Frances

I don’t know how old I was when I realized.

I hated it.

My name.

In kindergarten, I didn’t even know it was my name.

My teacher, Mrs. Brown, called the roll:

“Frances?…Frances?”

She finally narrowed her eyes at me: “Aren’t you Frances?”

Sitting there at my tiny desk, I blinked: “No. I’m Fran.”

Such an illustrious beginning to my academic career.

Nobody called me by it much, except my aunts. My mother’s sisters. “Frrrraaanncessss,” they’d say, rather posh, although they weren’t. They were a colorful blend of heavy smoker and ribald raconteur. With looonnnnnnnnnng Carolina drawls.

My father used it when he was angry: “Fran-CES!” —Yeah, the emphasis on that last syllable, utterly ominous.

Nobody else in school had my name. Lots of Debbies, Dianes, Jennifers, Kellys, Sherrys, Angies, even a Charlene or two. There were names that felt like poetry to me: Vonda, Monica and Erica (twins), and Lawandra. Even a girl with a Hawaiian name: Leilani. Gorgeous.

Not my name. It was popular in, like, 1894.

When my reading group was learning about spoof in fifth grade, the teacher allowed the three of us to illustrate it to the class. My spoof: I had legally changed my name. To Diane or Debbie or something (can’t quite recall). Something that blended in much better and was much cuter.

The class didn’t buy it. There was no escaping.

Many of the kids couldn’t even get it right. “Hey, France,” they’d cheerfully greet me.

I glared at them, responding though clenched teeth: “It is Frances, or it is Fran. Not France. I am not a country.”

Early on (sometime after kindergarten, anyway) I learned that I’d been named for my paternal grandmother, Ruby Frances, whom I loved long before my memory ever kicked in. She remains, to this day, my life’s single greatest influence and guiding force. I never wanted to be away from her. We treasured every moment we had together throughout her long years. Grandma was named for her father, Francis. She adored him, always spoke of him with great affection and admiration. She saved a wooden jewelry box he gave her during the Depression. It is mine, now. She cherished my being her namesake; my love for her and this generational legacy were the only saving grace I could find in my name.

It was problematic on another count. The pharmacy couldn’t spell it right on prescription labels: Francis. Did the world at large not understand that the feminine spelling is with an e? I felt like chucking those little orange bottles through the window.

But then I learned a couple of things. The name means free. Or, one who is from France. Interesting that I discovered this while taking French in middle school, where the class got to choose French names. I was Renée. Spoken from the throat.

“Hey, Grandma, did you know the name Frances means one who is from France?”

“It does? I loved taking French in school.”

“You took French?”

“Oh, yes. I thought it was such a beautiful language.”

My DNA tests now tell me there’s a dollop of French ancestry. Not hard to guess which side passed it down. Although my father told me I should be taking Spanish instead because it’s more practical. He was right, alas…but I loved French and studied it until I had dreams fully narrated en français.

Funny how my elementary classmates used to call me France.

Then there was the little group of Spanish-speaking girls in my first teaching job, one of whom grabbed my badge across the reading table and sounded out my first name: Fran. “Great job!” I said. “That’s really my nickname. It’s short for Frances.”

“Ooooooo,” said my little student, “that sounds like princess.”

I never, ever would have thought of that, even though I knew Princess Diana’s middle name was… Frances. Even though I wore my hair in a Princess Diana bob for several years. My hat in yesterday’s post is an artifact of those days.

Was there a poetic quality to my name, after all?

And, even though I’m not Catholic, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands by my front steps. Patron saint of animals, always depicted with birds, which are often in my dreams and blog posts, for they speak to me each day. In their own bird languages, that is.

So it’s only taken a few decades but I’ve grown into my name. I cling to the legacy of it, have come to hear the musicality in it, even in all its variations. Except, perhaps, for Fanny.

Ahem. Moving on…

My favorite of all, from my granddaughter: Franna.

Now, that’s gorgeous.

*******

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 approachOn Day 6, I am writing around a word beginning with letter f. Figured I might as well write around my name… a fun way of inspiring more stories from your life is brainstorming words and phrases that somehow describe you, that also begin with the first letter of your first name:

Deep

A Spiritual Journey/Slice of Life Story Challenge Offering

My Spiritual Journey group writes on the first Thursday of the month.
Margaret Simon is our hostess today.
Our theme is March Spirit Wind.

On the evening news, on the second day of March: We are entering our severe storm season…

In central North Carolina, that means tornadoes. Schools will conduct required drills next week.

Metaphorically speaking, though: When is it not severe storm season? Potentially? Consider this past year, March to March…without warning, we found ourselves in uncharted waters. We faced the unknown. We weathered the weird (monster snow in Texas?). On every side, things dangerous, destructive, and deadly threatened, still threaten, our existence.

Sometimes it seems relentless. Endless.

Sometimes our spirits fail. We grow tired. We want to trust, but we wonder if we can make it through.

So it is for the disciples, when the miracle happens.

The Sea of Galilee, almost seven hundred feet below sea level, is subject to violent downdrafts and sudden storms. On this night, the storm is fierce. It is also long; in the fishing boat, the disciples have been battling the wind and waves for nine hours. They are exhausted, physically and mentally. They know death can come for them at any moment. They are afraid. This turns to sheer terror at the vision of a figure walking on the water: “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear (Matthew 14:26).

Jesus responds immediately: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

That’s when Peter—impulsive, passionate Peter—asks if it is really the Lord out there on the waves, and, if so, then command him to walk on the water. Jesus says Come. We know what happens. Peter climbs out of the boat, starts walking on the water, suddenly loses his nerve, and begins to sink. He cries for the Lord to save him. Jesus reaches out his hand, grabs hold of Peter, and chides him for his “little faith”—I cannot help hearing an exasperated tone, like that of a parent to a child: Why did you doubt?

Here is what I find interesting: The storm is raging this whole time. The furious winds don’t stop until Jesus and Peter are in the boat together. Peter’s desire to trust is obvious. I sense his earnest belief. Peter was a fisherman; he’d seen these kinds of storms all of his life. He probably knew the Sea of Galilee was littered with broken vessels (one dating to the first century was found there in 1986). Peter loved the Lord and knew he had exactly what he needed to accomplish this supernatural feat—in fact, he asked for and was granted the opportunity—yet his human nature failed him. Why?

When he saw the wind, he was afraid (v. 30).

It wasn’t the wind that threatened to annihilate Peter. It was his own fear.

You may know the haunting song that alludes to this story. I didn’t until my musician son mentioned hearing it in a dream. My boy has faced mighty storms in his young life with exceptional courage and unfailing compassion for others, even when others haven’t treated him well. He’s one of the gentlest, bravest souls I know, constant throughout moments of deep anguish. After the death of a friend— he’s lost several, suddenly and far too early—he dreamed he heard her singing in the darkened church:

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

The storm season may be severe. Relentless, exhausting, depleting. Fear’s going to run deep, sometimes. It’s natural. As natural as the wind and the sea.

Faith running deeper…that’s supernatural. A boat can’t come close to containing it.

Which I believe, in the deepest part of his heart, Peter knew.

Lyrics are to “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United, performed here on the Sea of Galilee.

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 4, I am writing around a word beginning with letter d.

Note this, in connection with “deep”: After years of drought and levels so low that irreversible damage was imminent, scientists now consider the Sea of Galilee to be nearly full.

Lead photo credit: Stormy seas. Ishature Dawn. CC BY-SA

Cry

Originally composed and posted as “The cry” on Saturday, February 27, with thanks to Ruth at SOS – Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog for the initial inspiration to “write fast.” Reposted here today as a reminder that revision is also writing…

I heard it again. It stirred me from my luxurious Saturday-drowse. A loud cryyyy cryyy cryyy from the backyard, or very nearby. I threw off the blankets and ran out on the deck, promptly soaking my socks in the day-old rainwater.

I dreamt, once, that I was standing here exactly like this, looking up at the northwestern sky, when an eagle flew by. Bald eagles do live around here. I have seen them on occasion. I’m convinced that an eagle’s (big, sloppy) nest is on the top of a water tower on the highway around the bend. In my dream, I was awed by the eagle and knew it portended something good.

But eagles don’t have the beautiful, poignant cryyy cryyy cryyy I am hearing on this early, pearl-sky morning. All other life seems to be slumbering but for this phantom bird, the lusty rooster across the street, and me. Day is just barely fading in.

It cries again, in the stillness. The air rings with its sharpness, with the curve and edge of it.

It’s a hawk. It has to be. I’ve seen several in recent weeks, since the turn of the year. During an icy spell in January, when I went for a short walk in thin winter sunlight that gilded the bare trees and glittered on the grass, I watched a hawk gliding low overheard, never flapping its wings, staying aloft as if by magic.

Returning to the warmth of the house in my sodden socks, I make coffee and settle at my laptop to search.

Definitely not an eagle. That call is feeble in comparison to the one I just heard. I know hawks’ voices are dubbed for eagles’ in movies.

Not a red-tailed hawk, though. What a hair-raising, harrowing scream.

Then… yes!

A red-shouldered hawk. Fluid, syllabic, downward inflection. Exactly what I heard from somewhere over in the smattering of pines between my neighbor’s house and mine, where I dreamed the eagle flew. I’d rather hear this cry even if I cannot see the hawk. The sound scrapes against my heart. 

It has something to do with the aching aliveness of things, despite the hawk being a predator. If I want to focus on symbolism, there’s a lot: intuition, spirituality, power…

But now, now, as the rooster picks back up with his daylong rusty-bugle solo (that’s one vigorous creature!), there’s a familiar cheep cheep warble at the front door, so happy and so loud that it seems almost to be in my house.

The finches! They made their annual nest in my door wreath last spring but didn’t lay eggs as in previous years, when I held my granddaughter up to see the nestlings. For some reason, they disappeared. And left me bereft. One more little layer of heartache in a deeply heartrending year. When I took the wreath down in the fall, I mourned over the perfect, unused nest.

I saved it. I couldn’t toss such artistry away.

I put my spring wreath up early. Like, at the end of January.

When I went to look for the chattering finches just now, I couldn’t see them any more than I could see that hawk this morning; I believe the little birds were sitting in the wreath, voicing (to me) their delight. 

There’s likely to be babies at my door by Easter.

And, I hope, somewhere high in the lonesome pines.

Red-shouldered hawk. Don Miller. CC B

*******

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. I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 3, I am writing around a word beginning with letter c.

Blue

Dear Blue,

I note that you have been showing up more than usual in my life lately.

You are, in fact, a Presence.

I wonder if this all started with my renewed interest in Vincent van Gogh and The Starry Night. One would assume that the artist’s haloed stars are the magnetic pull here… but what would those glowing yellow orbs be without the contrast of your magnificent backdrop? Furthermore, I am aware that the painting’s recaptured allure coincided with my learning of the blue hour. I believe this is a concentrated effort on your part, that you meant to sweep me completely away with that poetic phrase and natural phenomenon. I cannot explain why, exactly, but I decided that blue is the color of forgiveness and wrote a poem. In it you are the star.

What really makes me stop and take note of your power, however, are the bluebirds. Bits of thrilling color electrifying the drab winter canvas of my backyard, just the jolt of color needed to sustain my flagging spirit. I am reminded that you are the rarest color in nature. This many sightings of bluebirds so close by is also rare; I do not recall seeing them at all in recent years. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention? Out of gratitude to you, I wrote another poem.

As if I needed more reminders, here’s the bookmark an intuitive friend gave me on Sunday:

Oh, to be cloaked with sky, to have wings for flying high and free above our blue planet…! You have stirred a deep and curious longing, now.

I feel I owe you an apology for not typically thinking of you as a favorite color. I now recall that my mother painted the walls of my childhood bedroom light blue, that there were curtains and a matching bedspread of gaudy floral patterns in many shades of blue, turquoise to navy… that brushing my long hair in the dark of a winter’s night set blue sparks popping…that Daddy owned only blue cars until I was in my teens… oh, and how I loved those cornflower and periwinkle crayons in my prized giant Crayon box with the sharpener.

—Periwinkle. Again you’ve appeared in this current dreary winter, the only spark of color in my forlorn flowerpots, a solitary little bloom on a vine. I am wondering now if you are also the color of hope and endurance. I suppose you remember the pet parakeet from years ago, snowy white, with a dusting of you on his wings? His name? Periwinkle, dubbed “Winkle-bird” by my firstborn. We were living two blocks from the beach, then. Warm sand, bright sun, frothy tide spilling over our bare feet, tiny periwinkle shells exposed like scattered gems in its wake…how I miss living near the sea!

How is it that I have forgotten until just now that my bridesmaids’ dresses, handmade by my mother, were a shade similar to periwinkle? “Oceania Blue,” if memory serves me right. Chosen for an August wedding, out of love for the shore where my young soon-to-be husband and I spent hours walking, dreaming, planning…and this sends me scrambling in search of a particular remnant, on the highest shelf in the cabinet.

—I still have it.

A bag of rice from my wedding, in those pre-birdseed days.

Tied with a blue ribbon for thirty-six years, come summer.

Dear Blue, precious, precious Blue. You’ve been here all along. You are now the eyes of my granddaughter.

Here is what I know:

You’re divine.

*******

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 2, I am writing around a word beginning with letter b.

And, because I can’t resist… here’s one of my all-time favorite Sesame Street videos: The Beetles singing “Letter B.” Dedicated to all you phonics teachers out there (pardon the “buh” pronunciation. We do know better…).

Always

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers commences today, meaning that I will be posting every day in the month of March. This is my fifth consecutive year of participating.

I’ve learned a few things along the way about perseverance, creativity, and trust. Writing is, after all, an experiment in trust. You must trust yourself, trust that the words will come, that the Muse WILL show up. You take the plunge, trusting in the congenial ebb and flow of the writing community. You become a conduit of giving, of receiving. That is the power of story.

This year I am also experimenting with an abecedarian approach. Rationale: If I write around a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet…it will carry me through twenty-six days! That gives me five “wild card” days for the thirty-one in March. We’ll see how it goes. I could start with my word for the year, awe, but as I’ve written about that quite a bit since January, I will go in a different direction today.

I begin, instead, with always.

Always is cloaked in the aura of awe, anyway.

******

It’s woven through every great love story. The unbreakable thread, even when knotted with pain and loss. It glitters in the brightest moments and in the darkest; it is anchored deep in the human heart. It is the pull of permanence in the face of impermanence, mortality, powerlessness.

It is the word Severus Snape speaks in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the moment we learn that he isn’t pure evil, that he has lived for years in his own personal hell, that he loved, and still loves, Harry’s dead mother. Snape will die protecting her son (which, if he’d made different choices along the way, might have been his own; the bitterness and self-blame run so deep). When this all dawns on the Hogwarts headmaster, Dumbledore, he asks, in tears, if Snape still loves Lily “after all this time.”

Snape says: Always.

He is, in that one word, redeemed.

It is the operative word of the song Dolly Parton wrote in 1973 when she left Porter Wagoner and his show to begin her solo career: I Will Always Love You. Bittersweet lyrics, wishing the best for someone as the relationship itself disintegrates…it’s not just about love. It’s about always. It reverberates with gratitude. And you’re likely hearing Whitney Houston’s voice instead of Dolly’s—the young, beautiful, vibrant Whitney, always alive in that iconic song.

It is a memory word, pulsating in the veins of our allotted days. What are the things, the moments, that you will carry with you always? The people, the songs, the stories?

Always is why I write. To remember those things that matter, to jettison those that burden, to sail on through the storms to the calm that lies beyond. It is always there. Morning always follows the longest night. Night is always necessary; it invokes sleep, opportunity for the brain to repair itself. A mooring, in order to keep powering on. Much like writing itself.

Then there are dreams…an always-fascinating phenomenon.

I’ve been paying attention to those of late, writing them down, especially recurring dream symbols: birds, notably eagles. Lots of vivid green in unexpected places. Water, which is a metaphor for life. Once I dreamed I was swimming at dusk in an unknown sea alongside a shore dotted with houses and twinkling lights. I knew my destination was still a long way off. Just as I felt I wouldn’t make it, a dolphin came to guide me onward. It stayed close to my side, occasionally leaping. I touched it. I felt its slick, smooth skin against my palm. On contact, an instantaneous infusion of comfort: I absorbed the dolphin’s inherent cheer; I could rely on its agility, its navigational acuity. See how even dreams lead back to trust. Dreams are not always good, but most of mine are, thankfully. Troubled dreams are often the psyche’s way of trying to problem-solve.

And that takes me back to my great love, writing—for it’s the ultimate problem-solving mechanism. Writing is the chance dream while awake.

Always.

Harry Potter fans know the symbolism of the doe…

*******

Another favorite ‘a’ word in addition to always and awe: Abide. I wrote around that last autumn. A new “a” word I’ve learned: Anaplastology. Ana = anew, plastos = something that is made, so, “something made anew.” It is the branch of medicine which deals with prosthetic rehabilitation of a missing or malformed body part.

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.

Dennis!

a little Poetry Friday fun

Hi! I’m Dennis!

I’ve been waiting and waiting for the world to know about me!

The world SHOULD know about me! The world NEEDS to know about me!

Here are a few reasons why!

No. 1: My “Me” Acrostic!

(I live and breathe this every day! It’s who I am!)

Determined!
Energetic!
Ninja-like (only when sneaking socks)!
Nosey (hey, I’m a hound who’s gotta know all)!
Incredible (IMHO)!
Spirited!

Most of all, I love to have FUN FUN FUN…which reminds me of my namesake!

No. 2: My Namesake!

He was a famous drummer! I should be famous! My heart is drumming like mad all the time! Maybe you have heard of Dennis Wilson? We even look EXACTLY ALIKE!

—Toldja!

Mirror, mirror, on the wall
Who’s the fairest Dennis of all?

Well, gosh, that’s easy – ME!

And, not only am I named for a famous drummer, I do great impressions!

No. 3: Dobby!

A sock, a sock
my soul for a sock!

—um, you all know Harry Potter, right? Didja notice how the border in my portrait goes diagonally?
Get it?
Diagon Alley?
Get it? Get it?

Oh, never mind!

I should also be a model for other famous books!

No. 4: Modeling for Children’s Lit!

Here I have A Bad Case of Stripes!

Actually, not bad, surely just a very warm and cozy case of stripes!

Warm and cozy
sunny, dozy

just dream dream dream
but not of Camilla Cream

Hey! I AM CREAM!…but don’t call me Camilla!

Lastly, I am part of a wildly popular decorating craze!

No. 5: Best. Christmas. Decoration. EVER!

AmIrite? AmIrite?!

—yikes, that’s all I’ve got time for, I hear a car in the driveway, gotta go, gotta know…!
One last thing before I dash off:

I wish you happiness
I wish you joy
I wish you sun-striped dreams
And all your favorite things
And safety ’til this 2020 pox is past
And a dox upon your house, at last!

—Or, one in your lap, at least!

Thanks for stopping by and getting to know me! You can’t say your world isn’t a tiny bit brighter!

You’re welcome!

Bye now!

Y’all come back soon, hear?

*******

Dennis is a light in my family’s life for sure, sparking lots of laughter with his lively antics. He’s a one-year-old cream dachshund belonging to my youngest son, a musician and lifelong Beach Boys fan. We brought Dennis home as a tiny puppy (3 lbs.) last December. Here’s to all the dogs that brighten our days...thanks for (hopefully) savoring some silliness and wordplay here.

Thanks also to the amazing Poetry Friday poets and to Buffy Silverman for hosting the Roundup.

The witch’s flight

Mixed media by Scout, age 4.

One purple Halloween night
the mean old witch took flight
on her broom, headed east
to find her favorite sugary feast.
The sloth is the witch’s pet,
up the tree, as high as he can get,
sleeping under the crescent moon
—”HAHAHAAAA!” cackles the witch,
“I’ll be back soon!”

*******

poem collaboration by Scout and Franna, who wish you a Happy Halloween.
Scout says “Watch out for that witch.”

Wolf at the door

A friend sent me this photo after my recent pareidolia poem to a face in a cloud – pareidolia being the misperception of a stimulus as some familiar object, pattern, or meaning. It’s a normal phenomenon. The human brain’s visual system has a specialized mechanism for face recognition: the fusiform face area. We see, we interpret, we strive to make meaning, in more ways than we ever realize…

So: Do you see the wolf in this wood panel?

Imagine, then, seeing it in your house as a small child, every time you enter your bedroom… seems there could be a lesson here about our worst monsters existing only in our minds, but today the wolf has demanded a poem.

Far be it from me to argue…

Don’t really feel like playing
Not sure I should be saying
In case it hears me
Because it skeers me
That wolf beside my door.
Don’t want to go to bed
If a hundred times it’s said
It’s waiting in the dark there
To snarl and bite and bark there
That wolf beside my door.
What will it do as I go past?
Even if I try it super fast?
No one else knows why
I sit in the floor and cry
Except the wolf beside my door.
Please, I want to say,
Won’t you just go away?
If you will let me rest
I’ll do my very best
Oh Wolf—give me my door!
I hear his wild laughter
Ringing ever after
“Tell me, then, what for?
You’re not a child any more,”
Said the wolf who’s at my door.

With thanks to my friend for the photo and the idea, and to Two Writing Teachers for providing a word-playground for a Slice of Life to run and be free.

Learning decay wordplay

Today on the Ethical ELA blog, teacher-librarian-poet Linda Mitchell kicks off a five-day Open Write invitation by using lists for composing poetry (read her beautiful “Wishing Well Price List” poem and other inspiring offerings here).

Now, I am a notorious list-maker, so much so that my husband once asked: “What are you writing now?”

To which I replied, absently, while hunched over a scrap of paper: “A list.”

“ANOTHER list? For what?”

I hesitated to confess, but I did, in a decidedly small voice … “A list of lists I have to make.”

So. If I am going to base a poem on one of my myriad lists, I must choose quickly or I’ll never begin.

The first thing I turned to in my scrawly notebook idea-keeper was a list of rhyming words based on the phrase “learning decay.” I heard a fellow educator use it recently, expressing concern for children returning to school in the fall after having been out for five months (or longer) due to COVID-19. That idea has been sitting dormant … maybe waiting for just this moment, this prompt, as a lens to lend focus. What can I make of this list? What would help prevent “learning decay” for kids? For ANYONE? For me the answer is always twofold: Read. Write. Always.

One last thing: Kids need to know that writing is more than an assignment and generally hateful chore. They can do it anywhere, anytime, about anything. There are no limits, only endless discoveries. A notebook is a gateway for making sense of the world and discovering what you think and feel … a safe haven, a springboard, a sounding board, a lifeline, a reliquary for housing fragile new ideas, precious fragments of self. It can be on paper. On a screen. It can be a recording. A drawing. Any means of capturing thoughts, impressions, expressions. I use multiple mediums, myself. You’re reading one now. To me, moments spent writing are never wasted; growth is inevitable.

Here’s my rather rapid-fire poem based on “learning decay” and the list of rhyming words in my notebook:


Learning decay?
No, not today.
Strive to allay.
So invite play:
a word ballet,
a thought bouquet.
True soul portray,
not self-betray.
Notebook away,
the cost defray –
Recoup the day.