Archive for the ‘Mightier Than the Sword’ Category


Ashes to Ashes: A Musing on Lent

February 20, 2007


Hashata hakha, l’shana haba b’ar’a d’yisrael;
Hashata avdei, l’shana haba bnei chorin.

 “This year here, next year in Israel!! This year slaves, next year free men!” (Jewish saying at Passover)

Human beings are amphibious creatures, created for eternity yet existing in linear time.  Thanks in no small part to the Industrial Revolution, it is easy to confirm that, at least in the West,  we are chained to the hands of a watch moving inexorably onward.  Even a century ago this was not so; planting would begin when leaves reached an approximate size and the workday would end around dusk.  Modern man, on the other hand, has life scheduled to the second (and wonders why he is under nearly constant pressure!).  We were not intended to live that way, faced with instantaneous change conflicting with an ingrained desire for stability. 

Think about why one of the most effective methods of torturers throughout history has been to deny their victims any sense of the true passage of time.  Separate man from knowledge of the season, day, or hour and he is lost and easily broken.   Call it circadian rhythms if you will, but we long for both transition and constancy.  Thanks be to our God, who has perfectly balanced the two.  It will be spring again, but always a *new* spring.  Feast and famine are balanced too, an apt reminder as we move towards the Great Fast of Lent.  If it was always winter but never Christmas, there would be no expectation or pleasure and life would be constant drudgery.  On the other hand, one cannot appreciate feasting without a sense of what it means to be deprived.  Judaism and liturgical Christianity allow for both, just as it should be.  When Jews celebrate the Passover, their joy in the Lord’s mighty deliverance is tempered by reminders (such as the maror, or bitter herbs) of the misery of slavery.  It is significant to remember that Christ’s last meal was a Passover seder as he both fulfilled all of the Passover customs and made them new by instituting the Lord’s Supper on that night. 

Lent must give way to Easter, sorrow to joy, but our joy is not yet complete.  Next year we may be free, but for now we are slaves, slaves to sin, slaves to this physical world.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus; because of your resurrection we hope to celebrate the Passover meal together with you once more in the New Jerusalem, ha aretz Yisrael

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The Truth and Nothing But the Truth…

January 4, 2007

Mood: Renewed
Song: “Sound of Silence” 

Breaking the silence, I present my autobiograpy in verse form.  Those of you who are my fellow English geeks will recognize the medium as an English (Shakespearean) sonnet. 

I wrote this as an example for my students, but the content comes directly from the recesses of my own psyche.  Please feel free to offer *constructive* feedback; I am no Philip Sidney, nor would I choose to be.  I know it’s a work in progress.

 Better yet, try your own version of the autobiopoem and either post the link or include it in the comments.  The gauntlet, my friends, has been officially thrown down.

White Rose Sonnet   

Oh what is in a name like Juliet?                                                                    

Does it foreshadow what I am to be?                                                             

From books I’ve learned what I cannot forget:                                               

That goodness, truth and beauty must guide me.                                                                                                                               

 With solemn thoughts I gaze upon the stars                                                   

And often sense my own transparency.                                                                      

Inspired by them, I long to have no scars,                                                      

But I must find a deeper way to see.                                                                        

I fear to fail but dread uncertainty                                                                                         

And could not bear to cause another pain.                                                                            

An ancient motto, “loyalty binds me”,                                                                                               

Is in my life both credo and refrain.                              

I am no piercing prophet with bold voice,

But, under mercy, in my call rejoice.     

Pinkies Up


Proving Montaigne Wrong…

November 4, 2005

Mood: poetic
Song: "Auld Lange Syne"

For Miriam on her 26th Birthday
Tuesday’s Children
A poem in terza rima

In Southern California, halcyon days
Were swept away before November gusts
And she emerged, fresh soul with ancient gaze.

Rough diamond, all her brightness yet untried,
Her middle name revealed the heart within:
The “Grace” to cast all bitterness aside.

She grew, fair child who learned to face the wind
And gained compassion through the steeper path
By loving those whose youth would never end.

A firstborn girl, in books she found her ease
And trained to hear the music of the spheres
With hours perfecting notes on ivory keys

At sixteen years she followed study’s muse
But questioned views her parents had endorsed
And sought the truth she’d need to freely choose.

Another girl first struggled to draw breath
Mere months after the other child appeared
But life for her would take a separate path.

In deepest summer haze she ventured forth
The only child of a gambling man
She wandered long before she found true north.

That heart was youthful, even as her name;
Her eyes saw farthest when they turned within
A mind where wisdom early staked a claim.

She grew, strong child who weathered desert blaze
And scorned compassion when it was unjust.
Her time was measured out in ordered ways.

This firstborn girl was steeped in history;
In antique texts she sought the only One
With power to transmute pain to bright glory.

For eighteen years the earth traversed its course
And these twin souls remained in ignorance
That they’d become each other’s sharpening force.

Yet like will evermore call out to like
And bonds of iron finally were forged
To make one heart that beat in bodies twain.


Fleshmarket Sales

August 17, 2005

Mood: Stunned
Song: "Razzle Dazzle"

It's amazing what you can discover when Googling yourself. For instance, I discovered that a review I composed for my Young Adult Literature class was submitted to a respectable journal by another one of my profs and…PUBLISHED! 🙂 From the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy:


Reviewed by Juliet ****, *** Arizona, USA.

The woman's screams pierce the air, rising above the doctor, spiraling past the gawking spectators, and lodging in the memory of her young son. One week later she is dead, and the family she leaves behind is altered forever. The time is 1822, and Scotland is still a barbaric place, despite the attempts of men “learned” in the arts of science and medicine to penetrate the darkness and squalor in which the masses grind out a meager existence.

For Robbie, his mother's death after complications from an operation and his father's descent into drunkenness and subsequent abandonment can be laid at the feet of one man: Dr. Robert Knox, the surgeon who mutilated his mother. In the midst of working long hours at a bakery to support himself and his sister Essie, Robbie cultivates a burning hatred for the man he holds responsible for the ruin of all his hopes. Lying down to sleep at night on his painfully narrow bed, Robbie vows retribution.

The revenge Robbie envisions begins to supplant his longing for a better life, including the education and musical training of which he believes Knox has robbed him. Robbie begins to stalk Knox, briefly spending time in jail as a result. Robbie's obsession even leads him to the machinations of Burke and Hare, two miscreant “resurrection men” who make money by selling “freshly dead” bodies of questionable origin to Knox and his medical students so the future doctors can study anatomy.

Robbie thinks he has the situation under control, but he can't suspect the truth about Burke and Hare's scheme. He is overly trusting of his new “friends,” but is Robbie also wrong about Joseph, a medical student with close ties to Knox who seems to offer both Robbie and Essie a future? When given the opportunity to destroy his enemy, will Robbie manage to discover forgiveness before his rancor consumes them all?

Despite the historical setting and the mature themes, Morgan's bildungsroman is readily accessible to modern adolescent audiences. Although most readers will not come face to face with the poverty that Robbie and Essie endure, the issues of losing one parent only to be neglected by the other will resonate. Additionally, Robbie's burning hatred and its consequences are significant issues for readers young and old. Fleshmarket is Morgan's second novel, and her description of life in 19th-century Scotland is so vivid that one can almost smell the stench of narrow, cobbled streets and taste the rough “porridge” on which Robbie and Essie subsist.

Morgan uses precise word choice to carry her message. It should be noted that certain scenes are too intense for younger readers. Early modern medicine was, after all, still primitive. Issues in Fleshmarket are far from black and white, but secondary students will be challenged to analyze characters' motives along with the moral issues raised by the text. They will readily be caught up in Robbie's strong emotional response to his situation, his family, and Knox. If Morgan's work has any flaw, it could be that the plot moves along fairly conventional lines, ending in a fashion that seems more patronizing than satisfying. However, boldly drawn characters and strong imagery make Fleshmarket historical fiction that transcends time and place. Age 14 and up.

Nicola Morgan. 2004. New York: Delacorte. 224 pp. ISBN 038573154X. US$15.95.



March 15, 2005

Mood: Healing
Song: Law and Order Theme (it also just happens to be my ringtone)

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering of the stomach, the same restlesness, the yawning.”
-C.S. Lewis

Five o’clock.
Lenny Briscoe is “good cop” again as the Law and Order sirens blare
My student Dustin channeled Jack McCoy as he pounded away at Raskolnikov
His recollected voice rings through my stupor
“Objection your Honor-facts not in evidence”
The jury has no way of overturning this verdict:

Cello’s father passed away this semester-Cello was in class that very week.
“I know how it feels”, he reminds me; he alone has an inkling
In my mind’s eye he fills the room as his “deadly” pit bull, Annika, licks his face.
He is educating the class about “bully breeds”
Law and Order covered the topic of dog attacks too.
Ripped from the headlines. Ripped from my life.

The old masters understood.
“Cast your nighted color off”, Hamlet’s mother pleads with me.
Frozen words slicing through a heart made ice.
All the rest is silence.
“’Tis sweet and commendable in your nature…
To give these mourning duties to your father.”
He should have died hereafter-that’s Macbeth’s lesson for today.
There would have been time.
My students hate time.
Stealing their youth with measured tread he invades our classroom.
Chained to a plastic second hand they sit
Always active
Chewing, scratching, blinking, listening (?)

What use are Chaucer, Bronte, Dostoyevsky
When death can gather with dread swoop?
Do not ask for whom the bell tolls-
At that sound thirty-two of them leap
From the comfort of wooden chair and
Flood the hallways with their cries.
Do they remember?
I cannot efface their images.

Every Friday Holland wears a shirt as golden as the posters she paints
Advertising Sadie Hawkins.
The canary hue was chocolate-coated the day we celebrated research papers completed
With M & M’s and granola bars.
The sample paper I provided dealt with grief’s stages
It didn’t mention how the legs become lead weights
And the tongue sticks
As if I’ve indulged in too much “Our Strawberry Blonde” ice cream from Cold Stone
Do I dare return after this week’s hiatus expires?
Dare disturb the fabric of their universe with my salt-laden tears?

I imagine my hand pushing open the door to Room 171
Because Tyler-
He who gave me my “quote of the day” last Friday
Though he wanted no one else to know-
Wrote to say“We’re still thinking of you.”



October 29, 2004

Mood: Quiet

Song: "Starry, Starry Night"

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—

*John Keats*

*The night wanes, but I cannot rest. My thoughts race-

The darkness without mocks the light, but the light will surely pierce it.

*These poems below are in no specific order, but they do share a common theme*

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

“The Starlight Night”Gerard Manley Hopkins

Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! The elves’-eyes!
The gray lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! Airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-dove sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!—
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.

Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spous
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.


* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

“She walks in beauty”George Gordon, Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!


* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

“Moonlight”Juliet (as a high school senior)

Stealthily the shadows lengthen—
Silver light gleams on each tree.
Solitude now reigns.
Romantic moonlight, caressing gently;
Concealing moonlight, holding secrets.

Soon to sleep each will surrender
Under her wakeful vigil there.
Stars as sentinels swiftly glide
‘Cross the velvet carpet of a dream.

All nature quivers,
Anticipating dawn’s rosy tendrils,
Not yet come.
Time enough for day’s harsh light,
But for now she stands alone

1998, unpublished

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

From “The Love Poems of Marichiko”Kenneth Rexroth


Night without end. Loneliness.
The wind had driven a maple leaf
Against the shoji. I wait, as in the old days,
In our secret place, under the full moon.
The last bell crickets sing.
I found your old love letters,
Full of poems you never published.
Did it matter? They were only for me.


* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

“Meeting at Night”Robert Browning

The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

“Night”William Blake

The sun descending in the West,

The evening star does shine.

The birds are silent in their nest,

And I must seek for mine.

The moon, like a flower,

In heaven's high bower,

With silent delight

Sits and smiles on the night.Farewell green fields and happy groves,

Where flocks have took delight;

Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves

The feet of angels bright;

Unseen they pour blessing,

And joy without ceasing,

On each bud and blossom,

And each sleeping bosom.They look in every thoughtless nest,

Where birds are covered warm;

They visit caves of every beast,

To keep them all from harm.

If they see any weeping,

That should have been sleeping,

They pour sleep on their head

And sit down by their bed.When wolves and tygers howl for prey,

They pitying stand and weep;

Seeking to drive their thirst away,

And keep them from the sheep.

But, if they rush dreadful;

The angels, most heedful,

Receive each mild spirit,

New worlds to inherit.And there the lion's ruddy eyes

Shall flow with tears of gold:

And pitying the tender cries,

And walking round the fold:

Saying: “Wrath by His meekness

And, by his health, sickness,

Is driven away,

From our immortal day.“And now beside thee bleating lamb,

I can lie down and sleep;

Or think on Him who bore thy name,

Grase after thee, and weep.

For, wash’d in life's river,

My bright mane for ever

Shall shine like the gold,

As I guard o'er the fold.”

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

“A Night-Piece (composed by 5 January 1798; edited from MS)”William Wordsworth

The sky is overspread
With a close veil of one continous cloud
All whitened by the moon, that just appears
A dim-seen orb, yet chequers not the ground
With any shadow- plant, or tower, or tree.
At last, a pleasant gleam breaks forth at once,
An instantaneous light; the musing man
Who walks along with his eyes bent to earth
Is startled. He looks about, the clouds are split
Asunder, and above his head he views
The clear moon, and the glory of the heavens.
There in a black-blue vault she sails along,
Followed by multitudes of stars, that small,
And bright, and sharp, along the gloomy vault
Drive as she drives. How fast they wheel away,
Yet vanish not! The wind is in the trees,
But they are silent; still they roll along,
Immeasurably distant, and the vault
Built round by those white clouds, enormous clouds,
Still deepens its interminable depth.
At length the vision closes

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

“The Dark Night of the Soul”St. John of the Cross

Upon a darkened night

the flame of love was burning in my breast

And by a lantern bright

I fled my house while all in quiet restShrouded by the night

and by the secret stair I quickly fled

The veil concealed my eyes

While all within lay quiet as the dead

Oh night thou was my guide
Oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
To the beloved one
Transforming each of them into the otherUpon that misty night

In secrecy, beyond such mortal sight

Without a guide or light

than that which burned so deeply in my heartThat fire ’twas led me on

And shone more bright than of the midday sun

To where he waited still

It was a place where no one else could comeWithin my pounding heart

Which kept itself entirely for him

He fell into his sleep

Beneath the cedars all my love I gave
From o’er the fortress walls

The wind would brush his hair against his brow

And with its smoothest hand

Caressed my every sense it would allowI lost myself to him

and laid my face upon my lover’s breast.

And care and grief grew dim

as in the morning’s mist became the light

There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *


Shel Silverstein

Last night, while I lay thinking here,

some Whatifs crawled inside my ear

and pranced and partied all night long

and sang their same old Whatif song:

Whatif I'm dumb in school?

Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?

Whatif I get beat up?

Whatif there's poison in my cup?

Whatif I start to cry?

Whatif I get sick and die?

Whatif I flunk that test?

Whatif green hair grows on my chest?

Whatif nobody likes me?

Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?

Whatif I don't grow taller?

Whatif my head starts getting smaller?

Whatif the fish won't bite?

Whatif the wind tears up my kite?

Whatif they start a war?

Whatif my parents get divorced?

Whatif the bus is late?

Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?

Whatif I tear my pants?

Whatif I never learn to dance?

Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

* – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

May your sleep be sweet, my friend, until night is conquered once again by the day.

Until then:

"…Thou couldst not cross

Even this line when once the sun had dropped.

Not that there's any hindrance, save the loss

Of light, to going up; it is night's gloom

Makes impotent the will and thwarts it thus.

Dante Alighieri, Il Purgatorio