Definito poem

On Day 10 of National Poetry Month, my friend Margaret Simon invites teacher-poets to compose a definito poem for VerseLove on Ethical ELA. It’s a form invented by her friend Heidi Mordhorst: “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.” Margaret’s suggestions: “Choose a word that has a certain fascination to you. You can look for the Word of the Day or any word that comes to mind. Play with the etymology of the word. What do the sounds mean? How does the meaning play with your thoughts? Explore the word using imagery, metaphor, and word play.”

So… I tried, I really tried, two things: 1) Getting away from my OLW, “awe” and 2) Keeping to the recommended 8-12 lines. I failed in both. I did, however, have a lot of fun with the unfolding of this pseudo-definito…

Awe “Definito”

So, Children, 
maybe you have seen something
so wonderful
that you went all shivery inside
and maybe your skin
even got tingly
or goosebumpy

a thing
so beautiful 
that you don’t have a word
for how beautiful it is

the feeling you get when
the sun’s slanted golden light 
breaks through the clouds
after a storm
or when you see a rainbow, 
(not made with crayons,
a real one) in the misty height,
colors glimmering, glowing, blurring, 
an ethereal sight
ethereal? Sorry. It means 
to be so airy and light and beautiful
that the thing almost doesn’t belong
to this world
like stars, crystal-bright
against the black-velvet sky
on a winter’s night

maybe you have felt their stab of
silvery coldness, looking up
while your breath
hangs white
in the air

—yeah, that’s the feeling;
should we stop to
discuss metaphor
again?

No, it doesn’t have to be cold.

It can be a rush of warmth
on seeing a puppy
tiny, pink-mouthed, and so new
that its eyes are not yet open

—please note: The word is not spelled
the same way as what you say:
Awwww!
This, Children, is a homophone,
a poem for another day—

and the feeling might not come
from something you see
at all. 

It can come from something you hear. 
Once I was in an auditorium
where a girl who was trained in opera
sang just one high note;
her lips never moved
I couldn’t see her breathing
and the sound grew bigger
and bigger
and bigger
until the room
and my brain
and my heart 
were filled, almost bursting
with the pure, clear
starlike sound

-oh yes, I can tell by your eyes
and your open mouths
that you are beginning
to understand
awe.

After the tornado

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.

Sustaining words

As I turned the pages of my academic planner from April to May, I discovered a quote from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön…

You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.

The implication is to just be. To remain. To not worry about things beyond your control. The storms of life may rage and wreak havoc, but not indefinitely. They pass. And they’re interspersed with moments of incredible beauty. The sky exists above clouds. It is the sphere through which the sun, moon, and stars pass…what would it mean, then, to “be the sky”? I feel more posts coming on this later…

Meanwhile, more Chödrön:

Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.

On Mother’s Day my family gathered for lunch. Sunday afternoons have an ethereal quality; they are not your ordinary afternoons. They beckon sleep, or reading, or other quiet pleasures; they also offer an outlet for expending physical energy and embracing joie de vivre, joy of living. After lunch my granddaughter, age five, needed to “run and get her wiggles out.” Her mother and I watched her running through a sea of white clover in my backyard. I’d been irritated that our lawn service hadn’t yet cut the grass but as I breathed the sweet, clover-perfumed air, I thought How perfect is the fragrance of this day. My daughter-in-law and I began identifying all the different types of plants growing with the grass in my yard with the “Picture This” app on our phones: Tall goldenrod. Spreading hedgeparsley. Ryegrass. Bluegrass (who knew?). Posion ivy on the far corner of the fence under the pines (lawn crew must be notified). Woodsorrel. Wild geranium. And wild mock strawberries, which enchanted my granddaughter. She picked them and carried them around, tiny red fruit in a tiny pink hand… my son said, “I never knew those grew here!”

There are a lot of things we never realize. Such as the value of simple moments, in the living of them. We cannot imagine how the memory of these will remain with us, like the sky, for our lifetime.

One more quote…

Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.

One of the thick, spiky weeds we identified on our backyard exploration is a species of “Everlasting.”

I said to my daughter-in-law: “I had no idea so much poetry lived in the grass.”

I think about all that would have been lost in these dappled Sunday afternoon moments, if the grass had been cut like I’d wanted. My granddaughter didn’t complain. She savored it all, blue eyes as brilliant as the sky above.

I do not know what tomorrow will bring. For now I only know we stand as we are, in our shared sky and story, moments in the making, entering the warrior’s world, a family of everlastings like those growing in the universe beneath our feet.

Where nothing is ever really ordinary.

A bowl of snow

Deep in the night, it came.

I wake to the sound of it falling.

A faint, feathery swishing against the bedroom windowpanes. A silvery glow at the blinds, beckoning. I crawl out from under the warm covers to peer through.

It’s a different world. Softer. Purer. At peace in its perfect winter-white blanket, illuminated by the full moon. Big flakes descend to the ethereal stirring of wind chimes.

I imagine animals curled in their cozy dark burrows.

In the spirit of affinity, I return to mine.

I waited well into the morning before texting my son: Is she so excited?

His daughter, age five, has been longing for snow. Some winters pass without it here in central North Carolina.

He texted right back: She’s so wound up. We have already been out to play. We made snow cream. Put sprinkles on it and ate it for breakfast.

How awesome is that, I thought. She will remember it all of her life, this snow, getting to eat it for breakfast.

Magical moments. They will be stored away, deep in the hallowed halls of her mind.

I was just rereading The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They explore moments we remember and revere the most. Some are tied to great emotion or to shared meaningful experiences. Others transcend “the normal course of events; they are literally extraordinary.”

The authors write: “The most precious moments are often the ones that cost the least.” They relate the story of a three-year-old who succumbed to a severe E. coli infection. They describe (brace yourself) her kidney failure, horrible pain, portions of her colon being removed twice, her heart failure and resuscitation; she desperately needed a kidney transplant and a compatible donor could not be found. At Halloween, her costume had to be laid on top of her because of all the tubes. She was still in the hospital as Christmas neared, and it began to snow:

For a child from Vermont, it was cruel, having to watch the snow through the windows. Wendy loved to make snowmen, to go sleigh riding. She hadn’t been outside for two months. Her lead nurse, Cori Fogarty, and and patient care associate Jessica Marsh hatched a plan. If Wendy couldn’t play in the snow, they would bring the snow to her. But it was more complicated than that. Because of Wendy’s heart condition, the staff was monitoring every milliliter of water that she consumed. So Jessica went and filled an emesis bucket with snow, weighed it, let it melt, and poured it into a graduated cylinder. Now they knew how to translate the weight of snow into its volume of water. So they went and filled the bucket with exactly the right amount of snow so that if Wendy ate it all — as three-year-olds are prone to do — she’d be just fine.

Can you see them, bringing the bowl of snow into the hospital room? Can you see that little girl’s expression when she saw it? Jessica Marsh said: “I have never seen such joy and pure innocence on a child’s face.” Wendy’s mother: “It was bliss, it was joy.” Many years later she would write: “It’s easy to forget the monotony of the endless days that stretched together during her recovery. But that one moment of brightness, that is one moment we will never forget.”*

Perhaps that is just the image we need right now, as COVID-19 drags on. A bowl of snow for a child…a bit of magic to escape the moment, maybe to carry us through.

As parents, as teachers, as writers, compassionate human beings, we have this power within us to imagine such moments, to make them happen. The most precious moments are the ones that cost the least…

Just so happens that as I write these words on this new, dark morning, flurries have started falling again.

Let us go and seek our bowl of snow. And where we might share it.

Maybe even for breakfast, with sprinkles.

*******

*Wendy’s story is from the chapter “Making Moments Matter” in The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017, 263-265). You might like to know that she did receive a transplant and went on to be an athlete.

Thanks to all at Two Writing Teachers for the power of your shared stories. Where there’s writing, there’s a way.