Having a great fondness for Heidi Mordhorst’s definito form, last month I tucked away a mental note to write one for the Poetry Pal’s shared challenge for today. In Heidi’s words, “the definito is a free verse poem of 8-12 lines (aimed at readers 8-12 years old) that highlights wordplay as it demonstrates the meaning of a less common word, which always ends the poem. I’ve written definitos before (here), but it had been quite a while since I’d played with the form. As usual, I wish I’d had more time!
Half the fun of writing a definito is choosing the word you want to highlight. With butterflies on the mind in my classroom this week, emerge was an easy win.
A scuba diver bubbles up from turbulent seas. A skyline materializes as coastal fog fades. From a too-tight chrysalis a butterfly steps and spreads its crumpled wings. To move out or away from To come into view To emerge.
Make sure to visit The Opposite of Indifference where Tabatha Yeatts is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup. There are sure to be other definitos for you to enjoy, along with an assortment of other poetry.
In the past, most of my students have known all about the monarch life cycle. They got excited when they see the J form, knowing it wouldn’t be long til there was a dangling chrysalis in its place. This year, like every year, the kids have been utterly entranced watching the caterpillars roam around in their butterfly tent. I’ve already written about some of our caterpillar adventures (here), but what’s really struck me is that my students seem much more unaware of the process of metamorphosis than in the past. Instead of confident comments and shared knowledge, there have been a slew of questions: What’s it doing? Why’s it doing that?
With this in mind, the other day I read to them all about the caterpillar lifecycle. We spent a long time examining a series of pictures of the final skin shed, when the dark striped skin splits down the back of the caterpillar and the green skin below emerges.
We wondered at the idea that this final skin would actually harden into the pupa. Minds blown! We had a grand time talking about the process and about having green skin in general. Finally, I glanced up at the clock. Oops.
“Ok, everyone, we’ve got to get going. It’s time to head to Specials.”
The kids got up off the carpet and moved toward the doorway. L, who was ahead of us all, suddenly cried out, “Hey, it’s doing it right now!”
We all briefly froze in our tracks, then raced across the room to converge around the butterfly tent. Sixteen pairs of eyes focused on the caterpillar dangling from the top. Sixteen mouths dropped open. Sixteen people started talking simultaneously.
What had been a striped monarch caterpillar before we began our read aloud was now undergoing a transformation. Green skin was visible over about half of it. The kids burst into excited chatter, hopping up and down and pointing.
“Look at that!”
“Wait! What’s it doing?”
We watched as the caterpillar squirmed and wiggled and more and more green skin emerged.
“Look how much it’s moving!”
After the shed skin was finally gathered at one end, the caterpillar continued to wriggle dramatically until…
The discarded skin dropped to the floor of the tent.
“Ah!” shrieked K, stepping back. “Did its head just fall off!?!”
We reassured K. and kept our eyes glued on the caterpillar. What was it going to do next? Finally, its intense wiggling ceased and it slowly stopped moving altogether.
The caterpillar may have been still, but the energy in the room remained electric. Kids chattered, their voices and comments tumbling over each other.
At this point it was definitely past time to head to Specials. The kids got into line, wriggling with excitement, transformed by this experience. Eyes wide. Faces aglow. More than once I heard one of them whisper again, with a big grin on their face, “That was amazing!”
The monarch caterpillars are the first and last things the kids look at every day. It’s been a long time since I’ve had caterpillars in the classroom, and I’d forgotten that they are a continual source of wonder and conversation. They are a total distraction, yet totally delightful.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, as we’ve already had some high drama. One afternoon, we thought for sure one of them was a goner. It hadn’t moved or eaten for quite a while. All afternoon it stayed in one spot, far away from tempting milkweed. Never moving. The kids snuck over occasionally to peek. Nothing changed. It didn’t move. At all. Then a dark substance appeared behind it. It still wasn’t moving. Uh oh.
“Is it dead?” several kids asked later, as we passed the tent on our way to the buses.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “It doesn’t look good. We’ll see what’s happening in the morning.”
Silently, I was already contemplating how we could tuck a caterpillar funeral into our schedule.
We left school with heavy hearts.
The next morning, as I greeted kids at the door, two boys approached me.
“Did he make it?”
“It did!” I enthused. ” Go see!”
The boys ran over to check things out. “Bob Weezer’s alive!” they called out in delight, high fiving each other. And so, in the midst of our collective relief, we all learned his name. (Later, we also learned that he was just chilling while he was shedding.)
Soon, the kids had christened two more of the visiting caterpillars: Chrysalissy and Butter. Debate raged about what to name the last one. It was down to two names: Tomato Tomahto and Hugo. C. asked me if he could poll the class during Quiet Time.
“Sure, ” I said. “Just make sure to whisper.”
He grabbed a piece of paper and created a tally chart with the two name options. Then, he quietly approached each classmate, asking them to vote.
At the end of Quiet Time, we were all on the edge of our seats. C stood up and made the announcement: It was a close contest, but…
Hugo won the day!
And now, we watch and wait.
Be sure to stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures with Bob Weezer, Hugo, Butter and Chrysalissy.
I always enjoy interweaving my photographs and writing, and lately, I’ve been playing around with image poems again. For me, they are the perfect format for a quick dip into poetry, when the return to the classroom has taken a voracious bite out of my available writing time.
sun-kindled spotlight summer day finale hydrangea’s swan song
Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all. ~Stanley Horowitz
I’ve been feeling change lately, like a physical presence. Perhaps it’s school starting or the thread of chill in the morning air. Perhaps it’s the shift in light to a rich, golden hue. Or perhaps it’s that night lingers into morning and arrives earlier each day. Clearly, fall is edging closer.
Autumn invites nostalgia in. Come sit beside me. Time is passing. Let’s linger here for a moment together.
I find myself feeling slightly more vulnerable to my memories, to recent losses. Contemplative. There’s a shift in the air. A shift in me. Everything feels just a bit different. On the cusp. Summer is sighing, fading away as fall steps in. It’s both beautiful and faintly unsettling. My feelings and thoughts rustle like leaves in a breeze, kaleidoscopic–a flickering mosaic of past, present and future.
Yesterday morning I went to the river to greet the day, something I have seldom done of late. I wanted to be surrounded by the cool serenity of dawn. To slow time down and watch the day awaken. To wrap a blanket of calm around me.
Clouds and light stirred and shifted, layered land, water and sky. Boundaries blurred.
The river slipped in and out of sight behind gilded grasses and veils of glowing mist.
With every moment, the light changed. The view altered. Inevitably clearer, yet still transitioning. Sky. Clouds. Land. Mist. Water. Separating into distinct yet interwoven layers.
I heard them before I saw them. The mournful cries rebounded off the low-lying clouds and filled the chilly air. Unmistakeable. The keen call of Canada geese. I scanned the skies, thinking, as always when I hear them, of Rachel Field’s poem. Something told the wild geese… They flew low above the marsh, passed overhead, then soared around the bend in the river and out of sight.
Each week Margaret Simon shares a photograph on her blog and invites people to respond with a short poem. (She took up the mantle for this weekly challenge from Laura Purdie Salas who originally called it, 15 Words or Less Poems.) Margaret’s version is called, This Photo Wants to be a Poem. (You can read her most recent post here. ) For our September Inkling challenge, Margaret asked us to chose any photo she’d shared and respond in poetry.
A few weeks ago Margaret highlighted this photo of a striped rock from the Salish Sea. The picture was taken by her sister-in-law, Julia, and shared on Instagram. (You can read responses to the photo here.)
I didn’t have time to respond in the moment, but later I stumbled upon Donna Smith’s response on her Facebook page. After her post, she exchanged a few comments with Janet Clare about collecting rocks– talking about gathering rocks, deciding whether to keep them or whether to “just release them all back into the wild.” That final comment sparked my response, which went a bit long.
The Weight of Stones *inspired by a FB comment from Donna Smith
The stones gasp for water long since evaporated and never replenished. When did the joy of initial discovery (The color! The shape! The lines!) fade to indifference?
Caged in their glass vases these forgotten memories of far-off places gather dust. Their vitality fades.
Do they mourn the lost warmth of sun the clench of cold the gentle wash of rain? Do they yearn to tidetumble? To whisper with the waves?
Clearly it is past time to release these unwilling captives back into the wild.
All day Sunday and Monday morning I kept trying to find it, wracking my brain for the perfect word to describe how I was feeling along the continuum between excited and scared. Or maybe it was really between excited and nervous. Anticipatory? No, that wasn’t quite it. What word captures that feeling? Is there one? It seems like there should be. Some wonderful word in another language, maybe a super long German word or a French phrase or something in Japanese, that encapsulates that feeling of being a little scared, a little anticipatory and a little excited. I kept picturing a Venn diagram with excited on one side. Nervous on the other. What would the label be for that intersecting part?
Finally, while driving in to school, heading back to the primary wing after a six year absence, I created my own word: affizzle. I was all affizzle. Yes. That felt right. It also felt akin to frazzled and flustered, which tracked.
And then my first day of teaching second grade unfolded in vignette after vignette.
Scene 1: A little girl, A, arrives, walked in by her mother, faces wreathed in smiles. Two minutes later, mother has departed and A is standing by my side, tears slowly dripping down her face.
“I want my Mommy.”
As I move to reassure her, another student moves closer.
“Do you want a hug, A?” he asks.
Scene 2: At recess M. asks if I’ll play basketball with him. I agree, but let him know I haven’t played in years and might need some help with the rules.
“I’ll take it easy on you,” he assures me. Then he proceeds to articulately explain the basic rules of the game, accompanying his words with active demonstration.
“I’ll show you the rest as we play,” he assures me.
When I have to bow out after a few minutes due to my supervisory duties, he comments, “So, we can play tomorrow again, right?”
Scene 3: As we play a game of “Taking Sides” I ask kids, “Would you rather eat an apple or a banana?” As the kids move to show their preference, and I step toward the apple area, a student nods knowingly and says to me, “Teachers love apples.”
Scene 4: During Readers’ Workshop, N.’s face lights up. He shoots up his hand and simultaneously announces, “Hey! We’re basically a classroom family.” (Now that’s the kind of blurting I can get behind!)
Scene 5: B. hands me a pink sticky note. “This is a list to help you remember,” she says.
“Oh, thanks!” I take it and read it aloud. “Be kind! Be empathetic!”
I’m a little taken aback. Am I in need of a reminder? I quickly think back through the day. Have I not been kind or empathetic? I ask for feedback to clarify. “So, am I doing okay with this so far?” I ask her, somewhat tentatively. She nods her head vigorously.
“Oh, ok, ” I say, “this is a great reminder list. Thanks!”
Scene 6: At the end of the day V shares, “I was so excited about school starting today that I was all tingly last night and this morning too! My whole body was tingly and I could hardly sleep!” Several students enthusiastically signaled silent agreement.
I think my heart grew two sizes right then and there.
Scene 7: Then C, the morning’s hugger, chimes in, “Before school today, I was in the car. I made a lot of silly faces. And then you know what happened?” He paused then rattled along, “Then I farted in the car.” He paused again and finished with a great big grin, “Because I fart a lot.”
Thanks C. for keeping it real 🙂
By the end of the day affizzle had faded to fatigue. Still, it was a wonderful first day.
I want to preface by stating unequivocally that I am very excited to be teaching 2nd grade again and am really looking forward to the coming school year. Catherine Flynn wrote in her post this week about finding and holding onto the “shiny” things, and I’ve noticed and appreciated many of them in my life recently. With that in mind, and the desire to stay upbeat, I debated about whether to share this poem or not. Still, this has been on a loop in my mind. I drafted this today to try to make sense of it all.
I still can’t.
Through the Looking Glass: Getting Ready for School in 2022
On this Thursday four days before school starts they allocate two hours for us to learn how to be more alert in our environment How to maximize not student learning but the chance that more of us might survive if there’s a “critical incident”
Average police response time 6 minutes (unless you’re rural in which case all bets are off) Average duration of a “violent critical incident” 4 1/2 minutes
Do the math.
They call it ALICE Alert. Lockdown. Inform. Counter. Evacuate. Training on how to make the best choices to maximize chances
Always know where your exits are. Don’t use code. Speak plainly to share maximal information: male intruder wearing a plaid shirt and a red baseball cap heading toward the 1/2 wing with a rifle You, the teacher, have options Barricade or evacuate (Break windows from the top corner so falling glass won’t cut you) You determine the best response (No heroes required)
I sit and focus on not weeping. I sit and grieve for those who have already been murdered. I sit and ponder the horror of making the wrong choice.
When did we step through the looking glass into this new normal? When did this dizzying unreal reality become so solid so sordid so sad
I realize, it doesn’t really matter when we first stepped through. The critical question is Can we ever leave?
When I write first thing in the morning, I allow my mind to drift from thought to thought. My pen flows with the wisps of dreams, follows half-remembered images or feelings, or reaches back to recent events. Whatever moves me to write. I want to capture and distill strong emotions, interesting connections, experiences, new thoughts, etc. I can be surprised by where these journeys lead me.
When I go out to take pictures, I usually have at least the location in mind, which dictates some of what I’ll see. Ocean versus marsh versus river. Forests or fields. Still, there are surprises here, too. I never know what will capture my attention at that particular time. Will the fog call to me, or shadows or spider webs? Will interesting patterns emerge in sand, water or sky? Sometimes I go with a goal in mind, usually to find certain birds, like a snowy owl or migrating warblers. Then I keep my eyes to the rooflines or treetops, depending. Still, I’m always intrigued by what other images tug at my lens.
On Saturday I woke early and decided to set out early to catch the sunrise at the marsh. The marsh is one of my favorite places in the world. I always leave feeling more at peace than when I arrived. On this morning, I arrived shortly before sunrise and followed the flow of the unfolding scenery, breathing in the damp, swampy tang of marsh that filled the air.
First dawn arrived in gentle hues, painting sky and water and clouds into a sunrise composition.
Dewdrops clustered, strung on the architecture of a stalky weed, capturing miniature sunrises in their globes.
The marsh waved its colors like a rippled quilt of golds, greens and browns. The grasses undulated like water, and I stopped to try to capture the hue and the sense of motion. It reminded me of lines from “In the Salt Marsh” by Nancy Willard. I couldn’t remember them then, but looked them up later: “How faithfully grass holds the shape of the sea it loves, how it molds itself to the waves, how the dried salt peaks into cowlicks the combed mane of the marsh.”
Queen Anne’s lace lined the path, in all stages, from newly opening to a tight cluster poised to disperse seeds to wind and water. Each blossom a world to explore–gathering sunlight or crystalline dewdrops or filagrees of delicately spangled spiderwebs.
The birds put on a show as well. Snowy and great egrets rose and fell out beyond the still pannes, a cormorant fished and preened, a seagull and his reflection gazed out with a bold eye, and a great blue heron rested, silhouetted against the great variegated green of the marsh.
Further along, goldfinch flashed their bright feathers amidst the flowers, following the edges of the path from blossom to blossom, stopping to forage then flitting away.
As I ended my walk, another image pulled me in– the reflected symmetry of rock and still water.
Mornings like this will be more precious soon, limited to weekends and holidays. As I head into the rigors of the school calendar and its relentless pace, I am gathering up moments of serenity. As I left the marsh, my mind tumbled back through all the images, holding each one in my thoughts. Lingering in the light, the color, the movement. Gathering up each moment. Gathering calm.
I love how writing communities spark more poetry, providing writing inspiration and motivation time and again. My participation in this summer’s Poetry Swap poems (Thank you to the fabulous Tabatha Yeatts!!!) provided a welcome nudge to create throughout the summer and an unmitigated delight when I received poems in return, tucked amidst my collection of bills and junk mail.
Earlier this month, Mary Lee sent me this beautiful embroidered haiku bookmark. I so appreciate how she took my love of the marsh and created this hush of a haiku. When I thanked her, I remarked that it felt like a mantra, something to remember as the slow flow of meandering hours transforms into a raging current with the onset of the school year. Reading it centers me and reminds me to breathe. Knowing that each stitch was deliberately placed in a slow and steady process is another soothing layer to this truly lovely bookmark poem.
sun rises, mists lift marsh mysteries magnified in one drop of dew
My process of creating a poem for Mary Lee wasn’t quite as smooth. I started and stopped time after time. I knew I wanted to write something about embroidery, threads, creativity, gardens, plants, flowers, fishing… or a combination of them. Easy, right?
Then, serendipitously, Mary Lee shared a blog post she’d written previously about using paint chips to write curse poems. (I shared the link last week here since it was related to that post, too.) After reading her post, inspiration struck! I decided to use as many of her chosen paint chip words and phrases as possible, but transform them from curse words into a blessing. A garden blessing. The words/phrases I managed to incorporate were: blue suede (-shoes), puddle, genie lamp, seedling, nectar, quicksilver, bull’s eye, tumbleweed, starship, rusty, and deep dark wood. I really wanted to incorporate “cheese puff” but couldn’t stand how it sounded with the rest of the poem. So, I googled and voilà! Gougeres! A delicious pastry also known as cheese puffs and a lovely sounding word to incorporate in my garden incantation for Mary Lee.
As I alluded to earlier, Mary Lee’s original post also served as inspiration when I was faced with some pernicious pests on the home front recently. I shared that curse poem last week and Mary Lee suggested that I share the poem I wrote for her as compare/contrast companion piece. I’ve put in a link to last week’s post and entire poem, but here’s a smidgen to whet your appetite in case you didn’t see it or don’t have time to check it out:
A Curse on the Invading Groundhog
Rise ye gods and cast a spell upon this creature spawned from hell Jinx his scurvy rodent hide taunt him with groundhogicide
Writing blessing and curse poems is a blast! I highly recommend it, and I’d also encourage you to consider incorporating paint chip colors to add another layer of challenge. Another big thank you to Mary Lee for an inspiring post and to Tabatha for organizing and cheerleading the Summer Poetry Swap.
May the rest of your summer be filled with blessings rather than curses!
This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Dave at his blog Leap of Dave.