Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Supporting one another

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

These Tuesday slices are all over the map these past many months, as I seem to just fall into different topics. I guess that in itself is a 'slice of my life' these days - unsure which end is up! Today, I find myself wanting to share and discuss police response...in general yet personal terms...reflections, really. This past Sunday, I found myself mesmerized by a long article in the Washington Post written by Hannah Dreier, entitled "The worst-case scenario: Converging in a tense section of Huntsville: A white officer fresh from de-escalation training, a troubled black woman with a gun, and a crowd with cellphones ready to record" [print edition really allows for some dang long article titles - ha!] 

I invite you to come along as I take a deep dive into what this article triggered for me. Not my normal slice of life, but, hey, what's normal these days?

This is an insightful story about these times, revealing the multi-faceted problems that police officers are challenged to face, and the heightened fears for our Black citizens in these frightening situations...and, rest assured, this young woman does not lose her life but, in fact, the situation ends with her getting the medical assistance she needs. Kudos to the police officer (Thomas Parker) for his restraint, and for his courage to be profiled - warts and all - by this reporter. I was particularly struck by his honest reflections - he feels that the thing that saved the situation was an unexpected, soaking rain shower. How horrifying is that? This deep rain somehow put the psychotic young woman into a more open, receptive mental place, about being taken to the hospital.

We really need to question what we expect our police to do. Should they be responding to these situations? Are we training them appropriately for these situations? 

..a woman was ranting and slamming doors at an apartment complex. She was scaring the neighbors...
This article spoke to me because, with a few details changed, the story is something I personally experienced. Back in 1984, when I was twenty-four years old, I was supporting my mother through a psychotic break...she lived here in the D.C. area at the time, my father was out of town, and I had received a crazy phone call from her at my work (office job, in those days!) and I rushed to support her, recognizing her bipolar/schizophrenia issues. After nearly 36 hours with her, trying to de-escalate, trying to get her to swallow a sedative, she broke from me/the apartment and raged down the hall of the high-rise they lived in. I called 911, and a rapid-fire blur of actions ensued - I heard a firetruck (and feared I called the wrong number), Mom made it to the elevator bank, I tried to block her here, the elevator doors opened and two police officers jumped out, Mom looked at me with anger and called me an expletive (even in this insanity, she knew I had called 911!) and raced back towards the apartment, where I had left the door open, and I screamed "she'll go off the balcony!" and I raced after her. 

They lived on the 10th floor of the building; it was my deepest horror that she so badly wanted OUT of her skin right then, she would jump off the balcony.

Blur of a scene continues - I raced after her, got only a few feet when I was thrown up against the wall and pinned in place by a police officer, who said "You don't move." The other officer caught up with my mother and threw her down to the floor so hard, I heard the thump. She screamed as he restrained her, forcefully. The officer with me began to question me, resolved that I was not a threat, I was the one who called, and let go of me, but demanded that I stay where I was. He assisted the other officer in restraining my mother who was filled with adrenaline of mania - there is nothing like this life force, seriously. Firefighters came down the hall with a stretcher, to assist the police. Mom was lifted, restrained, pinned onto this in short order, and taken to the hospital against her will. 

Truthfully, I was and am deeply appreciative of the police that day. 

Think about the scary decisions families have to make to get their loved ones help in such times. 
Think how profoundly difficult this must be for Black families. It took me 36 hours to be convinced that I couldn't keep Mom's situation private, couldn't handle it myself - and, as a white woman, I certainly did not fear calling 911, did not fear police would hurt me. 

And, yet, in fact, the police did perceive me as a possible threat, and understandably so - they had no idea what they were stepping into, really. 

Think about the split decisions police have to make.

I know that the police did not have guns drawn when they arrived, but I remember their hands on their holsters. 

I was struck, in the Washington Post article, by how over-armed the Huntsville police were: 

outfitted with a shotgun, an AR-15 that hung next to his shoulder.

That can't possibly be the right thing to have with you when you are dealing with someone who is mentally ill.

I was also struck by the policeman's 'protocol':

Parker saw how the struggle would go, like it had gone for him so many times on these calls. [The woman] getting bounced off the concrete when he tackled here. Her limbs twisting and bruising as he wrestled her into handcuffs. And then a forced walk out to the street.

Why are handcuffs even in play in these situations? What the hell is this? There were no handcuffs with my Mom. There was a stretcher. Which is what the situation required. Why this difference in approach, between 1984 and now - is it due to where one lives? the color of one's skin? a militarization/heightened 'criminalization' of citizens in police policy?

What he didn't know, and what a social worker might have understood: Two years before, she had given birth to a stillborn son. Then she had gotten pregnant again and vowed to do all she could to keep the baby healthy, including staying off her medications so she could breastfeed. Earlier this year, she had wanted to wean the baby and get a new prescription, but that was when Alabama was shutting down in the initial days of the pandemic. When she hadn't been able to get through to the psychiatric hospital, she had tried going to the emergency room, but the doctors there just referred her back to the same phone number that no one was answering, and not long after that, the neighbors began to see her in the courtyard talking to herself about devils.

Our country must grapple with police reform. 

We absolutely must rethink our societal constructs and responses to mental illness. 

We must help each other, support one another through times of crisis.

These are very complicated issues.

It is hard to know where to even begin, but begin we must.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

In Praise of Mourning

Here I am, at the last day of  Ethical ELA's July Open/Write, five days of poetry writing with other Teacher/Writers. Our final challenge this month is to compose a "praise poem" - which is described as follows:

Praise poem


identify a power that has some mystery for you. And write to try to get into the right relationship with that power—praise, description, interpretation, petition. That force could be a season, as for Keats, or an art form, as in my poem, or, as for Pablo Neruda, a luminous ordinary object. Try for three sections or parts, to see what happens to your relationship as you write in this inherently responsive form. It’s good if you find you have a three-part poem at the end of the process—but odes can be unsegmented or have as many as eight parts to them as well. Follow your own sense of relation to your inspiration as you go.
Here's my poem...

In Praise of Mourning

In a time of great pain, mourning brings us healing.
We gather together, sit alongside, embracing grieving,
Our hearts bursting, allowing all the tears to openly fall,
Families holding one another up,
Dear friends laden with food, flowers, and cards,
A blur of dresses and suits, styled hair, and polished shoes,
The bodies, the bodies, the bodies, all close and physical together,
Overflowing into hallways, kitchens, doorways, and corners,
A dance of people in moving, mixing, mourning clusters,
Some quiet whispers of what they deeply loved, remembered, felt,
Boisterous laughs at that time when, oh my, do you remember?
Eulogies, sharing prolific words, from deep within,
So much weeping and wailing,
Arms strewn over shoulders, tissues grabbing for falling tears,
Enfolding one another in deep, strengthening hugs.

We are mourning.

How do we do this now? In this time of great pain,
We cannot be with our loved ones as they die, no bedside vigils,
Last-minute gambles - stay home or to the hospital?
So many deaths, so much pain, so much love.
Dying, always a singular journey, is now absolutely lonely as well.
We, the near and dear, hunkered in our houses, watching from computers.
Is there a deeper pain than 'I cannot get to you'?
Our very constructs for mourning are challenged,
All of us, distanced, afar, with artificial environments imposed.
Funeral plans made virtually for a virtual service,
A semblance of ritual, an apparition of presence, an emptiness so raw.
Appointing one family member to be liaison, to make the solitary journey,
To gather the remains, absent any consoling community,
Leaving you wondering, is this just figment of imagination?
Is it really happening?

We are mourning.

Alongside our great pain, there is beauty within mourning's new form
Technology allows us to join together without limits
Take the time, make the time, listen, hear, soak, be.
The grieving have their arms stretched wide, ready for embrace,
We write on those virtual obituary walls, send the loving text, a caring card,
Share that cherished thought, that laugh, that heartfelt moment,
Dare to be a one-inch presence on the screen of the distant service,
Know that mourning is tender, ongoing, unstoppable,
Connecting us, wrapping us up in one another's deep love.
Truth be told, mourning never fits in any structure,
A leaky vessel, it seeps into other days and times,
A special song, a certain food, an unexpected picture, and tears flow.
Name their names, shout them into empty homes, allow those tears to fall,
Fervent, overflowing, unbridled, yet focused, cherishing the one who lived,
As all mourning is, and ever shall be.

We are mourning.

Here's the feedback I received on Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA website:


As the kids say: I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Oof. You hit the emotional core of what so many are going through right here:

We, the near and dear, hunkered in our houses, watching from computers.
Is there a deeper pain than ‘I cannot get to you’ ?

Thank you

gayle sands

Maureen—this is so very beautiful. One line that I loved— “Take the time, make the time, listen, hear, soak, be.” It succinctly gives all we are doing together in perfect words. Your poem flows grandly and solemnly—so much to love. “as all mourning is, and ever shall be.” Wow


This is heart wrenching. Your lines: “Dying, always a singular journey, is now absolutely lonely as well” is really powerful. It actually is one of my greatest fears. That someone I love or I will end up dying alone in a Covid hospital bed. Yes, we are mourning!

Mo Daley

You have really captured so much in this poem, Maureen. I appreciate how deeply you dove into mourning during the pandemic. You wrote tenderly about things I had not even considered. Your last lines, starting with, “Truth be told…” will stay with me for a while.
I’m currently reading James Agee’s A Death in the Family. Your poem is a perfect companion to it.

Glenda M. Funk

Your poem is so tender and mournful. The images of community now separated by the necessity to replace human contact w/ screens reinforce the mourning we share. So many beautiful images here; I can’t pick just one. This is one of my favorite poems of yours. It reminds me of the collection “October Morning” about Matthew Shepard.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Today is day four of the Ethical ELA's July Open/Write, five days of poetry writing with other Teacher/Writers. Again, I step into the poetry wild! Our challenge is to compose a "monotetra" - which is described as follows:

The monotetra is a poetic form developed by Michael Walker. A monotetra poem uses quatrains (four-line stanzas) in tetrameter (four metrical feet) for a total of eight syllables per line. Each quatrain consists of mono-rhymed lines (so each line in the first stanza has the same type of rhyme, as does each line in the second stanza, etc.). The final line of each stanza repeats the same four syllables. This poem can be as short as one quatrain and as long as a poet wishes. 
For me, such writing is akin to completing a puzzle, as I wrestle with words, syllables, lines, in the midst of a message or theme. Truly, a challenge!

I continue to wrestle with this transition that I find myself in - no longer teaching, what comes next? This ended up being the focus of my poem. Amusingly, I keep hearing the refrain from the children's book/song "Going On a Bearhunt" - which inspired the title.

Can’t Go Over It, Can’t Go Under It


All that was true is now no more

Cannot return to time before

Saying farewell hurt at the core

Paused at the door, paused at the door.


So unsure, and scared to admit

No clear ideas, only tidbits

Like kids’ bear hunt, courage commit:

Must go through it, must go through it.


Dreams in the dark give a soft clue,

Forward beckons, this much is true

Think of it as a sweet redo

Trust in the new, trust in the new.

Here are the comments I received from Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA website:

Denise Krebs

Maureen, what a hopeful poem in your situation. I love the courage, resilience, expectation. These monotetras are really lovely to read aloud. I really enjoyed reading yours today, as I am in a transition this fall too. Thanks!

Tracie McCormick


SO much to unpack here in this little poem!

First, I love that you are equating the big kid decisions you are making related to this pandemic/your retirement with the little kid decisions made in this well-known children’s book.


Because this HUGE challenge is so HUGE and powerful and scary that it has reduced us to being vulnerable young children without any control over our lives.

“All that was true is now no more
Cannot return to time before”

It is easy for us to advise youngsters about moving on from painful experiences and to let go of the past…that is until it happens to us as adults! Then, it is not so easy!

“Like kids’ bear hunt, courage commit:”

How often do we tell our youngsters to face challenges like the first day of school, or sports tryouts, or musical auditions and simply say, “Don’t be afraid.” As though summoning such necessary courage is so simple! It’s not! We see that now.

“Trust in the new, trust in the new.”

And what is the hardest thing for kids to feel these days? Probably trust! This generation knows disappoint every time they turn around: friends betray their secrets, parents separate their family, their heroes and idols commit crime…yet we tell them to trust that things will be okay. Again, as if we even follow our own advice here!

I think that is why I felt a special connection with my students from this past school year. We were not categorically separated as adult and child during the pandemic. We were simply equal partners going on a bear hunt together.

Mo Daley

Maureen, your poem gave me all the feels. Your first stanza is so sad- I genuinely teared up! The second stanza shows us your trepidation and determination. And the idea of a sweet redo is just beautiful. I want to keep telling myself to trust in the new!

Margaret Simon

I love the use of the bear hunt as a metaphor for this virus life. I hear a sense of hope in your final stanza, “The way is forward, that is true…Trust in the new, trust in the new.” I hope retirement brings you new adventures that you never imagined.

gayle sands

Maureen—I began reciting the entire thing, and how true—Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Gotta go through it. I retired unexpectedly for the same reason. I am having trouble with this going through thing. :-/

About the milk

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

One of the great pleasures of my life is spending time with my granddaughter, "Frog." We babysit her at least once a week. She is 21 months old. Her latest obsession is my doll collection, which is kept up high, in my "china cabinet" - out of reach for youngsters, and requiring an adult's focused attention for her to peruse. To share these dolls with her is to go down memory lane myself; my collection began when my father sent me a couple Vietnamese dolls nearly 50 years ago, when he served there for the Navy. When I travel (remember that? traveling?), I always try to pick up a special doll, crafted locally. This week, Frog is obsessed with my matryushka doll, and, over and over again, we bring these over to a low table and painstakingly open and close all ten nesting dolls. To sit alongside this child as she carefully examines these - how can I adequately describe the joy and gratitude I have for these days of endless quiet, these days to luxuriate in her? Yes, there are - for me - extraordinary silver linings to this time of pandemic and surprise retirement. I have nothing 'on my plate,' yet, I have EVERYTHING. There are moments when I want to pinch myself - it feels like magic elixir to be in her company, able to watch her grow. Yes, I am giving her so much - but, truly, she is giving me so much more...insight, words, understanding, perspective, serenity. 

Our laugh out loud this past visit...we let her drink milk from a ceramic "Winnie the Pooh" child's cup...a gift from someone, to one of my boys when they were born; ha, funny that I cannot remember who received or who gave...of course, as a parent, this cup was rarely if ever used, I had not the time or patience to supervise a toddler drinking from a breakable cup. Things are different with a grandchild! Let's bring out the special cup! 

Frog was in awe of this little cup - with its bear on the side, to which she said "grrrrr!" Although she sat very calmly in her highchair (she has one of those seats that attach to the table), she wielded the cup like a plastic toy, wildly moving it this way and that, daring to hold it with only one hand, with the milk tipping near the edge on one side and then teetering back the other way; at one point, she drank from the opposite/farther edge of the cup - basically daring all the milk to wash down into her bib. That surprised her. (I - early childhood teacher - had only given her a precious little amount of milk, so that I had less to wipe up!) 

Throughout this whole first experience, her Papa and Nana coached and gesticulated, lots of 'OH! YES! TWO HANDS! TRY AGAIN!" Finishing the cup with a few sips and a few slips, she wanted a little more milk ("More!" Such an important early word!) Although in recent weeks she has lost interest in her bottle, think how much more fun milk is when it can be enjoyed in this way? With a lively audience? 

Papa took the cup and added another half inch of milk...but here's what cracked me up; this dear man was not moving fast enough for Frog. I suppose she was afraid he was taking the cup away for good. Here's the scene: Papa's holding the cup and she's grunts at him impatiently and then TAPS her index finger for him on the table to PLACE THE CUP RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. She knew full well that she needed him to put the cup down now, so that she might control it fully, all by herself. 

Twenty-one months old and she is ordering her Papa about. She is going to be a force.

The look of surprise on my husband's face is what makes me smile still - I know Tony saw, in that one impatient gesture, not just Frog's father, our son, but her Nana, his wife: needing things just so. Right now. 

Yep, that's me.

“There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
Today God gives milk
and I have the pail”
― Anne Sexton

Monday, July 20, 2020

Garden Truths

Today, I am following a prompt from Ethical ELA's July Open/Write, five days of poetry writing with other Teacher/Writers. The inspiration is to write an ghazal - which was totally new to me:

The ghazal is a Persian poem that is a chain of between 5-15 couplets which can be read as independent poems with a refrain of 1-3 words that repeat. In the traditional form, the word before the refrain would rhyme in each following couplet.The refrain is repeated in the second line of each couplet. Each couplet should be about the same length. Topics often include loss,religion, longing, or romantic love. 

Yesterday's thinking about digging in the garden led to this poem:

Garden Truths


Restoration of the garden while enduring heat so stark

Wallowing in dirt’s coolness and the illuminating dark


Loam, clay, mud, silt, sand, there are so many types of soil

Microscopic life within the illuminating dark


Uprooting noxious weeds hiding deep within

Growing fiercely during the illuminating dark


Weeds can halt erosion, some flowers a nuisance spread,

It’s not just one or the other, declares the illuminating dark


What we have is fragile, tender, strong, and possible,

We hold life between our fingers in the illuminating dark

Here are the comments I received on Ethical ELA:

Anna Roseboro

Maureen, your poem could be both a literal and metaphoric description of what many are experiencing and doing during this pandemic. Some of us are participating in written and oral conversations that are unearthing long-held beliefs, teachings, and policies that we are learning may be the cause of some of the social unrest that is spawning the protests and the responses to the pandemic.

Others are tending the new insight we’re gaining and new friendships we’re making knowing that both need tender care to grown and become productive agents for positive change. We each hope we’re planting new seeds of truth that will feed the minds of those with whom we interact in ways that show compassion, respect, and forgiveness whether or not either is extended to us.

Thanks for the beauty of your poem and the challenge of your message.


Oh my science teacher soul is made so happy by stanza 2…
Gardens are such a rich place for reflection. You captured your thoughts using beautiful words and images.

Mo Daley

What a perfect oxymoron to write about! I read your poem as a call to harken back to simpler times. Interacting with nature has been a lifeline for me during the pandemic. I think friends sometimes tire of me talking about flowers, birds, or trails, but those things are helping me find peace. Thank you for your beautiful words.

Tracie McCormick

Maureen, the layered meaning of these lines,

“What we have is fragile, tender, strong, and possible,
We hold life between our fingers in the illuminating dark.”

is intense! So much to contemplate! So discussable!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Ode to Motivation

Today, I am following a prompt from Ethical ELA's July Open/Write, five days of poetry writing with other Teacher/Writers. The inspiration is to write an ode - to think of something or someone you love and admire, and roll these thoughts into a poem. 

For awhile, I played with words about "digging in the dirt" - there is a real poem there, I am sure, because I love to work in the garden and I get such a great mix of feelings from this experience...truly, to be outside with a trowel is to partake in a little therapy during this time of COVID. 

However, my thoughts about dirt led to this:

Ode to Motivation


Oh, my sweet Motivation,

you are my sun,

my everything,

truly, life-giving.

When you are around me,

I am giddy,

capable and creative,

strong, stimulated, and unstoppable.

This thing we have between us is BEAUTIFUL!

Yes, I feel embraced, enveloped, enriched by you.

I know you through and through.

I know you are mine,

all mine.


There’s something difficult I want to talk about.

I don’t understand why,


you leave me.


Do you know that I feel so empty

when you are gone?

I don’t even understand!

Why have you gone?!


I always search for you.

Sometimes I can see you are simply

playing with me,


and I lure you back.

Most often, though,

you are truly gone.


Days without you are

long and sad,

a wallowing,

a soak in nothingness.

I no longer want for anything.

Not even you.


Why do you leave me?

Where do you go?

I have a right to know!


Oh, Motivation,

you are fickle, coy, elusive!

If we had been honest with one another before you left,

what would you have shared?

What do I not know about you?

Why do you toy with me this way?

Why do you feel the need to leave me?



I can see this isn’t a good time to talk.

Let’s not think about your future absence.

Let’s have fun together now.

Love you, Motivation!

Here are the comments I received on Ethical ELA:

Denise Krebs

Oh, Maureen,
Brava! My goodness. That is a winner of an ode to Motivation. I think I have a very similar relationship with Motivation.
This was a particularly good insight when Motivation has left us:

I no longer want for anything.
Not even you.

Just wow!

Monica Schwafaty

Beautiful! This is exactly how I feel about hope.

Mo Daley

Maureen, what a funny ode to motivation. I smiled as I read it because it’s so relatable. I love the thought of trying to lure her/him back!

Glenda M. Funk

I feel every word of your ode. It took me all day to write mine. My mind is asked. Favorite lines:

Days without you are
long and sad,
a wallowing,
a soak in nothingness.


Amy Compton

I can explain this dilemma perfectly. When our dear friend, Motivation, is absent from one of our lives it has obviously gone for a visit with the other. Lately at my house Motivation has been sleeping on my couch (which isn’t real comfortable), so I’m going to assume it’s been with you. While I really love having motivation here with me, I certainly don’t wish to deprive you of its company. Does our dear friend, Motivation, have a twin, a cousin, a clone? That way Motivation can be with both of us!

Tracie McCormick


I just knew there would be a transition like this at some point because we all know the story about motivation,

“There’s something difficult I want to talk about.
I don’t understand why,
you leave me.”

And then this stanza…let’s just not worry about what might happen. Instead, let’s just enjoy motivation when it’s here!

I can see this isn’t a good time to talk.
Let’s not think about your future absence.
Let’s have fun together now.”

You capture this conflicted relationship in such a relatable manner!