Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Poetry Jam - Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

Last night the coyotes yipped and yammered
Raced harvest moon across the ridge and yowled
Chased wary deer through bracken ferns
That stood yellow and curling in the moonlight

The windows were open to the night breeze
Cool air and nighttime drama swirled
Bringing me from a quiet sleep to listen
Burrowed deep in downy blanket and pillows

The cat sat sentinel on the window sill
Watching the nighttime branches sway
Twitching her tail at the occasional twitter
Of restive birds in the cedars – waiting

She knows that autumn’s turn has come
Each night she dashes through the door
Turns and swats her tail at dark danger
Shakes herself and circles round my legs

We are a pair the cat and I
We watch and listen together
Curl warm by the first fall fires
Feel the change that’s coming

- 9/25/13

October is coming on and there's a change in the air, on the wind, in the woods that border our little house. We're gathering close and watching nature shift toward the season. 

... shared with other writers at Poetry Jam ...

Image Credit: Harvest Moon Rising - Tim Trott

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Mag 187 - Elusive Bliss

elusive bliss

you cling to light
chase dappled sunbeams
round mottled tree trunks
over rustling goldenrod
toward western sun down -
then flee to the porch light
flutter wings and limbs
tap relentlessly against the pane
beat the back door’s swing
to rush headlong for the lamp
this light pulls you in
exhausts you as you come close
feeling deadly heat until
a mirror’s reflection distracts
it’s then that you stop
flitting close to the glass
seeing the mindless quest
for what it is and settling
harried and bedraggled
as the light is turned off
rest here in the dark
let body and soul still themselves
until the moonlight wakes
another urge to curl and fan
your wings anew 

shared with others at The Mag 187 - Magpie Tales

Image Credit - 'The Moth and the Lamp' - Cesar Santos

Wonder - R J Palacio

Every now and then, I still pick up a read that keeps me current with the children's and young adult literature that is coming out. This is one of those books that I would have gladly done in my elementary classroom as a class read-aloud. It's rife with topics and issues for discussion, strong enough with images that kids could 'doodle' their mental images of the characters and the story's events after listening to the short 'bullet chapters'.

When young August Pullman heads out to middle school from his cloistered home schooled past, he just wants to be like every other kid at school - ordinary. August, though, has been born with a severe facial deformity that surgeries and therapy have not 'erased'. Auggie stands out when he would dearly love to blend in  ... therein, lies the roots for this story of growing up and  learning about oneself.

August is such a likable character. Despite his profound facial deformity, he IS just a normal kid. If only others in his world would grasp that fact! Instead, all the pitfalls of negotiating middle school are magnified for him because he can't just 'blend in' while he figures out the 'tween years'. His appearance sets him front and center in his world and getting around that hurdle is his ultimate challenge. In his first year at middle school, he must learn to step away from the sheltering arms of his mom and dad and into a world of kids and adults with varying degrees of kindness, acceptance, pettiness, cruelty, pity, ineptness, social savvy, and on and on. Learning to negotiate his new world, sort through the various personalities, and work on his own self-confidence will make the reader cheer him on and shake their head over August's successes and failures.

The book is narrated by August and various other people in his life ... what develops is a full picture of August's school and family life. It's full of authentic experience, strong feelings and emotions, situations that challenge readers to think about how they act towards others and evaluate their own attitudes about friendship, acceptance of differences between people, respect, self-awareness, family dynamics, and being a mensch in a hard world.

R J Palacio has written a terrific book - her first. It sits right up there next to Maniac Magee or Stargirl or Loser. Jerry Spinelli move over. There's a new girl in town! Be kind and show her the ropes ! I think she's got a few more tales to tell.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Snapshot - Salem Architecture

My daughter and I visited Salem, Massachusetts this past week. It was a beautiful day, so we walked around the grounds of the Peabody-Essex Museum and explored the Faberge exhibit inside the main museum building. I am right in the middle of a great historical novel and the really old Puritan architecture of a few of the old houses just captured my imagination. Just imagine all the feet that kicked that door open because arms were loaded with wood for the fires. Who peered out those windows over the years watching neighbors and strangers pass by? Who lovingly tended those mullioned panes over the years or cared for those cedar shake shingles on the roof?  What inspired that red dooryard rose hedge? There is so much history right beside us as we walk through this life ... amazing, huh? Don't you wish you could time travel? I do.

Shared with others at Saturday Snapshot

Friday, September 13, 2013

Shadowbrook - Beverly Swerling

I've done it again - fallen done the rabbit hole of good historical fiction ! This time Beverly Swerling takes me deep into the frontier of colonial America from the Hudson Valley to the Ohio frontier, from the shores of Nova Scotia to the slave markets on Wall Street in New York City. All these scenes set the stage for the French and Indian War, in which Britain and France duked it out over the 'land rights' to North America and the Native Peoples played one side against the other in a last ditch attempt to save their own cultures.

Beverly Swerling writes an excellent book. Her research is excellent and her use of French and Native American language makes this book even more 'authentic'. The French and Indian War was such a complicated and richly woven period of intrigue. Not only was there great rivalry between European powers, but the native tribes were deep in competition for pushing tribal agendas on inter-tribal governance, territory disputes, policies on living with the European interlopers, and settling old scores with each other. To boot, the Catholic church had a toehold in the frontier lands because of the on-going attempts to convert the native peoples to Catholicism.  Swerling manages to build a rich cast of characters who take the reader in and out of all these various social and political scenes. In the process, she builds a story that places one smack dab in the middle of a turbulent and dangerous period of colonial history ... now, THAT'S my kind of book!

Central characters are a young Catholic woman bound for the Poor Sisters of St Clare's nunnery in Quebec. Nicole is torn between her attraction to young Quentin Hale, a legendary backwoodsman and her religious promise to give herself to Christ by taking her vows with the Poor Sisters. Hale's adopted brother Cormac Shea is a man who lives between two worlds. His mother is a native Potawatomi and his father is a colonial. She comes to the Hale Grant's estate, Shadowbook when Cormac is young and lives as Ephraim Hale's mistress. Shadowbrook sits in the vicinity of Lake George and the southern portion of the Adirondack Mountains, deep in the conflicted region where the French and Indian War would play out. Cormac and Quentin become 'brothers' over the years of growing up in these forests and travelling between the white colonial's world and the world of the native tribes. It is through their eyes that the story develops. Of course, Swerling has many other well-developed characters who come in and out of Cormac and Quentin's lives; they help build this complex tale. We always care deeply, though, how these two will weather the increasingly dangerous and bloody conflict that soon ignites the frontier between the French and British powers. What a read ...

I can hardly wait to see what I can find by this novelist after I finish a few other books on my 'to be read' list!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lost ... Poetry Jam


Lost… the Jets game tickets and accompanying bet.
The parent's anniversary fĂȘte
The children’s play in which they sing
The diamond and emerald engagement ring
The big deal
The corporate steal … all lost.

Lost … appointments with Sis to power shop
The time and money to island hop
Beach time with family on Cape Cod
A chance to make his peace with God
Her babies’ smiles
His lover’s wiles.

The keys to the garage and the PO box
Lazing by the pond skipping rocks
The girl on her way through the ‘glass ceiling’
The sight of his daughter that leaves him reeling.
The corner office with the view,
Keys to the executive washroom too … all lost.

Lost … people loved and barely known.
Peer and friend, worker, drone.
Up in smoke, fire and dust
Down in twisted skeletal rust
Wet from fire hose and tears.
Gone, exhumed, dried up, sere … lost.

Original draft written April, 2004
Revised draft – September 2013

 Mourning those lost ... 9/11/01
Shared at Poetry Jam


Artwork credits: Towers of Steel - by John Arelt
                          Visit www.AreLtArt.com to see more of this artist's work

Monday, September 9, 2013

Poetry Jam - Tales of the Hunt

Tales of the Hunt

Scrape the stone and make the dust
Gather up the deep red rust
Mix it with the bison blood
Make a paste that feels like mud

Gather round a blazing fire
Smoky meat drips on its pyre
Feast and then turn to the wall
Draw the hunt, tell to all

The rust of ages on those rocks
Will stay until a boy unlocks
A crumbling stone, an echo deep
A world released from a long sleep

Back when I was still teaching reading and social studies and 'all that stuff ' to youngsters, I found a book called First Painter by Kathryn Lasky.  The class was doing a bit of work on oral history and how it might have progressed from telling tales to written stories so I used the book to help the kids understand how the transition might have begun. 

I found some old pieces of brick and took them, some burnt wood coals, and my stone mortar and pestles to school and read the story with the children. I gave the mortar and pestles to the children when it was circle time and every time I paused in reading the story, the children carefully passed the mortar and pestles on to the next child so that everyone got a chance to grind the brick to ochre dust and the wood coals to black ash. Then, we mixed the black and red dusts with egg whites and let things dry up a bit to make paint paste.  A friend donated old slate roof tiles and each kid got a chance to make their own stone painting ... the kids were filled with awe at what they could create with the basics from the Earth. 

The minute I opened this week's Poetry Jam challenge, I knew I would write in some fashion about that magical day in the classroom. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fruitlands ... Saturday Snapshot

... this is where I spent my Saturday. Beautiful Fall weather with a beautiful view...

On a pretty ridge of land about thirty miles outside of Boston, Bronson Alcott and a group of mid-19th century intellectuals tried to establish a Utopian community called Fruitlands. They were going to try to create a 'heaven on Earth', living off the land, exploiting no animals or slave labour, teaching their children to work for an honest existence and strive for spiritual purity, and intellectual fulfillment. Their high ideals succeeded, but the community was a bust. Subsistence farming and the reality of the hard work it takes to make a farming community thrive was beyond these 19th century intellectuals. They lasted all of  six months, but their ideals served to fuel the abolitionist movement, early vegetarian concepts of nutrition, enlightened education theory for school children, and fodder for Louisa May Alcott's various novels. 

Years later, the property was purchased by a rich Brahmin society woman and turned into a museum ... today, there are walking trails, a sculpture garden, the original Alcott farmhouse and three other buildings that house Native American historical artifacts, Shaker artifacts, and a small art gallery that has a nice collection of Hudson River School artists' works and also a lovely collection of American primitive portraits. 

... the Alcott communal farmhouse originally called Fruitlands ...

... Bronson Alcott's study ... killer desk, huh? ...

... the attic room where Louisa May Alcott and her sisters slept during their time at Fruitlands ...

... my fave painting in the Hudson River School collection - a picture of Lake George in New York state ...

... my  fave piece of Shaker furniture in the new exhibit on Shakers that opened today ...

... a view up the hill  to a small Shaker farmhouse that was moved to the Fruitlands site ...

This post is shared with others at Melinda's blog West Metro Mommy Reads for this week's Saturday Snapshot photo share ... check out what others have posted.

Friday, September 6, 2013

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

This was possibly one of the most bizarre reads that I've ever stuck with ... to the bitter end. I read Gaiman's fantasy Neverwhere last year with an on'line group and loved its quirky characters and spooky/creepy/weird plotline. It was nothing compared to this tome!

So ... the premise of this book is that North America, the great wilderness is inhabited by the gods that the native peoples believed in and the gods brought by explorers, immigrants, castaways and slaves over the milennia. However, these ancient gods are feeling pretty threatened by the new gods that modern American civilzation has turned to ...

No longer are we hapless humans happy to kowtow to Christ, Thor, Anansi, Mami Wawa, Selene, etc, etc. We've got new gods to worship - those of modern media, Internet gods, the gods of commercialism and those gods are just as jealous and power hungry as the ancient gods, just as bloodthirsty, just as tricky and downright devious! Looks like there's a confrontation brewing!

Wrapped up in this brewing conflagration, is Shadow, our human protagonist. Shadow has just done a term in the state prison and is looking to head home to his wife and a job provided by a good friend, but the gods have other plans ... tragedy strikes and Shadow learns that his wife and best friend are killed in a highway accident. The road home for Shadow becomes a series of strange encounters with even stranger folk. Shadow comes to undertand that he is dealing with creatures from the heavens and the underworld, as he makes connections through dreams, bizarre meetings along the road, and in the air. Think of this book as 'Trains,Planes, and Automobiles' with a decidedly phantasmagorical bent !

Gaiman always has had a creative imagination! In this book, he uses it plus an encyclopedic knowledge of different cultural gods and goddesses to create strange comment on religion, faith, reverence and duty, courage and rewards.

Did I like it? Yes and no. It was real work reading this book. I had to Google a kazillion times to figure out who some of the characters were based on. I had to take breaks from some of the more bizarre encounters that Shadow made ... cookbooks are a great release, just sayin'. Ultimately, though, Gaiman drew me back. I couldn't help but want to see Shadow come out of this horrible chapter of his life on an even keel, headed for some sort of peace with himself, his past, and his spiritual mindset, and his future ... oh, and there was the matter of that strange disappearance and presumed murder ... yeah, that too.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Mag 184 - Sister Moon

Sister Moon

She steals the dreams from off my eyes
Rattles branches on the breeze
And climbs up to the treetop high
To whisper words and memories

I lie asprawl upon the bed
And watch her through the window glaze
She oft repeats what’s oft been said
Over and over for many a day

The words make clatter in my brain
Rustle sheets and chill the marrow
Until she quiets her harsh refrain
And softly makes way for the sparrow

That gentle flutter lulls me low
Whir of wings, a plaintive peep
And with the light of day’s first glow
I fall into the depths of sleep

-SM-L 9/4/2013

Shared with others at Tess's Magpie Tales

Painting: Dodos by Jeanie Tomanek

Monday, September 2, 2013

Poetry Jam - Walking Out

Walking Out

In evening light, step out and pad up the alley
Quietly pass the shuttered window of Zia Anna
Smell her pot of gravy and listen -
She’s praying her rosary, the beads clicking

Five doors down, a lace curtain wafts aside
Old Pietro shuffles out, moves toward his stool
He looks sideways at all passers by and puffs
Is it a ‘hello’ or a ‘go to hell, bastardo’ ?

Further on, the scooters lean the walls, looking
Sexy- waiting for soft thighs, rounded bottoms
Ready to rev, belch black smoke and
 Bounce libidinous echoes off ancient doors

The corner brings the square and music
Tables and chairs are set at Papillon
A glass of Strega, a daily newspaper await
The regular on the same evening schedule

Just steps from the airy, rented room
This quiet world unfolds for the stranger
Skipping steps down the stairs and out
Onto the cobbles and into her new life

Luca stops and drops a towel, looking,
Murmurs a ‘Ciao Signora’ and smiles
A question sits behind his eyes and
On his lips, but he swallows, dabs a spill

The Strega is spicy, strong warm ribbons
Warming the throat, crisp inky pages
Pass silent time, bring memories and flashes
And the sun sets and the walk back is golden

Shared at Poetry Jam 

Photo Credit - 'Italian Street Scene' -comic book guy @ Pixdaus.com