While explaining to 7th graders the
Ways to combat the haters, the ignorant
And race baiters, I said plan to ignore
And then I implored them to guard their souls as
They invent and present without question their best
So I keep preaching saying you
All keep reaching for you can,
Embrace that geek and
As you continue to seek in
success of the nerds as you slay with the
Words of the Poet inside, who wins in the end.
So my kids, be free to peel off that mask
Grab a whole new forecast, push the past aside,
Celebrate the skins you are in as you freshen
Your lessons with academic questions, your
Futures are told so tell your mouth
Your dreams won’t bleed on the road, forthwith
So my loves, be fearless, ferocious
On occasion be precocious with your lines,
Your teachers got you and will be there to watch you in spite of
Some folks and positions with strong, potent
Dispositions…but just let them…for you are the poet with the pointed poetry.
December 8, 2019
*I recently had the pleasure to teach the Nikki Grimes poem, Jabari Unmasked. This poem is written using the Golden Shovel form, a fairly new form using words from another poet’s poem to inspire your new one. I searched through my most beloved poets, finding naught, and then lines in Jabari Unmasked reached out and grabbed me, begging me to join in her quest. The bolded end-words come from the last stanza of Jabari Unmasked.
Ms. Grimes, thank you for your words and inspiration, and may my words be a fraction as useful as your own.
On a bright day in ‘74, a resplendent friend walked through the gym door.
The first thing I saw was her infectious smile, I knew quickly we’d be friends for a while.
Forty-five years to be exact; I’ve never had another friend like that.
Our teen years were a rocky lot, most shenanigans are best forgot.
But oh, the joys of our high school loves, reaching out to all because
We were children inquiring, reaching, seeking, to try everything and keep on breathing.
Post graduation brought its own new time
More shenanigans would suit us fine.
Sitting by the fire at Steak and Ale
As we made our plans to leave and sail
Around the world like buccaneers
Way back then we weren’t ruled by fears.
Twenties were another thing, finding husbands and wedding rings
Settling down wasn’t easy though,
We had to cool down and take it slow
But changes came anyway, as we embraced new days
From here on out we had grown up ways.
Middle years we drifted some, but that never stopped us from being one
Of a set of best friends I’ll ever enjoy, as we waited for our careers to deploy.
I had a few kids but Sherri did not
Rather she would have thousands that she never forgot
Oh, how fortunate were those in her care
Sherri cherished her kids like a Mamma Bear.
In 2012 I joined her in teaching, watching her magic
As she just kept reaching
Out to those students who needed her most
She transformed lives, sometimes even to host.
In the last few years we’d meet up for a bite
Catching up with our families and laughing despite
Getting older and slower as we waded into
Ages and stages we expected to get through.
Our friendship was such that no matter how long
Time between us transpired we’d reconnect like a song
Whose melody was in our DNA
We’d just sit down and then hit “play.”
We even had a pipedream that if we ended up
Alone and homeless we just might set up
A Golden Girls home where we’d live out our days
With friends and cats and set in our ways.
I will never forget you, my Sherri, my friend
One day I’ll stop weeping and just pretend
That you’ve gone up to school to pick up a stack
Of Teacher Editions, and you’ll be right back.
Oh, my dear students, how I will miss you so
Thus I penned you this missive before I go
For there are several things that I want you to know.
Please never forget, now, the things I have taught you
Either and neither and to, too and two
And remember to always capitalize
Your proper nouns and ALL of your I’s
Remember your paragraphs and always indent
Because you want your reader to know your intent.
Remember Anne Frank, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
Remember Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Dr. Ben Carson
Remember Romeo and Juliet and Ebenezer Scrooge
Remember Ben Hur, Jacques and his family, too
Remember Shakespeare with his poofy pants
And remember Bob Ross and his happy plants.
Oh, the work I gave to you noon and night
All piled high to give you a fright
The book reports, the bio reports and the dreaded research papers
All that work might have caused you the vapors
But not in my kids, you took it in stride
You did some great work and you did it with pride.
So, no matter where you go, whether near or far
Wherever you travel by train, plane or car
There’s a round Mrs. Hagan in your memories recesses
Encouraging, reassuring, always wishing your bestest
Which, of course, isn’t really a word but you know what I mean
Because we’ve learned connotation so it’s meaning you glean.
We’ve had our laughs and our cries and our prayers and our sighs
We’ve had our jokes and our cokes but it’s now time for our byes
Please keep in touch because I want to watch you all grow
Into the Godly adults that will grow up and sow
Great things and great joys in this world we are in
I’m counting on you all to build a world where all win.
Not quite forty-eight hours and I am still recovering from the betrayal and sucker punch delivered by Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.
Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know the plot, quit reading now.
Before I begin what I hope will be a cathartic rant, allow me to explain why this movie meant so much to me, and why literally killing the story-line is so personally disheartening.
Mamma Mia was first released in 2008. It was the year my mother got very sick, and it was the last movie she ever saw. I was hovering around my 50th birthday. My girls were around 10 and 14. I went to the movie, and during the first few scenes was looking at my watch to see when it would be over. (Don’t know why, but I found the Money, Money, Money song annoying.) I think it was the Honey, Honey number that grabbed me by the heart and drew me in.
I was instantly transported back to my own magical days of wonder. Before I knew it I was engulfed in the visual beauty of Greece, the allure and energy of youth, the palpable ecstasy of decades-long friendship. And, honest to Pete, with every scene the delightful narrative just got stronger and brighter and the denouement left me giddy with joy and pleasure.
I spent money and watched that movie SEVEN TIMES at the theater. Never before or since have I even watched one a second time. I even went alone on several of those occasions.
And then I shared it with my girls. We bought the DVD, viewed it over and over, sang with it in the car…it is not hyperbolic to say that Mamma Mia was an regular, notable influence on our family during the next ten years.
So, you can imagine our delight when the sequel was approaching. So much to look forward to! Both my girls are in another state now, and we dearly wanted to be together for opening night. Alas, we missed it by one day. I saw it a few hours before their allotted time.
I viewed it with a dear friend from high school. We arrived more than an hour early, sat through a half hour of trailers, and finally, finally! The opening shot.
And I knew it instantly…the magic was gone. The opening shot was quiet, dark and lacked energy. Expressions were dower. And then, God help me, Sophie hung up a picture of Dead Donna, and said something about “This is what mom would have wanted.”
Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
They effing killed Donna???
So I have read that “Meryl Streep doesn’t do sequels.” Well, good for her. Knowing that, the writers couldn’t have had her go to Europe to see a friend? Join the Peace Corp? DID THEY HAVE TO KILL HER? And yet she shows up at the end as a damn ghost, so she did in fact do a sequel?
Well, I have not been that sucker punched since they threw Anne Hathaway under the truck in One Day. (Or maybe when they hoed the otter in half at the end of the movie, Ring of Bright Water.)
And then the grief started. Sam grieving. They had four, maybe five years of happiness before her death. Sophie grieving. Then Rosie and Tanya arrive crying. Good grief, who writes this crap?
How in the hell are you supposed to start singing and dancing and telling vagina jokes WHEN THE MAIN CHARACTER/MOTHER/WIFE/FRIEND is DEAD?
Call me a wuss but I cried for two hours. And so did a lot of other fans. And then I got really pissed.
The trailers were deceptive. Meryl Streep’s interview was deceptive. All Judy Craymer appeared to care about was shoving her sequel out of the gate.
Meryl Streep in her own words:
“Indescribable joy…pure fun…?” In what universe is a dead mother/wife/friend “joy and fun?: And for the record, I had heard rumors about Dead Donna. And this above interview had me believe my fears were unfounded. Very deceptive. Not cool, Meryl. Not cool.
However, anger, betrayal and grief aside, let’s have a look at the actual quality of the sequel.
This isn’t just the bitter talking. The musical numbers were an insulting rehash of the ones that were so strong, energetic and powerful. The jokes were equally as weak. Rosie wobbling around like an imbecile made me want to slap her down in the chair she kept missing. Sky and Sophie, who in the first movie exuded unbounded energy and sexuality, looked like they’d been married fifteen years and wanted a divorce. And, of course, Harry was still spontaneous.
There were a thousand ways this narrative could have kept the magic alive without turning it into a tragedy. With the addition of Cher, I personally was expecting a healing reconciliation between Donna and her mother. I was expecting to see the rise of the Dynamos and perhaps a bit of Sophie’s childhood.
I have spent the last two days discussing this with many fans on social media. Many of them loved this new movie, and that is their prerogative. But many also feel as I do, that it was a blind-siding script and an insult to those expecting an actual “reunion.”
I hope this crappy bait-and-switch will never quell the wonder, beauty and near divination of the first Mamma Mia. Shame on the people who killed this narrative. You didn’t have to.
Here is a fraction of what made Mamma Mia so amazingly special and the only song I cried at during the first movie. Tears of love at the bitter-sweetness of mother and daughter-hood, not in any way tears of loss and grief:
Amtrak train travel, especially compared to airline travel, gives you a great deal of freedoms. You can bring most anything legal onboard. This includes food and beverages, pillows and blankets. The above bags were filled with goodies of all sorts!
First, I want to tell you that you can search online for any information you may want regarding menus, snacks, drinks, dining times, etc. It is all on the Amtrak.com website also.
You really can go whole hog. I saw families with coolers containing juice bags, fruits and who knows what kind of sandwiches. If you plan right, you wouldn’t have to purchase a thing from the train.
Now, personally, I wanted to “be on vacation” so part of the fun for me was eating and drinking. I brought a couple of snacks for emergency hunger issues (of which there were none). My overall best snack was this:
It was crunchy, sweet, salty and had enough fat to satiate a quickie hunger pain. I still had half a bag when the trip was done.
The only other thing I wish I had brought more of was water bottles. You can buy them but, boy, when they are six for a buck at the dollar store, well, yeah. Should have brought more.
But get this! You can get cups of free ice in the cafe car just for the asking! I thought that was very generous if you were going to pour your own pop over Amtrak’s gratis ice. Nice touch, Amtrak.
So in the cafe car, which is open really early and stays open late, you can get drinks, snacks, and microwaveable anything. Believe it or not, their microwave hamburger was quite satisfying. Seriously!
If you want to eat in the dining car, you need to make a reservation. This is not because you are suddenly all La De Da; it is because the whole train isn’t going to fit in the dining car at the same time. Sleeping car passengers get first pick, and what’s more, their food is included in their ticket price. The dining car meals are pretty pricey, so this makes purchasing the sleeping car a better deal for a lot of people.
So in the dining car you will be eating with other people; there are four to a table. This for most people is part of the fun. (If you are an introvert who deplores time with strangers, may I again suggest that microwave pizza and a coke in your coach seat? Something for everyone!) I actually met a woman who lives in Alpine and gave great testimony about the Marfa Lights. (Now totally on my To Do list.) I met educators, single moms, even a belly dancer! The dining car experience is not to be missed. Make sure you go at least one time during your trip.
So…where was I? Oh, yes. First night on the train. It was a long one.
The Sunset Limited arrives in San Antonio in the wee hours. As bad luck would have it, this particular night was lengthened by some engine trouble. However, we were underway before sunrise, and I arose to some beautiful West Texas scenery.
This route goes through Del Rio, Alpine, El Paso, and Tucson on its way to Los Angeles. It was very beautiful and much more visually interesting than I anticipated. My brother-in-law suggested a trip to Alpine, getting off here, driving a short distance to Marfa for the famous Marfa Lights, and then heading back to Houston. Now that I know what he was talking about, I agree this might be the ideal “baby trip” to make before heading across the country. A trip to Alpine on the train is now On My List!
So I guess I should answer some of the many questions my readers have regarding Amtrak train travel. I will try to be succinct. (No one laugh. I know my tendencies to the contrary.)
Here you go…an easy one. How fast does the train go? According to one of the staff members, 79 mph is the top speed. I am sure we never got near that speed. A time or two we went faster than the cars on the highways next to us. So I figured probably 60-65 mph tops.
And since I just mentioned staff, I just have to say a few words on that subject.
First, I have to state that much of the reason I had enough nerve to undertake this trip was because I have a friend who takes the train herself a lot, and she has a relative who works for Amtrak. Between my friend and her relative, virtually all my wild questions about train travel were answered before I ever left the station. I sincerely appreciated this information.
My first interaction from an onboard staff member was John who works in the cafe of the observation car. He works the Houston to Los Angeles run, and it is a long one. He was exceedingly pleasant, clever and cordial. Somehow he made a microwave pizza taste like a gourmet dish. He really was that pleasant. With delays and whatnot, this man and the other staff members worked equally exceedingly long hours. And stayed upbeat, courteous and cordial to the very end of the trip. I doubt my demeanor would have stayed so on target.
On the Coastal Starlight, we had Johnny who was in the cafe, and was also very helpful and pleasant on the trip. This leg of the trip seemed to have more eaters and drinkers, and he also kept up with the demands. From the dining car to the conductors, the staff were all stellar.
I guess what impressed me most was the conductor on the Starlight. There was a passenger who was quite elderly and impaired, and the conductor himself helped the man downstairs, asked what he wanted to eat, helped him order it and delivered it to his table. Airlines, you might take note of what defines customer service.
Overall, the staff could not have been more helpful and inviting. Even with the delays we were kept informed, and treated with every courtesy.