Speaking of Sunflowers…

“Chelsey’s Sunflower” Postcard Made by Trang K.

Isn’t this the most adorable piglet “sunning” beneath the brilliant rays of a sunflower? This postcard was beautifully made by the talented Trang K, who sent me a different sunflower few months ago. Trang wrote a long note, sweetly embellished with  flourishes, doodled flowers, hearts, and a butterfly.  She closed the card with, “You are a blessing and a treasure” written in gold. I’m convinced her heart overflows into each card she makes.

My sunflowers bloom all year long, thanks to my penfriends.

“The Sunflowers” by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

The “Other” Sister: “I didn’t have to fight…”

Although I’ve written about my younger sister Karlette who succumbed to breast cancer a few years ago, I have not mentioned Lori, my other sister, who danced with the devil. Lori’s diagnosis came a few years before Karlette’s first. I asked her to write a blog post about her experience, but she feels that she has little to add to the conversation. However, what she shared with me during the “trying-to convince-her” discussion says a lot about the feelings of some breast cancer survivors whose battles may not have been as “dramatic” as others’.

It has been hard for me to think of myself as a survivor. I really didn’t have to fight cancer. Karlette fought cancer. It kept coming for her and she fought with everything she had. I just went through treatments and it was gone. I’m not sure if I’ve ever celebrated survival. I know that there’s always the possibility of its coming back, but my plan would be the same[…]. I never thought of it as a fight. I thank God for His mercy and for blessing me when so many others had to fight and many even lost.

When I pointed out to her that her status as “survivor” is a matter of perspective, that every year she “holds her breath until given the ‘cancer free’ news,” she responded:

I do. [But] I give it all to God. I thank Him daily for every breath I take. Don’t get me wrong. I know I, too, could have lost, but I know that it was God who fought and won. Not me–not without giving it to Him.

It has been difficult for Lori being the older sister survivor when one of her baby sisters didn’t survive. She lives with profound sadness because of this reality. I watched her go through treatment, and it wasn’t pretty. Cancer changed her life. It changed her body’s chemistry and even impacted the way she processed our younger sister’s passing. 

A cancer diagnosis–no matter how positive the prognosis–is a sucker punch that a person feels deep in his or her being. Every cancer survivor lives with the possibility that “it” may return.

That is what makes survivors survivors–not “beating” the disease or coming through unscathed but the daunting reality of the disease; they’re survivors because they can stand up in the world and move and contribute and be [whole and well] with the looming possibility of such crippling news.

We lost Karlette. That’s an awful reality that hurts like hell. But losing her makes us celebrate Lori even more. Though we may never have the answer to why not Karlette too, Lori’s survival is important. It rescues us from despair. It gives us hope. And that is certainly a reason to celebrate.

The closing lines of my favorite Lucille Clifton poem comes to mind:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
[from “won’t you celebrate with me“]

*Photos in this post are from Pixabay.

Get Up and See!

Today is my birthday!

Normally, I spend the days leading up to my very own day contemplating the past months and making plans for the the days ahead.  My “New Year’s resolutions” begin October 2, not January 1. Not so this year. The last couple of weeks have been filled with anxiety, noise, and internal clutter, and I haven’t been able to grasp the calm I need to get the internal work done. It did not help to wake up in the wee morning hours to the horrible news of an attack in Vegas.

But I am grateful. To be alive (I’m familiar with the alternative). To be well (for the most part). To be accepted. To be showered with love (and brownies, every now and then). For the many, many good people and experiences my many days have brought to me.

Exactly five years ago one of these good people–at that time a new friend–gave me a beautiful card for my birthday. Because it “lives” on my desk, I see it frequently, but today I took a moment to appreciate it again.

“Rita Dove,” detail of The Furious Flower Portrait Quilt, 2004. Mixed media collage on canvas. Artist: Malaika Favorite

The portrait of U.S. Poet Laureate (1993-95) Rita Dove is part of a 24-poet/panel masterpiece by mixed media artist Malaika Favorite which honors the history of African American poetry. The work was commissioned for Furious Flower, a conference held every decade (since 1994), that celebrates, stimulates, and encourages African American poetry and poetic voices.

Dove’s poem, “Dawn Revisited,” from her collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks, is printed on the back of the card.

Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading

glorious shade. If you don’t look back,

 the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits –
eggs and sausage on the grill.

The whole sky is yours

 to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You’ll never know
who’s down there, frying those eggs,
if you don’t get up and see.
The poem is the swift kick in the butt I need to “shake a leg” and get things done!  Please excuse me while I get up and see…

Rumi: The Guest House

Artwork by Chante Marie

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
translated by Coleman Barks

There Came a Wind: An Artist’s Interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s Poem 1593

As usual during summer break, I’ve been taking some time to declutter our home. In one day, I cleared several crates of stuff and found a number of treasures. One such treasure was a beautiful piece of art one of my students completed many, many, many years ago for a literature class.

Response to Emily Dickinson, Poem 1593 by Z. Lott

Students typically have difficulty reading poetry. Gasp! I’m convinced they create a mental block when they hear the word “poetry.” To decrease the pressure and to help them realize their capacity for understanding and interpreting poetry, I have students craft a creative response to a poem.  Students can write another poem, compose a song, create an art piece, etc. in response to a poetic work (from a list of “approved” poems). Through the exercise, students typically learn they understand more than they think and develop confidence to complete the other poetry assignments.

My student chose Poem 1593 by Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite American poets.

There came a Wind like a Bugle –
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost –
The Doom’s electric Moccasin
The very instant passed –
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived – that Day –
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told –
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

The picture does the visual work of the poem. Do you see it?

I like the message of Dickinson’s poem. Whether literal or figurative, storms come. Storms wreak havoc and destruction. Storms go. The world remains. Life is righted again…eventually.

Exactly (almost) three years ago, I “discovered” another student’s artistic rendering of a poem and blogged about it. You can see it here: “The Lamb, The Tyger, and the Lion.”

Enjoy!

The Daffodils!

“Dance of the Daffodil”

A couple of weeks ago my friend, Laurie of Color Poems, mentioned in a comment the daffodils growing in her garden.  I promised that if she posted them, I would quote William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”–commonly known as “The Daffodils”–in honor of her gorgeous yellow blooms.  Laurie not only shared her beauties but she dedicated the blog post to me “in gratitude.”

My weary soul is touched by her gesture, and I’m getting through the remainder of this week reminded that there is indeed kindness in the world.

I posted Wordsworth’s poem on my blog four years ago, but I hope you don’t mind my reposting.

Like Wordsworth, I have been thrilled over the flowering of spring and have spent much time in nature the last couple of weeks meditating and re-centering. It’s amazing how just a few moments away can elevate the mood and change the outlook.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Thank you, Laurie, for brightening my week.  I, too, am grateful our “paths” crossed.

Until next time…Have joy!

 

Poetry Break with Jasmin Oya

“A Moment to Reflect”

For the last several weeks, my mood has been “poetry.”  I’ve been reading it, thinking about it, writing it.  Perhaps, this mood has been driving my need to get in touch with what I call “ur-Chandra,” the person I was eons ago, before “life” invaded “living.”

When I was a teenager I spent whole evenings reading classic and contemporary poets, memorizing and writing favorites in a red spiral notebook designated for words that struck me in a particular way. (I still have that notebook).  I’d then pen my own lyrics till the wee morning hours.

Although my profession allows me to enjoy poetry regularly, long, long evenings with poetry and my thoughts are rare.

A few days ago, I treated myself to time with poetry.  Instead of grabbing one of my “go-to” collections, I read from The Ghetto of Eden, a stirring collection of poetry written and self-published by my mentee, Jasmin Oya.  I’ve had the collection for several months now, and though I have read many of the poems, I’ve not been able to give the book the attention it deserves.

The book is divided into two sections–“The Beginning of Man” and “The Fall of Man.”  The 143 pages offer a sensual mix of spirit, flesh, and song, a prayer to the sacred and desecrated in all of us. Despite its title(s) the poems are not “religious” in the traditional sense, but they are spiritual.   Some of the poems are a little “raw,” but the painful honesty of “the story” that unfolds makes the collection difficult to leave on a shelf collecting dust.

“Time Out for Verse”

Jasmin is one of my favorite people. She is a senior, graduating this year and heading to a prestigious university for graduate school.  I love her to pieces–she is unapologetically Jasmin, and she loves humanity and knowledge and a good challenge.  She has been writing poetry since she was a preteen. She performs at various venues and enjoys facilitating poetry workshops for children.  She is a spoken word and a paper and pen poet.  She’s also an activist who often uses her work to speak up and speak out.

I am sharing two poems that demonstrate the flexibility of her artistic expression.  The first is from The Ghetto of Eden:

“The Prayer”

I believe in God like I believe in my mother’s palms.
I believe in Him like I believe in my mother’s mouth
and knees.
Her tongue and every hallelujah that
yawned with it.
I see Him in her posture.
I’ve been trying to mirror it since young
since young,
I’ve been trying to reflect her old.
All the prayers that have seen more days than me.
The ones answered and the ones that haven’t/won’t/will.

For I am no one without them.
For I am one with them.
For I breathe because they did.
I believe in God like I believe in tomorrow.
I believe in Him like I believe in today.
How exhausting they both can be
smelling of morning breath,

prayer and gospel.
These days aren’t easy, most of them are lies about what’s really hurting.

what lies beneath
who we are when
the room is empty.
when they’ve all gone home.

the party is over.     the
decorations are worn.
the night is fast asleep;
you’re left wondering,
who turned off all the music.
where have all the people gone.
who stopped dancing first.

Prayers don’t have room for the pride.
Put that to the side.
Gather yourself away from all the noise.
I’m learning to stop mourning the morning.
Find solace in the silence.
To stop fitting God into the nearest human body.
Believe into what I have yet to see.

The second is a spoken word piece Jasmin performed three years ago for a Black History Month event.  “For the Black Artist”–

If you want to read more of Jasmin’s works, I encourage you to purchase her book on Amazon.  It is well-worth the few bucks.

Be sure to take a poetry break this week!

 

love is a place…yes is a world

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Note: This is the “Love Post” we sent to family and friends last year.  As usual, this year’s post will be sent “late,” but I’ll be sure to share it after everyone receives it. 😉 For now, read slowly and savor every movement ofwith, and through love and life.

Mini Collection: Poetry on Postcards

If you love poetry and postcards, you’ll love poetry on postcards.  That was the title of a series of swaps hosted by MissWhimsy in the “Book Lovers Congregate” group on swap-bot.  The series ran quite regularly for several months, so I have a lot to share. However, I don’t want to overload your brain with too much poetry in one post, so I’ll showcase a selection of the postcards now and save the others for another time.  In fact, as I considered which postcards to share, I thought of my British Literature students who have been doing an excellent job micro-teaching Renaissance, Neoclassical, Romantic, and Victorian poets. For the last couple of weeks, the lessons have focused on the Romantic and the Victorian poets, so tonight I will share the postcards that were sent honoring a handful of those poets.  I will do my best not to comment on how and why I love the poets and poems and leave you to simply enjoy the little collection.  Postcards were either store bought or handmade, and in most cases, senders tried to match the postcard to the theme or poet in some way.

From Minxy1964: Wordworth Heritage: Dove Cottage; Poet's Sea, Grasmere: River Rydal. Photos by Phil Insley

From Minxy1964: Wordworth Heritage: Dove Cottage; Poet’s Seat; Grasmere; River Rydal. Photos by Phil Insley

This first card (above) was actually sent for a different type of swap, but it fits the theme and bears the face of the first poet.

"Clock Tower (Big Ben) House of Parliament (1858). Architects: Sir Charles Barry, A.W.N. Pugin. 3-D Postcard

From “Owlsinathens”: “Clock Tower (Big Ben) House of Parliament (1858). Architects: Sir Charles Barry, A.W.N. Pugin. 3-D Postcard

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
“London, 1802”

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

 

"There Be None of Beauty's Daughters," Handmade postcard by Maranda.

From Maranda: “There Be None of Beauty’s Daughters.” Handmade postcard.

George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron (1788-1824)
“There Be None of Beauty’s Daughters”

There be none of Beauty’s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmèd ocean’s pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:

And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o’er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving
As an infant’s asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer’s ocean.

 

From MommyKnows: Watercolor Postcard, Floral Still Life, Arum Flower. Pepin van Roojen.

From MommyKnows: Watercolor Postcard, Floral Still Life, Arum Flower. Pepin van Roojen.

Sonnet. “Written Upon the Top of Ben Nevis”
John Keats (1795-1821)

Read me a lesson, Muse, and speak it loud
Upon the top of Nevis, blind in mist!
I look into the chasms, and a shroud
Vapourous doth hide them, — just so much I wist
Mankind do know of hell; I look o’erhead,
And there is sullen mist, — even so much
Mankind can tell of heaven; mist is spread
Before the earth, beneath me, — even such,
Even so vague is man’s sight of himself!
Here are the craggy stones beneath my feet,–
Thus much I know that, a poor witless elf,
I tread on them, — that all my eye doth meet
Is mist and crag, not only on this height,
But in the world of thought and mental might!

 

From MissWhimsy: "West Front and Paine's Bridge over the River Derwent, Chatsworth." Chatsworth, Home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

From MissWhimsy: “West Front and Paine’s Bridge over the River Derwent, Chatsworth.” Chatsworth, Home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

XXXIX. “Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (‏ (1806-1861

Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
To look through and behind this mask of me
(Against which years have beat thus blanchingly
With their rains), and behold my soul’s true face,
The dim and weary witness of life’s race,—
Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,
The patient angel waiting for a place
In the new Heavens,—because nor sin nor woe,
Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighbourhood,
Nor all which others viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed,—
Nothing repels thee, . . . Dearest, teach me so
To pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good!

 

"The Lady of Shalott." Handmade postcard by Anita.

From Anita: “The Lady of Shalott.” Handmade postcard.

“The Lady of Shalott” is a bit lengthy for posting in its entirety here, but it is worth the read.  The postcard (above) features the sender’s favorite excerpt, but if you want more, here’s the link to the full poem: The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I hope you enjoyed the collection of poetry. At some point, I will share more postcards and poetry as well as the poetry-postcards I sent for the “Poetry on Postcard” swaps.  Until then…

 

“When Giving Is All We Have”

"I will give thanks to you, Lord with all my heart." Psalm 9:1 Art by Lorelei C. #lovenotesjb

“I will give thanks to you, Lord with all my heart.” Psalm 9:1.  Gratitude Art by Lorelei C. #lovenotesjb

When Giving Is All We Have

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

~Alberto Ríos, 1952

Happy Gratitude Day!