Monday, February 2, 2015

Silent poetry reading for the Feast of Saint Brigid, 2015

Dear friends,

As I have noted in past years, Feb. 2nd is the Feast of Saint Brigid, goddess of the forge, patron saint of midwives, and lover of poetry. I am participating in the "Silent Poetry Reading" in her honor by posting a poem on my blog.

For this year, I've chosen a poem by Margaret Noodin, reprinted here with her permission. (Thanks, Meg!) You'll notice that the poem is in Ojibwe and English; Meg writes in both. She does amazing and inspiring work on the study, preservation, and revival of Ojibwe language and culture. Check out the videos and sound recordings at for beautiful and fun stories.

Even though it's icy cold today, and winter feels endless, pretty soon it will be time to tap the maple trees (at least here in Ohio) and harvest spring's sweetness.

"Dibiki-Ziigwaagaame (Night Syrup)"

Ziigwaagame n'daagwaagominaan
I stir syrup into

Makademashkikiabo miinwaa
coffee                          and

kwejimdizo, "Wenesh e-naagamig
I ask myself      "What

does night syrup taste like?"

Gete-misaabe-zekwekik ina?
The ancient iron kettle?
Giiwedinong giizhik ina?
Northern cedar?
Zagaswans ina?
A bit of smoke?
Enangwiiganing aandeg ina?
The wing of a crow?
Moozo akiianzo shkijigan ina?
The brown eye of a moose?
Shki miikans-maamad tigwaking ina?
A new path in the woods?
Ode noondan abita-dibikong ina?
Hearing a heart beat at midnight?

Miidash nsostooyaanh
And then I understand

sweet    dark syrup

bimaadiziwin e-naagamig.
tastes like life.

I hope you enjoy more poetry today, and the returning of the light.


P.S. This poem can be found in the excellent collection Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas, ed. Allison Adelle Hedge Coke (U of Arizona Press, 2011), which is available at Birchbark Books.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy new year!

It's January 1, 2015. We made it through another year, woohoo!

In years past, I've thought about and wanted to do some of the traditional things a person does on December 31st and January 1st, but this year is the first time I've had the energy to do them. In this post I'll focus on the cleaning, which you're supposed to do on December 31st to get the old year out of the house.

We did indeed sweep last year's worries out of all the rooms and out the back door. (One room needed vacuuming, too, but we're counting that as sweeping.) It felt good. As I swept, I kept thinking: I can let it go, let the worries of yesterday go out the door with these dust bunnies.

But there was something else, too, something kind of unexpected.

A couple of days before the 31st, I suddenly had the urge to go through some of the stuff in my study, a room that used to be our den. (Last year we moved the teevee out, got a big teevee for the front room for Christmas, and converted our little-used living room into a place where we actually hang out--for reading as well as teevee-watching). It was a big change! And my office went from a corner of the living room to the den--a whole room in the house just for me, with a door that shuts and a couple places to sit and work on writing or reading. I'd been wanting that for years, and it feels wonderful to have it, finally.

The problem was that we moved stuff in kind of a hurry, and then there was a cat peeing issue (which might be resolved now, I hope I hope), and it still looked like a mess, a year after the original shift.

I did not put "clean my study" on my to-do list for the winter break, though I thought about it. In fact, I ended up not even making a list; it felt too confining. I survive the semester by making week-by-week lists of all the things that have to get done. I live in fear of forgetting deadlines and such, so the list is necessary. It's even pleasurable to check things off the list, during the semester. But I just couldn't bring myself to make a list for this week.

Instead, I just asked myself, each day: what do I want to do today? What do I feel like doing? What will make me feel happy with this day?

And one day the answer was: clean up some of this mess.

At first I just limited myself to a couple areas; no way was I tackling the whole dang room. Good thing, too, because of course the next thing that happened was that it looked like a worse disaster than it already was. I started to sort through things and make piles and gather things to be given away, things to be recycled, things to be put somewhere else in the house... and it looked like all that stuff had exploded.

(Too bad I didn't take any "during" photos! But really, I could hardly bear to look at the mess, it was so disheartening.)

But I kept at it, and things started to look better, at least to me.

Here are before & after photos of the corner built-in shelf. It probably only looks better to me; the stuff I had crammed on three shelves is now on four.

Before: a bit more crammed and crowded.
After: now I can see stuff!

Before: the cardboard boxes may be practical, but they're depressing.
And then the next day, I thought: okay, I'd like to tackle one more area--a couple shelves, a corner, a box. On the last day I tackled my desk and the bookshelf next to it. There is actually empty space on my desk now, where before there were piles of stuff, some of it stacked precariously.

After: okay, still not exactly beautiful, but sorted, at least. I'll get some nice organizational thingies next time we go to Ikea...
With all those bits of time added up, I now have a study where I've gone through everything, sorted it all out, kept what I want in here, and moved or tossed what should not be here.

It almost feels as if I were carrying that unwanted stuff around with me and I've now dumped it. I feel lighter, somehow, when I sit and work on something in my office. It's really lovely.

I think if I had made a to-do list and put "clean my study" on it, and tried to do it all in one day so I could cross it off the list, it would not have gone as well. I would have ended up resenting the task, and not enjoying the result nearly as much. I'm so glad I let myself enjoy the process, and the result.

Oh, and one other thing. Here's a really good way to feel loved as you turn into a new year: find a pile of notes and cards people have sent you over the years, and read them as you sort the piles, and wonder if your sniffles are from the dust you've started up, or the tears that inevitably come.

Happy new year, everybody!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Feminist toast

I make feminist toast nearly every morning. Well, technically, it's feminist English muffin.

Let me explain.

Years ago, when I was a young feminist, I saw an episode of a 1950s sitcom--something like Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver. You know, those idealized versions of life in the 1950s that were on endless syndicated repeat in the 1970s.

There's a lot in those shows that would feed my young feminist ire back in the day, sure, but this one time I witnessed something I've never forgotten. The husband/dad is fixing the toaster (apparently, men in the 1950s knew how to do such a thing). He's noting that the wire is broken because the wife/mom has been pulling the cord rather than the plug. She should not do this, however, because it's dangerous and, as evidenced by the state of the toaster, can break the thing.

It wasn't so much the message as the way he talked to her. The tone in his voice was scolding, annoyed, and imperious. He spoke to her as if she had no brains in her head, as if she were stupid.

I realized, even then, that this sitcom moment revealed a lot about the times--about the absolute assumption that men were smarter, more able, more adult, and that women were some kind of secondary human. It was a throwaway moment in the show, something meant to communicate how normal the couple's relationship was, and yet I knew there was something wrong even if I didn't yet know the word "dysfunctional." I vowed to myself: I will never be with a man who would speak to me like that.

Some mornings, when I'm making my breakfast (which includes a whole-grain English muffin), I remember that scene. And I grasp the toaster wire instead of the plug and pull the damn thing out of the outlet.

Take that, patriarchy.

I hope you enjoy a moment of rebellion today.

Friday, October 10, 2014

We do this for the water

Inspired by Sharon Day* and the women who walk to the rivers and sing and pray blessings to them every week,** I've been walking to the Olentangy River the past couple of Sundays. It's been a great opportunity to get outside and walk, to see a beautiful spot right in my little town, and to remember the ways in which I'm connected with all around me.

Looking downstream, Olentangy River
As my friend Pomegranate says: all water touches all water.

Clouds on the river
When I stand by the river and make my offerings, I imagine sending blessings to all my loved ones who live so far away--that despite the miles between us, we are connected through the water, and I can touch them and be touched by them as I pray and sing.

Looking upstream, Olentangy River
The river is beautiful. So beautiful that recently our city put up a swing on its banks for people to stop and sit and enjoy watching the water go by.

Looking across the Olentangy
I've really enjoyed noticing the changes that come with the change in seasons, looking around at the trees and grass, smelling the change in the air, listening to the birds and bugs and wondering about their winter preparations.

This woolly bear caterpillar was so fuzzy
I couldn't get a sharp picture of him (ha!)

Delicate and hearty diasies
Water is life.

On campus--a reminder of the gift
I'm glad to see that there are people in my community who are looking after the river and helping it be healthy: the Olentangy Watershed Alliance. I hope to be able to join in on their activities soon!

At first I thought it was a plastic bag... It's a SNAKESKIN!
Time to shed our skins and grow into something new...
Water, we thank you. Water, we respect you. Water, we love you.


*Back in 2013, Sharon Day and others walked the length of the Mississippi River to raise awareness and speak out on behalf of the health of the longest, most storied river in the United States. THEY WALKED THE LENGTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Y'ALL. And that's not the only river Sharon has walked. Back in the spring of this year, I met my friend Martha in Cincinnati and we joined Sharon and a few others to walk along the Ohio River for a day. It was an amazing experience.

We walked in relay style, each person taking a turn of .6 or .8 of a mile, walking FAST--about 3 or 4 miles per hour, about the same as the speed of the river. And we were to move like the river--never stopping, never turning back, always moving forward (even when we handed off to the next walker). And as we walked, we prayed for the river, or just thought about it real hard, or sang to it. We carried an eagle feather and a copper bucket of water gathered from the beginning point of the river, the bucket covered with a beautiful cloth (and a GPS tracker attached to its handle). We made about 30 miles that day, passing more coal-fired power plants than I ever would have imagined along the waterway that supplies so many people with drinking water.

Liquid is heavy; a gallon of milk from the grocery store sometimes seems tricky to lift and maneuver. But on that day, the water bucket was light. On one of my turns, I noticed that it felt like carrying a baby--a burden, yes, but a sweet one. Sometimes I would hear a little slosh in the bucket. It felt like the water was talking to me, encouraging me.

I'm so grateful for the women I walked with that day: Sharon Day, Martha Viehmann, Barb Baker-LaRush, Lee Taylor, Tracey Gokey Jones, Laura Gokey Koehler, and Judith (whose last name I did not get). Laura brought her son Trevor, who carried the eagle staff, and Laura & Tracey discovered that their parents are from the same reservation as Barb's parents and they have ancestors in common. "All my relations," yes.

** If you'd like to keep up with Sharon's river adventures and see photos of the different places where people all over North America are praying for the water each Sunday, log in to Facebook and go to the "Mississippi River Water Walk 2013" page. It's got information on Sharon's current project, which is walking the St. Louis River. If you'd like to support Sharon's projects, go to Nibi Walk's donation page. Sharon does all of this on a shoestring budget, making do and being careful with resources. (She is also the director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, a group in Minneapolis doing amazing work.)

It's inspiring and strengthening, in the face of a serious lack of attention to water issues by people in power (or, worse, a tendency to enact policies that favor corporations over water health and human health and earth health), to see that there are some people who are remembering the water and trying to do things to help.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Silent poetry reading: Natasha Trethewey

Today, February 2nd, is the feast of St. Brigid. To mark the day, I'm joining others in the "Silent Poetry Reading" that takes place in the blogosphere this time each year. I've decided to include a poem by Natasha Trethewey, our Poet Laureate, whom I met last year at my school (and briefly 10+ years ago--as I left the Emory campus to move to Ohio for my job, she had just arrived as a new professor). I love her work.

I chose this poem because the topic of "home"--our theme in my freshman writing class as well as the women's literature class I'm teaching this semester--has been on my mind lately. Home and memory, and figuring out what those things are, keeps coming back in my own writing.

Enjoy. I hope you have occasion to read poetry. Every day, if possible.


"Theories of Time and Space," by Natasha Trethewey

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on the mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A reprieve

Last night, as I walked the few blocks to happy hour, I felt it: a change, a reprieve, a release from the grip of ice. And I felt so happy, and grateful.

(This was the temperature--without wind chill--
when I was getting ready for work on Tuesday...)

 (... and here's the bank sign as I drove past, a little after 9 a.m.
Classes were not cancelled.)

(The temperature this morning. Such a relief.)

I noticed, walking past an apartment building, that I could hear dripping in the gutters. Water was running outside; ice was melting. I hadn't heard that sound in at least a week.

And the wind was different--the way it felt on my skin. It seemed to have a different personality. It felt rounder, softer. Rather than feeling like I was being cut with an edge, when the wind hit my face I felt like it was a cheek, or the underneath part of a forearm. Rounder, softer.

And then something inside me relaxed. The animal part of me felt so relieved--we can survive this. We'll be okay. It was palpable. My awareness calmed down; it felt like I'd been on alert this past week, and I finally relaxed.

This morning, the heavy equipment down at the end of the block is going again, workers digging a deep hole in the road. The air is soft. There's still snow everywhere. But somehow everything's different.

I'll be thinking about our ancestors and how they survived winter, and how they knew its shapes and watched for changes as the earth moved towards spring.

I hope you are warm and well.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Report from Chicago (day one)

This post is especially for my friend Marjorie Boyer, who was hoping I'd keep the status updates coming on FB... I wanted to say more than would fit there, so here we go!

The sun came up (another everyday miracle) and I was able to see the lake. It's frozen!

(morning at Lake Michigan, as seen between the buildings...)

I accidentally got up earlier than I meant to, but that gave me plenty of time to get ready to go have brunch with one of my favorite OWU alums. We had a giant meal and talked and talked over multiple cups of coffee.

See that little bit of light in the picture above? That's about as much sun as we saw all day. It was pretty grey, and there's been light snow. There's slush all over everything, and salt. I keep having to clean my shoes and watch out for slush-puddles. (Alas, I did not see any slush funds.)

There are lots of smart and interesting and personable people here at the conference. And, judging by the people I saw out and about, Chicagoans seem pretty unflappable. They will not be flapped!

I crossed the river a couple times--also frozen!

(Ice floes on the Chicago River)

I got a little turned around on my way "home" to the hotel where I'm staying--after successfully finding the hotel where we're doing the interviews (different), the hotel where I went to hear a panel (another different), and the Bombay Grill, where I had some delicious curry.

As I kept trying to orient myself, I had lines of a new poem running through my head--about getting lost, feeling awry--and so I'm going to go write those down.

But first, and also: alas, signs of the colonizer. (They are everywhere, as those colonizers are the heroes of our national mythology.)

("The Explorers," at the Michigan Avenue bridge)

(The site for the fort was ceded through a treaty made in Ohio, 
after the Battle of Fallen Timbers... Here's a link with more info.)

And, to end on a lighter note: I thought this sign--in the back of the room where I heard a panel of papers on Emily Dickinson's poetry--was somewhat entertaining.

In addition to being stuck in the back of the room, apparently the bloggers and tweeters are also never fed, and so they had to nibble on that piece of paper.

I hope you're having a lovely day, wherever you find yourself.