The Quotidian: Poems Celebrating the Everyday, the Ordinary

The roots of this collection may go back to my early childhood. We owned a copy of "A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson. I can still envision the Little Golden Book, with its gilt-edged binding and a painting of a small golden-haired girl with a crown of flowers opening the gate in a white picket fence.

When I go back to it now I find the verses incredibly preachy, but one very short piece captures some of the feeling in the poems collected here (setting aside for one moment the many, many tragedies created by monarchies). In its entirety, it reads:

"Happy Thought" by Robert Louis Stevenson

The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

According to Merriam-Webster (whose social media game is ON POINT so they're my go-to dictionary), the word "quotidian" means occurring every day; belonging to each day; commonplace, ordinary. And yet the things around us, the world around us that we might think of as commonplace are simply and actually amazing! Everything from the way a seed grows into a whole entire tree to the many, many people and processes it took for me to have coffee in my cup is incredible, when you stop and think about it for a moment.

Some time ago I read The Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker ( affiliate link*), and I read his newsletter. The book and his columns provide suggestions for how you might apply the power and energy of simply noticing to add mindfulness and insight to your days. As one example, standing in one spot waiting for my sweetie to come out of the hardware store I simply looked around and noted every instance of the color blue I could find (clicking on the link takes you to my first tweet in a whole thread.) 

What is both ordinary and amazing in your world? These poems may point you to some of the incredibleness that surrounds and supports your life. 

"Here" by Wislawa Szymborska

I don’t know about other places,
but here on Earth there’s quite a lot of everything.
Here chairs are made and sadness,
scissors, violins, tenderness, transistors,
water dams, jokes, teacups.

"Tribute Poem" by Anne Higgins

for corkscrews,
corkscrew call of
yellowing lustful goldfinches,
opposable thumbs,

"Credo" by Donna Hilbert

I believe in the Tuesdays
and Wednesdays of life,
the tuna sandwich lunches
and TV after dinner.

"I Believe Nothing" by Katherine Raine

I believe nothing—what need
Surrounded as I am with marvels of what is,
This familiar room, books, shabby carpet on the floor,
Autumn yellow jasmine, chrysanthemums, my mother's flower,
Earth-scent of memories, daily miracles,

"But You Thought You Knew What a Sign Looked Like" by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

We are blessed
by marvels wearing ordinary clothes—
how easily we’re fooled by simple dress—
Oranges. Water. Leaves. Bread. Crows.

"Otherwise" by Jane Hirshfeld

I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.

"The Letter from Home" by Nancyrose Houston

There was a bed, it was
soft, there was a blanket, it was warm, there were dreams,
they were good. 

"Welcome Morning" by Anne Sexton

in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,

"Daily" by Naomi Shihab Nye

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

"Ode to Things" by Pablo Neruda

I love
all things,
not only the
but also the infinite-
the thimble,

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Walking in November: Of Perspectives and Pavement

Photo of a forest with a tree in the foreground that has multiple large branches forking up from the main trunk I'm walking different trails and routes these days, thanks to a temporary relocation while our house is undergoing a deep remodel. Or rather, I'm walking the same places but from a different direction. I'm still in close proximity to Squaxin Park but I approach it from East Bay Drive. Something as simple as starting from a different place has taken me into parts of the park I had visited less frequently and into new sections. I see with new eyes and it's delightful.

One of the wonderful differences is that I'm closer to the water so I get down to the Budd Bay inlet within about five minutes. I get to see birds, boats, and the occasional hardy stand-up paddler along with people walking their dogs and enjoying the park's beauty.

Last month and again this month I traveled to national conferences. I was in Indianapolis this month, in a hotel room that let me look down at a river that was tantalizingly close, and yet blocked off by many roadways curving around and seeming to isolate the river and landlock the hotel and nearby convention center. I mentally compared that with Spokane, where you can walk out of the convention center straight onto the Centennial Trail along the Spokane River and reach a number of hotels within an easy walk, along with great downtown restaurants and shopping. (Still love my former hometown!)

The streets around the hotel were wide and intimidating—most of them were six and even seven lane one-way streets. Many of those lanes might be empty but that much width makes for a very long crossing and a hostile environment, with the sidewalk right next to the vehicle lanes that felt like acres and acres of pavement. 

At least there were sidewalks, though. Busing in from the airport I had noted the almost complete lack of sidewalks along a road served by transit. Where were people expected to walk? Apparently through gas stations, parking lots, and rough patches of grass and gravel, from what I could see.

The last day of the conference, with a sore throat and cough I figured had been created by a lot of loud reception conversations (and possibly some group karaoke a couple of nights before...), I set off to find a pharmacy and get some cough drops and throat spray. It was about a mile to the closest one and I looked forward to the chance to stretch my legs and see a bit of the city. But Google Maps routed me on a curving arterial where no one but me was walking and through what felt like a vast spread of big buildings and parking lots. I chose a different route back that was at least slightly more interesting, but it still felt fairly empty of pedestrian traffic.

Later that day I finally got out on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which ran right past the corner of the hotel property. I loved the beautiful sunny fall weather with golden leaves rustling above and the art installations along the wide, brick-paved trail. And I finally got to that river! Walking back I saw happy folks on bicycles of all types, helmet-free and pedaling comfortably along the trail that gives them a safe, separated and dedicated space to roll.

I bused back to the airport along that same stretch of road with a design that only invites driving. My companions on the trip were airport workers and others accessing destinations along the route. It was a reasonably full bus and I wish those regular riders had more infrastructure to meet their needs as transit riders. The Cultural Trail is a showpiece Indianapolis can rightly be proud of; what a city does in the places that aren't right around the convention center tells me something about the improvements that still need to be made.

Alas, on the plane ride home I started realizing it wasn't karaoke and conversation that made my throat raspy. I got off the plane sick and grew sicker. My souvenirs from the trip: pictures of the Cultural Trail and a whopping case of Influenza A that has lasted for two weeks and isn't done with me yet. Good thing I got my flu shot or it would have been even worse. I ventured out for a short walk yesterday and it taxed me pretty completely. Can't wait to be back up to my normal walking pace and frequency!

Related Reading

Reruns: November Posts Worth Revisiting

November is my birthday month, which sometimes gives me reasons to pause for reflection. Sometimes I'm reflecting on my own life or bicycling or parenting. Last year I also spent time reflecting on Tiggs the Brat Cat. 

It Beats the Alternative: Poems on Growing Older

I was less conscious of my age and the aging process when I was younger. Now when I stand up I may utter a little "oof", and my ankles make a lot of crackling sounds. (Pro tip: Stand up from your sofa or chair without using your arms to push yourself up. You'll be using, and thus helping to maintain, more of your body's strength. Same goes for getting up from the toilet, for that matter.)

My parents lived into their 90s. One of my grandfathers lived to be 95; my grandmothers lived into their 80s. I feel as if I come from a long-lived line and I've had better nutrition and health care than any of them, so it's not that I'm peering into the grave. But I find that some poems resonate for me now that I imagine I wouldn't have found as relevant at 30 or 40. Some poetry can't be written until you've arrived at that placemaybe all of it! 

Most of these are specific to aging as a woman. US society, with its worship of the taut, the slender, the unattainable, begins to ignore older women unless they're famous enough to rate the cover of AARP's magazine. While freedom from the male gaze brings its own kind of relief, ageism, sexism, ableism, and all the other -isms can make for a foul brew. When someone tries to pour that into my cup, I decline. I am just as much me, myself and I at every age that lies ahead as I was in the years behind me. I have become who I am walking a path I'm still on. 

For the most part these poems celebrate, rather than mourn, the passing of the years. I'm sharing a few lines from each to invite you to explore them in full.

"At Fifty I Am Startled to Find I Am in My Splendor" 
Sandra Cisneros

Not old.
Correction, aged.
Passé? I am but vintage.

"A Face, A Cup" 
Molly Peacock

A break-up,
a mix-up, a wild mistake: these show in a face
like the hairline cracks in an ancient cup.

"At the Moment"
Joyce Sutphen

I thought about the way we’d aged,

how skin fell into wrinkles, how eyes grew
dim; then (of course) my love, I thought of you.

"Days I Delighted in Everything"
Hilda Raz

because surely there was a passage of life where I thought
“These days I delight in everything,” right there in the
present, because they almost all feel like that now,
memory having markered only the outline while evaporating
the inner anxieties of earlier times.

"Senior Discount"
Ali Liebegott

I want to grow old with you.
Old, old.

So old we pad through the supermarket
using the shopping cart as a cane that steadies us.

Grace Paley

Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

"Doing Water Aerobics in the Senior Living Community with Janie Bird"
Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

frisky as ducklings, tender as saplings
inside old trunks, joyful
as old women who remember
how good it feels to be buoyant
as geese, resilient as ourselves.

"Hear the Water's Music"
Tere Sievers

There is only one way, aging beauties,
to go down this river,
to hear the water's music over the rocks,

Julie Cadwallader-Staub

to see
a bend in the river up ahead
and still

"Turning 70"
David Allan Evans

...with my eyes
fiercely wide open, each day seconding Prospero’s
“be cheerful, sir,” and Lao Tzu’s tree bending
in the wind, 

Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee.

"We Are a River"
William Martin, based on Lao Tzu

Don't accept the modern myths of aging.
You are not declining.
You are not fading away into uselessness.
You are a sage,
a river at its deepest
and most nourishing.

"Still Learning"
Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

It doesn’t occur to me
to tell her about what will happen.
I flit by as she stays on the wall.
She’ll learn soon enough.