Friday, September 23, 2016

14th birthday, present

While you are sleeping
I find your sister's old phone--
the smart one--
and make the call.

Your dumb, old phone,
with its cracked screen--
"not your fault"--
lies in the hall,

full of stupid photos
and foolish texts sent
against the rules.
You never call.

I add another line and
increase the data plan--
that's my secret--
and pay for it all.

I activate your new phone,
congratulate myself--
birthday gift achieved--
and test a call.

There you are, goofing on last
year's voice message--"Like,
totally, like ciao!"
You sound small,

smart enough for a phone
but little, like a kid--
high, chirpy voice--
not cracked, not tall.

draft (c) HM 2016

Fourteen is different nowadays, huh?  I spent hours and hours on the kitchen wall phone with the long spiralled cord, sitting in the privatest place it could reach at the top of the back stairs, practicing my double entendre with a boy who was a friend, not a crush--safe space.

My son is moving from the "dumb" phone to the smart phone because he needs to start practicing how to use it wisely, but we have our qualms--unfairly, because we didn't have the same ones with his sister.  This rightly makes him indignant (but they have different strengths and weaknesses and are susceptible to different, shall I say, "cultural" dangers.)  However, he's getting his sooner than she got hers.

Hope it doesn't grow him up any faster than he's already going.

ADDENDUM:  No danger of that.  I showed him his birthday poem (so much for keeping secrets).  He stared for a while and then said, "Is that how you spell ciao?" 

But then, this is the same boy who looked out the car window recently and said, "Hey, look--is that guy RUNNING with a stroller!?"  They know so much, and then you find out what they absurdly haven't figured out yet...

The Poetry Friday roundup today is with Catherine at Reading to the Core.  Call in for plenty of poetry conversations!

Friday, September 16, 2016

OISG returns!

Strange how you can realize after the fact that something was missing, without realizing it at the time...last year in Second Grade, much was overheard, but not much of it made me laugh.  This year will be different, let me tell you!

"Overheard in Second Grade" (OISG) is supposed to be Tuesday feature, but here we are kicking off on a Friday this year.  The concept is that I share a quote from a 7-year-old and then use it as a writing prompt, which is how many of my poems come to be anyway.  All names are aliases to protect the privacy of my students (and you can forget right now what I said about all the angels two weeks ago), but the words are as verbatim as I can make them.

So....yesterday I'm doing a reading assessment with my student Latham using a book called "A Huge Mess"  (also an alias so that I don't violate any test security regulations geez).  I say the required intro--"This book is about a kid called Charlie who has a little trouble taking care of his things," and then I always add (probably in violation of testing protocol),

 "Is there anyone like that in your family?"

Latham pins me with his big brown eyes and says,

"Yes, and you probably know who it is, 'cause you're lookin' right at him!"


You Probably Know Who It Is

Is there anyone here who
can never find a pencil?
     Yep--and you're lookin' right at him...

Is there anyone here who
spills her juice every day?
     Uh-huh--and you're lookin' right at her...

Are there any kids here who
leave their jackets on the playground?
     Oh yeah--and you're lookin' right at 'em...

Here we all are
searching,  wiping,  fetching--
and lookin' right back
at you!

draft (c) Heidi Mordhorst 2016

The Poetry Friday Round-Up today is with Michelle at Today's Little Ditty.  Go eavesdrop on all the interesting poetry chat!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

on retreat this weekend...

See you next week for the return of OIK Tuesday, now morphed into OISG Tuesday!

Friday, September 2, 2016

all the world...

...has entered my classroom in the form of 16 children who are, in three cases literally, angels. (I have an Angel, an Angela, and an Angelina!)  This year, in addition to my old favorite Roxaboxen, I began the year with the picture book poem All the World by our friend Liz Garton Scanlon.  This poem (even without the Caldecott Honor illustrations by Marla Frazee) touches the sacred for me, and the way I explained it to the shiny new second-graders sitting on my shaggy green carpet is that it gathers up many small, ordinary things to make us feel one big true thing.  Here's an excerpt.

All the World | Liz Garton Scanlon

Rock, stone, pebble, sand
Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep.

Hive, bee, wings, hum
Husk, cob, corn, yum!
Tomato blossom, fruit so red
All the world's a garden bed

Tree, branch, trunk, crown
Climbing up and sitting down
Morning sun becomes noon-blue
All the world is old and new
Everything you hear, smell, see
All the world is everything
Hope and peace and love and trust
All the world is all of us

After I read this, there was this long pause, and then Andy (yes, I have an Andy too), raised his hand to say, "That book almost made me cry."  There was reverence in the room.

And that, my friends, is what they are ALL like this year:  full of hope and peace and love and trust, open-hearted and ready.  It's another miracle.

Just in case someone had thought to set this beauty to music, I searched a little and found my way to this, which plays with the end of the book to fit the music but comes out pretty wonderful.

SchoolTube video

Thanks to Liz, and thanks to Penny at A Penny and Her Jots for hosting today, and thanks be to the ebb and flow of the world that every year is different!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

poetry friday round-up: open house

Yes, indeed, friends--my house is open!  Today at 1:30 pm children and their families will surge in around the lists posted in the foyer of the school to see who has which teacher, and then the new 2nd graders will surge up the stairs to the 2nd floor for the first time to find their new classrooms, and then 16 of them will surge through my door looking for a new home away from home.  I hope they find it, and I hope you will also find a home away from home here today in this community, in a poem someone has posted.  I almost always find something just right!

Three Little Birds
(a mindful breathing practice)

Criss cross. Sit straight.
Hands out. Reach and gather.
Gently scoop it to your belly.
Hold it there for 1, 2, 3
feathered seconds.
Its bones are hollow,
its eyes are bright.

Now lift. Lift it up
with gentle hands
and let it fly lightly away
taking your breath
along with it.

Reach again and scoop
a second one.  Don't worry
about a thing.
Hold it, counting 1, 2, 3,
and then let it fly.

Once more, a third little bird,
reach and gather, hold it
to your belly.
Hear a melody pure and true,
and let this one fly too.

draft (c) HM 2016
with thanks to Bob Marley

I won't be available to do any rounding-up until much later today, but the link-up will automate us and I look forward to reading your posts as I get a chance over the weekend!

Friday, August 19, 2016


kudzu canyon
 that which causes wonder and astonishment, 
being an extraordinary effect or event in the physical world 
that surpasses all known human or natural powers 

clay shaped and baked into flowerpots
flavors of basil, mint, oregano

symmetry of the cat's markings
silent din of dawn
but also
engineering of a glossy magazine
interlock of Lego bricks

and look--¡mira!
closure technologies: button, zipper, snap
scrubbable, self-healing, waterproof skin

kudzu canyons stretching for miles
traffic flowing easily, ever
and what about
babies, born to laugh
ready shower of hot water

clean sweetness of Cheerios, blueberries, milk
daily delivery of mail

"all known human and natural powers,"
every one, and
every one a miracle

draft (c) Heidi Mordhorst 2016


Today's Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Dori at Dori Reads.  Go catch some breathy bubbles of poetry!

Friday, August 12, 2016

late summer leaving

There's a gentle battle going on at our house...

I Defend a Habitually Rash Action to My Teenager

Yes, daughter, I let the cat out again.
      It’s late summer and the world is
      steaming with sunshine,
      streaming with cloud and blossom
      and voluptuous voles.

He is not wise but filled with the beastly miracle of himself,
filled with the urge to be out,
to make his foolish way.

(You know how he comes back after
two minutes or two days, stands at the threshold,
leans in, steps back, leans in,
then turns and bolts away?)

Yes, daughter, I know there are dangers
out there—sly foxes, cars that run so
      silently we don’t hear them coming,
      other cats who are not kind.

But I have no right to keep him in, happy
as he is in his carpeted climber, curled
in any of his many cozy corners, thrilled
as he is by his kibble.

He knows his instincts.

Disaster may await.  Yes, daughter,
there might be sadness.
I slide the door open, and trust.

©Heidi Mordhorst 2016

I can only imagine what it will be like next year, when daughter is 18...

Our Poetry Friday round-up is with Julieann at To Read To Write To Be, where her small commitment to GO AHEAD with poetry in the first days of school has inspired me!

Friday, July 29, 2016

3, a number poem

draft (c) Heidi Mordhorst 2016
3 is the magic number,
bulging with possibilities.
One thing leads to another
                and then another.
Beginning middle end.
3 has eyes to see and ears to hear.
3 purses its lips and
blows a kiss to the future.
         Promise of wishes fulfilled.


That's a less-than-one-minute poem that COULD have been (but isn't) in the forthcoming anthology ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME, edited by Children's Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt.  Instead a different tiny poem by me is included, along with many more "60-second poems to send you off to sleep."

I just love the cover illustration by Christoph Niemann, and I can't wait to see what other poems by our Poetry Friday friends are included.  It comes out November 1 from Little Brown, just in time for winter gift-giving!

The Poetry Friday round-up is with Margaret at Reflections on the Teche.

Friday, July 22, 2016

remember the raspberries

"I want my word to be the thing itself,
 created by my soul a second time."
                    --Juan Ramon Jimenez

"A poem should not mean, but be."
                   --Archibald MacLeish

This week I presented at the Millersville University Poetry in the Classroom Institute, directed by Dr. Lesley Colabucci.  Along with Jacqueline Jules, Marjorie Maddox, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, I "worked" poetry with a great group of Pennsylvania educators.  There was talk of the many ways to read poetry, write poetry, share poetry, collect poetry, teach poetry, learn poetry, and my particular contribution was a look at the nuts & bolts of establishing a workable poetry routine in the classroom. Meanwhile, I created my own writer's retreat here in Lancaster, PA, and excavated a whole crate of writing from as far back as 1992--not notebooks, but drafts of stories and memoir and poems and manuscripts, some with my notes, some with critique group notes--tons of material remembered and yes (I have a really faulty memory), forgotten.

This has given me the impression of eating, sleeping and breathing poetry all week, and yet for me there has hardly been a moment of letting a poem "be the thing itself," of letting it "not mean, but be."  These words are the epigraph to a double collection of poems by my youngest cousin Meredith, which I rediscovered in my trove of writing.  So to conclude my week, I'm going to let these two poems by Meredith be the thing itself, created a second time out of her college experience of brain cancer and long recovery

from Roots: Living With(Out) Cancer
grass || Meredith Tracy
       Part I: Another Voice in the Darkness, 1999

Dad wheels me along
the paved pathways, careful not
to tip me sideways
I remember how the familiar feel of
each individual blade
on my bare feet
stunned me as I stood up
out of my wheelchair.

Taking in the fresh air,
an unexpected treasure--
raspberry bushes:
ruby fruit
that melts on my tongue.

A respite from hospital air,
nutrients/food.  A reminder of life.

I am alive.

remember the raspberries|| Meredith Tracy
     Part II: Remember the Raspberries, 2009
i need to remember that
unexpected pleasure of
the rubyfruit melting on
my tongue.

that moment when I was
outside, no longer a
patient, but an outsider
seeing the unexpectedness
of life, the surprises that
appear so suddenly, th
pieces of a light-full life
to be lived, even if only
day by day.

i need to forget the
dark half of the room
i shared with a stranger.
the dark half that seems
to follow me, not
letting me go
until i can shed this
darkness and walk out
into the light.


The roundup today is with  Chelanne at Books4Learning.  Let the poems be.

Friday, July 15, 2016


When is the new year?
not on the calendar's first day
of January,
not even on the solstice night
of winter,
not the solstice day of June.

The new year arrives
on some
unmarked day
of summer, when

an unnamed energy,
submerged in
sun and water and soil,
counts a number of ticks
known only to its own
atomic clock

and rested, wakes,
resonates, reanimates,
swings its pendulum
of light, wet and polished,
beaming up
the new year.

draft (c) HM 2016

The roundup today is with Mary Lee (Moo!) at A Year of Reading.

Friday, July 8, 2016

watermelon teatime

Despite my firm and abiding belief in public education (maybe not the system we've got, but in the ideal of it), I think often about other models:  unschooling and homeschooling and cooperative schooling.  Lately the crew at Brave Writer has had me wishing that I'd set out on the homeschool journey (even though everyone knows that we moved to France for a year just so that I could avoid teaching my son in nursery school).  They offer homeschoolers many resources for teaching writing, including online courses, but their greatest invention is (are you listening, Jama?) ........

The basic idea is that a family sets aside regular time for 
Poetry + Tea + Treats = Enchanted Learning and Magical Family Time!

Brave Writer supports this ritual with a website dedicated to it alone.  Posts come from the Brave Writer staff, who recommend books, recipes and related projects, and from homeschoolers who keep Poetry Teatime weekly with their families.  You will also find interviews with poets, and I was recently invited to respond to a set of questions about writing and poetry--you can read the full interview here. I'm in extremely good company; Poetry Teatime has featured Marilyn Singer, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater and Joyce Sidman too, and their interviews are fascinating.

Here's one snippet that goes to the key elements: the pairing of poetry and food!

We love to pair tea and food with poetry. Many of your poems mention food—for example, your book Pumpkin Butterfly features wild strawberries, lemons, and cherries. How can poetry and food complement each other? Do you have any favorite food/poem pairings, either of your own or of others’ work?

A tea party is a special way of enjoying food and drink that gives extra weight and importance to the flavors and the company. Poetry is a special way of enjoying words and ideas that gives extra weight and importance to the meaning and the metaphor. They go together beautifully! 

My family just celebrated the Summer Solstice with a big evening picnic in a park where we always serve watermelon—one of the very best flavors of summer. Here is a watermelon poem that goes with my poem from Pumpkin Butterfly called “Winged Solstice.”

Ode to a Watermelon
by Pablo Neruda

Round, supreme, celestial watermelon
The fruit of the tree of thirst
Green whale of summer.

Oda a la Sandia
por Pablo Neruda

La redonda, suprema y celestial sandia
es la fruta del arbol de la sed.
Es la ballena verde del verano.

I also include an easy watermelon recipe to try that's a far cry from scones or cinnamon toast, but is a perfect summer teatime finger food!

And of course, with Poetry Teatime coming in one ear and this "Poetry Peek" post from Amy's Poem Farm about poetry and popcorn coming in the other, my teacher brain is ruminating on how to bring a similar ritual into my classroom next year.  I already do our daily chapter book reading during snack time, and not only because our crammed schedule requires multitasking.  While it's true that the children are not all ranged, rapt, at my feet as I read about (for example) Gawain's escape from the courtroom to freedom and isolation across the lake in The Real Thief, my standing position as they eat at their desks allows for a dramatic and energetic rendering of the action and, I hope, creates an association for the kids between food for the body and food for the spirit.  I believe in that yet more firmly and abidingly than the belief I began the post with!

Today's host for Poetry Friday is Katie at The Logonauts--pour yourself a cup of tea (iced if it's 93* as predicted here) and enjoy the ritual!

Friday, July 1, 2016

back in the saddle and living a lie

File under Silver Linings:  last week's episode with the unwelcome visitors (which seems to be concluded by the application of a fierce indoor heat treatment) required a kamikaze decluttering effort which laid bare the deeper strata of stuff in our house.  In the aftermath, we find ourselves putting back the essentials and opening up boxes like the very heavy one, taped shut since 1998, that has stood in our bedroom draped with a cloth and pretending to be a coffee table.

Lo, it contained notebooks!  My notebooks and journals from the very early years--high school, college, my 6 months in Germany after college.  Amid the excruciating details of my forever overlapping love interests-- (how the world has changed! My own 17-year-old, nor most of her friends, does not concern herself with boys or girls or any love interests but with her own mighty path of becomingness.  Is this true in other parts of the world, or is this specific to her and her microcosm?)--there are POEMS to discover, including this one, typed on an actual typewriter and then marked up and down.  It was folded into my journal from 1984-85, my senior year in college.

Careful readers of  Squeeze may recognize a precursor to my poem "The Moon Moves," which in more than one place I claim to have written first as a 2nd-grader.  Apparently I have been living that lie for all it's worth!  The original version above is clearly based on bike trips I took in the dark during my summer at home in Richmond in 1984, where I visited childhood stomping grounds and viewed them with all the wisdom and perspective of a 20-year-old--"old rounds, new."

Of course, nothing is exactly proven except the fact that I have a a really faulty memory.  It is still possible that somewhere I might turn up an original first poem about riding my bike in the dark at age 7 or 8 (mothers let their kids do that back in 1972).  But I think, in trawling my mind for material for Squeeze, that I neatly bypassed the memory of this composed college version of my kid experience and recreated it as a directly experienced episode of my childhood.

But wait!  There's more!  Looking yet more closely at my 1985 draft, I also see elements of another Squeeze poem, "Singing the Swing:" 

old rounds,                                                                  new

Now I swing and point my toes                                   reach out with your toes
straight into the mottled sky.                                        kick at the clouds

I, the chains and the earth,                                           hold safe to the chains
we swing a scalene explosion                                      you're rooted in earth but you're singing the swing

However it has all developed, the Silver Linings file is getting fat, because THIS is why I keep stuff!  Too much stuff, to be sure, but I keep it because

1) the proven fact that I have a really faulty memory
2) writers should never erase or trash anything--
    you never know when or why it may come in interesting, if not actually handy, and
3) "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," and I prefer to repeat my past with a sense of awareness.

I look forward to a steadier, more reciprocal participation in Poetry Friday for the rest of the summer.  Thanks to Tabatha for hosting today at The Opposite of Indifference, where her theme of mistakes offers ample room for my lie the size of the moon!