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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

sunflowers tory row cambridge blue sky

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sunflowers rockport tall

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

sunflowers d2 cambridge

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

sunflowers blue vase table

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

—Mary Oliver

I came across this poem in Oliver’s gorgeous collection Blue Iris, which I read, savored and lingered over for weeks this spring. It has stayed with me through a long, hot, crowded summer, especially as the sunflowers began to bloom here in Boston and Cambridge. Some of its lines resonated right away; others have come back to me during difficult or lonely days.

sunflowers darwins cambridge

I love sunflowers: their bright faces and sturdy stalks, their cheery yellow petals, the way they peek over fences and surprise me. There are vases of them – on both my desk at work and my kitchen table – as I type this.

In some ways, I also am a sunflower: I am shy, but want to be friends. I always do my best to seek out the light, though I recognize, increasingly, that “the long work of turning [our] lives into a celebration is not easy.”

perennial sunflowers rockport

I am grateful, this week and in this whole season, for these bright faces peeking out around so many corners. Like all the flowers I love, they offer beauty and hope in a world where we badly need both.

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back porch geraniums

Last week, I sat in my usual spot in the chapel of Memorial Church, squinting in the bright morning light, watching it play across the high cream-colored ceilings and the carved wooden pews. Morning Prayers is back in session for the fall term, and I am grateful to rest in it again as part of my daily rhythm.

David Hempton, the dean of Harvard Divinity School, spoke that morning on an achingly timely topic: “belonging at Harvard.” (This was two days after the president’s DACA announcement, about which Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, and others have spoken more eloquently than I can.)

Hempton noted that belonging means something more than networking or connecting or being able to say you visited a place. Many people come to Harvard for exactly those (legitimate) reasons. But for those of us who work and study here – who have made it, in some sense, our home – belonging means more than that. We want to know that this is our community; that we are accepted here, valued, safe. With that comes a deep responsibility to make this community a safe, thoughtful, welcoming place for others.

Belonging, Hempton added, “involves the acceptance of our own frailties and those of others in a spirit of generosity and mutual forbearance. There is no belonging without self-acceptance.”

Those words, in his gentle Irish accent, made tears well in my eyes, and they reminded me of another David, the poet David Whyte, in “The House of Belonging“:

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love. […]

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

It takes a long time for most of us to find our own houses of belonging: to accept ourselves and others without judgment and with generosity, to be brave enough to become who we really are. It’s not a linear process, and it is a slow one: it takes a long time to grow into ourselves. But even as we fail and falter, we are still responsible for the other side of community: we must be a place of welcome for others. We must ask how we can help them belong, and help them thrive.

I don’t have the answers for any of this, at Harvard or elsewhere: I don’t always know what it looks like, for me or for my communities. But as Hempton said (and as Rakesh Khurana, the dean of Harvard College, said at Morning Prayers the very next day), I know one thing: we must do this work, of building and welcome, together.

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book geraniums captains daughter sandals porch flowers

My reading slowed waaaay down in August, but I read some fantastic books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Salt Houses, Hala Alyan
When Salma Yacoub reads her daughter Alia’s tea leaves on the eve of Alia’s wedding, she sees trouble – unrest, displacement, grief – and also luck. From there unfolds the rich, layered, multigenerational saga of the Yacoub family, who are uprooted from Palestine during the Six-Day War of 1967. Over five decades and at least as many countries, Salma’s family continue to live: they struggle, they migrate, they work, they fight, they love. A powerful and absolutely gorgeous novel about family, belonging, restlessness, the secrets we keep and the selves we become. Recommended by my colleagues at Shelf Awareness.

The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman
The Owens women aren’t like other women: they have certain unusual powers, but they’re also under a longstanding curse. Hoffman tells the story of Franny, her sister Bridget (known as Jet) and their aunt Isabelle. I loved this book; it broke my heart and mended it, over and over, and gave me a few good words about courage. Lush and gorgeous and moving and powerful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 10).

Epiphanies & Elegies, Brian Doyle
My Brian Doyle kick continues: this is a slim, whimsical collection of poems on Ireland, animals, “wild holy children” and more. My favorites: “Instructions to the New Puppy,” “Lilies,” and “Goose Arrested at the Corner of Winter & Summer.”

The Captain’s Daughter, Meg Mitchell Moore
I love Moore’s insightful, honest novels about family and finding our place in the world. This one focuses on Eliza Barnes, who is called back to her tiny Maine hometown when her lobsterman father is injured. Eliza worked hard to build a different life for herself and she’s proud of that, but being back home makes her question her choices, and she also befriends a local teenager, Mary, who is facing her own crisis. Powerful and lovely and real.

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

What are you reading?

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kitchen aprons book stack

Trying to catch up a little here: my reading pace has slowed during our move, but here’s what I’ve been reading as we settle into the new place:

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work in the White House, Alyssa Mastromonaco
I devoured this smart, engaging, chatty memoir by Mastromonaco, who worked for Barack Obama for almost 10 years. She tells crazy campaign stories, writes about confidence and kindness (and other key qualities), and shares a few personal anecdotes. The narrative wanders at times, but it’s honest, fascinating and a lot of fun. Recommended by Rebecca on All the Books, and by my pen pal Jaclyn.

When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon
I’d been seeing this Indian-American YA love story everywhere, so I picked it up at the library and took it to the beach. Two teenagers meet at a web-development seminar in San Francisco, but Dimple doesn’t know that their parents are scheming to set them up (for marriage!). She throws her iced coffee in his face; they end up as project partners; and (spoiler) they fall in love anyway. Sweet and funny; I loved how both Dimple and Rishi wrestled with their family’s culture and traditions in honest, interesting ways.

Ash and Quill, Rachel Caine
Fugitives on the run from the powerful Library of Alexandria, Jess Brightwell and his band of friends have escaped to Philadelphia – which is full of enemies and also under threat from the Library’s forces. The best yet in Caine’s smart, fast-paced YA series: so much here about knowledge and power, information and freedom. Also: a motley crew of friends trying to save the world – knowing full well they might die in the attempt – is a story I always love.

The Book of Separation, Tova Mirvis
After spending her life ensconced in Orthodox Judaism, Mirvis found herself unable to remain there: even though it meant dismantling her marriage and uprooting her children’s lives, she knew she had to leave. A stunning, gorgeously written memoir of leaving and belonging, community and isolation, questioning and loving and figuring out different ways to be. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 19).

Evidence, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry, and it is saving my life these days: wise, whimsical, keenly observed, insistent. I’ve been carrying this collection in my purse like a talisman. Some favorites: “Halleluiah,” “Mysteries, Yes,” “Evidence,” “The Singular and Cheerful Life.”

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

What are you reading?

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red white blue collage

Summer has (finally) arrived – hot and bright, and fuller than I had expected, at least so far. It’s the slow season at work, since classes are out for the summer, but there’s plenty to catch up on, and meanwhile I am squeezing in time with my people whenever I can.

Here’s what’s saving my life in this season:

  • Mary Oliver’s wonderful collection Blue Iris, in which I have been lingering for weeks. Her flower poems – especially “Sunflowers,” “Poppies” and “Peonies” – have captivated me, and “A Blessing” chokes me up every time.
  • Yoga, whenever and however I can squeeze it in. I particularly love three of the teachers at my studio: sweet, bouncy Erin; warm, wise Gina; and Maeve, whose Irish accent is an extra treat.
  • Several spur-of-the-moment dinners with friends: Tex-Mex food around our kitchen table (with homemade guacamole), tall sweating glasses of lemonade and good talk. Tapas and arepas eaten outside on warm evenings in Brookline and Cambridge, with red wine and so many stories. There’s nothing like being together.
  • The flowers around Cambridge: day lilies in every shade of orange and red, hedges of fragrant jasmine, fences dripping with honeysuckle, the beginnings of hydrangea. And the roses.

red lilies

  • The words I heard coming out of my own mouth as I stood behind the communion table last Sunday: this is a story of love, from the beginning. (I am not sure where that sentence came from, but I needed to hear it.)
  • Long walks around Cambridge, no matter the weather: sometimes alone, sometimes with a dear friend.
  • The fact that my geraniums – which I really thought had given up the ghost after this long, grey winter and spring – are blooming like they mean it.
  • My morning tea, brewed strong in a purple travel mug: currently either MEM Tea ginger peach or Lady Baker’s Blooming Blueberry (from Cambridge and PEI, respectively).
  • New shoes that are making my feet so happy: comfy, stylish black Clarks wedges.

in the shelter book red pants black wedges

  • It would go without saying, except I can’t not mention it: my daily trips to Darwin’s, for nourishment on many levels. Hot tea in the morning, English muffins dripping with butter, iced jasmine tea lemonade, smiles and chitchat with my favorite staff members. They are so good to me there.
  • Talking to the twentysomething at the farm stand who started a student food pantry at her college.
  • A few books that are speaking to my soul in all the best ways: Molly Yeh’s wisecracking, mouthwatering cookbook, Pádraig Ó Tuama’s luminous memoir (above), Mary Oliver and some really fun fiction.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you’d like.

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garden of small beginnings

How is it July already? (I seem to be asking that question every month lately.) Here’s what I have been reading, in a summer that has been fast and full so far:

Girls in the Moon, Janet McNally
Phoebe and Luna Ferris have grown up in the shadow of their parents: musicians whose band broke up when their marriage did. Luna’s trying to make it as a musician in NYC, while Phoebe might be a songwriter – she’s not sure yet. A trip to Brooklyn to visit Luna (and track down their dad, Kieran) gives Phoebe a chance to seek answers to her questions. A music-soaked, beautifully written, bittersweet YA novel of sisterhood, first love and trying to find our places in the world. Recommended by Leigh.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop, Veronica Henry
Julius Nightingale’s cozy bookshop in the Cotswolds was his lifelong dream. But after his death, Julius’ daughter Emilia struggles to deal with her grief and save the shop from financial ruin. A lovely, honest novel about moving forward, being brave, and (of course) books. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 15).

The Garden of Small Beginnings, Abbi Waxman
Lilian Girvan lost her husband, Dan, in a car wreck four years ago. She’s pulled it together, working full-time and caring for her two little girls (with lots of help from her sister). But when Lili’s boss signs her up for a gardening class, she finds she might be interested in the instructor, which terrifies her. A clever, warmhearted novel studded with gardening tips and hilarious one-liners. I cracked up every few pages. Also (highly) recommended by Leigh.

Anne’s House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery
I started rereading this book on the red sand beaches of PEI – the perfect place, since it follows Anne as she marries Gilbert and moves to Four Winds on the Island’s north shore. I love watching her come into her own as a married woman, and I adore the supporting cast at Four Winds: Miss Cornelia, Captain Jim and Leslie Moore. Plus the descriptions (always Montgomery’s strong suit) are exquisite.

Cicada Summer, Maureen Leurck
Alex Proctor has taken on her biggest home renovation project yet: a beautiful historic house with a million problems. She’s also still trying to move on after her divorce, and care for her young daughter. A sweet, predictable but enjoyable novel about second chances and rebuilding (both houses and lives). To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 25).

Blue Iris, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and this collection might be my favorite yet: it is full of quietly stunning flower poems, perfect for this time of year. Some favorites: “The Sunflowers,” “Poppies,” “Peonies,” “A Blessing.” I’ve been lingering in it for weeks, not wanting it to end. (Found at Three Lives. I often buy poetry there.)

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

What are you reading?

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three lives bookstore interior nook nyc

We are (somehow) halfway through the year already, and I’m doing what I always do: taking stock of the books I’ve read so far, and sharing a handful of my favorites with you.

I’ve read about 75 books thus far in 2017, and here are a few I have particularly loved. (I found a couple of them at the wonderful Three Lives & Co., pictured above.)

Wittiest Love Story: The Romantics by Leah Konen. I read this YA love story – ably narrated by Love herself – on our Florida beach vacation in March, and loved every page. The footnotes are hilarious.

Most Beautiful Memoir: A Country Between by Stephanie Saldaña. An American journalist married to a Frenchman (and former monk) moves with him to Jerusalem, and this luminous, wise, honest book is the story of their navigating so many cultural in-betweens.

Best Novel about Family and Food: The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan. Mouthwatering descriptions, a really wonderful family saga, and a few lines near the end that kept me going all spring.

Series That Keeps on Getting Better: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. This series about time-traveling historians with a penchant for disaster – including, but not limited to, copious explosions – is so much fun. Lots of dry British wit and so much tea, but my favorite thing is how fiercely this (truly) motley crew fights for one another, in every era.

Best Story About Friendship: Summerlost by Ally Condie. The story of Leo and Cedar, who become friends while working a summer theatre festival, captured my heart and still won’t let it go.

Poetry That Sings: anything by the wonderful Brian Doyle (whom we lost last month, sadly). I’ve read three collections of his wise, funny, thoughtful, keenly observed “proems” this year: How the Light Gets In, A Shimmer of Something and The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be. Each of them cracked my heart open in the best way.

Best Book on Writing: Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I savored this one over many commutes, and it was a treat: incisive, plainspoken, inspiring.

Best Lit Crit I’ve Read in Years: Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees. A whip-smart tour of seven little-known badass feminist British writers = catnip for my brainy English-major side.

The Wise, Luminous, Lovely Book I Didn’t Know I Needed: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear. I keep coming back to this slim book, with so many lines about loss, building a creative life, loving your people well and paying attention.

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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