It was silent in the city
when the cracks began to form
in the evening late one summer
when the concrete was still warm.
While it’s business as usual for the adults (who are distracted and buried in their cell phones) the kids definitely know something is up. From “distant hills outside of town,” a wondrous wind blows in “a sudden rush of green,” a swirl of energy that spreads seeds everywhere.
At the same time, animals slowly emerge from deep in the forest. Squirrels, rabbits, owls, chipmunks and beavers roam together under a moonlit sky, instinctually drawn to what is happening in town.
Under cover of darkness, flocks of birds disseminate seeds for rooftop gardens, and with the welcome nourishment of steady rain, green saplings take root along the streets, shoots of grass border the sidewalks, and a vacant parking lot becomes fertile ground for seedlings.
The animals are busy too. A beaver builds a dam in the city square fountain, turning it into a pond for tadpoles and fish. At daybreak, early risers watch as an eagle builds a nest atop a park statue. They soon hear the first cry of a hungry baby bird. Miraculous!
With the full morning sun, “the sky turned azure blue,/and everywhere the children played the city grew . . . and grew.” The once dull gray city of concrete and steel has now been transformed into a bright, colorful haven of plants, trees, flowers, window boxes, and pure joy.
Do you remember the first time you were entrusted with an important “job” by your family and feeling a real sense of responsibility?
For five-year-old Ernestine, it was when her mama asked her to deliver two jars of milk to their neighbors in the holler. She would have to set off alone at dawn to walk through dense thickets and overgrown vines, all while hiking up and down a winding mountain path before climbing through a barbed wire fence. Not to mention the possibility of encountering wild animals. No small feat!
This beautifully told story, set in 1940’s Maggie Valley, North Carolina, brims with heartwarming goodness and has the feel of such classics as Steig’s Brave Irene and Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains.
“For the whole world was holy,/not just parts of it. The world was the Book of God./The alphabet shimmered and buzzed with beauty.” ~ Barbara Crooker (“The Book of Kells: Chi Rho”)
Happy Almost St. Paddy’s Day!
Today we’re channeling our inner green with a little Irish breakfast and two food poems from Barbara Crooker’s new poetry collection.
The Book of Kells(Cascade Books, 2018)is Barbara’s eighth book, a masterwork of stunning, exquisitely crafted poems that left me breathless with awe and an even more acute yearning to visit Ireland again.
In addition to meditations and musings on the world’s most famous medieval manuscript (four lavishly decorated Gospels of the New Testament in Latin), there are observations about the Irish countryside, its flora and fauna, as well as personal reflections on time well spent during her two residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.
Barbara marvels at the beauty and singular magic of the Emerald Isle, whether blackbird, swan, lake, fuschia, wind, rain, the colors of autumn leaves (thank you, fairies), or “the bright splash of daffodils.” Ever present, profoundly human, she writes with an open, generous heart, reminding us to pay close attention to small miracles: “The rain’s thin music has set the world humming.” (“What is this world, but the body of God?”)
And of course I love that Barbara always knows just how to bring the delicious:
A full-time French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and author of the popular eat. live. travel. write. blog, she runs after school cooking classes twice a week for 7-14-year-olds called Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics. They meet in the science lab to whip up such classic favorites as macarons, madeleines, pains au chocolat, and baguettes. They make short crust and choux pastry from scratch, and with proper knife skills, chop, slice and dice fruit and veggies to make berry galettes, ratatouille, steak frites, and beef and carrot stew.
So what makes this particular kids’ cookbook a standout among the zillions of others?
By invitation of Poetry Friday host Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core, we are joining today’s celebration to honor notable women. I so admire and respect Maya Angelou, a true Renaissance woman who lived many lifetimes as a poet, autobiographer, playwright, producer, director, actor, singer, dancer, editor, lecturer, civil rights activist, and fierce advocate of strong women.
Her landmark autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings(1969), made her a prominent spokesperson for African Americans and set a precedent, enabling formerly marginalized black female writers to publicly discuss their personal lives. This book and her four subsequent autobiographies are among the most powerful and transformative books I’ve ever read.
Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.
Today, Dr. Angelou is celebrated as an icon of gender equality and social justice, a humanitarian who led by example, promoting peace, inclusion, unity, tolerance, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and love.
I can’t think of any other modern female poet with a greater gift for oral recitation. She was truly a master of the spoken word — her deep, melodious voice so rich with the joy and pain of vast and varied experience, hard-earned wisdom, and steadfast conviction. She held audiences spellbound at her readings, which many considered moral and spiritual awakenings. All this, from a once mute girl, whose love of poetry, literature, and language enabled her to overcome childhood sexual trauma.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Some of her poems have indeed become anthems. It’s no wonder she was asked to deliver an original poem (“On the Pulse of Morning”) at President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. She was only the second person in American history ever honored in this way (Robert Frost read at JFK’s inauguration in 1961).
Her “public poems” redefined poetry for many, prompting the reluctant to open their minds and listen. Her words had the power to move the masses, even as they touched humble hearts.
The honorary duty of a human being is to love.
A few years ago, I shared “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem,”which she wrote for the White House Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in 2005. It remains one of the most well-visited posts at Alphabet Soup.
I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.
Today I’m sharing “A Brave and Startling Truth,”which she wrote for the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of the United Nations (1995). It’s a timeless poem, especially relevant in our current political climate. What would she say, I wonder, about all the hate and divisiveness in our country today? Probably this:
Don’t just complain about the problems you see and do nothing; roll up your sleeves and get to work finding solutions and remedies. We do a disservice to our children and to the future by not addressing the problems that confront us. Nor should our efforts for change be thwarted or stifled by the obstacles arrayed against us. We must steel ourselves with courage and perseverance and battle on for what is right.
How sorely we need her words of hope right now, her call to action! How empowering to know that as human beings, we have the freedom and ability to choose good over evil.