it a try. It’s like writing a Mad Lib poem. The first time I wrote silly things with answers that came to me as soon as I saw the prompt, as they suggested. The second time I tried it with words that made me think of peace. I actually thought the second one sounded like a bit poetic.
know Houlihan’s to try sunny late afternoon
ceiling fan getting dark
an owl is deep wide
I would go home if I am without gasoline
somebody a cowboy
Peace in Knowing
live for wide sky to sip sweet dawn
a dove is slow and deep
Bring peace if I need a hand
Here is an invitation for you to write poetry with the Ethical ELA community. On June 13 there will be an introductory meeting for anyone who wants to learn more, and an open mic/writing hour afterwards. Click on the images below for more information. June’s Ethical ELA Open Write will be June 19-23 this month.
Our final rest is
among the dandelions
you are welcome,
makes its home
on our headstones.
Sit here with them a while.
Read your magic, but also
study their history.
Listen to their hush.
They have stories to tell.
Passion, fierce and spirited
Detonator of dynamite
Skipping stones across silent waters
On the mark
My combustible kindling
Looks to ignite.
Peers into conversations,
Ready with a lit match,
Fierce and fiery,
and the idiot
with equal flare and fervor
“Where’s my speaker cord, Denise?”
“How should I know? Why are you asking me?”
I need to speak to Denise
and remind her
Of my power to explode, inflame
and burn through relationships.
I should remind her that she hopes for
Passion, fierce and spirited against intolerance and evil.
Detonator of dynamite
Skipping stones across the silent waters of apathy
How she’s proud when
the flames are harnessed and
accountability and justice occur,
When rights are wronged, and
Unfair rules are reimagined
But then she lights my fire
with random hot-tempered explosions
against her loved ones
I am the one who happily and
my flames with aimless abandon.
But she longs for more
precision in pelting
at inexcusable injustices.
This is a Golden Shovel poem using part of this quote from Samuel Hall Young, who attributes it to John Muir in his book: Alaska Days with John Muir, chapter 7:237 (1915) “Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold seeking crowd in God’s pure air. It will help you in your efforts to bring to these men something better than gold. Don’t lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it.”
What we keep
Is revealed in our close
Our blessed oasis. Nature’s
Sacrifice, the whisper of her heart…
Calculates her capacity to carry on. She shivers–Wash
The carbon off your
Knife blade, murderer. Your spirit
must be clean.
Thank you for creating me back when seventh grade was a terror and you were quietly ready to fly back to Arizona where your parents had pulled you away from the only home you remembered. When you created me, sunflowers were shining in your center even if not in your circumstances yet.
You bent that hanger that used to hold your hoodie into one giant ear of understanding for the outcasts, the voiceless, and the refugees–all of us who longed to be counted, even if among the dusty.
Then you covered me with your mom’s pantyhose (of all things) and took away my shame by quickly brushing each square inch with a chromatic makeover right out of southern France. You, whose mother demanded to know why your seventh grade report cards were sprinkled with Cs, painted me with a swirling and dancing starry sky. The cypresses mourned the pitfalls of your unsure future. But paired with those uncertainties of the night was a sun of hope right in the curve of my listening ear. It said everything about what you held dear, what you longed for and believed in: a future.
You, who were to stay and keep learning and growing here in this provincial town.
You, who would keep growing a lifetime of compassionate love and justice.
You, who make the world a better place as an activist, artist, and writer.
You, who would practice your French and independence by working on an organic farm in Normandy, sleeping in a barn bedroom, bravely sharing your walls with scritch-scratching farm mice.
You, who moved from Iowa to Illinois to Missouri to Minnesota, while your parents were 7,000 miles away.
You, who have crossed fluctuant oceans and come back again and again to love.
You, who this very weekend with Thomas will go back to the town where you painted me.
Back to the birth place of your dearest friend since seventh grade, for whom you will have a baby shower.
Back to this dear friend who introduced you to her college friend, Thomas.
Fruits from every land
Fill ships passing through
the Strait of Hormuz,
Destined for our produce stands.
I am a fresh fruit connoisseur.
Covered with playful filaments, the red rambutan
Nestles a smooth and sweet pearly gift from Thailand.
The Fuji apple from China, the size of a softball,
Is as sweet and crisp as a new day.
The tough rich purple of the mangosteen
Opens to show its flowery frosted petals from Indonesia.
Succulent neon navel naranja from Spain
is like opening my Christmas stocking every day.
Mangos from all over the world,
but the ones from Egypt win–
Green and dully camouflaged,
Creamy texture, color of marmalade
luscious and honeyed sweetness within.
The Elaichi banana from Kerala
Fits in the palm of my hand
and tastes like a firm bite of Eden.
The golden kiwi from Italy is like joyful sunshine.
Syrupy sweet melon from Iran,
the dripping juice as sticky as honey.
Yellow Rosemary pear from South Africa,
Delicate white peach from Jordan
Long juicy grapes from India,
Tart, sweet pineapple from the Philippines,
I could go on and on.
I am a fresh fruit connoisseur.
Inspired by a quote in this poem Homesick: A Plea for our Planet –
“How do we not mold our hearts after the first spruce tree who raised her hand and begged to be cut into piano keys so the elephants could keep their tusks?” ~Andrea Gibson
I Did. Now It’s Your Turn, People A Roundel
(After Andrea Gibson)
Mold yourselves after me?
I am sharply dressed,
But I am just a tree.
You? You aren’t guests.
What you’ve done has messed
Up our home. Don’t you agree?
Elephant isn’t the only one stressed.
Brains and hearts hold the key.
Stop and let us take rest.
Do it, so we can all be free.
You? You aren’t guests.
Josh who throws hope around like bells
ringing clear and bright
and asks how everyone’s doing,
who is a tall lighthouse and a shady forest
who is a peaceful hike in Saudi
and a good run on the beach
whose kind walls are made of faith
Josh who listens patiently
as we sit on the cushy chairs in Caribou
and I list all the reasons I can’t do my job.
Josh who believes in me,
sits with his sweet mocha untouched as he
enthusiastically tells of the latest research
and what books he wants to lend me from the
overflowing shelves in his office.
Josh who plans for success for all students
who gently high fives the little ones
who brings jokes for the teens
Josh who disciplines with sharp self-control
who astutely initiates staffing changes
who introduces us to literary giants and
gives us all wigs to put on as we contemplate
our Wildly Important Goal for the year
Josh who plans for success for all of us
whose big ideas surprise, scare, and scintillate
Whose presence brings comfort during conflict,
wisdom when we didn’t know we needed it,
and identifies strength
when we didn’t know we had it.
Josh who throws hope around like bells
ringing clear and bright
is leaving us,
Josh who prays for us
and with us
is leaving us,
Josh whose love and joy fill the school
is leaving us,
and his hope and prayers and love and joy–
will linger after
The constant conversation:
How many more days? We’ll leave the day after school’s out.
Finally the day arrives.
We get up early and
climb into the car.
Positioned on the back of the front seats
are the cloth slings my mother sewed,
each painted with our names.
They are filled with snacks
we got to choose ourselves,
plus brand new coloring and puzzle books
and a fresh box of crayons
Late that afternoon we stop half-way
at a cheap motel in St. George, Utah,
or maybe Cedar City if we made good time
The next day we get on the road
again early. Our travel bags and
snacks help the day pass
And that evening we arrive in
time for dinner in
Here will be our summer home–
six weeks in
delight and wonder,
swimming in the public pool,
even library visits
are magical here.
The forgotten conversation: How many more days?
Wait! What do you mean it’s time to go home!?
the recipe of
freckling the kitchen
So many fluorescent flecks
threatening to spoil the
into the meeting at 6:50 p.m.
8:50 a.m. Pacific,
the anniversary of
the birth of my beloved–
with carrot caky goodness
Wisdom was born eons ago
in a small town called Adversity. She has
the bruises and scars
to show she is a graduate of
UWS–the University of the Way of Suffering.
When she gets to an impasse,
Wisdom braves the decision,
she persists and either turns back,
retracing her steps,
or finds a new route.
the status quo
with her fierce and
Wisdom is married
to knowledge. Though she
holds all the degrees,
she doesn’t assert herself
against pretenders. Wisdom
outshine the imposters,
but she does outlive them.
Wisdom kisses love, joy, and peace.
Wisdom dines on patience, kindness, and goodness.
Wisdom wears faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
as quiet as a heartbeat,
as sweet as a hug after a loss,
and as gentle as a bell of mercy.
She listens more than she speaks,
but when she talks,
those close to her
sit up and listen and she spreads.
When necessary she thunderously
proclaims truth from the peaks
and topples over tables of injustice.
Wisdom leans on the
moral arc of the universe
and brings justice just a little nearer.
That question that haunts me to my very core,
the one I avoid.
The one that I shove back
into the depths of my ugly heart
And don’t let it surface.
But others dig deep and have been
doing so this week.
Susan inspired you yesterday.
Angie’s prompt reminded you today.
These and others have asked tough questions.
Why don’t you too, Denise?
Speak it, repent, reframe the question.
Not today. Maybe
Hate is the country with such a long scar
We dole out death sentences far
From courts of law
White power, our flaw –Street-selling loose cigarettes, death
–Holding a sandwich taken as a threat, death
–Not signaling when moving to the right, death
–Using a bad twenty or having lofty height, death
–Going to the car wash with your new ride, death
–Eating ice cream where you abide, death
–Even sleeping in your own abode, death
Remember their names and the code: Eric Garner
The code of hatred: White supremacy
Hope: Dismantle the enemy
My inspiration came from this Instagram post I saw this morning
Yes, I do want a chocolate-coated,
date-filled cookie, thank you.
Maamouls–a Ramadan gift from
my husband’s co-worker.
I take the wrapper off
and bite into the buttery goodness.
I take another.
How about some chocolate-covered hazelnuts?
Turkish delight and pasta flora?
Gifts of love from my friend.
The pounds I lost last year
are staging a comeback.
The earthquake trembles under my feet,
not from the San Andreas,
but from my own faults.
Remembering when my seven-year-old
“embarrasses” me at Costco.
The middle-aged woman beside us–
intent on rifling through the mom tees–
hasn’t even noticed the child’s faux pas.
(What actually is the little girl’s blunder?)
But because Mom insists,
I’ve seen my faults shock and shake.
Ode to Grilled Cheese
How glorious are your
strings of goodness,
golden globs of
thick slices of
buttered and sizzling
in the pan,
crispy and brown,
becoming one with the
You are a wonder.
Today I noticed details–
Like the smell of the cardamom
And saffron in my milky tea,
And the way the young mother
Stooped over again to retrieve
The blue binky for the
delighted warm baby,
who was the clear leader
in this game of fetch.
I noticed how much
I don’t like to wear lipstick, but not
Until I was able to stop
And put on a mask instead.
My one lipstick, already years old,
may last another decade at this rate.
I was never able to notice how much I liked to cook,
until I moved into my home last March.
It’s the same flat I had slept in for six years,
but I finally began to live here.
Now I cook, I plan, I write, I read,
I smile, I laugh, I listen, I pray
in this place.
I’m no longer a whirlwind of anxiety
about the next
for which I need to run out the door.
I never knew how much
I needed more peace in my living,
But now I know.
I never knew how much I appreciated
noticing these things until I joined
other teacher-poets in this
in the April of Covid, 2020.
I didn’t know how much
I loved poetry,
But now I know.
Thank you, friends.
Psalm 58 – A Prayer for God to Punish the Wicked
Do you rulers ever give a just decision?
Do you judge everyone fairly?
No! You think only of the evil you can do,
and commit crimes of violence in the land.
Evildoers go wrong all their lives;
they tell lies from the day they are born.
They are full of poison like snakes;
they stop up their ears like a deaf cobra,
which does not hear the voice of the snake charmer,
or the chant of the clever magician.
Break the teeth of these fierce lions, O God.
May they disappear like water draining away;
may they be crushed like weeds on a path.
May they be like snails that dissolve into slime;
may they be like a baby born dead that never sees the light.
Before they know it, they are cut down like weeds;
in his fierce anger God will blow them away
while they are still living.
The righteous will be glad when they see sinners punished;
they will wade through the blood of the wicked.
People will say, “The righteous are indeed rewarded;
there is indeed a God who judges the world.”
My 21st Century Mirror of Vengeance
I learned something about God from this poem,
placed in the good book, and read for eons.
God must have invited
people to speak their truth,
not to hide their emotions,
“break their teeth”
“blow them away like weeds”
“dissolve them like salt on a slug”
there was no need to
take vengeance in
their own hands and do violence.
“Give it to me,” God said, “I’ll take it from here.”
So, I wait and pray:
We’ve got some unjust and evil
people with power
who still need their teeth broken, God.
I couldn’t get the photo I wrote about out of my mind all day. It’s the last one on the Glimpses of Grief and Resilience article in National Geographic. “This picture reminds me that domestic violence doesn’t start with bruises on the skin, domestic violence begins with words and takes many forms,” says photographer Irina Unruh. (I also alluded to Jenny in Forrest Gump, Jeremiah 6:14, and a reprise of this week’s shadow and mask poems.)
Pray with me
away from here
Poison pulsing through the air,
Trampling and suffocating,
Cruelly wounded by words,
only to have them
“Let’s go for a drive, baby,
you know I don’t mean it.”
He speaks peace
where there is no peace
Masked by the thing with wings
Little glimpses of hope
Glittering in the sunshine
Come soon, Promise,
For she is still
Hidden in the shadow
Of the pandemic
Speech to the Spenders; Speech to Those Sinking Our Planet
Say to them,
Say to the private profit proliferators,
the conspicuous consumers,
and the empty souls needing something,
yet settling for stuff,
“More is not always better.”
Buying that thing will not satisfy your longings.
Try thrifting or bartering.
Wear out the one you already have.
Dig deep and see what’s really missing.
Free yourself by giving freely.
I Don’t Want to Be a Porcelain Bowl
I don’t want to be a
bowl of porcelain–
and fully fragile.
I don’t want to be displayed
shamelessly on a
shelf, waiting in the shadows,
perfect but untried.
Smooth and without character.
I want to be a Kintsugi bowl,
flawed and fully fractured,
beautiful in my brokenness.
Scars and wounds do not
imply defect, but they
are the rich
wounded suffering, and
Even the author of
unabashedly chose to
His scars on.
I’ve had George Floyd on my mind all week. I watched and read the transcript of his encounter with the police. He was scared, not scary. And then there was the Filipino-American who was attacked in New York. My God, save us. When Stacey shared the list of metaphorical shadows, I was drawn to this verse in Psalm 91, which has always been a favorite of mine. Yet, today I wonder if it’s easier for me to believe God’s protective wings cover me because I don’t have to fear for my life because of my color.
He who lives in the secret place of the Most High Shall stay under the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1
Safe in Heaven’s Abode Direct and Omnipresent Word
How do people of color in these
divided states get
to that secret Safe place?
Away from knees on their necks
and hate crimes against their very personhood?
Is God there in Heaven’s
reach? Is there an Abode
for all? Create a just and verdant place, God,
shady with your big wings’ protection.
Stir up good trouble– Direct distress for us who feel
worthy in our whiteness.
Bring new Omnipresent
Truth in Minneapolis and
beyond. Word of God,
shine in the darkness.
Today is April 1. It is the first day of National Poetry Month. I am excited to Write, Read and Care with a lot of other passionate teachers. I plan to write my first drafts here on this blog post, and then copy and paste it onto a comment on each day’s prompt at the Ethical ELA site. Do please give it a try and join us!
Think playing house–
but maybe not that kind–
come with me to the
at Grove Avenue Elementary School
a hundred trees planted so close
they barely have elbow room
aromatherapy for us
minty, herbal with a touch
of honey and lemon
no sun rays make it to the floor
so nothing grows
tamped-down, hardened clay
becomes our earthen tile
pencil-like leaves fall and gather
the floors swept with our hands
readied for the building
we mound the leafy walls
throughout the grove
the bell rings for us to go back to class
play as long as possible
before running to avoid being late
immediately start watching the clock
when is our next recess?
finally…run to the grove
choose our favorite spot and build again–
living room, den, bathrooms and
bedrooms, lavish and profuse
this forest is our mansion
gladness gleaned from the grove
Leaping Into the Story
The story is with us, with us for a lifetime.
The story is within us, much beyond
Our lifetimes. Story passed on to our heirs. Little or
Much property doesn’t matter, but generation after generation
All become heirs of our beliefs–
Tenets of toxicity,
Positions of poison,
Cesspools of say-sos.
Four hundreds years of unjust stories.
Let justice roll down like water.
Righteousness like an endless stream.
The story of humanity makes
Us alive to Truth. Will we listen to the Truth?
Will we make amends? Hear the story.
Tell the story. Tell
Tell the stories for the just world we yearn for.
March for Truth. Truth that will set
Us free. Then maybe we can
Leap into a changed storyline.
Rose of Saffron
Out in the open
In the full sun
Lies the costliest of all
For thousands of years
It is true
The Crocus Satimus corm
Initiates the process
First lying dormant
Through the heat of summer
Does its wizardry underground
Then the autumn crocus
Burgeons and blossoms
Six purple petals
Cradle the crimson stigmas
And yellow styles
Carefully pluck out the
Three red threads,
Dry and store safely–
150 flowers are needed to make
One gram of spice
(400 flowers to match the mass of a penny)
Use saffron for
healing and health
Creating golden ambrosial delights
Beauty of the beloved