Friday, February 12, 2016

Poetry Friday: Snow on the Desert

I've spent the week with my daughter, going to her classes, hanging out in her dorm room while she did homework, going to an Ash Wednesday service, and, always, freezing.  Although I've loved being with her, I'm dreaming of warmth and longing to return to my tropical island.

I was looking for a poem about snow, and found this one.  It is so very specific, one of my criteria for good writing.  It takes place in New York City and and Tucson and New Delhi.  It involves Serge and Sameetah and Papagos and cacti and Begum Akhtar.  But even though it refers to these intensely personal memories, I could see the snow in the desert, the "dried seas," the silent audience in the darkened nightclub during an air raid in the Bangladesh War, though I have experienced none of them.  I could relate to the themes of loss and elegy and saying goodbye at the airport and the fear of being forgotten. Twice the poet uses the expression "hurting into memory," and yet there's also the sacred wine made from the sap of the saguaros, something beautiful (and presumably delicious) distilled from the sun and the past.

Agha Shahid Ali was from Kashmir, and I had run across him before, while looking for examples of ghazals.  He was a well-known writer of them.  There are some more of his poems at the Poetry Foundation's site, and I put a couple of his books on my wish list, too.  

I was looking for something simple and descriptive that I could post with a snow photo, and this complex, multi-layered meditation on memory and separation was not at all what I had in mind.  And yet, what could be more perfect, as I head to the airport myself this weekend, after a week of making new memories, and say goodbye once more?

Snow on the Desert

By Agha Shahid Ali

“Each ray of sunshine is seven minutes old,”   
Serge told me in New York one December night.

“So when I look at the sky, I see the past?”   
“Yes, Yes," he said. “especially on a clear day.”

On January 19, 1987,
as I very early in the morning
drove my sister to Tucson International,

suddenly on Alvernon and 22nd Street   
the sliding doors of the fog were opened,

and the snow, which had fallen all night, now   
sun-dazzled, blinded us, the earth whitened

out, as if by cocaine, the desert’s plants,   
its mineral-hard colors extinguished,   
wine frozen in the veins of the cactus. 

Friday, February 05, 2016

Poetry Friday: Travel

I'm leaving on a trip today (going to visit my daughter, hurray!), so I have been thinking about travel.  Here's Elizabeth Bishop on the subject.

Questions of Travel
Elizabeth Bishop


Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.

Here's the rest of the poem.

I'm not anticipating wishing I had stayed at home, though I am expecting to get quite cold.  It's a little more usual to head south for Carnival than north, but I'm dreaming of a white Mardi Gras.

Miss Rumphius has today's roundup.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Reading Update

Book #8 of the year was a recommendation I received in a blog comment.  I had explained that my OLW for this year is LOVED, and a reader mentioned Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri Nouwen.  This is one of those books that is going to be important to me.  I read it quickly but I keep going back to it.  "How different," Nouwen writes, "would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away!  How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it...and that - even then - there will be leftovers! . . . You and I would dance for joy were we to know truly that we, little people, are chosen, blessed, and broken to become the bread that will multiply itself in the giving."  What a beautiful book.  I will reread it many times, I am sure.

Book #9 was The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin.  I've been reading Rubin's blog and listening to her podcast for a little while, so I decided it was time to read her book.  I enjoyed it very much.  It's quirky, sensible, and full of little ideas that are easy to implement for a happier life.

Book #10 was Jilting the Duke, written by a friend from graduate school under the pseudonym Rachael Miles.  Look at this fun article about how she decided what words she could use in this historical romance.  I enjoyed the book, and have pre-ordered the next one, coming out in May. 

Book #11 was Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, a verse novel by Margarita Engle.  Many of my students are enjoying reading verse novels - there are so many coming out these days!  This one is about our part of the world, and I think they'll be interested to learn about the journeys of refugees fleeing the Holocaust.  Haiti took in refugees, too, by the way.

Book #12 was For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, by Jen Hatmaker.  I'm discussing it with a group of friends.  Parts of it were a little lite, but it was a quick, entertaining read, and I'm sure the discussion will be fun. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Poetry Friday: Bougainvillea and Razor Wire

I took this photo in the courtyard of my house, and then I started thinking about the mixed messages sent by the flowers and the barbed wire.

Bougainvillea and Razor wire

The pink flowers say, “Welcome.”
The razor wire says, “Not so fast.”

The razor wire says, “It’s protected here.”
The flowers say, “It’s friendly here.”

The flowers say, “We’re beautiful.”
The razor wire says, “Come close and you’ll regret it.”

The razor wire says, “You might as well just go away.”
The bougainvillea adds, “I have thorns.”

The flowers say, “You belong here.”
The razor wire says, “No you don’t.”

Ruth, from

The roundup is here today. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On This Day Six Years Ago

I recently read this article about Facebook's relatively new "On This Day" feature that reminds us of what we were doing on this day last year, two years ago, five years ago, seven years ago.  "We generally think of social media as a tool to make grand announcements and to document important times, but just as often – if not more – it’s just a tin can phone, an avenue by which to toss banal witterings into an uncaring universe. Rather, it’s a form of thinking out loud, of asserting a moment for ourselves on to the noisy face of the world," writes Leigh Alexander.

I get that.  Most of my updates are pretty predictable.  In January, lots of them are smug commentaries on how cozy and warm I am on my tropical island while Stateside friends freeze.  But this year, I've been paying special attention to the updates I wrote six years ago, the year of the earthquake.  Pardon me if I call it "the earthquake," as though there's only one.  For us in Haiti there's only one that is etched in our brains.

Etched in our brains, yes, but it's amazing how many of the little daily details I had forgotten.  This year is the first year that the anniversary falls on a Tuesday, just like the original quake.  Weirdly, it has felt as though this year is an echo of that one.  And the updates on "On This Day" have reinforced that sensation.

Our internet went out when the quake hit, and it wasn't until Thursday the 14th that we were back online.  I had idly checked, not expecting a connection, and when I logged into Facebook I saw that many of our friends had written to us as soon as they heard the news.  Were we OK?  Then when they heard we were alive, through a phone message we were able to get out that night (the phones didn't work either, but someone with us had a US cellphone), people wrote that they were praying for us, that they were with us, that they were waiting to hear from us.  I remember reading those messages on that Thursday.  I remember typing back as fast as I could, sure that the link to the outside world would flicker out, fueled by adrenaline and hardly any sleep.  (The lack of punctuation in my writing testifies to how I was feeling.)  I described sitting in my room and hearing voices outside tell their story again and again, and the words "kraze net," destroyed completely, being repeated.  I wrote about praying outside with our friends who were sleeping there, still too afraid of collapsing concrete to venture back inside.  (I was too afraid too, but I was attempting to sleep inside anyway.)  I wrote about our family decision that the children and I would go to the States for a while, and how torn and guilty and conflicted I felt.  My friends wrote kind messages back.  I know I read them all at the time, but as I read my wall from those days again, it feels as though they are new.  You're doing the right thing, they reassure me.  Were we?  I still don't know.  Telling my counselor about it this year still brought floods of tears.

After we got to the States, six years ago last week, my updates are about putting my children in public school, talking to fellow earthquake refugees on the phone while watching my son play in the snow, and today, translating adoption documents for friends whose tenuous situation with their Haitian children was looking hopeful - perhaps something good was about to come out of the earthquake (it did - many adoptions were sped up in those days).

It's difficult to read "On This Day," because it transports me right back to those terrible moments.  Leigh Alexander's article mentions others feeling the same: "At best there’s some comedy in the idea that you’d appreciate a tender, wistful reflection on the time you took a picture of a snack. At worst, announcements of job loss, photos of happy days with your now-ex, a pet that has died, or a family illness are suddenly unearthed without warning, served into your day along with Facebook’s chirpy, intimate good-day wishes."

But at the same time, I'm glad those memories are there, because in addition to the pain and fear and sadness (and always, the survivor's guilt), there are memories of new friendships, support, God's care and protection of me.  This morning I read a student's post on my wall.  "Hey miss," she had written on this day six years ago, "hope you guys are doing okay."  We weren't, and yet, strangely, we were.  I wrote back to her in the laconic Haitian way: "Nou la."  We're here.  "How about you?"  She didn't answer, then, but I've talked to her many times since, and I'll drop her a note today.  Nou la.  We're still here.  Just like we were On This Day Six Years Ago.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reading Update

Book #1 of 2016 was Gary D. Schmidt's book Straw into Gold.  I didn't love it like his newer books, but it wasn't bad. 

Late last year I figured out how to borrow library books from the States on my Kindle.  Books #2, #4 and #5 were acquired that way.  I really love having this option.  The books were The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango; Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper; and Did You Ever Have a Family, by Bill Clegg.

Book #3 was Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Edward T. Welch.  This was a useful read.

Book #6 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  My daughter's reading this in her Adolescent Lit class, so I decided to read it, too.  It's sad but also entertaining, and my first read by Alexie.

Book #7 was another YA title, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han.  My students are going to like this one a lot, and it didn't end the way I thought it would.

Bougainvillea Carpet

How could I ever feel less than LOVED when my seventh grade son makes me a carpet of bougainvillea to follow to my breakfast? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Poetry Friday: Raymond Carver

With the OLW that I chose this year, LOVED, this Raymond Carver poem is a must:

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

I found other Raymond Carver I liked, too.  Here's his poem "Happiness," and here's "Grief."  Both describe little moments.  And here's "Another Mystery," about death and becoming the oldest generation of your family. 

I think I like that little short one the best, though.  "To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved."

The roundup is here today.