Practising sands

We play at paste,
Till qualified for pearl,
Then drop the paste,
And deem ourself a fool.
The shapes, though, were similar,
And our new hands
Learned gem-tactics
Practising sands.

~EMily dickinson

Brenna: Short and sweet!

Pam: I like short and sweet!

Brenna: Okay, let’s go!

Pam: Oh, I like this!

Brenna: Have you read this one before?

Pam: I haven’t! Have you?

Brenna: I was very familiar with the first four lines, but had somehow never read the last four! I must have seen them quoted somewhere.

Pam: This one is new to me!

Brenna: Excellent! So, let’s talk poem!

Pam: It makes me think of learning something new. Like, starting off with crayons if you’re learning to draw, then getting good enough to realize you’re terrible.

Brenna: Yes! I think, on a surface level, it’s about how the simple things we learn as children transfer to adulthood.

Pam: But you’ve still learned valuable skills. Yes!

Brenna: But I think there’s more to it than that. First of all, there’s the way that we judge our past, younger, less experienced selves–we deem ourselves fools for being psyched about things like learning to tie our own shoes.

Pam: Oh, excellent point.

Brenna: Then there’s the reversal–“the shapes, though, were similar.” Maybe we weren’t so foolish after all. It almost feels like there’s a teensy tinsy implied critique here of the pearls. Real gems are virtually indistinguishable from good copies. What are we really valuing? And then “our new hands.” It’s as if not only have we changed–we’ve actually become new. We are new people now. And then “gem-tactics.” I stinkin’ love that. It’s like a whole huge social commentary in one made-up, Emilyfied compound word. Women’s self-adorning=tactics.

Pam: I like the differences between the paste and the pearls. You can do so many things with paste–you can make art, fix things. Pearls can pretty much just be admired. The average person wouldn’t have a multitude of uses for them. But we value them more.

Brenna: And “gem-tactics” sounds like “gymnastics”–the ways in which we contort ourselves to fit into our roles as adult women. Oooh, good point! Paste is useful and more fun.

Pam: I think you have this poem’s number.

Brenna: I love your point about paste. Paste has a potential that pearls do not. They are done, no longer becoming.

Pam: What does “practising sands” mean, though?

Brenna: Ooooh, Pam!! Pearls are instigated by sand!

Pam: Gasp

Brenna: Sand is what makes pearls!!! TA-DAAAAA!!!

Pam: We are the pearls!!!

Brenna: We are! AND the sand! We are Every Woman. It’s all in us.

Pam: I love this!!!

Brenna: We carry within our adult selves the grains of our child selves. They may irritate, but they have made us what we are. DANG, Emily.

Pam: Incredibly profound. I really love this one!

Brenna: It’s a great one!

Pam: And from the outset, I thought, I have no clue what this means. I can’t figure this out. And in five minutes, you opened my eyes and now we get it. And we are pearls.

Brenna: We are SO pearls.

Spring magic

A murmur in the trees to note,
Not loud enough for wind;
A star not far enough to seek,
Nor near enough to find;

A long, long yellow on the lawn,
A hubbub as of feet;
Not audible, as ours to us,
But dapperer, more sweet;

A hurrying home of little men
To houses unperceived,—
All this, and more, if I should tell,
Would never be believed.

Of robins in the trundle bed
How many I espy
Whose nightgowns could not hide the wings,
Although I heard them try!

But then I promised ne’er to tell;
How could I break my word?
So go your way and I’ll go mine,—
No fear you’ll miss the road.

~emily dickinson

Today is the spring equinox. The robins are back. The sun is shining, and the world is coming fully alive again after its long cold sleep. Night and day balance on an invisible fulcrum. Anything is possible.

This is a poem about magic, about the possibility of the impossible, about the glorious intangible. Okay, it’s an Emily Dickinson poem, so it’s probably somehow about death, but I have decided that I am going to read this as a poem about faeries and how they are Real, dangit. You can read it however you want–“go your way and I’ll go mine,” as the poet says. “No fear you’ll miss the road.” It’s almost as if she’s instructing us to read this poem however we like.

That, after all, is one of the great beauties of poetry–its multiplicities of possibility, of meaning, its ability to be all things to all people. This May, I’ll be substitute teaching a couple of middle school English classes for a friend on maternity leave. I get to teach the poetry unit, and it’s the last lines of this poem that I want to take as my mantra, my teaching philosophy. There is magic in poetry, and teaching can suck that right out if it’s not done well.

The magic is there for each of us to find. Maybe we find the same magic. Maybe we don’t. But it’s there.

Bittersweet blossoms

As children bid the guest good-night,
And then reluctant turn,
My flowers raise their pretty lips,
Then put their nightgowns on.

As children caper when they wake,
Merry that it is morn,
My flowers from a hundred cribs
Will peep, and prance again.

~Emily dickinson

Crocuses have begun peeping from the barren earth. Incongruously bright against the dead grass, they dot the brown with tiny firework-explosions of white and purple.

Each plant sends forth a single bloom, so when my newly ten-year-old son comes running with a minuscule blossom clamped between two fingers, I am lanced with bittersweetness. That flower is done, gone. My little boy, not so little anymore, still brings me the first flower he finds every spring.

Parenthood is like that, love laced with delight and punctuated by constant reminders that no moment is forever.


New feet within my garden go,
New fingers stir the sod;
A troubadour upon the elm
Betrays the solitude.

New children play upon the green,
New weary sleep below;
And still the pensive spring returns,
And still the punctual snow!

~Emily Dickinson

My feet and fingers are itching to get in the garden. Right now, though, it’s a soggy mess–a mud pit churned by months of rain and snow. My seeds wait patiently in their packets–seeds are made of waiting–but I am chafing to put them in the earth.

Outside, birds are unleashing their spring songs. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flit of movement and turned just in time to recognize the little personage who burst away into flight–a house wren, little investigator of nooks, crannies, and perches, possibly seeking out a place for a nest. House wrens are wonderful busybodies.

The spring is certainly pensive at the moment, unsure whether it’s really here or not. Today looks like spring. The light looks like spring. The birds are singing spring–but just a few days ago, the world was covered in snow.

I want to give myself over to spring, like the birds, pour a full-throated song into the heedless air, but the memory of winter makes me pause. Spring is always there, waiting, beneath winter’s white blanket–but then winter is always waiting, too, deep in the earth, in the cool dark of caverns, its fingers itching and twitching to claw their way back up to the waiting world.