Pennsylvania Remix

Today’s prompt is one the Robert Brewer often does near the end of a month of poetry: Take a poem from earlier in the month and remix it, revise it, recreate it. I sort of pooped out on my Pennsylvania poem half way through the month, so I am going to re-work that one today.

Our bones are made of ice and fire:
quartzite and anthracite,
and deep within our limestone soul
are vast and silent caverns.

Our ridges are furred with forests
of oak and locust, sycamore,
beech and hornbeam.

Our blood is borne in the waters
of the mighty Monongahela,
Allegheny, Susquehanna, the Ohio,
the Delaware, the Juniata.

We make our myths in the kiln and the forge,
steel and mining and the quiet industry of farms.
We honor and forget the ones who came before,
writing history as if it began
when our European ancestors
arrived to turn wilderness to profit.

This is the land of the Iroquois,
the Susquehannock, the Seneca,
the Shawnee, and the Lenape.

This is the land of Penn’s Great Experiment,
religious freedom and a rule of law
based on the councils of those whose land we stole.

We have much to atone for,
much to celebrate, much to grieve,
and much to redeem.



Waiting for the tornado warning to pass, fooling around in the basement stairwell. The boys thought the shine through my glasses gave me laser eye.

The Prompt today is to title a poem the name of a state or territory or province. I’m not sure how much I have to say about my state.


I think of quartzite. Lots of it.
Winking in the sun as if it has a message
to send in Morse code. And limestone,
the bubbled rock, prone to give way
in sudden sinkholes. And schist and mica
and the nuggets of limonite, compelling in their squareness.
South of here, the serpentine,
a stone that holds within itself
maps of Earth’s geologic history.

The woods are no longer Penn’s,
and really, they weren’t his to divide in the first place,
cutting and marking the places
where Manifest Destiny would make spaces
for colonists to conquer. Even my gentle Mennonites
were not blameless.

On this side of the Alleghenies,
everything runs to the Susquehanna,
and thence to the Bay, and then to the ocean.
Cabin creek begins as a spring somewhere
above us on the ridge, and flows right to the river.

(I can’t figure out where this is going, and I need to go to bed. So it’s a fragment tonight.)



Brewer’s prompt for the second day of National Poetry Month is a two-fer: Write a best case/worst case scenario poem. I can’t get Dickens out of my head on this one. I want to do a best of times/worst of times sort of thing. It’s only the second day, and I have left my poem until it’s almost too late to think.


There could be snow. There could be sun.
We could all live to a ripe old age,
or be mowed down by disease or accident
in our youth, or our prime, or our golden years.

There could be an extra cup of coffee tomorrow,
or no time for the necessary drug of the second cup.
We could change our ways and turn it all around,
or keep racing pell mell toward certain destruction.

We could save each other from our worst impulses
or we could drive each other into bad decisions.
We could choose at least the process of our fate
instead of letting it rule us and wreck us.


In the Dreamtime, Day 2

Last night’s dreams were like a spy novel. I am part of a resistance group trying to sabotage some sort of organization. I have been able to find my way into the neighborhood grid of the group we are targeting, but can’t seem to find my way out again. No surprise that I am dreaming of the Resistance in these days.

Several years ago, my word for the year was Bridge. It was a compelling image that stuck very closely with me for the year. This year, I think Bridge needs to again slip into the swirling mix of images and ideas that I am gleaning in this Dreamtime. As I experienced rather acutely on Friday night, a bridge is not only a symbol connection, for some people it is also a symbol of the way out.

Gratitude List:
1. Watching Nouka’s Pho revive a feverish young person, like a miracle, bowl by bowl. That was a glorious meal.
2. Cat under the Christmas tree
3. Singing as Resistance: Yesterday’s theme in church was Mary’s Canticle. How can we, too, tap into the power of poetry and song to give power and momentum to our current resistance to cruelty and injustice?
4. Making music with my siblings
5. The wisdom of my beloveds

May we walk in Beauty!

Christmas Eve Thoughts:
“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
—Omar Khayyám

“In our heart and soul we are each like Mary, holding the possibility for a birth that can change the world.” —Llewellyn Vaughan Lee,
Quote from A Prayer at the Winter Solstice (2012)

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
but let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune but do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
—Max Ehrmann 1927


Into the Dark, December 16

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

During the years between teaching jobs, when I spent winter in my house, I came to terms with December. I felt the way the quiet entered me, the way the darkness wrapped itself around the hollow, filling the spaces with gentle pools of shadow. I never completely overcame the sense of the loss of the sun, but I settled. I breathed. I cherished the inward call.

Now, it takes an act of will, a commitment to daily writing, reading, breathing, to get through to the Solstice and back out again. Every year, it’s a test. I have to keep up all the outer life while honoring the call to go inward. I have to keep juggling while finding that still space inside. And it’s possible. And it’s not a terrible thing–it’s a good challenge. But it’s hard, and it feels unnatural.

I’m imagining myself standing on one leg in the tree pose, with all the stillness and focus that offers, but also juggling six or seven balls at the same time. So today’s word, as jarring as it feels in the stillness of this season, is juggling. A few more days. Just a few more days. Then I can set some of those balls down and BE here in the space of winter.

Gratitude List:
1. My school’s choral program. I hope these kids have some sort of inkling about the treasure that they have in their choral director and the work she does. You should send your kids to my school just so they can be part of our choral groups.
2. The way those branches in the walnut tree, and the spaces between the branches, look like the face of a British badger. I used to be sad that we don’t have such badgers here, but this morning I noticed the one formed by the branches of the tree, protecting the farm, I suppose.
3. Injera. Our friend bought us a packet of nice sour injera yesterday. I suppose that means we’ll be cooking lentils and peas this afternoon.
4. Diversions
5. Good people who make good decisions to make the world better. There are still such people, despite the ruffians and scoundrels. There may be greedmongers, but there are goodnessmongers, too. Justicemongers. Purveyors of hopefulness. You are among them, I know. Thank you.

May we walk through the dark days in Beauty!

I’ll just leave you with this.
I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.
-—Mary Oliver, from “Angels,” Blue Horses

“We owe our children–the most vulnerable citizens in any society–a life free from violence and fear.” ―Nelson Mandela

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
―Margaret Mead

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
―Pema Chödrön

The Swan
by Mary Oliver

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

Stepping Toward the Solstice
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

We stand in the shadows.
Hold my hand.
The darkness suffocates.
Look this way,
to where the sun shines briefly
through a curtain of ice.
This. This one moment
will sustain us for the next steps.


Into the Dark, December 6

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

Break it up. Break it down.
Break the news. Break a heart.
Break into. Breakdown. 
Make a break. Take a break.
Fast break. Brake slow.
Brakes and brambles and briars.
Break out. Break up.
Break into.
Break a barrier.
Break a bad habit.
Them’s the breaks.

Break through.
Take a break.
Give yourself a break.
Day is breaking.

Today’s word is break. One little word can connote a wide spectrum of meanings. It shifts and shades and slips from one to the other with ease that confounds and startles. But boldly and baldly baldly defined, a break is a distinct moment, a sudden shift, leaving a line or a chasm between Point A and Point B. Today, I will Take a break, at least once, leaving Point A entirely behind for at least a short moment before I step onto Point B.

Gratitude List:
1. Mandalas
2. Doodling
3. Focus
4. Vast flocks of crows
5. Sunrise

May we walk in Beauty!

Thursday’s Word-Break:

“It is that holy poetry and singing we are after. We want powerful words and songs that can be heard Underwater and over land. It is the wild singing we are after, our chance to use the wild language we are learning by heart under the sea. To live this way is a cycle in itself, one meant to go on, go on, go on.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes

“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you?” —Jalaluddin Rumi

“If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in
the world and following the wrong god
home, we may miss our star.”
—William Stafford

“Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.”
—Octavia E. Butler

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
―Philip Pullman

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
―Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

by Martha Postlewaite

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.


Hymns and Harvest

A field of waving corn is part of the Field Hymns show now up at the Freiman Stoltzfus Gallery in Lancaster. Now until November 29.

Gratitude Twenty-Four:
The hymn sing at Freiman Stoltzfus’s Gallery in Lancaster. An annual event, Freiman and his friends bring in wooden benches to line the gallery, fill a table with a delicious appetizer feast, and invite musicians and a song leader and poetry readers for an evening of harvest celebration in this space filled with Freiman’s paintings. Looking a painting of a cornfield feels like the painting is hinting at the secret of the universe. Music and good food and beautiful words in the midst of these sublime paintings is a deeply spiritual experience. I fell so blessed and honored to participate.

May we walk in Beauty!

I wrote this poem for this year’s hymn sing (I need to acknowledge that the title is somewhat borrowed from a Jan Richardson poem, “And the Table Will Be Wide”):

The Table is Wide
(for Freiman Stoltzfus)

May your table be wide,
may your arms be laden
with the bounty of harvest,
may your heart be willing.

May your feast be filling,
may your beloved’s eyes
be filled with laughter,
may your table be wide.

May your doors be open,
may strangers be welcome
to sit at your table,
may your feast be filling.

May your heart be willing,
may stories flow like wine
poured into glasses,
may your doors be open.
May your table be wide.


Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?

Gratitude of Resistance Twenty:
Studying Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” with my students in AP Literature. It was one of those experiences where I didn’t spend as much time as I usually like on preparing a lesson plan. I just sort of presented them with the poem, and we read through it, and I worried (like old Alfred himself) that they were going to be so removed from Eliot’s time and world that I would just have to go old-school and explain things. When we’d finished reading, they just went at it. They covered everything–Point of View, sexual anxiety, setting, timidity and uncertainty, social anxiety. . .all of it. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. And as they were walking out, one student asked if we could keep talking about it. Umm–YES!

May we walk in Wisdom.


The Tender Hearts of Teenagers

Gratitude of Resistance Eight:
The UNICEF Club. These students put together a wonderful little party yesterday afternoon to raise money for disaster relief in the Caribbean. I’m really proud of them and their intention to do good in the world, to make life easier for others. They showed the movie Coco at the event, and lots of people got weepy when Miguel sang Hector’s song for Coco. I love these tender-hearted teenagers.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems, Uncategorized

Mist, Moon, Mist

As November 6 approaches, and amid all the squeamishness I am feeling about the privileged way we do politics in this country, I am thinking about the “right” to vote.

June 4, 1919: The 19th Amendment finally offered women the right to vote in this country.

Except. Only White Women. Women put their bodies on the line for this right. They went to jail. They were beaten. They were brutally force-fed during hunger strikes. They were called terrible names, and experienced social shaming that destroyed their reputations. And they were white women, and they fought for white women. Some of my heras from that fight were notably silent on the subject of race. Others actively campaigned against women of color being included in the mix.

On this hand over here, I honor them for their selfless and courageous fight. They saw their moment and they took it, and the world was at least a marginally better place for it.

On this hand over here, though: Is it a victory, really, if it actively marginalizes such a large number of us?

My heras have feet of clay. Fatal flaws. Lack of real vision and insight and completely human compassion. Still, their work paved the way. But not for all of us. Did it at least open the door for all of us?

The Snyder Act, in 1924, finally gave the country’s original inhabitants the right to vote, five years after white women could vote. And looking at the kinds of voter suppression that took place for African American people after white people finally passed the 15th Amendment, it’s likely that many Native American women didn’t vote until much later.

While the 15th Amendment in 1870 ostensibly gave African American men the right to vote, we don’t have to look so far back into the mists of history to see how recently the Voting Rights Act was passed, to REALLY give black people the right to vote. It was on 1965, two years before I was born, and I’m not that old. So, while my grandmothers could have voted if they’d wanted to (it was against their religious principles, so they didn’t), my grandmothers’ African American sisters couldn’t vote until they were in their forties or fifties.

So this year I won’t be posting any images of the white suffragettes marching for women’s right to vote, as door-opening as that period was, as sacrificial as they were. And I am having trouble celebrating any movement to bring about ACTUAL Democratic voting in this country while the Supreme Court can take away the voting rights of First Nations people in North Dakota, while unscrupulous people are suppressing the black vote in Georgia, while elderly black voters are removed from a bus taking them to a polling place. There are more stories. Look them up.

I will honor the intent of the suffragettes who fought for the right to vote, for the doors they opened, and I will truly celebrate the life and work of the tireless Congressman John Lewis, who nearly died in the fight to bring about the Voting Rights Act.

There will always be undemocratic forces in this country that try to garner power for their own ends, to control the people. Voting, and fighting for the voice of all people to vote, is part of the bedrock of the democratic process.  And I will speak out–and I beg you to speak out, too–for the rights of ALL Americans to vote for those who are chosen to speak for us in the halls of power.

Gratitude List:
1. Good fiction. I am listening to The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I don’t know why post-apocalyptic literature is so charmingly comforting in these difficult times. Perhaps it has to do with reminding me that things aren’t as bad as all that. Yet. Feel free to psychoanalyze me.
2. Speaking Truth to Power–all the people who do so
3. Cool fall days
4. The river, the river, the river
5. Magical, prayerful, contemplative acts

May we walk in Beauty!

Rhapsody Part 7 – Mary Oliver

If you are in the garden, I will dress myself in leaves.
If you are in the sea I will slide into that
smooth blue nest, I will talk fish, I will adore salt.
But if you are sad, I will not dress myself in desolation.
I will present myself with all the laughters I can muster.
And if you are angry I will come, calm and steady, with
some small and easy story.
Promises, promises, promises! The tongue jabbers, the heart
strives, fails, strives again. The world is perfect.
Love, however,
is an opera, a history, a long walk, that
includes falling and rising, falling and rising, while
the heart stays as sweet as a peach, as radiant and
grateful as the deep leaved hills.
“You either walk inside your story & own it or you stand outside your story & hustle for your worthiness.” ~BRENÉ BROWN
Duck, duck, goose.
Goose, goose, wren.
Mist, moon, mist.
–Beth Weaver-Kreider
“Live the question now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some day into the answer.” –Rainer Maria Rilke
“and if i hear one more time
about a fool’s rights
to his tools of rage
I’m gonna take all my friends
and I’m gonna move to Canada
and we’re gonna die of old age” –Ani Difranco