Thursday, April 29, 2021

IF I WERE THE STARS OF FIRE


If I were the stars of fire, 
I would dream of meteors lost in the night. 
I would dream of lost moons 
and wayward planets, rogue stars
wandering the universe. 
If I were hidden inside your heart 
I would make your dream this big. 
I would bring you courage 
bundled up in fistfuls of raggy flowers, 
or trapped on a long wave
approaching the shore 
with no other thought than the speed of dance, 
where the birds test the air with their wings, 
and the sky answers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

THE GIFT OF THIS DAY


I am offering this day filled with fog and sunlight. 
My hands holding the air up to the sky. 
The pine trees whisper such secrets
that the cat climbs up the trunk in search of lost youth.
The birds scold her for her transgressions.
And she retreats, having nowhere else to go, but down.
Only the sky overhead, but it is overcast today.
I love you said the sky to the clouds.
I love you said the wind to the trees
and they whispered back secrets to each other
which I could not translate. The sun breaks through,
warming the bones of the old cat
and she is grateful for this gift, this day.

Cleveland Elementary School Day 10, teaching notes: Offerings, Colors, journal


Today we talked about final expectations and how many finished poems (3-4) students needed for the upcoming poetry book. I noticed that some students have not written anything in their Google.doc folders. I said, that if I don’t have their poems, then I cannot make a poetry book. That this is Day Nine (actually it’s Day 10) that they should have about 18 poems total, including freewrites, for me to choose from for the poetry book. 

Ms. Loeser contacted the students who didn’t manage to get their work recorded in their Google.docs folders and hopefully that will be ameliorated soon— otherwise several kids won’t have any work at all. I’m concerned about that because it’s something I haven’t been able to keep track of because I have not been able to access their folders. I’ve been locked out since the beginning.

There are several students whose files I still cannot access. Ms. Loeser said she will copy and paste their work, if needs be. I’m kind of panicking for Emily‘s sake because her poems appeared, and disappeared, or rather there were only three poems when I opened her file, and then suddenly there were a lot of poems, and then, there were only three poems again. I know she’s been writing a lot, she is one of my star poets. I may have copied the full file and saved the ephemeral poems, but I have the wrong computer with me, so I can’t tell if I have saved them or not.

So, to reiterate, we discussed expectations, then we did a freewrite, then we went onto the day’s lesson, Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Ofrendas, or offerings—our hands could offer up gifts, or offerings. A good followup to last week’s Dorianne Laux heart poems. Some great poems came out of the process. Hopefully students are beginning to make the heart and mind connection in their writing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pipevine swallowtails

Today was one of those days when a rare black swallowtail butterfly decided to cross my path, and flit in front of my car bearing down at 40 miles an hour. Nothing to be done, I saw it flutter to the road and I thought of how not only did I strike down a rare butterfly, I killed the only pollinator of an even rarer plant, the pipevine plant. Both, indelible images from the landscape of my childhood. The carrion-scented pipevine, or Dutchman’s pipe, with its heart-shaped leaves, is the only foodsource of the butterfly, the butterfly, its only pollinator. Their age-old dance is a deep symbiosis that I cannot even begin to fathom.

When I went to pick up my friend for his appointment, another black swallowtail fluttered overhead. I felt that for a moment, that maybe I was forgiven. I drove slowly along the road looking for the one I had struck down, thinking I could at least photograph it in death.  A memento mori. But it was gone, like the shadow of a leaf in the wind. California pipevine swallowtails are melanistic, and in the right light, their sooty wings are fringed with indigo jewels. In many cultures a black butterfly is a symbol of transition, renewal, or rebirth.

To ameliorate that sense of loss, call it unnamed grief, having an hour to kill, I hiked up the fireroad to the ridge above Terra Linda while my friend was in the hospital getting a procedure done. Lately, I’ve been keeping the doldrums at bay with routine and projects. It sneaks in when the pattern is broken. An old friend, Katelin died, and from that, there is no recovery. I walked along the ridge line, gazed back at the iconic shape of Mount Tam, and then north to the broad expanse of Loma Alta Ridge, Sleepy Hollow below me. I dawdled, and took photos of wildflowers and rock outcroppings of Franciscan strata, ribbon chert, and stray blueschist knockers. 

It wasn’t until when I was leaving, that unexpected stop after what you think is your final stop—I doubled back to see the place where an old house once stood on the ridgeline. Near where the front door might’ve stood, a liminal boundary to the east, there were two clumps of white freesias in the grass, that heavenly narcotic scent taking me back to another time, another place, when life was not as painful. Someone once said, let grief come in, and then let it go out again. I have not seen the ocean for over a year. Cease, surcease.

Still feeling blue, I headed back north to prepare for a Sierra Poetry Festival poetry reading for the California Fire & Water anthology reading with Molly Fisk. I joined a little late because I stopped off at Hick’s Valley to feed the Dolcini horses some apples, it was a necessary stop, if only for their soothing animal kindness, and gentle presence, as they snuffed and whuffled, and begged me to itch that one unattainable spot high on their necks for just a little bit longer. 

We breathed in each other’s breath in greeting. Theirs smelled of spring grass, and summer lawns. Mine, of coffee. Their soft eyes, like the deep lakes of the wings of those butterflies, held no judgement, no expectation, other than that of animal companionship. They crowded in, glad for the distraction. Sometimes I forget that deep connection with horses. The unexpected stop made me a little late for the reading, but was necessary for peace of mind.

Some 50 of us poets were electronically joined at the hip via Zoom. We read for the children, we read for the planet we read for the jetstream—that it might find its way back home; we prepare for what is to come. This year, the fire season will arrive too soon and already the hills are losing their greenery. As I listened to the poems, I was lifted out of the doldrums. After the reading, the blues slammed back in, wanting its due—that pound of flesh. But there are indigo skies on the horizon. It is all part of the dance.

There is always tomorrow for the reboot.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Cleveland Elementary School Day 9, teaching notes: Laux Heart, journal


Weirdly, last week I got all geared up and ready to teach—only to discover that it was Easter vacation. Oops. During this these Covid times, school holidays like Easter vacation are relatively meaningless. I meant to introduce the idea of the Ofrenda, or offering lesson (Jimmy Santiago Baca) as a follow-up to the hand lesson, but for some reason we got bogged down and I wound up introducing Dorianne Laux’s Heart poem instead. 

What I discovered was that the two-week gap was more than enough to derail my students to the point where they did not really remember what we had accomplished. So I wound up re-introducing the hand lesson and many of the kids did not do the homework which is to draw their hand filled with symbols, drawings which we will be using for the poetry book as illustration, so it’s a problem.

As it turns out I don’t think Ms. Loeser had a chance to give the kids the handout, a dictionary of symbols so we went over that. There is definitely a time lapse problem with this class that makes it a little more challenging to get through things with some sense of equilibrium.

Next week I want to introduce the Ofrenda lesson as a possible link between the two recipes. Today we looked at Dorianne Laux’s Heart poem and I had each student read one sentence aloud versus one line aloud, which was interesting because we all had to think a little differently that way. Students are used to being asked to read only one line each. But I wanted to work enjambment in. They had to pay attention to the lines in a different way.

It was great to do a a class generic catch-up after the Easter break. We talked about the upcoming poetry book at the end of the residency at the end of April. And I was able to share with them the two published California Poets in the Schools broadside posters. All three posters were of my students’ work, and two of the posters had to do with hands so it was a good segue into today’s lesson—not only a segue, but it picking up on the themes that I had introduced two weeks ago.

I am always striving for continuity when I teach—trying different languages and patterns to bring forth the poetry recipe from the previous session, and making a bridge to time present. I am not always successful. But I do strive for that contiguous quality.

We talked a little bit more about using Zoom, making our drawings and just sort of a chatty catch-up, unscripted as it were. But that’s good too.

MY MIND WANDERS


My mind wanders to the clouds 
where I find lost dreams 
of those who wept for other lives 
having found theirs wanting. 
Sometimes my heart is so heavy 
it wants to lie down 
right in the middle of the road and give up. 
But then it sees something shiny 
and is distracted by the beauty of the day. 
It frolics in distant meadows, 
wanders off to far horizons, 
where it loses contact with the mothership, 
and returns the prodigal child.

4/13/21

Sunday, April 11, 2021

IN THE GLOAMING


I was crossing a bridge on the River Callender,
when a tiny red-breasted bird hopped up to me.
Fearful of stepping on it, I froze.
And it promptly fell in love with my foot. 
Was he seeking solidarity with my shoe? It was red.
Was he begging, did he want feeding? 
I had nothing to offer. I stared down at it, 
and the penny dropped, I realized 
it was an Old World robin. Not a thrush, 
not the large American robin
that visits us each spring. I thought of how, 
sometimes the renaming of things 
fails us with false similes, not metaphors.  
Impossibly tiny, it communed with my boot.
I wasn’t too sure what the attraction was about. 
Needless to say, we stood a very long time 
on the foot bridge, in the gloaming,
that robin and I, while the river carried on.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

P&W CA town hall meeting: poetry in a time of crisis

I joined the most recent Poets & Writers California Town Hall Zoom meeting: Poetry in a Time of Crisis. Lucille Lang Day, Ruth Nolan, and Molly Fisk introduce themselves via the native names for the lands we inhabit. Ohlone, Shoshone, Nisean. 

They talked of their community work, and how their anthologies came into being—a reaction to what was happening to our state (of mind). Diversity. They read selected poems from their anthologies. Lucille talks about bio-regions and fire ecology, she reads a poem about about the evolution of redwood seed cones, and a ladybug poem from Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.

I think: Ladybugs fly hundreds of miles to mate and congregate in my grandmother’s old bedroom, why that place, who knows? Every year they come, and cover the walls. A living mosaic flickering like fire. My childhood room. We haven’t the heart to fix the windows. Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire, and your children do roam. Oh, the pheromones of home.

Ruth Nolan talks about the drought and her experiences being a firefighter during the 1980s. She lives in a cabin in the Mojave desert. I keep thinking of fire, fire is always on my mind, but then I am born under a fire sign. Mend and weave. Fill the word basket with fire words. A song fragment is stuck in my head. Old Woman, Weave and Mend. In the darkness of the storm she is watching. Gathering the fragments. This becomes my backdrop. My ear worm.

Molly Fisk reads selections from California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology. She talks about the program, and how CPITS poets taught residencies to kids about how to deal with climate crisis. She shares that she came to poetry via personal crisis. How, through that experience, teaching poetry became her life’s work. She asks us, how can poetry help people to heal? An old woman is weaving, her bones become the loom.

I think: The fire season came early this year, it’s a drought year, too soon. Too soon. Poetry is the language of emotion. It is the perfect vehicle to understanding the problem. It is the way to heal. She says, if you can’t understand something or you can’t put it into words, put it into the third person and then write about what didn’t happen. 

I think: Poems are like baskets holding the past. Poets see things differently, we have acutely honed observation skills, we are the watchers. This is why I like to watch murder mysteries. Honing my skills. Looking for clues, the divine mystery. We are gathering the fragments. The old woman, she is weaving the sacred circle, gathering in the colors, she is watching over you. Oh, sisters, weave and mend.

We are spreading the word, we are saving all we can save. It turns out everything burns—asphalt becomes a molten river. I remember how last year, during the wildfire, we were under evacuation alert mode, how the ghost leaves drifted across the valley, and fell, glowing like fireflies on the wind. Leaves drifting like snowflakes, like feather down. Such hot kisses. A torch song. On warm days, the attic still remembers the acrid odor of wildfire smoke. A constant reminder of the past, and what is to come. Oh women, weave and mend.

Can poetry change the world? Its narrative is where things begin. Jamie FitzGerald says, We need to change the narrative. How do we go about teaching in a time of crisis? Working with landpaths and creating eco-poetry. Call it passing the baton of social awareness to the next generation. Oh, Sisters, weave and mend.

Jamie said, During the Covid crisis, the penny dropped, the disparate pieces of climate change became a puzzle, the picture came into focus. How do we name it, this thing called climate change, without distancing from it? Oh, women weave and mend.

Molly says type up lines from poems and put them under windshield wipers at night when no one is looking. I like the idea of guerilla poetry for April Poetry Month. The tapestry we weave with our words. Grandmother Spider. The song, what does it want? So insistent.

We talk about Carolyn Forché’s latest book, Against Forgetting, the role of the poet. This is how we bring about change. Bearing witness. Never forget. 

And finally the song’s message is revealed. I look it up. The Elderwomen of Nanaimo, a place lately on my mind. Songs and poems work in funny ways, an undercurrent below the conscious level of the psyche. The elders are speaking to me through the song:

For years I’ve been watching, waiting for Old Woman, 
Feeling lost and so alone, I’ve been watching.
Now I find her, weaving, gathering the colors.
Now I find her in myself.

A call to action. Become the loom. Weave and mend.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

AN OCCASIONAL POEM FOR RIGGY RACKIN




For you, I would go over the hill, 
and meet you on the lonely road to Occidental.
For you I would travel to the parking lot plaza
where we might smile at each other from a distance,
and perhaps even manage a little wave.
For you, I would travel to the stars, and beyond,
keeping you always within my outer orbit,
you, with your canted grin, bright clown nose,
and pork pie hat filled with the music of dreams.
The ever-faithful compañera concertina at your side.
Because today is the first day of April 
and as you know, April is Poetry Month. 
And I would suffer with such fools gladly.

4/1/21

It’s time for the 2021 Poem a Day and NaPoWriMo challenge

From Robert Lee Brewer: Here we are with the first day of the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge! Each day, I'll provide a poetry prompt and a poem to get things started. You can secretly poem along at home, or you can share your poem in the comments below. Catalogue here.

The 2021 PAD line up Last year, someone on Facebook suggested I start the daily prompting and poeming earlier than usual, since so many people were self-quarantining and social distancing at the moment in the United States and elsewhere around the world. And it was a great call. (That was me! —MH)

The minus PaD countdown began March 22. -10. Begin a poem with Let’s. -9. Write a cause and effect poem. -8. Write a fantasy poem. -7. Take a song title, change a word, make the new title the title of your poem, and write your poem. -6. Write an invention poem.-5. write a MacGuffin poem. A MacGuffin is an object (living or nonliving) necessary for the plot but has no greater value to the story. A good example is The Maltese Falcon. -4. Write a universal poem, a universal truth, experience, or a film from Universal Pictures. -3. Write a "spirit of the stairs" poem. that moment when you come up with all the things you should've said AFTER the moment has passed. Hence, you're on the stairs. -2. Take the phrase "Almost (blank)," replace it with a new word or phrase, make it the title of your poem. -1. Write a warm up poem. It could be related to sports, before a baseball game or track race. Or it could be about a computer warming up, the weather, or even a relationship.

Day 1. For today's prompt, write an introduction poem. Introduce yourself, introduce a friend, or introduce a stranger. If you don't wish to introduce yourself, consider writing a persona poem (a poem in which you write from someone else's point of view like Emily Dickinson or a bumblebee). Of course, you could also introduce a problem, solution, or just a situation. Have fun with it! Remember: These prompts are springboards to creativity. Use them to expand your possibilities, not limit them.

Allow me to introduce myself, 
said the sun to the sky.
And the sky said let me kiss this guy.
A guitar solo was the only answer.

4/1/21 —MH