Poetry Friday: Farewell to My Students

What to say this week? My heart hurts. The images of pain and anguish are unbearable. But we must bear them. So much has been lost. We must acknowledge this loss and take steps to repair the damage inflicted by events of the past week. Make that events of the past four centuries.

I was filled with thoughts of all this loss as I searched for a way into the challenge Heidi Mordhorst set for our Sunday Night Swaggers this month. Heidi’s original challenge was to write a poem of farewell to our students, but she then encouraged us to say goodbye to whatever we needed to. In spite of, or perhaps because of, what has unfolded in our country this week, I do want to say this to my students.

Lost & Found

By the beginning of June,
the lost and found bins
are overflowing
with coats
and sweatshirts
and lunchboxes.

But this year,
those bins aren’t as full.
This year,
we lost
days,
weeks,
months,
of time together.

As we tiptoe cautiously
into summer,
these are my hopes
for you:

Lose your Google password.
Go outside.
Find a patch of grass.
Lie down.
Look up.
Find a cloud shaped
like a cat,
or an elephant,
or a whale.

Lose the unfinished homework.
Find a book that pulls you in.
Read for hour,
after hour,
after hour.

Lose your sorrow
over missed parties
and games.
Find joy
chasing butterflies,
blowing bubbles,
eating ice cream.

Never lose your memories
of our time together.

I will never lose
my memories of you.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Fellow Swagger Margaret Simon is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Reflections on the Teche. Read what she’s saying goodbye to there, then visit our partners in poetry to read more poems of farewell.

Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe

Poetry Friday: “How to walk around the block” by Michael Salinger

When school closed in March, there were no answers to a million questions. We had no idea how long school would be closed. No idea if distance learning was possible. And if it was, who knew what it would look like. There was one thing I did know: I needed my most trusted books and resources with me at home. One of the first books I put pulled off my shelf was Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genresby Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. I know most people in the Poetry Friday community are familiar with this book (and many have their own poems published in its pages), but if you don’t know this book, do yourself a favor and order it today.

Just as I suspected, I have turned to Amy’s gentle wisdom about writing many times over the past ten weeks. Recently, as the weather has turned from a cold, dreary spring into glorious summer-like days, cabin fever has started to set in. I could sense a restlessness in my students (and in myself, for that matter). They needed an adventure.

Amy’s book is full of poems to inspire and strengthen student writing. In it, I found the perfect poem to launch my would-be travelers on an exploration of their neighborhood in Michael Salinger‘s poem, “How to walk around the block.” Michael’s poem invites readers to see their neighborhood, and themselves, with fresh eyes. My student’s couldn’t wait to go for a walk around their block to find what awaited them out there.

“How to walk around the block”
by Michael Salinger

Wear shoes.
If they have laces, make sure they are tied.
Pick a direction and go.
Double foot hop
over sidewalk cracks,
then stop and pick up a rock.
No snooping in your neighbor’s mailbox
(You’ll get in trouble if you get caught.)
Woof bark woof bark woof bark woof;
ask before you pet that dog.
That stick could use a new location.
Remember,
where you started is your destination.
‘Cause ’round the block
is a circle
(even if it’s really a square).
Arriving back at your front door,
you’ll be a different person
when you get home.

© 2018, shared with permission of the author

Many of you have also been writing #PoemsofPresence this month. Using Michael’s poem to encourage my students to find their own #PoemsofPresence fills me with hope as we head into a summer filled with unknowns. I hope we all can see the coming months as a time of discovery. Discoveries about our block, our neighbors, and most importantly, ourselves.

Thank you to Michael Salinger for allowing me to share his poem, and thank you to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for her wonderful book. Please be sure to visit Mary Lee Hahn at A Reading Year for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

One of my recent discoveries on my block.
a hawk feather on the path
reminds me
I’m not the only one
who calls this place home.

Poetry Friday: Poems of Presence

I’ve been writing Poems of Presence along with several other Poetry Friday pals over the past few weeks. These haven’t been quite as stressful as my April poetry project, and I’ve started to view finding a topic for each day’s poem as if it’s a scavenger hunt. I suppose that is what all idea generation is, really. As often happens with me, my ideas get ahead of my and I run out of time. Hence this late post with no new poem. Instead, two #PoemsofPresence from earlier this week.

Unaware of social distancing,
a bobcat strides past my kitchen window.
I gasp at his presence.
He gazes up, blinks,
then continues on his way.
I am still at the sink,
my heart racing in awe.

This isn’t this week’s bobcat, but this photo was taken from my kitchen window.

fallen petals
mingle with snowflakes.
It’s hard to tell where
winter ends
and spring begins.

© Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please be sure to visit Jama Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: A Note from the Landlord

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means it’s time for another Sunday Night Swagger Challenge. This month, Molly Hogan challenged us to write an epistolary poem. Earlier this week, I discovered Audubon Alaska’s National Poetry Month Bird Poetry Corner, which had a different prompt for each week of the month. The final challenge was to

imagine nature coming indoors: Perhaps a thunderstorm in the attic? A flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the kitchen?

A few years ago, starlings built a nest in our bathroom vent, so I decided to combine these two challenges and write those squatters a note.

To the starlings nesting in the attic:

I kept telling my husband to fix that loose vent cover.
Of course he didn’t. Then you moved in
and it was too late.
You worked hard scavenging grass
and pine needles for your nest.
I’m sure you’re all warm and cozy up there,
right above the shower.

How many nestlings do you have?
Sometimes I can hear them cheeping,
begging for a meal. 

Did you set up housekeeping in the rafters
or in a box of old clothes? I’ve been tempted
to climb up the rickety stairs to peek,
but I don’t want to disturb you.
Please try not to make too much of a mess.
I’ll clean everything up after your babies
have fledged.
Don’t get too comfortable, though. Before
next spring, that vent will be repaired!

Sincerely,
Your landlord

Please be sure to visit Elizabeth Steinglass for this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup! Also, find out who my fellow swaggers wrote to at their blogs:

Molly Hogan: Nix the Comfort Zone
Lind Mitchell: A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst: My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon: Reflections on the Teche

Praise Song for the Natural World

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, it’s time to put the month in perspective (my OWL for 2020). Twenty-four poems in thirty days is short of my goal of posting a poem every day. BUT, it is more than I have ever managed in April. I’m not going to bore you with reasons or rationales for why I didn’t post everyday; you know them all. What I will say is that even on days I didn’t post, I was writing, reading, thinking, observing. In other words, I was being a writer. I have learned much during this month of writing that I will strive to carry forward. Thank you to everyone who followed along on my meanderings. And congratulations to everyone who completed 30 poems in 30 days. I admire your perseverance!

This poem was inspired by and is modeled after Elizabeth Alexander’s stunning “Praise Song for the Day,” which she read at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Praise Song for the Natural World

Each day, wild creatures go about the work of survival.
A vibrant bluebird flits through the undergrowth
in pursuit of an alluring female.

High in a pine, a nesting hawk surveys
the countryside, screeching in protest
at a mob of pesky crows.

All around, color is brightening the drab world.
Brilliant yellow dandelions are open for business
and hungry bees buzz joyously among them.

Violets sprinkle the hillside like confetti
And every shrub and tree is wrapped
In a fine haze of green or pink or red.

In the pond, clumps of frogspawn
are silently, mysteriously on their
journey of transformation.

Praise song for their confidence, their
optimism in the face of a fickle world,
for their honest pursuit of life.

Praise song for every blossom, every nest, every egg.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

 

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 29: A Flamboyance of Flamingos
April 27: A Northwoods Lullaby
April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: A Flamboyance of Flamingos

One of the challenges posed by Audubon Alaska for its month-long Bird Poetry Corner was to write an ekphrastic poem. They provided a photograph to use as inspiration, but I recently saw this video of flamingos let loose in the Denver Zoo and knew a flamingo poem was about to take flight. Watching this video was also inspiring. Audubon did paint this stunning, if somewhat stern looking, flamingo:

 

John James Audubon, 1838

A flamboyance of flamingos
march in formation
like an army of wind-up tin soldiers.
As they parade, heads are bobbing
up and down
on sinuous necks,
pivoting from side to side
seeking their one true love.

Suddenly, their wings rise,
And a multitude of roses
burst into bloom.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 27: A Northwoods Lullaby
April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: A Northwoods Lullaby

A Northwoods Lullaby

At night in the cabin loft,
I lie still as the wind
whispers through the pines
Now and then a loon cries
out from across the lake,
or an owl announces himself
from deep in the timber.

Beneath these night noises,
water laps at the rocky shore
slish slosh, slish slosh.
Their steady melody lulls
me to sleep.

The world will always serenade
those who take time to listen.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

English: NPS Photo / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 26: A Paddling of Mallards
April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: A Paddling of Mallards

This morning I came across a Facebook post from Audubon Alaska about their Bird Poetry Corner. How had I missed this? They have had a new prompt each week in April. Now I have a prompt the last five days of National Poetry Month! Today’s poem is my response to Week Four:

Below you’ll find a list of words that relate to nature. These words are your poetry prompts this week. You can use these prompts in several different ways: You can choose a single word and build a poem around it as a topic. You can choose a handful of words (about five would be good) and use those words to kick off different lines or verses. Or you can challenge yourself to write a single poem with all of the words included in it.

tree, birds, feather, nest, droplet, moon, field, stream, forest, sunlight, energy, bloom, seed, chirp, buzz, spring, green, meadow, soar, free

There is a pond in the woods behind our house. It knows how to take care of itself, and we let it. We do try to keep a path cleared so we can walk down the hill and see what’s going on. Over the past few weeks, I’ve observed at least eight ducks living there. They inspired this poem.

A Paddling of Mallards

This spring, a paddling of mallards
has moved in on the far side of the pond.
They stay concealed, bobbing behind
a bloom of bright green pond grass.

I approach the pond on tiptoe,
careful not to step on a fallen branch
that will snap and startle them.

They sense my presence anyway.
Before I can blink,
they launch into the sky,
seeking refuge in the trees.

I sit on a rock, quiet and still,
hoping they will return.
Other birds, red-wings and sparrows,
tolerate me.
Soon, the air is filled with their song.
But the mallards stay away.

I sigh, rise, and trudge back up the hill.
I want them to come back
to their hidden nests.
I imagine feather-lined
depressions of twigs
and leaves, filled with eggs,
harbingers of hope.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

The far side of our pond

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 25: World Penguin Day
April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

 

News From the Natural World: World Penguin Day

It’s World Penguin Day! What better day for a poem about penguins? I sometimes write acrostics to gather words and ideas for topics, but today I decided that I liked this acrostic well enough to share today.

Penguins promenade over a barren landscape of ice.
Elegant in black and white, they
Never fly. Instead when it’s time to eat, they
Glide gracefully through their frigid
Underwater hunting grounds, feasting on krill.
Indulging until full, they return to rocky
Nests to lay an egg. And
So
the world begins anew.

Draft © 2020, Catherine Flynn

John Webber, 1777 via The British Museum

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 24: Save the Birds
April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail

News From the Natural World: Save the Birds!

When I taught third grade, She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head, was one of my favorite pictures books to share with my students. They were shocked at the cruelty of birds being killed so women could have fancy hats. The book tells the story of Harriet Hemenway who, with her cousin Minna Hall, helped launch the Massachusetts Audubon Society. They were part of a larger movement that began in the late 19th century to protect birds and stop their wholesale slaughter in the name of fashion. Florence Merriam Bailey was another fierce advocate for the birds, and wrote one of the first field guides to American birds, Birds Through an Opera-Glass. This poem, which is still very much a draft, is a tribute to these determined women.

In the 1890s, feathered hats
Were all the rage.
Ladies wore them everywhere:
To parties, parks, the stage.

Some women were revolted,
They knew that it was wrong
To kill quails and loons for fashion.
Let them sing their song!

Harriet, Minna, Florence, too,
Spread word throughout the land.
Stop this ghastly craze, they cried.
Save snowy egrets! their demand.

They rallied all their friends,
They sounded the alarm.
Taking feathers to festoon your head
Does hummingbirds great harm.

Soon laws were passed and habits changed.
Flamingos and pheasants protected.
People still think birds are beautiful,
But not to be collected.

Draft, © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Previous “News From the Natural World” poems:

April 23: An Earth Day ABC
April 21: Nature’s Harmony
April 20: Crowns of Moss
April 19: Propagation
April 18: At the Pond
April 17: The Red Chair
April 16: Dear Venus
April 15: Listen
April 14: Ode to a Tide Pool
April 11: What Does A Bird’s Egg Know?
April 10: Clusters of Clover
April 9: Song of the Pink Moon
April 8: Jewel of the Jungle
April 5: Phantom of the Forest
April 4: To Build a Nest
April 3: Apple Cake
April 2: Specimen
April 1: Forest Snail