It is Poem in Your Pocket Day. I will be carrying this with me:

By Rita Dove

Practice makes perfect, the old folks said.
So she rehearsed deception
until ice cubes
dangled willingly
from a plain white string
and she could change
an egg into her last nickel.
Sent to the yard to sharpen,

she bent so long over the wheel the knives
grew thin. When she stood up,
her brow shorn clean
as a wheatfield and
stippled with blood,
she felt nothing, even
when Mama screamed.

She fed sauerkraut to the apple tree;
the apples bloomed tarter
every year. Like all art
useless and beautiful, like
sailing in air,

things happened
to her. One night she awoke
and on the lawn blazed
a scaffolding strung in lights.
Next morning the Sunday paper
showed the Eiffel Tower
soaring through clouds.
It was a sign

She would make it to Paris someday.

(from THOMAS AND BEULAH, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986)


How the Sharing Economy Doesn’t Need Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The current generation of 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings—Millennials into Gen X—are stuck in the rotation of an old model of corporatism and systemic hierarchies that are progressively outdated.

In April 2013, just around tax season, James Surowiecki published in The New Yorker’s Financial Page that $2 trillion dollars is missing from the U.S. economy. In the article, he states that money represents a grey economy of under the table jobs: “nannies, barbers, Web-site designers, and construction workers….Ordinary Americans…”—ordinary Americans in a workforce that is both creatively and actively afloat. A grey economy that represents an act of creative ingenuity for the 10.5 million Americans who are currently unemployed, underemployed, or who have been laid off in the United States since 2008.

There would be an expectation that these lay off numbers would generate a mass cultural state of depression and despair—and in some demographics, it has—but what I think it has created also, more genuinely, is a shared economy. Because Americans have been told that the cubicle boxes they so snuggly fit into for years no longer need them (or want them), the American public have been forced to discover how to fit snuggly into an economy that they themselves had to create.

The executive head of a small nonprofit organization (NPO) in Massachusetts once referenced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to demonstrate where certain employees stood in that particular office environment (an office that had barely 8 full-time staff at the time). That sounds like trying force a square into circle and demanding output and efficiency. That model is not going to work for a generation who perpetually expects to be laid off.

Because stability is no longer found in those structures, most employees find, or are working toward, innovate economic escape routes. Perhaps survival of the fittest is a more accurate indicator, but I’m too much of an optimist for that. And that’s my point.

Whether or not the economy is sure-footed, the nebulous nature of its recovery is making a certain demographic of the population sure-footed, and it’s not the 1%.

Maslow’s Needs do not reflect the current nature of productivity and integration of people in the United States, or if it does, it is the middle section: “Love/belonging”. Maslow’s pyramid structure no longer exists, not really. His hierarchy, an outdated patriarchal paradigm, pushes against cooperative feminist structures of sustainability, compassion, humanity, and cultural collaboration. The idea that there are people—helpers and connectors—who will give a person a chance over and over again (for no apparent economic, corporate, or social gain) is a progressive, but by no means new, model to keep the economy moving and to keep the populace engaged with its community and world.

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and had the brief privilege of working under the direction of Lois Weisberg, former Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, before the office was shuttered in 2012. In that brief moment in gleaming Chicago history, I understood what it meant to be one of Gladwell’s connectors.

And since, more and more, women make up a significant portion of the workforce (and in honor of International Women’s Day) perhaps an act of feminism, then, in a shared economy would be to proactively work in opposition to those structures of hierarchy? To act with greater connectedness, love/belonging, compassion—even healing?

Systemic office culture under Maslow’s hierarchy is classism. And in the current state of U.S. affairs and privatization, too many workers are still marching and climbing and racing to the top of a ladder toward some dream of corporate success, yet somehow never got the memo that there is no longer a top to get to.

And that’s the American dream.

Doing It Ourselves: What the Economic Crisis Really Means and What We Can Do About It

Songbirds in Winter

Hearth. Woodland. A round of robins. A mythical Alpine Christmas creature resurrected. Wendigo. Gifts from my father. Faith. The snow as it melts from too much rain on the solstice. Prayers for so much blizzard.

I spend much of my time writing about the women in my life. This year, this season, I dedicate to my father. As the winter solstice wanes and the days grow lighter again, my meditation focuses on his steadfast nature, his resilience, his never-ending attention to light. If my mother is the civil dawn, my father is the moment just before.

The heaviness and weariness he wears on his face from hard work, how joy lurks in every crack of newly beginning wrinkles regardless of history. How I take my good humor from him, how we go to the turkey shoots every December. How the winter I discover Krampus (from the German “to claw” or “to seize”) is the same year my father’s impeccable aim shoots a 156 lb. buck in the woods of my childhood. When the animal hit the ground, its eight point antlers shot straight off its skull into the Massachusetts snow. A gruesome victory for a practice unrelenting.

How my father loves those forests, how his diligence shadows mine, his punctuality an earmark, his jest that of a master trickster well-intentioned. How his sadness sobers me because his resilience never exhausts. His excitement to show me new things never wavers and his stoicism listens every time I am angry, every time I am happy. I have seen my father’s small dreams manifest into reality with patience, even though I believe my sense of urgency comes from him.

He is the rural compass I never lost, the hummingbird feeder stationed outside every windowsill no matter how many times I lose direction. He is the reason the songbirds sing before sunrise. He is quick on his feet to greet them.

He is a round of robins in winter well prepared for the frost, awaiting good news.

“my father, who had no faith, but loved
how the long, ascending syllable of wild
echoed from the walls in celebration…”
— from “Aubade in Autumn” by Peter Everwine

The Belle of Belfast City

Arms wrapped around fall, a tumultuous summer, the wounds of travel, transition, death, grief. Grim worlds of wakes in Irish settings, Irish flags in fresh ground, the foundation of a family strong and crumpling and molding together beds of grass and my grandmother’s marble funeral urn turquoise, a color she chose, so beautiful on an August morning.

Her gift to me a clock that always keeps time, royal purple of a queen who knew best the last year of her life, histories before. In a community hall, in an apartment she called her own, coffee sipped every day, all day black and there was still never enough time. Never enough time for sleepovers under quilted blankets, conversations over breakfast and so many hard candies, baskets full.

My heart broke the hardest six days after my 31st birthday. A woman who kept tabs on obituaries, of elder people in town dying off as if it were just another thing, as if she would never be next. That blue house on the hill, a place where love lives, the wood stove, the fire place, the dogs around our feet.

What I wouldn’t give for all of those hours watching the snow fall. Warmth is a place that lives in the heart of the people we lose. When they laugh, we can hear them for generations. Listen.

Azul in Summertime

Photo courtesy: summer57

The color of my grandparents’ house. Azul or blue in summertime. The back of the house painted a few different shades each summer because my grandfather would climb the paint ladder each day to maintain structure. One hand unable to move, frozen from a stroke years earlier. But he painted anyway. The yard full of blueberries and gardens and greens and freshly hung laundry in the sunshine. This is the New England I smell when I return. The deep black soil stretching into roots of earth only defined by this land.

That land contrasted by the land I cultivated eight years in the Midwest. The golden smell of the prairie, grasses soft brown and soil sand, the minerals less glimmering, but warm. I live an intentional artist community. Three years prior I healed from the loss of my mother in the Solarium. I chose no clothes and stepped into a community of no one I knew and my naked body painted an apple tree. Roots growing down around my hips, the trunk my tummy, and my breasts two large beautiful red apples. My heart broken and open in the August sun.

Communication and navigation create structure to understand my ally-ship, directly addressing and connecting a deep hurt I can only see from afar, or up close if I ask. Given breath, space, held. There are few New England blues in the Solarium, lots of reds and yellows, the color of Arizona clay or the deep embers of the earth’s star.

I’ve never understood
round things, why would leaving come back
to itself? 
Bob Hicok

In the heat of the Chicago summer, the reason for return more forward than the icy New England winter. Medgar Evers returns to Florida exactly 50-years later in Trayvon Martin’s gated community in a false post-race period and every fight cast from the embers awakens a history and when I am shocked on an airline on a Sunday afternoon, my heart aching, racing, curious, hopeful, naive, wistful, helpful, fully aware that when I move faster in time, time steps back. 

Through the doors of the unknown over and over I ask questions that are difficult to leap off my tongue, break silences starving for understanding, starving for energy to speak and light the way with every new revolution. How silent we can be, how our orbits are not navigational, how we bind in spite of our fears. How we hold onto our history like a light we hope it will be, dawning every horror in our makeshift bed lamp of country. When I arise each morning, I seek blue water that will fully diffuse this fury, hoping it will not rise faster after dampening each time.

Each time, grateful, it does.

Flying Object : News from Mars

It is a freezing Memorial Day weekend in New England, good for reading, writing, and submitting poems to journals. It is also good for attending literary readings.

On Monday, May 27 at 7 p.m. I will read poems at Flying Object during the Spring Writers Reading Series. Many wonderfulwriters and poets can be found on the shelves of the space and, in collaboration with Factory Hollow Press, published there. The reading comes on the heels of the Poets & Poems Workshop with Emily Pettit, which I highly recommend.

I will be one of a handful of warm and wonderful writers and poets to read on Monday. I may read poems about ukuleles. I may read poems about Russian cats. They will not be mine, but I hope there will be poem portals about hens in the room.

If you are not up to anything this rainy, dreary, Memorial Day, please come to Flying Object. It will lift your feet and your heart.

Coyotes in the Paper City

An emblem of navigation. It is snowing so much. The flakes are big, large, marble sized sometimes. As if tall trees that we cannot see shake their branches at the sky, loosening the wet from weighing them down.

Two years ago today my mother passed. I don’t remember if it was snowing that day. It happens to snow a lot when my sister and I visit her grave. I have never tested this in July, but I like to think it is true.

I wonder, each year, if this is a personal day. A day of notification and memory. A day to make clear where I stand in the universe, where my boundaries lie. (The answer is yes, and sometimes.) I am so protective of things out east, my home. So proud of my working class upbringing when I am anywhere else. When I am here, it is shadowed by what is coined the Tofu Curtain. The tofu curtain is the Holyoke Mountain Range that separates the Pioneer Valley from the Springfield Metro area of Western Massachusetts, a place so filled with privilege it forgets itself.

I miss the urban hustle of Carl Sandburg’s city. The latino kids speaking Spanish on the train with the diamond earring bling, the Russian family who then boards, the Polish accents behind me, the black kids riding the red line from Uptown to the South Side and back again. Last week, riding the T through Boston, I told my friend Jen that subway trains make me feel human.

The day before St. Patrick’s Day, I watched my sister run a six mile race through the Paper City, or Holyoke, during what is the second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the country. I had never actually been to Holyoke. Within minutes of arriving downtown, we were solicited drugs on the street corner. It didn’t feel threatening, but a way of life. The buildings are boarded up in the Paper City. Not some. Not a handful. Most. All. Old factories on rivers. Buildings that once operated as apartment complexes. Auto shops. Paper mills. Everything. Yet, each year, 7,000 people sign up for this annual race. People pay $25.00 to run through Holyoke, past the drug dealers, abandoned houses, and shuttered mills. But I don’t think Holyoke sees a penny of that money.

I felt more at ease on the streets of Holyoke than I sometimes do on the other side of that curtain. Here, in Northampton, the coyotes howl on Saturday nights and you can hear their cries for miles. I am afraid to step outside. I won’t walk home through the woods without my headlamp and pocket knife. I am afraid of encountering bears. Three months ago I left Chicago for New England, a place I then called Mars. It still feels like Mars up here.

Chicago is approximately 30 miles north, south and west, urban sprawl in all directions but east, but I bet Lake Michigan stretches that far. You can’t see the other side. Which is Michigan if you look straight across: “The Upper Peninsula is a spare state / in case Michigan goes flat.” Detroit is now state run.

Maybe by summer Mars will feel like home again. Maybe I have to continue running up the hills of the Paper City to prove to myself there is a view from there. And that the view from the wrong side of the mountain is the view that I am looking for.

My mother didn’t bore me into a state of luxury, but she taught me how to fight and what to fight for. I hope I get snarled up in the coyotes. I hope I howl with them all night long. I hope they help me tear through the wooden panels of the abandoned buildings. I hope they reach out their claws, hold the hand of the dying on the other side and say,

We are making paper again. We are planting you trees

For a future you.

I’m never sure of making plans for the New Year. Of saying, “I’m going to take you by the reigns and destroy you.” But maybe it’s because I think every day is a day for new beginnings. New awakenings. A much harder practice. I’m not saying I’m very good at it.

I am feeling reflective this morning, mounds of clothes and piles of things to contain, to box, to take or leave. I should be packing now, not writing, but things will get done. The point from here to there is so much clearer when you are not in between, searching, compiling, organizing, dismantling, arranging. I’ll land in Northampton, Massachusetts in seven days with an air mattress and two suitcases full of clothes. I am shipping my bedding a week in advance so it will be there when I arrive.

I look forward to an empty room. I imagine a bed, a yoga mat, and a zafu. My belongings housed in a storage unit in Chicago for the time being, an indication of the split my mind seems to taking. One foot in and one foot back. Not ideal, I know, but one way.

I adopt a word each year in lieu of making resolutions. Resolutions are lists in journals that are good ideas. The memory of writing them is often there, but the contents missing.

For the New Year, I will hibernate. I will tuck myself up into a little den and I will meditate and I will read and I will write and I will process. And I will take care of myself. Radical self care.

Before I leave Chicago, I will read poetry at the Hopleaf on New Year’s Day.

For a future you, from a past me

With love from Mars.

From Mars, Post Chicago Blues

The biggest hearts break in December. I am sitting in a poet’s house on the Northwest side of Chicago with two beautiful dogs as my companions. I am dog-sitting and have the quiet of books and the coldest days of winter by my side. The first days of winter by my side. It is sunny and not quite snowy and I am in my pajamas and drinking too much coffee again. Black.

I have been in a lot of pain since November. A roaring monster intestinal reproductive knot to the lower right side of my pelvic bone/abdomen/hip/muscle (undefined). The pulsing has subsided thanks to acupuncture, rest, and hot tubs, but I don’t trust it to bicycle or run. I don’t trust it to the care of others or the wreckage it’s caused.

As I approach the saddest months of the year, I cannot exercise and I move to Massachusetts in two weeks. The anticipation of the most joyous hearts upon my arrival. Maybe that’s why I am moving back. That dark underbelly of my history and the goodness of shadowy ferns tucked deep within damp soil and rolling hills of grit and a younger girl’s wanderlust.

It occurs to me there will be birch trees again.

Poetry and journaling have replaced endorphins as I simplify my life. It’s a funny thing, writing. This afternoon I can’t imagine the poetic because I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of a place, a transience that’s difficult to map. Maybe I will become sassier again. Maybe I will stick up for myself more. Maybe I will find a love that flows freely in both directions. Maybe I will hibernate. 

Maybe I will find the calm of the Connecticut under the Northampton footbridge. The summer things that are not Chicago summer things. Trips to New York City. Trips to Maine. Trips to my mother’s grave I am never quite comfortable with. I still have not found a way in such close proximity.

But I will find a way.

There is a poem by Matthew Rohrer called “From Mars.” It is published in his collection Destroyer and Preserver. It is terribly sad but it is terribly true. We do think of each other.


On January 30th I will see Kishi Bashi in concert in the same place I saw the books many years ago. With friends I have known for even more years ago.

Be good to them always.

the beauty of the world which is soon to perish \ has two edges

One year and one half ago I registered to donate blood to the American Red Cross to help those affected by the tsunami that devastated Japan. The next morning, I received news of the worst possible personal family disaster I could imagine. I could not donate blood that week because I had to be present with my family on an emotional micro level I had never had before. A testament that tragedy comes both big and small and that prioritizing need often attaches itself to a place that feels closest to home.

I am registered to donate blood at 11:15am on Halloween. I am donating blood because I am so far away from the east coast and because I can. I am donating blood because New York and New Jersey need all the help they can get. I am donating blood because everyone I know is safe but not everyone they know is safe. And that is an extension. A ripple.

Greenwich Village

Tragedy is not a disconnect, it is an interconnect. It is what makes us human. It is what makes us survivors and warriors and helpers and givers. 

People will joke about the apocalypse. I am tempted to joke that by donating blood on Halloween I am supporting a morbid zombie subculture. Maybe I am. But that morbid zombie subculture is what is going to lift Manhattan from the waters. It is what will pull people together to rebuild infrastructure and bring food and fresh water and clean clothes to those who need them.

One of my first poetry mentors published a collection called I Want This World (Tupelo Press, 2001). That is the refrain that comes to mind as I type. 

There is a poem in the collection about borders. It is about Mexico and Texas and immigration and disconnect and interconnect. And about how the borders of states and the borders of boroughs are not all that different, or thin after all.

Please donate, or help in any way you can.  

by Margaret Szumowski

Resacas cut deep into the earth,
their slow, dark waters.
Peach trees bloom in February,
summer fruit red and sweet.
Toads sing in water buckets outside the house,
and I am drowned in the very heat
I want to love. 

This is Brownsville,
where trees flame and the sun
beats blood-red through palms.
My first night somebody
gets knocked across my table
in a bar-fight. When I look
for work, they’re afraid

I might have something to do
with that big strike up north
“We don’t want no unions here.”
Forests can swallow
so many secrets, but here
the land is open, save a few spindly palms.

Early in the morning I see jack rabbits
gallop, pink ears flap.
Blue-black snakes crawl the road.
Wherever not mowed down by cars,

morning glories leap
on the beach. The warm gulf.
I could let myself bath naked
under a purple sky if I didn’t fear
the blue jellyfish.

The Rio Grande is just a trickle here,
but on the other side I feel different.
Here are the villas with their glass-topped walls.
Here are the men pushing carts,
orange and yellow fruit, big jars
of pink, green, purple juices.
Everyone savors fruit on this hot day,
but in Garcia’s the Americans
keep watch on the bridge,
drink Tecate with lime, eat nachos.
They’ve escaped something
but they don’t know what.
They’ve loaded up on booze, jalapeños,
Mexican wedding shirts and florid
leather purses. They worry about
being kidnapped. I go deeper
into Matamoros, get lost quickly.
Everywhere people tell me
what I’m looking for is just
two blocks away.

“The beauty of the world which is soon to perish
has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish,
cutting the heart asunder.”