Planets

The Boy and I
walking under
the evening sky:
he notes the bright, bright star
glittering high

not a star, say I
that’s Jupiter

and that’s Saturn,
right over there

I take out my phone
open an app
hold it to the sky
aim at these ‘stars’

up pop the planets
on the fly

—oh, the awe
in The Boy’s eyes—

he shows me his watch
I didn’t know
he’d set its face
to the solar system
planets positioned in orbits
line by line:

I know where they are
but I didn’t know I
could actually see them
in the sky

—what app is that??

SkyView, say I

in an instant
The Boy has downloaded it
and is turning every which way
phone pointed
at the night sky

Mars is right there
by the streetlight! he cries

I LOVE this,
says he,
by and by

I watch him
with a sigh
remembering how
he first fell in love
with planets
around age five

The Boy’s solar system artwork, created for me about twenty years ago.
It remains taped to the back of my bedroom door.

Crows on the cross

Crows, historically associated with death, are highly intelligent birds with powerful memory. In folklore they convene to determine capital punishment for wrongdoers—a murder of crows, apropos. Yet they mourn their dead and will even place small sticks or other objects around a deceased fellow crow, in a sort of funeral rite.

On Sunday morning, crows perched atop the steeple cross at church as congregants arrived. Harbingers of death? Casters of judgment? Consider the cross, an instrument of capital punishment, particularly of someone “who knew no sin” offering himself as a sacrifice for all the wrongdoing of humankind…For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17 NKJV); For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

So sit the crows
on the steeple cross
a judgment passed
a death sentence cast

yet overturned and overcome
so long ago
—one wonders what the crows know.

Dinnertime guest

He comes to dine each evening
between four and five o’clock
resplendent in his crimson cravat
in an emerald flash, he’s gone
breathless, I await his return

A female ruby-throated hummingbird giving the feeder over to a male: If you look closely, you can see his tongue lapping up the sugar water. A hummingbird’s tongue is forked, like a snake’s, with edges that trap nectar. During my impromptu summer study I’ve learned that males are the minority. They are fewer and never linger as long as females. So many days have gone by without sighting a male that I wondered if they’d all migrated; they are the first to go. Then this fellow began arriving every evening for dinner. He’s quite punctual. I’ve been reading that hummingbirds may not leave my central North Carolina neck of the woods until winter. We shall see… in the meantime, I watch and marvel over nature, its rhythms, its endless curiosities.

Magic bubble

Just an ordinary morning
making coffee
washing my favorite cup

dab of dishwashing liquid
whoosh of small bubbles
escaping the tip
of the plastic bottle

nothing out of the ordinary
in bubbles rising, drifting
iridescent, carefree

except for the one
heading for the
outlet

where it stays
suspended in midair
between two plugs
rolling and turning
never drifting
as if some invisible force
some electromagnetic field
keeps it in place

I watch and watch
wondering

it seems
anything
but ordinary…

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.

Snow magic

Holidays over
first day back to school
we heard it might snow
what we get
is gale force winds
diagonal rain
and utter darkness
(oh, those kids waiting at bus stops…)
which is why so many don’t come
there are just four kids in one room,
six in another,
and so on
not to mention that at home
the power went out
before I could get ready
hardly an enchanting winter morn
except for candles…

when I finally arrive at work
my family texts
it is pouring snow here,
pouring
but when I look through the windows
don’t see any of it
not any
just cold cold rain
collecting in huge puddles
on this dark dark day
until
I pass a teacher in the hallway
leaning out of the glass door,
scouring the iron-gray sky
are you looking for snow?
oh yes, if it starts,
I am bringing my class
out here in the hall
to read Snowmen at Night


just then, we see
the first flakes of white…

all over the building
children run to the windows
for every little bit of magic
they can find

or perhaps it’s more a matter
of letting the magic find you

or maybe even
a determination to
make the magic
yourself

for it is in yourself
just as it is
in every single
falling crystal

and most certainly
in books.

Detail of a magical mask design a colleague made and happened to give me today.
You will have caught the book connections in the first two photos; can you catch the last?

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.

Life is what you bake it

“‎All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

-Henry Havelock Ellis

Today I share my golden shovel poem inspired by the Ellis quote, posted this week on Two Writing Teachers‘ Slice of Life Story Challenge along with these questions: What are the moments you’re holding onto? What are you letting go of today?

Here’s to the art of living, to holding on while letting go, to savoring moments spent with children, making every one count.

I hold to all
moments spent with children in the
holy art
of seeing the world with fresh eyes, of
spontaneous embracing, of living
each day in newness. I hold to freedom that lies
in forgiving, that paradoxical self-rising power in
letting go. I hold to a
continuous, necessary cobbling of fine
crystal moments, their pure sanguinity mingling
with, dulcifying, the blood-tart of
a sliced heart. Letting
go of despair, of my shortcomings, letting go
of yesterday, yet believing in tomorrow, letting go and
savoring today in a bluesy canton of confidence, holding
onto the children, always the children, just holding on.

My granddaughter loves to bake. I love symbolism. Here’s our flag cobbler. “Canton” in the poem is the term for the flag’s blue square. Strawberries, heart-shaped, represent love; blueberries, youthfulness and confidence in the future. Bake it well.

The future is calling. I’m listening.

*******

Thanks also to Margaret Simon for hosting Poetry Friday. Visit her blog, Reflections on the Teche, for more poems and magnificent quotes in response to “What is poetry?”