National Poetry Month: Lift Off


The student speaker at the convocation ceremony for the Harvard Graduate School of Education gave his remarks in poetic form. As we head into graduation season, I want to share the inspired words of Donovan Livingston. And, if you want, you can see the video here.

“Lift off” — Donovan Livingston

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin,
Is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” – Horace Mann, 1848.

At the time of his remarks I couldn’t read — couldn’t write.
Any attempt to do so, punishable by death.
For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power.
Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys —
The guardians of information.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering
In this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality.
For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time.
How many times must we be made to feel like quotas —
Like tokens in coined phrases? —
“Diversity. Inclusion”
There are days I feel like one, like only —
A lonely blossom in a briar patch of broken promises.
But I’ve always been a thorn in the side of injustice.

Disruptive. Talkative. A distraction.
With a passion that transcends the confines of my consciousness —
Beyond your curriculum, beyond your standards.
I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain,
With veins pumping revolution.
I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree.
I am a DREAM Act, Dream Deferred incarnate.
I am a movement – an amalgam of memories America would care to forget
My past, alone won’t allow me to sit still.
So my body, like the mind
Cannot be contained.

As educators, rather than raising your voices
Over the rustling of our chains,
Take them off. Un-cuff us.
Unencumbered by the lumbering weight
Of poverty and privilege,
Policy and ignorance.

I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.

To educate requires Galileo-like patience.
Today, when I look my students in the eyes, all I see are constellations.
If you take the time to connect the dots,
You can plot the true shape of their genius —
Shining in their darkest hour.

I look each of my students in the eyes,
And see the same light that aligned Orion’s Belt
And the pyramids of Giza.
I see the same twinkle
That guided Harriet to freedom.
I see them. Beneath their masks and mischief,
Exists an authentic frustration;
An enslavement to your standardized assessments.

At the core, none of us were meant to be common.
We were born to be comets,
Darting across space and time —
Leaving our mark as we crash into everything.
A crater is a reminder that something amazing happened here —
An indelible impact that shook up the world.
Are we not astronomers — looking for the next shooting star?
I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships —
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their potential from right where they stand.
An injustice is telling them they are stars
Without acknowledging night that surrounds them.
Injustice is telling them education is the key
While you continue to change the locks.

Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a Black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.

National Poetry Month: Sunday Morning

God Breaks the Heart Again and Again Until It Stays Open (after a quote from Sufi Inayat Khan) — Sandra Cisneros

But what if my heart is a 7-Eleven after its third daytime robbery in a week?

What if my heart is a piñata trashed to tissue and peppermint shrapnel?

What if my heart is a peeled mango bearing an emerald housefly?

What if my heart is an air conditioner weeping a rosary of rusty tears?

What if my heart is Sebastião Salgado’s sinkhole swallowing another child?

What if my heart is Death Valley in wide-view Cinemascope?

What if my heart is a chupacabrón chanting, Build the wall?

What if my heart is the creepy uncle’s yawning zipper?

What if my heart is a Pentecostal babbling a river of tongues?

What if my heart is the cross-eyed Jesus bought at the Poteet flea market?

What if my heart is El Paso, Texas, in bed with the corpse of Ciudad Juárez?

What if my heart is unhinged from the weight of its lice-ridden wings?

What then for an encore, oh my soul, when you have blessed me a

National Poetry Month: Oriah

Yesterday was a day of rest. I spent 4 days in Virginia visiting my folks and the trip is both physically and emotionally draining. I crashed before I could share a poem. My apologies. I’ll be back to regularly scheduled​ programming soon.

The Lenten journey I embarked upon ended while I was in Virginia. And though Lent is over, I feel that my spiritual journey is only beginning. You might not be aware but I’ve been taking these leadership classes at my church. When I was first asked I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a right fit for me. That first class I went out and did shots afterwards because I’m the most secular guy on the planet and I wasn’t sure if the way I somehow merge the secular with the spiritual would work.

As Lent continued and I continued to attend these classes I felt something shift in my soul. I can’t explain it but I knew that I was supposed to be taking these classes. I’ve discovered that I’ve finally reached that place where I truly know myself. I know what I’m about, what I can do and I also know and honor my limits. I trust myself and my instincts more.

I didn’t have a poem planned for today. The day of rest threw me off my plan. The more I thought about it, the more my instincts said to share this poem.

I was introduced to Oriah through the Oprah show. I don’t have the words to describe this poem except to say it speaks to the heart of what I’ve been trying to do. I’m seeking connection and I could care less about the surface. I want connection on a soul level.

The Invitation — Oriah

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

National Poetry Month: Crossing The Bar

I’ve had death on my mind for a while now. It’s probably because my dad is in ill health and I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be in this world.

I want to live a long life and live to be 99 and ½ so I can participate in the tricentennial. I’m not looking to die anytime soon but I have given my funeral more thought than average. There are certain songs I want played. There are definitely certain poems I want read. Today, tomorrow and Friday, I’ll be posting the poems I want read at my funeral.

The first is “Crossing The Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I don’t know when I first encountered it, probably in junior high, but it has stuck with me. And, coincidentally, I’ve discovered that my maternal grandfather, the one that my middle name comes from, had this poem printed on his funeral memorial cards.

“Crossing The Bar” sums up everything I feel about death and dying. I’d rather people not cry at my funeral. I’m not sure what lies ahead after this world but I have faith that it’ll be better.

“Crossing The Bar” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
     And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
     When I put out to sea,

  But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
     Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
     Turns again home.

  Twilight and evening bell,
     And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
     When I embark;

  For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
     The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
     When I have crost the bar.

Of Chakras & Scripture

Wednesday has become as spiritual as Sunday morning.

On Wednesday afternoon I have my connection group. We’ve finished The Book Of Forgiving but people are finding it difficult to find copies of the next book at the library. The book, Between The Dark And The Daylight, is $15.45 on Amazon but that’s a little steep. I have the e-book and I found two used copies for less than $10 so I’ve ordered them and they’ll arrive sometime next week.

Laura isn’t feeling well so I was in charge. I wanted to accomplish two things at the meeting. First, I wanted to check in and make sure people were okay with the books we’ve been reading. We’ve been reading a lot of personal growth books. I feel that, the more we grow as people, the more we grow in spirit. Thankfully, the group is on the same page.

Second thing I wanted to do was give a brief introduction to the author of our next book. We watched Brène Brown’s Super Soul Sunday episode before we started to read Rising Strong and that seemed to give us an idea of what to expect. I couldn’t find a complete version of Sister Joan Chittister’s Super Soul Sunday appearance so we watched a few short clips of her appearance.

When connection group ended I made my way to meditation. I’ve been skipping it lately because of church leadership classes but I felt the need to attend. Niki wasn’t there so I was able to sit in with Jai Jay.

I haven’t done a chakra clearing meditation in a long time. I used to scoff at chakras but I’ve changed my tune after doing research. The body is a mysterious thing and sometimes our energy gets stuck. From my root to my crown, I knew there was a reason I felt I needed to come to meditation and chakra clearing was the reason why.

I asked Diana to inform whoever was going to run leadership classes that I was going to be a tad late. Guided meditation ends at 6:30 while leadership classes start at 6:30 and I still haven’t found a way to be two places at once. It’s pouring rain and has been for hours now. Meditation when it’s raining is short of magical but walking the few blocks to church not as magical. I was about 15 minutes late, exactly what I had figured but Rev. Deb was only starting when I arrived so I didn’t miss a thing.

It was an interesting meeting. We’re at the point where we’re discussing what type of ministry we’d like to become involved with. The church is in the process of trying to find a new building because we have to be out of the current one at the end of the year.

Our current vision statement says that we “lovingly transform lives by including all, inspiring each other, and influencing community” and we’ve focused on those three “I” statements the last three years. Because we’re at a stage of change we were talking about drafting a new vision statement.

As an affirming church, we are filled with marginalized people. I’d think that the marginalized would be more accepting but that’s not the case. I feel that we should be a church for all and when I say all I truly mean all. If a person, no matter if they are a murderer, rapist, homophobe, etc and feels repentant in their heart, they should have a place at our church. Acts 3:19 says “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

But I learned tonight that there are people in my church that feel that there should be some sort of litmus test before you can come to our church. I don’t know how that’s going to affect me as I move forward but I hope I don’t bump against others because of the social justice aspect I want to bring to the church.

April Fool

It’s April Fool’s Day. I’ve been thinking about the Fool and how everyone seems to misunderstand the Fool.
In Medieval times, the Fool had a leeway that others in the Royal Court did not. The Fool was set apart. The diarist, Samuel Pepys, wrote that “The King’s fool and jester, with the power to mock and revile even the most prominent without penalty.”

In the traditional tarot, the Fool is an unnumbered card. The Fool doesn’t have a set number because he has unlimited potential. The Fool is always present and needs no number.

The Fool card is shown at the beginning of the journey. The sun rises and he prepares to step off on his way to a new adventure. He is facing towards the west, the direction of the unknown. The Fool represents beginnings and innocence, spontaneity and free spiritedness.

The Fool is a card of potential. It shows the highest potential for your life, reaching a state of renewal and new beginnings, where each day is an adventure and each moment is lived to the fullest. The Fool card represents the beginning of all creativity and a desire to accomplish new goals (or to, at least, start the process of working towards those goals). The Fool indicates that anything can happen and the opportunities are just waiting to be taken advantage of.

In a Tarot reading, the Fool represents the need to set forth on a new journey, one that is completely unknown and will take you to uncharted territories. The Fool is all about new experiences, personal growth, development and adventure. The Fool Tarot card asks you to take a ‘leap of faith’ and to trust in the Universe in that if you begin a new journey, you will find success. This Fool lives a carefree life, free from worry and anxiety. He does not seem to mind if he does not really know what lies ahead.

The Fool card may represent a choice to be made—one of vital importance. However, there are always many different options available and the choice must be made wisely. If you are facing a decision or moment of doubt, the Fool encourages you to believe in yourself and follow your heart no matter how crazy or foolish your impulses may seem. This is a time when you need to truly ‘believe’ and have faith in where the Universe is taking you.

The Fool is an excellent Tarot card to meditate on if you are experiencing a lot of fear in your life. The Fool enhances courage, risk-taking and the creative expression needed to open up new areas in your life. The Fool is always whole, healthy and without fear. He is the spirit of who we are, the spirit expressed and experienced as wonder, awe, curiosity and anticipation. We never know what is in the future but like the Fool we must blindly go forward. You need to trust that you are a spirit born into flesh to enjoy life and grow in experience. Take a chance and see what happens.

Time Marches On

I can hardly believe that it’s almost April. When I was a child, time seemed so slow. It was so long until the end of the school day. The weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving were insurmountable. The time between Christmas break and summer seemed endless. And summer fun seemed to go on forever until Labor Day rolled around and it was back to school.

Now time seems to move much more quickly. I sometimes want to pause so I can catch my breath. The days fly by and blur into each other. I remember ringing in the New Year. Now I’m seeing March go out like a lamb.

I’ve been looking at the etymology of various words and their different meanings. March gets its name from the Roman god of war, Mars, and it is defined as “to walk somewhere quickly and in a determined, confident, or angry way.”

I can understand now why it’s said time marches on. Time is determined to get to the next place. I, on the other hand, have been stuck marching in place. The arrival of Spring and of April has me determined to break out of my rank and take the next step, the first step on my next journey. As Lao Tzu is quoted, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”