Shifting Focus

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I purchased “Lost Words” by Robert G. Macfarlane quite some time ago after someone shared it here at PF. (Sorry! I can’t remember who.) Wow! What a gorgeous book–both the poems and the illustrations.

Then, in June, Mary Lee Hahn tweeted that there are songs to go along with the poems. What!? I fell in love with this one and listened to it over and over and over again. It’s hauntingly beautiful.

“Enter the wild with care, my love, and speak the things you see.  Let new names take and root and thrive and grow.” Sigh…..beautiful….

I started following Macfarlane on twitter. Browsing through recent tweets, I found one in which he shared the term “plant blindness”.

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What a fascinating idea! In the thread of comments, someone shared a link to the original article (here) and a man named James Lomax also responded. He said he’d once walked with a wildflower expert who’d said, “The world comes into focus when you can identify the flowers.” I loved that idea. It helped me to put words to the deep pleasure I get from naming the plants and flowers that surround me when I’m out and about. Having read Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s PF clever triolet earlier this month, I was inspired to revisit that form with this idea in mind. Of course, she made it look so easy! ha! I’d forgotten how tricky these are. This one’s been more than a bit squirmy and hasn’t fully settled down yet. Perhaps it’s just a bit out of focus…

Shifting Focus

Naming plants and flowers
shifts the world into focus
In gilded fields or dappled bowers
naming plants and flowers
uplifts and empowers
Trillium, wintergreen, wild crocus
Naming plants and flowers
shifts the world into focus

Molly Hogan ©2019 (draft)

Check out this week’s bouquet of poetry (and a really cute puppy!) at the Poetry Friday Roundup at Carol’s Corner.

An Unexpected Gift of Poetry

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One of my favorite activities at the end of the school year is our poetry jam. We invite families to come in to the classroom, listen to poetry that students have written, and then create poetry together at a variety of centers. We inevitably have a great turnout, and the room is a happy hum of poetry celebration.

This year, the grandfather of one of my students stood by the doorway, a bulky, silent presence. I hadn’t met him before, but his granddaughter had mentioned he’d be coming. He’d slipped into the room right before the students read their poetry, and now remained standing (poised for quick exit?), while she was busy buzzing around the room without him, working with other students and parents. He seemed content where he was, watching the activity, but I suspected that he, like so many adults, was probably uncomfortable with poems and poetry writing. He struck me as the quintessential Mainer–hard-working, somewhat taciturn, with deep ties to the land and community about him. Quiet and strong. 

After glancing about the room to ensure that everyone else was happily occupied, I walked over to introduce myself to him.

We exchanged names and a few pleasantries, and then I asked, “Would you like to write a poem?”

“No,” he replied slowly. Almost thoughtfully.

“Well, have you ever written poetry before?” I asked, in full ambassador mode.

“Yes,” he said. “After I came back from the war.”

Then his voice shifted to a sort of dreamy cadence….”I wrote about lying on the grass under a big oak tree…looking up through the green leaves and branches above me… I wrote about wondering how many birds have nested in this tree…How many animals have made their home in its branches? …And how many children have played in those same branches? …And I hoped my own children and eventually my grandchildren would climb in this tree. …And then, I wondered, after I died, … how long would this tree live… and still provide a home and comfort.”

“Oh,” I said, after a brief moment in which I recalibrated my initial impressions, “that was lovely.”

He told me then about some of his experiences during his service: He was shot in the head, shoulder, thigh and ankle. To this day, it’s still uncomfortable for him to sit, especially in hard chairs intended for much smaller individuals, which is why he was standing.  

Then, at one point, his voice changed again, slowed and deepened, and he said,
I heard the thunder,
then knew it was gunfire.
I heard the screams,
then night fell.
When morning came,
I woke
and wondered
why I had survived.”

Clearly, these words were deeply etched within him. Their power echoed within me. After a moment, I blinked and cleared my throat.

“You’re a wonderful poet, ” I finally said. “Have you shared your poems with your granddaughter or with anyone else in your family?”

“No,” he said. Then he elaborated, in true Maine fashion, “I’ve been working.”

We talked for quite some time, about his school experiences (not positive), his work (long and hard), his family (much beloved). Later in the conversation, he told me that he had shared some of his writing with a veteran’s organization.

Eventually, I realized I’d totally abandoned my classroom responsibilities. I thanked him for coming and for sharing his words with me, and told him how much I’d enjoyed our conversation. Reluctantly, I wandered away to circulate amongst the parents and children, my mind still lingering on our conversation. On the inaccuracies of first impressions. On war. On poetry. 

Two days later, on the last day of school, his granddaughter handed me an envelope. In it her grandfather had enclosed some of his writing. It was about time and change and family. It was beautiful and thoughtful. Once again, I was deeply moved by this unexpected poet and his unexpected gift.

What if this poem didn’t care?

74707-poetry-friday-logoA couple of weeks ago, Linda Mitchell hosted the Roundup (here) and generously offered up some “poetry clunkers” for others to use. I was intrigued by the line “What if this poem didn’t care?”

What if this poem didn’t care?

What if this poem didn’t care?
If it simply gathered up
its syllables and vowels,
packed up its consonants
and hit the road
not even looking back once
to see me, bereft,
fading in the distance
a pen, broken, in my hand

Molly Hogan ©2019

Jone McCulloch is hosting this week’s Roundup at her blog, Deowriter. She’s sharing a fabulous poetry swap she received from Tabatha Yeatts along with some of her swap-inspired poems.

Oatmeal

74707-poetry-friday-logoDuring the last month or two, I’ve been playing around with some poetry forms in my notebook. Sometimes I find that I enjoy staying within the framework of a structure. I liked the idea of odes, and I thought it might be fun to write one about some relatively mundane subject. Oatmeal came to mind.

It occurred to me as I began to write this post to share my ode, that someone else might have written about oatmeal. Why not do a quick search? I did and, much to my delight,  discovered “Oatmeal” by Galway Kinnell:

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary
companion.
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge,
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him:
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime,
and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal should
not be eaten alone.
(click here to read the entire poem–it’s worth it! I promise!)

If you’d like, you can listen to Galway Kinnell read his poem aloud:

The downside of discovering  Kinnell’s poem is that I am now less inclined to share my own. It feels a lot more pedestrian, and it’s definitely geared toward a younger crowd. But, hey, it’s my little love song to oatmeal, so I’m going to post it anyway and just keep reminding myself, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (T. Roosevelt)

Oatmeal

Oatmeal, oh oatmeal
most trustworthy food
warming my belly
sweetening my mood

You nimbly transform
with each addition
breakfast chameleon
packed with nutrition

With you by my side
each day starts off right
Oh, fairest of grains
my breakfast delight

©Molly Hogan, 2019

Stop on by Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, to check out this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup. She’s sharing a wonderful triolet, inspired by a challenge, some self-reflection and a bit of family and national history.

A Long Flight

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThe end of school came in with a typical whirlwind of activity and a few delightful-but-tiring extras thrown in–an accumulation of a couple of weeks of nonstop activity and lots of people. I packed up my classroom on Friday and limped out of the school year. On Sunday, I took off for NYC and a wonderful, intense week of learning at Teacher’s College Summer Reading Institute.

By the end of the week, I was a limp dishrag, ready to hoist the white flag (and to mix a few metaphors along the way), and in search of solitary confinement. But it was time to head to Ohio for a visit with family and friends. 

I hate flying, and typically dread the entire experience, but as I boarded the plane, it occurred to me that this flight was going to be my last chance for solitude and relative inactivity for the next 4 or 5 days.

“It might even be nice!” I thought, looking forward to peace, quiet and some solid reading time.

Then my seat mate arrived.

She was a lovely, young woman, excited to be heading back from a trip to Germany to visit her parents and looking forward to her reunion with her boyfriend, and their new apartment, and the upcoming trip with his family, which she’d promised them a year ago that she would go on and it meant she had to leave Germany early, but…

Ding! 

She paused to glance down at an incoming text.

“Oh, my family just went to the vineyards without me! Why would they do that after I left!?”

She then burbled on at greater length about her family, her boyfriend, her recent trip, her upcoming trip. She was lovely and sweet, but oy!

She finally paused and asked me, “What do you do?”

“I’m a teacher.”

“Oh, what grade?” she asked.

“Fourth,” I replied.

She turned her body fully toward me, her face alight.

“Oh! My fourth grade teacher saved my life!” she exclaimed. Then she went on and on… about how she thought she’d wanted to be a teacher, and about an experience she’d had working in a classroom when she was in school in England (with a long detour to explain why she’d attended middle school and high school in England) and how wonderful it was but it just wasn’t for her, but the kids made her this wonderful book and she still has it and it was wonderful ….

Then she repeated, “I just loved my fourth grade teacher! She saved my life! Really, she did! She was the first person to bring my attention difficulties to my parents’ attention.” (Which, to be honest, made me wonder how much attention her parents had been paying. I also heroically restrained myself from suggesting that her prior teachers had probably noticed something as well.)

She continued, “We loved her. And she loved us.” She paused dramatically, then said, “She loved us so much that she taught us the next year, too!”

uh huh

Eventually, after I had a pretty good picture of the past year or so of her life, with some childhood details sketched in as well, she trailed off and we began taxiing down the runway.

Taking-off is the hardest part of any flight for me. My go-to strategy is to bury myself in a puzzle book of sorts, typically word games. So, I buried myself in my crossword, trying to pretend I wasn’t on a plane (my go-to strategy). I entered my zone of intense concentration.

Midway through our ascent, a voice penetrated my carefully constructed zone. I ripped my focus from my puzzle book and looked around.

“Excuse me. Excuse me…”

I turned toward my seat mate. Yes, she was talking to me.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I thought since you’re a teacher, you’d  have seen a lot of this and know.” She pushed her finger into her right eyelid and bent closer to me.

“Do you think I have pink eye?” she asked.

I stared at her, slightly bemused. “What?”

“Do you think I have pink eye?” she repeated, jabbing her finger toward her eye again.

Finally, I replied, noncommittally, “Well, your eye lid is slightly red.”

“I know!” she enthused. “It’s been bothering me all day and it feels funny. So I was wondering if you think it might be pink eye.” She looked at me expectantly, leaning closer.

I stared back at her.

“No,” I finally said slowly and decisively, still struggling to make sense of the moment, “it is not pink eye.”

“Oh, phew!” she said, exhaling, and leaning back into her seat, looking mightily relieved.

Phew?! Phew?! Like I’m the authority and this potential problem is now solved?

I turned back to my puzzle book and went back to pretending I wasn’t on a plane, hoping that she really didn’t have pink eye.

It was going to be a long flight.

NYC Poems

74707-poetry-friday-logoI’m in New York right now, participating in Teachers College Summer Institute for Reading. What a week of learning this has been! I’m always inspired to write by the sights and sounds of the city around me, but it’s tough to find time and mental energy to devote to it. Here are a few in-the-works poems inspired by the sights and sounds of NYC. 

Broadway buzzes by
he curls around his black bag
a sleeping question

©Molly Hogan, 2019

A Subway Moment

swept into the subway
by torrents of rain
and arcs of lightning
I stumble onto the train and stand
pressed against passengers
a humid mass
of bedraggled humanity

through the window
I see a man
sitting on the platform
his hands dance gracefully in the air
drumming an inaudible tune
against an invisible drum

his bag of belongings behind him
he sits in his island
taps and beats until
his hands agitate
as if tripped up, bumping up
against microscopic motes
He grimaces
cocks his head
his hands still
Until…in a moment
his face smooths and
he resumes
his drumming

above us thunder booms
rain pummels the city
my train pulls away

Molly Hogan ©2019 (draft)
(Note—I edited this after first posting)

Journey

A man slept on the street
his naked feet
pale and surprisingly pink
peeked from beneath
a dingy blanket

Who washed these feet
when they were small?
Did anyone count and kiss
each precious toe?
Chase the little piggies
all the way home?
wee wee wee
What a journey

Molly Hogan ©2019 (draft)

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by children’s author, poet and wonderful photographer, Buffy Silverman at her blog (here). She’s sharing a peek into Helen Frost and Rick Lieder’s book “Hello I’m Here” and a wonderful original advice poem. What a delight!