anthem . . .

still we sing
give peace a chance
the young die
the ghosts
old men’s beds
and for
flag draped
corporate greed
our voices
were strong
could be heard
throughout a generation
our arms
were linked
human dignity
has eroded
the bedrock
our song
has pried
our arms apart
of us
stand alone
those words
as if
the dead
will rise
if we but
our life’s mantra
life lost
the lust
we have sung
these words
very long


Do You Hear What I Hear

Collaboration is when you are not going into a meeting to show what you know, but going into a meeting to show what you don’t know yet.” – Bevin Bell-Hall, puppeteer

This could also be described as an attitude of unknowing. When we listen to people to form a response, then we are not truly listening. When  we listen to learn, we enter into a mutual agreement that uplifts all.

In peacemaking circles,* often the parties that are interacting with one another are at entirely different parts of their journeys. The person-who-did-harm and the harmed-one may not be at a place where they can sit together without their own brokenness hurting the other people in the circle. In those cases, rather than leaving either party behind, I would suggest that each party have their own circles until such a time that they can unite and repair the breach between them. I think that would be the peacemaking way. It is also the time-consuming, hard way. Of course, the parties have to want to work towards healing. This also means they need to recognize that they have done harm or have been harmed.

It is hard to see yourself as a victim in need of healing. It is hard to see yourself as a perpetrator of harm. Nobody likes these labels. In the broader scheme of our national identity, racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia, it becomes even harder because some people say, “I see all people the same.” And then they support policies and politicians that make it harder to exist. They don’t acknowledge the cry that is, “Please just see me.” If we truly saw each other. Listened to each other. Healed with each other. We would be in a different place. If we could see the person in front of us as a whole person that fits into a system that goes towards healing for all, then we could say, “Your life matters.” In order to do that, they would have to admit that they do harm. Are an oppressor. Come from a system of oppression. That is work harder than a march in the streets.

This is the failure of our religious institutions and largely the Christian Church in the United States. It is the system that I am intimately familiar with and love. And if we can’t critique our own systems, then we should not be willy nilly critiquing other folks’ systems.

Until recent years, the church and the USA have walked hand-in-hand together. Proudly. That is where the nationalism and patriotism and idolatry of the church has grown. The church has identified with creating an idealized version of society while holding apart healing. Women have been told to stay in abusive relationships because that is their place (and this still happens). Couples have been told to not marry because they were not of the same ethnicity (this still happens). And lovers have been told not to marry because they were not of the right gender (this still happens.) This still happens. Good grief. It still happens.

What if the church, as an institution that has been shadowing the growth of the US, stood apart and declared itself a place of healing? That embraced the victim and the oppressor? That held them in healing until they could come together? That said to each life, “You matter!” And then brought them together to say, “We matter. Together. We matter.”

Well, I suppose I dream a dead dream. Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t believe that. We who strive will keep striving. And in the Peacemaking Circle way, the only person you can change is yourself. So if I become more peaceful and more peacemaking, that is all that can be expected.

And so it falls on the shoulders of those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Listen to each other.
Listen with love, in your heart.

Seek peace.
Peace with listening, in your heart.

Find love.
Love with justice, in your heart.

Be just.
Justice with mercy, in your heart.

Offer mercy.
Mercy that listens, in your heart.

Peacemaking Circles are certainly one way to offer this healing to one another. Only in that it embraces these principles. Finds the way that brings healing. Creates “communities of peace where everyone belongs and matters.”*

What will you see or hear today?


Peacemaking Circles come to me via Saroeum Phoung who was taught by the Tagish Tlingit people. It is a tradition very similar to group Spiritual Direction.

King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team vision: Creating communities of peace where everyone belongs and matters.

-© 2017, Terri Stewart

Hearing Voices Underground

I am Chris Hoke. I am a Gang Pastor, Jail Chaplain and Writer. This is a story I just wrote for our brother organization, Underground Writing, directed by my friend and colleague Matt Malyon. I am honored to be a monthly teaching-writer with Underground Writing in juvenile detention.

Hearing Voices Underground
We read a poem by Li Young-Lee, Little Father, and in response a fifteen-year-old boy in Juvenile Detention wrote about the time his dad ran over him with a car.

One time when I was like 6 or 7
I got on my bike and finally rode it successfully
and I was riding it around my yard,
but I don’t think my dad liked that too much
because he decided to run me over
because he was drunk

my uncle was in the passenger side
finishing his beer
when my dad was steering towards me
and before I knew it
I was under the front of the car

It took him a second to realize
what happened but he said that
he told me to get out of the way
at least my bike was OK

This was last summer. It stuck with me.

Last month this same teenager walked into our Underground Writing group in the classroom. (Over time, you see youth return, again and again, to this place.) I put him on the spot by saying I still remembered something he wrote a year before.

“Yeah?” Yeah, I told him. Did he remember what it was? He did; he summarized the memory.

I asked him—for the audience of five other teenagers sitting around the two round tables in their bright orange sweats, listening—why he thought I remembered it. He shook his head, eyebrows up, honestly not sure why that lousy memory would stick with the writing teacher. “Cuz it’s f–, uh, messed up?”

Yeah, I said. But more basic than that: he wrote it down, I said, plain, simple, no flowery words. The event spoke for itself. I hoped this would dispel other students’ fears of writing being about getting fancy with our words.

“And because you dared to read it out loud. You shared it with us. Otherwise I wouldn’t have heard that story, or your powerful voice.”

His face was blank. So what.

These youth are used to their voices not being heard, or wanted. They are accustomed to not being seen.

We were not discussing metaphor that day.  But I am now.

Unless we the adults behind the wheel of our communities hear these stories, hear the voices of young lives being caught under the gears of our courts and legal systems, we won’t know we need to hit the breaks.  Or sober up.

In the last year, four of the boys—all between fourteen to sixteen years old—in our Juvenile Detention workshops have been charged as adults in the courtroom across the street. They each face over a decade in adult prison. None of them are white.

I can imagine where they are headed. Because, as an adult prison and gang chaplain, I’ve also been writing letters to a twenty-one-year-old in a solitary confinement cell across Washington State.

He was already one of the highest-violent inmates in the system when I met him. He’d stabbed multiple guards in the face, neck, when they entered his cell. The homies called him Lil’ Saint. Saint was sentenced, age fifteen, as an adult.

But in our letters, I was curious about him. He told me horror stories. Being whipped as a child, locked in the bathroom for days. Through writing, he made the connection between his childhood treatment and current “animal” rage, lashing out, at being caged.

He used his pen, his voice. He was heard, and he had compassion on himself. He’s now reading Steinbeck, ancient Roman histories, and has earned his way off of high security levels.

He never wrote a poem. But his writing I’m most proud of was the letter he wrote our county prosecutor, at our gentle request. He told his story on behalf of a kid in Juvenile Detention he’s never met. He raised his voice so that the man behind the legal wheel in our county might, hopefully, hit the breaks—and see a child about to be crushed underground.

. . . and before I knew it
I was under the front of the car

It took him a second to realize
what happened but he said that
he told me to get out of the way
at least my bike was OK

The prosecutor still has not lowered the charges. I’m not even sure if he read Saint’s prison-envelope letter.  It’s likely he’ll never hear Saint’s voice.

Do we?

May we have ears to hear–the word from above and from below.

Chris Hoke is the CoDirector of Underground Ministries and the author of  WANTED: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders.


She sits opposite him gazing over the bare table
realizing he’s only the same age as her son
his eyes hold fear beneath the glass that covers
all his emotions, it’s the protective lid he’s
hidden  beneath for years to survive but now
is raised as he faces her and finds she’s like his Mom.

She has one question that he cannot answer
which holds the key to his heart and life
why did he go to that kitchen drawer
before he left for school that morning
why didn’t he take the lunch that he left behind.

James was sitting on the campus bench
quietly eating peanut butter sarnies, muffins
not bothering anyone, alone!  He sat beside
and suddenly stabbed, he took a bitten sarnie

and the cops came as James was dying
and now Sally sits opposite needing
his answer, he mumbles “sorry, I don’t know
he was just there and I was hungry”.

She knows there can never be reparation
for her son will never walk through the door,
she’ll never know his wife, or children
for he’ll never meet her, they’ll not be born

but she’s confronting this boy discovers
why he went to that kitchen drawer
needs to stop him and others like him
from following the fashion of the blade

she’ll know James will live in others
unknown boys who will grow in to men
with futures unscarred by the blade.

© 2017, 
Carolyn O’Connell

Life, Death and the “Establishment Clause”

skepticNot only on abortion, but on virtually all “life” issues – abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, et al. – the “pro-life” argument is always at least implicitly founded on the principle that what is at stake is human life. And if the “pro-life” position is persistently examined, one finds that what this position means by the phrase “human life” always involves, explicitly or implicitly, the religious belief that human life means “ensouled” life: the form of life that uniquely merits protection is life which is human in the sense of being uniquely endowed with a (usually eternal) soul. This definition of “human life” has three immediate effects: (1) it begs the question of at what point life becomes human by being endowed with a soul, (2) at what point human life ceases to be human by being deprived of a soul, and (3) the problem of writing into the civil law a “pro-life” ideology on all the life issues – again, not just abortion – that, on its own terms, would be in facial conflict with the “establishment” clause of the First Amendment. Because of point (3) alone, any strict “pro-life” position, translated into civil law, would almost certainly be unconstitutional. So for the “pro-life” movement, appealing to “personhood” – defined as “possessing a soul” — is a constitutional dead-end. For purposes of the “public square”, “personhood” must be defined in non-religious or religiously neutral terms.

o Abortion

Historically, rather than grasp the Tar Baby of souls, “ensoulment”, etc., courts have wisely chosen to deal with the issue in much more prosaic and much less esoteric terms by combining a deference to precedent and a generous reading of the constitutional, especially Fourteenth Amendment, text, especially the “due process” clause, so as to balance off the woman’s liberty interest of a right to privacy, her doctor’s right to practice his profession freely (deriving from earlier cases like Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird), and the state’s no-less-compelling interest in protecting potential human life. (The “potential” adjective is obviously important!) This was certainly true with the “big three” abortion cases: Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.


Conspicuous only by its absence is any reference in these and like opinions to souls, “ensoulment”, personhood, etc. In all fairness, it should be explicitly said that this omission does not amount to a denial that such entities exist. Rather the issue is non-justiciability: souls, “ensoulment”, and the “metaphysics” of personhood are not addressable by the rules of constitutional reasoning and evidence. Discourse on such topics properly belongs only on the “Church” side of Mr. Jefferson’s “wall of separation”. So the “pro-life” movement is only shooting itself in the foot by continuing to argue that Roe, Casey, etc. should be overturned because the fetus is “human from the moment of conception,” for that is a judgment that, regardless of its merits as religious doctrine, simply cannot be made on the “State” side of Mr. Jefferson’s “wall”.

o Euthanasia / Assisted suicide

The personhood and “ensoulment” issues are equally questionable as a basis for opposing euthanasia and physician-assisted death (PAD). But in this case, there is the additional possibility of perpetuating useless suffering – which runs counter to virtually all versions of the religious teachings underwriting such opposition, all of which emphasize the value of compassion. This puts an even sharper edge on the “personhood” question. There are three possibilities:

(1)    The dying / terminally ill person is mentally competent (by prevailing legal and psychiatric standards) and is therefore morally autonomous. (Moral autonomy – the capacity to decide issues of right and wrong for oneself, within broad parameters.) If the person is morally autonomous, then she has the right to decide for herself whether or not to terminate her life, and the criteria for making that decision. In states with “death with dignity” laws on the books, this requires that the actual act of euthanasia be carried out by the person herself, not by the direct intervention of a doctor. Even if the dominant religious tradition views suicide as a sin, there is no constitutional justification for imposing this belief on the dying person if that person’s belief is different. In this case, the same personhood argument that is often used against abortion tends to backfire and support the case for euthanasia by physician-assisted death. The concept of personhood is a two-edged sword.


(2)    The dying / terminally ill person is not mentally competent and therefore the decision to terminate (or not) devolves upon someone else. The above argument still applies but, in this case, to the person who must decide whether or not to euthanize, hopefully in accordance with the dying person’s last wishes.

(3)    The dying / terminally ill person is not mentally competent by virtue of “brain death”. This is the most difficult case, especially in the absence of a “living will”, because it is ethically almost identical with the case of an unborn child. In particular, approaching the question from the standpoint of “personhood” is equally futile. The lack of a religiously neutral definition of “personhood” at the end of life poses the same problems as the lack of a religiously neutral definition of “personhood” at its beginning.

But, to be strictly fair, I should admit that the lack of a religiously neutral definition of “personhood” entails some consequences that I – no less than even the most ardent “pro-life” people – find distasteful. Say what you will about the ethical work of Prof. Peter Singer, DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton, he follows his secular, non-theistic premises about human personhood to their utmost conclusions in books like Practical Ethics and Rethinking Life and Death. But especially in the latter, even Singer tacitly flinches from the inevitable conclusion that, given the lack of a “bright line” standard for personhood, anyone’s life can be terminated at any stage of one’s life.


Hence the following concession, perhaps surprising in that it comes from me: the “life” issues and their requirement for a strict definition of the meaning human personhood constitute the most formidable case yet, “establishment” clause notwithstanding, for (some type of) religious definition of human life.

Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness. — George Santayana

James R. Cowles

Image credits:

5SoulS by MaewRS

DNA molecule and zygote: public domain

At the Bird Feeder

DSC01861Earlier today I went out back to refill the bird feeder. I walked through a couple of inches of new snow, each step providing a pleasant crunch; otherwise the day was silent. I reached up and removed the feeder from its limb, filled it, replaced it, and began the return walk to the house. I had gone maybe ten feet when the air was filled with chick-a-dee sound. Turning, I saw the tree had filled with birds and said birds were greeting, and thanking me!

Our resident birds have come to know us well over the years. When we forget to fill the feeder they will flock to the front porch and reproach us when we come to the door, or hang out on the back stoop, literally looking in the door and windows as we attempt to eat dinner. Once one literally stopped our car, hovering in front of our windshield as we attempted to enter the garage.

I remember a summer evening many years ago. At dusk, a family of raccoon sat on the fence in what was then our back yard, and sang to us. My wife ran inside, grabbed the kids and her guitar, and returned to sing back. What followed was miraculous: a bursting forth of song, solos, duets, and full choruses.

It seems to me we have more in common with the other animals than our culture likes to believe. Maybe the only real difference between us and other species is that we can imagine the future and, therefore, know we will die. Of course, we do not know that other creatures do not foresee death, we only imagine this based on our apparently unique neurophysiology. In the end this very notion might just be hubris.

I read recently that Shakespeare was a signer for the Acts of Enclosure, essentially barring commoners from access to his land. The Acts of Enclosure were a series of Parliamentary maneuvers designed to force peasants off traditionally common lands, thereby allowing landowners to use their lands to increase personal wealth. The effect, however, was desperate poverty for many of those denied access to fields and woodlands.

When my Sioux ancestors were forced onto reservations, they faced a sort of inverse enclosure. (My eastern woodlands Native ancestors faced a different form of displacement.) Plains Native cultures were largely nomadic, moving to take advantage of available resources, and to avoid placing undue stress on local ecosystems. The people moved with the seasons; they were an active part of the great world of Nature. Enclosure stripped them of access to resources, and attacked their sense of self and culture.

Of course, this intentional separation of people from the land was a technique used throughout the U.S. as colonists surged forward to empty the land of Natives so that they could literally enclose the land for their own uses. Now things have gotten so bad that food, medicine, and water are enclosed, access to them is limited not just for Natives, but for the great-grandchildren of the colonists.

Still, enclosure continues. Our brothers, sisters, and cousins the birds and animals are confined to ever shrinking spaces. Often the resources they need for life are in critically short supply or absent. Yet, knowing this, we continue to fragment and enclose the landscape. Climate change amps this process up; we are left with the Sixth Extinction.

I’ve heard eminent scientists suggest that if we humans can survive another thousand years we can colonize the stars, leaving Earth behind. As a Native person I find this a difficult idea to grasp. Apparently we are to accept the extinction of untold species as simply collateral damage, a necessary evil of interplanetary expansion. I imagine this idea arises from the Western psychological paradigms of adjustment and individuation, a sort of soulless vision for life, devoid of empathy and relationship.

When I hear such pronouncements I am reminded of the still very much in vogue idea of Manifest Destiny, and the genocide it was used to justify. Only now, the living world, the Mother who gives our lives and souls, relationship and meaning, is being sacrificed, along with our wild kin.

This seems a sort of illness, and a heavy price to pay for someone’s colonial dreams. As for me, I’ll prefer to remember that I am just another animal, and share what I can with those who lived here long before people arrived. It seems good to have their company on this journey, and I refuse to accept the concept that life would be just fine without them.

– Michael Watson

© 2016, essay and photograph, Michael Watson, All rights reserved

As if

Inspiration for entries into the Blog Hop Contest
Photo by Luis Beltran

[This photo taken by Mark Tipple for an article published in ‘Demotix‘ in February 2009]

He was muttering as if
he was trying to describe
a vision he couldn’t share
with her; with anyone.
It was of something he’d never
seen before this moment;
a moment when she saw a look
on his face that carried away
all her fears; all her tears.
She felt no longer worried,
no longer afraid of the future;
only afraid that she could not
see what he could see;
this apparition, the vision
that transformed his face
to serenity, to happiness,
that even they in all their life
together, had never seen.
Something beautiful that
he could clearly see,

but not she.

Then, she, involuntarily
felt angry, full of rage
a sudden torrent of emotion
filled and puffed her tear-strewn face
As if he’d been unfaithful;
as if he would desert her;
after all these years.
How could he do that!

As if…

…something changed,
not in him, but her;
she felt what he was seeing,
that illuminated his face as if…
…and now she was incredulous.
She could not now believe
what he was thinking, seeing…
could not, would not entertain
the thoughts that entered her;
thoughts she could not fight;
that flowed so unexpectedly
like snow drifts in a storm
a snow filled wind
of blinding light;
of cool refreshing crystals
looking like white flowers;
a sea, an ocean of stocks.
And out of this there grew
the tallest trees of evergreen
protecting all beneath
their heavenly canopy.

As if.

Then he fell very still
relieved of his exertions,
of trying to tell her
all that he could see
and it was very quiet.

They’d dreamt for all their days
of this idea of heaven
a screen to pull down over
their lifelong view..

..of Bantar Gebang.

With her tears she washed
his calm closed eyes.

© 2015 John Anstie


This poem was prompted firstly by the slightly surreal photograph above it, and is, in one sense, ‘Ekphrastic’. Secondly, it was inspired mostly strongly by a programme I watched some time ago on BBC television, entitled “The Toughest Place to Be.” It was a programme, which for me was well worth watching, if for no other reason than that it reminded me of how fortunate I am, living as I do, in the affluent west.

If ever I think that I have any complaints about the effect on my finances of austerity and the economic downturn or, on the other hand, I have some boxes to tick before I depart this mortal coil, as I make my plans, I think about these ‘workers’ who are as good as destitute and trapped in poverty, in the kind of stomach churning stench that this environment presents; trapped not only for their own lifetime, but also the future for their children…

Workers scraping a living from the massive landfill site an hour east of Jakarta
Bantar Gebang – Courtesy Mark Tipple

I’ve read about organisations that are working to change things. No doubt the major ones, like UNICEF, who are concerned particularly about the plight of children in these conditions, and like the International Labour Organisation trying to set up schools for the children, who have to live and start working in these places at all too young an age. If there’s anything at all that I can do, at the very least, it is to raise the consciousness of anyone and everyone, who should care about the inhuman effects of economic ‘growth’ and exploitation.

“As If” is a poem that describes the death of the head of a family that scrapes—in the most literal sense—a sparse living off a massive waste landfill site just outside Jakarta, Indonesia. They have no sick pay, no minimum wage, no pension, no allowance for their children’s education. They live a life devoid of human dignity…even in death.

© 2015, poem and essay, John Anstie, All rights reserved; photographs as indicated above

Salerno, il mio amore

100TPC World Conference Banner
100TPC World Conference Banner
Santa Sofia Complex, Salerno, Italy
Santa Sofia Complex, Salerno, Italy
Inside the Santa Sofia Complex
Inside the Santa Sofia Complex

June 3, 2015, the afternoon after I arrived in Salerno, Italy, I found my way up to the Santa Sofia Complex, an old church on a square with a fountain.The first 100-Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC) World Conference would begin with an opening reception in the evening. In the complex, I met Terri Carrion, one of the co-founders of 100TPC and co-organizer of the conference. She told me that her partner, Michael Rothenberg, was around the corner at a cafe meeting one of the writers who had just arrived from Macedonia.

Poets gathered at tables in a cafe, Salerno, Italy, 100TPC World Conference
Poets gathered at tables in a cafe, Salerno, Italy, 100TPC World Conference

After helping Terri and Valeriano Forté, a Salerno poet and 100TPC organizer, assemble some tables in our meeting room, I wandered down to the cafe. Several poets gathered at tables in excited conversation. Michael was with Mitko Gogov, the poet from Macedonia. Others were from the U.S., Mexico, Hungary, Germany (via the U.S. and Rome), Greece, Malaysia, and France. And this was just the beginning. All of the people at the cafe then I now count among new-found friends, along with many more that I met during the following week.

Aqueduct Salerno, Italy
Salerno, Italy

Imagine, if you can, more than 80 poets from all over the world—every continent, 33 countries. Imagine poets from every generation, spoken-word artists, poets with books or no book, all come together to share the spirit of poet-activists, as 100TPC organizers. Now imagine us all talking about poetry, about arts and activism, women’s issues, oral versus print traditions, and organizing—with interpreters translating into Italian and English. That’s how our four conference days were (mostly) spent.

Alfonso Gatto Poem Detail from mural in Salerno
Alfonso Gatto Poem
Detail from mural in Salerno

Those were scheduled topics. Another one came up—artists’ international mobility. Several poets had their visa requests turned down by their home countries or Italy. So we rejoiced when three poets from Egypt finally received their visas at the last minute and arrived during the conference. Some who could not make it joined us virtually by posting to social media. For the next conference, we plan to be more prepared for this issue, and to have both advice and, if we can raise them, funds to assist people.

View of Salerno
View of Salerno

The days tended to serious dialogue on sustainability, peace and justice. The evenings (and a couple of afternoons) overflowed with poetry. Each evening, several poets read as “scheduled” readers, usually after dinner. Then came the open mic—which ranged from raucous readings to a quiet “campfire” around candles to a poetry walk from the complex to the sea. The open mic that I co-hosted with a poet living in Malaysia and a Ghanian poet was in a restaurant, the last reading of the conference.

Light and Shadow Along a Salerno Street
Light and Shadow
Along a Salerno Street
Street Art, Salerno
Street Art, Salerno

And what of Salerno? Salerno won our hearts—an old city with a castle overlooking it that once was ruled by a warrior-princess; the home of Alfonso Gatto, an Italian poet whose poetry appears in murals by contemporary artists all over the town via the Alfonso Gatto Foundation (a sponsor of the conference); a town nestled between mountains of alleyways, stone walls, beautiful squares and the sea; a song of bells, sea gulls, swallows; a haven for street artists and poets.

Arch and Tree Salerno, Italy
Arch and Tree
Salerno, Italy

The night following the end of the conference, many of us still in Salerno took over most of a small restaurant around the corner from the Santa Sofia Complex. Not wanting to let go of our transformative week of amazing global poetry, we began an impromptu reading, some reading from books of others, some reading our own work. A couple from the town, not part of our conference, sat at one of the tables listening, and then the man asked if he might read some of his work in Neapolitan. He recited his work, then line by line he read the Italian with someone translating into English. Poets attract poets.

So, in two years, we plan to return. Writer-artist-activists reading this, perhaps you’d like to join us?

Looking out the door Santa Sofia Complex
Looking out the door
Santa Sofia Complex

– Michael Dickel

© 2015, article and photographs, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

Created To Be Included

pink hair, ponytails
outrageous make-up
silicone breasts popping
the buttons of a polyester shirt
rainbow scarf waving in the air
a neon-green mini-skirt
revealing muscled legs
in tattered fishnets
with size 11 feet
in 6 inch heels

brown hair, styled
like Clark Gable
lightly speckled face
from a long-ago shave
baggy Fitch shirt over a
naturally expanding chest
faded jeans worn at the hips
and a rainbow belt
with size 7 feet
in brown loafers

the bread of life
given for you
to live a life as you were
made and created
loving as you were made to love
the cup of a new covenant
given for you
to create a space
to meet the one
who loves you

In honor of Pride*

Terri Stewart

* Just a note about June and Pride.

June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York, police invaded this inn that was known to be inclusive and supportive of those in the LGBTQIA community – especially the poorest and most marginalized. The raid quickly turned into a riot with people being hurt.

“In 1969 Police raids on gay bars occurred regularly.  It was illegal to serve Gay people alcohol or for Gays to dance with one another.  During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, the customers were lined up and their identification checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested.” (here)

For the first time, the LGBTQIA community fought back. And one year later, Pride was born as a remembrance of Stonewall and as a way of looking forward and imagining and fully inclusive world.

We still have a long way to go.

by yosoynuts CC (BY ND)
by yosoynuts

Drive-by Shooting in Detroit


I was born in The Motor City.   I graduated from U of M, and headed West to seek my fortune. I’ve lived in Seattle for over thirty years.  It was love at first sight, it’s the home of my heart, and where my children were born…


…but I still feel unexpected tugs on my Midwestern roots.

Detroit is where my parents and grandparents are buried.

In French ‘Detroit’ means ‘channel or strait connecting two bodies of water.’  That would be the Detroit River that connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

That would also be my Aunt Loena,  who connects me to my mother–through memories, blood ties, and love.  Last spring I returned to the river that spawned me.

My Aunt Loena and sister Lee are always ready for a visit.

We did a drive-by shooting of the old neighborhood…with a camera.  We took shots of the little house I grew up in.

Many other houses were already pretty well shot.

Across from  Newton School, a woman kept cranky geese in her yard, but the geese were long gone, and so was the house.

My high school was for sale.  It was named for Thomas M. Cooley ( 1824-1898), a local boy done good.  He started out with a small law business and ended up on the Michigan Supreme Court.  In The Cooley Doctrine, he wrote “local government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot…take it away.”  Cooley must be spinning in his grave since Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder gave himself the power to take over cities, remove locally elected officials, install puppet governments, and destroy labor unions.  Not in Russia.  Not in North Korea.  This is happening in the United States of America.

Yes, there are financial woes: the economy and tax base of the area were dependent upon the auto industry.  Highland Park, a town engulfed by Detroit, fought to stay independent despite the bigger city’s efforts to incorporate it.  Ford closed its Highland Park factory in the 1950s and Chrysler pulled out in 1993.  The population, once over 45,000, has decreased to 11,000.  Now it’s ‘The Detroit of Detroit’, so poor Detroit doesn’t even want it anymore. My grandparents’ Highland Park house was gone.  So was the school across the street.

If not for this sign, I wouldn’t have known Highland Park still existed.

But there must be better ways than total dictatorship to save the city.  We went to Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River, halfway between Canada and the United States.  It became a city park in 1904, and in 2014 it became a state park to avoid operation costs to the city.

 There used to be an elephant house, a bandstand, and a boathouse.  I learned to canoe in its waterways.

Honey Buckets are probably cheaper to maintain than the elegant brick restrooms…

…a compromise so the park might be used and enjoyed.

There was still beauty.

And history.

The Belle Isle Aquarium was built in 1904.  As kids we watched the electric eel touch an underwater wire in its tank to light up electric light bulbs.  It was the longest continually operating aquarium until 2005 when, after 101 years, it closed its doors due to lack of funding.

But in 2012 the aquarium was reopened–Saturdays only–and is run completely by volunteers from the Belle Isle Conservancy.  Admission free.


Next door is the Whitcomb Conservatory.

My folks used to turn seven kids loose in there; we played Tarzan, and our Johnny Weissmuller jungle calls bounced off that glass ceiling.

At the Detroit Institute of Art we found culture, art, and history.

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As kids we loved the shiny suits of armor in the great hall.

As adults, we admired the Diego Rivera mural, a powerful statement about Detroit Industries.  In 1932 it was scandalous that workers with black, white, and brown skin were depicted working side by side. Members of religious communities thought it blasphemous, and called for it to be destroyed.   But Edsel Ford, who paid the bill, said he thought Rivera captured the Spirit of Detroit.

“Watson and the Shark,” my favorite painting from childhood visits to the museum, told a true story.  Copley portrayed a multiracial crew rescuing their shipmate from a shark.  Painted in 1777, a time of revolution against tyranny, artists began to depict common people as heroes. At least in Michigan, where the sharks are still circling, it is still a relevant message.


I was saddened to read so many hateful bigoted comments when researching this sculpture honoring Detroit boxer Joe Lewis.

In Detroit there was and is despair and poverty, racism and anger.

But I also saw positive action, innovative ideas for bringing life and art back into the city.  Are you a writer?  Want a free house?   Check out Write-a-House.  This organization buys abandoned houses, renovates them, and gives them to artists willing to come live in them, practice their art, enrich their community.  There are pea patches growing where, on my last visit, I saw burned out houses.


The Spirit of Detroit is still strong.

In its past, present, and its future…

…I saw soul.

And hope.




I saw the future in a city park, where kids were playing.

 At the conservatory I saw cactus blooming in the desert, a public park taken over by volunteers who made it available to the public.

I saw open hearts.

In the most unexpected places.

 Detroit still has plenty of room to grow, room for hope.

Please watch this two minute video for another look at Detroit. 

 All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck