The Mockingbird Goes On Break

I’m not flying south for the whole winter,
not disappearing from the groves and fields completely.
Hunkering down perhaps,
ruffling my feathers in the cool fall breezes
and settling deeper inside myself for a bit,
to a place where there are fewer words.

Not sulking, not anxious, not despairing,
just settling, shifting the patterns,
changing up the rhythms a bit.

I’ll see you back here again
someday soon,
when I have had a chance
to find a new rhythm,
to identify new patterns.

I’ll draw and sing,
write my secret poems,
gather dreams and images,
stories and feathers.

As always, I’ll be holding my part of the web,
feeling the tension and tug as you do your work
on your own part of the web.
I’ll trust that you are there,
and you can know I will be here,
and I will return, soon enough,
when the winds blow me back again.

Meanwhile, Walk in Beauty!

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Surprises

P1010973

Gratitude List:
1. When we all work together. . . There is just something about coming together with a group of people to accomplish a specific task that creates a sense of community and tribe.  I’ve experienced it in various ways this week–a listening committee, a group helping a friend move, being part of a web of people holding someone in prayer/love/light, classroom work, collegiality.
2. Mockingbird is beginning to welcome everyone back to the hollow in their own languages.  (Okay, I know he’s actually establishing territory, but the effect on my grateful ears is the same either way.)
3. Chocolate. Especially fair trade chocolate.  It is almost impossible for us in the US to extricate our pleasures and our luxuries from the economic and trade systems that oppress others around the world.  May we keep edging our way toward freedom and justice for all people.
4. This coming week.  I don’t know who to thank for the incredibly brilliant idea (whether it’s principals or superintendents)–padding the potential snow days into Easter Break, just after the switch to the final quarter–but it feels like I have been given extra days in the world, like I can slip between times for the next couple of days, get my work done, catch up on my rest, prepare for the coming month, and get back to work reinvigorated.
5. Needle felting.  I started making a couple teeny tiny totoros for a small boy’s upcoming birthday, and his older brother has become obsessed with helping with the needle felting.  I’m a little anxious about a nine-year-old and those tiny spears, but it is perhaps a good exercise in intent focus, and I love doing handwork with my kids.
6.  Hmmm.  I worked hard on this list just now, but I missed this one: new life, birth, how the heart is constantly being resurrected.
7.  Oh, and this one: My favorite Jesus stories are coming up, beginning today: Jesus surprises Mary in the garden. (My friend’s daughter also loves this story: he surprises”his best best best friend,” she says. Yes.)  Then he surprises Thomas and his terrified friends.  Then he surprises the walkers on the Emmaus Road.  Life-transforming surprises.
8. I’ll just keep going: The poetry of David Whyte, particularly Sweet Darkness and Easter Blessing.

May we walk in Beauty!

Midwifing

I am taking a class right now, called Shaping a Community of Learners.  We are using terms like the “invisible curriculum” and discussing the ways in which various philosophers defined the word “care.”  We are asking ourselves what it means to be a teacher, what it means to have a relationship with our students, what capacities we want to develop within our students beyond good grammar, knowledge of the world, and strong mathematical and science skills.

Today, in Jan Richardson’s Sacred Journeys, I came across this excerpt from a sermon by Dorri Sherrill, in reference to Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who defied the pharaoh’s order to kill the male Hebrew babies.  Some people refer to this as the first recorded act of civil disobedience.  Sherrill says: “The truth is that Pharaohs, in some form or fashion, always will exist.  And as Shiphrah and Puah faced the Pharaoh of their day, so we must face ours.  We must face with courage and power those who want to take freedom because we, today, still are called to bring liberation into being, to be co-creators with God in the continual re-creation of the world.  We may not be midwives in the the literal sense, but each of us has a calling to bring to birth that which is in us and each other which, left to its own, likely will die.”

She has much more to say on the subject of courageously facing our Pharaohs, but this last sentence struck me as part of the answer to some of the questions we are asking ourselves in this class: What is the deeper role of the teacher?  The teacher assists as midwife at the birth of her students’ callings.  We help them to birth their dreams, their visions, and their destiny.

Gratitude List:
1.  For all the midwives of my life, real and metaphorical.  Those who helped me to birth my sons, those who helped me to birth my poems and books, those who helped with each vision, each idea, each dream.
2.  For the color orange.  We talk about the food cravings that people have when they are pregnant.  During my very first pregnancy, and then again during my pregnancy with Ellis, I had intense cravings for the color orange.  Weird, perhaps, but I bought orange cloth, wore orange clothes, and hung a picture on my wall of a Maasai mother and child swathed in orange (that picture is still on my wall today).  Today Ellis, clad all in orange, said, “Orange is an apt color for me.”  Yes, I believe so.  Incidentally, my color cravings during my pregnancy with Joss were purple.
3.  Mockingbird.  I think he was following us from field to field during harvest today.  Probably spying on us, to ensure we weren’t going to steal his babies, but along the way he told us marvelous jokes and stories.  Becky reminded me that sometimes they will imitate people, so I am going to start trying to teach him the first few bars of “Ode to Joy.”
4.  Cucumbers and cream cheese on sourdough bread.  A little salt.  Just right.  (And while I am on the subject of food, those boys ate tonight’s pizza supper, though I put so many veggies on it, it was more like casserole on a crust than pizza.)
5.  Working in the fields with the Goldfinch Farm crew.

May we walk in Beauty!

Moth Mummy

Gratitude List:
1. Gentle rain
2. Studying
3. Tomatoes!
4. Cecropia Moth Cocoon
5. Mockingbird: he is effusive, irrepressible, ebullient, buoyant, rhapsodic

May we walk in Beauty!

***

cecropia  Cecropia 2

The cecropia moth cocoon has been attached to the bar of the cast iron plant holder for almost a year now.  I knew it was dead, but I didn’t want to think about it.  Today, Jon and Holly opened it up.  Jon could hardly get his knife through the shell of the cocoon.  Cecropias are silk moths, and this cocoon had hard strands of silk surrounding a paper-like material that was tougher than cardboard (silk and “cardboard” visible in second picture).  Inside was this magical faerie mummy being.  You can see her head to the right side of the first photo, and her legs folded down the center.  Wrapping the head and legs are her two long, feathery antennae, and her wings drape gracefully around the rest of it.  I am so sad that she did not have the chance to emerge.  Still I am fascinated by this incredible moment of transformation frozen in the moments before emergence.

***

I am taking a class right now for professional development, called Shaping a Community of Learners, through the Anabaptist Learning Institute.  One of the recent assignments was to respond to one of William Stafford’s poems, or to choose another poet’s poem which speaks to the spiritual life of the teacher.  I chose Mary Oliver’s “Landscape.” The assignment briefly discussed Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, which I reference in the paper.  I discovered the Oliver poem when I was reading this OnBeing blog entry by Parker Palmer.

Here is the paper I wrote:

I love the poetry of William Stafford–his ethic of care for humans, animals, and the earth; his hope that acknowledges the journey of anxiety and despair that it takes to get there; his ability to find a moment of worship in a clod of earth.  I excitedly read through all the options listed.  I was focusing on a couple possibilities when, just last night, I came upon a post Parker Palmer wrote for the OnBeing blog, in which he responded to Mary Oliver’s “Landscape.”  I am not sure that Mary Oliver fits the category of Christian Poet exactly, but my own spiritual journey has been so constantly fed and nourished by her words that I think her work will fit the parameters of the assignment.

Landscape
Mary Oliver

Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

I want to read Howard Gardner’s work on the five aspects of mind sometime.  Meanwhile, I want to add “Open-heartedness” to the list, or perhaps to begin a list of various aspects of the heart, and begin with this one.  Mary Oliver’s poem “Landscape” holds this idea of open-heartedness for me.

Oliver writes “. . .if the doors of my heart / ever close, I am as good as dead.”  If I close the doors of my heart to the darknesses that surround me–to the poverty and racism and destruction of the earth, to last week’s massacre in Charleston, to the desperate plight of refugees fleeing places of conflict–then I also close my heart to the lecture of the moss, the posture of the oaks, the imaginings of the crows.  As I hone my sensitivity to the story that comes from the world around me–to the “lecture[s]” from the natural world, my sensitivity to the plight of other humans and other parts of the earth is also heightened.  But I do not want to shut off that part of myself, because I believe with Oliver that to close those doors is like dying.

My students bring me these darknesses.  They come to class and they ask what I think of the latest Painful Thing in the News.  I think I do a disservice to them if I minimize or ignore their questions and their need to come to terms with the harsh realities.  If I want my teaching to be transformative, I think I need to incorporate these things into the discussions, connect what is happening now to the readings that we are doing.  I need to listen to them process and discuss and think critically about the issues that beset us,  and encourage them to think about and write about these things.  If my students and I are in training to be people of service to the world, to teach and model peace and reverence in our lives, then part of our work is to know of the difficult things and to find ways to respond.  Part of my job as their teacher is to model ways to keep those heart doors open while finding ways to “disentangle [ourselves] from the darkness,” as Palmer writes in his response to this poem.

One way to keep imagining our “strong, thick wings” so that we may “burst up into the sky” is to maintain an inner life that contemplates the world of nature, and the depth of spirit of the people all around us.  I hope that I can model for my students the reflective work of listening to our inner voices, to finding the deep wisdom in the people around us, and to reading the text of the natural world around us: reverence, wonder, awe, spiritual observation and noticing.  That work, which Oliver describes in her poem, helps to balance the work of staying aware of the pain of the world.

In the past year, as I have been teaching at LMH, I have become more aware, too, of the fact that it is not just a one-way street, that it isn’t just about how I model this idea of holding our heart doors open for both the reverence and the shadows, but that they already have these capabilities within them.  They are already doing this work.  If I can find the right questions and poems and the right listening attitude, they bring their own transformative wisdom to the table.

(Parker Palmer’s OnBeing blog post: “Poetry as Sacrament: Disentangling from the Darkness”

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/poetry-as-sacrament-disentangling-from-the-darkness/7692)

Medicine and Mockingbird

Gratitude List:

1. Using gratitude lists as a prompt in school today.  Why haven’t I done this before?  It felt like a gift I gave myself–such bright and deep and thoughtful responses.  I am going to miss these people.
2. That poem that a student handed me today to fulfill a class project.  May you thrive.  May you live deeply.
3. How the Earth provides the medicine.  The tulip tree is blooming, which is beautiful, but suddenly the allergies are going haywire.  So, more plantain and wild chamomile and catnip and mint and nettle and lemon balm tea with honey.  I will try one more night without the allopathic remedy.
4. New haircut!  I always feel like a work of art when I have been to see Kristen.
5. Mockingbird, as I was walking out to gather herbs this evening, sang to me in Ovenbird, “Teacher-teacher-teacher!”

May we walk in Beauty!

Oh, Come On, Alfred!

Today’s Poetry Prompt over at Poetic Asides is to write a dare poem.  This one is in the glosa form.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
–T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Time’s up, Alfred.
Make your decisions.
Settle your score with time
and risk it.
Eat that peach
and grow your hair.
Join those women
in their fancy parlor chats.
Stop asking
“Do I dare?”

Jump in.
Start the next round of Twister.
Knock their socks off, buddy.
That catty fog against the windows
has settled into your soul.
Wear a wig!  Carry a purse!
Swim with the mermaids.
Take up Irish drinking songs,
verse upon verse upon verse.
Disturb the Universe!

Ever since my college days,
you have been sitting
on my periphery,
asking me these questions,
reminding me that hesitations
breed paralysis, a crime
of omission,
of never-having-dared,
waiting patiently in line:
In a minute there is time. . .

And in a minute
the chance is gone,
the mermaids have stopped singing,
your hair has gone gray.
Sure, it could always have been better,
but it could also be much worse.
Step into the center of your life, Alfred,
and all the foggy yellow clouds of doubt
will gradually disperse:
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Gratitude List:
1. The smell of those soaps I bought at Savemart today: Sandalwood, Rosewood Geranium, and Patchouli.  Scent is one of my favorite senses.  These three beauties have flipped on the happy switch in my brain.
2. My students.  I was reminded today of some of my students from last semester who were wild and disruptive–not at all meanly or even rudely, but enough to tire a teacher.  And thinking about this particular trio, I realized how incredibly fond I am of them all, how something in the challenge of working with them day-to-day and treasuring them rather than letting them get my goat makes me feel a particular delight in the memory of them.
3. Have I mentioned daffodils?
4. Fresh spinach, right from the field.  Give me a few more weeks of this and I might even be an acceptable blood donor again.  Call me the Woman of Iron.
5. Mockingbird has found his springtime voice.  I wish my ears were a little more discerning, and could count the number of calls in his repertoire.  He’s a pretty vociferous polyglot.  (Yeah–purple.  It was fun to say, though.)

May we walk in Beauty!

If I Were to Read a Poem to My Mockingbird

Today’s Prompt is an If I Were. . . poem.

Mockingbird growls.  In between riffs
of cardinal and killdeer, of phoebe and wren
and some feathered neighbor from the south
whose name I don’t know, in between all that,
mockingbird growls at me.

He growled tonight when I started to read to him:
Mary Oliver’s Mockingbirds.
I was certain he’d be flattered,
but he growled at me
and fluffed his feathers,
twitched his tail,
and when I got to the part
about the old people dying
and the gods clapping their great wings,
he opened his own and took flight,
off up the orchard into the twilight.

He’s not such a good listener, that one.
But we often forgive our loquacious friends
their lack of listening skills
because they entertain us with such gusto.

But the hens.  The hens listened, rapt,
clucking like fans at a jazz fest.
And when I bowed, and walked up
to close the coop for the night,
they all asked for my autograph.

 

Gratitude List:
1. My sweet hens
2. Comfort food
3. Gathas
4. Sun-kiss
5. Learning from uncertainty.

May we walk in Beauty!

New Ways, New Ideas

Mockingbird says:
“Greet everyone in their own language, and don’t worry about your accent.”

Gratitude List:
1.  That moon.  First it wasn’t.  There was rain and there was a nighttime overcast.  Then there was an odd glow.  Then suddenly an orange crescent in the sky.
2.  New ways to organize my mind
3.  Rhythm.  In and out.  Round and round.
4.  New ideas to take the place of old ones that I have discarded
5.  Singing with people I love

May we walk in Beauty.

Protecting the Nestlings

Mockingbird Says:
“Protect your nestlings with every ounce of courage and ferocity you can muster.  Whether it be Monsanto or a kitty cat, zip in in a whir of flashy feathers and nip them on the nether regions–just like this!  Aha!”

–Oh, Mockingbird!  Yes.  I do get your point, and so, unfortunately, does little Miss Winky.  Poor Kitty Cat.

2013 August 116

Gratitude List (the typical 5, plus a few bonus from an amazing weekend with my gang of college friends and their children):
1.  Lasting friendships, powerful in their intentionality and their serendipity
2.  Scott’s rock and sand collection
3.  Awakeners
4.  A happy gang of kids, riding bikes, playing games, swimming, giggling, sharing jokes. . .
5.  Being part of the cold and broken hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
6.  Late late night conversations around the fire, sharing the bitter/sweets
7.  Walking out of the labyrinth
8.  This moment: We were sitting around in the shade yesterday morning discussing shame and the impact it has on our parenting, and how it is used in schools.  Before long three of the children had gathered with us in the circle, and they started telling us their own ideas about effective and ineffective behavior management in school, about what seems fair and right and what is a violation of their sense of self.
9.  Taking pictures of the fire with Luke
10.  Africa House, where we stayed

May all beings be blessed.

Mockingbird Says

Mockingbird says:
“Listen well, and your own speech will be enriched.”

Gratitude List:
1.  The trees, those people who grasp the Earth between their toes and grow down toward the heart of the mother, who dream their leaves and needles and nuts and flowers and fruit into the air, who breathe for us.
2.  The spiders, those people who fling themselves with abandon into the air and drift on their own silk to a new anchoring place, who make the connections, who spin and weave.
3.  The birds, those feather people who dash from tree-branch to tree-branch or rest on a hammock of sky–treading wind currents, whose very speech is music, who range in size from the hummingbird smaller than my open hand to the eagle whose wingspan is greater than my own.
4.  Margaret Atwood, who is tearing at my heart with her book, The Year of the Flood.
5.  Fresh corn for supper tonight.

May we walk in Beauty.