Friday, March 27, 2009

Peace Lost

One pure moment of world peace, even if it immediately vanished, would do more to inspire us than all the moving words and often futile actions of peacemakers throughout the centuries, for having seen peace as a reality, we would certainly unite in desperation to REGAIN what we all lost.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

In Response to My Student's Prompt To Write a Poem Related to the Holocaust

My student came to me with a school assignment: write a poem in response to a Holocaust victim's poem, "The Butterfly," by Pavel Friedman. We discussed the particular juxtaposition of a yellow butterfly's beauty with the haunting images of life in the Jewish ghetto, and the symbol of hope amid the ruins of life. I asked him to imagine himself in a concentration camp: "So, as an inmate, what would you see every day as you worked, something that you could see in another way, a brighter way, out of both desperation and hope?"
He mentioned a barbed wire fence in front of flowers on the other side. I replied, "How about the barbed wire fence itself--how might a hopeful, yet hopeless person view such an ugly fence in a new light; what simile could describe the wire and the barbs as looking like something happier?" I drew a line with asterisk-like barbs across his paper. "What does it look like to you?" I asked.
He replied, "Flowers on a metal vine." And so his poem, and mine simultaneously, was born. He turned in his free verse to his teacher with pride; I'm posting mine here, hoping to elicit your comments.

by Susan L. Lipson

Metallic flowers on a silver vine
Stretch taut to keep us in their garden walls,
Where worms like us must dig, but never whine,
Must bury seeds of hope before they fall;
No birds alight upon these petal spikes,
Lest they get pierced like friends I’ve loved and lost,
Friends who were but “vermin,” “dogs,” or “kikes,”
Rebelling, not considering the cost.
To sniff these blooms brings blood, not pleasant scents,
Yet still the petal barbs tempt me to climb—
Just up and over!—leave behind this fence,
Escape to fragrant fields and summertime…
Confinement alters views, both tempts and taunts;
Like a relentless ghost, our minds it haunts.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How My Kids See Me

To them, I am a laundress, a perpetual dishwasher and cook, a nag--"Put away your dish! Close your drawers!"--a chauffeur in a minivan, and an ever-ready editor (even though I can barely see straight, let alone THINK, at 11 p.m., when their first drafts are finally ready for my editing). I am the one who volunteers them for community services "without asking," but also the one they later thank for getting them involved. I am easier to convince than Dad, and quicker to forgive and forget--clearly the one to ask for money or special privileges (does that make me The Pushover?). I am unconditionally loving, even when I'm stressed, and they know it, because one of us always fails to conceal a smile when I still insist on a kiss goodnight, even after an argument.

Because of them, I have a lot of half-finished manuscripts, a lot of double-bookings, and a need to clone myself. Their busy lives make me frantic when I can't find my pocket calendar or my keys, because I struggle to know where I need to be and when, and to do so on time, so that I'm not constantly yelling, "Come on! I'm leaving without you!" Because of them, I'm a liar, because I almost never leave without them, and so I deserve the angst of having late kids, don't I?

They tell me that they hope I won't sell "their" house, that I'll stay in our neighborhood so they can always come "home," that I'll dedicate a book to them, that I'll babysit their kids and always stay healthy, that I'll live to 110 and stay "cool." And I will try to fulfill their hopes as I now fulfill their needs, so they can still see me as cook, a pushover, a guaranteed kiss, and an editor (even if not a chauffeur or laundress anymore)--even when I've finished the half-done manuscripts and am busy squeezing in visits with them between book tours.

That's how I see my kids seeing me.

[This post was written in response to a writing prompt I gave my teenage writing students, a poem titled "How My Father Sees Us," by Kirsten Smith, in her poetry novel The Geography of Girlhood. You can read more about the prompt and how the kids responded on my other blog:

Monday, March 2, 2009

On Faith

On Faith
by Susan L. Lipson

People often say, “God gives me faith;”
But what faith is it that God gives?
Faith in oneself?
Faith in humanity?
Faith in God?
All of the Above?

Sounds like a kind of conflict of interest to me.
For if God just gives faith to us,
then our faith is not an achievement,
not a blessed state of mind
based on appreciation,
deep understanding,
and our suspension of doubts;
rather, such faith would be
a mere manipulation by God.
And since God does not manipulate us—
for then why would He have given us free will?—
it follows that our faith doesn’t come from God,
But from our coming to know God.
Faith is OURS,
to seek, find, and develop;
The faith we get from God
Is God’s faith in us.