I sit here at my computer today, glancing out the window at the frigid white landscape in my yard. I watch the winter birds scrambling with each other, devouring seed in the feeders, desperate to stay alive.
A “bomb cyclone” has delivered snow and sub-zero wind chills to our area and probably a coveted snow day or two for our students and teachers. Random thought: why do the weather gurus try to scare us with increasingly violent weather vocabulary? Bomb cyclones, derechos? Really? Well, I guess the terms are good for our science vocabulary. But I digress.
Looking at the frozen, cyclone-bombed landscape outside my window, I struggle to remember that the Winter Solstice passed in December. We are living in the freshness of a new year. I must remind myself that the days, though hardly perceptible now, really are growing longer as we creep toward spring. Light is returning, and with light, hope.
I needed some poetry to match my mood today, and a search online yielded a Marge Piercy gem that felt just right to me today:
Tomatoes rosy as perfect baby’s buttocks,
eggplants glossy as waxed fenders,
purple neon flawless glistening
peppers, pole beans fecund and fast
growing as Jack’s Viagra-sped stalk,
big as truck tire zinnias that mildew
will never wilt, roses weighing down
a bush never touched by black spot,
brave little fruit trees shouldering up
their spotless ornaments of glass fruit:
I lie on the couch under a blanket
of seed catalogs ordering far
too much. Sleet slides down
the windows, a wind edged
with ice knifes through every crack.
Lie to me, sweet garden-mongers:
I want to believe every promise,
to trust in five pound tomatoes
and dahlias brighter than the sun
that was eaten by frost last week.
The poem was just the antidote I needed to dispel my winter blahs. I saw the hope in Piercy’s seed catalogs and found that I too wanted to believe the lies of the “sweet garden-mongers.” I craved the “five pound tomatoes” and the “dahlias brighter than the sun.” The poem made me hope.
The poem also led me to reflect on Winter Solstice and what we might call “return of the light” assignments that I might use with students in the post-holiday doldrums.
I could see a lesson that begins with some winter poetry—there is plenty of it from classics by Shakespeare and Frost to more contemporary poems by Mary Oliver and Billy Collins—and wraps up with original writing in any format—poetry, prose, mixed media—about the ”return of the light” and the hope implicit in the increasingly longer days. I can see using an open-ended prompt like: “We are beginning a new year. If you could give a gift to the world or a particular person in the world, a gift that would bring light and hope in the New Year, what would it be?”
I know I am in the mood for dahlias these days, and I am tired of being “eaten by frost.” So why not “believe every promise” and welcome the “return of the light” with the writing of hope?
Written by Pat Schall, NJCTE Board Member
Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English