I was two years old when John F. Kennedy declared “we chose to go to the moon…and do other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Space exploration was woven into the background of my childhood, and it has always captivated me. So I was paying close attention last week as the Cassini spacecraft met its fiery end in Saturn’s butterscotch clouds. Cassini and its mission to explore Saturn, its rings, and moons seemed like a worthy subject for Michelle Barnes’s September ditty challenge from Carole Boston Weatherford.
It soon became clear, though, that writing an abecedarian about Saturn and the Cassini mission would be hard! It threatened to become a list of some of Saturn’s 53 named moons. Not giving up, I expanded my focus to include the whole universe and came up with this draft.
Astral bodies: comets, dwarf planets with eccentric orbits, frozen moons, glowing stars, haloes of hydrogen and helium illuminating jet black space, kindling wonder, launching dreams to mine the mysteries of nebulous interstellar dust, the Oort cloud, pulsing quasars, and rotating spiral galaxies tumbling through the universe, emitting visible and invisible wavelengths of light and X-rays, yielding amazement and awe, our zeal for discovery never-ending.
This picture, taken at the Highlights Foundation last year, popped up in my Facebook feed this morning:
What a magical few days I had there, spending time with Rebecca, Georgia and so many other Poetry Friday friends! It made me realize how far I’ve drifted from my poetry practice and how much I miss it. In “What to Remember When Waking,” David Whyte asks “What shape waits in the seed of you/to grow and spread its branches/against a future sky?” I love the endless possibilities contained in this question. With renewed resolve, I can’t wait to find out.
“What to Remember When Waking”
by David Whyte
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.
What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.
Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?
This week I’ve been reading poemcrazy: freeing your life with words (1996) by Susan Goldmsith Wooldridge. I found this book as I was scrolling though my Twitter feed a few weeks ago. If you aren’t familiar with it, go find it now. You won’t be sorry.
Sometimes writing poems does drive me crazy, but this book makes you fall-in-love crazy about poetry. Wooldridge is a cheerful, enthusiastic teacher. In the first section of the book, “Following Words”, she urges us to collect words and “create a wordpool.” “The great thing about collecting words,” she writes, “is they’re free; you can borrow them, trade them in or toss them out.” Each short chapter is followed by suggestions for practice. This draft grew out of those suggestions.
The canary sun sets the sky aglow, whispering pink at the edge of day like a conch, whispering the memory of ocean waves.
Please be sure to visit Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, & Rhyme for the Poetry Friday Roundup. And to all my friends around the country who are facing hurricanes or fires, please stay safe!
This fall I’m teaching a six-week exploratory course on gardening to 4th and 5th graders. Six weeks isn’t much time, but we’ve already suspended an avocado pit in water, planted oregano, and brainstormed a list of questions we want to answer. Later today we’ll be planting potatoes and next week we’re starting herb gardens.
In addition to all these seeds sprouting, I’d like some writing to blossom during our course. A “things to do” list poem is a form we can collaborate on, and lends itself nicely to a short time frame. Here is a poem I drafted to use as a model.
Things to do if you’re a seed…
nestle into rich, warm soil soak up plenty of water swell like a sponge split your coat plunge thirsty roots deep into the earth poke an eager stem into the air sprout feathery leaves drink up the sun’s shimmering rays
Yesterday was National Root Beer Float Day. I love that there is a National day for almost everything, and I was especially happy to have an excuse to make a root beer float. When we were little, my sister and I spent a lot of time with our grandmother, especially during the summer. Her house was surrounded by shady maple trees that kept us cool, but on sweltering afternoons, nothing beat the heat like a root beer float.
Grandma had tall pink plastic tumblers that were reserved for these warm-weather treats. Joanie and I got them from the cupboard while Grandma took the ice cream from the freezer and the cans of root beer from the fridge. She scooped two precise balls of Sealtest vanilla into each cup. Then she slowly poured in the root beer, trying to prevent streams of bubbly foam from erupting over the rim.
We sat together at the kitchen table and sipped as the icebergs of softening ice cream dissolved into crystal-coated blobs. We laughed at the foamy mustaches on our upper lips. Grandma never threw anything away, so we used long-handled, red plastic spoons from Carvel’s to scoop out the last remnants of the ice cream from the bottom of the cup, savoring the creamy blend of sweet and sharp flavors, the perfect antidote for a hot summer day.
Those plastic tumblers are long gone, and I don’t think Sealtest Ice Cream is even made anymore, but that didn’t stop me from savoring a root beer float yesterday. It was just as delicious as I remembered.
My week has been filled with birds. (If you’re a frequent reader, you might be asking yourself, “What else is new?”) At the beginning of the week, I made may way to a new Audubon Center near my home for an early morning bird walk. Then I finished Mozart’s Starling (which I wrote about here). I really loved this book. Haupt ends by deftly weaving the threads of her starling Carmen, Mozart, and artists of every stripe into a reflection on the nature of creativity. “And what is this wild summons?” Haupt asks. “To listen with changed ears and sing back what we hear.”
Inspired by these words, here is a tanka filled with the sounds from my week.
As the last stars fade, robins and cardinals sense dawn’s approaching warmth. Trills and cheeps float from treetops chasing away night’s shadows.