rainy laughter

I set out in sun to walk to the post office.

Half way down an alley lined with dumpsters, the wind whips through and the sky quickly closes its eyes to light. Garbage goes up into everywhere.

I start racing the rain to the post office while wind holds my hair out of my face and lets me experiment with leaning forward without the risk to fall.

The rain wins. It starts to brush me lightly like a hesitant painter on a pressingly white canvas. Then it has a couple drinks and lets loose. Warm water streams and I run.

And I laugh. There are guidelines for how and why we should quickly end our encounter with wet. I break them. I wish the people I pass would throw down their umbrellas and understand.

Images flash of other moments like these where my legs pound quickly across ground, my body gets clothed in water, and my laughter rings loud like song—each run in the rain so vividly alive.

While I run and cling to those images I reside inside subtle contentment until the sky runs out of water. I play no role, have no definition.

I become just laughter with water dripping down its face and arms.


art all every day

April 26, 2009

Over-stimulated.art all night

That’s the best word I have to describe the way I felt when I walked into the enormous warehouse that was the setting for Art All Night, an art event in Lawrenceville which took place on gorgeous last night and led us to experience art in a perfectly new way.

This event was 24 hours of eclectic visual arts, musics, drinks, and peoples everywhere you looked in this giant warehouse. It was free for anyone to enter one piece of art, and it was completely uncensored. It was also free for everyone to attend.

This resulted in what felt like miles and miles of interesting artistic expressions in every frame of space. There was a large impressive painting of Edgar Allen Poe made from ripped-up pages of his writings hanging next to an elementary-schooled depiction of Darth Vader in crayon. These types of beautiful juxtapositions were everywhere. It screamed in our ears that what any one person creates is worth our attention. I believed it.

“Kayla,” my housemate exhaled in excitement as we left. “My tye-dye was in an art show.”

What she felt right then might have been the greatest triumph of the night—a person realizing her ability to acquire the role of artist in whatever creative outlet she calls hers.

grilling ourselves full

April 24, 2009

Yesterday I felt trapped in a frigidly endless cold winter.

Today it’s hot. I stepped into the middle of summer and I’m ready to jump in a pool.

And so we did the only thing you can at a job that’s responsible for feeding a group of homeless people lunch every day: we had a cook-out.

grilling ourselves full

Hamburger and hot dog-scented smoke filled East Liberty, and people appeared from every direction in search of the source. Our meager group sat at the corner picnic table, handing out our extra food to people visiting us with hungry eyes, and getting burned by unfamiliar sun.

Something about sun and outside makes life taste liberating.

Today is my lovely older sister’s birthday. She’s a kindergarten teacher, and everyone in her immediate family individually decided that the perfect gift was sending flowers to her classroom. She likes flowers. But as she received her birthday bouquets, she made the mistake of saying it out loud.

“I just love flowers!” I can imagine her saying in her always-enthusiastic kindergarten-teacher voice. The kindergartner kids are constant spies. They hear everything she says. And remember it.

And so later, when they went outside, the children approached her with vivid excitement and smiles grasping bouquets of yellow dandelions in their little hands, glad to grant her just what she loves.

As my sister told me this story, we laughed, remembering how happy we used to get when life was little and bursts of yellow appeared in the yard. We ran in the grass barefoot, collected them carefully, and gave them to our mom.

I wish I would still look at a dandelion and see a flower.


the way she wrote

April 23, 2009

I went to a poetry and fiction reading at Chatham University on Tuesday to hear the products of the chapbooks created by students in the MFA creative writing program. While listening to people read their works, I quickly got lost in the nervousness of the unestablished writers which added an element so bookreal to their poetry.


Listening to poetry is quite different from reading it. Differently just as good.


I hate to admit it, but at every reading I’m immediately biased by the voice and the character of the reader. If they speak with a hard-edged sound or fail to project the poetic clarity that I hear in my head when I scan their words, I might end up getting better acquainted with the space of wall in front of me than their poem.


I’m working to get past this.


I ran into a writer who graduated with me from college last year. Both of us were in the writing program and we had been in classes together that involved us reading and critiquing each other’s creative essays very carefully.


It’s off-throwing to encounter a familiar face in an unexpected setting, but as her face came into focus, I realized that I knew her mostly by the way she wrote. I envisioned some vague stories about time she spent in Europe, but mostly I envisioned her writing style. She wrote in clipped sentences and phrases with humorous quips that led up to neatly boxed ending.


I decided this is a nice way to know someone.


I dreamt in poetry last night.

Before I went to sleep, I carefully selected e.e.cummings and Anne Sexton to cover the contents of my evening. Without noticing it, the clock they were swinging rhythmically before my eyes read 2:00 a.m. and I was still staring at it, hypnotized by curiosity of what shapes their lips made when they wrote, how frequently they looked up from the page to stare blankly into full space. I believed everything they said, was lost and found in a tock.

But it didn’t stop when I closed my eyes to their tangible words.

I fell softly into a possibly favorite part of life: that dangling into a fresh bite of sleep moment. And the poetry continued. I could see images that were words and hear the sights before my eyes breathe and move. Vision/noise/meaning was one thing.

I knew I was dreaming, knew that I had never encountered poetry so full, had the pressing need to wake myself up and scribble everything across pages in the still dark night.

But I woke up only the next morning having retained just a memory of the word “festering” and a vision of that word unfolding. It had something to do with greens outlined by browns and levitating ovals and the slightest sense of growth.

It’s a new door that I have never knocked on before, so I don’t know what to expect. It opens quickly to reveal a smiling-eyed old man in an outlandishly giant green bathrobe wearing large, thick glasses and skewn white hair that seems to indicate he spent the night in his basement developing the formula for flubber.

“Well you’re younger and smaller”: the first words from his mouth.

“Than what?” I ask.

“Than the last person who came here. That’s why I’m happy to have you anytime they want to send you,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I have to tell you that I’ve been real into photography lately. Come in. Let me show you something.”

I take a second to contemplate this offer, wondering if this is a trick scene from some kind of sleazy tv show. But I visit many elderly people in their homes, and I’m confident in my ability to outrun and/or overpower any of them if necessary, so I assure this maybe too-kind old man that I can stop in for a little bit.

We walk into his living room, and he hands me an envelope.

“Many people dream about this but you don’t see it too often,” he narrates as I open the envelope and unfold its contents. It’s a letter that says something about some of his photos being posted in a photo gallery on the internet.

I look at this old disheveled man wearing the giant glasses and outlandish house robe and doubtfully speculate just what kinds of images his photos show.

“I like to take photos, so if you see that look come across my eyes…” His words cut off to make room for his intent stare at me, then he abruptly continues, “Don’t cut your hair. We need about three more inches on your hair. Then, next time you come, we might just have to see about taking you upstairs.”

Feeling thoroughly creeped but more so enjoying such an absurd interaction that I didn’t expect from this morning, I laugh politely.

I actually enjoy this part of my job. The part where I’m unexpectedly entertained at how it reveals the interesting aged characters who spend their days behind the doors of houses in my neighborhood. People can be so humorously charactered.


There’s always that somewhat separate sectioned area of gyms filled with muscly men lifting giant weights. I find this area downright intimidating. I thought that the summer I spent working in a gym and dragging around those giant weights had helped me get past this. Apparently the intimidation is inherent.

It did, however, help today to see the embarrassed grin on one particularly buff man who was lifting weights on a machine, and his friend took a break from talking on his cell phone to the rhythm of his crunches to point out the sign above his head: “This machine for women only.”

Learned Fact of the day: It’s impossible to do the stair stepper machine not to the beat of the music you’re listening to.

New Life Goal: Embark on a mission to find stair-stepping-paced songs.

happily unexpected

April 17, 2009

“It seems like miracles always happen around here,” my supervisor said over the rim of his early morning coffee. “I’m becoming too dependent on them.”


I suppose that’s the perspective that a social work agency has to adopt. We encounter endless nice people who make harmful life decisions, and we grip the armrests of our front-row seats and watch the painful consequences play out in their lives, knowing that there are severe limits to what we can do to help. But every once in a while things work out. Homeless get homes. Drug abusers stop abuse. Hungry get food. Volunteers show up at right times.


It’s life. We have so little control and such a minuscule amount of opportunity to enforce organization on it. Maybe miracles is the word for what constantly brings things into a happily unexpected sense of togetherness. If that’s the case, I don’t know how to live without them either.



beneath the floorboards

April 9, 2009

“That guy who killed the Pittsburgh cops this weekend,” my co-worker said. “Everyone they interviewed kept talking about how nice he had always been to them.”

“There’s no way he was nice. There was nothing good, nothing good, nothing good, about that man,” someone interjected.

At that moment Sufjan Steven’s song John Wayne Gacy Jr. floated through my head.

That song has haunted me lately. It’s incredible how pristine Sufjan can make the acts of a serial killer sound by describing it in light images within the context of a gorgeously chilling ballad. But the part that really gets me, and probably gets to most people who spend time listening to the lyrics, are the last few lines:

And on my best behavior I am really just like him.
Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.

I looked up the lyrics on songmeanings.net and was sorely disappointed when I browsed through the explanations that people provided for the song. They ranted about how Sufjan could never really be comparing himself to a monster like Gacy, or, alternatively, they tried to label his lyrics as overtly Christian by offering that this line refers to the way we are all sinners in God’s eyes. floorboards

It’s becomming increasingly evident to me as I spend my days working with drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless, the abused, people with mental health diagnoses, and ex-convicts, that these labels I just listed off do not define any of those people. That people are not equal to their worst behaviors. That the man who recently shot the police officers in Pittsburgh did a horrible thing, but it was one action, one day in an entire lifetime. And he will forever be defined by that day. That short period of time has eternally replaced his identity in other people’s eyes as a person for that of a killer. Such a title oversimplifies life.

Reading John Wayne Gacy Jr.‘s story is disgustingly painful, but I can’t help to see through it all that although he did things that make him seem absolutely disgraceful and inhumane, he was still a person. He had a family.  He swung on swingsets. He laughed.

We all cause other people pain. But I can’t think of anyone who would want to be defined by the worst they can be.

It’s too easy to overlook that we all have a best.