Friday, April 15, 2016

npm pmmu #15: kindness

This month I'm posting daily Poetry-Music Match-Ups, and you're invited to join me! 
(See the bottom* of the post for ideas.)  When I don't have a crowd-sourced combo 
scheduled, I'll share one of my own many, many PMMUs!  If something comes to your
 mind, send it to me HERE.

Today our match-up is suggested by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater and some of her family.  She starts us off with a poem she calls "everyone's favorite."   We can't know exactly when it was written or why, but it feels absolutely of the moment.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995

For a noisier counterpoint to this quietly powerful poem, Amy introduces me 
to a new artist with this song by Fred Small.  The lyrics of this song, below, highlight for me the difference between the quality of narrative vs. poetry and also lyrics vs. poetry--a narrative lyric can get to the same place, but via very different roads of experience. 

Scrambled Eggs and Prayers || Fred Small

Five convicts broke free from the Braden prison yard
Five men armed and dangerous, five hearts stony hard.
They ran down to the bottom where the Hatchie runs black
Where many have fled but few have come back
Louise and her friend Renzie were talking on the phone
All about the fugitives desperate on the run
She just had time to whisper, "Renzie, call the police"
When he stepped up with his shotgun, saying, "Everybody freeze."
She said, "Sit down, young man, I don't want no violence here
I can see your body's weary and your soul laden with care
I'll cook you up some breakfast, you put that gun away.
Now sit down, young man, and pray."
He said, "Lady, I'm so hungry, I ain't eaten for three days"
She took out her skillet, fixed him bacon, bread, and eggs.
She talked about the bible, eyes crinkled when she smiled
He set down that shotgun and obeyed her like a child
She said, "Where is your mother?" He said, "I wish I knew."
She said, "I know your mother is praying for you.
I'm seventy-three years old, raised two boys of my own
And I know we must face judgment when we have done wrong."
He heard the cruiser coming, the cops were at the door
He looked out the window, said, "They'll kill me now for sure."
She said, "Finish up your breakfast, I'll let them do no harm."
He left the shotgun on the sofa and surrendered unarmed.
Now some folks might have meekly done whatever he had said
And some folks might have jumped him and probably turned up dead
You can tell it to your daughters and teach it to your sons
That scrambled eggs and prayers are stronger than guns.

from the album No Limit, 1985 

As if that weren't enough richness for one day, Amy and her daughter Georgia take this match-up game a little further, suggesting this short story by Langston Hughes, Thank You, Ma'am, and this musical scene from Les Miserables.  You see it here from the 2012 movie version:

"The Bishop" from Les Miserables

Over and over we see sorrow and hardship and forgiveness and generosity, but we never stop needing the lesson (especially in 2nd grade):  be kind. 

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by Michelle at Today's Little Ditty.  It's another place to sip from many cups of kindness!


  1. "Kindness" is a poem I carry on Poem in your Pocket Day. You are right that kindness is never a lesson to be taken for granted. I'm glad you posted the lyrics because I read early in the morning so I don't listen to anything but the quiet of a sleeping house. Amy leads us to kindness often. I played a song by Barry Lane for my students that she had on her blog. Thanks for this post.

  2. Thank you for the kindness you spread here at your blog, Heidi. I am always grateful for my kind friends here in the Poetry Friday community. This is a fun game, and I'm finding myself still thinking about it! xo

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  4. Beautiful match-ups. Thank-you.

  5. You took my favorite poem and layered it with new meaning. Beautiful. Thank you for the message of empathy and compassion. Kindness matters most.

  6. If anyone can turn this world around, it's the VanDerwater kindness crusade! I'm not sure there's a more worthwhile endeavor, actually. Thanks for all the music matching fun this month, Heidi.

  7. Love the poem and Thank you, Ma'am, but the song is new to me, but so heartfelt, & shows looking at things a new way might not be so bad after all. Thanks Heidi, and to Amy for the gathering!

  8. "tender gravity of kindness" - Naomi Shihab Nye always stops me in my tracks. And I'm with Michelle - those VanDerwaters definitely make the world a better place.
    Thanks for just not one cup, but many cups of kindness here today, Heidi! Great match-ups.

  9. Naomi Shihab Nye's poem is hitting me hard today. We've spent almost two years dealing with a mentally ill (we realize now) cat, and on Wednesday night (it was a long hard night) decided to release him (and us) from the misery. Thursday was a grim day (morbid humor -- we got our taxes done in the early afternoon, then took Will to the vet -- death and taxes) but yesterday together (and now by myself alone here at the kitchen table with my tea and the roundup), we can feel hope raise its head above the crowd. We'll be able to walk forward with a friendly shadow, not the shadow of guilt or regret or pain and suffering.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!