Tuesday, April 27, 2010

a gift

Came back to my desk this afternoon, and some little elf had apparently been sitting in my chair and left her copy of Wuthering Heights on my desk. Another chair was pulled up directly across, so it appeared as though she had been reading aloud to someone else.

Whoever she was, she left the book open to the best passage of all time (highlighted in aqua, no less)! A lovely gift to return to - anytime.

"My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath - a source of little visible delight, but necessary..."

Sunday, April 25, 2010


This poem was the first thing to fall in front of me this morning, and it says it all. I remember one of my favorite English professors in college teaching us about the tragic flaw of some Shakespeare character, and warning all of us solemnly: "If you cling to life, you lose it." So I am trying not to cling to all the loveliness and goodness around me, trying to enjoy these last days of April like drops of honey. Or, as in the poem below, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

"Snow Geese" by Mary Oliver

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask

of anything, or anyone,

yet it is ours,
and not by century or the year, but by the hours.

One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was

a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun

so they were, in part at least, golden. I

held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us

as with a match
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,

but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.

The geese
flew on.
I have never
seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won't.
It doesn't matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I've been holding my breath the last couple of days as my seniors have been making their way through the first chapters of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. What I think, but do not say, is "Please, please love this book as much as I do. Oh and please also get the humor." Success on both fronts today! Especially when the unsolicited "I am loving this book..." comments came from voices that don't always speak up readily.

We are also studying Emily Dickinson, and her definition of poetry fits so well with what Hemingway does, at least for me:

"If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way."

And some of the good stuff...

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

Friday, April 16, 2010


As I sit on my new back porch typing this, I am overwhelmed with the blessings in my life. I came home this evening to two amazing women, Maggie and Jenkins, sitting here, having just put the final touches on my house before it goes on my neighborhood's home tour tomorrow. These women have done more for me this spring, this year, than I can ever fully thank them for. Their generosity, optimism, beauty, and laughter have helped make one of my most uncertain years not only bearable but joyful. And the miraculous thing is that they are two in a long list of amazing women in my life who have done this for me. My mother, my sister, my girlfriends, my neighbors, my colleagues, my mentors - I wish I could name you all here. Know that I am sitting in the midst of the tenderest gratitude for all of you.

Maggie gave me this Mary Oliver poem, and I love it because it is, in some ways, the reverse of her poem, "The Journey." I've been on the latter, believe me, and now I get to enjoy a different sort of journey altogether...

Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


And I'm talking all-consuming, streaming down the face, can't catch my breath tears. Had to happen eventually; I live in a spring of extremes right now. And I am, at this moment, extremely joyful and a bit sad, too. Sitting in the middle of extremes seems to require a few things. These are, in no particular order, lavender honey ice cream, a friend's back porch, and Hemingway.

Yesterday I started teaching A Farewell to Arms and noticed a line that is reversed in Roethke's "The Waking" : "Suddenly to care very much and to sleep to wake with it sometimes morning..."

Seems an appropriate enough time to include Roethke here. More on my love of Hemingway later...

"The Waking" by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Blisters, sunburn, roughed up tennis balls, endless cups of coffee, paint chips, papers, errands. Just general messiness in my life and work right now. Something seems to fall apart every day; something else is stitched together. I hang a chandelier, another team drops out of my upcoming tennis tournament. And yet I'm amazed to keep waking up in a bizarrely uncharacteristic Zen state. To what or whom do I owe this pleasure?

I think it is my freshmen. They make me laugh, make me love teaching in spite of my spring chaos. Today reading poetry together - pondering, joking, sitting in wonder - reminded me once again of how fortunate I am to do the work that I do. I saw this snippet of a Yeats poem recently and I'm dedicating it to my girls here - past, present, and future:

We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said: 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'
William Butler Yeats,
from "Adam's Curse"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

love letter to spring: part II

I read this poem last summer, ripped it out of The New Yorker and put it in a drawer for safekeeping. While painting the drawer today I rediscovered it, but some of these lines never fully drifted out of my memory. It is the kind of poem that stays and stays. In some ways hard to follow and in others, crystal clear. My kinda poem. And what a fabulous name for a poet, if I do say so myself...

"Crush" by Ada Limon

Maybe my limbs are made

mostly for decoration,

like the way I feel about

persimmons. You can’t

really eat them. Or you

wouldn’t want to. If you grab

the soft skin with your fist

it somehow feels funny,

like you’ve been here

before and uncomfortable,

too, like you’d rather

squish it between your teeth

impatiently, before spitting

the soft parts back up

to linger on the tongue like

burnt sugar or guilt.

For starters, it was all

an accident, you cut

the right branch

and a sort of light

woke up underneath,

and the inedible fruit

grew dark and needy.

Think crucial hanging.

Think crayon orange.

There is one low, leaning

heart-shaped globe left

and dearest, can you

tell, I am trying

to love you less.

Monday, April 5, 2010

conversation in an English hallway

Me: "I'm just looking for Joy Luck."

Bart: "Aren't we all?"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

books of hours: tales from a former life

As I opened up the Arts section of the New York Times this morning, these images from the Limbourg brothers' Belles Heures took my breath away. They also took me back to a time in my life when I couldn't get enough of Medieval art and these exquisite Books of Hours. I'm convinced there is another version of me out there right now, living in Europe and researching and writing about devotional art. And hopefully finishing that thesis on female spirituality in the Rothschild Canticles that never came to fruition.

Today I've forgotten almost everything I once knew about Books of Hours, what it was that I was searching for as I pored over them on display at the Cloisters or while buried under books about them in my college library. But I still find them magical. It was nice to be reminded of that former life for a moment this morning.

Click here for the full New York Times article: "Close Reading: One Book's Take on Life, Death, and Devotion" by Karen Rosenberg.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

lesson plan

"Going to Walden"

It isn't very far as highways lie.
I might be back by nightfall, having seen
The rough pines, and the stones, and the clear water.
Friends argue that I might be wiser for it.
They do not hear that far-off Yankee whisper:
How dull we grow from hurrying here and there!

Many have gone, and think me half a fool
To miss a day away in the cool country.
Maybe. But in a book I read and cherish,
Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

~Mary Oliver