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Monthly Archives: March 2017

A Bee

When I taught poetry, I included haiku and writing them overlapped with our Social Studies curriculum. Bashō was a traditional Japanese poets in a Social Studies unit. As well, I asked students to draw pictures to add richness to their poetry.

Several parents and one administrator questioned the value of writing haiku. I told them it was finding the right word to express one’s self. That was enough for most adults, but the administrator and one parent did not get it. What is ironic is both make their living speaking publicly and I think writing haiku might be helpful.

I chose this haiku, because quite often we struggle to give up things we do not do well and seek the comfort of safe places. In this case, the bee is comfortable in the peony and is reluctant to leave.

Usually, the students enjoyed writing poetry and understood the benefits. Several students used poetry to keep notes in other classes. The students were concerned about the 5-7-5 syllable pattern than actually writing poetry. I told them to get their broad ideas down, find new words, and massage the pattern into place. They took their time and learned how to use a syllabus in the process.

How reluctantly

the bee emerges from deep

within the peony

Anatomy Class

Today, I looked for a poem and, after some searching, settled on this one by Betsy Franco. I had not heard of her before, but the poem is interesting. I wondered what my students would have thought of it.

The poem is playful and inviting. People want to play and explore the world they inhabit with others and we are often left surprised by what we discover.

Franco points out the paradox of the words we use and inanimate objects like chairs, clocks, and kites come alive. Perhaps, in the minds of children, they do live. Maybe words and language are less of an impediment to children. They are present to a world that is fantastic and subject to a myriad of interpretations.

The chair has

arms.

The clock,

a face.

The kites have

long and twirly tails.

The tacks have

heads.

The books have

spines.

The toolbox has

a set of nails.

Our shoes have

tongues,

the marbles,

eyes.

The wooden desk has

legs and seat.

The cups have

lips.

My watch has

hands.

The classroom rulers all have

feet.

Heads, arms hands, nails,

spines, legs, feet, tails,

face, lips, tongues, eyes.

What a surprise!

 

Is our classroom alive?

Active Life

I am reading The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring by Parker Palmer. Parker included a number of quotes from The Way Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton, including this poem.

The poem reminds me of how I can misplace my priorities and they can overwhelm me. In the research I did for my dissertation, each teacher described how it was essential to step back from their practices and reflect. Each of them described how human relationships were at the heart of their teaching. How they each responded to their relationships was an expression of who they are as a person and teacher.

In the third stanza, Thomas Merton asked questions about people’s relationship with work. I think the first question is essential. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about weeds as essential to a gardener’s work. When we lose ourselves in activity without time to pause and reflect on what it means to care for ourselves and others as we create, we lose ourselves as the poem points out. When we are attentive and mindful, we nurture the soul, beginning with our own.

If an expert does not have some problem to vex him,
he is unhappy!
If a philosopher’s teaching is never attacked, she pines
away!
If critics have no one on whom to exercise their spite,
they are unhappy.
All such people are prisoners in the world of objects.

He who wants followers, seeks political power.
She who wants reputation, holds an office.
The strong man looks for weights to lift.
The brave woman looks for an emergency in which she
can show bravery.
The swordsman wants a battle in which he can swing
his sword.
People past their prime prefer a dignified retirement,
in which they may seem profound.
People experienced in law seek difficult cases to extend
the application of the laws.
Liturgists and musicians like festivals in which they
parade their ceremonious talents.
The benevolent, the dutiful, are always looking for
chances to display virtue.

Where would the gardener be if there were no more
weeds?
What would become of business without a market of
fools?
Where would the masses be if there were no pretext
for getting jammed together and making noise?
What would become of labor if there were no superfluous objects to
be made?

Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends!
Make changes!
Or you will die of despair!

Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except
in activity and change–the whirring of the machine! Whenever an
occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act; they
cannot help themselves. They are inexorably moved, like the ma-
chine of which they are a part. Prisoners in the world of objects,
they have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter! They
are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the mar-
ket, events, public opinion. Never in a whole lifetime do they re-
cover their right mind! The active life! What a pity!”

Live for Today

Source: Live for Today

Michele concluded this post with an Inuit (Eskimo) saying about the essential nature of today and each moment.

Today on Twitter, I re-tweeted an Emily Dickinson quote that has a similar message: “Forever is composed of nows.”

When I am present and in the moment, I am mindful the ordinary is extraordinary. Being mindful allows me to be sensitive and thoughtful towards others who accompany me on my journey and the world we share with other sentient and non-sentient beings.

Mindfulness is a conversation with companions, even it is only listening to silence.

Pueblo Blessing

Source: Pueblo Blessing

I find it is simple often taken-for-granted things that bring the greatest joy in life. This post from WordVerseUniverse underscores that sentiment. It is the handful of dirt and the tree that stand beside me, which seen in a new light can bring great joy. The dirt reminds me of a place that I call home. The tree reminds me of the life that surrounds me.

As well, some things are more complex. How do I hold someone’s hand when they we are apart?

The Pueblo Blessing at the link reminds me I live in community with sentient and non-sentient beings. It is in the animate and inanimate that I find ways to hold on. In community, we discover the richness of living.

Being mindful and present to who and what is with me, near and distant, is essential to living life to the fullest.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

I enjoy Wendell Berry’s writing and recently began reading his fiction. He wrote a series of novels about a community called Port William and explores what it means to belong to a place and have roots there. He refers to these roots as belonging and caring for a place in way that is reciprocal. As I care for the place, it cares for me.

This poem is my favourite, because it is about belonging in a way that allows me to ask what it means to belong. The title reaches out and I cannot resist it. The first stanza questions the lack of belonging we experience in the modern world.

What does it mean to be radical? The word radical means going to one’s origins or roots. When I read the poem, I think of the possibilities a radical life offers. I seek my roots, the wisdom of those who came before me, and lived on the land. I trace my genealogy and tracks on the land my ancestors tilled and how it cared for their needs.

The second stanza draws me deeper. When I read it, it challenges me to think about what it means to do something that doesn’t compute, like loving unconditionally and not knowing what that means.  The third stanza challenges me to question in ways that do not result in easy answers and embrace the mysteries of living.

Do something that does not compute, make many tracks, and sometimes confuse the world. Go against the grain and do not always take the easy path. Take a proper one and understand I belong to a community of more than one.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

 

Do Pigs Have Udders?

The last year I taught I was away for a week in the fall. When I returned, the students told me they had not enjoyed the substitute teacher. They felt he did not let them chat and told them their conversations were inappropriate. As those students rarely crossed the line between appropriate and inappropriate, I was surprise and asked for an example of a conversation topic.

As they did their Science one day a student asked another if pigs had udders. They felt the conversation was proper and it fit with biology and animal husbandry. One girl, who lived on a farm, insisted they did and the other, who lived in town, said they did not. They asked me if I knew. I laughed and told them I did not know.

Initially, I phoned Kathy who was raised on a farm. She said pigs might have udders, but, if they did, it was a result of a biologic need to nurse offspring. Over the years, the topic came up. A farmer told me farmers don’t ask questions like that, because they don’t really care. Last summer, I read this poem at a retreat and described what had happened. A colleague did a search and informed us pigs do not have udders.

The experience informed me in two ways as a teacher. First, it pointed out an irrevocable truth: human curiosity and questions without absolute answers are essential in living and learning. Second, humans require safe spaces to ask questions like this.

A simple question

Eloquently posed,

It lacks a ready answer

Our curiosity is engaged;

Fueling our learning and conversations.

What does something mean?

Is it true?

Many queries;

We seek to fill gaps–

Certitude is elusive;

Uncertainty prevails.

Years later

I smile and chuckle;

I (re)member–

I appreciate–

A simple, provocative question–

Do pigs have udders?

People can ask the darnedest things. Humour is a cure for even the most challenging moments. It opens up safe spaces for questions to emerge.

 

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