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poem is on tree trunk

 

 

When Giving Is All We Have

by Alberto Ríos       

 

 

One river gives

                                             Its journey to the next.

 

We give because someone gave to us.

We give because nobody gave to us.

 

We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us.

 

We have been better for it,

We have been wounded by it—

 

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,

Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

 

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

 

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,

Mine to yours, yours to mine.

 

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.

Together we are simple green. You gave me

 

What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give—together, we made

 

Something greater for the difference.

 

IMG_8400

 

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This post is dedicated to Mary Jane Samberg, a Michigan high school English teacher of the highest order. She died a few days ago of Covid-19. That sentence can’t begin to register the shock and grief so many of us felt on hearing the news.

 

 

She taught two of my daughters. Lucky, lucky girls. I asked them to describe her teaching. One said she was “whip smart, had a great sense of humor and a kind of snort laugh. Hard grader. Merry eyes. Great news judgment [Ms. Samberg moderated the school newspaper] and called out your best.” The other said, “She was a hard ass and didn’t give away A’s easily in AP Composition and Writing. I remember getting an A and feeling on top of the world.” They both said she was “cool,” an unusual compliment for a tough teacher.

 

 

I knew her well enough to have interesting conversations with her when we bumped into each other over the years. We talked about English, education, books, our kids—my daughters she taught, her daughter of whom she was so proud. (Side note: I never use “whom,” but in honor of Ms. Samberg, I relent.) I saw her regularly at church, but I couldn’t exactly call her a friend, however much I liked her. However much I admired her. She was a woman of strong faith and strong principles. She spoke with conviction and confidence and because of that she seemed older than me although she was not. As an example to my girls of how a woman moves about in the world, I could not have asked for better.

 

 

I remember looking over my daughters’ marked-up papers and noting how very marked-up they were, how thorough and thoughtful her comments. I disagreed often enough. (Of course I did, I’m an English major and an Enneagram type 1.) I thought she was sometimes too rigid about what constituted good writing—but damn if those girls didn’t learn to write well. She taught them how to think clearly and communicate carefully, the importance of just the right word, and the value of the re-write, the re-write, the re-write.

 

 

The fortunate among us have had teachers we think of with deep gratitude, those who directed us towards excellence or self-knowledge, the ones who loved us and let us know. But for the great teachers in our children’s lives there’s a different level of gratitude. I can’t articulate it. It can move me to tears. Because it’s pure luck. To have the right person introduced in their lives at exactly the right time. We know, as parents, our influence on our children is limited. At a certain point others step in to nurture their talents, shape their ambitions or widen their perspectives. I am a lucky, lucky mother in that regard. With each child I have seen the effect of great teachers. No, not the effect. Let me call it grace. The grace of influence.

 

 

The grace of her influence. Thank you, Ms. Samberg. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

 

To honor her I taped “When Giving is All We Have” to an albezia tree I pass daily on my shelter-in-place walks. She would not have loved this poem, I suspect. She favored harder-nosed sensibilities like her beloved Flannery O’Connor. Still, it speaks to her life’s work. The giving of her passion and expertise, her care and concern for her students, for their education, well-being and most of all for their character. It was her vocation to give. And that giving, in turn, if you count up the hundreds and hundreds of students she had over her many years of teaching, has exponential possibilities for goodness in the world.

 

 

*

 

Now on to the poem. Ríos defines giving with a series of oppositions:  for better or for worse: loud and quiet; big though small; diamond but rough-set. It seems like algebra for some reason, all those variables—or maybe it’s more like philosophy. I know just a smidge more than squat about philosophy, but in thinking about the contradictions in this poem I did come across a description of Hegel’s dialectics (from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) that seems apt:

 

Because Hegel believed that reason necessarily generates contradictions, as we will see, he thought new premises will indeed produce further contradictions.

 

 

Looking further into dialectical thinking, I came across an idea that deepens my experience of the poem (courtesy of the Institute of Educational Sciences):

 

Dialectical thinking refers to the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.

 

 

And what is the reconciliation of the contradictions Ríos puts forth? The answer is right in the poem:

 

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

 

 

In other words, giving—however it manifests itself, for whatever reason it manifests itself, whatever the effect of its manifestation—giving is as old as humanity. Giving is a fundamental part of who we are. It’s what we do. In these terrible pandemic days it’s what we see, daily, and part of the frustration of our necessary isolation is the frustration of our impulse to give.

 

 

That’s as hopeful a note as any to leave my ruminations on a beautiful life ended too soon.

 

 

*

 

 

Alberto Ríos was born in 1952 in a border town of Arizona. His father was Mexican, his mother British. He’s published ten books of poetry, a memoir and collections of short stories, and has won many awards and grants including an NEA fellowship and a Guggenheim. He’s a professor at Arizona State University and for two years served as poet laureate of Arizona.

 

 

After I taped the poem to the tree, I was happily surprised to discover Ríos own thoughts on this poem:

 

 

 

“This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader.  I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.”

 

*

 

For the tree lovers, a few more pictures—

 

 

 

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To start off European Haiku Day here at Poem Elf, here’s a picture my daughter in Prague created. She took advantage of over-developed film to fiddle around with the image (that’s the technical explanation). She calls it “Pause.” (FYI that’s what those two yellow bars mean. I didn’t know this, dinosaur that I am.)

 

 

And now, haikus from our European friends.

 

From Truus Visser of the Netherlands is keeping busy—

 

 

Washing the windows

dusting all the bookshelves

waiting the lock-off

 

 

*

 

 

Luc Vrielinck a doctor in Belgium, took time from what must be an insane worklife to send a sober warning, haiku-style:

 

 

Social distancing

playtime is over now;

everyone’s concern

 

 

Here it is in Dutch, his first language.

 

 

Social distancing

de speeltijd is voorbij;

eenieder zijn zorg

 

 

(Is “social distancing,” like a smile, the same in every language?)

 

 

Luc adds—

 

My Haiku is, of course, a reaction to the difficult times we have now in Belgium and around the world.

I am a medical doctor working in a hospital, so I know from first hand what is going on once patients are infected, and when they are losing their battle. So the main focus is on prevention, … until we get a good vaccination.

The government propagates -among other things- the principle of social distancing: keeping enough distance between your self and the person next to you (1.5 m)

 

 

 

*

 

Anne Marie, my daughter in Prague, was out walking and heard music from a high window, which she knows is one of my favorite things in the world. Here’s the post-walk haiku—

 

 

Oh to take a peek

In all those secret squares

Someone’s dancing on piano keys!

 

 

And here’s the accompanying picture

 

 

 

*

 

 

Someone named “Name,” origin unknown, so let’s just say he or she is indeed European so we are consistent, sent in this reminder of life’s small pleasures—

 

 

Stuck inside for weeks

I go for a daily walk

Nice to hear the birds

  

 

*

 

Finally, to Very Truly of Ann Arbor, just in case you haven’t read my responses to your comments: I would love to get your haiku and photograph, but I haven’t yet. If you sent it as an attachment, please understand that attachments don’t go through on this platform. You can copy and paste text in a comment or send text and photograph to thepoemelf@gmail.com.  I will post it regardless of when it arrives!

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One last call for readers outside the United States . . . send in your quarantine haikus! I’ve gotten two so far and will post those tomorrow. Would love to have more! Post here as a comment or email me at thepoemelf@gmail.com.

 

Brenda Loew of Seattle sent in pictures and haiku. The pictures of are herself and the Seattle bridge troll, outfitted to reduce community spread:

I did not know this wonderful sculpture existed. Mr. Troll sits under a bridge, as trolls do, and in his left hand clutches a Volkswagen bug.

 

 

Here’s Brenda’s haiku. Lovely!

 

The walking people,

quiet pandemonium,

all humans stopped cold.

 

 

Sci-fi cityscape,

masked and gloved Seattleites

smile only with  eyes.

 

 

Equally plagued,

we see how we are truly

more alike than different

 

 

What is our true face?

Sheltering now at home,

spring robin singing.

 

And her lovely face
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Nurse Pam Sheen (bless you!), solicited haikus from friends and sent in these:

 

 

 

Dog glued to my side

Unsure why we’re both at home

But grateful we are

 

 

Trees green, sunshine bright

The house warm and cozy too

Like beacons of hope

 

—Jenn Van Osdel

 

 

 

We’re inside monkeys

Climbing walls won’t get us out

Where’s my banana?

 

—James Lachowsky

 

Inside monkeys, tru dat.

 

 

*

 

 

Finally (for today) from my sister Susie in Massachusetts (wife of yesterday’s haiku writer Richard, far away in San Diego):

 

 

Yesterday, today,

Tomorrow, and days after,

The same, Groundhog Day.

 

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I have haikus to post today and tomorrow, and that will be the end of this project . . . unless. . .  my international readers step up! Sending out a challenge to Poem Elf readers in countries outside of the United States to send in a quarantine haiku. I know you’re there, I see you.

 

*

 

Tom McGrath, a new grandfather from Chicago, sends in a vision of dreamy peace:

 

Haiku for Emilio Tomas

 

A newborn slumbers

limp against this grandpa’s chest,

a lion at rest.

 

Tom adds that the original final line was “big sister pokes him.” Two completely different poems! I like both.

 

*

 

From her quarantine in downtown Baltimore, Trish Rawlings muses on what she found on the ground outside the grocery store:

 

White latex gloves dropped

Rudely on the lot up close

Are not: pale blossoms.

 

(What she thought were a shopper’s protective gear was actually blossoms from a shedding tree. Would that all nasty sights turn out to be blossoms!)

 

*

 

My brother-in-law Richard has temporarily re-located from Massachusetts to California to help care for his little grandsons as his daughter-in-law recovers from health issues. (Yes, he is that great a human!) Being so far from his wife, he thought about other separations, including mine from my daughters (we are literally thousands of miles apart and will be for the foreseeable future), and he came up with this, which ends with classic New England stoicism and a signature Bostonian phrase:

 

Haiku from San Diego

Daughters coming home
Squeeze is what we want to do
Fa’ get about it

 

*

 

Benedikt Rochow, an engineer from Alabama, took a break from working at home to come up with this—

 

A man a plan a
canal Panama really
is a palindrome.
*
Last one. I’ve been reading a lot of essays about how this virus is helping us get back to our core selves, our shared humanity, the things that truly matter. Marge from Chicago says the same in her haiku:
Corona’d we are
Self-starters we have become
Reliant on God
*
Thanks, everyone! More tomorrow.
**APOLOGIES FOR THE BAD SPACING FOR THE LAST TWO HAIKUS. I HAVE TRIED TO FIX IT AND AM UNABLE TO!

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Welcome to the third installment of readers’ quarantine haiku. Thank you for sending in these gems. I love them.

 

(Reminder:  if yours hasn’t been posted yet, wait a day or so, I’ll get to it. And keep them coming!)

 

Let’s start with flowers because . . . flowers! After winter, flowers. What a marvelous event.

 

Sharon Carey sends in this

 

 

 

Springtime violas

uplift stone cold riprap spirits

Johnny jump ups cheer somber days

 

 

In case you, like me, don’t know what a Johnny jump up is—

Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 11.09.32 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judith Berger, herbalist, sends greetings from Manhattan:

 

 

Outside my window,

waxwing in the Juniper.

She too wears a mask.

 

 

 

 

Who knew this little project would be such an education? Here’s a waxwing in a juniper bush:

 

 

Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 11.17.08 AM

 

 

 

 

 

My sister Mary K. wrote one we can all relate to:

 

 

Stationery bike

Attempting to stay in shape

Food and wine negate

 

 

 

 

My grand-nephew Charlie Greco, age 9, made a PSA haiku. Simple, sober and to the point. Thanks, Charlie!

 

 

coronavirus

it is horrible for you

wash your hands please, thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Last ones for the day are from my friend Michelle of Chicago.

 

 

 

[Explanation needed:  weeks and weeks ago which feels more like a lifetime ago, we met in Maui (I cringe at the Marie-Antoinette tone of that phrase, but it is what it is, and it’s relevant). In the airport restroom we spoke with a woman who had just come back from the little island of Molokai, once home to lepers. She enchanted us. Tall, willowy, gray-haired, dressed in safari-type clothes, a big smiler—also a widow who had buried her native-born Kauai husband on his home island years before. We wanted to know more about her—really I wanted to be her best friend—so we stalked her. Tracked her down in the airport restaurant to see who she was with.]

 

 

 

Molokai Lady

You were so interesting

Tell us your secret 

 

 

 

Michelle also wrote this one:

 

 

 

Were the fish laughing

When they saw my snorkel mask

Or was it my fins?

 

 

 

 

Okay, more tomorrow!

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(Please note: If you sent in a haiku and you haven’t seen it here yet, have patience! I have an abundance of haiku which is so much nicer than an abundance of caution.)

 

Here’s a lovely dose of spring from Patti Russo of Bloomington, Indiana (a perfectly-named town for the season):

Sunshine on a stick
Immune from fear or worry
Spring forsythia

 

Patti must have an abundance of creativity because she sent two haikus. Here’s the other:

To want a dog’s life
Not just any dog’s..this one’s
The smile says it all!

 

Brenda Loew sent these lovelies:

Where are the two leggeds now?!?
the crows are wondering…
the world is so still.

And her second, a timely reminder of our need for human contact, whatever form it takes

Dying is not difficult.
Not having good Friends,
a Hell realm indeed.

 

My daughter Lizzie, a nurse in northern Michigan, sent a few. Her work brings back memories of long ago when we sat at the kitchen table and wrote haikus inspired by art postcards.

As of late although

Surfaces are suspicious

All has been wiped clean

 

and here’s one about delayed affection in the age of coronavirus

 

Just six feet away

You laugh and stand there smiling

I will hug you soon

 

My sister Ceci is using her quarantine time to clean out her basement. My sisters and I tease her that she has forever been cleaning out her basement. A good reason to disappear downstairs, I suppose. Anyway, here’s her Marie-Kondo-inspired haikus:

Cards and photographs
Fond memories abounding
Life in the basement!
And this one, presumably written before she found her way to the basement
Empty calendar
Days to fill and time to spare
For long lost projects!
Ceci’s friend Marge sent one too (both live in Deerfield, Illinois and miss playing tennis):
Fewer body aches
Could it be no more tennis?
Aching joints ok
Finally, for today, another dog haiku from Monica Bailey in Florida. She included a picture of her cute little friend Lilly:
There once was none.
Lilly working from home.
Now there is peace.
More tomorrow!

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Thank you to everyone who sent in a haiku! Can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading them. It’s a balm for my nervous system. The creative spirit is fundamental to us humans and strengthens our connections!

 

Up first from Jeanette, who gets extra credit for taking a picture:

(Jeanette has a very droll sense of humor and I am laughing at “safe connection.”)

 

Extra credit too for Truus Visser whose native language is Dutch. A lot said here, very artfully:

deep-orange sky
birds fill in the  silence
handsoap foams fragrant

 

Here from Nancy Murphy, mother of four, a positive spin on quarantine:

Games, puzzles unearthed
Joyful sounds, parents exhale
Family renewed

Nancy adds, “Please note that my poem is in no way intended to make light of the seriousness of the virus and its consequences. Hope we all get through this ok.”

 

And from Michigan resident Gail Haffey, gardener extraordinaire:

Season for pansies

The snowflakes touch them gently

Sun melts them away

 

Thanks, everyone! I’ll post more tomorrow.

 

Keep them coming!

 

 

 

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