I keep cats away from the catbirds, and commercial chemicals away
from my columbine. I cherish my native sedge grass,
my cardinals and cardinal flowers, my maidenhair ferns.
I leave all the leaf litter under the boxelder maple,
because, really, are the leaves mine to move?
Whose planet is this anyway?
I let the acorns fall all around under the oak,
and I reap the reward of squirrel antics.
When I trim a bush grown too near my house,
I consign the clipped branches to expand
my backyard stick pile, where somebody—a possum, I suspect—
fashioned a fine den at the bottom.
I don’t peer in with a flashlight. And I don’t harass my caterpillars—
because if I kill them, I’ll be killing
baby chickadees. Squishy, gooey caterpillars are —
chickadee baby food! On summer evenings, I celebrate
shiny beetles and pollen-pushing bumblebees,
and once I spied a brilliant orange newt.
We city humans “oooh” and “aaah” over colors and acrobatics
at galleries and concerts and half-time shows,
and the décor at cute eateries, but Nature
is the best painter, the most crazy-creative entertainer,
if you let it all alone, and discover how to listen,
and look. The wilder I let my little yard remain,
just letting plants and insects and birds and mammals
who belong here
have space to do their thing here,
live their lives here, right here in my yard, here—
the wilder I find my joy, musing on this multiplex, this Noah’s ark
of crawling, flying, ambling, yowling, nibbling,
thriving creatures in my humble,
natural little yard, my little piece of Eden,
my own, homegrown, national park.
Too many poems
There are too many poems about nature,
but it’s human nature to say that.
What does Nature say?
Nature converses in kaleidoscopes
of fall leaves pirouetting;
in tranquil ponds whose cattails stretch
to paint the sky;
in embroidered lacey snowflakes;
in epic poems of warbling wrens.
Her secret message everywhere
is that there are too many poems
And too many critics.
Nature votes for more crickets.
…is an anthropologist of immigration, race relations, and agriculture. She has published three books, plus poems at BourgeonOnline.com, the blog of Prospectus magazine, PonderSavant.com, the CAW Anthology, Pif Magazine, Central Texas Writers and Beyond 2021, The Dope Fiend Daily, Open Door Magazine, and Valiant Scribe. Poems are forthcoming in Psychological Perspectives, the Canary Literary Magazine, and Words for the Earth of the Red Penguin Press.
I do this as often as I can,
because it’s really important, there’s an urgent need
for your type, they tell me.
It’s about giving, and although it’s not always comfortable,
and I have to wade through a shock of documents
so we’re all sure this is right,
it’s worth it. It makes me feel useful, valuable,
a red-blooded citizen
contributing to the common good,
helping others who might not survive
without community connections.
We all have unexpected moments of distress
when it matters—a lot—
whether some stranger already came and gave,
their arm stretched out and their
life-giving gift, flowing,
flowing through the system to our need.
It’s really not so hard. You have to register,
and there are personal questions to make certain
you aren’t disqualified.
And certainly, you have to show up.
People explain the process to you.
You get your own special, private space.
There are buttons and beeps,
and then you’ve given what you have to give,
and you leave, proudly sporting your sticker:
“I Voted Today.”
You are nineteen. You have nine lives,
but you don’t know that yet.
I am fifty-nine. I know about your other lives,
but not all of them, because some are still ahead of me.
You are nineteen, and your heart has shattered
into utter, suffocating silence.
Rooms full of people who care about you,
but whom you strongly suspect would hand you
simplistic formulas for healing—
maxims and recipes that would only make the searing
these people are company, a comfort, and an overlying bandage,
but not truly to be trusted.
You are lashed and lonely, so lonely,
a willow in an empty canyon,
wondering where the water went,
pushing back the screaming why,
because there really isn’t any answer—
but mostly not daring to ask.
Is there any point for the willow to complain
or fuss or question
why the farmer redirected the cool, clear brook
Is there any point in protesting
the subtle but unmistakable shaming
that comes from not fitting someone else’s narrative,
from having dared to spread your timid branches
in a manner organic for you
but disruptive for them?
What could a willow do anyway?
So, your roots bend now,
searching the emptiness, and yearning,
and you pretend. You go on.
You will have nine lives at least.
You do not know that yet.
But I know, and I see you and your hidden, arid roots
and I reach back across decades,
and I water you with nine thousand loving tears.
is like shoveling snow:
you have to be strategic.
Don’t waste strength
trying to make it all look tidy.
Life’s mutts and muddy boots
will surely ruin that work.
Instead, shift your
sorrow snow just enough
so it won’t trap you.
You have to think about
how to bend to pick it up
and where you’ll put it, for
it’s wet and heavy
And after the crusty glitter--
the glamour of feeling--
you needn’t pretend
that it’s pretty.
You have to be careful
not to slip on ice so slick
that you’re mashed
against your own story.
Mind all melting.
And wear mittens,
because even powder softness
your blood supply.
You have to be careful
people die of heart attacks
while shoveling snow
This series is an academic article that I wrote on the life of Christine de Pizan, an extraordinary woman of the medieval era.
During the lifetime of Christine de Pizan (1364-1430), women were not well respected. However, Christine managed to carve out a unique spot for herself among authors of poetry and rhetorical letters. Along her journey, she also became an unlikely champion of women, women’s roles, and the honorable treatment of women. Unlikely champion because Christine came from a privileged, comfortable background and was discouraged from stepping outside of traditional female roles by her mother. I am going to show that Christine’s background peculiarly gave her the gifts to become not only a gifted author, but the unlikely champion of women. Then, a brief exploration of the misogynistic attitudes present during her lifetime that called forth a response and thrust her into the role of France’s first woman of letters.
Christine de Pizan was born in Venice, Italy. At the time she was born, the city was just recovering from two horrific events – an earthquake followed by the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1348. It was thought that these events were punishments from God for Venice’s wickedness at warring with its neighbors and with Genoa. Venice was a port city that was among the first cities hit by the plague due to its status as a maritime trader. As the downfall of Venice was seen to be attributable to the movement of the planets and stars (earthquake), astronomy and astrology were respected and revered sciences. The potential for ad4vanced study in these fields is what drew Tommaso da Pizzano to Venice.
Tommaso da Pizzano arrived in Venice in 1357 from Bologna. He had been studying there towards his degree of doctor in medical studies which would have included studying astrology. Bologna had a reputation as an intellectual center of Europe, a book production center, and a center of secular thought. That is the rarified air that Christine de Pizan’s father came from. Here, Tommaso met Christine’s mother, they married and soon had Christine. It is also in Venice that Tommaso became acquainted with Petrarch, one of the most influential poets of his day. Here the thoughts of Bologna-based on Aristotle’s writings-collided with Petrarch’s thoughts that were grounded in Plato. Plato believed that women had a place in society—they had strengths that differed from men, but strengths none-the-less. Aristotle, however, had a much more subservient view of women.
In the Republic, Plato argues that women must be assigned social roles in the ideal state equal to those of men. Only one generation later, Aristotle, in his Politics, returns women to their traditional roles in the home, subserving men. Plato’s position in the Republic is based upon his view that “women and men have the same nature in respect to the guardianship of the state, save insofar as the one is weaker and the other is stronger.” Nature provides no such equality in Aristotle; in the Politics he flatly declares, “as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.”
I must say that Plato was not perfect on women, but he was more charitable in his views that Aristotle. Women, for Plato, degenerated from perfection while for Aristotle, they were inferior by nature. Christine de Pizan was born into an environment more influenced by Petrarch and Platonic thought than by the University center’s reliance upon Aristotelian thoughts on women.
Tommaso soon re-established his family in Bologna because of the prestige that being at University brought him. However, he was soon invited to join the courts of both Paris and Hungary. He chose Paris. He left his family for two years in Bologna while he established himself at the French court of Charles V. This allowed him to have the prestige of being at court and being near the University of Paris. In December 1368, Charles V “received at the Louvre the newly arrived family of Tommaso, now transformed into Thomas de Pizan.”
In the courts of Charles V, Christine was given quite a lot of freedom. Charles V has a propensity for intellectual interests. He cultivated contacts with the University of Paris and built an impressive library. He contracted Nicole Oresme to translate the entire works of Aristotle into French. Christine had access to the king’s library and to his personal study. She later recalled the king with fondness saying, “In my youth and childhood, with my parents, I was nourished by his hand.” Christine was enthralled with intellectual pursuits from a young age. Her father encouraged her in her studies (he had very liberal views on the education of women) while her mother was more traditional. Christine managed to walk a line between her two parents—tending to her traditional roles as a female and pursuing intellectual curiosities at every opportunity.
TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a recent graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.