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Almost everyone I know is a bit grumpy at the moment. Kind of over it. Just done

A gorgeous Easter weekend here in West Michigan definitely helped, but the semester still has miles to go before it sleeps. Sleep being the word most on our students’ (and let’s be honest, the faculty’s) mind. Don’t get me wrong: in canceling our spring and Easter breaks, our administration and campus COVID-19 taskforce made exactly the right decisions to keep our campus community safe and able to continue learning together in person. I’m so grateful for all the hard work by everyone that has kept us on-campus and in the classroom (and that includes the hard work of the students themselves). 

That can’t be under-estimated as an achievement but doing the right thing does have a cost. Last week I was chatting with a faculty friend–a heavy lifter if ever there was one–and we agreed that fatigue was making everyone a little more snappy—whether legitimately or because graciousness reserves were drawing low. And we talked about what might be joy-giving as a way to refuel.

I suppose it’s lucky, then, that it’s National Poetry Month since poetry as a genre helps us both to slow down and to focus. My dear comadre and colleague, Jane Zwart, is my very favorite contemporary poet, in part because of her sheer inventiveness with language, in part because her angle of vision is always revelatory. I never quite see the world the same way after I’ve seen it through one of her poems—and she does it with her characteristic wry honesty. However you’re feeling this morning, I hope this poem brings you some joy-fuel and new modes of apprehending all that surrounds you. Encouragement for the journey that still stretches before us.

"On Beauty and Being Just"
by Jane Zwart
It is possible that I have been unfair
to them, the flamboyants:
to opals, to abalones, to moths
more phosphorescent
than any eyeshadow I’ve worn—
because who knows?

Maybe the painted bunting
would willingly trade
his layered, paint-by-number capes
for the robin’s rusty apron. Maybe
the hibiscus is not a satellite dish
tilting on its stem to overhear
the praise of passers-by
but an umbrella mortified
that day has left it open
in a narrow place to dry. Maybe
the Northern Lights’ magic
is static, escaped photons
from the cupped palm of a modest
earth, smoothing her skirt.

. . .

But there, too, I have been unjust,
asking the bird to disavow
his jaunty beauty, rose mallow to flower
rue. Wanting to be fair—

let me trade it for plain
delight. Let me quit shaming
the flame-like things
or, at least, let the wind
unwinding its argon sarong
not mind the likes of me. 

This poem originally appeared in 32 Poems, Volume 18.1, Spring/Summer 2020

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.


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