Angelo Giambra

The Water Carriers

June 29, 2016

Photo courtesy James DeMers

Introduction by Ted Kooser: How I love poems in which there is evidence of a poet paying close attention to the world about him. Here Angelo Giambra, who lives in Florida, has been keeping an eye on the bees.

The Water Carriers

On hot days we would see them
leaving the hive in swarms. June and I
would watch them weave their way
through the sugarberry trees toward the pond
where they would stop to take a drink,
then buzz their way back, plump and full of water,
to drop it on the backs of the fanning bees.
If you listened you could hear them, their tiny wings
beating in unison as they cooled down the hive.
My brother caught one once, its bulbous body
bursting with water, beating itself against
the smooth glass wall of the canning jar.
He lit a match, dropped it in, but nothing
happened. The match went out and the bee
swam through the mix of sulfur and smoke
until my brother let it out. It flew straight
back to the hive. Later, we skinny-dipped
in the pond, the three of us, the August sun
melting the world around us as if it were
wax. In the cool of the evening, we walked
home, pond water still dripping from our skin,
glistening and twinkling like starlight.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Angelo Giambra, whose most recent book of poetry is “Oranges and Eggs,” Finishing Line Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from the “South Dakota Review,” Vol. 47, no. 4, Winter 2009, by permission of Angelo Giambra and publisher. Introduction copyright © 2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


Summer Rerun: Just Call Me a Tortoise

June 24, 2016

Welcome to summer reruns! About once a month, I’ll be sharing a post from the archives. I hope you enjoy this one, from 2011.

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”Confucius

I like to apply lessons I’ve learned working with Tank and taking riding lessons to other areas of my life. One lesson I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is “It takes the time it takes,” and the corollary, “go slower to go faster.”

I’m not particularly patient. I want to get things done, and I want them done Right Now. However, especially with a horse, I’ve learned that some things absolutely cannot be rushed. They take the time they take, and you’ll be much less frustrated, not to mention safer, if you relax—and sometimes throw out entirely—your expectations. For me, when I’m learning something new (or teaching Tank something new), things go better when I take baby steps. Sometimes to my embarrassment, I’ve become the poster child for baby steps at my barn as my trainer often uses me as an example of someone who takes things slowly. I am not naturally athletic, and frankly, I’m also a big chicken, so yes, I do take things slowly. When I take a step forward too quickly, I often end up taking two steps back. What works for me in riding is breaking down every new skill into small parts, then practicing those parts until I feel completely comfortable with them. Then I can move on.

Baby steps work great for other pursuits, too: cleaning and reorganizing the house, learning to draw and paint, changing diet and exercise habits and so on. The beauty of baby steps is that if each small step is solid, you’ll find yourself making steady progress. You’ll be less likely to stagger forward then backward in fits and starts. In this way, you will go slower to go faster.

Of course, this is what works for me. Each person has his or her own best method for personal growth—my baby steps may drive some people absolutely mad with frustration. This is where you must listen to your heart for direction. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa, so please ignore this advice if you’re more like a hare than a tortoise. Few things make me crazier than to have someone tell me my way is wrong and I should do things differently!

Sometimes I get frustrated, and wish I could progress a bit faster than I do and I have to remind myself that it takes the time it takes. Overall, this slow and steady method works for me. It works for Tank, who gets anxious when he’s not sure what he’s being asked to do. We plod along, tortoise-like, but we’re going forward. And that’s what matters.


Motion and Rest

June 22, 2016

Photo courtesy Tim Marshall

“How desirable is a proper balance between motion and rest, and how difficult it is at times for us to achieve it. Alternation lies everywhere in nature. Even cows and chickens take time off from producing milk and eggs. Only we human beings foolishly forget these solid well-known truths at times and try to live our lives from crest of wave to crest of wave with never a trough between. We forget that in the trough the next crest builds.”
—Jean Hersey, The Shape of a Year


Turning Pain Into Compassion

June 17, 2016

Image courtesy Laure Ferlita

It’s been nearly a week since the unthinkable events at Pulse in Orlando, just an hour and a half from where I live. It feels pointless to write about happiness—let alone simple pleasures and everyday adventures—when we face one unthinkable tragedy after another—shootings, natural disasters, armed conflict, suffering on a scale we can’t imagine and feel helpless to alleviate.

No one is a stranger to suffering. Just as we are united in our desire to live happy lives, we are also united in suffering. Each one of us hides some kind of wound inside. We all know how it feels to hurt, feel helpless, rage against the universe, or try to find meaning in the face of senselessness. We should not turn suffering and pain into anger and hate, though that sometimes feels impossible. What should we do instead?

 “You take it all in. You let the pain of the world touch you and you turn it into compassion.”* 

In the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, people and organizations are turning pain into compassion. For example:

The Tampa Bay Rays have dedicated tonight’s game to the victims of the Orlando shooting, and are donating the proceeds to the Pulse Victims Fund. The game sold out (something that doesn’t often happen). 

The Go Fund Me account for the victims set a record, collecting more than 4 million dollars. 

And more personally and poignantly, here’s Laure Ferlita’s way of coping. She wrote: “Here's my idea—I intend to pay kindness forward 49 times for each of the lives lost. Then I'll pay kindness forward 53 more times for each of those injured. That's 102 acts of kindness paid—deliberately—into a world that seems to have tilted ever so slightly off its axis.” (Click here to read the entire post. Click here if you’d like learn the names of those who lost their lives.) 

Yes, there is evil in this world. But there is also good. There is kindness and love, and we can decide to be on the side of kindness and love by our words and our actions. Decide to turn pain into compassion. Decide.

*The sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, quoted in When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron.

Claudia Emerson

Losing Its Luck

June 15, 2016

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Descriptive poetry depends for its effects in part upon the vividness of details. Here the Virginia poet, Claudia Emerson, describes the type of old building all of us have seen but may not have stopped to look at carefully. And thoughtfully.


One rusty horseshoe hangs on a nail
above the door, still losing its luck,
and a work-collar swings, an empty
old noose. The silence waits, wild to be
broken by hoofbeat and heavy
harness slap, will founder but remain;
while, outside, above the stable,
eight, nine, now ten buzzards swing low
in lazy loops, a loose black warp
of patience, bearing the blank sky
like a pall of wind on mourning
wings. But the bones of this place are
long picked clean. Only the hayrake's
ribs still rise from the rampant grasses.

Poem copyright © 1997 by Claudia Emerson Andrews, a 2005 Witter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. Reprinted from “Pharoah, Pharoah,” (1997) by permission of the author, whose newest book, “Late Wife,” will appear this fall; both collections are published by Louisiana State University’s Southern Messenger Poets. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Bucket list

Summer Bucket List, 2016 Edition

June 10, 2016

Tell me something. When was the last time you made a list of fun things to do…and actually did them? Don’t look now, but it’s already June (how?!)—the Friday night of summer, as Laura Vanderkam says. Now’s your chance. Time to plan some simple pleasures and everyday adventures to make the hot, sweaty months pass more happily. I did this last year (click here to read 2015’s list), with mixed success. Take Tank to the beach? Check. Go to a Rays game? Yup. Make frozen pops, spend a day by the pool, or watch the sunset at the beach?


Lucky for me, I get a do-over. Summer has already barged its way into central Florida (complete with a tropical storm, thank you very much), so I’m trying again. Here’s my list for the summer of 2016:
  • Have a pedicure (thanks to my friend Mary for the gift certificate to a local salon).

  • Add some new tunes to my music library.
  • Go to the movies with my Broadway season ticket buddies (we don’t have another show until October).
  • Make homemade ice cream.
  • Practice riding Tank bridleless, while it’s hot and he’s mellow lazy.

  • Go on at least one field trip with Laure Ferlita. Maybe here or here. Hmm...I see a food theme developing...
  • Create a new summer reading list—and start reading from it.
  • Finish filling at least one sketchbook. I have two that are nearly full.

  • Plan a trip to visit my family in California.
  • Buy meals from Dinner Done so I don’t have to cook so much.

Sure, I’ll be working on my writing business, painting my bathroom, cleaning out the fridge…but I’m also planning some serious fun. I hope you will, too.

What’s on your bucket list this summer?


The Best We Can Do

June 08, 2016

“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough
to find it out.”
—Roger Ebert


You Cannot Always Be Harvesting

June 03, 2016

At first, I was going to title this post “Happy Little Things: Harvest,” and write about the simple pleasure of gardening. But as I put words on paper, my thoughts took me in an entirely different direction.

This week’s “harvest” from my garden, if you can call it that, was three yellow pear tomatoes and two stunted carrots. So much effort for so little result, yet still, I keep at it. Kinda reminds me of my writing career (if you can call it that). I’m putting a lot of effort into it, but I’m not harvesting much in the way of finished pieces or paying clients, and I’m frustrated. But I also know that you cannot always be harvesting. Just as in gardening, in writing, in other creative endeavors—even in life itself, there must be times of planting, feeding, nurturing, even lying fallow.

While I desperately want and need to produce fruit, I can’t discount my need for the nourishment of instruction, time to allow ideas to sprout and grow in my head, and time to simply do nothing. I’ve seen the effects of neglect on my garden—nearly my entire crop of winter lettuce grew without thinning, watering and weeding, with predictably inedible results.

In my garden, I’m in the groove now, checking it every day, watering, weeding, and feeding as needed. I’ve got tons of lemons on my Meyer lemon tree, plenty of blossoms and green tomatoes still on my plants, and a few more carrots that might have a chance to grow into something edible. I have green onions and herbs ready when I need them. I’m also working on tending my creativity with the same attention and care. I believe if I keep putting in the time and effort, the harvest will come. And when it does, it will taste all the sweeter for the effort I’ve put in.

How do you nourish your creativity?

The sad little harvest


Bonsai at the Potter's Stall

June 01, 2016

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I’ve always been fascinated by miniatures of all kinds, the little glass animals I played with as a boy, electric trains, dollhouses, and I think it’s because I can feel that I’m in complete control. Everything is right in its place, and I’m the one who put it there. Here’s a poem by Kay Mullen, who lives in Washington, about the art of bonsai.

Bonsai at the Potter’s Stall

Under fluorescent light,
aligned on a bench

and table top, oranges
the size of marbles dangle

from trees with glossy
leaves. White trumpets

bloom in tiny clay pots.
Under a firethorn’s twisted

limbs, a three inch monk
holds a cup from which

he appears to drink
the interior life. The potter

prizes his bonsai children
who will never grow up,

never leave home.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2006 by Kay Mullen, and reprinted from her most recent book of poetry, “A Long Remembering: Return to Vietnam,” FootHills Publishing, 2006, by permission of Kay Mullen and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.