Thoughts for a Saturday

It happens this way …

It’s been almost a year since I launched this blog and announced my intention of posting one – maybe two or three – articles a month. I’m proud to say I’ve been able to write one a week – mostly – and have had fun doing it.

When yesterday’s deadline came and went and I didn’t do my job, it was an “oh, well” moment. But this morning, I got a nudge that advised me to share a few things that happened since March that I haven’t covered yet.

March 24  We celebrated Kathy’s 62nd birthday by going on a riding safari at the Town Center Mall.

the Mall

March 26  For all the photographers out there, check out http://funny.pho.to. You can do lots of creative things for free on this site like creating fractals of your photos, putting them on covers of magazines, or, like this one, finding unique ways to frame them.

C2336999-E108-4472-BE74-07A693855E96

March 31 The Feral Poets reunited at Papa Hayden’s when our transplanted-to-Vermont poet/friend Tricia Knoll returned for a visit.

Ferals

Carolyn Martin, Tricia Knoll, Pattie Palmer-Baker, Shawn Aveningo Sanders, Cathy Cain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 20  Since so many Facebook friends liked this photo from the Chinese Garden, I created a card from it.

Chinese Garden

May 4 The goslings were playing outside the Ledding Library Pond House while poets read from The Poeming Pigeon’s sports-themed issue.

goslins

Here’s my poem in this anthology. It’s based on years playing baseball on the dusty field below my house in Woodbrigde, NJ. I finally learned how to “step into it.”

A nine-year-old finds her stance

From half the distance to the pitcher’s mound,

he lobbed the hardball toward the plate

and watched my flat-foot swing.

 

Strike twelve! he laughed.

I’m thinking at this rate

we’ll be here until the bar shuts down

and Uncle Charlie’s car careens

around the hill.

 

I found his humor flat.

I could not instigate one measly hit

that afternoon and wound                             

my fingers in a tighter grip.

You’re not so hot yourself.

You only threw eight strikes.

Four wild balls don’t count.

Shut up and pitch.

 

Look, he coached. You need to shift

your weight. Lift your left foot up.

Keep your shoulders straight.

Step into the ball as you bring

the bat around.

 

That made no sense at all.

Why dance around the batter’s box

when feet want solid ground?

Why lose balance on a kid’s advice?

 

But, I admit, redemption comes—

not too soon, not too late—

to those who want it bad enough.

My step into his next sharp pitch

surprised us both. Scuffed leather skated

by his outstretched hands

and skimmed across the stony field.

The wondrous zing as bat greets ball!

Worth a summer’s wait.

*****

I can still feel the bat in my hands and smell the leather of my glove and the baseball. Wondrous memories!

 

 

 

 

Celebrating a new neighbor

It happens this way …

Last Sunday our new neighbors, a lovely Ethiopian couple, invited us to a party celebrating their daughter’s first birthday. We have known the father for over a year and have loved his sweet spirit from the moment we met him.

He had rented the house in December 2017 with the hopes of turning it into an adult foster care facility. He spent over a year renovating the house, getting the required certifications, and waiting until he could get out of his apartment lease before he and his family could move in earlier this year.

Happy DayThe birthday celebration was extraordinary. Over 75 people – mostly from our neighbor’s Ethiopian Christian church – converged on our little cul-de-sac. We soon realized we were the only white faces at the party and were treated royally.

“Oh, you’re the neighbors!” we heard over and over. We had our personal concierge guiding us through the protocols of eating Ethiopian food – from the washing of hands because we would be eating with them to the ingredients of each dish. We were warned about the spicy ones and encouraged to try all the others. Everything was homemade and the colors and tastes were an education in themselves.

For those who don’t know Portland, we are a mostly lily-white part of the world. To be among these beautiful people – and, indeed, from the smallest child – and there were dozens of them running around, telling us how old they were, showing us their toys – to the oldest elder, they are beautiful – was a visual delight. I couldn’t help but marvel how they traveled from another continent, learned English, and created such a warm, loving community.

We were honored to be invited and to have our new neighbors settled in. And, the latest news: they welcomed their first resident in April. Their dream, which has taken a long time to unfold, is finally coming true. And our neighborhood is richer for it.

 

By your students you’ll be taught, Part II

It happens this way …

HV LibraryLast Wednesday we completed our third poetry class at Happy Valley Library. These classes were an experiment to see if any one in the local community would be interested in learning how to appreciate the beauty and intensity of poetic language.

To say I was jazzed by the students’ responses to the model poems we looked at would be an understatement. Then, add to all the poetic ground we covered, three wonderfully unexpected things happened:

  1. Three students emailed me poems based on the prompts I gave in class. Homework was not mandatory, but these folks were serious about upcycling their writing skills. Two were even brave enough to read their poems to the class.
  2. At the end of this final session, we did a 15-minute writing exercise. When I asked for volunteers to read, my 8th grade boy raised his hand. This was the first time in three weeks the class heard his voice and were blown away by what he wrote. (I found out later that he had never signed up for this class; he just showed up! What gutsiness in one so young!) Then an adult who said she has never read anything she’s written out loud astonished the group with her detailed description of a journey she took. Everyone agreed she had the basis for a very fine travel poem.
  3. Finally, I understood for the first time what T S. Eliot meant when he said, Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. Left-brained folks want to understand what the poet intended and try to wring the meaning out of a piece. That’s fine; but in intellectualizing a poem, we might miss what hits the heart before it hits the mind. As we experiences in class, some lines in some poems are just too astonishing to try to translate. We agreed with Robert Frost who said, Poetry is what gets lost in translation. Thanks to this class, I get that!

The group unanimously recommended we continue to meet if the Library will give us the space. They didn’t want to stop! Needless to say, this experiment was a success!

Green Book: a must-see

It happens this way …

index.aspxRarely does a movie touch, move, and delight me the way Green Book did last night. We picked up the library’s Blu-Ray copy and watched it in our favorite theater: our family room.

Based on a true story, the movie won best picture at this year’s Academy Awards as well as a slew of other awards for its actors and screenwriters. Admittedly, when I heard the plot – a burly Italian-American from NYC is hired to chauffeur a classically trained African-American pianist on a tour around the country, including the Deep South – I thought it was a bit contrived. How wrong could I be?

The relationship these men form as they get to know each other is transformational. In this age of heightened racism, the movie is a sweet reminder that we all are “the other” in some shape or form. It’s only when we open ourselves to the person underneath the gruff NYC accent or the perfectly-tailored tuxedo can we break down the barriers that keep us from embracing our common humanity.

I’ll say no more. Green Book speaks for itself. If you haven’t seen it, do.

By your students you’ll be taught

It happens this way …

Last Wednesday night, I taught the first of three poetry workshops at the beautiful Happy Valley Library. I had expected ten adults to show up, but, to my surprise, in walked an eighth grade boy and a high school sophomore girl.

The lad was sweet and shy and so brave to come to this class. The girl, originally from Romania, has only been in this country for three years. She spoke impeccable English and astonished all of us older folk with her insights into poetry. In fact, she was one of the most astute readers of the poems we discussed and made comments that I’d expect from grad students.

She reminded me of my only close encounter with writing poetry when I was a high school senior. Although we studied the genre, we were never asked to write it –except once. A là Charles Dickens, I wrote a short narrative poem about a poor boy finding a penny in the snow. When I got it back, the English teacher had red-inked it “Extremely maudlin.”

I had no idea what “maudlin” meant, but, after I looked it up, I never attempted to write a poem again until I was in my late 20s. The teacher was right, of course – the poem was over-the-top sentimental – but the lack of any positive encouragement sent me the message that I would never be a poet.

I have to keep reminding myself that the smallest word of encouragement or discouragement can make all the difference to anyone beginning a new venture –whether it’s writing, gardening, parenting, speaking in public, painting, whatever. Whether it’s an adult or youngster starting something new, everyone needs the affirmation that it’s all right to dabble, to splash around, to experiment, to find what works and doesn’t work for them. I need to remember that when I get the first poems from this class. I resolve not to be like my English teacher.