The children’s eyes are windows to the skies sun-bright, moon and star-studded night, reflected wonderlight.
The children’s eyes are toy-wagon wheels absorbing, bearing, hauling so much more than playthings.
The children’s eyes are gates in a small walled garden which widen when they realize the stunning flora growing within —cultivate it, Children.
For in my own walled garden of memory lush greenery still grows not obscuring but revealing what I now know to be healing.
All I’ve lived and seen eventually spills forth in story above and through and over the old stone wall
for even in the moonless, star-obscured, darkest night, there is always a ribbon of light.
This, Children, is why I write.
Speaking of things I’ve seen…artwork on a concrete wall in Asheville, NC. The garden struck me as metaphor for writing, growing there in the brain.
with thanks to Andy Schoenborn for the “eyes” and life experience poetry prompt on Ethical ELA this morning, to Two Writing Teachers for sustaining a community where teachers of writing flourish, and to the National Council of Teachers of English for designating October 20th as National Day on Writing.
and in honor of all the children who inspire me, every time I’ve come to your classrooms to teach writing.
a poem which began as I was driving to work through the darkness and fog that appeared on the first day of October…
October awakens in the night. She rises in silence, stirring white veils of fog within the world’s darkened bedchamber. She knows I am awake, too, watching, and that I am aware it was not as dark yesterday morning at this same time when September was still here. October gathers her black satin robes shimmering silver in the moonlight. She whispers of magic and I shiver just before the sun bursts forth like a famous artist with palette in tow- “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?” and suddenly everything is yellow and orange and blinding blue with flecks of scarlet and brown against the still-greencanvas. For all her dark mystery and the death-shroud she carries, October doesn’t speak of endings. She points instead -see that golden thread glittering there in her sleeve?- to celebrations just ahead. Ah, October. I see you disguising your smile as you creak open nature’s ancient alchemical doors, reverently usheringin the leaf-bejeweled holiness that I shall henceforth call the ‘fallidays’.
The quote, “There is no blue without yellow and without orange…” comes from Van Gogh, written in a letter to his brother. I have used it several times in poems. Seems especially fitting here for the colors of October, illuminated by the artist-sun.
That email you sent. Almost didn’t open it. Seemed like random spam.
Thank God I did, though: I hope you remember me… the little girl who
halfway wrote a book ‘bout five or six years ago… -How could I forget?
Never finished it but now I’m writing this one… -You are still writing!
You can’t know the gift it was, assisting your craft as it developed
the pure joy I took from the spark in your child-eyes born of storylove
-that’s YOUR gift, you know. Your storytelling power. It’s grown stronger, still.
And your plans, to be a therapist. A healer. An author. Oh, child
you have no idea what your words have done today. I read them again
and again, amazed by your remembering me. I compose my thoughts
to respond to you, most of all to say that you’re unforgettable.
I wasn’t this child’s regular teacher but the school’s literacy coach, supporting writing workshop across grade levels at the time. Her fourth-grade teacher asked if I could make time to work with her as she had fallen in love with the craft and wanted to write historical fiction. We carved out the time; we made it happen. I blogged about it in 2017: Tripping the write fantastic. That teacher invited the student back a couple of years later to share her writing with a new crop of fourth graders. I blogged about that, too: Still tripping the write fantastic.
In the recent surprise email that sparked the poem I posted today, the student also wrote: “Every now and then I’ll read what you wrote about me on Lit Bits and Pieces, and it always makes me smile and feel inspired.”
That, Dear Student, makes ME smile and feel inspired. ❤Can’t wait to see where your writing takes you!
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge…for teachers must write to teach writers.
Thanks also to Allison Berryhill who hosted an Open Write on Ethical ELA with prompting “a poem to a student.”
with thanks to Tammi over on Ethical ELA for sharing the “sevenling” poem. She writes: “The sevenling is a seven line poem written in two stanzas with an additional single line wrap up. The first stanza (lines 1-3) consists of three lines with connected ideas, details, statements. The second stanza (lines 4-6) also contains three ideas, details or statements. These may or may not be connected to previous stanza. Line seven should wrap up the poem or offer a juxtaposition to your previous stanzas. Because of the brevity of this poem, the last line should leave the reader with a feeling that the whole story has not been revealed.”
This is my first sevenling, really a tribute to someone special…reveal to come afterward.
Facing the Inevitable
Life pivots on this point. Resolute but trembling at the threshold, she considers her new place of belonging.
Releasing pent-up breath, she takes a draft of courage with familiar paper and pencil: “#1 Teacher seems nice #2 Not too scary”
—She’s starting kindergarten.
My granddaughter’s handwritten takeaway following kindergarten Open House: “#1 Teacher seems nice #2 Not too scary”
Strength and safety to all going back into schools as COVID rages on.
Thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge and for always promoting writing. To paraphrase Donald Graves: Children really do want to write. They want to leave their own marks on the world. At age five, that is. Too often “school” turns writing to a chore, emphasizing receptive literacy over expressive, or valuing the ideas of others over one’s own.
Let us be about nurturing a lifelong love of the craft and belief in the power of one’s own thoughts and voice.
with thanks to Araceli, Deanna, and Michelle at #verselove on Ethical ELA today, for the invitation to write about someone who’s influenced your life, incorporating sensory details. My first inclination is to write of my grandparents – as I often do – but today, my aunt came to mind. I expect she’d be so surprised.
This one’s for her.
On Day Twenty-Two of National Poetry Month
A Poem for Earnie
I didn’t expect to write of you today but here I am, remembering of all things, the tape recorder your ready, set, go! the click of your finger pressing play and singing for all we were worth, you, my little sister and me: Wherever you go, wherever you may wander in your life Surely you know I always want to be there… one of us flubbing the words all of us cracking up you saying, I’ll rewind let’s try it again
I think of your laughter wild, free, contagious your raucous humor trailing you like an ermine robe rich, resplendent, priceless cloaking loneliness I may not have perceived
The only one of my mother’s sisters never to marry or have children which didn’t keep you from giving advice pressing Mama’s buttons like no one else on Earth yet she went and named her youngest daughter after you
Then there were the wigs on the featureless disembodied heads sitting on your dresser you could pick whatever 1970s hair you wanted each day how cool was that?
I can’t recall a thing you ever cooked only that you loved eating Mama said you were picky you didn’t look it Mama said that’s why you weren’t married so picky that you didn’t get got
I wondered why you never really left home living with Grannie most of your life you’d break away for an apartment once or twice but would always go back like you needed to be within the borders of her shadow
Perhaps it will surprise you that I recall the ceramics class you took and the Pepto Bismol pink statuette of Hotei, the Laughing Buddha god of happiness and contentment that you made for me his hands thrown high to the heavens Rub his big belly for good luck each day, you said and I could hear the pleasure in your voice only much later did I flip him over to find your inscription of love on the bottom of his pedestal
Funny how the dress you wore to my wedding was Pepto Bismol pink I am glad I asked you to be my wedding director at Mama’s prodding I remember the books you ran out to buy to do the job well for me
Of course there’s Jenny… a love of your life Siamese as picky as yourself who’d curl in my lap purring That’s rare, you’d say
Jenny who lived twelve years who died in the fire when you woke in the middle of the night choking on the smoke phone in your bedroom hot to the touch calling 9-1-1 for the first time because it was a brand-new thing I don’t know how you roused Grannie and Papa G in the other room nor how any of you climbed out of the windows onto the roof into the freezing midnight air and safety as the firemen arrived but you did it
in my mind, Mama’s voice: It took three firemen to hold her from going back in for Jenny. They found her the next day under Earnie’s window.
I hear your anguished sobs even now in those wee hours when you arrived at our house to stay reeking of smoke so that the fur coat you wore would have to be destroyed
I remember the clothes you bought for my first baby in bright, beautiful colors, expensive so lovingly chosen
You didn’t live to see my youngest never knew of his gift for music how you’d have loved it I can see you right now, tape recorder in hand
As the disease took your lungs and reached its insidious fingers into your brain I recall the peculiar shine in your hollowed eyes against the yellowing of your face
when you asked: Are you still writing? Have you published anything yet?
Yes and no, Earnie. I am still writing, yes. Long, long after we laid you to rest in your pink dress (Grannie had your nails painted to match) and this isn’t really published but it’s for you I didn’t expect to be writing of you today or singing Olivia Newton-John all of a sudden after all these years, but here I am and here you are, wherever I may wander in my life snatches of song, rolling laughter here in my morning here in my night.
I recently began experimenting with “backwards poetry,” in which you read the lines right to left as in the Hebrew and Arabic languages.
For Day Six of National Poetry Month, I am playing with these lines and where to break them most effectively. They’re fun to read left to right but remember, they’re intended to be read from right to left…which version do you like best?
The source of my inspiration follows.
at each of end the think day this has what brought day what and me I have it given
at day, each of end the this has what think what and me brought day it given, I have
Next-to-the last day of March. Early morning. Still dark. Chilly.
I sit at my laptop, sipping coffee, catching up on my Slice of Life blog comments. The neighborhood rooster across the street crows for all he’s worth.
My husband comes into the kitchen: “Is she up yet?” he whispers.
He means our granddaughter. She spent the night. We stayed up way late watching Frozen II (again). We watched her dancing to the ending credits soundtrack, performing her own astoundingly artistic interpretation, cheeks pink, blue eyes glowing…followed by punchy laughter before the crashing.
“Not yet,” I whisper back. He retreats to his study to work on sermons.
Shortly, though, she here she comes, a gift of the dawn, Aurora’s child, barefoot in a blue flannel gown, cloaked in long, disheveled hair, ethereal smile of joy illuminating the semi-dark kitchen. Favorite lines of a Billy Collins poem come to life:
But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her,
barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.
My radiant dawn-child climbs into my lap. I let her read my post about Dennis the dachshund and his toy moose. At five, she reads with exactly the right inflection in exactly the right places, decoding beyootiful without batting an eye.
“That rascally Dennis!” She laughs aloud.
My husband returns, his own face alight at sight of her. “There she is!” he exclaims. “I’ve been waiting for you, Sugar Magnolia.”
He sings the opening line of the Grateful Dead song:
Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming…
Just so happens that our granddaughter’s middle name is Magnolia. A nod to her Louisiana heritage. A native tree here in North Carolina, too.
I think how, less than two years ago, my husband wasdead, until EMS and CPR brought him back. I think of all he’d have missed…
What matters is that we’re here together now, today, in this moment. The Grateful Alive.
Sugar Magnolia, in one of Grandpa’s hats
When we are dressed for the day, she asks: “Can I pick out your earrings? And your necklace?”
She picks the magnolia. She and my son gave it to me for my birthday last year.
She hands me the necklace, watches me clasp it, smiles with satisfaction.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light…
Just beyond the bedroom door, from the windows in the foyer, birdsong.
I waited for them all of March, in vain. Then, here at the very end, within the space of these last twenty-four hours, a nearly-complete nest rests on my front door wreath. More on this tomorrow, when I write with the Spiritual Journey gathering on the first Thursday in April…for now all that needs to be said is that the finches always come to my door, every year except this last one. They vanished without warning, without a trace, during COVID-19. Now they’re back, making their home in the wreath.
The magnolia wreath.
Front door wreath and nest-in-progress
Magnolias, magnolias, everywhere…
They are tougher than they look. The oldest flowering plants on Earth. A symbol of love, longevity, perseverance, endurance.
It’s that word that captures me: Endurance.
It is the end of March.
We’ve endured the COVID pandemic for a whole year.
We’ve endured the reinvention of life as we knew it, school as we knew it, teaching as we knew it.
My family has endured distance, isolation, individual private battles…and we all get our second round of vaccinations over these next two days.
My husband has endured. He is alive.
My granddaughter has endured. She is the light of our days.
The finches have endured. They have returned to resume nesting.
This is my last post for the Slice of Life Story Challenge; for thirty-one consecutive days, I’ve endured. My writing has endured.
I wrote a lot of memoir in the Challenge, for memories endure. I wrote of a walled garden and roots and the need to get out of the comfort zone; I did that with some of my writing. I think now of my magnolia metaphor and look back at its deep roots in my childhood. Southern heritage. My grandmothers, steel magnolias (although they wouldn’t have thought it of themselves). Women who endured wars, deprivation, unspeakable losses. The stand over the landscape of my life like the old magnolia trees near their homes, their churches. They were the encompassing, protective shadows against the burning sun and sweltering heat, the solid coolness of the earth under my feet, where lie the curious, fuzzy seedpods of my existence, my remembering, my gratitude, my faith. From these branches waft the eternal fragrance of sacrificial love and forgiveness; nothing on God’s Earth smells as sweet.
One final curious image—it persists, so I have to figure out if and how it will fit here: When I was very small, I spent a lot of time with Grandma, Daddy’s mother. She and Granddaddy lived nearby in city apartments until he retired and they moved back home to the country when I was six. In this scene, I am around four, I think:
I am waiting in the hall for Grandma. She’s turning the lights out; we are getting ready to go. She calls my name from another room. I call back: “I am here.” My voice keeps bouncing, off the walls, off the stairs going down, down, down, into the darkness; we have to go through it before we can get to the door and the sidewalks and the sunlight outside.
“Grandma!” I cry. More bouncing voice, hollow, strange.
She’s there in an instant. “What’s the matter?”
“What is that sound?”
“Oh, honey, that’s just your echo.”
She calls out, “Hello”…her voice bounces, just like mine.
“Echoooo…” I call. Echooo-ooo-ooo, says the shadow of my voice, rolling down the stairwell.
And I am no longer scared, because now I know.
What does this have to do with magnolias?
Only that we are on our way to the park, where she would offer me bread to feed the ducks, which would come to eat from my hands, from my little extended arms…and where the magnolias still grow in abundance. The memory is a cup of light I carry with me, just as the echo of her voice remains, just as I find myself echoing her, for we are always echoes of the ones we love most. As blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.
Grandma’s homeplace was named for the dawn, by the way. She’s literally Aurora’s child.
But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her…
“Stand right there, honey. Let me get your picture by that tree,” I tell my granddaughter, on our first trip to the park.
It’s a different park. A different tree.
But still, and always, a magnolia.
Our Sugar Magnolia, by “her” tree.
With abiding gratitude to the community at Two Writing Teachers during the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which concludes today. It was a joy to write alongside you every day in the month of March. Thank you for every cup of light you offered; I will savor the echo of your voicesfor many days to come.
I recently wrote a post for the CCIRA Professional Development Blog on the sometimes spirit-crushing work of literacy education. I will not list all of the contributing factors here; I will just say that there are many, especially during this long year of COVID-19. Prior to to writing the post, when asked what teachers are facing in regard to literacy and what is most needed, I responded: “A great lot of pressure at present. We have to able to relax some and find joy in our work.”
As I wrote, and as is usually the case, the path became clearer: Make room for awe.
That is my guiding “one little word” (OLW) for the year, see. And maybe for the rest of my life…
Yesterday I spoke with a colleague who will continue teaching virtually until the year ends in June, for students whose parents have chosen this option. She spoke of awe in regard to the Google Classroom chat feature: “So many more kids share their thoughts this way, more I’ve ever seen in person. I’m in awe of how much they have to say and how they encourage each other. We use the chat all the time now.”
This means students are writing more, which makes my heart sing. If ever there is a conduit for awe, it is writing.
Example: Have you noticed how many people—many students—have suddenly been enraptured by poetry after hearing Amanda Gorman? Who credits her childhood teachers and her school for valuing this kind of expressive, artistic, move-the-mountains writing?
I’ve been lamenting the loss of meaningful writing in elementary schools in my corner of the world, just when it it’s most needed—the writing workshop model having fallen out of favor in the last few years for an embedded, formulaic approach around a topic at a time. That is another whole story; suffice it to say that I am in awe of teachers and students finding their way back to writing that matters.
All of which brings me to Golden Shovel poems. It’s a form I’ve been playing with for about a year. It holds great appeal on a number of levels, practical, creative, metaphorical…the idea of mining for the nuggets of gold, the diamonds that lie within, often so unexpected, yet so important.
A teacher might give the Golden Shovel to students to dig something more out of whatever books they’re reading, songs they’re singing, famous speeches they’re studying, even a line a classmate has written—anything, really. Not necessarily as a response to the work itself, but latching onto any line that strikes them with its beauty, or pierces their hearts with its poignance, or stirs their souls with its power, to create something new and personally meaningful from it. Make room for awe…
Try digging with the Golden Shovel yourself. Take a line from a poem or a favorite book, speech, or song that has special appeal to you and transform it into something of your own. Each word in that line becomes the ending word of a line of your own poem (or the beginning word, if you prefer). Your poem may reflect an aspect from the original work. It may not. A Golden Shovel poem can mean whatever you wish; it’s just inspired by the line you use to create it.
I chose this line from Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill We Climb”: Even as we grieved, we grew.
Days roll on, even to odd, odd to even,
tossed dice, never quite landing, as
we wonder how that’s possible. Don’t we.
In the spinning we still loved as we grieved
and we’ll go on, won’t we,
even as we did when odds against us grew.
And this one, from the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May:We do not fade so easily from this life.
Now, who are we
and what should we do,
here where the sun shines not
and Earth’s colors fade.
consider how easily
we glide from
that room to this,
enduring, rather than living, life
And so I pass the Golden Shovel.
Here’s to the awe of your own discoveries.
Photo: Golden shovels. Alachua County. CC-BY
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March.
With special thanks to Dr. Kim Johnson who hosted Ethical ELA’s Open Write last week with the invitation to compose “Your Life’s Table of Contents” poems. There is no formula, just lots of freedom; Kim said: “I started thinking about how I might write a table of contents organizing the poems I have written over these past few years, in verse…Imagine you are creating a collection of your own work, and try your hand at an organizing poem to be a table of contents or any other feature of a book.“
My poem is based on a timeline of my writing history, starting at age 6.
My Life’s Writing Anthology
Bible story plagiarized in blocky big letters on lined newsprint paper
All About Me carefully rendered detail teacher-praised
Myth of Shoeani on the origin of shoes
Dr. Heartbeat, Dr. Heartbeat a play composed around four words heart lion clock —I forget the fourth
The Poetry Years of rainbows friendships love loss even a baby dragon rhythms of my soul attempting to understand itself
A short story a mystery a secret a little girl kept safe
All-nighter research paper on the function of King Claudius in Hamlet —still tied two of my best friends for the highest marks in class
Oral tradition of grandparents put to paper for the first time
Novel ideas captured in notebooks beginning to live even if they haven’t breathed in a while
Critical research on children’s fantasy lit taking the last of my strength and the humanities prize
Short stories hammered out within word counts for competitions
Mentor texts for students and teachers learning how to write and to love memoir essay story fantasy poetry
The blog: the archive the scrapbook of my writing life my love letter to words and the world
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 23, I am writing around a word beginning with letter w. How could it NOT be “writing”?