{pf original: mama bird}

I mentioned my conflicted feelings some months back about my mother coming out of retirement to return to teaching, and many of you kindly reassured me that your parents – or yourselves – worked well into your seventies and didn’t die of it. (The Atlantic actually recently did a piece on this very phenomenon.) This culture has granted us artificial ideas about when we’re “grown” enough to set out on our own, and when we’re meant to lay aside our independence, and I think I fell willingly into that pretend-we’re-all-the-Jones’-rich idea that wants so desperately to ignore differences in class and income. My parents aren’t rich. I’m not rich. It is what it is.

In November, my family came, with friends in tow, to our new house for Thanksgiving… and it was a literal crush, as our new house is MUCH smaller than our old one. And I’d just been diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder I’m living with, and was trying – hard – to be the hostess-with-the-mostest; some blend of B. Smith and Martha Stewart with sprinklings of Emily Post. My mother wrote a poem about me on the fly, as I took everyone on a postprandial walk around the neighborhood.

My mother isn’t a poet… that she reached out to me in my own language, as it were, floored me, as it is a truly loving act. Also really cute. And so, I’ve finally written her one back.

Newark 104

Mama Bird

No nightingale, nor angel without wings
Her song rings out while pushing playground swings –
“Use listening ears – Is that what Teacher said?
“Sand’s not for throwing. Use a ball instead.”
Long years her songs have echoed in the yard
As Littles changed, and outgrew her safeguards
Such weary notes must falter now, sometimes…
“Keep bottoms on your chairs. It’s clean-up time!”
Some birds fly south, once eggs, now hatched, take flight
Are RV migrants, dawn, until twilight
This nightingale, whose silver-plumage shines
Still loves the song, affection genuine.

Though caged, she sings in faith. Substance deferred
Through evidence unseen, hope’s undeterred.

Poetry Friday today is graciously hosted by Elizabeth Steinglass. Happy weekend, and remember to be good to your Mama birds, if you can.

{…but, history keeps the score}

After Psalm 137

Anne Porter

We’re still in Babylon but
We do not weep
Why should we weep?
We have forgotten
How to weep

We’ve sold our harps
And bought ourselves machines
That do our singing for us
And who remembers now
The songs we sang in Zion?

(The rest of the poem is here.)

These words have come back to haunt me repeatedly this past week… the beauty and power of Porter’s poem remind us that not only have we forgotten how to weep, the reasons we were meant to weep, and that we ever sang, we’ve also not really got time for any of the above… History rushes us on, and tomorrow, there will be another reason for outrage, if not for song, as The Globe predicts.

This week, Mitali Perkins’ Twitter comment that “Social media is a shallow container for grief” was poignant and empathetic, though yesterday, I felt like adding “…and, collective memory is a deep colander.” Not only are we failing to assign any real thought to things, in the fast-paced give-and-take of conversation on our Facebook feeds, we aren’t taking the time to fact-check before we state and repeat. I found this to be true this week in myriad comments I heard about school shootings.

The world has grown dangerous, is the usual cant, and I didn’t sign on for this, and We should arm teachers, and the classic, In Free America, they’ll take my guns from out of my cold, dead hands. (Yes, ol’ Charleton’s long dead, but apparently, still armed.) These are comments from smart people, too, but what they’re saying isn’t very intelligent… because school shootings are not, unfortunately, a recent phenomenon of a world gone suddenly, inexplicably crazy.

Because we forget things so fast, having new images and information crammed into our heads all the time, it’s forgivable, in some respects, to think that Columbine’s tragedy in 1999 was the beginning of a new trend in American violence. It was not. Setting aside violence perpetuated as a result of the Reconstruction, and against tribal groups in the American West, there’s a long historical trail of violence against students in schools, some specifically Civil Rights related, others directed by law enforcement for reasons of “public safety.” I remember being in high school when a man blew up his van in Stockton, CA, which was parked by a school, and then, in the ensuing chaos, shot into a playground, killing mostly Hmong kids. That was 1989. There has been so much violence since, and so much violence before 1999, when the most infamous school tragedy happened in Colorado.

We forget. But, history keeps a scorecard, riddled with holes and gunpowder burns.

In 1989 reporters argued that the bitter alcoholic man who killed all of those Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee kids shouldn’t have been able to get access to an AK-47. He’d had depression, and showed signs of mental issues. The Colorado students had posted questionable things on their Facebook. How could this have happened? the community raged. And yet, it did happen, and it has happened again, and again, and again, over, and over, and over…

And, in between, we hang up our harps and post cat videos on our Instagram. Until the next event for collective, ineffectual rage is called for.

And speaking of rage: I’m flattered that people felt so moved by my last blog post on the children’s publishing industry’s sexual harassment outrage/racist indifference that they’ve followed my Twitter and have tried to contact me for comment. To the many more who retweeted and boosted my thoughts, thank you. I’ve watched, as people have taken the “pay attention” that Debbie and Tracey tweeted and further characterized that post as “raging” – albeit beautifully, or as an essay “venting frustrations” albeit “eloquently,” and as “furious” albeit again with the modifier “beautiful.” It is… telling, to me, how even people who are trying to show they’re on your side can mischaracterize thoughts and intentions so easily. The Angry Black Woman trope is ever, ever before us; ever pervasive. Truth is, I was not furious when I wrote that blog post, I was factual. If I, as a black woman, got mad every time there was an injustice, I’d never do anything else. This wasn’t raging, this was Tuesday, and me thinking an issue through, and processing it in written form, as I often do…. This is why I mostly blog and often don’t speak up about things on social media. It’s just too, too easy for even those who appreciate us to misunderstand tone or intent, and for that misunderstanding to be a springboard to some other person’s soapbox. I appreciate so many people reading with and thinking with me – and there’s definitely a time and a use for anger – but I’ll save my rage for when I believe it will tilt the scales toward justice.

{december lights: that indispensable silver lining}


~ by Wisława Szymborska

They say he read novels to relax,
but only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If he happened on something like that,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’s had enough with dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggle to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction,
with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurried to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly in the last.

Nothing is promised; not even tomorrow. Therefore, take no thought of it. In the moment you have, arise. Shine.

{december lights: loveliness to sell}

Because Barb brought this to mind the other day:

To Largs 39


By Sara Teasdale

Life has loveliness to sell,
       All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
       Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
       Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
       Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
       Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
       Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
       Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
       Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
       Give all you have been, or could be.

Mere beauty is not enough – not to sell all you have, not for merely appearances. But for something more – the tiny moments of grace which give ease, and fuel strength to last another moment, then, yes, for this loveliness. For this moment. For this breath, which is a miracle. Arise and shine.

{december lights: pf – in memoriam}

Oh, Tennyson, how I loathed you in college. Through no fault of your own, of course. You did write such beauty, but when one is helping a desperately overbooked loved one finish a massive seventy-five page paper (probably was only thirty pages, but it felt like seventy-five. TRUST ME.) for ALL the final grades in an independent study project that has gone on three months too long and has switched professors twice because the first gave the assignment and then had a breakdown, and the second professor told you your interpretation of the first project was all wrong when it was already almost done, and sent you away with a new assignment which was nothing at ALL like the first and gave even less oversight than the first professor — well. It is far too easy, then, to resent you, poor Tennyson, and your massive work IN MEMORIAM.

And yet, there is such loveliness within.

Because of yesterday’s reminiscing on my days in the vast green of Glasgow (Glas cu, the city’s name in the proto-Brythonic language indeed means a green hollow) I’m still thinking on their coat of arms, and bells. Tennyson’s Ring Out is often resurrected around the new year, so I’ll indulge myself with a bit of it today.

Dunkeld Cathedral 40

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1809 – 1892

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Dunkeld Cathedral 57

(To the left, the bell tower of Dunkeld Cathedral, Scotland, which has a tiny, scary spiral staircase to get up to it.) Poetry Friday hosted today at Random Noodling. Arise and ring.

{december lights: p7’s poetry friday lai}

…or the stars, as the case may be.

It’s Poetry Friday, and the last month of the year, huzzah! The Sisters have once again persevered and come through! Yay, us! And here we are with another poetic form! This one… I’ve never done before, and it was both simple and hard. Simple is sometimes really difficult, I find. The Lai is a form from France, and this nine-line poem uses an “A” and “B” rhyme scheme with A lines being five syllables, and B lines two. The pattern is AA B AA B AA B. See? Simple. But… also ridiculously hard.

As always, the Sisters did it justice. Don’t miss works by Sara,
Laura, Tricia, Kelly,, and Liz.

Fortunately, our theme was “hope, peace & light” which ties nicely into December’s theme as a whole, right? I gave it a go, and after some technical difficulties under the heading of, “I started to enjoy just writing a poem, forgot there were rules about end rhyme and ended up with some weird hybrid,” I came up with this little poem in three parts – moving from dusk to midnight to dawn… it’s not so much about hope or peace or light, and more about… determination to find such:

I. Waning Light
Darkest time of year
Dusk seems always near;
It waits.
Autumn days austere
chill the atmosphere.
By eight,
Day time’s souvenir,
moon, will disappear.
II. Will The Dawn Return?
Let the dark gestate
That which we await
And fear.
Though we may debate,
seasonal dictates
are clear:
Let us celebrate
Life, as its due date
draw near.
III. Dragging In Darkness
Daybreak’s slow premiere
heralds blue skies, clear
roads straight.
Borne, we cannot steer
Our celestial sphere.
Our fate
mutable, unclear –
But, we persevere,

Vacaville 191

2017 has been… a ride over Niagra in a barrel – and if you’ll recall, Annie Edison Taylor said of it, “If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat…. I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.” Yeah… it’s just been that kind of a year. But! While days may be dark, the moon may be dim, and our nerves on edge, remember that the spirit of creativity is its own spark, dear ones. Don’t let your hands be idle. Even if it’s putting stickers on a piece of paper and making bookmarks for a school library, it’s doing something to feed you. Keep finding your feet, holding your candle, and lighting your world.

Arise and shine.

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Cousin Mary Lee at A Year of Reading. Please pop over for more lovely poetry today. Thank you for dropping by, and we hope you join us – the Seven Sisters – for whatever poetic hijinks we get up to next year! We’ll see you in January.

{p7 on poetry friday: autumnal hymns}

Well, it was either this, or Emily’s poem to the tune of The Earworm We Shall Not Name…

It’s been a week… but despite the erratic nature of human nature, the seasons tick on; seedtime and harvest, summer and winter. And today we celebrate the steady metronome of the natural world with… hymn meter.

Isaac Watts, the mad rhymer, pretty much invented it, and Emily D perfected it. Not to be confused with the meter of hymn music, this deals with text, and is a fairly simple form. There are three categories of hymn meter: common, which is alternating lines of iambic tetrameter with iambic trimeter; long, which is iambic tetrameter the entire stanza; and short meter, which is two lines of iambic trimeter followed by a single line of iambic tetrameter, and finally returns to iambic trimeter for the fourth line. It’s actually more complicated to explain than to compose.

Because hymn meter was well loved by Emily Dickinson whose 236th poem, “Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church” has ever been used by earnest poets to get out of leaving the house at the weekend, I thought I’d dash off a quick nod to her. Of course, this effort isn’t true short meter, because the third line is not short by any means, and to make it even more hymn-like, I added a distinct refrain. This was me not trying to quite go with the rules just yet:

Keeping Emily’s Sabbath

cathedral light abounds
through old growth canopy
as crows produce a raucous sound, as fog’s damp surges all around
and we breathe autumn’s ease, in redwood panoply.

(no sermon, no sexton. birdsong, from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long)

leaf-fall means death. Rejoice
in every dying tree
for autumn leads to winter’s choice. Then, ending, winter gives spring voice
and brings the honeybee, renewal’s guarantee.

(no chalice, no cantor: listen to the blue jay’s banter
the woodpecker’s rapping, its beats overlapping, and never is service too long)

scythe down, like autumn’s weeds
what binds you to the pew
no dome nor chorister a need, that “all are loved,” be that the creed
which Sabbath-hearts pursue; may Light be found in you.

No vestments, no hymn book. Take to the woods. Change your outlook.
Your body will thank you – the dogma will keep – and the sermon won’t put you to sleep.

Somewhere, my mother is perhaps despairing of my church attendance. *cough*

The next two poems I tried a little harder to both keep to the theme (why, oh, why is it that the minute someone mentions theme, poems spring forth from the forehead of Zeus on thoroughly different topics? I have the most contrary brain) and to the rules of form. This one in common meter goes out to the people who I annoyed on Twitter when I told them not to talk to me about pumpkin spiced anything until November… when I’m spicing pumpkins for pie:

There’s More To Life (Than Pumpkin Spice)

(There’s more to life than pumpkin spice
In autumn’s short-lived hoard,
Than cutesy “hygge” merchandise
You really can’t afford.)

Crabapples, crisp, without a doubt
When kissed by nighttime’s rime
Are twice as sweet, and Brussels sprouts
when roasted, are divine.

Bright hops, persimmons, leafy kale
Meld autumn’s rustic hues
Gold cannot stay, and fog’s exhale
Bronze streaks the sunset’s blue.

There’s more to life. Though pumpkin’s nice
Sing autumn’s fullest song —
Praise for short days in paradise
Laud nights, knife-crisp and long.

Hops really are gorgeous – Click if you’ve never seen them. There was a hop farm up near where we used to live, and though we don’t brew beer, it was A Big Deal to the many who do. Apparently the in-thing for decoration this fall is not hops, but… cotton bolls. Meh, I’ll pass. Give me that glorious hoppy green.

Finally, this is long meter, and while it’s definitely less… sparkly and dance-y than the rest, it likely lends itself to four-part voices and pipe organ beautifully.


Contrails streak skylines, white on blue,
Crossing guards heed the avenue,
Breath makes its halo misty cloud,
Fog folds the land within its shroud.

Schoolyards burst forth with raucous noise
Squirrels scold unheeding girls and boys
Bees labor long on winter’s hoard
Markets display their festive gourds

Landscape takes shades of orange and gold
Ocher and azure, tawny, bold
This serves as notice: time runs on
In this seasonal marathon.

Bright as a coin, the harvest moon
Draws down the drapes of afternoon
Last gasp of summer’s bright caprice
Leaves pass out autumn’s press release

This has been kind of a fun meter to play with! Enjoy more autumn-flavored selections from: Tricia, a this-girl-ain’t-growing-old ode from Liz; Sara brings the beauty to the dying season and Laura’s adorable tribute to Jack made me smile. Now, here’s Kelly‘s take on the form, and hugs to Andi; we’ll catch up with her later.

Even MORE autumnal poetry is found in Violet Nesdoly’s pumpkin patch!