A bit of legacy poem

For Day Twenty-Six of National Poetry Month

Testament 

I cannot measure
how much time remains
in the hourglass
of my days

sand grains
steadily trickling
more than half
already gone

yet still refining
polishing
my existence

with words

let them be
the worry-stone
worn smooth
slid into the pockets
of those I encounter
a cool indented
presence of calm
for the holding

let them be a beckoning
a turning inward
toward crystals
forming in the geode void
the amelioration
of hollow places

let them be
like the curious folk remedy
of my childhood
jars of strange white peach rings
with heart-colored centers
floating in witch hazel
(which has nothing to do
with magic; the etymology of the name is
pliable)
cure for bruises and
what ails you

let my words be
a gauge for life-giving rain
collected
yet flowing on
and on
a good measure
pressed and shaken
poured out

a testament of love
for the new life

coming

Awe: The blue hour

In continuation of a series of posts on my guiding word for 2021, awe, I am celebrating the power of poetry.

For who among us was not filled with awe, listening to Amanda Gorman reading her inaugural poem?

Once again, we experience what words can do to inspire, unite, and heal.

Poems also paint a vision. Of things remembered, things hoped for things, things imagined…

Much as artists do on canvas.

Last year Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” took on a special significance for me. I wrote about it in The portal. For me, “The Starry Night” has become a symbol of looking beyond.

Van Gogh painted it while in the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. He didn’t paint what he saw from his windows, but what he imagined, maybe what he dreamed for, hoped for, in the innermost part of his suffering heart. Perhaps it was an act of faith.

All those blues and the night remind me of “the blue hour,” loosely defined as the time when blue wavelengths of the subhorizon sun paint the landscape at dawn or dusk.

Perhaps this had a hand in my recent spontaneous sketch of my word for 2021, awe. I depicted it as a sunrise, or maybe a sunset.

So now I ask myself: How is it that I imagine a rising or setting sun as “awe” in a metaphorical way? I think of van Gogh’s starry night, the blue hour, and the imaginings, the hopes, of my heart…which have turned into a prayer for the repairing of relationships. Does love not conquer all? What inspires more awe than that?

And so I wrote a poem.

I wove some of van Gogh’s quotes into it:

A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke

There is no blue without yellow and without orange, and if you put in the blue, then you must put in the yellow and orange too, mustn’t you?

Awe (The Blue Hour)

awe


on the blue hour
at the falling away of day
and the coming of the night


with hope of stars

givers of dreams

singers of songs

awe

that there is no blue
without yellow and orange

like the crackling fire
in our souls
beckoning one another
to stop, come and be warm

instead of passing by

in wisps of smoke

tendrils of wrongs

awe

in electric-blue currents of memory
love survives
by anchoring itself
to the last blade 
of living grass

awe

the color of forgiveness
in the blue hour

-F. Haley, 1/18/2021

-Walk in wellness, friends. Live and love deeply. Forgive. Keep your heart open for awe.

One of my masks

My original sketch of “Awe,” where the landscape spells it. Look for awe, and it will reveal itself.

The Starry Night version. The blue hour. How it all connects.

*******

-shared in the Poetry Friday Roundup. Thank you, dear Laura Shovan, for hosting.

and with the Two Writing Teachers’ weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thank you all for continually illustrating the power of words, ideas, and shared stories.

Let there be awe (OLW 2021)

Like many writers I am in the habit of selecting One Little Word (also known as One Word) at the beginning of a new year. It is a lens through which to view the craft of writing and, to me, the craft of living. A well-chosen OLW can guide to deeper meanings, connections, and creativity; it is a reflective tool, a restorative practice, sometimes a call to action. One little word can be a mighty force of reckoning.

In an earlier post, I wrote about not being in the frame of mind to choose a word for 2021 until I stumbled upon this quote in my planner. Surely I saw it there before, this tiny, tiny print, like a microscopic footnote, at the bottom of January 1st:

Experiencing awe (the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you) can improve your physical health and make you more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

It was like a shaft of sunlight through barren, tangled trees, an electric jolt through the settling-winter numbness of my brain.

Awe. It is familiar. One can’t be a writer, a reader, be around children, savor the healing mysteries of nature, have faith in Almighty God, without experiencing it. I’d never thought about awe improving physical health; certainly that stems from its effects on mental, emotional, spiritual health. Never thought about awe as a source of altruism, having the power to shift focus away from self to promoting the well-being of others. I certainly never thought about intentionally creating awe. Inviting awe, yes. I want to fling all the windows and doors of my entire being open for it. But creating it? I mean, isn’t awe a response to encountering the extraordinary, something much bigger than me? Am I capable of intentionally creating it? Seems a curious choice of words for something so spontaneously generated.

I sat looking at my planner, wondering…knowing in that moment awe had chosen me and there was nothing for it but to bow in reverential submission.

Immediately, I began to expect.

I can’t imagine all the ways awe will present itself this year. Trying to imagine kind of defeats the purpose. It’s more of a recognizing in the moment thing. I just know that awe is coming.

Truth of the matter…it’s all around, if I stop, if I am still enough, to sense it. If I let it be the lens through which to view the craft and artistry of being alive.

Awe is a matter of perspective…we can see it, if we try. It is tucked inside the ordinary. It lives in moments and outlasts time. It is tiny as coding in cells, as vast as the universe. The big picture book containing all of our life’s stories, for they are intertwined.

Keeping the heart open for it might even lead to a hand in creating it.

My sketch representing AWE in response to Carol Varsalona’s recent #K12ArtChat.
Can you see the word in the landscape?


I decided to run the sketch through the Deep Art Effects app.
The following were my favorite styles.
Wishing you AWE in 2021.
Be on the lookout for it.
Maybe make it happen.

*******

with thanks to the awesome community at Two Writing Teachers
and to Carol Varsalona for the sketch inspiration
.

My most recent posts on the power of words:

Spiritual Word Journey – reflecting on being chosen by “awe”
When – a poem-prayer lament, composed of one word on each line


More on “awe” to come.

When

“Crippling grief

Note: Roses are the National Flower of the United States

words
wielded
wound

when
will
we
stop

what
have
we
wrought

with
word
warfare

who
will
remain
whole

in
the
unholiness

who
will
wise
up

in
the
wreckage

to
work
toward
well-being
for
all

for
we
are
not
you
and
me

we
are
we

us

without
unity
peace
healing

we
will
cease
to
be

where
are
the
words
of
mending
not
rending

where
is
the
ending

words
create
worlds

and
destroy
them

within
and
without

where
are
the
words

who
will
speak
them

who
will
live
them

and
when


when
when
when

*******

written for
Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog

all are welcome here
to write
and to be

where words
are not
wielded
to wound

What’s in a word

Perhaps you have taken part in the “one little word” tradition for the New Year as a means of living more intentionally and reflectively, maybe letting it guide your writing. At the beginning of 2020, I had a word in mind for the year.

Reclamation.

Here’s what I wrote, ten weeks before COVID-19 shut us down:

Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Whether life is suspended, or stagnant, or spinning out of control, we still have choices. Maybe it’s resting more. Writing more. Reading more, singing more. Praying more. Maybe it’s seeking help. Maybe it’s restoring relationships, or releasing them. Or creating something beautiful, meaningful. What we want to do and what we’re actually able to do in a day, a week, a month, a year, may be vastly different, but reclamation doesn’t happen all at once. It happens in determined, consistent bits by bits. It is deliberate and intentional.

At the end of 2020, I have to reflect on what my original vision of reclamation was, and what it became.

Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control. At the time, those words were mirroring 2019, when my husband was recovering from cardiac arrest and two heart surgeries. We spent weeks at the hospital in late summer. I never imagined the pandemic lying just ahead…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Caring for my husband took precedence over returning to work when school resumed that fall. When I did return, I fought a daily battle to catch up, to hit any kind of stride, as 2020 dawned. In February I broke my foot. In mid-March, the governor closed our schools due to COVID. In May, George Floyd was killed. America erupted. COVID continued erupting across the world. The election…really, one runs out of words. Life suspended, stagnant, spinning out of control…moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to to what you can, what’s most important, for that given day.

Reclamation, I wrote, involves choices. Both large and small. Every day.

One of my original intents for the year resembled a true environmental reclamation project: repairs and improvements around the house. Did I succeed? As I was home a lot more than ever before, thanks to the pandemic, yes, I accomplished a good bit. There’s just always more to do. One thing (don’t we know) often leads to another.

In 2020 I meant to write more. Did I? Most definitely. It wasn’t the type of writing I envisioned. I thought I would finally complete some things I started in years past. My blog post productivity increased. I ended up writing a lot more poetry than I have in decades. What does that say about the power of poetry in coping with powerlessness, inertia, darkness, even despair? Psychologists avow its therapeutic benefits. Poetry-writing invokes calmness, healing, strength. It calls to the spirit in a unique way. There’s something about the rhythms and breaks, something in the metaphor and imagery, in the cadence, the musicality, that soothes the soul and brings release. Not to mention the good old-fashioned value of hard work in trying to hammer a thing out, especially if there’s a desire to create something beautiful, meaningful.

Perhaps the most interesting take I had on “reclamation” in January 2020 had to do with teaching—before the scramble of completely reinventing it:

I write this not only for myself, but for other educators and instructional coaches struggling for clarity and a foothold in an ever-changing, shifting field: Beware the great chasm between theory and application, between programs that are packaged as “the magic bullet” and cost a pretty penny, but fail to deliver. Be aware of the great gulf between data that’s visible and the stories of human children, not so visible. Push back all that encroaches on growing the children, that which would inhibit their love of learning. Reclaim that for them. Know them and their families and their stories. Know your colleagues and their stories.

—I bolded the part I find most haunting, in retrospect. When I wrote those words I had no clue that children would be learning from home for months, that families would be scrambling to manage it, that devices and hotspots would have to be distributed on a massive scale, that people would lose jobs and loved ones to COVID, that food insecurity would become so widespread, that crisis and survival would keep some students from their learning, let alone a love of it.

What remains true, more so than ever, is that data can’t capture it all. We do need to know families and their stories. We need to know each other’s. From what else are compassion and empathy born? How else will we move forward, together? Reclamation in this sense involves pushing away whatever encroaches and consumes. It involves building something new, taking back what is being lost, reasserting rights…I am thinking of teachers now as much as of students, submerged by systems, structures, checklists, machinery. Of reclaiming a sense of humanity from processes, protocols, and programming which are, in the end punitive. When, if not now? Was a time ever “riper”? I wrote: It’s hard daily work, reclamation. Progress is slow to see for a time. The point being, start.

I also wrote: We reclaim the very heart of our humanity when we share our stories.

I have never been more grateful for the outlet of writing and the writing communities that feel like home to me. Writing taps an inner strength we may not realize is there; sharing the stories knits us to one another by our heartstrings. In a time of distance, isolation, stress and anxiety, with spiking mental health issues, connection is ever more vital. Therapists say that one of the best things a person can do to reduce stress is to write or journal (writing therapy and poetry therapy are real things). In the action of framing thoughts, or facing fears, we collect emotional resources, resilience, and creativity lying dormant or hidden as we wormhole our way through. One more line from my pre-COVID January 2020 vision of reclamation: In this day of restorative practices and social-emotional wellness, why are people not writing more? Here’s a point to ponder: a study by the National Literacy Trust in the UK (June 2020) says that children are turning to imaginative writing more than ever as an outlet for self-expression, creativity, and well-being, now that they have time and freedom to do so…

Life is, after all, writing us. In the words of Albert S. Rossi, clinical psychologist and Christian educator, which I’ve read before and rediscovered this week: We don’t live life. Life lives us.

As the page turns from 2020 to 2021, we’ll see where life leads. It may be in charge of the story, but we are in charge of the craftsmanship.

On that note, I am thinking twice about choosing a word for the new year. Maybe I’ll just see what it wants to say for itself.

In the meantime, resting more, reading more, singing more, praying more absolutely helps. Seek more help when needed. Be more gentle with yourself (a lesson I am still trying to learn).

Keep on writing alongside life.

*******

with a debt of gratitude to Two Writing Teachers and the ongoing Slice of Life Story Challenge which is, above all, a joy

and to the gathering at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, a divining rod of inspiration

Beautiful child

At a recent meeting of educators, I heard a woman speak of her child’s transition to a new school. The child came home bubbling with excitement on Day One:

“Mom, my teacher looks like me!”

This is the first time her child ever had a teacher of the same race, the woman said. In fact, she went on to say, with quick finger quotes for emphasis, her child was “the only ‘beautiful’ child in the class last year.”

I understood what she meant: Her child was the only one of their race in that classroom.

I’m a mom. I know the protective, fiery love for one’s own, above all else. A proverb comes to mind: “There’s only one beautiful child in the world and every mother has it.” This mom didn’t say there’d been a problem at the previous school but as an educator I know that a sense of belonging and identity are vital to learning. I know that every school and classroom should strive to value, support, empower, and celebrate each child (as well as the adults). For that is how children learn to value, support, empower, and celebrate each other. That’s humanity at its best.

Which is why, as a human being hearing these words from another, a mother and educator, I came away with one heavy, lingering question:

Aren’t ALL children beautiful?

Tell me something good

Don't believe everything

Image: John D. Fisher, street photographer. CC BY-SA

When I found this photo of a man reading the newspaper, I noted that his pet pelican has grabbed a corner. I imagined the bird saying to the man, somewhat dryly as it peers at the page, Tell me something good.

It just so happens that a teacher colleague recently wore a shirt to school bearing these same words. Tell me something good.

“Well,” I said to her, “This is something good: Summer’s almost here.”

She laughed. At the time she was was returning her end-of-grade testing materials. “I hope people tell me something good all day.”

I began to think about how different a day could be if people continually heard something good from others.

Vacation’s almost here.

The test is over.

I enjoy working with my colleagues.

I admire your work.

I found twenty dollars in the pocket of a coat I was about to throw out!

Systems and society can make us pretty acclimated to the negative. Deficits, grievances, outrageous behavior, all that’s broken, all that’s not working. Things that beat down rather than build up.

But good stuff’s always happening out there.

All the time, everywhere.

A stranger stopped to change my tire this morning. He was tired, on his way home from working the night shift, but he said that being able to help someone is a blessing. 

I got a well-written thank you note from a young person.

Another Triple Crown winner!

It’s all about hope, really. A reminder that there’s much to keep striving for in the hard grind of life. And that it’s worth it.

Tell me something good.

Please.

Why I Write 2017

The Light is On

The Light is on. Susanne NilssonCC BY-SA

Write the things which thou hast seen and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.

Revelation 1:19

I write to celebrate the strange adventure of life.

I write to relive moments too precious to forget.

I write to light the way for the children, so that they will find their own writing paths.

I write to clear the clutter in my mind, to ease the ache in my soul – and to encourage others to do the same.

I write to set my imagination free, to create worlds, to discover what happens there.

I write because characters pop into my head and need a place to be.

I write because mental images materialize, insisting that they have meanings, and that their meanings matter.

I write because I am a warrior. I will defend what I believe.

I write because I believe writing is a transcendent, transformative force.

I write to celebrate having loved and been loved

because love and words never die.

I write because words are in my life’s blood, always flowing, arranging, rearranging, singing a story

that really has

no end.

*******

 Another celebration: This is the 100th post on Lit Bits and Pieces.

So we beat on

fitzgerald-grave

In the summer of 2013, my older son and I embarked on what we now call The Dead Writers Tour. The Great Gatsby film, newly released, was creating a resurgence of interest in the novel and F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. My son had just completed his second year teaching high school social studies, his favorite portion of which is the Jazz Age; he had even begun coordinating his history lessons with the English classes’ reading of Gatsby and teaching his students how to dance the Charleston.

Perhaps it was our shared loved of literature and writing, or the joy of the whole summer lying before us, teachers on the loose, that beckoned us like the green light beckoned Jay Gatsby. Perhaps the movie was the impetus for adventure, capturing the zeitgeist and ending, as the novel does,  with my son’s favorite literary quote:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Fitting, indeed, for a young history teacher who was born by a bay (albeit one in Virginia, not New York).

“You know, Mom,” said my son, as we left the cinema, “That quote is on Fitzgerald’s grave.”

“Is it, now,” I mused. “As much as you love it, you ought to go take a picture and put it up in your classroom.”

The light in his eyes was instantaneous. Out came the phone to research the grave’s location: Rockville, Maryland. How far is that from home in North Carolina? A quick check in Apple Maps: Right at four hours.

“That’s a day trip,” I said. “I’ll come with you. It will be our summer celebration kick-off.”

So, on a mid-June morning, we left long before daylight. We ate breakfast while it was still dark, chattering about our teaching accomplishments that year and our dreams about writing, lamenting the constraints of time in the daily grind of making a living. The hours passed quickly, despite the epic traffic snafu of D.C. Once on the other side, however, we sailed right into Rockville.

The cemetery is at a Catholic church in the midst of bustling city streets. After navigating such noise and chaos, I was not expecting utter silence on entering the graveyard. It was like a cosmic mute button was suddenly pressed, or that I had passed through a portal from one world to another. The city receded at once; all I could hear was a faint shivering of tree leaves overhead in the breeze, oddly cool for June, and the occasional flap of little American flags, remnants of Memorial Day, at the graves of veterans.

How incredibly peaceful, I thought.

“There it is,” whispered my son, pointing.

Fitzgerald was easy to find; his grave was the most adorned. As we approached, a brown rabbit hopped out of our path to a more remote patch of sun-dappled grass where it could nibble, undisturbed. At at the foot of his grave a flag commemorated Fitzgerald’s World War I service. On the headstone, the author’s full name signifies an even deeper connection to the flag: his famous cousin wrote the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I reveled in having my own first name in common with these writers and Fitzgerald’s daughter, buried nearby. A pot of daisies had been placed by the headstone, a nod to the love of Jay Gatsby’s life. Most interesting of all is that Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, who was at least part of the inspiration for the character of Daisy, is buried with him in the same grave.

Any student of F. Scott Fitzgerald knows his struggles, that he was always teetering on the brink of financial ruin, that he and Zelda lived a frenzied life, that both of their deaths were sudden and tragic, him with a heart attack in his forties and her a few years after, in a fire at the mental hospital where she was a patient. Fitzgerald never knew The Great Gatsby would become the beloved American icon that it is.

We stood there in the stillness, my son and I, drinking in the sight, lost in our own thoughts. After a bit, we took the pictures.

One or the other of us sighed. I am not sure which.

“What do you want to do now?” asked my son.

I looked up at the sky. The day was golden, still young; we had time, perhaps, for another adventure.

“You know,” I grinned, “Baltimore is only forty-five minutes farther. Poe is buried there.”

My son chuckled. He took one last look at the final Gatsby lines etched on the weathered granite slab. “All right, Mom. Let’s go.”

So we beat on.

Reflect: What literary works or quotes strike a deep chord in you? Why?

-Happy Birthday this week, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Lit legacy

 

 

Kobo

I love words because of my grandmother.

It’s a simple thing, really, to gather a child on your lap with a book open for the little eyes to see,  and read aloud as if time and duties and all the other business of life do not matter. In truth, none of those things matter more than creating a literate legacy for a child.

Did Grandma know the far-reaching effects these moments would have? She wasn’t a teacher. She just loved to read, and I caught it from her long before I ever started school. Over and over she read The Squirrel Twins to me, the adventures of Chitter and Chatter, immortalized in rhyme:

There were two little squirrels, who lived in a tree

As happy as two little squirrels could be…

She chuckled at the illustrations every time. Cozy there in her arms, enveloped in the light fragrance of her Avon sachet, the cadence of her voice seeped deep into my brain. One day I surprised her by taking the book from her hands and reciting every word on every page:

And this is the song they sang on the way,

“What a hippity-happity-hoppity day!”

“My goodness!”

“What, Grandmama?”

“You memorized all the words!”

I knew what was coming because of the repeated readings, connecting the visual story with the simple pattern of the rhyme before I could actually read the print. It’s such a simple thing: What was poured in came pouring back out.

She poured in so much more than words – the love of words, the love of story, eventually the love of writing. My grandfather retired when I was five years old. He and Grandma moved “back home” to eastern North Carolina, leaving me behind on the Virginia peninsula. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” she said years later. Determined to stay connected, she began writing letters to me. I was soon old enough to write back, and when I told her that my dad (her son) complained about my using up his postage stamps, Grandma promptly sent a letter containing a book of stamps so that “you can write to me whenever you want.” I could almost see the defiant twist of her mouth when I read that line. Every summer when I came to stay for a few weeks with my grandparents, the first item on Grandma’s agenda was taking me to the tiny, musty town library where I checked out more books than I could carry. Nothing was ever deemed off-limits or inappropriate. I was completely free to read what I wanted, as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

When Grandma died, I inherited her piano, which now belongs to my musician son, and twenty-five years worth of diaries in which she recorded the minutiae of her days. In those pages, all those we loved and lost are still alive, the grievances of the time are now hysterically funny, almost sitcom-worthy, and her prayers for my teenage self are yet another heart-wrenching reminder of the lasting power of words.

She was a gift, my grandmother. A priceless jewel. Her name, in fact, was Ruby. Of all the things in life for which I am thankful, one of the greatest is that Ruby read.

Reflect: How are you helping light the literate way for the children in your life? Who lit the way for you? How might you return thanks?