Thursday, December 28, 2017


Crow Flying (M.A. Reilly, Ringwood, NJ)


And least understood
Is more than pale heads
In fur hoods

More than the blackbirds
No longer singing
Above the clearing they are
Darkly ringing

More than the snow
Embodied as men
Posed in solitary
Vigil again 

And equals the need
To live past recalling
Out where the mercury
Won’t stop falling

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Landscapes Made Towards the End of 2017

I have not lifted my camera very much since Rob died.  I forgot these images I made during the fall.  Here are a few.

Ringwood (M.A. Reilly, 2017)

Ringwood (M.A. Reilly, 2017)

Ringwood (M.A. Reilly, 2017)

Arizona (M.A. Reilly, 2017) 

Arizona (M.A. Reilly, 2017)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

#SOL17: The Familiar Falling Away

The Familiar Falling Away (Devon running down a road in Ringwood, NJ. M.A. Reilly)

I know more now. Knowledge comes with personal cost.

After watching Rob die, I know that death is more labor than not; more late acceptance than hope. What I am learning nearly two years later is the nature of being alone. No matter how constant I held Rob’s hand between both of mine, he went to his death alone. We all die alone and this frightens me even though I realize it is both requirement and fate to leave alone. I watched Rob do that the last 36 hours of his life. I watched from beside his bed. I watched with my eyes trained on his. He resurfaced for a moment twelve hours before his death choking on flem. Only our friend, Robyn was present and though panic swelled having another person there in the middle of the night was more of a gift than I could name at the moment. I learned how to clear the airway, how to administer greater amounts of morphine that the doctor ordered, how to best insure that my husband's leaving would be without panic.

This knowledge has changed me: I'm more watchful now. I scare easily and let go of panic quickly too. I'm less interested in gains of any sort. The trappings of this life are that: trappings. They feel like weight. Giving is an elixir. I sidestep drama. I measure possible concerns against the lost of a love and ask how important is this? I find I anger easily at foolish things and forget grudges easily too. I know bad things happen and new things emerge.


The passing of time has acted to unwind Rob from my memory, as if remembering was like adjusting a TV antenna in the hope of clearing static. A new image emerges of the last eight weeks of his life and this time I see me with him. When I close my eyes and try to see him, it’s like I am glimpsing a man I almost know, but not quite. Then I could only see Rob. His voice remained the same even though his features had changed. When he looked in a mirror and then at me and said he didn’t recognize himself I felt his pain.

“You were given huge amounts of steroids Rob. That’s what’s causing the distortion.”
“I don’t recognize my own face. Shit, even my hair is grey now.”
“You’re just distinguished.”
“I want to write a letter to Devon before it’s too late.”
“You will.”

When my husband grew too ill to be himself, I began to lose my very best friend and learned how to let this void fill with even greater space. Every loss opens me to what I could not imagine before. Rob would love knowing that.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Wishing You More Syllables than You Could Count: A Poem for This Day

On Grafton Street (M.A. Reilly, Dublin, 2009)

It's been a challenging year.  This breathtaking poem by Mark Doty fills me with hope. Change is always possible. 

Messiah (Christmas Portions) 

by Mark Doty

A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
   torn and sun-shot swaddlings:
   over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
   (colors of tarnish on copper)
   against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
   the Choral Society
   prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
   Not steep, really,
   but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
   that neighbor who
   fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
   from the post office
   —tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
   from the T-shirt shop:
   today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
   of distance and formality.
   Silence in the hall,
anticipatory, as if we’re all
about to open a gift we’re not sure
   we’ll like;
   how could they
compete with sunset’s burnished
oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,
   when the violins begin.
   Who’d have thought
they’d be so good? Every valley,
proclaims the solo tenor,
   (a sleek blonde
   I’ve seen somewhere before
—the liquor store?) shall be exalted,
and in his handsome mouth the word
   is lifted and opened
   into more syllables
than we could count, central ah
dilated in a baroque melisma,
   liquefied; the pour
   of voice seems
to make the unplaned landscape
the text predicts the Lord
   will heighten and tame.
   This music
demonstrates what it claims:
glory shall be revealed. If art’s
   acceptable evidence,
   mustn’t what lies
behind the world be at least
as beautiful as the human voice?
   The tenors lack confidence,
   and the soloists,
half of them anyway, don’t
have the strength to found
   the mighty kingdoms
   these passages propose
—but the chorus, all together,
equals my burning clouds,
   and seems itself to burn,
   commingled powers
deeded to a larger, centering claim.
These aren’t anyone we know;
   choiring dissolves
   familiarity in an up-
pouring rush which will not
rest, will not, for a moment,
   be still.
   Aren’t we enlarged
by the scale of what we’re able
to desire? Everything,
   the choir insists,
   might flame;
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
   quickened, now,
   by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
   Still time to change.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

#SOL17: Wonder that Leads to Praise

House by the Tracks (M.A. Reilly)


The most devout person I have known was my mom, Catherine Reilly. Her faith revealed itself in her day-to-day living, in the kind acts she did quietly, in the way her study of St. Paul's letters informed her decisions, in her generosity. She was a woman filled with wonder and more. It wasn't until I was listening to an interview between Krista Tippett and Mary Catherine Bateson that I better understood the relationship between wonder and faith. Bateson was discussing the intersection among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and said this:
"And what struck me is that what — actually, all three of the religions that come from Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — that what we all have in common is the sense of wonder that leads to praise" (from here).

A sense of wonder that leads to praise.

It was not wonder alone, but rather wonder that led to praise that better fit my memory of my mom.  So certain of God's love, she showed my brothers and me the many ways to hear one's conscience.  Years later, these daily lesson lived, more than taught, remain with me the most.


I woke up thinking about this sense of conscience-listening this morning. I wondered how the many people today who will cast a vote for Roy Moore will do so. What role does one's conscience play in how decisions are made and broken?  How is deep religious faith balanced with the desire for expedient outcomes?  The president has told the voters of Alabama that he needs a senate seat to make America great again.  He told them, “The people of Alabama will do the right thing...Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!”  His sole argument for Moor is that he will vote for "us" and us is a narrow group.

A devil's bargain that.

I was raised Roman Catholic and surely at the liberal end of that continuum and so it may not be so surprising that the white Evangelical movement as displayed these last few decades has confounded me.  White evangelicals gave us Trump and perhaps by the end of the day they will give us another predator, Roy Moore. It seems antithetical to all things holy to support  men who fail to engender a sense of wonder that leads to praise, unless the praise is about themselves. Where is God in such displays? How do these self-defined religious people square their choice with their faith? How do you look a pedophile, like Moore, in the eye and vote yes?

I don't buy the argument that because Moore has not undergone a trial voters ought not to consider the vile crimes that the women who have spoken out against him have claimed.  That many were minors should concern all. That argument is weak and frankly, if the man in question was someone else--say a Democrat--would they be so hesitant to believe the accusers?  Just look at pizzagate when many of the same people believed that Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography ring out of the basement of pizzerias. Such idiocy is still believed.

I'm curious how you reconcile yourself to all of this. What's your understanding?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

#PoetryBreak: American Gothic

American Gothic
after the painting by Grant Wood, 1930
John Stone

Just outside the frame
there has to be a dog
chickens, cows and hay

and a smokehouse
where a ham in hickory
is also being preserved

Here for all time
the borders of the Gothic window
anticipate the ribs

of the house
the tines of the pitchfork
repeat the triumph

of his overalls
and front and center
the long faces, the sober lips

above the upright spines
of this couple
arrested in the name of art

These two
by now
the sun this high

ought to be
in mortal time
about their businesses

Instead they linger here
within the patient fabric
of the lives they wove

he asking the artist silently
how much longer
and worrying about the crops

she no less concerned about the crops
but more to the point just now
whether she remembered

to turn off the stove.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Standards, Testing and Determined Futures

Cover art for Nubes a Mi Alrededor:
Oral Histories from Horizon Academy,
Rikers Island
(M.A. Reilly, 2008)
In the finest classrooms I have observed/researched across the last twenty years, uncertainty was more the norm than not. That's right: uncertainty. This may seem unusual given the normalcy of educational standards and their accompanying high stakes assessments that have constrained learning these last thirty years. We have been told that named lists of things to know advantages learning. But does it? 

I can’t help but wonder if the standards movement so intimately tied to tests aren’t complicit in limiting learning by replacing wonder with codification. The tacit is hardly ever acknowledged in the rooms where standards are unfolded like predetermined paths that must be followed. The world beyond that path does not exist. Rather than following learners’ interests, we slavishly attend to narrow sets of standards and the lists of codified bits of knowledge as if these bits existed outside time, intention, ethics, and morals. In doing this we create classrooms where determined futures are the end point. And this is tragic.

Marching scores and scores of learners to already determined futures is less about living and more about following. In such schema ethics and creativity as Gary Saul Moroson (1994) has theorized is always lessened. The repeated practice dulls the mind. It is as if learning was more foreshadow and less lived practice.

In "Restoring Points of Potentiality: Sideshadowing in Elementary Classrooms," I wrote that a determined future is a knowable point in time that excludes other possibilities. Michael André Bernstein (1994) explained that foreshadowing relies on logic that “must always value the present, not for itself, but as the harbinger of an already determined future” (p. 2).  Getting kids to know point A is all that matters; the present moment where they stand has already been scripted, contained and limited. Standards and high stakes testing rest on the logic of an already determined future. One we have been told to believe must be privileged. The actual lived experience is reduced and in some cases deadened. Codification on such grand scales limits learning as it fails to allow for the present moment to emerge in favor of determined end points. Such logic reduces possibility and replaces it with certainty.

In the classrooms and schools where uncertainty was privileged, learners (students and teachers) demonstrated curiosity, wonder, error, persistence, accuracy, and an intellectualism that was generous and gregarious. There, paths were made, not followed. Middles emerged as natural. The present moment was very much alive.


Bernstein, M.A. (1994). Foregone conclusions: Against apocalyptic history. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Morson, G.S. (1994). Narrative and freedom: The shadows of time. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Friday, December 1, 2017

50+ Children's Picture Books About Dads

from My Dad Used to Be So Cool

Ayyar, Kristin. (2013). Countdown 'til Daddy Comes Home. Illustrated by Melissa Bailey. Mascot Books.
Batten, Mary. (2003). Hey, Daddy! Animal Fathers and their Babies. Illustrated by Higgins Bond. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.
Beatty, David. (2013). Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. New York:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Blake, Robert J. (1992). The Perfect Spot. New York: Philomel.
Brisson, Pam. (1999). The Summer My Father was Ten. Illustrated by Andrea Shine. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
Brown, Jeffrey. (2012). Darth Vader and Son. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Browne, Anthony. (2001). My Dad. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Carle, Eric. (1991). Papa, Please Get Me the Moon. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Choldenko, Gennifer. (2017). Dad and the Dinosaur. Illustrated by Dan Santat. New York: G.P. Putnma.
Collard III, Sneed B. (2000). Animal Dads.  Illustrated by Steve Jenkins. New York: HMH Books.
Coy, Jon. (2009). Two Old Potatoes and Me. Illustrated by Carolyn Fisher. Minneapolis, MN: Nodin Press.
Coy, Jon. (2001). Night Driving. Illustrated by Peter McCarty. New York: Square Fish.
Cornwall, Gaia. (2017). Jabari Jumps. Somerville, MA; Candlewick.
Creech, Sharon. (2004). Fishing in the Air. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. New York: HarperCollins.

Image result for Night Catch Brenda Ehrmantraut
from Night Catch
Ehrmantraut, Brenda. (2014). Night Catch. Illustrated by Vicki Wehrman. St. Paul, MN: Elva Resa.
Feiffer, Jules. (2004).  The Daddy Mountain. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Garland, Michael. (2017). Daddy Played the Blues. Thomaston, ME: Tilbury House Publishers.
Grimes, Nikki. (2004). When Daddy Prays. Illustrated by Tim Ladwig. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishers.
Hardin, Melinda.(2010). Hero Dad.  Illustrated by Bryan Langdo. Tarrytown, NY: Two Lions.
Holmberg, Bo. (2008).  A Day with Dad. Illustrated by Eva Eriksson. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Hong, Nari. (2017). Days with Dad. Brooklyn, NY: Enchanted Lion Books.
Ichikawa, Satomi. (2006). My Father's Shop. San Francisco, CA: Kane/Miller Books.
Jalali, Reza. (2017). Moon Watchers. Illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien. Thomaston, ME: Tilbury House Publishers.
Jiang, Ji-li. (2013). Red Kite, Blue KiteIllustrated by Ruth Greg. New York: Hyperion.
Johnson, Angela. (2000). Daddy Calls me Man. Illustrated by Rhonda Mitchell. New York: Scholastic.

from The Better Tree Fort

Kerrin, Jessica Scott. (2018). The Better Tree Fort. Illustrated by Qin Leng. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
Kirk, Connie Ann. (2004). Sky Dancers. Illustrated by Christy hale. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Krishnaswami, Uma. (2015). Bright Sky, Starry City. Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
Kvasnosky, Laura McGee. (2017). Little Wolf's First Howling. Illustrated by Kate Harvey McGee. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Lakin, Patricia, (2014). Dad and Me in the Morning. Illustrated by Roger G. Steele. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & CO.
Lawson, JonArno. (2015). Sidewalk Flowers. Illustrated by Sydney Smith. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.
Lo, Rich. (2014). Father's Chinese Opera. New York: Sky Pony Press.
Image result for My Father's Arms Are a Boat
from My Father's Arms Are a Boat

Lunde, Stein Erik. (2013).  My Father's Arms Are a Boat. Illustrated by Øyvind Torseter. Translated by Kari Dickson. Brooklyn, NY: Enchanted Lions Book.
McGhee, Holly M. (2017). Come With Me. Illustrated by Pascal Lemaître. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Negley, Keith. (2016). My Dad Used to Be So Cool. London: Fly Eye Books.
Reynolds, Luke. (2017). If My love  Were a Fire Truck: A Daddy's Love Song. Illustrated by Jeff Mack. New York: Doubleday Books.

Robertson, Carolyn. (2014). Two Dads: A Book about Adoption. Illustrated by Sophie Humphreys.  Sparklypoo Publications.
Rowland, Joanna. (2014). Always Mom, Forever Dad. Illustrated by Penny Weber.  Thomaston, ME: Tilbury House Publishers.
Ryder, Joanne. (1994). My Father's Hands. Illustrated by Mark Graham. New York: Harper Collins.
Image result for Dipnetting with Dad. I

Sellars, Willie (Williams Lake Indian Band - T’exelc). (2014). Dipnetting with Dad. Illustrated by Kevin Easthope. Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press.
Sharp, N.L. (2016). Today I'm Going Fishing with My Dad. Illustrated by Chris Demarest. Freemont, NE: Prairieland Press.
Smalls, Irene. (1999). Kevin and His Dad. Illustrated by Michael Hays. New York: Little Brown.
Smith, Anita Hope. (2017). My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads. New York: Henry Holt.
Steptoe, Javaka. (2013). In Daddy's Arms I am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Tanco, Miguel. (2017). You and Me, Me and You. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Uhlberg, Myron. (2010). Dad, Jackie, and Me. Illustrated by Colin Bootman. Atlanta. GA: Peachtree.
Waber, Bernard. (2015). Ask Me. Illustrated by Suzy Lee. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Williams, Mo. (2004). Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. New York: Hyperion.
Willis, Jeanne. (2003). Don't Let Go.  Illustrated by Tony Ross. New York: Outnam.
Wing, Natasha. (1996). Jalapeno Bagels. Illustrated by Robert Casilla. New York: Atheneum.
Woodson, Jacqueline. (2015). Visiting Day. Illustrated by James Ransome. New York: Puffin Books.
Wyeth, Sharon. (1998). Always My Dad. Illustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Scholastic.
Yacarrino, Dan. (2012). Every Friday. New York: Square Fish.

Yolen, Jane. (2010). My Father Knows the Names of Things. Illustrated by Stephanie Jorisch. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.