Dirt road

On Ethical ELA’s Open Write today, Kim Johnson invites teacher-poets to compose poetry from paint chip colors. She happened to have “Dirt Road” in her own list.

As soon as I saw that name, it was over. I would have to take Dirt Road. Its pull is too strong for me, calling me back to a place I write about often.

So today I write a memoir poem, although I did incorporate a few paint chip names along the dirt road: Oyster Shell, Turtle Green, Pink Blossoms, Dreamy Memory, Forever Fairytale, Summer Sunflower.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll try whole new paint chip poem away from Dirt Road.

This is where the name led me today.

Dirt Road

I watch the highway
and my heart beats fast
when I see it coming
just around the bend

old dirt road

off to the right
threading through the trees
past Miss Etta’s tiny turtle-green
screened-porch house
where she dips snuff

past the homeplace
standing like a dreamy memory
white paint faded to tired oyster shell
sunlight gleaming
on the tin roof

Grandma was born here

past the tangle of sunflowers
planted by her brother
who still lives here alone
something is different about him
I don’t know what
it’s in his long face
he never says much
but he did give me some quarters
once

just beyond the sunflowers
Granddaddy’s garden
looks like something
an artist painted
in watercolor greens
in perfect rows
he grows collards 
and little round peppers for his vinegar
squash, cantaloupe, snap beans, 
Silver Queen corn, crowder peas,
and butterbeans, 
speckled pink and white
when I help shell them
from their furry green pods

then the grape arbor he built
laden with scuppernong vines
big leaves waving Hey
big brown-gold grapes
won’t be ready yet
and they aren’t even pretty
but to me
they taste like Heaven itself

then the row of crape myrtles at the curve
bright pink blossoms nodding their heads
sometimes shedding, rolling on and on
smooth forked trunks
where I like to climb and sit
and make up songs
thinking in forever fairytale

the house
bright white
black shutters

and I can’t think now
about the tire swing 
hanging there in the pecan tree 
studded with woodpecker holes
or the tiny cemetery with its ghosts
across the old dirt road

because Grandaddy and Grandma
are coming across the yard
straw hats shielding faces
lit with smiles
bright as the summer sunflowers
ever turning toward the sun

Daddy pulls off 
the old dirt road
into the yard

we’re here
we’re here

I am out of the car 
before it stops
running toward
open arms

and I never
want to leave.

My grandparents and my oldest boy on the old dirt road, a long time ago

*******

with thanks to Kim Johnson, Ethical ELA, and Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. Writing is but half the magic. Sharing is the other half.

King’s gold

Today on the Ethical ELA Open Write, Kim Johnson challenged teacher-poets to try different versions of the Golden Shovel, which is typically created by borrowing one line of a poem or speech and using it as the beginning or ending words of each line of your own new poem. Kim encouraged using lines from Dr. King’s speeches, in honor of the day.

This is the first time I’ve attempted to write a triple Golden Shovel. I took three meaningful lines from “Letters from Birmingham Jail” – remembering that Dr. King was a minister:

-“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”(opening words to line 7)
-“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love” (somewhere in the middle, until last 4 lines)
-“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (ending words to line 8)

(Thank you, Kim – and Dr. King).

Winter meditation

with thanks to Stacey Joy, who shared the monotetra form this morning on Ethical ELA’s Open Write: quatrains ending in monorhyme, lines of eight syllables.

Winter Meditation

On this dark morning, falling snow
fills the spirit with candleglow
the bliss-blessed silence, calling so:
Hush. Take it slow. Hush. Take it slow.
 
Claim the quiet for your healing
be free as the hawk, a-wheeling
your crystal-scoured heart revealing
wounds are sealing, wounds are sealing.

For now, nature’s red tooth and claw
newly blanketed, without flaw
is still, peace-covered, filled with awe.
Time to withdraw, time to withdraw. 

List poem: Learning unforced rhythms of grace

with thanks to Stacey Joy and her list poem prompt on Ethical ELA today.

Here’s my list poem. I am clearly still working on “learning unforced rhythms of grace“…probably forever…

Learning Unforced Rhythms of Grace

How do I learn them, Lord?
Let me count the ways…

Listening for your voice
in the cadence of my days

Seeking to still my spirit’s
frenetic beating wings

Perceiving the song
all of creation sings

Releasing judgment, 
not mine to make

Finding forgiveness daily
in a flow of give and take

Honoring hidden pain and scars
accrued in life’s syncopated race

Opening my arms, my heart
as one small resting place

Valuing the story
pulsing though others’ veins

Knowing in the end of it all
story is what remains

Desiring patterns of peace,
the prosody of erase, embrace

Believing I am capable of learning
unforced rhythms of grace.

Benchmark haiku

If you’re a teacher
you’re probably assessing
current student growth

since the beginning
of this COVID-tainted year
hoping, despairing

—don’t forget caring
should also include yourself.
Numbers can’t measure

your value and worth.
You’re one of the mightiest
forces on this Earth.

A timely caption in my daily planner

Time for a hygge

with thanks to Kim Johnson, who recently reminded me of the word

It really is a hug
that you give yourself
perhaps on darkest days
in the dead of winter

when forecasts of snow and ice
fill the news
or maybe you already hear
tiny frozen pellets
striking the windows

but inside
you have a little crackling fire
jars of dancing candlelight
wafting balsam and spice
a bunch of fleecy blankets
a few brand-new books
and bookmarks
and maybe soft new slippers
(mine say “Sleeps with Dogs”
with fancy scrollwork. They are
blissfully snug)

maybe your Christmas tree
is still up (like mine)
or at least your strings of lights
outside, sparkling
in the bitter cold
where the faint sound
of windchimes drifts in
from a distance

with your favorite brew brewing
knowing you don’t have to be going
anywhere
or doing anything
except savoring the now
with a slothful-as-you-please
slowness

go ahead now,
give yourself
a hygge.

Dennis the dachshund is a master at hygge (pronounced hue-gah).

Originating (or at least perfected) in Denmark, hygge is the act of intentionally creating an atmosphere of warmth, coziness, and well-being, however it works for you, regardless of whatever is raging beyond your own walls.

We are getting reports here that the ice may cometh soon. Dennis clearly has his hygge on. I am preparing for it…got my new books and and my slippers ready.

Stay tuned

Today SOS-Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog invites us to write about a catchphrase…here’s one I use quite often

When my colleagues
have more questions
than I have answers
I say
stay tuned

When my husband
bemoans the day
longing for simpler times
I say
stay tuned

When my children
are anxious
about their tomorrows
I say
stay tuned

When I sit staring, despairing,
at an empty screen
the Muse leans in close,
whispering
stay tuned

When sleep turns the knobs
of my weary brain
to receiving messages
on a channel of dreams:
stay tuned

When waking, I realize
the story isn’t over.
It’s a new beginning…
stay tuned
stay tuned

“Stay tuned” is an idiom meaning “keep listening” or “keep watching.” It originated in the days of dial-tuned radio receivers and eventually transitioned to television.

s

Reflecting on wonder

“The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel
Epigraph in Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
(Foer, Thuras, & Morton).

On the first week back to school after the holidays, I spent time covering classes and duties for colleagues who are out due to COVID protocols. I arrived on campus each day not knowing what I’d be called on to do. This has been the pattern for the whole school year thus far, in fact, and it may continue until June…

But I am not going to focus on the intensified daily juggling act.

I will concentrate on the unexpected moments of light…such as when a colleague told me that my iPhone could understand spoken Harry Potter spells.

This I had to see for myself.

Hey, Siri: Lumos...and my flashlight came on. (Lumos is the spell that makes wands and lamps light up in the books in and movies, for those who don’t know).

Hey, Siri: Nox…and my flashlight turned off.

Hey, Siri: Accio Twitter…and my Twitter app opened up in my phone.

Tell me this is not a great wonder, technology.

Furthermore, the knowledge came in handy when I filled in for quarantined teachers in upper grades. I demonstrated the “magic” and wowed the kids.

That’s the thing about wonders…you want to share them. Wonders are not meant to be contained. They are contagious. They are forever beckoning and burgeoning.

So maybe the magic of Siri understanding Harry Potter is a small thing.

Maybe a greater wonder is finding the right book to inspire a reluctant reader. This past week it was not Harry Potter but books about children with physical limitations and differences who face extreme challenges. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. And, of course, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. They grip you from the start…

I pause to reflect here on all the wonder wrought by books in my own life. I feel the covers tingling with magic whenever I pick them up (maybe it’s just my anticipation).

Last week I watched the wonder on kids’ faces as they learned how a prism or raindrop separates light into colors. I watched in wonder as two students known for behavior issues stayed on task to complete their assignments when they were allowed to work together.

I thought, randomly, about the fireworks that went off in the distance on New Year’s Eve. My six-year-old granddaughter was spending the night. My husband and I allowed her to stay up. She heard the booming of the fireworks at midnight and wanted to see them. We went out on the back deck, but fog and trees obscured our view.

I’ve never gotten to see fireworks, said my granddaughter.

One day you will, I told her.

I like the sound of them. It makes me feel calm.

That filled me with wonder…I have never heard anyone express that about the sound of fireworks. Least of all a child.

Maybe the calmness has not so much to do with the sound but the place and the sense of safety…these are linked in their way to wonder. The unexpected, the new, a bit of uncertainty but also an embracing. The opening Heschel quote encapsulates it well: The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.

Like a bright, beckoning burst suddenly illuminating a moment, a mind, a spirit.

Do you remember spending last New Year’s Eve with us, too? my husband asked our granddaughter.

Oh yeah! Can I stay here next year, too? And the one after that?

Sure you can! You can stay every New Year’s Eve if you want.

Even when I am fifty-nine?

Yes, even when you are fifty-nine.

Wonders upon wonders await.

Of this, I am sure.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge and the wondrous community of writers.

Metaphor dice

Today I played with metaphor dice for the first time.

The goal is to create a metaphor from a concept, an adjective, and an object.

I rolled guilt, stingy, odyssey.

What to make of this?

Guilt is a stingy odyssey
a relentless clutching on
the pearl-string of your days

its sweaty palms
obscuring nacreous elegance
choking your moments

whispering always
through clenched teeth
that you have no real worth


if you listen
the days roll on
like cement slabs

slamming end over end
one heavy turn at a time
every next day
just like the one before
—testify, Sisyphus

guilt is a stingy odyssey
whether true or self-imposed
it is unwilling to loosen its grasp
for if you should break free

and alter your course

you will discover
unforced rhythms of grace.

Lost and found

It’s a delicate rose-gold chain with crystal bezels. I don’t know its value, but my oldest son gave it to me some years ago, so to me it is priceless. I wear it every day on my right arm where it frequently catches the light and reminds me of him.

The last thing I do whenever I leave the house is pull it out from under my sleeve (if I am wearing long sleeves or a coat, and as temperatures were in the thirties this morning, I was wearing both).

When I reached for it today, the bracelet wasn’t there.

I had a busy morning ahead; I couldn’t stop to look for it.

I had to carry on without it.

In my mind, I retraced steps. I would look for it when I got home.

And so I did.

Wasn’t in the bed (I’d made it, surely I would have seen the bracelet if it was lying there).

Wasn’t on the floor, not anywhere that I could see. I used my phone flashlight so the bracelet would shine in the light…

I checked my closet, checked the sleeve of my pajamas and my warm red robe.

Not there.

Even checked my husband’s car; we went out for Mexican last night.

No.

“Do you think you lost it at the restaurant?” queried my husband.

“No, I didn’t even take my coat off and the sleeves are fastened close at the wrists. I don’t think it could have fallen out.”

It’s just a little bracelet but it’s irreplaceable.

My boy gave it to me.

Retracing, retracing…

I am a pretty good finder of things. I can usually retrace enough or recall what I was doing well enough to locate a lost thing. I ask myself: What makes sense?

Back to the closet.

It made sense that the bracelet might have come off when I changed out of my robe and pajamas, which I left folded on top of a storage box in there. I had already checked, but…it’s what made the most sense.

Shined my flashlight (again) on the closet floor.

Shook out the pjs.

No.

Shook the fuzzy red robe, ran my hand through the sleeve.

No.

Shined my flashlight on top of the storage box…

A glint of rose-gold, there in a crevice.

Found.

It’s safely back on my arm now.

So, I haven’t always been able to find a lost thing. Speaking of my boy, he lost a precious item when he was small. It’s a silver basketball pendant that belonged to his grandfather, who played the game in high school. His name is etched onto the pendant along with the year: 1935. My husband was wearing it on a silver chain when we first met. He explained that it belonged to his dad, who died when he was twelve. He said: “If I ever have a son, I am going to name him after my father.” And so, a few years later, our boy was born. He was named for my husband’s father. And he was given the basketball pendant on a silver chain when he was too young, really, to be mindful of it. One day it disappeared. We retraced our steps, hundreds of times, over the days, weeks, months. We have moved a couple of times since then. The pendant has never resurfaced. It’s silly, perhaps, to mourn for a thing, but such a loss is more than material; it’s for the history and person and love attached to it…I prayed many times that the little old basketball pendant from 1935, lost in the 1990s, might still find its way back to us someday.

It hasn’t yet.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t…