Making Space for the Unimaginable

by Merna Ann Hecht

The devastation from the earthquake in Haiti was and continues to be unimaginable. The enormity of destruction and loss of life continues to overwhelm us if we are in fact staying abreast of what has happened and continues to occur.

At the time of the disaster, I knew that most of the students in Nina Binder’s fifth grade class at TOPS had heard about it. Like all of us, these 10- and 11-year olds were trying to grasp the scope of the tragedy as best they could.

I have come to trust the power of storytelling as one of the ways in which we can approach our fears or our confusion with a cushion of safety and protection. Georgia Ella Lyon who most of us know for her “Where I’m From” poem and third person “Self Portrait” poem points out that “humans are creatures without feathers who tell stories.” I love that because it defines us as storytellers—forever trying to make sense of our world. Lyon also reminds us that the origin of the word “story” comes from the literal meaning of “to hold between” and that is just what stories do—they hold us between our own lives and someone else’s, so that for a moment we can get a different perspective. I know that this allows us the all-important capacity of linking our compassion for others with our imaginations. We can imagine being in someone else’s shoes which has the potential to deepen our concern and compassion for them.

After the earthquake, I wanted to tell the 5th graders a story that would give them ample room to grieve, to question, to express their longing to help, or whatever else was on their minds and hearts as it related to Haiti’s huge and tragic devastation. What I hoped to find was a story that would, as most all stories do, arrive in the ears of its listeners in the slantwise way of metaphor, allowing a breadth of space for the children to discover a deeply personal way to write about the earthquake if they wanted to, without any sense of having to do so.

I decided on a short story from Margaret Read MacDonald’s Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About (1992, Linnet Books). The story is called “A Blind Man Catches a Bird.” This teaching tale from the Ndebele People of Zimbabwe is about other ways of seeing besides with our eyes. In this story, a blind man has far more capacity to see into the essence of things than his sighted brother in law. The 5th graders loved the story and after the storytelling they were lively and creative as we brainstormed some of the elements of our imaginative capacity to see and to feel. We came up with many delightful out loud lines, each one beginning with the word “magic” placed in front of our perceptive senses. ”With my magic ears I can hear,” “with my magic eyes I can see,” with my magic hands I can touch,” “with my magic heart I can feel.”

Next we read a few sample poems from other writers their age.

Secret Eyes

by Allie, 4th Grade

With my secret eyes, I can see the forlorn look in her eyes.

With my magic hand, I can touch my friend,

With my magic ear, I can hear the many different heartbeats,

the sorrow in the broken heart,

With my secret eyes I can see

Magic Eyes

by Morgan and Phaedra, 5th Grade

With my magic hands I touch

the people’s souls

With my magic eyes I see

the lives that have been ruined by violence

With my magic ears I hear the future

of laughing, happy people

Magic Hands

by Morgan, 5th Grade

With my magic hands I can touch

the soft moss

the slimy tree frog

the wet dew on the grass

With my secret eyes I can see

the shattered dreams of the caterpillar

the flaming soul of the tiger

the energetic spirit of the monkey

With my magic ear I can hear

the soft sneaking of the cat

the beating of the butterfly’s wings

the howl of the wind.

Then I spoke to the 5th graders about how this kind of writing might allow them to begin to express their feelings about the earthquake in Haiti, and the immense sadness and loss of life that was flashing in front of the world via the news. As always, we focused on the tools in our “poet’s toolbox” and the “requirement” that we need to include details and specific images in our poems. Here are a few of the poems from Nina Binder’s 5th grade class as they connect to Haiti. I published a selection of them in the TOPS School Newsletter as well as in Skipping Stones Magazine (an award winning multicultural magazine for young people out of Eugene OR, to which I’ve submitted the work of young poets for years). Some of these Haiti poems are also on display at Diva Coffeehouse in West Seattle and I’m told they will soon travel to the Stoneway Diva Coffeehouse. I have a tradition of bringing children’s work into the larger community. I believe that it belongs there and do what I can, whenever I can, to make it so.

Haiti’s Poem

by Erica To

with my magic ears….I can hear
Haiti’s earthquake trembling into sadness
with my magic hands I will take
you away to another place to heal
one by one

with my magic eyes I can see
the earthquake stop until finally
there is peace

with magic in me, I can help you

Together we can do anything!

Magic Hand in Haiti

by Olivia Liu

With my magic hand I can feel many miles

of destruction in Haiti.

I can feel the lonely hearts of the survivors

I can feel the sound traveling through the air

of a long painful cry, stabbing the air like a dagger.

With my magic hand I can feel what life is

like there,



With my magic hand death becomes a stranger

on an everyday street,

Touching people on the shoulder as they walk past

My magic hand feels the air and knows

that something horrid has happened

My magic hand can feel that happiness is scarce

With my magic hand I can feel every corner

of Haiti,

And with my magic hand, I can feel every corner

of pain and sorrow.

I Can Hear

–for Haiti

by Marwa Alansi

I can hear with my magic ear,

people calling, Help! Help!

I can feel with my magic hand

the pain they have, hoping

I can help, somehow,

With my secret eye, I can see all

the way to Haiti and see the tragedy

and the children crying.

Poem About Haiti

by Lina Oppenheimer

With my magic eye I see tears

of sadness, bewilderment, and fear

stream down the faces of Haitian people

as they stare at dying loved ones,

and the ruins of their beloved homes.

With my magic hand I reach

into the heart of a Haitian

and feel their sorrow,

I am sad now too.

With my magic ear I hear crumbling

and crashes and cracks and screams

of Haitian people.

The earthquake has begun.

With my magic tongue I can taste

the bitterness in the air.

With my magic legs I trip

over bowls and little children’s teddy bears

and toys that are on the ground.

The earthquake has taken away the Haitians’

most precious things.

With my magic brain,

I imagine children laughing and playing,

women cooking, cows grazing,

no more sadness,

no more bitterness

exists in Haiti.

I Can Hear

by Yin Deng

With my magic ear

I can hear the cries

for help from Haiti.

With my magic eyes

I can see the madness and the sadness

of the people in Haiti

With my magic ear

I can hear the silence

when the earthquake finally stopped

With my magic hand

I can feel how hard they are working

to fix the place up

With my magic ear

I can hear the prayers to God

from the people there

With my magic eyes

I can see the new flowers trying to bloom

to make Haiti beautiful again

With my magic eye

I can see the joy

after everything is put back together

With my magic ear

I can hear the children

playing again.


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