The Socks

A poem to read while doing your husband’s laundry…

While you were away
I matched your socks
and rolled them into balls.
Then I filled your drawer with
tight dark fists.

— Jane Kenyon, From Room to Room, 1978

Jane Kenyon’s poems abound in housewifely images that take on edgy or strangely important meanings. I wonder if she threw those fists into the drawer, or if she methodically placed them there and then imagined their latent power as they sat in the dark drawer, waiting.

In other poems it’s clear she loves her husband dearly (he is poet Donald Hall, by the way), but I imagine every wife has laundry moments such as this.

Digging in Dirt

My kids had a late night last night, so they were tired today. There were a few brief flare-ups, and I spent more time playing with them so they weren’t alone together. After supper they went outside to play with the kittens. They remained outside for at least an hour together, contented and imaginative. My seven-year-old sat on the lawn clipping a space for a party with the grass clippers. The girls made the food for the party by mixing gravel and dirt and shoveling it into paper cups and styrofoam plates. Their voices chirped like little birds. No fighting, no tears, no arguing over who gets the green shovel. Nature’s toys kept them happy. There must be something therapeutic about sitting outside on the ground and pulling, raking, digging, scraping whatever is around you.

Renoir’s Gabrielle

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gabrielle Mending, 1908
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gabrielle Mending, 1908

I’m reading a book about Renoir, which you’ll likely hear more about in a later post. It is interesting to learn who the people in the paintings are. Gabrielle, for instance, is a cousin of Aline (Renoir’s wife) who came to live with the Renoir family to be a nanny. She later did some modeling for Renoir, and there are many paintings of Gabrielle. According to the book I am reading, Gabrielle was quite the spirited girl. Knowing some of the stories about the people in Renoir’s paintings adds a new spin to appreciating his art. These are real people–family members, friends, admirers, fellow artists. They are not anonymous models, all face and no history. As much as the Impressionists wanted to portray an impression of the moment, their paintings still have background, weight, and shadows of the past.

Magic in Literature

I knew that some people don’t want their children to read fairy tales or other books that involve magic, but I didn’t know anyone like that personally. Until recently. So I’ve thought more about that. It puzzles me. Magical elements in literature have never been denied me, and honestly I can’t imagine a life without fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White. My kids and I are reading Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen right now, and it is full of cool (shiver!) magic.

I don’t know all the reasons behind choosing to filter magic out of a child’s exposure, but I’m guessing part of it is because the magical powers do not come from God. Perhaps it comes from the devil? I rather admire these parents for sticking to their guns because it must be really difficult to keep magic away from a child. So many fairy tales and other books involve magic in some way.

I believe the imagination is magical (and I also believe it is God-given). The imagination can conjure entire fantasy worlds, plot game after mysterious game, and create pictures in the mind that could never exist in real life. And I believe fairy tales stretch our imagination in really good ways. Real life can feel so limited sometimes! I love falling into the realm of the imagination, and I want that for my children too.

On the grown-up level, magical realism might be my favorite genre. I’m thinking of authors like Alice Hoffman and Toni Morrison. I want to write magical realism. I’m practicing.

The Fisherman

A poem about audience…

Although I can see him still—
The freckled man who goes
To a gray place on a hill
In gray Connemara clothes
At dawn to cast his flies—
It’s long since I began
To call up to the eyes
This wise and simple man.
All day I’d looked in the face
What I had hoped it would be
To write for my own race
And the reality:
The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved,
The craven man in his seat,
The insolent unreproved—
And no knave brought to book
Who has won a drunken cheer—
The witty man and his joke
Aimed at the commonest ear,
The clever man who cries
The catch cries of the clown,
The beating down of the wise
And great Art beaten down.

Maybe a twelve-month since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face
And gray Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark with froth,
And the down turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream—
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, “Before I am old
I shall have written him one
Poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn.”

–by William Butler Yeats, 1916

I have to think, now, who I want to write a poem for. I don’t know a fisherman, but a girl perhaps… a girl grown up, walking a road just to feel the wind.

Unit Studies

As a follower of the Charlotte Mason method of education, I have learned to be wary of unit studies. Let’s say I do a unit study on the Vikings. Somehow I bend all our school subjects (history, literature, math, Bible, geography, science, copywork, etc.) around the study of the Vikings. It sounds attractive at the beginning. But is it attractive to a child who must spend the entire school day (for who knows how many weeks?) beating around the Viking bush? Charlotte Mason warns us that they will probably grow to dislike the Vikings very much, and the goal is to bring children toward a love of education.

It is nearing the end of the school year for us, and I am struggling (right along with my first-grader) to be motivated about these last weeks. So I bought a curriculum that was on sale: Rain Nature Study. It could be a unit study. It could be anything, really. It is an ebook full of ideas on how to study rain with your children. We could go out and measure puddles for math class, read the suggested literature, learn the science behind the water cycle, take a rainy walk for nature study, paint a rainy watercolor picture, and the list goes on. We could spend our entire school time doing rain-related projects. I haven’t gone to that extreme yet, and I doubt that I will. However, all four of us are loving our rain unit. I didn’t expect that, and I’m a little surprised. After all, unit studies are not Charlotte Mason approved. I think the key is to not force it. I slowly pulled us into this unit study, and this week we are doing more than usual (it helps that it has rained a bit this week). Now it is something to look forward to. We are loving education, not hating it. I think I will try more unit studies in the future; I just won’t get obsessed with it.

Marigolds

Marigolds, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1873
Marigolds, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1873

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s work holds a strange fascination for me. Such solemn girls, so much meaning hidden into the objects of the painting, so much beauty even though it is sad and symbolic. I think if this girl smiled, the painting would lose intrigue. She holds keys to both mystery and simplicity. I think Rossetti’s artistic eye saw things on multiple levels, so his paintings can be viewed with the eye, the emotions, the psyche, the imagination, and the analyzing part of the brain. Maybe that is why I say I am fascinated with his paintings, and I do not say I love them. It is so difficult to pin down what I love about it.