Threshold Choir

I came across a poem recently and it, and its backstory, moved me deeply. I’ve reread it several times and have thought about it often. The poet, David Sloan, said that he wrote this poem after hearing a friend describe his experiences as a member of a group that sings people who are close to dying “over the threshold.”

This morning a friend wrote to tell of a relative’s death, a beautiful passing accompanied by love, laughter and tears. It struck me that she and her family were essentially “singing” their loved one over the threshold. I’m hoping that she reads this poem today.

Threshold Choir
by David Sloan

Everyone’s eyes are closed—
the singers, the granddaughter 
asleep in a chair pulled close 
to the bed, and what’s left
of a woman breathing raggedly, 
straining to escape a husk. 

Despite the angularity 
of the room, circles appear 
everywhere; a ring of family 
photographs, singers surrounding 
the bed, the tag around the dying 
woman’s flower-stem wrist, the O 
made by the dozing girl’s mouth.

The tubes have been pulled out, 
machines have stopped humming.   
They sing adagio, softly, 

I will be your standing stone

To read the entire poem, click here.

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Kiesha Shephard at her blog, Whispers from the Ridge. She’s shining a spotlight on one of her favorite poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar. I know I’ll be returning to her site again to reread the poem, “Sympathy,” that she is sharing there.

Not Quite Ready

Saturday was an odd day. Sometimes I felt content, finishing up a chore, pulling a few weeds, wiling away some time reading on the porch. At other times, I was unsure what to do. I moved from task to task, not getting much done, feeling uneasy–sort of nebulously stressed. I couldn’t put my finger on the pulse of that stress, but was pretty sure it was spelled s-c-h-o-o-l. I was aware of so much poised to begin, so much ending and felt unable, or perhaps unwilling, to address either. At least not yet.

The weather mirrored some of my confusion. The air was cool, but the sun was quite warm. As my daughter put it, “These days it’s fall in the morning and summer by afternoon.” Or fall in the shade and summer in the sun.

At one point, I lingered on the porch, slightly chilled when the breeze picked up or the clouds shadowed me. Too warm when the sun blazed. I read and read, escaping into the twists and turns of my latest mystery. Ultimately, lulled by a stretch of warm and sunny, and dulled by a few restless nights weighted with worries, I dozed, upright in the Adirondack chair.

When I woke, I was confused.

What was that?

A loud whirring, buzzing filled my ears.

Huh? What?

I turned toward the sound, opening my eyes groggily. Then more quickly.

Whoa!

Right next to me, right by my head, was a hummingbird!

Her feathers glistened green and her delicate feet dangled below her. She was so close that I could feel the air from her wings brush against my cheek. I watched her, not daring to move. She hovered about my head, darting forward and back, from one side to the other a few times. Then suddenly, with no warning, she swiftly flew off, disappearing behind the house.

What was that about?

I looked around. I wasn’t near the feeder. I wasn’t wearing red. There were no flowering plants next to me. In front of me, the garden blooms shone in the bright light, primarily white and yellow tones with touches of fading pink. Fruit hung red and heavy on the bending branches of the apple tree. The sky was a brilliant blue, with a few pillowy clouds. Birds flew in to the feeder, chattering, and then flew away again. The sun still warmed my skin, but fall nipped at the edges, waiting in the shadows.

I felt a surge of deep appreciation for the beauty that surrounded me but found no explanation for the hummingbird’s visit.

I sat still for quite some time. Waiting. But she did not return. Perhaps she was merely passing through. Perhaps she had already begun her lengthy migration to warmer climes. Perhaps she too was unsettled by the coming changes.

Slowly I reopened my book and retreated again. Both part of the world and separate from it. In a sort of voluntary stasis. Not quite ready, yet, to fully launch into the next stage of the coming adventure.

“In One Word” Poems

Late in May I read a post from April Halprin Wayland describing a new form of poems she’d been writing. She called them “In One Word” poems. There was a puzzle-y aspect to the form (think Word Scramble) that immediately appealed to me. April’s linked post outlines her step-by-step description of the process, but essentially, to write an “In One Word” poem, you

  • choose a word
  • list words that you find within that word
  • choose words from that list
  • write a poem in which each line ends with one of those words

Easy, right?

Not quite. I immediately began fiddling around with the form in my notebook. Initially, I got stuck on step one: Choose a word. It was hard! I wanted to choose the perfect word. But what was that? Did I want a word that annoyed me or one that was personally meaningful or one that held surprising words within it? Then, though I can word scramble with the best of them, constructing a meaningful poem from the resulting words added yet another layer of difficulty. Eventually, I put the form to the side for a while.

When I was faced with writing a Summer Poetry Swap poem in August for the mighty Tabatha Yeatts, I turned to this form again. This time the one word choice was easy: Imperfect

Within Imperfect

If you forever seek perfect,
you may instead discover a recipe
for dissatisfaction–a price
too high to remit.

But within imperfect is a permit
to take risks, light a fire
of creativity, to be bold and fierce.

When you embrace imperfect,
you set yourself free.

©Molly Hogan

Then, this month Catherine Flynn suggested writing an “In One Word” poem for our challenge. Sharing the poem I wrote for Tabatha felt a bit like cheating, so I fiddled a bit more. Ultimately I decided to work with the word “gardens”, as mine have been such a source of comfort for me this summer.

Within my garden

A spider darns,
repairs its web, an intricate snare
for unwitting victims who dare
to cross the sea
of leaves and blossoms, to rend
those delicate threads, drag
them with feet and wings, and end
web-caught amidst the fragrant sage
bordering the garden.

©Molly Hogan

Hmmmm…..Sometimes a poem moves in a different direction than you anticipate. So much for solace in the garden!

To see other “In One Word” poems, check out these blogs:
Linda Mitchell
Catherine Flynn
Margaret Simon
Heidi Mordhorst

This week Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at her blog, Beyond Literacy Link. Carol is a tireless poetry ambassador and nature enthusiast who, among other things, creates fabulous virtual seasonal galleries of photographs and poetry to share. She’s unveiling her Embraceable Summer Gallery with a few sensational highlights in her post and a link to the full gallery. Make sure to stop by and check it out!

Professional Daze

downloadWe had two days at school last week and have four this week. Next Monday our students arrive. Like most in our area, we plan to start school with a hybrid model and will have rotating groups of children. Group A on M/W and Group B on T/Th, with Fridays alternating. Days at home will be “Practice Days” with kids responsible for completing two hours of “engaging”, “meaningful,”  and “just-right” independent work.

Our whole district is working collaboratively to put all the pieces together and I feel grateful again and again for where I live and work. However, after yesterday’s curriculum work I was utterly exhausted and overwhelmed.

Professional Daze

Head spinning
Thoughts swirling
Zoom meetings
Touchless greetings.
What was that?
Six feet? No, three feet?
What? I can’t hear you.
Did he say face shield or face mask?
Both?
Communicate with parents
Teach into technology
Practice days —
independent, engaging, meaningful
Group A
Group B
Split A into C and D
and B into E and F
Got that?
No! Wait! What? Why?
Follow up
Feedback
Curriculum!
Curriculum!
Curriculum!
Don’t worry!
Take care of yourself.
Like planes and the oxygen mask.
(Did she say mask?
Or was it shield? Or both?
)
No time to waste!
We got this!
Streamline
Refine
Make it lean.
And green. Definitely green!
Get outside!
(We sprayed for ticks!)
Assessment!
Assessment!
Assessment!
Get a baseline
QuickQuickQuick!
Social emotional health
Build community
Be flexible
Teach in
Wash your hands!
Sanitize!
Sanitize!
Sanitize!
Head spinning
Thoughts swirling…

Are tears sterile?

©Molly Hogan

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how hard everyone in my district is working to put the pieces together thoughtfully. And somehow it will all come together–probably not exactly how we anticipate, but into some sort of workable form. But, wow! There are a lot of pieces and it really is, at times, simply overwhelming. Too many competing demands. Too many unknowns. And a base layer of anxiety under it all. 

Breathe.

Roller Coaster Days

downloadMy mind is focusing more and more on school lately, and I’m locked into a repeat ride on an emotional roller coaster. I veer without warning from corkscrewing anxiety into a butterfly loop of excitement at being back in the classroom then bank around a corner to spiral into feeling overwhelmed then zoom up the next hill feeling energized until I lose momentum and tip over the top, then dive, practically free-falling, down that mountain of anxiety again. And that all can happen within a span of one minute. Over and over and over.

August 2020

Water’s rising
in Anxiety River.
Forecast is calling
for unrelenting rain
with the potential
for severe thunderstorms.
There’s bound to be flooding.
What are you doing
to sandbag?

©Molly Hogan

Still, I remain cautiously optimistic…
a golden shovel after Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”

It’s a real s*!t show
out there these days, with a
barrage of bad news and little
to leaven the load. My faith
in community, in country, wobbles. There’s 
no steady base. We don’t need magic,
but science, and compassion and a belief in
the power of “us” to alleviate the
burden and to shine a light out into the night.

©Molly Hogan

Ramona is hosting the Roundup this week at her blog, Pleasures from the Page. Make sure to stop by and check out the bountiful offerings on her post and to celebrate her first time hosting.

And a last minute quick draft to celebrate a happy moment in my kitchen this evening:

From one
forgotten
rotting tomato,
a questing seedling
emerges.

Hope
sprouts.

©Molly Hogan

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What’s that feeling?

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My teaching partner, Sara, and I met at school yesterday. We sat in her classroom and thought and talked through a “typical” day’s schedule. Subject by subject. Transition by transition.

“Will kids be able to turn in paper homework?”
“How will we “gather” for our morning meeting?”
“Can we get bottles of sanitizer for the classroom library area?”
“If we read outside, what do we need to bring with us?”
“What will snack look like? How can kids be 6 feet apart in the room? Will some be eating on the floor?”
“Can kids turn and talk? What will partner work look like?”
“What are some good times for movement breaks?”

and on
and on
and on.

It took us over three hours.

We had to pull ourselves off the dizzy ledge of “Ahhhhhhhh!!!!” a few times, but overall, it was purposeful and productive work–though it left us with piles of unanswered questions and some uncertainty about how this would all pull together.

Afterward I puttered about in my classroom, looking through new and old books, sorting and organizing. I’ve been reading Katie Wood Ray’s “Wondrous Words” (Finally! Yes (shame-faced), for the first time. No! Most definitely not for the last time!) so I have reading like a writer on my mind. I paged through books and organized, considering possible mentor texts and envisioning how I might use them with student writers. Envisioned how student writers might use them. I felt a sort of internal shift. Something felt foreign. Different. Almost… anticipatory?

After a bit, I realized this moment reminded me of the scene from Kate DiCamillo’s Tiger Rising when Rob is running in the woods with Sistine, wondering what it is that feels different.

“Then Rob remembered the name of the feeling that was pushing up inside him, filling him to overflowing. It was happiness. That was what it was called.”

Oh. Yes.

Now I remember.

This is what excitement feels like. That’s what it’s called.

in my classroom
sorting books
excitement
nudges anxiety
to the side

Poetry Friday is here!

downloadWelcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup!

In July, Mo Daley and Tracie McCormick shared a prompt at Ethical ELA to write a monotetra poem. This form, created by Michael Walker, was totally new to me. It’s composed of any number of quatrains (4-lined stanzas) with 8 syllables per line. Each line in a stanza has the same ending rhyme (mono-rhyme) and the final line of each stanza repeats the same four syllables. If that doesn’t make sense, check out the link to the prompt where Mo and Tracie explain it much more ably than I!

Just before seeing this prompt, I had read about the likely impending demise of our sole 207 area code in Maine. I decided to use that topic to try a monotetra. I found this form really engaging to write, but also really challenging. I’ve been revising my poem up to the last minute and it still feels clunky. Please note that you need to read 207 as “two oh seven” to make the syllable count work.

Two Oh Seven: The end of an era

The news is stark, the outcome bleak
Is there some respite we can seek?
Some technological technique?
To stay unique. To stay unique.

Our code’s a relic from the past.
Too many numbers have amassed.
The unused ones are going fast.
One code can’t last. One code can’t last.

Our code–a unifying call
of “All for one and one for all!”
One number easy to recall.
Now doomed to fall. Now doomed to fall.

207 is depleted.
Our supply has been exceeded.
Numbers cannot be repeated.
Must concede it. Must concede it.

©Molly Hogan

This month I was lucky enough to be paired with the great Tabatha Yeatts herself for a poetry swap! She created this beautiful poem with “a dash” of my blog theme in response to my photo of a snail. I love her word choice, like “buttersoft lit morning”, and the series of compelling questions at the end. (As a confirmed nervous spectator, they really hit home!) Thanks so much, Tabatha, for this lovely, thoughtful poem and for coordinating the swap.0.jpg

Please add your link below to participate in this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Making Time for Caterpillars

downloadYesterday, my fellow fourth grade teacher, Sara, and I met at school and worked in our classrooms. We got a couple of things done together and then puttered about, putting away books (How will kids book shop?), trying to organize desks (Will we have our full class or half our class?) , figuring out new protocols (How will we have morning meetings? What kind of activities can we do? Can kids still “turn and talk”? How do we confer with kids?), and trying not to headspin about all the big unknowns. It was great to be together but stressful to be easing into “school mode” with so many questions swirling.

At one point Sara peered out the window.

“What are they doing?” she asked.

“Who?” I asked, walking over to look.

Outside, well into a marshy area, three of our custodians were walking about, parting the greenery, moving from plant to plant, intently looking at the leaves.

“It looks like they’re picking something,” she said.

“They’ve probably already cleaned everything inside and now they have to pick ticks to prep for us to learn outside,” I joked.

Nikki, our wing’s custodian, wandered over near the classroom window.

“Hey, what are you guys doing?” Sara called.

“Oh, we’re getting monarch caterpillars.”

“Have you found any yet?” I asked.

“Maybe six,” she said. “Missy’s taking them home for her grandchildren.”

“That’s so cool!” Sara and I enthused.

We chatted for a bit and then Nikki moved back to help out with the ongoing caterpillar search. Sara and I turned back to our work, determined to get a bit more done before calling it quits for the day.

On the way home later that afternoon, I stopped by the drive-through at Starbucks. After placing my order, I noticed movement in the small garden under the speaker, and looking closer, saw two little black things wiggling over the top of a leaf. And not just any leaf…A milkweed leaf!

No way!

I glanced behind me. No one was waiting. I put the car in park and hopped out. I stepped into the flower bed and bent over, peeking around the edge of the leaf.

Could it be?

Yes! Sure enough! There was a fat and sassy monarch caterpillar happily munching away. What were the odds?

I snapped a picture and jumped back in the car. As I waited, I forwarded the photo and quickly texted Sara:

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When I got home, there was another text from Sara:

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I smiled immediately, imagining Sara searching for the caterpillar at the drive-through. I thought back to seeing our custodians searching through the leaves. The stress of all the whirling-swirling questions and unknown answers faded slightly. Although I’m still feeling overwhelmed by the thought of returning to school in this uncertain environment, knowing I’m working with people who make time to search for caterpillars makes it just a bit easier.

Gratitude and #poeticdiversion

downloadI caught part of Krista Tippett’s “On Being” interview with Marilyn  Nelson last weekend. In the portion I heard, Marilyn Nelson shared part of her poem “Farm Garden,” inspired by the life of Venture Smith. I grabbed a strike line to write this golden shovel poem.

Gratitude
a golden shovel after Marilyn Nelson’s “Farm Garden”

These days gratitude
soothes my parched throat. It is
a balm in fevered days, a
source of comfort, never-emptying,
ever-present in life’s cup.

©Molly Hogan

Recently, I’ve been actively working to foster a sense of gratitude.  I’ve been focusing on positive moments throughout the day, then writing small poems and sharing them with the hashtag #poeticdiversion.  (Please join in on Twitter if you’d like to do so.) Already, I can attest to the value of searching for and focusing on positive moments and gratitude every day!

Here are five small poems from this week:

8/3/20

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wayward blossom
some call it “weed”
I prefer “volunteer”

©Molly Hogan
8/4/20

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How is it
that watching
the sun rise
can so profoundly alter
the dawn of a day?

©Molly Hogan

8/5/20

“Look at all the dragonflies!”
“Oh!”
“Oooooohhhhhh….”
Awkward…
Feeling like a voyeur,
I took photos
and laughed.

©Molly Hogan, 2020

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8/6/20
Back Meadow in August

criss-crossing desiccated stalks
splashes of sun-seared blossoms
the shadow of a passing bee
faded patchwork quilt

©Molly Hogan

8/7/20

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Look closely!
Within a zinnia’s tender petals
a secret garden thrives

©Molly Hogan

Laura Purdie Salas is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at her blog . She’s sharing a delightful poem about a pufferfish (Be sure to take time to read this one aloud!) and encouragement for dealing with poetry writing anxiety. Thanks, Laura!

Rainbow Connection

downloadThe storm came in quickly. A typical late summer afternoon thunderstorm, powered by thick heat and humidity. The clouds rolled in, trees twitched and swayed and the heavens opened to release torrents of rain. The temperature dropped, dropped, dropped. Ahhhhhh!

Safe inside, we watched the rain pattern the windows and splatter the earth. I puttered about in the kitchen, hoping the storm would last long enough to soak the parched gardens.

About 15 minutes later, dinner was just about ready and the downfall was easing. Rays of sunlight pierced the clouds from the western sky, transforming rain droplets to crystals.

“Oh! Look! There’s got to be a rainbow out there!” I announced. “I’m going to see.” I quickly dumped the gnocchi in the colander, and turned off all the burners.

“I’ll look out front,” Lydia called as I raced out the garden door, headed to the driveway. Both of us were heedless of the falling rain, busily scanning the skies.

Wait….is that one? No…. Over there? Just over the trees? The faintest tint of color at the top of an arch? Yes? YES!

“I see one!” I shouted. “There’s a rainbow! You can barely see it, just over the trees!”

Lydia rushed over to join me in the driveway and I pointed.

“Oooh!”

“I’m driving down to the river to see if I can see it better there,” I announced. “Want to come?”

“Sure! I’ll see if Sophie does, too.”

Within a minute or two, we’d dropped everything. I had double checked that the burners were off, thrown a dishtowel over the steaming gnocchi, and grabbed my camera.  Dinner could wait. The three of us jumped in the car and headed down the driveway.

As soon as we turned onto the road, our view opened up and we saw it.

“Look! Look! There it is!”

The sky was lit with the full arc of a rainbow, the colors dazzling and bright. We chattered excitedly, pointing as the rainbow shimmered and glowed.

“It’s so bright! I’ve never seen one so bright!”

“Wait! There’s another one! See! It’s really faint but it’s there! Oh my gosh!  It’s a double rainbow!”

We continued down to the river, making admiring comments all the while.

We pulled into the parking lot at the river park, and jumped out to join several others who were there, heads angled toward the sky, cameras snapping. Everyone was smiling.

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After several moments and several pictures, I looked back to realize my car was parked haphazardly, halfway in a spot, halfway in the middle of the lot. I looked around and noticed other cars similarly situated. I pointed this out to another spectator (and poor parker), and we laughed together. Clearly we’d all been too excited and distracted to park properly. Isn’t that wonderful?  It reminded me of a poem by Maggie Smith “Poem Beginning with a Retweet” and these lines,

If you drive past horses and don’t say horses
you’re a psychopath. If you see an airplane
but don’t point it out. A rainbow,
a cardinal, a butterfly. If you don’t
whisper-shout albino squirrel! Deer!
Red fox! 
If you hear a woodpecker
and don’t shush everyone around you
into silence.”

I want to be with people who drop everything to chase rainbows. Who point out the beauty in our world and who stop to pay attention. When I’m feeling down about how people are acting in the world or overwhelmed by the barrage of news, I’m trying to remember moments like this. The spontaneous rush to search for a rainbow. The heady feeling of delight as we caught sight of the full double arc. The moment when so many of us, after the storm had passed, lingered in a parking lot, enthralled by the sight of those two glorious rainbows dazzling in the sky. Smiling together. Connected.