When I Grow Up, I want to be a Fire Truck

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-6-22-30-pmFire truck

I remember looking through
an old childhood book,
In which I had added
My two cents.
With all of my sense,
And my backward-letter
Penmanship, I had plotted
my plans
on the page.

“When I grow up
I want to be
a firetruck.”

Since then,
I had laughed at
Such silly, sophomoric
Sentiment.

“Look,” I’d say, and point
at my self-prescribed,
Pre-school script.
“I really took it to heart
When they told me I could be
Anything I wanted.
A firetruck?
What could I have
Been thinking?”

But, tonight,
As I listed and lamented
The long list of
Other occupations

I had once considered:

Interior designer,
Psychologist,
Cultural anthropologist,
I realized something. . .

Haven’t I since,
In a sense,
Become all of these things?

Except for the fire truck.

But that, perhaps, is
What I am to become.

I still
Want to be
A fire truck!

You see, of a fire truck,

Nobody has ever said:

“Don’t listen to her,
she’s just overreacting.”

“He’s making all of that noise,
Because he didn’t get his way.”

When fire truck wails and screams,
nobody says:

“She has become angry and bitter.”

“Maybe he wants something to really cry about.”

“She’s probably about to get her period.”

“He’s being irrational and crazy.”

As the fire truck
Declares an emergency,
Nobody dismisses it with:

“I don’t know why she is crying. It was her own fault.”

“There he goes, getting all political again.”

“She has no reason to be upset.
She is just being manipulative.”

“Dude, seriously?
Are you complaining again?”

But, a fire truck is respected,
Heard, heeded, honored.

The fire truck is a warrior,
Shouting out
An alarm call,
A barbaric yawp,
A siren cry to save lives.

The fire truck is
not a second-hand good.
Not a victim,

A fire truck is not
Something to be seen and not heard,
But instead,
Is a voice.
A voice that matters.

A voice that pushes through denial
Saying
“Hey!
There is something wrong here.
I can point it out.
I can lead the way.
Hear me.”

I still
Want to be
A fire truck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




 

Love Letter to America

Dear America,

Love can save us.  Trust me, I know.

My childhood was not a lovely one.  I was the youngest, and therefore the most helpless, child of a very broken family.  Alcoholism, domestic violence, and several types of abuse were some of the secrets we kept (or thought we kept) hidden within our household. When life was not a place of fear and terror, it was a place of shame and doubt.  Love saved me. One of the first times that I confronted love was in the book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  I know it seems silly that a book about a donkey and a little red marble could show me what love looks like.  It was Sylvester’s parents who got through to me. They grieved when their adored son, Sylvester, couldn’t be found.  I realized that love could look like grieving.  My next encounter with love was the Frances books by Russell Hoban.  Frances was lovable, though she was sometimes stubborn, selfish, and childish. Frances had wise caring people in her life who helped her grow and change. I learned that love is not abrasive and that love can transform.

I watched my dad encounter love in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the Big Book) as he read accounts of other recovering alcoholics sharing their experience, strength, and hope. Yes, I ended up reading the whole book cover-to-cover, too.  I was watching it transform my father, so I just had to read it.  I knew there was good stuff in there!

Book by book, chapter by chapter, page by page, I have been transformed as I have encountered love in books.  I have realized that I am not alone. I have realized that my shortcomings don’t have to be permanent.  I have learned that people are resilient, and I can be too.   I learned that there is hope.  Since then, I have tried to share this love with others.  I like helping my students and friends find the right book. The book that will speak to their hearts.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon Donalyn Miller’s words that put voice to what I was trying to do with books.  On page 9 of The Book Whisperer, Donalyn explains how she and her husband have use books to express themselves and their hearts to each other with “Books are our love letter (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words.”

For over a week, I have been beyond words. I know that to heal, to move forward, I need to use my voice, but there is too much to articulate.  I also know that I need to love. Fearlessly.  So, America, I want to express my love for you.  Here is my love letter to you in the form of books.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Even when it seems that the world (or in Melinda’s case, the entire high school) is against you, and you are hurting alone, find your safe place, your safe person, and speak.

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

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Sometimes the best way to help a friend is to listen to what she is not saying.

 

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

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When a friend encourages you to be yourself, your toughest critic might finally accept you as you are, even if your toughest critic is your own father.

 

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

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Wait, do you really expect me to tell you a tiny little thing about each book on this list?  Just read this one!  Trust me!

One For the Murphys by Lynda Mullay Hunt

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Even those of us who feel we are undeserving of love, are indeed loved.

 

Love the Baby by Steven Layne

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Jealousy can cause hatred, but seeing another’s vulnerability and humanity can sometimes be what we need to help us love.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

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“If you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow and grow and grow.”

 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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Sometimes love looks like a bald, chipped-tooth, taxi-driving coach who pushes you to be better.

 

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

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Love, especially sacrificial love, trumps everything no matter how terrifying, dark, and powerful a certain force may appear to be.

 

A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Find someone you trust and share your dreams.

My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto by Frank Dabba Smith, with photographs by Mendel Grossman

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Even in the worst of times, connecting with others, laughter, and love helps us persevere.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Pay attention to how you treat others, and remember that even small amounts of kindness can ripple outward and change the world.

 

America, this is a teeny tiny list, and there are countless books that will remind you who you are to the world, and who the world should be to you.  These are just a few that I have on my coffee table right now, reminding me that there is hope. Start with one of these, or choose another book, but read, love, transform, and be transformed.
Fondly,

Julie Hoffman

 

 

 

Poetry Month – Day 4

Today’s poem is a Minute Poem, in which each stanza has four lines (8 syllables in the first line and four in the subsequent lines).  This poem is in response to Paul Fleischman’s book Seedfolks.

Seedfolks

 

Community, in brokenness-

Bad neighborhood,

Trashed vacant lot,

Hopeless and sad.

 

A Vietnamese girl, with seeds

Moves trash and digs.

Other neighbors

Hesitated.

 

Hispanic, Haitian, young and old,

Male and female,

Started to change-

Minds and gardens.

 

Silence and darkness split open

As trash is moved,

Hope is restored,

and beauty grows.