The Radius of Hollow

I am not a poet.  But when my son was injured in a hockey game this week, it seeded an odd inspiration to write a poem about an important life lesson.  Pain and disappointment are part of the human experience, an inevitable part of life.  I witness this on almost a daily basis because of my work in human rights, but I also know it as a person who has sometimes experienced it. I want my son to understand that, while many things are outside of his control, how he responds to adversity is almost always within his control. I want him to know that learning from his disappointment will build courage and resilience – “sharp edges” for life.

I am not a poet, but, in truth, anyone can write a poem.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Radius of Hollow

Two players collided at
Mad hockey speed.
Fully padded – protected – and yet
My son was cut open.
Steel blade freshly sharpened,
One swift, true stroke that
Slashed through the sock,
Bit hungrily into his tender skin.

My own son, down
On his knees in the cold.
A supplicant pleading.
Or praying.
Blood pumped out and
His white sock bloomed crimson.
His heart’s blood,
Congealed dark on the ice.

I remembered his tears,
That morning they posted the team.
His name was not there.
He was in.
But then,
In a flash,
He was out.
He was the last to be cut.

A skate’s blade has twin edges.
In the center, a valley:
The radius of hollow.
Dull edges, you fall.
Yet sharp edges require
A rift through the core,
This concave depression.
The radius of hollow is what gives you control.

No need for stitches, coach said.
It’s not deep. But it hurts.
Violet and sallow-green blossoms on pale skin.
An angry contusion that will resolve.
Rough edges of torn flesh
Will adhere.
Up! Back on the ice, my son!
These wounds will heal.

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Haikus With My Daughter III: Girls Rights

My heart yearns for you

To live – equal – to your full

human potential.

It’s a challenge to raise a daughter in a society that innundates us with countless hidden messages about how girls should look and act, who they should be.    My daughter and I have been talking about this a lot lately, with the holiday marketing of “girls toys” and “boys toys” so in our faces.   So I was pleasantly surprised this week when she found a women’s rights message hidden in Captain Underpants and The Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers.

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Captain Underpants.

The bully battle begins!

(Secret feminism.)

You go, girl! You just go and go and GO!

This post, Haikus With My Daughter , Haikus With My Daughter II  and Thanksgiving are a response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.

Haikus With My Daughter II

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“I wrote a poem about you today,” I said.  “Well, just a haiku.  But actually, I wrote two.”

This caught my 8 year-old daughter’s attention.  She put down her Monster High doll, the one she just bought with money hard-earned from chores like scooping the cat’s litterbox.

“What’s a haiku?” she asked.  Apparently, they hadn’t yet covered this in her third grade class.

“It’s a kind of short Japanese poem.  It has three lines, with a total of only seventeen syllables.  The first line is five syllables, the second is seven and the third is five.”

As she read my haikus, I said,  “I wrote about you, but  usually haikus are about nature.”

“Like about animals?”

“Sure.  ‘Animals’ is three syllables, so you need two more for the first line.  Then seven, then five.”

“Syllables, like beats in music?”

“Exactly.”

She didn’t even pause to think.  She launched right in.

“Animals live in …”

“You’re doing it!  You’re writing your very own haiku!  Now seven syllables. Where do animals live?”

“Jungle, forest and…”   She counted out the syllables on the five fingers of her right hand.   Then two more on the fingers of her left hand.  She had painted her fingernails in an alternating pattern with red and blue nail polish.  Red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red blue.

“City? Ocean?”

“That’s great!  Which one?  Ocean or city?”

“Nature everywhere.”

“You did it!  You wrote your own haiku!”

She smiled – a small, proud smile – and then she picked up her doll again.

“That was really good.  Let me write it down.   Can you say it again?”

She shrugged, engrossed in brushing the doll’s hair.

“I forgot it already,” she said.

“But I’m your mom and I will always remember,”  I thought.

Haiku by Eliza

Animals live in

Jungle, forest and city.    (or ocean)

Nature around us!

This post, Haikus With My Daughter , Thanksgiving and Haikus With My Daughter III: Girls Rights are in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.

Haikus With My Daughter

IMG_0449I haven’t written a poem since I was in elementary school.

But today I wrote tw0- not one, but TWO! – haikus in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.

My eight year old daughter was the inspiration for the first.

It doesn't have to be perfect to be sussesful.
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be sussesful.

Marginalia

Cleaning her backpack,

I found …my daughter’s wise words,

Scrawled  in the  margins.

She was also the inspiration for the second haiku of the day:

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To My Daughter, Who Is 8

Eight years old, full of

Joy and bold discovery.

Stay this kind and strong!

 

Next up – my daughter writes her very first haiku!  Haikus With My Daughter II

“U Have To Struggle More”: A Poem for International Day of the Girl

Kanchi Photo - Young

Last year on the International Day of the Girl, I wrote about a girl named Kanchi and her determination to overcome all obstacles and obtain an education in rural Nepal.  The first in her family to go to school, Kanchi is now studying horticulture in university. She also writes poetry in her spare time and asked me to share the following poem that she wrote about her life.

It is a poem that seems particularly fitting on this,  the second  International Day of the Girl.

When I was born in small hut,

i’d be a heavy load,

i’d be a heavy load,

Anyhow i have to accept all the things

which were asked by father & mother

because i’m a daughter,

because i’m a daughter.

Father& Mother always used to say

that i don’t have any right to read & write

because 1 day i have to leave birth place

& i have to be someone’s wife,

i have to be someone’s wife.

They says that i cannot do anything in my life because

my life is like an egg which can

Creak at anytime if it falls,

Which never be join back,

which never be join back.

They say that to do household work,

that’s my big property &

during the time of my marriage

when i get more dowry,

during the time of my marriage

when i get more dowry.

These heart pinches words

collided in my ear,

my heart nearly go to burst,

,my heart nearly go to burst.

At that time my 1 heart says

that u have to leave this selfish world.

But another heart says that don’t get tired

to achieve goal u have to struggle more,

u have to struggle more.

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL:  KANCHI’S STORY

Originally published October 11, 2012 on The Advocates Post.

Every morning when I come into work, I am greeted by the smiling face of a young girl. Her hair is pulled neatly back into two braids, glossy black against her pink hairbands.  Her eyes, dark and alert, shine at me – I swear I can see them twinkle.

She wears the blue uniform of her school, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in rural Nepal.  The Advocates for Human Rights supports the school to provide the right to education to the most disadvantaged kids in the area and to prevent them from becoming involved in child labor.  Photographs from the school hang on the walls of our office, reminders to us of the lives that we impact with our human rights work.

Even though I see her every day, until last month I had never met this cheerful young girl, a girl whose smile – even in a photo – comes from her core, seems to light her entire being. Until last month, I did not know that her name was Kanchi.  And I had never heard her incredible story.

*****

In 1999, Kanchi was six years old.  She lived with her family in a village in the Kathmandu Valley.  Her parents were poor farmers; they had only a little land and some cattle and they struggled to feed their family.  Kanchi was the youngest of six sisters.  She and her sisters (and also her  brother) had to help their parents in the fields and with household chores.  Kanchi’s job was also to take the cattle to the forest to graze.   Kanchi did not go to school.   There were many children in Nepal that did not go to school at that time, but girls, like Kanchi, were more likely than boys to work rather than go to school – particularly in rural areas like the Suntole district where she lived.

Kanchi was a very smart and determined little girl.  She wanted to go to school.   So when she heard that a new school was opening in the Sankhu-Palubari community – a school for kids who were not able to go to school because they couldn’t pay or were discriminated against – she was very excited.  She rushed off to tell her parents.  But her parents, who had never themselves been educated, were not as excited as Kanchi.  Why should they let her go to school?  Who would help feed the family? Why should they send her to school if she was only going to get married in a few years anyway?

Kanchi says that she cried for a month and begged her parents to let her go to school.  One day, teachers from the new school came to visit Kanchi’s parents to talk to them about the school. The teachers explained that it would help THEM if Kanchi could read and write.  They explained why it was important for all children to go to school, even girls.  They told them that all children – even the poorest, the lowest-caste, members of indigenous groups – had a right to education.

Kanchi’s older sisters, who had never had the opportunity to go to school, took her side. Instead getting an education, they had all married young and were working in the fields.  Kanchi’s sisters argued that Kanchi should go to school, take this opportunity for a life that would be different from theirs.  Finally, their parents agreed to let Kanchi go to school.

Kanchi started at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in 1999, one of 39  students in the first kindergarten class.  To get to school, Kanchi had to walk one and a half hours each way.  There were many other obstacles along the way, too.  At various times, her parents wanted her to stop school and help them with farming.  But she stayed in school and worked hard. She told her parents,  “I want to do something different from the others.”

Kanchi liked her teachers and felt supported by them.  She felt that the best thing about the school was the teaching environment.  She stayed in school and was one of only two girls in the first class to graduate from 8th grade.  She continued on to high school and completed 12th grade at  Siddhartha College of Banepa in 2012.  The first in her family to go to school, Kanchi is also the first girl from the Sankhu-Palubari Community School to graduate from 12th grade.

I met Kanchi for the first time in September.  Almost exactly 13 years after this brave little girl started kindergarten, she is a lovely young woman who is preparing for her university entrance exams.  She plans to study agriculture  starting in January.   Her parents are proud of her and they are happy now – she has chosen the family profession – but Kanchi is interested in learning more about organic farming so she can bring techniques back to her village.  “I want to live a healthy life and give a healthy life to others,” she says.

Sitting in the principal’s office at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, I asked her what the school meant to her.  Kanchi said, “I gained from this school my life.  If I hadn’t learned to read and write, I would be a housewife.”  When asked about her sisters, she told me that they had made sure to send their own children to school.

In her free time, Kanchi likes to sing and dance and make handicrafts to decorate her room.  She likes to play with her sisters’ children.  She has a smile that lights the whole world.  She told me her nickname, Himshila.  She smiled when she told me it means “mountain snow, strong rock”.  Strong rock.  That seems just about right.

*****

October 11, 2012 is the first International Day of the Girl Child.  The United Nations has designated this day to promote the rights of girls, highlight gender inequalities and the challenges girls face, and address discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe.  In many ways, the story of Kanchi and her sisters reflects the experience of girls in many countries throughout the world.  All over the world, girls are denied equal access to education, forced into child labor, married off at a young age, pressured to drop out of school because of their gender.

There are many good reasons to ensure access to education for girls like Kanchi, however. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development.

“Investing in girls is smart,” says World Bank President, Robert Zoellick. “It is central to boosting development, breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and allowing girls, and then women—50 percent of the world’s population—to lead better, fairer and more productive lives.”

The International Day of the Girl is a day to recommit ourselves to ensuring that girls like Kanchi have the chance to live their lives to their fullest possible potential.  To redouble our efforts to promote the rights of girls wherever they live in the world.   This first International Day of the Girl is also a day to honor girls like Kanchi.  A day to take the story of her success in one tiny corner of Nepal and shout it out, an inspiration for girls all around the world.  Girls like Kanchi with the strength, the bravery, the determination to change the world, but who  just need the opportunity.

Ode to Shel Silverstein

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April is National Poetry Month and one of the “30 Ways to Celebrate”  is to revisit a poem that you loved when you were young.  So tonight I pulled out the Shel Silverstein‘s classic Where The Sidewalk Ends.  We have all of Shel Silverstein’s books, even the posthumous Everything On It. I actually have two copies of Where The Sidewalk Ends. My first copy was a gift I received for my birthday from my great-aunt Audrey.

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There is so much humor and sense and joy in these poems! If I read the opening line, I can close my eyes and recite many of the shorter ones. Flipping through the pages and familiar illustrations, one of my favorite poems jumped out at me.  Perhaps it influenced me more as a child than I realized.

LISTEN TO THE MUSTN’TS

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,

Listen to the DON’TS

Listen to the SHOULDN’TS

The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS

Listen to the NEVER HAVES

Then listen close to me–

Anything can happen, child,

ANYTHING can be.

In the second of my two copies of Where The Sidewalk Ends, I re-discovered this dedication from my Grandpa Olaf (I have written about his secrets to a long and happy life before) and my step-grandmother Lynda:

Dedication

My grandpa signed it, but this dedication was clearly written by Lynda.  Both have been gone for a couple of years now.   The book was given to us perhaps 10 years ago; I am certain that I have read the dedication before.  But reading it again was a like a familiar touch on the shoulder.  An unexpected blessing.

So I, for one, will be embracing the expected – and unexpected – richness of the National Month of Poetry.

***

Two more poems from Where The Sidewalk Ends and one bit of trivia:

HUG O’ WAR

I will not play at tug o’ war.

I’d rather play at hug o’ war,

Where everyone hugs

Instead of tugs,

Where everyone giggles

And rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses,

And everyone grins,

And everyone cuddles,

And everyone wins.

Hug o' War
On the way to school in Minneapolis, USA

NO DIFFERENCE

Small as a peanut,

Big as a giant,

We’re all the same size

When we turn off the light.

Rich as a sultan,

Poor as a mite,

We’re all worth the same

When we turn out the light.

Red, black or orange,

Yellow or white,

We all look the same

When we turn out the light.

So maybe the way to make

Everything right

Is for God to just reach out

And turn out the light!

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On the way home from school in Yaounde, Cameroon

Here is the Trivia bit:  Shel Silverstein also wrote the lyrics to the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue”. (It’s true!)

More about  Shel Silverstein’s poetry and illustrations – and activities, too – can be found on www.shelsilverstein.com.

***

For National Poetry Month, here are more of my posts with poems:

A Mother In A Refugee Camp by Chinua Achebe

April Rain Song by Langston Hughes

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost