Sunflowers for Inauguration Day!

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation
that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.

–from “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate

If you haven’t heard, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., the 46th President of the United States, was sworn in today.  And history was made today when Kamala Devi Harris, the very first woman and very first Black woman was sworn in as Vice President of the United States. Based on recent events in the USA, it’s hard to believe I bore witness to this bit of history.

I am excited and hopeful and relieved (all adjectives my students used to express their feelings about the inauguration).

One of my students expressed hesitation toward hope. She commented about the propensity [of many Americans] to raise the alarm and fight the good fight but then lapse into inaction when the major crisis is over. Her concern is valid, but the insurrection on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago gave us a glimpse of what can happen if we do not guard our democracy fiercely. “The Hill We Climb,” the inaugural poem written and performed by Amanda Gorman, the very first National Youth Poet Laureate, poignantly emphasized this point.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith, we trust.
For while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.

Though we are flawed and prone to temporary amnesia, I am hopeful that we will accept the charge Gorman [implicitly] issued through her poem. It is up to each individual citizen of the United States to protect and uphold democracy.

To Autumn, or, Little Girls with Apples

It dawned on me this morning as I opened an envelope from Fran B, one of my Love Notes pals, that we are nearly a month into the season, and I have not done any “odes to autumn” on the blog. Shocker, right?

I assure you, I have been soaking up the goodness of early autumn as much as I can–the milder temperatures, the gentle breezes, the random highlights [bright oranges, yellows, and reds] in the trees. Academic life during COVID-19 is a level of busy I have never, ever experienced, so it’s been a bit of a struggle getting to the blog, especially since I’m typically screen-weary to the point of tears–or madness.

The artwork featured on the card Fran sent is worth my risking my sanity.

“Cider Mill” (1880) by John George Brown. Oil on Canvas. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

Cider Mill by John George Brown (1831-1913) features five little girls feasting on scrumptious apples they’ve just picked outside a cider mill. It speaks volumes about girlhood, apples, and autumn. The art is part of the Daniel J. Terra Collection of the Terra Foundation for the Arts. [Click the links to learn more about the artist and the masterpiece].

This is a delightful piece of art, but it grabbed my heart because the intensity of and seriousness in the eyes of the little girl with the red bow remind me of my baby niece, Lu, whom you’ve seen on the blog before.

Don’t you think she would fit right in?

Oh, and there’s a bonus–the first stanza of John Keats’ “To Autumn” was beautifully imprinted on the back of the card! If you’ve been keeping up, you know that he’s my favorite British Romantic poet:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Oh, there was even more autumn goodness inside the envelope, but you’ll have to wait for that. 😉

“I Am Looking at Music”

National Poetry Month is nearing an end and as I fretted [earlier today] over which poems I should share for the remaining three posts, I realized I haven’t shared a love poem. Gasp!

Love poems are tricky. There are many, many absolutely beautiful love poems, but I have a tendency to steer clear of  poems that overly romanticize love and ignore its complexity. If I am to enjoy the poem, the writer has to avoid cliche but still evoke some feeling and truth with which readers [or listeners] can identify.

I first heard the poem I’m sharing today as “Nina’s Song”–recited by Nia Long in the film Love Jones. The poem is actually the work of Louisiana’s first African American Poet Laureate, Pinkie Gordon Lane (1923-2008). Her skillful use of imagery–light, sound, color–to capture the subtle nuances of love is astounding.

I Am Looking at Music
Pinkie Gordon Lane

It is the color of light,
the shape of sound
high in the evergreens.

It lies suspended in hills,
a blue line in a red
sky.

I am looking at sound.
I am hearing the brightness
Of high bluffs and almond
trees. I am
tasting the wilderness of lakes,
rivers, and streams
caught in an angle
of song.

I am remembering water
that glows in the dawn,
and motion tumbled
in earth, life hidden in mounds.

I am dancing a bright
beam of light.

I am remembering love.


About the image: The image above is one of my own pieces. I crafted the original last summer with “leftover” paint. All the colors seem to pair well with Lane’s poem, so I’m sharing it today.

Gifts from the Earth and “A Brave and Startling Truth”

Today’s poem is a little lengthy, but it is worth the read. “A Brave and Startling Truth” was written by one of America’s favorite sages, Maya Angelou (1928-2014). She wrote the poem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations (1995), but when I saw an excerpt of the poem used in an Earth Day activity, I thought why not share the whole poem today.

After reading the poem, be sure to go to Earth Stanzas and write your own Earth Day poem. The activity comes complete with prompts and model poems.

A Brave and Startling Truth
Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.


About the images: I had a bit of Photoshop fun with today’s images. Each photo subject is a gift from the earth. I will eventually share the original images. Until then, do you have any idea what they are? No? Well, I’m pretty sure you can [generally] guess this one:

“Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”

Please note:  WordPress coding is misbehaving, so forgive me if the line breaks are rather random and ill-placed in this post. I’ve followed all the rules, but I get a different result each time. :-/

Chapel of Peace, Whippoorwill Academy and Village, Ferguson, North Carolina. 2012

Emily Dickinson’s Poem 236, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church,” is appropriate for our Corona times. We tune into virtual services, but they’re not the same. After all, we attend services for reasons beyond a sermon and a song.

If you’re missing fellowship with other believers, try spending time with God in nature. “All the earth worships [Him] and sings praises to [Him]” (Psalm 66:4), so you will not be in fellowship alone. Maybe, you’ll find that you’ve needed this type of worship also.

Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church (Poem 236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.


About the image: The “Chapel of Peace” is an older image. It was featured on the blog about seven years ago.

“When Giving Is All We Have”

Terrance Osborne, “Front Line”

This morning as we began our final Shakespeare session for the semester (sad face), one of my students requested prayer for the nurses who are suffering under the strain of watching far too many patients die as a result of COVID-19. Just moments before that, I read a Facebook post in which one of my friends, Dr. Scharmaine Lawson, a Nurse Practitioner and author, announced that after prayerful consideration, she’s heading to New York City to help with the COVID-19 relief effort there.

I often think about the health care professionals who are on the front line of this thing day after day after day. No matter how well-trained they are, no matter how often they see death, it is still inexplicably HARD.  The connections between nurse and patient or doctor and patient–however brief–matter, and every death carries emotional weight. With COVID-19 doctors and nurses are bearing witness to far more than the “usual” and they are still out there, weighed down with the grief and burden of so much loss, fighting to save lives.

Some might wonder why someone like Dr. Lawson, a busy NP with a booming practice and a very full life of her own, would uproot and rush into this daunting challenge. Albert RÍos’ poem provides the answers—not only for why we give in the big ways but also why we do so in our smaller, daily interactions.

When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto RÍos

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.

About this poem, RÍos wrote:

This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader.  I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.  –from poets.org

Thank you to our health care professionals and to all our public servants and other essential workers for whom the stay-at-home order does not apply.  Thank you to all of you who give daily in your own spaces, outside your own spaces, and “in-between” spaces. We are making something new, something beautiful when we give.


About the image: The image above is the work of New Orleans artist, Terrance Osborne. He created Front Line—a nod to Rosie the Riveter—“to show the men and women on the front line that we love and support them.” [Did you catch the fleur de lis–symbol of New Orleans?] Osborne generously offered the image above as a free phone screen saver and gave 1000 posters to local hospitals. A lithograph ($75 signed; $40 unsigned) can be purchased via his website. To see more of this phenomenal artist’s work, please go to his website. You’ll feel like you’ve just taken a tour of my beloved hometown.

“Beyond the Gates of Sight”

“At the School for the Blind.” Poem by Shari Wagner

I received this poem on a postcard today! My Love Notes friend Fran sent this gem, featuring the poem of an author from her beloved state, Indiana. It got a little scratched during its travels, but the postal tattoos add a bit of artistic flair. Don’t you think?

The poem, “At the School for the Blind,” was written by Shari Wagner, Indiana’s fifth Poet Laureate. In case you find it difficult to read the “enhanced” postcard, here are the words:

“Poetry is a river,”
a boys says, his fingers
skimming the rippled
surface. A girl enters
her dream, a boat
to lift us over fields.

It’s natural as a dance
how students guide
each other to the mike

and back. So many
journeys from this
stone castle to the hills

where Sun dwells,
a house beyond
the gates of sight.

For Bonnie Maurer

According to the notation on the back of the postcard, the poem was part of Shared Spaces/Shared Voices, a public art project that infused Indianapolis’ public transportation system with literary art and spoken word performances. The poetry and prose were written by writers living in Indiana. The project was managed by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and funding was provided by the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission.

“To the Moon”

Moonlight Silhouette by Suzette R.

It’s Monday. It’s late, and I have about three more hours of work to complete before I can allow sleep to find me. This seems a perfect time to share British Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s (1792-1822) “To the Moon.”

To the Moon
Percy Bysshe Shelley

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?


About the image: The striking “moon art” was created by my Love Notes friend, Suzette R. She sent the postcard to me many moons ago (pun intended). I’ve carried the postcard in the front pocket of my daily journal–the one I take almost everywhere–for almost three years. Why? Because I love the moon!

The Gift of the Resurrection | “The Blessing of the Morning Light”

As usual, around this time of year, I have been thinking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—about what it means for humanity but also what it means in other ways. Scripture says that Christ came that we might have life abundantly—not a life of material riches, but a life richly transformed by the power of Christ, one which, despite the vagaries of human life, rest in the joy and strength of His presence.

This is also a gift of the resurrection of Christ.

We have been learning over these few weeks of sheltering-in-place that, generally, we have been living shadow lives, chasing the entrapments of what others consider a good life. We’ve also been learning that we can actually live without much of the clutter and noise, that—no matter how much we want to be out and doing with the throngs—we are content with our simpler, streamlined lives.

We have time for thought. For listening. For embracing joy and sorrow outside the rush of our normal everyday existence.

We are experiencing a mass removal of “masks” that unfortunately cannot be handed over to health professionals. This presents us with an amazing opportunity to grapple with the messiness of our experiences in ways that lead to authentic connection with ourselves and others.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of listening to David Whyte read one of his poems, “The Blessing of Morning Light,” during session 1 of his workshop, The Courage in Poetry. The words coincided so intensely with my thoughts over the last couple of weeks that I almost exited the live workshop just to sit and process those few moments.

We have a genuine opportunity through this global travesty to allow Light to illuminate the dark places so that we may rise to morning light.

[The poem was written one Easter morning (2015) in memory of his friend John O’Donohue].

THE BLESSING OF THE MORNING LIGHT (Or, “Easter Blessing”)
David Whyte

The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may that hidden darkness be your gift to give,
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join all of your previous disappearances
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new and newly alive.

From the David Whyte, The Bell and the Blackbird (2018).

Live Your Best Life Now

Thanks to the Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” program, I was pleased to find “The Rainbow,” a poem by Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960) in my email this morning. Even though I studied and taught early African American literature for many years, I’m pretty sure I have not read any of her poetry before today.

Smith produced three books of poetry–Songs of the Months (1904); Rhymes from the Cumberland (1909); Rosemary and Pansies (1909)–and was even published in the highly regarded Harper’s Magazine. I downloaded Rosemary and Pansies, and will be reading it over the next few days.

“The Rainbow,” from Rosemary and Pansies, is a sweet poem, and perhaps that’s the one I should share today, but “Preparation”–from the same collection–spoke to me, as I’m working on being more intentional about taking time for the things that matter most.

Preparation
Effie Waller Smith

“I have no time for those things now,” we say;
“But in the future just a little way,
No longer by this ceaseless toil oppressed,
I shall have leisure then for thought and rest.
When I the debts upon my land have paid,
Or on foundations firm my business laid,
I shall take time for discourse long and sweet
With those beloved who round my hearthstone meet;
I shall take time on mornings still and cool
To seek the freshness dim of wood and pool,
Where, calmed and hallowed by great Nature’s peace,
My life from its hot cares shall find release;
I shall take time to think on destiny,
Of what I was and am and yet shall be,
Till in the hush my soul may nearer prove
To that great Soul in whom we live and move.
All this I shall do sometime but not now—
The press of business cares will not allow.”
And thus our life glides on year after year;
The promised leisure never comes more near.
Perhaps the aim on which we placed our mind
Is high, and its attainment slow to find;
Or if we reach the mark that we have set,
We still would seek another, farther yet.
Thus all our youth, our strength, our time go past
Till death upon the threshold stands at last,
And back unto our Maker we must give
The life we spent preparing well to live.