Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Learning to Read

A good meditation as school begins.


I teach “Freshman Comp” to first year college students. One of the readings with which we begin the year is the passage from The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, when he describes how he learned to read, and how important it was to him. Douglass was a slave; the wife of his master began to teach him, and then her husband stopped her.  He said that slaves should not learn how to read; reading gave them too many ideas! There’s much more to this narrative – you should read it!

I believe that most of us take our ability to read for granted.  We shouldn’t; it’s one of the keys to freedom – freedom on all levels.

I grew up in a household where both parents were readers. I remember how eager I was to learn to read. I would pester my mother to read to me until one day she said “I can’t wait for you to learn to read, so you can read these books yourself!”   I totally agreed.



Here’s a poem I wrote about learning to read. It’s not philosophical at all!



Pick it up and read,

sang the child’s voice beyond the wall.

The first word was SAID.

Three children –

a boy and two girls,

played with a dog and a cat.

White children with brown hair

whose plain names excited me

to hear in the air from my own mouth.


I had trouble telling

through from thought,

though from thorough.


My father picked me up at school.

We walked by the statue of Saint Agnes,

through the cement arch

from schoolyard to street.

I thought about knowing how to read SAID

though, by itself, it was lying alone in a corner,

but put it behind someone,

and it opens its mouth to a thorough coverage

of the news of the day.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Julie Zickefoose and the Bobcat

Julie took this photo in her back yard in Whipple, Ohio.

I have been following her blog for several years.  She's a wildlife painter and a poet and a naturalist and a bird/bat rehabber. She's also married and the mother of two teenagers and a loveable Boston Terrier named Chet Baker.

Her blog is so interesting!   The latest entry is about the appearance of this bobcat in her back yard.
Her narrative, and her photography of this event just enchanted me.

You can find it here:

About a month ago, she had some great entries about rehabbing a fledgling Black-billed Cuckoo.

Here he/she sits, just ready to fly back into the wild:

Anyway... I highly recommend this delightful woman and her blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

In the Heaven of Hopscotch

The Daily Prompt for today, which sometimes gets me writing, is Youth.  So much to say! 
What came to me to post about was one of those childhood games: Hopscotch.
Seems that it has been around for centuries.

Anyway, here's a poem I wrote about my memory of playing it :
  In the Heaven of Hopscotch
It is always two o’clock on a June afternoon
School is out
And I’m standing in the middle of Gay Street in the broad shade
Under a large full,
never pruned maple tree,
Gay Street near Everhart,
in front of a large lawn
where Kathy Corcoran
draws the hopscotch map
in chalk
on the macadam street.
I’m wearing the cotton sleeveless blouse my favorite – white with vertical stripes in rainbow colors.
I know that at home my mother, off from work for the summer,
 energetic and serene, is making peach cobbler for supper,
and my father will be home at 6.
They are always 42 years old,my parents,
and that a box of Whitman’s floral mints
– my favorite candy –
sits on the dining room table.
No verb exists in its own moment

Friday, August 19, 2016


These Hostas are burning up.  Last year I had them planted in the courtyard in full sun.  They looked beautiful this year until the heat and direct sun got to them.

Then, there's this Lupine which barely grows and won't bloom. It's not getting enough sun.

Then, there's this Pineapple Sage, which is lovely and bushy but won't bloom. It's too much in the shade.

Then , there's this Liatris ( otherwise known as Gayfeather) which has barely grown and not bloomed. It too needs more sun.


I am in the process of switching:  moving the Hostas from the full-sun center of the courtyard to the shadier sides, and moving the sun-hungry plants to their place:

They all look very shocked by the transplanting but hopefully they will establish themselves and thrive.  I'm not done yet.  Nine more Hostas to move.

transplanted Pineapple Sage  and Agapanthus, next to sunburned Hosta

Transplanted Lupine and Balloon Flower

Transplanted Shasta Daisies and Liatris ( these two weren't in the courtyard garden before)

I'm working from 6:30AM- 7:30AM and from 6:30PM to 8PM each day.

Will try to post more after I'm finished.

School has started. The Freshmen came today.  I meet with my group of them tomorrow.  The upperclassmen arrive on Sunday.  First full day of classes for everyone is Monday, August 22.

Three full months of summer vacation gone!  The days went peacefully, but they went.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What else happened in July? ( the last installment of this series)

Werenskiold, "The Funeral"
Three Funerals


The first funeral , July 29,was for a woman named Joyce, a coworker whose husband is also a friend. Joyce died at age 70 of a brain tumor that was first diagnosed in January. She probably had it longer than that, but the dizziness she experienced  kept being misdiagnosed as other things. I actually went to her wake, not her funeral, because the second funeral took place the same day as Joyce’s; both persons died the same day.

And the second person was a man named Louie, who was my cousin’s husband. Louie died at age 72 after  years of living with Multiple Sclerosis.  Louie had been a star athlete in his youth, and was diagnosed with MS when he was 40.

The third funeral took place the following week, August 6. This was for a man named Ron, the husband of one of my college classmates. Ron died at age 75 of pancreatic cancer. He had survived this cancer for 13 years – much longer than the usual survival rate, due to the skill of his surgeons and oncologists at Hopkins, and to the wonderful, vigilant care of his wife. In those 13 years, he got to see his only daughter marry and give him two grandchildren.


All three of these funerals were graced occasions for me to see friends and family members I hadn’t seen in a while, and to pray for the consolation of the grieving loved ones.  I believe all three of the deceased are in heaven; not so much a need to pray for them.

 I came to the realization of how close to my own age these three people were.

It made me more aware of my own age of 68 as “ready for retirement” or as on the way to the great beyond. Really, how much longer on earth do I have? I have said a number of times that I don’t want to live to be 90, as my parents did, when I would be blind, demented, and incontinent. Even though my legs and feet and back and hands and arms still work well and work without pain, and I can still read and drive and climb stairs and week the garden on my hands and knees, I am partly blind and occasionally incontinent already.  And a “brain test” I took on Facebook showed me that my reaction time is already below normal. So maybe I have twenty more years, or ten more years. That’s all in the mind of God.

Do I have a poem to end these ramblings?


The Future                   by   Rainer Marie Rilke


  The future: time's excuse

to frighten us; too vast

a project, too large a morsel

for the heart's mouth.


Future, who won't wait for you?

Everyone is going there.

It suffices you to deepen

the absence that we are.                 (Translated by A. Poulin)


 Kathryn Stemwedel    "Funeral Procession"

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August Already : what else happened in July?

from July 20-22, my old friends Debbie and Barbara came to visit me in Emmitsburg.  They do this every summer, and we call the time our "Excellent Adventure."

This year we visited Surreybrooke Gardens, a privately owned garden near Middletown Maryland.

I chose this spot selfishly, because I wanted to see those gardens, and hoped my friends would like the visit as well.  It seems that they did.

Here are some photos:

for some reason, I am thinking today of Louis MacNeice's wonderful poem:

The Sunlight in the Garden


The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.


Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.



Friday, August 12, 2016

August Already - Poetry Retreat

What else happened between July 1 and August 11?

From July 7-15,

I gave a poetry retreat to our sisters in Evansville Indiana.  It was not  “writing poetry;” it was “praying with poetry.”

The process?  I used the scriptures that the Church set for each day, found a theme each day which emerged from them, and linked poems with that theme.

I picked three poems each day, gave them out to my retreatants.  I picked one of the poems each day, and we did a group Lectio Divina on that poem.   They liked it very much, from the responses they gave me.

Here is one of the poems:

Flickering Mind    by Denise Levertov


Lord, not you
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away -- and back,
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn.  Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow.
You the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?




Thursday, August 11, 2016

August Already; some reflections on politics

More apologies.  What happened between July 1 and now?

The American political conventions

Up front, I confess that I have voted Democratic in every election since 1972, win or lose.  There are always policies I oppose, but on the whole I still feel that the Democrats don't favor the rich the way the Republicans do.    And this time around, we have the phenomenon of Donald Trump.

I am going to post a few memes related to Trump and Christianity:

I am also cutting and pasting a Facebook post shared by one of my high school classmates:

"I don’t see it as voting for Clinton.

I see it as voting for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Voting Rights Act, Food Stamps, Minimum Wage, Union Rights, The Affordable Act, the Department of Education , National and Community Services Act, union activities by federal employees, environmental research at the the Department of Energy, USAID, intercity and hhigh-speed rail grants, Community Development Fund, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Corporation for Public Broadcasting Subsidy, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanites, a liberal majority on the Supremem Court for the next 30 years that will overturn Citizens United, plus whatever Senator Sanders can get done with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President.

If Trump is elected, all that is gone.

It’s not about Clinton. It’s about over 80 years of the progressive movement we’re in danger of losing because we’re not looking at the bigger picture."


Friday, July 1, 2016

More Escaping into Fiction

July 1 already. I've been out of school for seven weeks already. Between the three weeks out of town, I've spent the time in and on the garden, and baking, and grocery shopping, and packing up to move out of my present office at school and into another one, and reading.  Little or no writing, for which I feel guilty.

Lots of escape reading.  I really plunged into the three detective novels of J.K.Rowling, writing under the name of Robert Galbraith.  Her narrative style and plotting just draw me in. They are not as good as the Harry Potter novels, but they are gripping:

The first,  The Cuckoo's Calling, introduces the detective Cormoran Strike.

The second,  The Silkworm, continues with more ghastly murders:
The third, Career of Evil,  unfolds more of Strike's character, and the character of his intrepid sidekick, Robin Ellacott, and introduces a particularly nasty psychopath.
I'm going to cut and paste from the very perceptive review that Charles Finch wrote about it in the New York Times:
"What Rowling writes these days, under the pen name Robert Galbraith, are crime novels: the closest equivalent adults have to the apotropaic formula of childhood literature, parading the unimaginable in front of us and then solving it, stabilizing it. It seems clear, perhaps, that Rowling feels at home as a writer in a certain kind of consoling narrative. But it also seems clear that she’s honest enough to push back against the self-deceptions that lurk within it.
This feeling of resistance is what gives such emotional depth to “Career of Evil,” her gripping third novel about the private investigative team of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, which (especially in its subtle shift of focus toward Robin) achieves a new candor about the gap between solving crimes and repairing their damages.
The first two Galbraith books established Strike and Robin’s relationship. He’s a big, lumpy veteran who lost part of his leg during a stint with the military police in Afghanistan, astute but matter-of-fact and also very attractive to women, despite looking like Beethoven “with a buggered nose.” At the outset of the series, his one-man London detective agency needs some temp help, and Robin arrives. She’s beautiful, capable if a little shaky in her confidence, and soon enough indispensable..."
Again, I am resolving to be more faithful in writing here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My Summer Garden

I have not written in this blog for many weeks;  my mind has been occupied with the ideas from the conferences I’ve been attending.  But even more, it’s been occupied with my new garden, which is now displaying the fruits of my plantings and transplantings and plannings.

Here’s what it looked like in August of 2015:

And here's what it looks like now:
This doesn’t begin to show the transformation.   I’ll try to add more in another entry.
I made a diagram of my garden plan ( the space layout was already in place, but  my plan shows where I planned to place things)

I know it’s hard to read, but you get the idea of the scope of the project.

Monday, April 18, 2016

An Active and Personal Devil

When I saw that the "Today's Post"  prompt was “Closet” ,  I immediately thought of the closet in my bedroom of my childhood home.  I used to play in there occasionally; close the door and sit down in the dark and imagine all kinds of things.


In my later years, that closet shows up in this poem:


An Active and Personal Devil


It has been reported by the New York Times…that as technology increases, more and more people are coming to believe in an active and personal devil. - Miller Williams


The door was wood, with peeling paint

and a china doorknob

white,cracked, spider web of

black cracks, but not chapped.

The door was closed,

but not too hard to open.

The devil sat behind the door,

hunched over a table, hiding.

She was thin and young.

I asked her why and she looked at me

and did not answer.

I left her, but left the door ajar.

I felt in my shoulders

two red tomatoes, like organs of the body,

red balls, and furry.

They tell me to watch out,

that I’m letting my heart go.

Soon I see a small white closet

with a black tile floor.

In back of it waits a

thin cherry door, a hoard of

copper pipes.

I see the door leads to another country,

Backed up by a stone

In a deep summer forest.

Laminate, I think, no,


Enchanted Forest, by Myrna Stubbs
And the mythical beast, the Lamia:

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Breath of God

Today's prompt from The Daily Post  is  "Breath."

This poem by Denise Levertov speaks to me about the breath of God:

In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being

Birds afloat in air’s current,
sacred breath?  No, not breath of God,
it seems, but God
the air enveloping the whole
globe of being.
It’s we who breathe, in, out, in, in the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled — but only the saints
take flight.  We cower
in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly
on branches close to the nest.  The wind
marks the passage of holy ones riding
that ocean of air.  Slowly their wake
reaches us, rocks us.
But storms or still,
numb or poised in attention,
we inhale, exhale, inhale,
encompassed, encompassed.

Here’s a poem from my book Life List :

Merlin on the wire on Bayshore Road

The memory moves faster than the pen.
The merlin lands minutely on the wire,
But flashes off in sunlight as I near.

Behind my eyes are attics full of rooms
whose only access lies in photographs.
The merlin lands minutely on the wire.

That window overlooking maple trees,
where winter sunsets blazed in molten red,
It flashes off in sunlight as I near.

The snowbird that I rescued Easter day
lay stunned but blinking, heating up my hand.
The memory moves faster than the pen.

The morning kitchen silence breaks and hums,
The rubythroat appears, and chirps, and drinks,
he flashes off in sunlight as I near.

The face of one long dead begins to form.
I see his thick brown hair wave in the wind,
He flashes off in sunlight as I near.

The breath of God upon my neck, so clear
and sudden once in one of those close rooms…
The memory moves faster than the pen.

I reach into the ocean’s briny mouth.
My hand emerges empty, wet with tears…
The memory moves faster than the pen.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Leaping Greenly Spirits of Trees

Can't believe it's been so long since I wrote. 

I spent a number of hours rehearsing with the Lab Band at the Mount. Two of the students and the young professor who directs the band composed music to go with thirteen of my poems from Reconnaissance. Other students read the poems used by the two student composers, and I read the six poems that Mark used.  We put on this show for two nights - March 21 and 22.  It was an exhilarating and affirming experience for me.  I had never had anyone pay such close attention to my poetry!

Those rehearsals, and preparing for classes and marking papers, took me up to the Easter holidays.

At the very end of March, that next week, I was busy with my college alumnae reunion.  It's an all-class reunion; since my college closed in 1973, it is amazing that we still meet, but we do. I'm on the alumnae board, and so I get to go every year.  Over the years I have become friends with some marvelous women who were not even on the campus during the four years I attended.

Then, finally, April!

I had intended to write a poem a day in April as I did last year, but I have not been able to get down to it.  I don't exactly know why; I've had the time - more time than I had last year.  But I have been preoccupied with plans for the garden in the courtyard. Have spent many hours fantasizing about that.
Now I am finally able to get out there and plant some new things, and rejoice that the transplants from last year have survived and are emerging.

Then I've been escaping into the Matt Scudder novels - a detective series by Lawrence Block.

Now, I am trying to get back to writing. 

Again, I'm using the prompts from The Daily Post. Lately they have been one word prompts.

The prompt for April 9 was  "Green."

What came to mind for me was the wonderful color of green which now carpets the lawns and clusters on the trees.

I always think of e.e. cummings' poem "i thank you god for most this amazing day."

The first stanza:

i thank You God for most this amazingday: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

The leaping greenly spirits of trees where I live:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Things That Have Been in the Fire

Today's prompt on The Daily Post is "Object."   The object that came to mind for me was an Elephant Ear sponge.

How's that for odd?  Actually, I wrote about, and posted a Marvin Bell poem about this sponge in some blog here a number of years ago.  So I am posting it again.  I love this poem.

Here's the sponge:

Here's a potter using the sponge:
Here's the poem, by Marvin Bell:
Drawn by Stones, by Earth, by Things that Have Been in the Fire

I can tell you about this because I have held in my hand
the little potter’s sponge called an “elephant ear.”
Naturally, it’s only a tiny version of an ear,
but its the thing you want to pick up out of the toolbox
when you wander into the deserted ceramics shop
down the street from the cave where the fortune-teller works.
Drawn by stones, by earth, by things that have been in the fire.

The elephant ear listens to the side of the vase
as it is pulled upwards from a dome of muddy clay.
The ear listens to the outside wall of the pot
and the hand listens to the inside wall of the pot,
and between them a city rises out of dirt and water.
Inside this city live the remains of animals,
animals who prepared two hundred years to be clay.

Rodents make clay, and men wearing spectacles make clay,
though the papers they were signing go up in flames
and nothing more is known of these long documents
except by those angels who devine in our ashes.
Kings and queens of the jungle make clay
and royalty and politicians make clay although
their innocence stays with their clothes until unravelled.

There is a lost soldier in every ceramic bowl.
The face on the dinner plate breaks when the dish does
and lies for centuries unassembled in the soil.
These things that have the right substance to begin with,
put into the fire at temperatures that melt glass,
keep their fingerprints forever, it is said,
like inky sponges that walk away in the deep water.

– Marvin Bell

Maybe this poem came to me today because yesterday in my Modernity class I taught them about World War II and the bombing of Dresden.  This was in preparation for our class tomorrow on Slaughterhouse Five.

I'll try to talk more about this tomorrow.