Wednesday, April 1, 2020

#poetryBreak: Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital

Birds Lifting (M.A. Reilly)

Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital


Praise the restless beds
Praise the beds that do not adjust
     that won't lift the head to feed
     or lower for shots
     or blood
     or raise to watch the tinny TV
Praise the hotel TV that won't quit
      its murmur & holler
Praise the room service
      that doesn't exist
      just the slow delivery to the front desk
      of cooling pizzas
      & brown bags leaky
      greasy & clear
Praise the vending machines
Praise the change
Praise the hot water
& the heat
       or the loud cool
       that helps the helpless sleep.

Praise the front desk
       who knows to wake
       Rm 120 when the hospital rings
Praise the silent phone
Praise the dark drawn
       by thick daytime curtains
       after long nights of waiting,

Praise the waiting & then praise the nothing
       that's better than bad news
Praise the wakeup call
       at 6 am
Praise the sleeping in
Praise the card hung on the door
       like a whisper
       lips pressed silent
Praise the stranger's hands
       that change the sweat of sheets
Praise the checking out

Praise the going home
       to beds unmade
       for days
Beds that won't resurrect
       or rise
that lie there like a child should
        sleeping, tubeless

Praise this mess
         that can be left

Kevin Young, "Ode to the Hotel Near the Children’s Hospital" from Dear Darkness. Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Young. 

#SOL20 - Counting: Notes from the Pandemic

Skyline (M.A. Reilly)

I’m wondering tonight what it is I should be thinking about as a school district leader? What comes after and from this pandemic? What must my team and I be thinking about now when our minds are pulled to the immediacy of the moment? What are we missing that demands our attention?

I oversee teaching and learning for a city school system in NJ and have the privilege to work with a very committed and talented group of educators. We have cobbled together in 3-weeks a shaky foundation for distance learning, one where none had been prior. This meant that principals and their staff volunteered to come into closed schools to hand out chrome books to more than 9000 students, while district leaders figured out how to provide Internet services for a like number learners.

I know we have gotten elements wrong. I know we will look back on this and have a long list of ‘should haves’ that we missed, didn’t know, hadn’t considered, or didn’t understand. And even with all those limitations, something solid has been started.

My goal tomorrow is to get invited into five classes and to see better what learning looks like from that vantage point. I don’t know what doing this will teach me, but I feel it is essential. I want teachers to ask their students, ‘how do we best support them and their families and their learning?What must we get right?’

I’ll let you know how that goes.


So many things to count,
to count on.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

#PoetryBreak: When the Vacation is Over for Good

Wales (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

When the Vacation is Over for Good

It will be strange
Knowing at last it couldn't go on forever,
The certain voice telling us over and over
That nothing would change,

And remembering too,
Because by then it will all be done with, the way
Things were, and how we had wasted time as though
There was nothing to do,

When, in a flash
The weather turned, and the lofty air became
Unbearably heavy, the wind strikingly dumb
And our cities like ash,

And knowing also,
What we never suspected, that it was something like summer
At its most august except that the nights were warmer
And the clouds seemed to glow,

And even then,
Because we will not have changed much, wondering what
Will become of things, and who will be left to do it
All over again,

And somehow trying,
But still unable, to know just what it was
That went so completely wrong, or why it is
We are dying.
"When the Vacation is Over for Good" by Mark Strand, from New and Selected Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

Monday, March 30, 2020

#SOL20 - Symbols: Notes from the Pandemic


I haven’t been able to grasp the fullness of this pandemic and what it means. I understand what a pandemic is and yet, I am not fully aware of the personal, financial, and societal implications of the pandemic. Concrete symbols seem to carry far more influence than the chatter I hear on news shows or the stories I read online.

The Javits Center is located at the end of the street where Rob’s family business was located on West 36th Street in Manhattan. I can remember parking the car in the narrow parking lot next to Rob’s business and walking down the street to visit the Javits Center during the annual Book Expo, a conference that Rob and I went to.

Book Expo at Javits Center
Because I have tired myself walking the floors of that Expo, I have a sense of the largeness of the Javits Center. When I saw photographs like the one below that shows how the Javits Center has been repurposed to now be a 1200-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients needing care,  the reality of this pandemic becomes clearer.


Symbols matter. It’s the familiar places that have been transformed that most allow me to catch a glimpse of the pandemic in ways that unsettle the calmness I try to pull around myself.

In a similar manner, I was talking with a colleague who was working in a NJ hospital and she said that the most terrifying change in NJ hospitals was the recent introduction of refrigerated trailers, that are intended to operate as temporary morgues.

I see these trucks and I think Walmart delivery, not a temporary place to store bodies. This shocks me and in doing so, the bigness of what we are in and what is before us flickers a bit and I see clearly for a moment.


I think now that no ones really lives through a pandemic. Rather, we live each moment of each day and those days accumulate into weeks and those weeks will later be chopped up and assigned labels such as: beginning, apex, end. The neatness of naming will undermine the vast uncertainty we have felt.

For now, I know that time is surely relative. Since March 5th, there has been no 24-hour period that felt like a day. Where I work (which is actually in my home now), the pace is relentless, frantic. On weekends, the work continues even when I swear it won’t. I know I am not alone, nor am I in a critical field where life and death is being determined.

A field hospital sits on the lawn in Central Park where normally young, healthy bodies play sports, rest and read books, and picnic and chat. I have photographed there more times than I can count. The parking lot of Bergen Community College that sits opposite the high school I went to is now a drive through COVID-19 testing site. The Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus will open as a field hospital within a week.

All these symbols represent the seismic shift states are undertaking to better prepare for the massive number of sick and dying.

It is these shifts, these repurposing of familiar places that most help me to grasp what this pandemic is at this moment.

#PoetryBreak: Spring Storm

Scottish Rain (M.A.Reilly)

Spring Storm

William Carlos Williams - 1883-1963
The sky has given over 
its bitterness. 
Out of the dark change 
all day long 
rain falls and falls 
as if it would never end. 
Still the snow keeps 
its hold on the ground. 
But water, water 
from a thousand runnels! 
It collects swiftly, 
dappled with black 
cuts a way for itself 
through green ice in the gutters. 
Drop after drop it falls 
from the withered grass-stems 
of the overhanging embankment.

#SOL2020 - Sorrow Fell like Rain: Notes from the Pandemic

Rain Coming. (M.A. Reilly, 2020)

Today there was lightning and thunder. A deep, angry rumble that signaled what had already begun somewhere else in the region. Rain falling hard. A flicker of lights. A loss of power.

Today I heard 100,000 to 200,000 people will likely die from COVID-19 here in the United States. I understand those numbers as everyone I have ever loved who has died. 200,000 moms. 200,000 dads. 200,000 husbands. 200,000 brothers and sisters. 200,000 childhood friends. 


Grief alters us. Well before the coming death, we feel anticipatory grief. “The name given to the tumultuous set of feelings and reactions that occur in some people who are expecting death in a loved one. These emotions can be just as intense as the conventional sort of grief felt after a death" (from here). 

In the weeks before Rob’s death as I watched him slip further from life, I was mostly terrified. I found reasons to drive alone. I can still hear myself screaming, still remember how the sound was like something wounded, something dying and it filled the whole car until out of breath the sound lessened to cries and then whimpers and breathing and finally blessed silence. 

Today, we are wounded and terrified as beyond us, a wide void is opening. The incalculable loss of spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, and of selves will fill it. A crypt we cannot name. A stone we cannot engrave.

Who I was four years ago ended in profound ways with Rob’s death. Knowing how that loss still shapes me, I find tonight that my body cannot hold the calculations of death before us. 
It cannot compute the pain. 
It cannot fathom the emptiness that such loss will produce. 

Waves upon waves of sorrow will rain down on us.

This is the history we fail to record when mass horror happens. We simply cannot bear such burden.

Four years later, I still feel the coldness of Rob’s hand between mind. I still hear the silence that grew louder between his rattled breaths. 

I still know how a heart that stops sounds.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

#poetrybreak, Let Them Not Say

Petals (M.A. Reilly, Dublin)

Let Them Not Say
 - Jane Hirschfield
Jane Hirschfield wrote this poem well before the presidential inauguration and without the event in mind. “But,” she writes, “it seems a day worth remembering the fate of our shared planet and all its beings, human and beyond.”
Let them not say:    we did not see it.
We saw.
Let them not say:    we did not hear it.
We heard.
Let them not say:    they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.
Let them not say:    it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.
Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.
Let them say, as they must say something: 
A kerosene beauty.
It burned.
Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.