Adventures of Isabel (Ogden Nash)

isabel-1

Adventures of Isabel

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I’ll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry.
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.
Once in a night as black as pitch
Isabel met a wicked old witch.
the witch’s face was cross and wrinkled,
The witch’s gums with teeth were sprinkled.
Ho, ho, Isabel! the old witch crowed,
I’ll turn you into an ugly toad!
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry,
She showed no rage and she showed no rancor,
But she turned the witch into milk and drank her.
Isabel met a hideous giant,
Isabel continued self reliant.
The giant was hairy, the giant was horrid,
He had one eye in the middle of his forhead.
Good morning, Isabel, the giant said,
I’ll grind your bones to make my bread.
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She nibled the zwieback that she always fed off,
And when it was gone, she cut the giant’s head off.
Isabel met a troublesome doctor,
He punched and he poked till he really shocked her.
The doctor’s talk was of coughs and chills
And the doctor’s satchel bulged with pills.
The doctor said unto Isabel,
Swallow this, it will make you well.
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry,
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.
She took those pills from the pill concocter,
And Isabel calmly cured the doctor. 

Poem by Ogden Nash
Illustration by Corrie Haffly

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Remember my childhood memorized poem, I Had a Hippopotamus? Today’s choice was the poem our artist, Corrie, memorized as a child. And her illustration is extra delightful (with the Oliver Jeffers-esque lettering)…

… but just one question: how do you quietly eat a bear???

Pied Beauty (Gerald Manley Hopkins)

Dappled Things

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 
All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise him.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)
Illustrated by Corrie Haffly.
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I remember learning this poem in school, and as a girl with a distinctively pied complexion (dappled all over with moles and freckles), seeing in this poem the possibility of my stippled skin being beautiful, rather than blemished.
I don’t worry about my freckles these days, but this poem is still special to me: I can’t drive past a field of cows without looking for the “brindled ones”, and seeing His handiwork there, too.

Hornbill (Arthur Attwell)

 hornbill

Hornbill

Tockus flavirostris
 
We know you at our campsites, your great moon-beak
swinging like a bludgeon from your small, grey head,
the crazy fruit of acacia trees, the bogey’s pod
swelled with the seed of the dirt you shuffle in.
There isn’t any mouthpiece in the world
more fitting to your cry of thorns and gravel,
a stutter in your anguish. And then silence,
as your ugliness settles over you like a shroud.
But in the air you are the wind’s trapeze, the stroke
of a brush on its canvas. Nothing flying compares
to your dip and ride, to the feather-tipped lunette
in your flight’s dome. When we saw it first we knew
the gag was over, dumbstruck at the proof
that grace – the slow parabola you carve
from the very air – can find its way from place
to place, alighting there, cast in the bone of your wing.
by Arthur Attwell, in Killing Time (UCT Writers, Snailpress, 2005)
art by Corrie Haffly
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Arthur Attwell is a South African publisher and poet, and also a friend of more than twenty years. He was the first poet I knew in person, and his publication of a little poem in a collection at our university was the first time I bought a work of poetry. I only read two of the poems in that collection: Arthur’s, and one which caught my eye as I thumbed through it and paused to read. It said this:
Untitled
You’re reading this
because it’s short.
Aren’t you?
I remember laughing out loud: at the ludicrousness that those three lines could be considered poetry, at the feeling of being busted, because the truth was I had, indeed, read it because it was short.
My mom bought me Arthur’s first published collection of poems, Killing Time, for my birthday ten years ago, and I was stunned to hold this volume written by someone I knew. You can read an excerpt from the collection here (and by the way, it’s well worth your time to scroll down to page 16 and read the poem for which the series is named)
I chose this one, however, because the African hornbill is a bird I’d often wondered about on trips to the South African game reserve: it really is ugly, and yet majestic in its own way. Like the warthog, it’s one of those creatures that makes me think anew about form and function, and how sometimes we see beauty in people when they’re at work, rather than stationary.

Thirsty (Karen Dabaghian)

thirsty

A few years ago, Karen Dabaghian took a class on the Psalms. The course involved reading the Psalms deeply, and then writing their own poems of response. The experience was life-changing for Karen. In her book Travelogue of the Interior (reviewed here), she recounts how she wrestled with Psalm 1, and its promise of blessing to “the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

“That person,” writes the Psalmist, “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

Karen was stumped. She writes this in Travelogue:

“I ask too many questions and press too earnestly for answer; I worry constantly that my spiritual and intellectual appetites are off-putting to people around me, and I worry that they make me even more of a failure as a “good Christian woman” than I already fear I am. I have tried at times to be less thirsty and less hungry, someone who asks and offers less of herself and the world around her. At the ripe age of forty-two, I can confirm categrotically: it is pointless.

Yet in an instant, in the sacred space of my living room and my heart, a lifetime of shame melted away the moment God looked me in the eye and said, “There you are, My thirsty, blessed tree.”

THIRSTY

(Psalm 1)

A tree grows on the bank of the river

that flows from the City of God.

Its roots twine and twist

unashamed by its thirst.

It will be satisfied.

 

By Karen Dabaghian, Travelogue of the Interior (David C Cook, 2015)
Illustrated by Corrie Haffly

When You Are Old (William Butler Yeats)

Old and Gray Yeats

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep, 
And nodding by the fire, take down this book, 
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look 
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; 
How many loved your moments of glad grace, 
And loved your beauty with love false or true, 
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, 
And loved the sorrows of your changing face; 
And bending down beside the glowing bars, 
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled 
And paced upon the mountains overhead 
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
By William Butler Yeats
Illustrated by Corrie Haffly
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Once upon a time there was a boy. He had asked me out and I—reeling from a breakup after a 4-year relationship—could hardly comprehend it. I was in a daze, and he was one of a number of blurry figures saying blurred things to me in the maelstrom.
A week later, that same boy stood next to me in the buffet line at a campus ministry dinner, and began with these words: “when you are old and gray and full of sleep…” I didn’t have a clue what he was saying. He kept talking, and at some point I think I realized it was poetry, but I didn’t understand what was happening. I remember his face being dignified and his voice quiet, and then he walked away and didn’t seem to expect me to say anything. Which I didn’t.
I remembered the words “full of sleep”, and “the pilgrim soul”, and some time later went hunting for what I could only assume had been a poem. I found it, and for some reason have treasured the honour of being esteemed by his gentle, kind young man so many years ago, when all he got from me was a blank stare and mute disbelief.
I wish I’d at least been able to say thank you. 
This, in hindsight, is my thank you. To a girl whose heart was shredded, your words made me feel seen.

Kindness (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Kindness (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Kindness

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 mail letters and 

     purchase 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 every where

like a shadow or a friend.

by Naomi Shihab Nye
illustration by Corrie Haffly

There is so much unkindness. So much selfishness in the world. And sometimes, in stark contrast, we see hands of kindness. Our church has been praying for and trying to think of ways to show kindness to Syrian refugees half way across the world, and yet still our brothers and sisters (these images of Syrian refugee children sleeping , for example). When Corrie suggested drawing Syrian refugees for this poem, I knew immediately it was perfect.

Lament for a Boy (Jamie Calloway-Hanauer)

This lament is written for Jeremy, Jamie’s son, gone too soon from SIDS. 


Lament for a lost baby

 

Lament

Why, oh God, have you have ripped him from my bosom,
torn him from my womb?

No better than a thief,
you have emptied my stores to fill your own.

You have stolen from me, oh God,
in ways unfitting of your name.

(You sacrificed your Son for me, but don’t think I haven’t noticed
you waited ‘til he was grown.)

You once demanded all firstborn.
I trusted those days were gone, but you have shown me I was wrong.

Oh, creator God. Giver of life and breath, you have rendered me empty—half dead and hanging by a thread.

Who could I be without this misery?
The pain of asking is too much.

You have come like a thief in the night, plundering
butterfly kisses, radiating heat, a neck wrapped tight by little arms.

How, God, can you now demand my trust? My faithfulness?

My palms ache empty, outstretched and longing to be filled.
You have emptied me, Lord, in ways no other could:
You are the breather of life and the taker of life. The power is all yours.

Yet your goodness reigns over all sorrow, filling
cradled arms;
an otherwise empty cup;
and limp-limbed hollow-eyed women
with your righteousness and love.

Filling even
the depths of empty wombs.

You, oh God, are ruler over all.

Draw me nearer, God.
Grow me in your fertile soil. Raise me tall and strong.
Let your goodness weigh heavy in my arms.

I feel your presence, God.

Your goodness resounds deep within my bones. In my teeth and aching hips.
In the knitting of my insides and the fading pangs of birth.

Only you, oh God, know the way ahead.

by Jamie Calloway-Hanauer
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

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I wish no mother knew this pain. I hate that Jamie, whom I love so much, has been through this. Jamie is so many things: a friend, a wicked-smart writer, a poet, a lawyer, an editor, a patient encourager. And twenty years later, she is still a grieving mother. Jamie has a tattoo for Jeremy with a line from one of her favorite poems, Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost. You can see it and read about tattoos and cardigans here.

Writer Mom Haiku

haiku

Writer Mom Haiku 

Dishwasher running
Washing machine laundering
Cursor blinking, waits

by Ellen Mandeville, illustrated by Corrie Haffly

If you’re just joining me on my Conquer-My-Fear-Of-Poetry month adventure, welcome and a very happy Sunday to you.

After yesterday’s heart-stabbingly beautiful love poem (ah! Neruda!), today seemed a good day for something simpler, but no less profound. This, from Ellen Mandeville, is 100% true, and is expressed in one of my favorite little poetic forms: the haiku.

Your Laughter (Pablo Neruda)

Your Laughter Pablo Neruda

Your Laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die. 

Illustration by Corrie Haffly || Made with Paper/fiftythree.com

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How have I never read Pablo Neruda before? I don’t even know.

But this poem—Oh this poem!—undid me as I read it and I wasn’t half way through before I had a lump in my throat and tears welling. For it reminded me of a time, years ago, when I walked into a coffee shop tucked away next to our bible-college-on-sea, and tucked myself away in a corner: a cove within a cove. Usually I came with a friend, but on that day I was alone. Someone new came over and welcomed me as a first-timer. Just then, the older waiter called over: “oh, she’s a regular. She’s the one who laughs.”

The thought that this wild, untamed, often-inappropriate laughing habit of mine could be not just a hallmark, but a beloved one, leaves me breathless.

Ugh. All TMI. You see what reading poetry is doing to me, friends? I’m a WRECK.

I had a hippopotamus (Patrick Barrington)

hippo

I had a Hippopotamus

I had a Hippopotamus, I kept him in a shed
And fed him upon vitamins and vegetable bread
I made him my companion on many cheery walks
And had his portrait done by a celebrity in chalk

His charming eccentricities were known on every side
The creatures’ popularity was wonderfully wide
He frolicked with the Rector in a dozen friendly tussles
Who could not but remark on his hippopotamuscles

If he should be affected by depression or the dumps
By hippopotameasles or the hippopotamumps
I never knew a particle of peace ’till it was plain
He was hippopotamasticating properly again

I had a Hippopotamus, I loved him as a friend
But beautiful relationships are bound to have an end
Time takes alas! our joys from us and robs us of our blisses
My hippopotamus turned out to be a hippopotamisses

My house keeper regarded him with jaundice in her eye
She did not want a colony of hippopotami
She borrowed a machine gun from from her soldier nephew, Percy
And showed my hippopotamus no hippopotamercy

My house now lacks that glamour that the charming creature gave
The garage where I kept him is now silent as the grave
No longer he displays among the motor tyres and spanners
His hippopomastery of hippopotamanners

No longer now he gambols in the orchards in the spring
No longer do I lead him through the village on a string
No longer in the morning does the neighbourhood rejoice
To his hippopotamusically-modulated voice.

I had a hippopotamus but nothing upon earth
Is constant in its happines or lasting in its mirth
No joy that life can give me can be strong enough to smother
My sorrow for what might-have-been a hippopotamother.

By Patrick Barrington
Illustration by Corrie Haffly.
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I learned this poem for a talent show when I was 9, and have loved it ever since. I chose it as an excuse to revisit all its delightful humor with my kids, and also because I couldn’t wait to see Corrie’s hippo illustration 🙂