Far Beyond the Blue

In memory of my mother, February 28, 1958–March 19, 2011.

Cotton fabric, lollipop design, your color purple, my color blue, straight pins in air, a pin cushion skirt around my waist. It is the 1st of February, it is sunny in Chicago, a winter day, Rogers Park, the aquamarine lake not far east from here. Lucinda Williams released a new album today, The Lost Ghosts of Highway 20, you appear in the second to last track: “If There’s a Heaven.”

It’s been a long time. I am eating too many clementines, as if ascorbic acid could kill me. I am learning about sewing and sewing machines and I want to tell you about fabric shears and tracing chalk and measurements for my body, how I am proud of my hip size, how much joy I find in the work you lived.

Your birthday is in 28 days, there are 29 days this year, an extra one for memory, a day for ghosts, a pleasant surprise. I wish you could give me advice on the proper thread, on the best type of fabric, on a shorter cut, a better way. I forgive you for not teaching me.

I imagine stitches mend old memories, black with grief, regret, and anger. I imagine they piece together a world that is whole and not wholly broken, the perfect time to embroider a heart in two pieces. I have so much of your fabric. I need to tailor the edges into placemats and cloth napkins. Wine purple, orange, lime green, and dark blue with white stars.

Maybe it’s not a life that dictates eternity, but those who loved you and reorganize memory to honor good qualities of character. You were such a strong, sassy woman. A feminist in the 80s, in the 90s, independent in the 00s, in the way you could be. A Pisces addict, in the most terrible way.

Darkness and trauma dig deep. They cloud the lens. Five years ago you plunged me into outer space and I am now beginning to find which center the sun resides. I am beginning to sew a garden, grow a compass, plant an heirloom. Tomatoes not quite ripe on my windowsill, the way you would. Wait for the sun to make them shine.

By Madeleine Barnes

A star drawn in my mother’s
dark blue planner
reminds me —
we need to be eased from place
to place. We need to be
eased from each other.

so when you go / you let me know / if there’s a heaven out there


Diamond Dogs

david-bowie-001It’s rare that I begin a post with a quote from another medium, but the first paragraph of The New York Times’ Bowie obituary succinctly hits home the truth about the cultural significance of losing him:

David Bowie, the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas, died on Sunday, two days after his 69th birthday. -Jon Parelles, NYT

I hit play on Spotify this afternoon to listen to Blackstar for the first time. Last Friday, I spent the day listening to KEXP.org because the independent Seattle station played Bowie albums all day in honor of his birthday and the coinciding release of Blackstar.

I am not sure if Bowie had been insignificant to me until I attended the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last winter, or if the magnitude of his significance and influence on my life became apparent only during the fully realized installation of his life, work, and magic. As a poet, I am inclined to honor the latter, the homage to what permeates, to the patterns that are good.

What I remember first is riding in the backseat of my parents’ car in Central Massachusetts during the late 80s listening to Rock 102, listening to “Space Oddity,” watching the stars out the back window of my mother’s Grand Am, imagining I was somewhere in space, with the music, with the lull of a song that took even children whimsically out of this world. It was the song I always hoped I would hear on car rides.

I had not loved The Labyrinth. As a child, for me, it paled in comparison to The Dark Crystal, my Henson, puppet movie love, but I do remember the labyrinth dinstictly, and made reference to it in my January 2015 New Year’s blog because my back porch looked like the scene from The Labyrinth, a mental note I had made the day I moved in to that apartment.

In small ways, extended over time, Bowie impacted my life.

I am terrible at collecting albums or even following great musicians’ work in any historical or collectible form, so I was unfamiliar with many of Bowie’s albums prior to the MCA  exhibit in Chicago. What enraptured me while walking through the exhibition was his brilliant marketing strategies, his understanding of human nature and mass culture, and his ability to capitalize and infatuate a generation (generations) of audiences, but not in an exploitive way. He exploited himself in varying creative performances, as both critic and contributor to culture, and that’s where his brilliance, his duality lies. His ability to be both/and, both consumer and magician.

KEXP played LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” during last Friday’s daylong Bowie tribute. I am prompted to listen to LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” as an interruption to Blackstar, a song I had not connected to Bowie until now, but listening I can hear a clear musical reference (even the video is a nod) to Bowie’s work.

David Bowie’s song “Nite Flights” sounds like the theme from Ghostbusters.

His song “Girls Love Me” on Blackstar reminds me of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch (“Where the fuck did Monday go?”).

I think so many people want to write about Bowie but they have nowhere to end. I don’t think it’s a matter of beginning. We know where we found him. I could talk about Bowie’s androgyny and my love for “Boys Keep Swinging,” which is the song I walked away loving most after the Bowie exhibition at the MCA. In 1979, Bowie was deconstructing sexism while dressing in drag in a music video. I could write an essay about that alone.

I honestly couldn’t tell you what prompted me to buy the magnet depicted below. I almost never buy tokens from art exhibitions and I couldn’t even pin what was most significant about it at the time, but I wanted one. It’s been on my fridge since December 2014, always to the top right corner of the freezer door. I almost sent it to my dad, but I couldn’t figure out why he would love Bowie or what he would need this magnet for.

And that’s Bowie’s magic. We don’t need a reason. We need magic.

Thank you, David Bowie, for the magic.


In Which I Burn Down the Hideout

On a cold Chicago evening, in June, after a winter lasting longer than eight months, what warmth is sought through fire. The low dance of flame insulated by the description orange. It burns through circuits, rises beyond anxieties that disfigure the momentum of some dream. The ghost of an element that sears holes straight through the chest, destroying the casing of whatever we imagined protected our hearts from imaginary undoings.

In an attempt to sweep away the ashes of my imaginary undoings, I will compete in favor of the literary construct BURN at Write Club: Literature as Blood Sport on Tuesday, June 17th at the Hideout Inn in Chicago.

Show starts at 7:00 PM. $10 cover. If I win, a portion of the proceeds benefit the Chicago Women’s Health Center.

With Calcifer by my side, fire demon of folklore: May all your bacon burn.

See you there!


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.

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.

North Hermitage Avenue – Chicago

Nikki McClure 2012 Calendar

I am not in the streets but I have been in the streets. IMF. World Bank. Philly. Boston. DC. Please watch the live feed. I will be reading poetry tonight at Beauty Bar Chicago in West Town. I will be reading “Like You” by Roque Dalton. 

Via The Guardian, this is what Chicago looks like

By Roque Dalton
(Translated by Jack Hirschman)

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone. 

COMO TU (1975)
Por Roque Dalton 

Yo como tú 
amo el amor, 
la vida, 
el dulce encanto de las cosas 
el paisaje celeste de los días de enero. 

También mi sangre bulle 
y río por los ojos 
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas. 
Creo que el mundo es bello, 
que la poesía es como el pan, 
de todos. 

Y que mis venas no terminan en mí, 
sino en la sangre unánime 
de los que luchan por la vida, 
el amor, 
las cosas, 
el paisaje y el pan, 
la poesía de todos.