Rowers on the Schuykill

Let us be early medieval or late Renaissance,
spike-featured Norman Christ
or bone-faced Dureresque peasant,
skeleton staining the flesh.

Let us descend the granite steps
and gather at at the river’s edge
for today is an Eakin’s day on the Schuykill:
boat races, festive crowds, spontaneous celebration.
See the strong young men lift their sculls
from the racks and carry them overhead
like slender varnished beetles
to the murky and opaque waterway.
See the girls sleek and oiled cheer them on,
the losers as well as the winners.
See the geese that summer and winter here
spring up over the island. See them sport
with one another in raucous feathery
gaggles and announce to the daily horde
the absence of human frailty.

For all seems well under the cutting sun:
Joan of Arc is heroically bronzed
though even she cannot halt traffic along the drive
and Mad Anthony Wayne rears on his horse
with the famed golden testicles.
How miraculous we seem to ourselves on this fair mountain
as cyclists weave round us, in and out
of joggers and skater and strawberry mansions.

There is more: deep in the earth
an orchestra plays something lush,
romantic, called back and tempered
by the limping Hungarian.
And there on the bank I see
an old black man-
fishing for catfish, stepped from a genre painting.

But remember, we have come to watch the boat races-
the crews in their sculls on the Schuykill,
2-man, 4-man, 8-man and coxswain,
barking his rubbery lips stretched
over a frightening oracular beak:
Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!
And the coach puttering around
effortlessly in his motor boat,
looping lazy figure-eights about them
as they rain sweat, snap ligaments, and groan.
But this is only practice,
the race is soon to run.
Only then will these young oarsmen show
an old and tired Charon the ropes-
how to run his ferry faster
on this one of many rivers,
stroke by stroke by stroke.

By Leonard Kress (1987)
From the anthology Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania

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Monarch Butterfly

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Below you will find a poem I wrote in the Spring of 2016 after searching archived National Geographic Magazine articles for a teacher who wanted to do a lesson on butterflies.

I am a Monarch Butterfly. I was a mere larvae a few days ago. Just hatched from my chrysalis this morning. I looked up toward the tree top and started climbing,
Climbing, climbing, finally reaching the top of the giant tree.
The sunlight was bright and overwhelming.

When I first saw the others, there were more than a dozen, and my enthusiasm grew with their numbers. It took a few minutes to realize the extent of what I was seeing. One hundred of my fellow cousins fluttering against a blue sky, wing tips touching. Simply breathtaking.

Seeing one million Monarchs swerving and soaring above me,
Realizing there were more in the trees waiting for the right moment
to open their wings and join us,
Felt like nothing short of a miracle.

I looked below as a woman cocked her head to the sky, cupping her hands
behind her ears. The husband leaned over and whispered, “Listen.” His bride grinned from ear-to-ear as she heard the butterflies flapping their wings
Against the air, sounding like a rainstorm falling on verdant forest.

Suddenly, thousands of butterflies above me began to let go of the branches they’d been desperately clinging to and poured into the sky;
I felt the wind from their wings as they soared around me.
I got lost in the swirling kaleiodoscope pattern they made against the sun.

I know butterflies aren’t noted for emotion, but I was filled with an inexplicable surge of energy that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. We looked like orange confetti setting the sky ablaze. At about two hundred yards above the tree, we all turned right and headed to North America, where summer awaits.

Why is Early Childhood Important to Substance Abuse Prevention?

Abundant research in psychology, human development, and other fields has shown that events and circumstances early in peoples’ lives influence future decisions, life events, and life circumstances—or what is called the life course trajectory. People who use drugs typically begin doing so during adolescence or young adulthood, but the ground may be prepared for drug use much earlier, by circumstances and events that affect the child during the first several years of life and even before birth.

Intervening early in childhood can alter the life course trajectory in a positive direction.

The first, overarching principle drawn from research is that intervening early in childhood can alter the life course trajectory of children in a positive direction. Early childhood includes prenatal through age 8, as delineated by the following developmental periods:

  • Prenatal Period (conception and birth)
  • Infancy and Toddler (birth to 3 years)
  • Preschool (ages 3 through 5)
  • Transition to School (ages 6 through 8 years)

The “transition to school” period is actually part of the middle childhood and early adolescence period (6 to 13 years), but is addressed separately here because it is a major and significant transition in the child’s development. The middle childhood period is followed by adolescence (ages 13 to 18). The age range for interventions that form the basis for the principles of prevention described in this resource is prenatal through 8 years.

Life course perspectives show risk for drug abuse; How Do We Prevent it?

The period of development discussed above is typically characterized by rapid orderly progressions of normal patterns of physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. Such development is marked by important transitions between developmental periods and the achievement of successive developmental milestones. How successfully or unsuccessfully a child meets the demands and challenges arising from a given transition, and whether the child meets milestones on an appropriate schedule, most certainly has an affect on his or her future course of development, including an elevated risk for drug abuse or other mental, emotional, or behavioral problems during adolescence.

A number of risk factors can interrupt or interfere with unfolding developmental patterns in all of these periods and, especially, in the transitions between them. Prevention interventions designed specifically for early developmental periods can address these risk factors by building on existing strengths of the child and his or her parents (or other caregivers) and by providing skills (e.g., general parenting skills and specific skills like managing aggressive behavior), problem-solving strategies, and support in areas of the child’s life that are underdeveloped or lacking.

The child’s stages of life, aspects of his social and physical environments, and life events he experiences over time all contribute to his physical, psychological, emotional, and cognitive development.

Life events or transitions represent points during which the individual is in a period of fluidity, sometimes referred to as sensitive, critical, or vulnerable periods. Although vulnerability can occur at various stages throughout the life course, it tends to peak at critical life transitions, which present risks for substance abuse as well as opportunities for intervention. Thus transitions such as pregnancy, birth, or entering preschool or elementary school are prime opportunities to introduce skills, knowledge, and competencies to facilitate development during those transitions. Therefore, interventions are often designed to be implemented around periods of transition.

What are the major influences on a child’s early development?

The changes unfolding throughout a child’s development are influenced by a complex combination of factors. One of them is the genes the child inherits from his or her biological parents. Genetic factors play a substantial role in an individual’s development through the course of life, influencing a person’s abilities, personality, physical health, and vulnerability to risk factors for behavioral problems like substance abuse. But genes are only part of the story.

Another very important factor is the environment, or the contexts into which the child is born and in which the child grows up. The family/home environment is the context that most directly influences the young child’s early development and socialization. This includes quality of parenting and other parenting influences such as genetic factors and family functioning. Also, siblings, if present, can influence a child’s development and adjustment (e.g., internalizing and externalizing behaviors and substance use, as well as positive behaviors). These influences may result from shared environmental experiences and interactions with parenting and other family factors. But conditions at home are also influenced by wider physical, social, economic, and historical realities—such as the family’s socioeconomic status and the affluence and safety of the community in which the family lives. As the child grows older and enters school, these wider environmental contexts influence him or her more directly.

Throughout early childhood, even when the child enters preschool or attends day care, the family remains the most important context for development. Parents play a number of roles in the development of a young child’s social, emotional, and cognitive competence, including establishing the structure and routines for parent-child interactions; maintaining a sensitive, warm, and responsive relationship style; and providing instructional practices and experiences that help the child acquire necessary developmental skills.

When a nurturing, responsive relationship does not exist, elevated levels of stress hormones can impede a child’s healthy brain development. Moreover, when a caregiver cannot provide attention and nurturing because of a history of trauma, chronic stress, and/or mental health problems, the child is more likely to develop behavioral, social, emotional, or cognitive problems. Likewise, impaired judgment related to substance use can reduce a parent’s ability to create a warm, supportive environment for the child. Child abuse and neglect, social isolation due to illness or disability, and lack of constancy in the primary caregiver (as in the case of a child in institutionalized care) are also linked to growth (including brain growth and neuronal connectivity), cognitive, motor, social, and emotional problems. Many of the prevention interventions discussed in this guide are aimed at facilitating constant, nurturing, responsive caregiving to reduce risk and prevent child behavior problems.

Transition to School.

As the child grows older, new transitions and associated challenges occur. A major transition for young children is beginning elementary school. Even children who attended preschool or had been in day care can find the rules for behavior and academic requirements associated with elementary school difficult to adapt to and achieve. Readiness for school is something that occurs over time with experience and practice. Early intervention can help parents and schools assist children through this transition. Once in elementary school, teachers can help children to adjust by providing positive classroom management.

Intervene early in childhood.

Research over the past three decades has identified many factors that can help differentiate individuals who are more likely to abuse drugs from those who are less likely to do so. Risk factors are qualities of a child or his or her environment that can adversely affect the child’s developmental trajectory and put the child at risk for later substance abuse or other behavioral problems. Protective factors are qualities of children and their environments that promote successful coping and adaptation to life situations and change. Protective factors are not simply the absence of risk factors; rather, they may reduce or lessen the negative impact of risk factors.

All children will have some mix of risk and protective factors. An important goal of prevention is to change the balance between these so that the effects of protective factors outweigh those of risk factors. Both risk and protective factors may be internal to the child (such as genetic or personality traits or specific behaviors) or external (that is, arising from the child’s environment or context), or they may come from the interaction between internal and external influences.

Some important early childhood risk factors for later drug use.

Some factors that powerfully influence a child’s risk for later substance abuse and other problems have their strongest effects during specific periods of development. Important examples include:

Prenatal Period

  • Maternal smoking and drinking can affect a developing fetus and may result in altered growth and physical development and cognitive impairments in the child.

Infancy and Toddlerhood

  • Having a difficult temperament in infancy may set the stage for the child having trouble with self-regulation later, as well as create challenges for the parent-child relationship.
  • Insecure attachment during the child’s first year of life can cause a child to be aggressive or withdrawn, fail to master school.
  • Uncontrolled aggression when a child is a toddler (2 to 3 years) can lead to problems when he or she enters preschool, such as being rejected by peers, being punished by teachers, and failing academically.

Preschool

  • Lack of school readiness skills such as failure to have learned colors, numbers, and counting will put a child at a disadvantage in a classroom environment, setting the stage for poor academic achievement.

Transition to School

  • Poor self-regulation can lead to frustration and constant negative attention on the child by peers and teachers at school.
  • Lack of classroom structure in the school environment can lead to additional social and behavioral problems in children who have trouble switching from one activity to another.

Other risk factors can affect a child in any developmental period. Some important ones are:

  • Stress: All children experience stress at some point, and in fact a certain amount of stress helps young children develop skills for meeting challenges and coping with setbacks that inevitably occur in life. But chronic stressors like family poverty and stress that is intense or prolonged—such as a parent’s mental health problems or a lingering illness—can diminish a child’s ability to cope. These types of stress can even interfere with proper development, including brain development, and aspects of physical health like proper functioning of the immune system. This is particularly true of children who have experienced the extreme stress of maltreatment, such as abuse or neglect, by parents or caregivers. Some children who experience a lot of stress early in life, even during the prenatal period, are more susceptible to the effects of later stressful life circumstances than other people.
  • Parental substance use: Parental substance use—including smoking, drinking, illicit drug use, and prescription drug abuse—can affect children both directly and indirectly. Substances used by a mother during pregnancy can cross the placenta and directly expose the fetus to drugs, and substances can pass to a nursing infant through breast milk. When parents smoke in the home, it can also expose children to secondhand smoke, putting them at risk for health and behavioral problems, as well as increasing children’s likelihood of smoking when they grow older. Parental substance use can also impact the family environment by giving rise to family conflict and poor parenting, which could increase risk for child abuse and neglect and involvement with the child welfare system. Poor family functioning can increase the risk for multiple problem behaviors in children and adolescents, including risk for substance use and abuse. Children with a family history of drug abuse also may have increased genetic risk for substance use, often manifested in combination with family or other environmental risk factors. Children can learn about substance use from a very young age, especially if exposed to parental substance use and abuse. However, children are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or use other drugs when parents are clear that they do not want their children to do so, even if they use substances themselves.
  • Emergent mental illness. Many mental illnesses have symptoms that can emerge during childhood and can increase risk for later drug abuse and related problems. For example, anxiety disorders and impulse-control disorders (such as ADHD) begin their onset prior to 11 years of age, on average, but frequently symptoms may appear in early childhood. Symptoms associated with impulse-control disorders, such as aggressive disruptive behavior, as well as those associated with affective and psychotic disorders all increase the risk of substance use disorders and related problems in adolescence.

If not successfully addressed when they initially present themselves, early risk factors and associated negative behaviors can lead to greater risks later in childhood and in adolescence, such as academic failure and social and emotional difficulties, all of which put an individual at increased risk for substance abuse.

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-substance-abuse-prevention-early-childhood

 

 

Life’s Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Below you will find a poem by Tosha Michelle. I discovered the wonderful, brilliant, persuasive poetry of Tosha when she first commented on one of my poems. I started following her blog immediately. I am sure you will be swept up by the imagery of “Life’s Poetry.”

I sit. Heart in hand. I
create. Some of you
may turn away from
the blood. The red
spilling over. It’s OK
if you do.

Sometimes it scares
me too, but still I
hold it. Palms out.
I’m giving you what
frightens me. This
is me saying, yes, I’m
still here.

I give you my less than
moments, my insecurities,
my madness, my ideas
about life and love, my
shrine of longing.

My heart slipping from
my hands, falling past
my knees to the floor.

Falling toward your
shadow I hope you
will pick it up.
Feel the hopeful
beat that wars
with my still
soul and chaotic
mind. I give you
my wounds.

We connect through
our pain, my friend,
my reader. Through
the hornets in our
coffee cups. Our
syllables of what
we can’t forget.

As we suffer together,
fear becomes less.
Our hearts beat stronger.
Place them on the
dashboard like a
plastic Jesus.

It’s doesn’t matter if
they leak on the
floorboard. It only
matters that we travel on,
even if we’ve misplaced
the map, even if our sanity
becomes displaced, even if
we drive down a reckless road
on a moonless night.

Understand, if we want
heaven and angels,
sometimes we have
to ride around with
our demons.

Understand, sometimes,
darkness is the heart of
life, of beauty, of art.

-Tosha Michelle

Please click on the following link for more of Tosha Michelle’s engaging poetry: https://laliterati.com/category/poems/

Dover Beach

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Below you will find a poem by the great Victorian “poet of doubt,” Matthew Arnold. The poem recalls a brief moment from Arnold’s honeymoon in 1851. While standing by an open window, overlooking the cliffs of Dover, England, Arnold takes in the shoreline below, mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the sea as the tide goes out…

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits—on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Listen! You hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling.

At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 

Imperfect

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Below you will find one of my poems. This one was quite fun to write.

I was inspired several years ago to write a poem that addresses the “academic” approach to poetry. I drew from some related experiences as a high school student where my work was challenged as being faulty, outside of the box, incorrect. Yet it was prose. It was fiction. It was poetry. I’ve heard it said relative to screenwriting that it’s okay to break the rules. But it is critical that we first understand and know those rules. I’m okay with that. But I got caught up in the moment of a memory from 9th grade English.

The following poem is the result.

I sat, submissively. You stood, towering.
You, the PhD. Me the struggling artist.
My thumbnail kept picking at the edge
of the nail on my index finger.
My writing hand index finger. Odd.
You told me my poem was “okay,”
but it was not perfect.
So what, then, it was imperfect?
Faulty? Flawed? Defective? Unsound?
Wait, this was a “free verse” assignment.
It was meant to not have a regular meter.
It was supposed to simply “be.”
Perhaps my poem had “imperfect vision.”
Imperfectus: incomplete.
So you’re saying it was “missing something.”
Perhaps you don’t like unrestrained boundaries.
Your failure to appreciate poetry that is
absent fixed metrical pattern does not mean
my work has failed as poetry.
Non-metrical, non-rhyming lines often
closely follow the natural rhythms of speech.
Perhaps this is the very purpose of
an imperfect poem.

©2016 by Steven Barto

“Advent.” A Poem by David J. Bauman

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Whenever possible, I will provide a link to more poetry by the featured poet.

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David J. Bauman’s poems have appeared in San Pedro River Review, Contemporary American Voices, Blue Hour Magazine, and T(OUR), among other places. He has poems recently published or forthcoming in Yellow Chair Review, and Watershed: A Journal of the Susquehanna. He’s a winner of the University Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and editor of Word Fountain, the Literary Magazine of the Osterhout Free Library. He is a former co-worker of mine at the Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library in Northumberland, PA, and a good friend.

Weekday mornings on Bald Eagle Street
I waited for the bus. On winter days, I’d hide
by the dryer vent at the side of our house,
cupping warmth in woolen gloves, as inside
mom washed socks and jeans and sheets.

Saturdays I’d hide inside, close my eyes,
lean back against the machine. My feet tucked
into an empty laundry basket, I huddled up
to the hum and heat, soothed by the beat
of its rocking cycle, safe in my make-shift cave.

In those moments the world was my own,
and small enough to see—the narrow walk
between our house and Aunt Cindy’s, a slice
of the street, a glimpse of backyard promise—
even though the swing set was covered in ice.

There were tunnels through the snow
back there, for me to escape or defend.
Long white ledges lined with snowballs,
ammo, gradually amassed, a fortress to stand
against armies, or brothers, or any other foe.

By David J. Bauman

 

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” A Poem by Dylan Thomas

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Whenever possible, I will provide a link to more poetry by the featured poet.

Today’s poem is one of my favorites by Dylan Thomas.

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This poem is a strong invocation for us to live boldly and to fight for what we believe in or desire. Thomas implores us to not just go gentle into that good night, but to rage against it. Even at the end of life, when “grave men” are near death, the poem admonishes us to burn with life. This is a life-affirming poem.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

©1947 Dylan Thomas

Selected Poems of Dylan Thomas 1934-1952

I Don’t Want To Be Demure or Respectable

April is National Poetry Month. Typically, I celebrate by sharing poetry with my blog followers. If ambitious enough, I will be posting a new poem each day for the remainder of April. Whenever possible, I will provide a link to more poetry by the featured poet.

Today’s poem is one of my favorite by Mary Oliver

I don’t want to be demure or respectable.
I was that way, asleep, for years.
That way, you forget too many important things.
How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them,
are singing.
How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and
the sky, it’s been there before.
What traveling is that!
It is a joy to imagine such distances.
I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.
There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.
It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.
The glimmer of gold Böhme saw on the kitchen pot
was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.
Who do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me
crazy.
Why am I always going anywhere, instead of
somewhere?
Listen to me or not, it hardly matters.
I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.
I’m just chattering.

https://peacefulrivers.homestead.com/maryoliver.html

Christ Suffered and Died: To Reconcile Us to God

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I have presented seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating today with To Reconcile Us to God. Of course, there are countless more reasons for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: To show His own love for us; to become an ransom for many; to bring us to faith and keep us faithful; to give us a clear conscience; to obtain for us all things that are good for us; to heal us from moral and physical sickness; to secure our resurrection from the dead; to disarm the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world; to destroy the hostility between races and religions, and others.

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life. (Romans 5:10)

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THE RECONCILIATION THAT NEEDS to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’s help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in His own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.

The all-important words are “while we were enemies.” This is when “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first “change” was God’s, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).

While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for Him to treat us with mercy alone. God’s first act in reconciling us to Himself was to remove the obstacle that made Him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

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Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, “Be reconciled to your brother,” notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who “has something against you,” just as God has something against us. “Be reconciled to your brother” means do what you must so that your brother’s judgment against you will be removed.

But when we hear the Gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove His own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation  happened “while we were enemies.” Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.