Poetry Friday: For My Son, Reading Harry Potter by Michael Blumenthal

 Poetry Friday is hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem


One of my favorite things, as a teacher and a mother, is to watch the children in my care lose themselves in their reading lives.

For my own twenty-something children, reading was always at the center of our family life, and book talk somehow always wove itself into our conversations.  Even now, when they live in places of their own, we exchange texts all the time about our reading lives: books we just read, want to read, or want to re-read together.  Books are a comfort, a place to retreat to even as they navigate through the messiness that comes with adult life.

For my sixth graders, reading is the great imaginative escape – the world of the still possible.  They bring to their reading a certain freedom that comes with being young, largely untouched by life, and with a lovely faith, still, in magic.

Watching them read, hunched over, curled up, tucked into corners of the classroom, or stretched across the hammock at the farm, is one of the great delights of my life.

For My Son, Reading Harry Potter


How lovely, to be lost
as you are now
in someone else’s thoughts
an imagined world
of witchcraft, wizardry and clans
that takes you in so utterly
all the ceaseless background noise
of life’s insistent pull and drag soon fades
and you are left, a young boy
captured in attention’s undivided daze,
as I was once
when books defined a world
no trouble could yet penetrate
or others spoil, or regret stain,
when, between covers, under covers,
all is safe and sure
and each Odysseus makes it home again
and every transformation is to bird or bush
or to a star atwinkle in some firmament of light,
or to a club that lets you, and all others, in.
Oh, how I wish for you
that life may let you turn and turn
these pages, in whose spell
time is frozen, as is pain and fright and loss
before you’re destined to be lost again
in that disordered and distressing book
your life will write for you and cannot change.


Poetry Friday: Nightingale by Tony Morris

Poetry Friday is hosted by Violet at Violet Nesdoly | Poems

When my children were little, we took many late-at-night drives to soothe their restlessness and lead them into sleep.  Now that they are adults with lives of their own and bedtimes beyond our reach, I often look back on those rambles through pitch black neighborhoods with one or two babies in their car seats with a weird nostalgia. We have two of of kids home temporarily as they deal with medical issues, and there are no more late-at-night drives I can offer.   Sometimes, I realize that I am not even fully aware of all their symptoms and how they have (being responsible adults already) learned to cope and soothe themselves.  From time to time, over the past few days, I have come downstairs  in search of my morning coffee to find car keys flung on the  kitchen island. Perhaps one of them has rediscovered late night rambles.


When our daughter was a baby,
she’d sometimes cry and cry,

raw-throated nightingale heavy
on evening’s shoulders,

no solace in the rocking lullaby,
warm milk, blue velvet blanket,

nor in the whispered words,
the quiet shush we’d loose

while pacing back and forth
across the wooden floors.

Until one night, by chance,
we needed diapers,

and my wife, as tired
as I and needing, if not rest,

at least another’s voice to soothe
the small disquiet in her chest,

lifted Morgan from the crib,
bundled her against the cold,

and together we walked out beneath
the stars that pulsed

against the winter’s crisp
and piled into the car.

And halfway to the store,
heater blowing warm against our feet,

we noticed the muffled
wind that faintly buffeted the glass,

the slapping, even rhythm
of the concrete seams we crossed,

and the silence—but for heavy breathing
coming from the car seat in the back.

Poetry Friday: Making Peace by Denise Levertov

Poetry Friday is hosted by Amy at The Poem Farm


Yesterday was International Day of Peace, which I mark this Poetry Friday with a poem which asks us to live in a way that makes peace possible, rather than simply yearning for it…

Making Peace by Denise Levertov


A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

Poetry Friday: Morning by Mary Oliver

Poetry Friday is hosted by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty 

Rushing around  on a Friday morning, feeling that I had already fallen behind on the tasks of the day, I happened to catch a glance at our cat. Cat (that’s his name, since our family could never arrive at a friendly consensus on any other name) was stretched out by the back door, luxuriating in a patch of sunshine warmth.  Something about his serene stillness made me pause, take a deep breath, and take a few moments to enjoy the peaceful tableaux right in front of the rushing around me: a silky black cat, divinely contented with the breakfast he’d just had and pleased to lounge in the warmest place he could find.  Sometimes, it takes a cat to show us the way…

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 9.09.27 PM

Poetry Friday:at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989 by Lucille Clifton

Jone is hosting the Poetry Friday Round-Up today at Check It Out.

Among the podcasts I love most is the one one Ira Glass has been hosting for many years now: This American Life.  This week’s episode was about Afrofuturism, which really struck a nerve for two reasons: first, the events and mood in our country at the moment, and second, because I teach American history.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen to this particular podcast, here’s the summary and a link:

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 10.32.47 AM

One section of “We are in the future” has haunted me ever since I listened to it, this one about being a “slave re-enactor” at Mount Vernon:

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 10.39.11 AM

The social studies curriculum I cover for my sixth graders runs covers the years between the American Revolution through the Civil War: the nation is founded, it expands, and it almost self destructs.  We trace the idea of “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” all the through the events of the years we study, trying to sift through who was permitted “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, and at who was not.  I think it is imperative for my students to understand that racial inequality was baked into our earliest laws, and that we need to acknowledge this if we are ever to move towards being a country that truly lives the lofty words of our Declaration of Independence.

We spend an entire unit studying the history of slavery in America before we get to the Civil War, in the course of which I always have a handful of students who have been to Mount Vernon, Williamsburg, or Monticello and are truly puzzled by the difference in what they are learning in class compared to what they saw and heard when they toured these sites.  “All the slaves looked so happy there”, “their homes looked so nice”, “they were wearing nice stuff”, they remark, but clearly (based on what we were reading and seeing in class) this was not so…this was not true.  Why???  And the answers to that why? would lead to discussions about who we are today, and why we as a nation still struggle with that original sin: slavery.  (This  is a wonderful article about the difference between real history and tour guide history.)

Azie Dungey’s experiences as a re-enactor at Mount Vernon brought me back to those conversations in our classroom, and to this Lucille Clifton poem (which we read and talk about in our class during our slavery unit):


at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989
by Lucille Clifton

among the rocks
at walnut grove
your silence drumming
in my bones,
tell me your names.

nobody mentioned slaves
and yet the curious tools
shine with your fingerprints.
nobody mentioned slaves
but somebody did this work
who had no guide, no stone,
who moulders under rock.

tell me your names,
tell me your bashful names
and I will testify.

the inventory lists ten slaves
but only men were 

among the rocks
at walnut grove
some of these honored dead
were dark
some of these dark
were slaves
some of these slaves
were women
some of them did this honored work.
tell me your names
foremothers, brothers,
tell me your dishonored names.
here lies
here lies
here lies
here lies

In an interview with Bill Moyers, This is how Clifton described how the poem came to be written:

LUCILLE CLIFTON: Well, let me tell you what happened with that poem. I went to Walnut Grove Plantation in South Carolina in 1989 and I was the only person of color on the tour.  It’s wonderful  2,000 acres, but on the tour there was no mention of slaves. And  they have the the original furniture. They had all the stuff and they talked about the difficulty of the work, a family, a small family, no mention of slavery…So I asked,  “Why didn’t you mention slaves?” The first answer was,  “Maybe the guide didn’t want to embarrass you.” “Well,” I said, “I’m not a slave. I don’t know why he would think I’d be that embarrassed.” Then I asked again, and the answer of, “Maybe they didn’t have any.” Well, they had two thousand acres in South Carolina in the early part of the nineteenth century. Be serious!

When I suggested that the guide check the inventory, because slaves were considered property and were often inventoried,  they discovered that the plantation had an inventory of ten slaves, but they might have had more because they didn’t recognize women. And, well, I had to write about that. I mean some things say, “Hey, write me.”

You see, we cannot ignore history. History doesn’t go away.  The past isn’t back there, the past is here, too.

(from The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets)


Poetry Friday: Be Kind by Michael Blumenthal

Poetry Friday is hosted by Donna at Mainely Write.

I found this poem while scrolling through the archives of The Writer’s Almanac, which I often do when the news of the world fills me with trepidation and rage, and I need words of comfort and beauty.  I loved it instantly…that, and last evening’s sky, put me in a better frame of mind.

FullSizeRender 54

Be Kind by Michael Blumenthal


Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind— but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

Poetry Friday: The Round by Stanley Kunitz

Poetry Friday is hosted by Katie at The Logonauts 

This has been a different kind of summer – a summer of giving myself over to the quiet beauty of the farm, where the sounds of birds calling to each other across the valley and corn rustling into its green growth is often all I hear all day.  This is by choice.

This has been a summer of also giving myself over to the life of being a reader and being a writer.  Not the “I’ll read a chapter or two when I find the time” kind of reading.  Not the “I’ll write a few lines when I can” kind of writing.  But an immersive reading and writing that is at the center of my day, every day.

Because, from September through June, I am immersed in the lives of fifty readers and writers – my days are all about their journeys.  This summer is all about mine.  And, in the serenity of the farm, the ever changing unchanging of  its everyday beauty, I am discovering again the glory of being lost in an exquisitely written book for hours upon end…the joy and discipline of the writing life.

Jane Kenyon, the poet of my heart and soul, advised this: “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

So, that has been my summer work.  Unlike Stanley Kunitz, however, I don’t have quite enough discipline to find a cellar in which to hide from the view, which is after all, a rather fleeting summer view:



The Round
Stanley Kunitz

Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed . . .”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.