{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.

{“…after the watermelon thing.”}

I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.

And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book. And I said I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morrison, and Barack Obama saying,”This guy’s okay. This guy’s fine.”

Yeah, remember that? 2014, the National Book Award, televised on C-SPAN and elsewhere. People are so heartened to see African Americans on the National Book Award finalist list. Poets and writers and people of letters are tuning in. In the children’s lit community, we’re thrilled that Jacqueline Woodson, one of our steady bright lights in YA literature, has won. She’s earned that BIG award, one which will thrust her outside the quieter waters of children’s lit, and… in that moment, the professional crowning pinnacle of her success thus far, the presenter makes …a watermelon joke.

“In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from.” – Jacqueline Woodson, quoted in the New York Times.

He had an hundred million reasons why, later, he had remarked so disparagingly on the poets who were nominated, why he had told jokes and tried to wrest the attention of the crowd from the nominees onto his vast and hungry ego. But, it wasn’t personal; he cried no foul, she’s my friend! a thousand times, and yet, that moment, those sly, knowing words sliced thousands of us to ribbons, as the audience laughed, and a tall, serene woman had to stand – and yet again, endure. Endure. Endure, with her face at peace, as if the buffoonery of the man before her didn’t reach her.

I don’t support hate, and yet, in that moment, that dizzyingly visceral emotion shivered in my sight. Gut-punched, I wanted to both hiss and claw, scream and spit. As far as I was concerned, that man was finished, and I was done with him and all his works, forever. I never bought, reviewed, read, or talked of anything else he said or did. It made no difference to his life, I am sure, but it seemed right, to me, to simply use my internal Wite-Out and blot him from my notice for the rest of forever. I was fully over this “problematic” favorite.

It’s clear that I’m still sitting with our current moment in the children’s lit industry, trying to work through it, and thinking about the last time that so many voices came together to exclaim in disgust. It was for our Ms. Woodson, and rightly so. The commentary was sharp, and loud – and ultimately… was placated by the huge monetary donation Handler gave to We Need Diverse Books. And then, most of the voices were hushed, pressing their hands against the shoulders of those who still rose up, and their hands over the mouths of those still bitterly protesting. He apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

But, yesterday, after Handler wandered flat-footedly into the pages of children’s lit history again, this time into the earnest signatories of the #ustoo pledge, wherein members of the children’s lit industry pledged to hold accountable conferences and gatherings, and not attend those which have no clear sexual harassment policy, people took him to task for his very clear participation IN the harassment. The very innuendo-laden jokes, in front of children and adults. The demeaning sexual talk. But — he apologized. He made it right. You can’t judge people on what they say.

It seems clear that you can, unless what you say is racist.

In my small and petty way, I blocked Daniel Handler from my sight years ago – but he’s still been doing things, writing, being invited places, feted within the industry, and I’m the doofus who didn’t realize that his “little faux pas” on Ms. Woodson’s big night had long been forgotten.

But, as Heidi so succinctly asked, didn’t we figure out this guy was trash after the watermelon thing? What are we doing still courting that kind of person to be a speaker and to visit classrooms? Why don’t we seem to take the humiliation, shame, and harm of racism as seriously as we’re all endeavoring to take the #metoo harassment thing?

In all seriousness – is a #metoo movement going to actually succeed if, once again, racism is instructed to take a seat at the back of the bus?

1897. “The day before the inauguration of the nation’s 28th president the Congressional Committee of NAWSA hosted a large parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The idea behind this was to maximize onlookers who happened to be in town to attend the inauguration. Woodrow Wilson expected a crowd at the train station to greet him; however, very few people actually showed up to greet the president, the largest part of the crowd was his staff. The parade was led by the beautiful lawyer Inez Milholland Bouissevain upon a white horse. This image of her as a warrior atop a horse is what made her an iconic image in the fight for womens’ right to vote. This massive parade consisted of no less than nine bands. It also included four brigades on horseback and close to eight thousand marchers. The parade was cut into sections: working women, state delegates, male suffragists, and finally African-American women.

The point of the parade was “to march in the spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the journalist who led an anti-lynching campaign in the late nineteenth century, organized the Alpha Suffrage Club among Black women in Chicago and brought members with her to participate in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. The organizers of the march asked that they walk at the end of the parade. She tried to get the White Illinois delegation to support her opposition of this segregation, but found few supporters. They either would march at the end or not at all. Ida refused to march, but as the parade progressed, Ida emerged from the crowd and joined the White Illinois delegation, marching between two White supporters. She refused to comply with the segregation.”

– Excerpts taken from One of Divided Sisters: Bridging the Gap Between Black and White Women by Midge Wilson & Kathy Russell, Anchor, 1996, and PBS.org.

I think I’ve been naive, and pretty quiet – but it’s clear the time for my naive assumptions is way over.

{so very Monday}

Newark 107

No idea what kind of flower this is, but it was unfurling outside the post office where I – finally, after entirely removing three chapters I’d moved around in the narrative twice before – mailed off my latest project.

I shall take a tiny moment and say “Hurray!”

There is a lot swirling through my head this morning: yesterday, I attended a community concert on behalf of our chamber choir, and upon returning home a.) found out that the mother of a dear Scottish friend of mine has died, a woman I had met and enjoyed; b.) was told a “you’re-not-supposed-to-know” update on my Dad’s cancer, c.) then, my autoimmune disorder, which over the last two weeks lulled me into a false sense of serenity, bloomed out in full malevolent force, and d.) myriad people asked me if I knew what was going with Anne Ursu’s report, and the subsequent discussion in School Library Journal on sexual harassment in the children’s lit industry. (After a bit, the comments are NOT worth reading. Reader discretion is advised.)

I decided to take a bath and go to bed.

Today is a new day, and everything I tried to ignore yesterday has returned to pay a call. In triplicate.

There is so much good – all of the Youth Media Awards from the ALA are in and faaaabulous, and Erin Estrada Kelly’s win is well overdue, so I’m thrilled she’s being honored; the fourth Asian overall, and the first Filipina to BE honored with a Newberry by the American Library Association – within the horrible, there are shades of wonderful swirling past (Witness Rick Riordan’s commentary and Gwenda’s sterling response and empowerment to the community.). Still, I feel like I’ve been caught in a hurricane, one the forecaster had predicted, but which had been ignored.

So, here’s a song to which you can sit and breathe… and then, get up, and head back into the fray.

{pf: seven sisters and a february tanka}

Another month (was January sixteen years long, or was that just me???), another poetic endeavor with the Seven Sisters! This month we’re visiting Moscow (brrr, in spirit only, it’s far too chilly to venture that direction these days) to stride the wide boulevards surrounding this lovely bit of Moscow called by Muscovites “Vysotniye Zdaniye,” or “the tall buildings.” That nondescript description is more fancifully known to Westerners as “Stalin’s Seven Sisters.” While this is basically one gigantic architectural wedding cake, each of the seven buildings has its own distinct spire.

In our poetic endeavors this month, we’ve been tasked to create tankas – but with a tiny catch. Our topics were chosen for us, as each of us was to respond this month to another sister’s sonnet from last month. You’ll find Sara’s here, right here is Liz’s; Laura’s is here, and along with an explanation of the form, Kelly’s is here, and Tricia’s, here. We wish Andi a happy February, and hope catch up with her another time.

I am fairly certain that I got the easiest assignment out of the crew. Kelly’s winsome little beauty, Kismet made words sparkle from Kelly’s pen, and certainly Kismet easily lent herself to the tanka form, which traditionally celebrated the glories of nature. Well, nothing more natural than a cat falling asleep while plotting world domination, right? I mean, if they could just stay awake long enough, we might need to worry. But, otherwise, nah.

I played with the idea of what it means to “respond” to the sonnet, and, since we’ve encountered tankas before repeatedly in this poetry project, I also tried harder on the “turn,” that comes in the third line of the tanka form. Conventional wisdom suggests that this “turn” could be both used as a widening of perspective, bridging topics between the top and bottom lines, or for a complete turn of attitude. This makes it fun to use Kismet in the sense of destiny, and as the subject of our poems.

o, mighty huntress

russet drab, and dun
flap/flutter/peck unceasing.
double-glazed reprieve
denies this bat-eared huntress.
Crouch gains curl, then, pounce turns purr.

days of dozing

what calico dreams
await the fuzzball, sleeping?
the feline kismet
paws splayed, claws keen to capture
at least one fluffed-up sparrow.

as told by k2

sunbeams shift closer
that translucent obstacle
unimpaired by claws slashing
frames distraction. my human,
eyes dreaming, hears Muses sing


all hard ground and horns
the world is colder, outside
landing on her feet
she’s found warm laps and purring
not all who wander stay lost

Around Glasgow 596

Last week’s Poetry Friday host, Carol Varsalona, invited me to join the Winter Wonderland Gallery, where throughout the months of January and February, the poetry community will be sharing poems, photography, illustrations and reflections on the stillness and artistry of the natural world this season. Carol invites us to share “YOUR perspective of the winter season in any of these mediums: photographs, videos, digital slide shows, songs musical compositions, artistic renderings, collages, illustrations, digital inspirations, image poems, inspirational quotes, sketches, or hand-draw pictures. Share your inspirations globally.” Drop by, friends, and check it out.

Meanwhile, further poetry can be found at Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Donna JT Smith @ Mainley Write.

Pack as much introspection and discovery as you can into these crisp winter mornings. It’s the shortest month of the year. Make every day significant.