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There are Birds Here

for Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.

—Jamaal May

I found this poem two years ago in the anthology How Lovely the Ruins, and it has echoed in my head periodically ever since. May’s words, though they speak of a different kind of terror, seem apt for this current moment. We are all tattered, right now, and yet there is also “shadow pierced by sun.”

I hope you’re keeping well, friends.

(I usually share poetry here on Fridays during April, which is National Poetry Month, but I decided to start early this year.)

harbor-purple-sunrise

Hello, friends. These are strange times, aren’t they?

Like many people, I’m self-isolating at home these days: working, baking, running, reading, doing yoga, checking in with my people and trying not to go completely crazy. My workplace, like many colleges and universities, is going online for the rest of the semester. We’re all adapting, and I’ve been through the gamut of emotions. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Not surprisingly, one thing that’s helping a bit is poetry: specifically, the luminous new Poetry Unbound podcast from On Being. Narrated by Pádraig Ó Tuama (in his lovely Irish voice), it brings us a new poem every Monday and Friday. (I usually share poetry here on Fridays during April, which is National Poetry Month, but I decided to start early this year.)

This poem was featured in the Feb. 28 episode of Poetry Unbound, and I thought it was beautiful and wise. I hope you enjoy.

Praise the rain, the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk —
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity —
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep —
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap —
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food —
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down —
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all —

Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

—Joy Harjo

garden-small-beginnings-book-journal

Hello, friends. March has been a bit of a whirlwind so far: the coronavirus is disrupting work and travel plans, among other things. I’m still running, cooking, reading—trying to stay sane. Here’s what I have been reading:

Chasing Utopia, Nikki Giovanni
Thanks to the library’s Black History Month display, I picked up this “hybrid” of poetry and prose poems. I know Giovanni is an important black poet but I’ve only read her work here and there. This was a great introduction: witty, wry, vivid, lots of jazz.

The Garden of Small Beginnings, Abbi Waxman
In a post-Harry Potter fiction slump, I picked up Waxman’s fun debut for a reread. (I read it a few years ago and loved it so much I bought it for my sister—twice. True story.) Lilian, a young widow who works as an illustrator, gets roped into taking a gardening class with her sister and kids. Hijinks (vegetable-related and otherwise) ensue, as well as new friendships and the possibility of romance. Witty, warm and downright hilarious.

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime Internet friend and a voice of wisdom on so many topics, including reading, fashion, personality types and, in this book, overthinking. She delves into the nitty-gritty of “analysis paralysis” and what we can do about it. Practical and wise, and you know I love any book that tells me to #buytheflowers.

The Women in Black, Madeleine St. John
In F.G. Goode’s department store in Sydney, the women in black run the dress department. Over the course of a Christmas season in the 1950s, four women (novices and veterans) form friendships that will change their lives. A lovely, witty period piece. An impulse buy at Trident. (I regret nothing.)

Good Bones, Maggie Smith
I love Smith’s heartening “Keep moving” affirmations on Twitter (can’t wait for her new book) and finally picked up this poetry collection. The titular poem is well known, but I loved lots of others too. Beautiful dark images shot through with light.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, Sasha Sagan
Sagan is the daughter of astronomer Carl Sagan, and a committed secular Jew, but she still craves ritual and believes in wonder, mystery and sacred moments. This lovely book explores times and seasons (the year’s cycle, but also birth, coming of age, death) that cry out for rituals. I’m a longtime (though currently wandering) Christian, but I think people of different faiths (or no faith at all) will find Sagan’s work thoughtful and wise.

Tweet Cute, Emma Lord
Pepper is a high-achieving perfectionist, and captain of the swim team at her elite Manhattan school (where she secretly feels like a fish out of water). Jack is the class clown, used to living in his twin brother’s shadow. When they get embroiled in a Twitter war over grilled cheese, they’re both forced to confront their assumptions about themselves and each other. Sweet, snarky and so much fun. Recommended by Anne.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

What are you reading?

We haven’t had a lot of snow (yet) this winter (though I hesitate to discount March, having lived in Boston this long). It’ll be a while yet before everything is green, but I’ve been noticing the colors of early spring on my walks lately. In addition to the browns of mud and tree trunks, and the grey of misty skies, here are a few…

The witch hazel (hamamelis) is out in the Public Garden, and I snapped a few shots of its neon yellow blooms last week.

Along Commonwealth Avenue, the hellebores (also known as Lenten roses) are out. They come in white, pale pink, deep purple and even green, but I’d never seen this mauve shade before.

I’m used to seeing snowdrops poking through the snow – but these white beauties make a lovely contrast to the brown leaf mold. They always make me think of The Secret Garden.

And finally, I spotted the first crocuses on Comm Ave the other day, during a lunchtime run. I love their cheerful little faces and splash of purple. I’ve seen more sprouting in both my work and home neighborhoods.

What are the colors of early spring where you are?

We’ve (nearly) made it through February, and I’ve read some great books lately. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom
Broom is the youngest of 12 children born to Ivory Mae, who bought the titular house in New Orleans East in 1961. Broom’s memoir relates her family’s history with the house and neighborhood (wrecked by Hurricane Katrina) and her own wanderings, searching for a place to call home. Started slowly, but it’s powerful and thought-provoking.

Hid from Our Eyes, Julia Spencer-Fleming
In Millers Kill, N.Y., an unidentified young woman is found dead: barefoot, wearing a party dress, not a mark on her. The case is uncannily like two others from 1952 and 1972, and Chief Russ Van Alstyne (then a young Vietnam vet) was a person of interest in the latter. As Russ tries to solve all three cases, his wife Clare Fergusson is juggling priesthood, new motherhood, a new intern and other troubles. I love this series and this ninth entry (we’d been waiting a while) was excellent: well plotted with compelling characters and plenty of depth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 7).

The Sweeney Sisters, Lian Dolan 
Liza, Maggie and Tricia Sweeney shared a (mostly) idyllic childhood in a WASPy Connecticut town. But after their father, literary light William Sweeney, dies, they discover their former neighbor, Serena, is really their half sister. A smart, witty novel of all four grown women grappling with these revelations; juicy and funny and full of heart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 28).

Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City, Wes Moore
Police violence against black men is (unfortunately) nothing new in this country. But after Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015, Baltimore exploded in protests and anger. Moore, himself a black Baltimore native, chronicles the week of the riots through the stories of seven people: protesters, lawyers, civic figures. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 14).

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Tessa Arlen
This book is my catnip: a British mystery set in wartime with a smart, witty heroine who feels a bit out of place. Poppy is a newly trained air raid warden who’s back from London patrolling her little village, when two local girls are murdered. With the help of her corgi, Bess, and a handsome American pilot, she tries to solve the case. So fun.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
I love this last book in the series: big, emotional, complex, satisfying, with so many great moments for so many characters. It’s a commitment but it’s one I’m always glad to make.

The Authenticity Project, Clare Pooley
How honest are we, really, with the people in our lives? That’s the question posed in a green notebook that London cafe owner Monica picks up. What’s written inside will have a ripple effect on her life and several others. I loved the characters in this sweet, fresh novel about secrets and friendship and admitting that life is messy.

Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself, Klancy Miller
I discovered Klancy via her risotto recipe on Cup of Jo, and have been loving her fresh, accessible cookbook full of yummy recipes and pithy advice on cooking for one. Favorites include her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, lemony pancakes, curried sweet potato-carrot soup, lentil soup, and that risotto.

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion, Catriona Menzies-Pike
I read this book two winters ago, right after I became a runner. I’ve been savoring it again, slowly, this winter as I run through the grief from my divorce and the joys and challenges of my new life. Menzies-Pike surprised herself by becoming a runner (like me), and she writes well and honestly about the gifts, frustrations and soul-deep change that running can offer. Also some fascinating feminist history here. Highly recommended.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

this is the winter

This is the winter of lunchtime runs, hauling my running gear and bright blue sneakers to work in my gray backpack so I can get out on the Esplanade twice a week or so, catching the sunshine and whatever warmth it provides.

This is the winter of all the puzzles, spread out on my friend Chrissy’s coffee table: NYC signs and Italian hillsides and bucolic New England landscapes, worked a piece at a time while we talk about our lives.

This is the winter of Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant cookbook about doing just that. I’ve been eating her lentil soup (stuffed with other veggies), her lemony pancakes, her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, for weeks.

This is the winter of almost no snow and only a few extended cold snaps. I’m missing the brilliance of sunlight on reflected snowbanks (and worried about what it means for the climate) even as I give thanks for the lack of grey slush.

This is the winter of settling into Eastie, continuing to make a home in this neighborhood that became mine last year. I’m growing paperwhites in my kitchen window, meeting a few more neighbors, going to yoga and strength training classes at The Point on the regular.

This is the winter of a(nother) Harry Potter reread, undertaken in tandem with someone I love, walking alongside Harry and his companions as they learn and grow and face unbelievable evil with courage and love.

This is the winter of sharp loneliness and sudden tears, still mourning the death of my marriage and adjusting (in all ways) to a new landscape without it.

This is the winter of avocado toast, handfuls of clementines, chunks of Trader Joe’s crumbly English cheddar, Molly’s scones and Jessica Fechtor’s oatmeal cookies, soup simmered in my red stockpot, endless cups of Earl Grey.

This is the winter of runs along the Harborwalk, vivid sunset light reflected in the water, marking the tides and the miles with my feet and the pounding of my heart.

This is the winter of Tuesday indoor picnics in the Pru, hearty soups decanted into red-lidded Tupperware and heated in the office microwave, cloth napkins and on-the-go utensils and laughter before we hug and go our separate ways.

This is the winter of starting to heal, doing my best to welcome unexpected joys where they appear.

What does life look like for you this winter?

maisie dobbs in this grave hour book

Female sleuths have been my heroes since childhood, from Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to Miss Marple and Harriet Vane. But these days, my favorite female investigators have an extra dimension: their complex, layered backgrounds inform their approaches to the cases they take.

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs starts out as a scullery maid, but thanks to a wealthy patron, she attends university, then works as a battlefield nurse before hanging out her shingle as a private investigator. Her eponymous first adventure lays out her background and her first few cases, and sets up a richly drawn, insightful historical series. My favorite installments illuminate aspects of Maisie’s personal life, such as A Dangerous Place, which follows her to Gibraltar and Spain in the wake of great loss. 

mary russell books series sherlock holmes mystery

Orphaned, bookish and prickly, Mary Russell literally stumbles over Sherlock Holmes while walking on the Sussex Downs. The great detective takes her on as his protege in Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and they eventually become full partners in crime-solving and life. But Mary resolutely pursues her own scholarly interests at Oxford, which leads her to a mystery that quickly goes beyond the academic in A Letter of Mary. Russell’s complicated history, academic prowess and sharp wit make her a more-than-worthy compatriot for Holmes. (I blazed through this series when I discovered it some years ago, and have loved each new installment.)

clare russ book stack julia spencer fleming mysteries

Arriving in Millers Kill, N.Y., the newly ordained Reverend Clare Fergusson, carrying the scars of her Army career, must prove she’s a capable priest (In the Bleak Midwinter). But as Clare is drawn into several local mysteries and a growing friendship with the married police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, things get messy. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s gripping series ably explores Clare’s grit, compassion and her complex bond with Russ. Hid From Our Eyes, the long-anticipated ninth installment, is out this spring, and I can’t wait to see where Clare’s unusual talents take her next.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last week.