#372: Day 28 Hummingbird Haiku

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My sophomores, under the gentle tutelage of a wonderfully gifted student teacher, are distance learning about imagery, beyond the sort of rudimentary understanding that imagery is language that appeals to the senses, into a deeper knowledge that imagery plays on both the intellect and the emotions, that it is associative, that it often works best in juxtaposition to other images. So she’s having them write haiku. In my earlier experiences as a poet, a had a tendency to poo-poo the haiku, but in recent years I’ve come to a new appreciation, in part, because of a late, very late understanding of what we’re introducing to these 15 and 16 years olds now.  So, ignoring the Napowrimo prompt for today, and ignoring, as Robert Hass gives us permission to do, the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count, I give you: haiku.

I

Hummingbird makes a nest
in the tree above my hammock.
Ignores the feeder.

II

Hummingbird makes a
loud clicking sound;
wakes me from napping.

III

Birds chirp, warble, coo
in the back yard.
The Hummer has no song
but buzz and click.

IV

At my brother’s house,
a red-headed hummingbird
accompanies our reunion.

V

Hummingbird knows
nothing nor cares about
our troubles with Covid-19.

VI

I saw this mother bird
fight off a finch;
the nest, safekeeping.

 

 

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#371: Monday Review

 

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I’d give it two stars.
I’d say that so far, its performance
has been uneven, like it can’t decide
really what it wants to be.
Heavy rain early, then cloudy,
then a clearing, dry enough
for a dog walk, but too damn warm.
Muggy, almost. Monday has forgotten
that we live in the Pacific Northwest
where muggy, most often, is not a thing.
Monday has had most of April to blame
for its indecisiveness, its recalcitrance.
Additionally, Monday has been stingy,
has given me insufficient work to do.
It asks me to watch remotely my colleagues
remotely teaching here at the beginning
of this third week of remote learning.
Remote is a word I would use for Monday,
distant, aloof even, and kind of naughty.
Like a mistress, she’s asking me to do
things I probably shouldn’t be doing.
They don’t pay me to write poetry
or make music or watch funny animal
videos, but I may, by the time Monday
has ended, by the time Monday has
had her way, have done all of these things.
Even the haiku, the form my intern
is teaching right now to my distant
tenth graders, a few of which I should
be writing, is elusive on this Monday.
It’s early in the afternoon, so there’s
still time for this day to redeem itself,
but it will be a difficult feat to pull off,
having lost me pretty much already
in its meandering, its stupid weather,
and its temptations to put off until
tomorrow what might be done today.

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#370: Almanac Questionnaire

Almanac Questionnaire

Weather: It’s sunny and warm again, yes, again, yes, finally after three gray days. We’ve been spoiled a little by weather. Nature trying to soften us up.
Flora: The oak trees are leafing–I almost saw it happen. You have to be quick. There must be a moment, three o’clock in the morning, likely, when these giants burst open.
Architecture: 1931, an English Tudor; we are closing in on a decade.
Customs: This could very well be my 10th year of writing a poem every day in April.
Mammals/reptiles/fish: My next door neighbor has a Koi pond.
Childhood dream: A swing set. She made me take off her shoes.
Found on the Street: There are two flattened squirrel corpses in front of the house.
Export: I moved my entire music library to an external hard drive.
Graffiti: “Sorry about your wall!”
Lover: Mostly imaginary.
Conspiracy: Aliens have landed on this planet at some point in the earth’s 4.5 billion year time line, and there are living human beings who know about them.
Dress: Every day from here on out, it’s shorts and a t-shirt.
Hometown memory: My favorite record store has turned into a porno shop.
Notable person: Who is not notable? What is that Stafford line: some people are so dull you can never forget their names?
Outside my window, I find: the flower pots she’s planted, the back yard dog corral, truck in the driveway next to the garage, the mossy roof of the woodshed.
Today’s news headline: America Is Not Set Up For This.
Scrap from a letter: “Greetings friend! I’m writing this at 9 pm on a Saturday. I just finished a steak dinner and am curled up, a snifter of Dry Fly whiskey to one side and my cat Winston to the other.”
Animal from a myth: Today I learned that a Pooka is a shapeshifter and can take any form it chooses. Usually, it is seen in the form of a dog, rabbit, goat, goblin or even an old man. I prefer the image of a rabbit with ears like a German Shepherd. I might be Irish.
Story read to children at night: I read to my son from The Hobbit when he was a wee lad.
I walk three minutes down an alley and I find: finally, the dogs, having escaped from the yard and rampaged their way through the trailer park for seniors up the road. Some little old lady on one side of the alley, my son on the other. He scooped her up, the dog, that is.
I walk to the border and hear: that someone has drawn an imaginary line that goes for thousands of miles.
What I fear: I read yesterday that young people who showed no other symptoms were dying of strokes caused by COVID-19.
Picture on my city’s postcard: Red, red, red roses. A rose is a rose is a rose, Gertrude.

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The Pooka

 

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#369: Some Kind of Hymn

Photo on 4-25-20 at 10.44 AM

(after James Schuyler and for Cresslyn Clay)

Moss grows on the roofs of the garage and the woodshed
and the weather is shitty, again. This April, it’s unseasonably
warm and dry with spells that go on for days of rain
and clouds, gray spells. We’re in the middle of one of those.
We sit at home this Saturday and try to think
of things to do. She shops on-line for a bedroom rug
and I look at Schuyler’s poem in awe and frustration
and the dogs whine and complain and we keep telling
them to shut up. The boy sleeps in late, a habit he’s developed,
or a practice at which he’s become a consummate pro.
I’m drinking my second cup of coffee and I’m not hung over.
I have an idea of doing some field recordings in the back
yard mostly to capture the sounds of birds; I could get
audio samples of birds almost anywhere these days but
for some reason I’d like to record my own birds. I think
about spinning Apple Venus (Volume One) again today
as a kind of tonic or some kind of hymn against the shitty
weather and even shittier times. Andy sings “Just like a mad
dog you’re chasing your tail in a circle” and that about sums
it up for many of us, for all of us, to some degree or another.
The boy stirs and his mother grills up the rest of the pancakes.
She keeps calling up the stairs, “Come on, let’s go” to roust him
down to the breakfast table. It’s noon. These pancakes have
blueberries in them, and they’re paleo, for what that’s worth.
He finally comes down and I sit with him while he eats his
pancakes and he tells me about a video game he thinks I’d like
called “Stanley’s Parable.” In a rare father-son teaching moment,
I ask him if he knows what a parable is. He does not. So I tell
him about Jesus and Socrates and all of a sudden he’s expressing
a keen interest in the ancient greeks and I had no idea.
I brush my teeth before I finish that last cup of coffee, and,
while, as I say, toothpaste and coffee are complimentary,
by now the brown stuff inside my Shakespeare Insult mug
is cold. I’m not drinking that. “Thou art a boil, a plague sore.”
That’s fitting. It’s nearly impossible to think of any of the bard’s
greatest insults and not be able to apply them immediately to that
imbecile in the White House, “an infinite and endless liar, an hourly
promise breaker.” I quote not from memory, but from my mug.
It’s my favorite mug, just behind my Composition Notebook mug,
a gift given to me, I think for no occasion, by my teacher friend
Cresslyn, whose birthday is today. I’ve said these are shitty times,
and yet, I am happy, happy for friends like Cresslyn, for time to write
poems after Schuyler, wide long poems instead of the long skinny
poems I usually write, for the kindness of people in my life, like
Cresslyn. Others come to mind, but she’s in the forefront, in part,
because it’s her birthday, and in part, because she is so kind.
I miss her. I mean, I miss being in the same building, the same
room with her, in our school, collaborating in person, sharing
stories about our students, walking all the way across the building
for a quick visit to say hello or ask a question. For now, we have to
be satisfied with looking at each other on computer screens.
There’s a caravan of cars driving by her house this morning,
honking, singing happy birthday, perhaps, heads out the window.
I’m happy for that. The sunshine is peaking through the clouds
and we may be able to walk the dogs. Schuyler’s poem takes a half
an hour to read out loud but I don’t want to write a poem
that takes a half an hour to read, just like yesterday, I’m not writing
about fruit. To say that the sun fruited the trees with leaves–
that’s the best I can do this afternoon. And there’s a hummingbird’s
nest inside the tree right above the hammock. Did this ever happen to you?
What do you want that you can’t have? How do we make whole
what has been scattered or broken? What’s the reason for this
laughter, these tears? Have I made the right choices, Saturday,
this one? The boy’s upstairs now, practicing his rudimental snare
and my wife’s phone is chirping in the other room, like some bird
robot. The dogs stir. This can’t go on forever.

****

Postscript: In case you are wondering about the inspiration for the poem, here’s a link to Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life,” and here is the prompt from Hoa Nguyen’s website.

  • Bring your perspective and verbs back to the present tense, even when addressing memory

  • Seek the “unforced flow of words”

  • Introduce all of the things that you might ordinarily deem incidental or too small for consideration

  • Include quoted speech (overheard, announced, in dialogue, as song lyrics)

  • Build your lines with associative accumulation (parataxis), move with your attentions

  • Introduce a swerve or observation that serves as interjection, non-sequitur

  • Include at least four colours

  • Animate the landscape or nearby object, imbue it with expressiveness of action or address

  • Include perceptions of the weather without, perceptions of weather within

  • Use a noun as verb that is typically not used that way (anthimeria): “white freaked with red”

  • Introduce the occasional 3- and 4-word sentence.

  • “Let’s make a list”: include a list of things you love

  • Did you remember to ask questions?

  • Include a hemistich line: a line made-up of two halves, of equivalent beats, hinged on a silent beat (caesura): “The world is all cut-outs then—and slip or step steadily down”

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#368: It’s Friday

It’s Friday
at the end
of the second
weirdest teaching
week in history
and I’m not
going to write
a poem about
a piece of fruit.
In my resistance
to writing about
fruit, in addition
to a number
of diversions
today, I almost
neglected to write
a poem at all.
My impulse
today was to make
music, and I
fumbled my way
through that and
had some fun and
almost wrote a song.
That felt good.
Almost writing
a song today
felt better than
almost teaching
a class, which I
was a great distance
from doing,
and this, almost
writing a poem
about not wanting
to write a poem
about fruit–
that feels pretty
good too.

 

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#367: For Its Own Sake

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Here’s a question.
What motivates a person to do a thing,
especially a thing that is purported to be
good for a person–let’s say, eat right,
exercise, learn an instrument, learn
an instrument well, dance, sing, paint,
or act well, and while we’re at it, add into the mix
all the academic endeavors:
write well, read well, understand
history, compute effectively, think
scientifically, abstractly, metaphorically,
not to mention the soft skills (a phrase
I hate), of building and fostering
strong and healthy relationships
to self and others?
Why would anyone do these,
all, admittedly, difficult things?
Our system of education is
designed to reward individuals for
doing these things with gold stars,
praise, and grades. We have conditioned
generations of students to do
purportedly good things for themselves
so that they can achieve a carrot
or avoid a stick. But we all know,
there are healthy people, musicians,
dancers, singers, painters, actors,
writers, historians, mathematicians,
scientists and philosophers who did
not get where they are because
they were afraid of the dunce cap
or the chair in the corner or the
C minus. They got good at their craft,
whatever that craft may have been,
because they wanted to, for its own
sake, because they knew it to be good
without anyone ever telling them
it was good. And here we are,
in Oregon, about to embark on
the grand experiment: learning
for the sake of learning. And we’re
doing it now, not because we have
had some grand epiphany about
the supremacy of intrinsic motivation,
but because we have no other
choice if we are to make the end
of the pandemic school year as
equitable and as fair as we can make it,
so as not to make a terrible situation
more heinous than it already is.
Some people will be helped
more than others or will grow
more than others, but no one will be
punished or hurt by frowny faces
and failures, and maybe, without
the kind of risk or peril they typically
experience in schools, they may plug in,
not because they have to,
but because they choose to,
because they see the value of the thing,
in this case learning, for its own sake.

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#366: Ghost School

I saw two human beings
in this building that, on a
typical school day, houses
thirteen-hundred. I saw
our head secretary, Dee, spending
her Wednesdays from eight
to noon on site, and the head
custodian, Dan, spending a couple
hours a day doing odd jobs
until the crew can come back
in May, he hears, to do a deep
clean. If there were only two
people to see, they’d be the two,
two sides of the same coin,
the life-blood of the building.
Only the second time
I’ve visited the school since the
shutdown, less forlorn now,
but only because of Dee and Dan.
On the first visit, weeks ago now,
I found this deflated happy birthday
balloon all by itself in the
abandoned cafeteria, what we
call The Commons. That balloon,
two or three weeks later, has
somehow left the building.
I don’t know why, but I was
hoping to find it again.
Why did I come back today?
I collected a few things that
belonged to my intern;
I picked up books of ancient
Chinese poetry; I gathered
the last of my LP records, the
ones that were important
to my collection (The Mountain
Goats, Death Cab for Cutie,
Destroyer, Grizzly Bear);
I grabbed my Shakespeare
action figure, my action figure
librarian, and my magnetic
James Joyce finger puppet;
I picked up a stuffed frog
I’ve used as a talking stick,
but decided against bringing
it home. None of this stuff
was essential, but I drew the line
today with the stuffed frog.
It must have taken me all
of about 10 minutes to gather
up these things, but I was there
much longer, just standing
around, looking at the student art
on the walls and the furniture,
the tables in their pods,
taking pictures of this or that,
listening for the voices of
the hundreds upon hundreds
of kids that have inhabited
this space, trying not to cry.
I recorded myself singing
in an empty hallway (one
of the best things to do in a
ghost school), and I filmed
myself coming and going,
as if I wanted to remember
what that was like. Ridiculous.
I’ll be back here. I will do this
again. I will make this journey
hundreds of times. Things will
return to normal one day.
No matter. The loss here is
palpable and real and echoes
through these hallowed halls.

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the abandoned balloon

pano of the commons

pano of deserted classroom, mine

as you walk in or out of the door of A9

 

some white board graffiti, a reference, perhaps, that I don’t understand

 

the talking stick stuffed frog

Photo on 4-22-20 at 1.38 PM #3

at home with a teacher’s toys

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#365: Staff Meeting in a Google Hangout

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Our principal postponed
the official and virtual staff meeting
until Thursday, expecting new
information about distance
learning to come in after our
regularly scheduled Tuesday
morning Hangout. He held the
Tuesday meeting open, though,
made it voluntary, invited us
to attend for mostly social reasons.
I’m guessing about 30 of us
showed up at that virtual meeting.
We talked about grocery shopping,
the best place, the best time,
gardening, home projects, children,
dogs, better lighting for video posts,
how to view everyone in a grid,
Jack’s mustache, my disco hoodie,
and the virtual cornhole competition.
My friend Drew said the other day,
or maybe he posted it, that he
held a little bit at arm’s length
the sentimentality with which we
sometimes view our teaching
community–until now. 30 of
us sat together this morning,
looking at tiny little moving pictures
of each other scattered across
a slightly less tiny computer screen,
and we talked about nothing,
we talked about everything,
and sometimes, we all sat there
for a moment or two in silence,
which is fine by me, just looking
at one another, smiling, laughing,
almost as if we were in the same
room at the same time.
This poem would like to avoid
a sloppy ending; I feel it, under
my fingers as I type this, resisting
that sentimental slide. But there’s really no
other way to say that I love the
people I work with, and while I’d
much rather see them up close,
this odd, awkward, cold way
of being with them is way better
than nothing, and I am grateful
for every minute of it.

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#364: In Case of Emergency

(for Trisha Wick)

Twenty-four years ago I wrote a poem,
a sonnet, about the flood of ’96.
It described the six feet of river water
in my wife’s parent’s basement, that whole
devastation, and the kids and families
in the neighborhood who came to help
restore and repair the house, the home,
and hope. A student of mine, her family’s
home was flooded, too, but I didn’t know
that when I shared the poem with the class.
Later, this student brought to me a gift:
She had embroidered all fourteen lines and
framed it. In the case of emergency,
like now, art is the healing property.

 

Here’s the original sonnet–one that more closely follows the rules! Composed in the spring of ’96, the embroidered version was gifted to me the following spring from Tricia Wick, who I think was graduating from high school that year. She would become a teacher, too, and later, serve on my school district’s board of education!

A Sonnet After the Flood (1996)

Winter was harsh this year, and if that’s not
enough, then came the flood that washed away
our parents’ basement.  It was just their lot
to find five feet of sewage in their way.
The first victim sometimes is hope itself;
they’re aging, tired, too much so to rebuild
what took three decades, an enormous wealth
of spirit, and two lively kids to fill.
But what looks like a winter of despair
turns into something else when, looking up
the driveway, they see answers to their prayers.
Children with shovels, strangers in pick-ups.
Next time we hear the talk, “Our kids are doomed,”
we’ll think of these and note how faith resumes.

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#363: These Trees

These trees are about to explode. Every
year I attempt to catch the moment and
every year I miss it. This year, outside
in the yard every day, time to kill, I
look up to see what’s happening. They’re close
to leafing, I can almost hear it. You
can see, in some of them, little clusters
of stuff beyond branches, not yet leaves, but
something like that, fit to burst. I love these
trees. In the spring and in the summer I
love them, but in and around October
we are buried and it takes us sometimes
until the end of the year to dig out from
under. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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