Commonplace: Seamus Heaney, Verses from The Cure at Troy

Human beings suffer.

They torture one another.

They get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.

History says, Don’t hope

On the side of the grave,’

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea- change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles.

And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing,

The utter self revealing

Double-take of feeling.

If there’s fire on the mountain

And lightening and storm

And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

The outcry and the birth-cry

Of new life at its term.

It means once in a lifetime

That justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.

~ Seamus Heaney from The Cure at Troy

Top Five 2020

I’ve come up with or written a Top 5 list every year since my friend Walter asked us one year to come up with our top 5 moments of the previous year. Even the year after I lost my dad, I was able to find bright moments. Even though this year has been a long one of fear, anxiety, and waiting, I’m committed to celebrating the things that have been emotional and grateful highlights of my year. I know gratitude is more than a bit overused as a concept, edging into trite territory. Nevertheless, this list is definitely one about being grateful for people.

  1. Ten years of the Periodical Poetry Index: April, Natalie, and I started this project in the spring of 2010 without even realizing what we were committing ourselves to: a long term, no real end point, collaborative project. That we’ve spent ten years doing this work is remarkable in and of itself. We spent most of the spring and early summer writing an essay about our experiences, over Skype and Google documents. While the work has been immensely rewarding, I cannot express enough how much I value my friendships with April and Natalie, especially this year. COVID radically altered our work in so many ways, except for our work on PerPo. Because we’d never been in the same place except for conferences, our weekly meetings became a touchstone of normalcy in this strange and isolated time. I’ve come away from our meetings this year with insight into how to teach in this virtual environment, with relief from being able to discuss teaching with people who understand, and with gratitude for two such thoughtful and kind women. The amazing work we’re doing for version 2.0 of the website is second to that, even though I’m utterly excited for the new release.
  2. The Bridesmaids: As the world shutdown, so too did all the lovely plans my bridesmaids had made to celebrate my wedding with me. Those canceled plans were the first of many cancellations and delays for our wedding. And yet, I felt so loved by my friends as they empathized with me when we had to move the wedding, twice now. They gave me space to cry and feel my upset. They rallied and cheered me up, supporting me, as they have always done. These women are truly my sisters. I’m not sure what I would do without them.
  3. Wednesday night virtual game night with my nephew: Over the summer, Jason’s core group of friends started a weekly-ish Saturday video call so we could check in with each other. Sometimes we’d try to watch movies, which was, um, difficult, but mostly we’d talk. They’ve been just as important to us as our support for all the wedding delays as my bridesmaids. Eventually, K. asked if we could do a regular virtual night with C and G, the two oldest of Jason’s honorary nephews. So we started playing every Wednesday night. Eventually, G., who is a teenager, moved on to playing with his friends online more, but every Wednesday, C. and I play virtual board games for an hour. Sometimes we do a craft on a video call, but mostly it’s this virtual board game platform called Boardgame Arena. He wins most of the time, and not because I’m being nice. C. is exceptionally good at patterns and math. Our weekly game makes me happy.
  4. Developing “family” recipes: Like everyone in our distanced era of waiting, Jason and I have been cooking a lot. We’re both decent home cooks, although I prefer baking and recipe following and Jason is more experimental. We now have a family curry, a green curry, bolognese, and smoked turkey. We also have a decadent banana bread, apple muffin, and family sandwich bread recipe. And Jason, finally, made me his 12hr brisket, which is more like 14 hrs. It’s worth it.
  5. Since shutdown in March, Jason and I have actually gotten to live and work together. It’s been weird having to work out shared office space for video calls and teaching, but it’s been so lovely to spend all this time together. We both feel a little guilty about it because it’s such a happy amidst all the gloom of this year.

Commonplace: Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ring Out, Wild Bells”

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

– Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ring Out, Wild Bells”

Commonplace: William Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned”

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

~ William Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned.” Somehow utterly appropriate for the end of any semester, but particularly this weird, pandemic one.