How to Be a Wall

 

How to Be a Wall

Stand tall.
Stand still.
Keep people out.
Keep people in.
Let the ivy
grab hold.
Watch the birds
soar over.
Sear in the sun.
Peel.
Chip.
Give the ants
an Everest.
Watch the shadows
switch sides.
Stand tall.
Stand still.
Crack.
Crumble.
Don’t last forever.
Make someone ask
do we need
this wall?

 

Like many of you, I have been dismayed by the current political climate. I hate seeing families and lives torn apart, the prioritization of profit over all else, including fresh air, clean water, and the future of our planet, the callous disregard for our shared human needs for education, health, choice, and respect. I could go on and on. It’s been hard for me to find the wonder in the world when what’s been staring me down has been the cruelty. I’ve struggled to turn pain into art–art worth sharing in any case. I’ve even wondered if writing is the best use of my time. This is one attempt to turn what I’m seeing and feeling into poetry.

I wish you all a Happy National Poetry Month.

For more poetry this Friday, visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem!

Liz

Billy Collins: The Lanyard

Billy Collins at D.G. Wills Books, La Jolla, San Diego, by Marcelo Noah

 

 

The Lanyard by Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

You can read the rest here.

 

Or here’s a video of Billy Collins reading it.

 

Last Friday, Linda Mitchell suggested we share our favorite Billy Collins’ poems today in honor of our former Poet Laureate’s birthday. It was, of course, very hard to choose, and I see our Friday Poetry host Heidi Mordhorst and I chose the same one! So there you have it Happy Birthday, Billy Collins and thank you, Heidi for hosting today.

Have a great weekend!

Liz

Empathy: My One Little Word

 

Ouch

 

My friend
fell at recess
and scraped up
his knee.
I heard
some kids laugh—
What a clown!
Did you see?

Though the sky
was bright blue,
in my heart
it felt gray,
so I sat
with my friend
till the pain
went away.

 

I’ve realized in recent years that I prefer to take my time to think about things. Apparently a lot of my thinking happens unconsciously because I find answers and connections seem to come to me almost out of the blue if I give them enough time. Around New Year’s Day when other people were announcing their one little words for the year, I tried very hard to find one, but nothing felt quite right. It wasn’t until this week that the word empathy rose to the surface.

I think of my mind as a kind of soup, churning and bubbling with crazy ingredients from all over the place. Here are a few of the ingredients that pushed empathy to the surface.

Years ago I heard about research that supports the notion that people who read literary fiction are more empathic. Isn’t that incredible? It makes perfect sense of course, but I love the idea that there has been research to support it.

Julianne Chiaet, writing in Scientific American describes the findings this way:

[Literary fiction] prompts the reader to imagine the characters’ introspective dialogues. This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom. Although literary fiction tends to be more realistic than popular fiction, the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.

Understanding characters in literature helps us understand people in the world. Reading teaches us how to be empathic.

Two other things roiling around in my brain were Viola Davis’ introduction of Meryl Streep and Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Both of them spoke about empathy.

Ms. Davis described being in Ms. Streep’s company this way:

And as she continues to stare, you realize she sees you. And like a high-powered scanning machine she’s recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She waits to share what she has stolen on that sacred place, which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable; the most known, familiar; the most despised, relatable.

It is this seeing, this ability to empathize so deeply, which is the source of Ms. Streep’s power to convey another person, another life, on screen.

In her acceptance speech Ms. Streep chose to highlight a moment of extreme lack of empathy.

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

Indeed Ms. Streep’s empathy is so great she cannot let this moment go.

I agree with Ms. Streep that there is an important connection between empathy and politics. Who could take health insurance from someone if they could empathize with the pain of their fears and losses? Who could feel entitled to grab a woman if they could empathize with the violation of her personhood? Who could banish refugees and immigrants from our borders if they could empathize with the forces that would propel someone to leave their home and families?

I also agree with Ms. Streep on this point when she says, “an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.” Couldn’t the same be said of writers?

This year I will try to think of myself as a poet, writer, and teacher of empathy.

Carol has the Poetry Friday round up today at Beyond Literacy Link. See you over there.

Have a good weekend,

Liz

Happy Halloween!

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Halloween Tree

Hear that ghostly, woeful wail?
I think that tree is howling.
Oaks don’t usually make a face,
but that bark is clearly scowling.

See those branches bend and reach
like the arms of a hungry hag?
I think those bony fingers want to
grab my goodie bag!

 

On one of my recent walks around the block I noticed a few trees making faces at me. I think they might have been getting ready for the holiday. Have a spooky, spectacular day!

© Elizabeth Steinglass, 2016, all rights reserved.