to keep you warm

I just got word that school will be out again tomorrow. I’m curled with corn bags and blankets in my tiny apartment, enjoying a hot bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Winter is redeemed.

Here’s my recipe — a guaranteed cure for the winter blues.

3 T butter                                        16 oz chicken or veggie stock

1 chopped onion                                2 stalks of celery

2 lg cans of diced tomatoes              2-3 carrots

2 T parsley                                       1/2 t thyme

3 oz cream                                       salt & pepper

I put the onion (and usually a clove or 2 of garlic), carrots, and celery in the food processor to make sure they are very finely chopped, then saute the veggies in butter until they are fragrant and soft. Then, I add the tomatoes and simmer until everything is very tender (30ish minutes). When this base has cooled a bit, I run it back through my food processor until I get the consistency I like, then it goes back on the stove. The stock, cream, and seasoning go in last & get simmered until everything looks bubbly and delicious. Best served steaming & topped with crumbles of parmesan cheese.


like swans under a bridge

Here is a poem by Mark Jarman that I remembered a few days ago and have been thinking of ever since. Yeah, it’s about his daughters entering a new century, but I think it is a beautiful benediction. Find a place to love, return from every kind of suffering, and be complete in each season of life. I hope you dear swans will carry these prayers into the fresh year ahead the newness of each day.


Prayer for Our Daughters


May they never be lonely at parties

Or wait for mail from people they haven’t written

Or still in middle age ask God for favors

Or forbid their children things they were never forbidden.


May hatred be like a habit they never developed

And can’t see the point of, like gambling or heavy drinking.

If they forget themselves, may it be in music

Or the kind of prayer that makes a garden of thinking.


May they enter the coming century

Like swans under a bridge into enchantment

And take with them enough of this century

To assure their grandchildren it really happened.


May they find a place to love, without nostalgia

For some place else that they can never go back to.

And may they find themselves, as we have found them,

Complete at each stage of their lives, each part they add to.


May they be themselves, long after we’ve stopped watching.

May they return from every kind of suffering

(Except the last, which doesn’t bear repeating)

And be themselves again, both blessed and blessing.


new year

say there is a reason. or not. help me to let go of what is dead. and when you bring me out of the desert, prepare a place for me. something new, or something that has always been, waiting. let it be a small place with green grass I can rest in, where there is good work to be done with my hands, where I can sing and dance or be very quiet, where I can create and be created. let me have people there. let it be all of these things. or not. but prepare a place for me.

highlights from week 1 of my poetry unit:

We studied similes and metaphors this past week, and it was one of my best teaching weeks ever. I’m not sure if the kids liked it as much, but my heart felt good about reading them Silverstein and Dickinson and Hughes.

Here is a little gem I came across while trying to find good examples for the kiddos:


N. Scott Momaday

What did we say to each other
that now we are as the deer
who walk in single file
with heads high
with ears forward
with eyes watchful
with hooves always placed on firm ground
in whose limbs there is latent flight

And here’s what you’re waiting for, a poem one of my 6th graders, Dajanique, wrote about herself:

My hair is a dark night.

I have a mind like the

ocean so wide and deep.

My personality is as diverse as

all the colors in the rainbow.

I have a heart of gold

and I am like a ripe apple,

sweet and tender.

My head is a window

open to new things.

She saves me. But lest you be tricked into thinking I am actually teaching them something, here is another (more typical) example from Jahari (who is a “gifted” student):

My eyes is black like a night sky.

I am smart as a cow.

I like playing football.

We all like playing basketball.

My jumper is just like Kobe.

Kobe is like the best player and NBA.

When I grow up I would like to go pro.

I can cook like my daddy.


a prayer for release

I have been reading on Alice Walker’s newest collection of poetry, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing. I felt that with a title like that I could not pass it up. The poems are minimal but hearty with honesty that doesn’t make you work at them but rather sits back with you quietly and says, “yeah, I’ve been there too, and it was like that.”

Here is a piece of one (Word Has Reached Me) that’s been circling my brain like a prayer. She wrote it about the death of an estranged family member, I think, but I feel its words in other ways, too.


Let go, let go

into the soothing river


I said to you

& you


as though

you were considering


. . .

Let go. Off into the river

channel. Let go.

All is well.

The love we shared as children

is not lost, though we have been.

Let go.

Let go.

Let go.

This movie just kicked my ass. hard.

I don’t know how historically accurate it is or whatever, but it was beautiful. I think if I had 3 free passes to travel back in time and mess with stuff, I would use one to go back and give John Keats a big dose of antibiotics.

Bums in the Attic

Every day we stop what we are doing and take 15 minutes for “Silent, Sustained Reading” (S.S.R. — which sounds more like sea vessels than fun), and it is my favorite part of the day. We do it right before lunch, when I am in dire need of a second wind, and no one is allowed to talk. We just bask in the glory of the written word, and in the name of teaching by example, I get to read, too! Today I finished The House on Mango Street, so I thought I’d share a favorite vignette:

I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works. We go on sundays, Papa’s day off. I used to go. I don’t anymore. You don’t like to go out with us, Papa says. Getting too old? Getting too stuck-up, says Nenny. I don’t tell them I am ashamed–all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can’t have. When we win the lottery . . . Mama begins, and then I stop listening.

People who live on hills sleep so close to the stars they forget those of us who live too much on earth. They don’t look down at all except to be content to live on hills. They have nothing to do with last week’s garbage of fear of rats. Night comes. Nothing wakes them but the wind.

One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.

Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.

Rats? they’ll ask.

Bums, I’ll say, and I’ll be happy.

“The monosyllable of the clock is loss, loss, loss unless you devote your heart to its opposition”

This weekend is Clarksdale’s annual Tennessee Williams Festival (he lived here with his grandpa a while as a child), and one of the main events was this afternoon — a showing of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Williams wrote the screenplay (one of only a few that was meant directly for film [though it does still feel a bit like a play]) in 1957, but nothing ever came of it, and it was forgotten for about 50 years. The director of the film, Jodie Markel, is in town for the weekend, and she spoke to us before the movie. She oozed passion for Williams all over the audience, and now I may be in love with her (perhaps I have a thing for redheads?). She’s originally from Memphis, and she spoke about finding herself in Williams’ characters ever since she played Laura Wingfield in 9th grade drama, and then she proceeded to give an impromptu lecture about loss, women who breaking convention, the Old South in conflict with the New, Williams’ non-traditional narrative structure, and all of his characters who are just trying to find a little goddamn truth, until I was transported back to Southern Lit, basking in the light of one Dana Chamblee Carpenter (this one’s for you, Dr. C). And my heart remembered what it loves. All the talk of truth and loss and trying to figure out what the hell to do with life struck me to the deep heart’s core such that I cannot do anything with my tiny bit of free time this weekend but devour as much Tennessee Williams as I can find on my bookshelves.

Here’s the movie trailer, if you’re interested:

So, yeah, it ends with the two of them embracing in the sunset, but it’s not what you think. It isn’t mushy or romantic at all. It’s about the outspoken but honest heroine, Fisher, suffocating as a young woman in the South and the male lead, Jimmy, growing up to realize that a little bit of honesty in the world is worth infinitely more than some hot car-sex. In fact, I never really got the feeling that they were crazy about each other — they just tell each other the truth. As they pull each other close in the final scene, the movie ends with this line: “No one will ever love me, but you could get used to me, Jimmy.” Refreshing, right?

The film was very beautifully done, though not the kind that will ever be viewed by the masses (and it never should be because brainless masses would never give it due credit). Markel poured her heart into it and produced a film that is almost identical to the original script and exists in its own time. I recommend it (and it’s on netflix instant watch!).