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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.)

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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

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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?

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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?

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I’ve lived in Boston for nearly 10 (!) years now: a real switch, in all kinds of ways, for this small-town Texas girl. (I grew up in what is technically a mid-size city, and went to college in another one. But I still run into people I know at the grocery store when I go back to either place.)

I’ve been thinking about the triumphs (and trials) particular to living in the city — those moments where you either think, I have nailed this, or the city itself seems to give you a little gift. I’ve had a few lately, so I thought I’d share them with you.

In no particular order:

  • Finding the random item you’re looking for at a grocery store/corner store on your regular route. (Last week: tea lights.)
  • Having just enough quarters (or a couple extra) to do the required amount of laundry.
  • Memorizing your public transit route so you don’t even have to glance at the map (and/or can keep reading your book as you switch trains).
  • Finding out there’s a subway station/bus stop located exactly where you need to go. Bonus points if it’s a route you’ve never taken before.
  • Exploring the library branches and how they’re tailored to their particular neighborhoods. (Though the central Boston Public Library is my neighborhood branch, and it has my heart.)
  • Deciphering the local accent. (Smaht Pahk, anyone?)
  • That moment when a new neighborhood/area gets added to your mental map. Sometimes I can almost hear the puzzle pieces snapping into place.

What would you add?

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The first [daffodils] of the season are sprouting on my pocket-handkerchief sundeck—bursts of yellow on sappy stems. It seems almost wrong for them to be so yellow and so confident of the coming of spring. It is still winter. They are early. I am quite annoyed with them, which is perverse. […]

The pots on the sundeck are studded with strappy leaves, and stems topped with furled yellow buds, and, until I cut it a few minutes ago, there was this one arrogant or self-confident bloom ahead of all the rest, with its open-hearted, imprudent embrace of possibility. […]

Daffy daffodils. They open themselves in this way to light and sun and rain, exposing their innards, advertising their vulnerability with a splash of colour in the grey, shaded, pre-spring garden.

Spring is coming, the daffodils say. Hope springs eternal. And all that.

I am going to cut more of the furled yellow buds, put them in a vase, and watch them open in the warmth of my living room.

—Margaret Simons, Six Square Metres: Reflections from a Small Garden

I’ve been reading Simons’ wry, wonderful memoir about her tiny garden in the inner suburbs of Melbourne (kindly sent to me by the good folks at Scribe US). I don’t have any outdoor space for bulbs, but I’ve been filling my kitchen with Trader Joe’s daffodils lately, and her words were a perfect match for the cheery yellow blooms that are making my kitchen cart so happy right now.

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We haven’t seen the sun since Tuesday, friends, and frankly, I’m getting a little desperate. Boston hasn’t had much snow yet this winter (though my West Texas hometown got seven inches the other day), but it has been chill, grey and rainy for days on end. I am pulling out all my lifesavers from Monday’s post, but here are a few that have particularly come through in the clutch this week:

  • Eating all the clementines. They remind me that brightness will return, and they taste so good.
  • Making travel plans to see family and friends (in reliably sunny locales!) this spring.
  • Dinner with a girlfriend the other night – the curry was delicious, but two hours of good talk was even better for my soul.
  • My happy lamp – even if it’s a placebo effect, I will take the blast of bright light in the mornings when it’s so misty out that I can’t see across Boston Harbor.

  • Reading fun kid lit. Currently loving To Night Owl from Dogfish, recommended by Anne.
  • Daffodils from Trader Joe’s, which were on sale for $1.50 this week.
  • Reading a gardening book – in this case, Six Square Metres by Margaret Simons.
  • Writing snail mail love notes – I’m trying to write one every day in February.

How do you get through the truly dreary days?

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