A day in May

It is the season
of newness
of flowering
of fresh color
of cloudless sky
so blue it hurts

it is the season
of grass
of earth
of birth
of birds
of Eastertide hatchlings
leaving nests
to wing their way
through the world

it is the season
of contemplation
of existence
of life
of purpose
of time
not standing still
and therefore being
infinitely
piercingly
precious

Micah contemplates pink sorrel and a piece of pine straw

Core memories poem

On Day Two of National Poetry Month, Emily Yamasaki offers this invitation for VerseLove at Ethical ELA: “There are some details that we hold in our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. Whether it was carved into our memory in joy or distress, they are always there. Join me in giving those core memories a space to live openly today.”

This is the kind of thing that can keep me writing for hours, days, years… I kept it simple, using the first things that rose to the surface, sticking somewhat close to Emily’s models.

random core memories

the cadence of my grandmother’s voice, reading
fat pencils in kindergarten
the smell of struck kitchen matches
bacon grease kept in a canister by the stove
having to throw myself against the stubborn front door
     of my childhood home, to get it open
ironing my father’s uniforms
the smell of his shoe polish
the vaporizer sputtering in my room at night
the rattling crescendo, decrescendo of cicadas
saying it’s going to be all right without knowing how
finding sharks’ teeth in the new gravel of an old country road
lines from dialogues in my 7th grade French textbook
soft-petal satin of new baby skin
that one wonky piano key (is it D or E?)
the mustiness of my grandparents’ tiny old church
the weight of the study Bible in my hands
seeing you for the first time, across the crowded room
the cadence of our granddaughter’s voice, reading

A book my grandmother read to me, that I read with my granddaughter now.
Is it any wonder that I find birds and nests so alluring?
Early memories hold such latent power.

Rambling autobiography

I was born in a state named for a queen, by a river named for a king, and in a hospital named for the river. I adore books, words, wind chimes, church bells, birdsong, the crying of gulls at the shore, ocean waves crashing, the utterance of my newest name, Franna, in my granddaughter’s voice, the aliveness in my son’s fingers dancing over the keys of my grandmother’s piano until the house and my soul burst with his music, and silences. I bought a white flannel nightgown and sheets with bright red cardinals on them at Christmastime because Grandma loved cardinals and Christmas, it is the season of her birth and her death, she is nearest then, so now I lay me down to sleep in heavenly peace. I have her wedding band; I wear it every day. I never dreamed of being a teacher. One of my sons became a teacher, too, then a preacher, like his father. When I was eight or nine, I had an imaginary black cat; one time after climbing from the backseat of Grannie’s car, I flung my hand out to keep the imaginary cat from escaping and Grannie slammed the door on my fingers (no one ever knew about the cat…sorry, Grannie, it wasn’t your fault). My favorite place is out in the middle of nowhere along an old dirt road where my grandmother then my father then I played as children, where cicadas in the woods sing as loud as Heaven’s choir about being born, living, dying, and the Resurrection. I can still smell Old Spice in the cool of those evenings when Granddaddy leaned down to offer me his clean-shaven cheek to kiss, Good night, I love you, see you in the morning. I dated the handsomest black-haired man I’ve ever seen for just three months when we decided to get married, thirty-seven years ago. I fainted at a funeral one summer afternoon but not from grief. I gave my real black cat to Daddy when I got married because I couldn’t take her to the tiny apartment that would be my new home. I once had a yellow parakeet; Daddy got it for my sixth birthday and it lived until I was twelve, dying one summer when I was at Grandma’s playing on the old dirt road — such a mysterious balance, the giving of things and the living of them. I am a grandmother now. I want to have a good dog as long as I am alive and to see my granddaughters grown into all their beautiful becomings before the cicadas sing me away to the riverside where I shall meet the King, at last.

If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.

Psalm 139:9-10

*******

with many thanks to Denise Krebs for the inspiration. Here are Denise’s starters (borrowed from Linda Rief) for a rambling autobiography:

I was born…
I adore…
I bought…
I have…
I never…
One of my…
When I was (age)…
My favorite place…
I can still (sense)…
I dated…
I fainted…
I gave…
I once had…
I am…
I want to…

and thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

You are what you love

My oldest son spoke this phrase to me, the title of a book he’s reading:

You are what you love.

That’s like being handed a toy for the mind. Something to turn round and round, to consider from every angle: What does this do? More importantly: What do I do with this?

I love my little granddaughters. But I am not my granddaughters. I am their Franna. No existential crisis here; we know who we are. We revel in each other.

I love books, but I am not books. Books might be me, however; their words, images, scenes, stories, live in my brain. They change me. They become part of who I am. They fuse themselves to me so that I carry them with me ever after. No, that’s the content. The stuff of books is me. Not the actual books. But I am neither of those.

I love birds, have always loved birds, even got a yellow parakeet for my sixth birthday. I watch for birds daily out here in the North Carolina countryside, especially hawks. Birds inspire me, lift my spirit, fill me with wonder. I write of them (and their symbolism) often. I’m not sure I could ever keep a bird in a cage again. But I am not birds, as much as my heart goes soaring after them or sings in response to them…and don’t even get me started on dogs.

I love my husband and am DEFINITELY not him. I love my home and…well, here maybe the lines begin to blur a bit. I can see where I might be my home, in a sense. I love my church. It’s a given that the people are the church, not the building itself. Some people love their work so much that they are their work, so there’s that.

I love my memories…oh, what a thought, me being my memories, my memories being me. Some great truth is at work here…

And now, just now, what comes to mind is a student at school who loves making little dragons out of paper. She gave me one recently along with a little paper tree (because “a dragon is nothing without his tree,” she said). Every day, more little paper dragons. She loves them. She is not them, although they’re enchanting and so is she, their creator. When she passes me in the hallway: Come and see my new ones. I have a butterfly dragon and I want to make a dragonfly dragon…look, this one is an ice-wing…they’re all colored with bright markers in superb patterns and one day she showed me a tiny paper dragon resting in a tent she’d made, somewhat like a royal litter, complete with tiny paper quilt.

She is not the paper dragons…but maybe she’s more than the artist. She loves creating the dragons. In doing so, she is creating something more of herself, within. Constantly.

Which brings me to writing.

I love writing.

Maybe I am writing. Maybe writing is me. I live in a constant state of composition as much as the girl making her paper dragons. A new thing unfurls in my mind (like you are what you love) and I am writing around it before I can get to a pencil or screen. The thing blooms like a rose, layer upon circular layer, grows like one of those capsules that expands after you toss it in water, waiting to see what shape it will take, what animal it will become. I don’t want the ideas, sensations, images, patterns to escape…they have meaning that I want to explore. Interconnected threads I need to follow. The snowy hawk perched on the power line, looking across an icy field. The cognizance in my four-month-old granddaughter’s eyes. The wide-flung arms of her six-year-old sister. The myriad notes from piano keys under my youngest son’s dancing fingers, the earnestness in his voice when he sings. Being on my corner of the couch, wrapped in a blanket, book in hand or laptop in lap. Dennis the dachshund burrowing under the blanket to snuggle close. My husband’s contagious, uninhibited laughter. The fragrance of cinnamon, like Christmas, and Vick’s VapoRub, like long ago, and memories, so many memories, that still live…

I really am all these things. They are me. Story is inextricable from life. Story goes on and on. We are story.

And that, I love.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March. This is my sixth year participating.

Pedagogy poem

with thanks to Glenda Funk on Ethical ELA’s Open Write today: “What do you owe to pedagogy? Today I’d like us to consider this question and compose a poem in which we explore an idea related to pedagogy, the methods by which we teach, the methods by which we learn. The poem does not necessarily have to be about school. Simply think about teaching and learning as a global phenomenon.”

This is the poem that came today, in reflecting on what I owe to pedagogy… of course, it’s a story-poem…

The Heart of Pedagogy

Little boy in the shop
at Christmastime
spends his money
on a gift for his mom

a matted illustration
of a bird holding a primer
encircled by a flowery heart
and these words:

A teacher
in wisdom and kindness
helps children learn to do
exactly what they thought
could not be done

-Honey, it’s beautiful!
I love it, says his mom,
even though
I am not a teacher

Little boy grins
in his snaggletoothed way:
Yes you are, Mama

She sees the bright belief
there in his face

she cannot bring herself
to diminish it

for maybe she would be a teacher
if only she had finished college

which she does, many years later.

The boy can’t attend
to see her walk across the stage
because he’s taking final exams
at the university
where he’s a history major

-What are you going to do
with that degree?
everyone asks him
-are you going to teach?

No
He’s emphatic:
I do not want to be
a teacher
No

which is, of course,
the path that immediately opens
leading him right back
to the very classroom
where he was a student
where he finds
his old AP history exams
stashed in the cabinet.

The summation of the matter:
we’ve both done
exactly what we thought
could not be done
haven’t we, Boy

for in the end
as in the beginning
teaching is about believing

then in finding
a way.

The Boy’s gift has remained on my bookcase for over two decades. He was in high school when I returned to college. The verse became the foundation of my teaching philosophy as I obtained my degree and additional certifications. It applies even now to the coaching work I do with teachers. As for the Boy: he was a beloved high school history teacher and soccer coach for several years before entering the seminary for divinity degrees and the pastorate. In awe, I watch him teaching his young daughters…and remember.

Try

inspired by Ruth Ayres on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
Ruth quotes Elon Musk:
“If something is important enough, you should try. Even if the probable outcome is failure.

Begs the question: What is ‘failure’? Who gets the final say? Surely not the inner critic…

I shall try…

to believe, during the darkest night
to seek the infinite ribbons of light

to love more, to judge less
to concentrate on words that bless

to remember my job is a livelihood, not my life
to free myself of unnecessary strife

to not crumble under self-defined defeat
to keep trying, and trying, again to complete

daily acts of grace, others and self forgiving,
thereby seizing the joy of living

trusting the sense of second sight
urging me always to write, to write.





Here

a Spiritual Journey offering

in memory of my father

and in honor of Micah, my granddaughter
who will be born later this month

*******

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again…
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — 

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

October is here
and with it, memory:
it is the month

of my father’s birth.
I am here
because he was here
once upon a time.

October is here
and with it, wild geese

coming home.
My father loved them
like he loved planes
in the wild blue yonder
of his service years

when he was young.
At his funeral procession
a flock of wild geese
stood by in solemn ranks.

He chose to be buried here
so Air Force jets
would fly over his grave

every day.

October is here
with its fiery oranges, reds, golds
and heartrending blue.
Blazing colors that are here
for just a little while,
coming and going
before the long sleep
and eventual rewakening
.

October is here
with its bright story
of permanence
cloaked in

the temporary darkness
of impermanence.

October is here
with its beckoning to
see, smell, taste, feel, know
life in all of its spice

and fullness,
never bound by a calendar,
a schedule, a checklist…

October is here
with its own organic order,
a natural reminder

of all our comings and goings
and of the taking of one’s place
in the family of things
.

October is here.
You will soon be here
,
firstborn child
of my firstborn child
.
I, too, am
the firstborn child
of a firstborn child
.
My father named me
for his mother.
Your father named you
for God

by whose infinite grace
I am here
to see your coming.

A downy-soft blanket and a whole lot of love are here awaiting you, little precious one.
Your name is one of ancient faith and praise: “Who is like God?”

*******

with much gratitude to Ramona Behnke, who inspired our monthly Spiritual Journey Thursday group to write around the word “here” with this quote from Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, Episode 188: You Are Here (And It Matters):


“What if you being all the way here actually mattered, with your cold feet and your stomachache and the light shining through the window. You with your stack of books, by the bedside table and hopeful feeling inside your heart. You with your deep grief, over a loss you thought you’d be over by now, standing in the kitchen while you microwave your coffee. For now, this is true. So what is true of you? And do you really believe God is with you no matter what? That you are not alone, that you don’t have to be you all by yourself? Here’s to being where you already are. Fully present with all that is true. And then here’s to doing your next right thing in love.”

*******


Shimmer of being alive poem

Late September

across the street
the first few spots
of yellow dot the lush green
abundance of trees
despite the searing blueness of sky
and bathwater-saturated
Carolina air

lingering summer

yet in it I feel a tinge
the tiniest tinge
an almost imperceptible
coolness

deep in the wooded shadows
from a sun-patched limb, no doubt,
a lone cicada takes up his rattle
crescendo, decrescendo


they were late arriving this year
but still here

driving to work
along the winding backroads
a darting from the left
two gray squirrels, 
scampering in tandem
right in front of me
on the double yellow lines

I stop for them 
they stop for me

after a moment
of squirrel contemplation
one continues on across
but the other, the other
turns back
with something in its mouth

not an acorn, something hanging
pale-colored
I’ve never seen the likes
but instinctively know:
that’s a baby squirrel

and on I drive, thinking
of the old squirrel twins book
my grandmother read to me
so long ago

and of how I shall read it
to my own granddaughter
arriving in a few short weeks

the morning September sun shimmers
rose-gold in my rearview mirror
like promises steeped in time

I no longer dream of dying
like I did when I was nine
now, in my first tinge of autumn
I dream of new babies born
every night

*******

with thanks to Sarah Donovan at Ethical ELA for the inspiration to write poetry
around moments of knowing “I am alive.”

Last hurrah

Twenty-four hours ago I woke with the sun by the sea, rested and at peace with the world. I spent a few hours sitting at the ocean’s sandy altar beside my beloved sister-in-law, who’s like my own flesh and blood, speaking of the past, present, and future. Remembering loved ones lost. Cherishing new little ones, our children’s’ children. Hardly any other people were out and about; the beach seemed to be our own for these few sacred hours.

“Look! Dolphins!” my sister-in-law pointed. Out in the glimmering, watery distance, a distinctive leap…dolphins, navigators of the deep, ancient symbols of protection.

Just above the surface, gliding with astounding grace despite their unwieldy appearance, brown pelicans. Flocks of them. More than I’ve ever seen at one time before. Breaking their flight with dives and a mighty splash of white spray, catching fish and bobbing for a while in the waves.

Pelicans, a symbol for resourcefulness. And sacrifice. Legend has it that mother pelicans sacrifice themselves for their young, if need be. They wound themselves to feed their children with their own blood. They are social birds which hunt cooperatively—representing teamwork. Community.

Twenty-four hours ago, I sat breathing the same salt air as the pelicans, stood in the same sparkling waters as the dolphins.

Today I pack my bags, load my car, and return to school, masked. COVID rages on. Many unknowables lie ahead.

Yet I remain at peace. Diving, leaping, or gliding, I shall navigate as called for in the ebb and flow of moments. Children await, life awaits, time does not. The ocean remains. A reminder of constancy, of strength.

Here’s to the mighty plunge.

Low-flying pelicans. Tony Alter. CC-BY

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers…strength and protection to all in this uplifting community of teacher-writers, seasoned navigators of life and story-sharing.

Decima poem debut

On the Ethical ELA Open Write for Educators today, Mo Daley invites poets to try the decima. Originating in Spain, the form is comprised of ten-line stanzas, eight syllables each, with the rhyme scheme ABBAACCDDC.

These poems typically go on for forty stanzas. I’ve managed only one!

Here’s my decima debut, as well as far more important debut…

First Poem for My Granddaughter, Micah (Whose Name Means “Who is Like God?”)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  —Matthew 6:33

Three things he said he’d never do:
marry, have a child, start preaching
like his dad, all the while reaching
out for what is solid and true.
God brought your mother. And now you,
Beloved One, coming this fall.
Blessing and fruition of all
my boy always longed for, despite
his fears. Now with tears of delight
he embraces his Father-call.

Franna loves you so much already, Baby Girl.