Monday, March 31, 2014

Wilderness Poems

Hooray! My two poems are up and ready to read at the latest issue of Wilderness House Literary Review. The poems are "Australia" and "The Fading of the Heart." If you read them, I hope you enjoy them. The direct link is here.

Thanks so much to the editors at Wilderness House--Steve Glines and Irene Koronas--for selecting my poems. I'm looking forward to reading all the contributions to the Spring 2014 issue.

In Australia.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

List of My Writings & Other Credits

Here is a list of my publications and other credits. I will keep this as a permanent link on the side-wall of this blog and will update with future publications and links as they arise. Contact me at for any questions or comments about my work.

  • Transference (Middle West): Poem, forthcoming at Eunoia Review, August 2014
  • All Apocalypses, Bitter and Sweet: Non-fiction essay, forthcoming at Literary Orphans (The Tavern Lantern), April 2014, on the life of St. Gobnait, the Irish patron saint of beekeepers, mixed with personal memoir
  • Mná na hÉireann: Women of Ireland: Non-fiction article, published at the Encyclopaedia Britannica blog, February 2012, summary of famous Irish women and their contributions in Irish history

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Railroad Romance

Well, that was fast. Yesterday I put up a post mentioning that some pics of mine would be included in the new Rockwell's Camera Phone project. And one of them is already up!

First a little background on Rockwell's Camera Phone...

Rockwell's Camera Phone is the creation of Joseph Lapin, a writer and poet based in Los Angeles. The Rockwell blog asks us to imagine if Norman Rockwell had a camera phone. Norman Rockwell, as many folks probably already know, was an immensely popular painter of the early 20th century whose works captured idealized and nostalgic representations of American culture. So the question is: If the man were around today, walking around with a smart phone or a pocket-sized digital camera, what kind of moments and scenes would he capture?

Other questions apply as well. Is the kind of Americana that Rockwell painted still to be found in the United States today? Did it ever really exist at all? Is there a new vision of Americana waiting to be captured and rendered into art, albeit using new technology? Can the folksiness associated with Americana coincide with the sophistication of 21st-century technologies? Can "camera-phone art" measure up to painting and other traditional forms of art? What are the themes and dreams of America and Americana that persist, that still catch the eye and haunt the minds of Americans even more than 30 years after Norman Rockwell's death?

Rockwell's Camera Phone is an exploration of this 21st-century vision of American culture, the new Americana. The blog features photos and other work, such as flash fiction, by Lapin and other contributors. One of my favorites so far is this shot of a man getting a shave in West Hollywood. The colors of the pic have been enhanced to look like those used in Norman Rockwell's painting, and at first glance the pic is a convincingly exact re-creation of the sort of scene in Rockwell's art. But then we spot the dead giveaway that we're in 21st-century territory: the tattoos. What would Rockwell have thought of the man's tattoos, Lapin asks. And his question makes me wonder if any of his models in fact had tattoos, or any other characteristics that might have been deemed "unsavory" or in conflict with old-fashioned American values, and were thus edited out to appease Rockwell's audience.

The latest post on Rockwell's Camera Phone, as of this writing, is a series of photos featuring trains: Rockwell Sees Trains Across A New Americana. And what a perfect subject for a new study of American culture. Trains figure so often in American folklore and mythology. Several different photographers contribute to this post, and Joseph was kind enough to include a pic of mine too. I love all the other pics in the post, especially the "ghost train" shot by Jessica Ceballos. As an American and a travel lover, I'm hardly immune to the romance of trains. And I have an ancestor, a great-great-uncle, who once lived out of a freight-train car, in California, with an avocado tree nearby. In his younger days he rode freights across the country, lived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for awhile during World War I, and had a job taking care of horses on board cargo ships traveling to Australia. He married a German woman, and in his older days he lived off the avocados that grew just outside his train-car home. I like to think that I inherited a bit of his eccentricity and wanderlust. I had to get it from somewhere.

Anyway, we'll see what else Rockwell's Camera Phone has in store. It's an exciting project, and I'm honored to be a part of it. Please check out Joseph's project, and if you need a little more railroad inspiration, here are a couple classic tunes inspired by the choo-choo.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Good With The Bad

February was not a good month. I wish that complaint was solely in reference to the perpetually freezing temperatures we've been enduring this year in Chicago, including all through February. But bad weather was just the half of it this past month.

At the beginning of February, the bakery where I work part-time was damaged by a big fire that started in the restaurant right next door. The fire started about 3:45 AM on a Sunday morning in the basement of a Japanese restaurant housed in an old (by American standards) building in town. It took 4 hours for the fire departments (note the use of plural here--several in the area were called out) to put it out. There were two bakery employees--the night bakers--in the building at the time. Fortunately, they smelled smoke and got out in time. So did all the residents and pets who lived in the apartments above the restaurant and elsewhere in the building. But those residents all lost their homes in the fire; the restaurant and a neighboring realtor's office and the town's chamber of commerce were severely damaged and are set for demolition; and the bakery has been temporarily displaced since the morning of the fire. Here's a video with footage of the fire:

While a firewall and the work of the firefighters kept the fire from spreading into the bakery, the bakery got some water and smoke damage and has yet to have its power restored. Until the store can be reopened, the bakery is fortunate in that it has a wholesale facility in a neighboring village where it can bake (but not sell) most of the same products it made at its store location. For 2 weeks after the fire, the bakery sold out of a small room in the village hall (where it kind of looked like we bakery employees were just having a community bake sale). Since then, we've been working out of a temporary location a couple blocks from the original location.

This fire came at an especially bad time for the bakery, as it happened just a few weeks before its biggest time of year, Paczki Fest. Paczki, for those of you who sadly don't know, are Polish jam or cream-filled pastries that are traditionally made and eaten in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the long Lenten fast. They're a big deal around here in Chicago, where the Polish population is second in the world only to Warsaw. The bakery I work at is owned by a Polish-American family who have been in the business for decades. During Paczki Fest, the bakery gets more customers than during major holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving and sells nearly 50 varieties of paczki. Needless to say, this fire was one of the worst things that could happen to Chicagoland's north-side Polish and otherwise paczki-loving community. Paczki Fest prevailed, however, and went ahead as always. Never underestimate the power of the paczki.

I wish that was where the bad news of February ended. But near the end of the month one of my mother's closest friends lost a long and very courageous battle with cancer. Though her friend's death wasn't sudden or a surprise, my mother was upset and already misses her friend greatly. She was a unique and strong person and a friend to my mother for over 60 years.

Two days after this came the shocking news that an old friend in Ireland died when he fell into the sea off one of the Aran Islands. He was only in his early 50s. He was a popular man and an unforgettable character, and he was friends with many of the visitors who've come to the islands over the years. He had a mighty laugh. I saw him last time I was in Ireland, last fall. It is hard to imagine the island without him.

It's the 7th of March now. February is over. The cold weather is still here, still being stubborn, and there's still at least 2 feet of snow on the ground around here. But the beginning of this month brought a little good news--for me at least. An essay of mine will be published in an upcoming Irish-themed issue of the wonderful online journal Literary Orphans next month. And some pictures of mine will be featured on a blog project that started up this year that explores the "new Americana," called Rockwell's Camera Phone. I'm thrilled of course. Acceptance always makes me feel like maybe I'm finally doing something right. As with the poems I mentioned in the previous post, I'll post more info and links when the publishing/posting dates arrive for all these pieces.

Hope a better, warmer wind comes along for this 2014 soon.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


I got some good news this week and wanted to share it.

Two of my poems were accepted by the Wilderness House Literary Review online journal and will be published in the Spring issue. The poems are "Australia" and "The Fading of the Heart." I posted a version of "Australia" on here about a year ago, but I've revised it a bit since.

The Spring issue of Wilderness House Literary Review should be up in April. A ways off, so I'll post again when it's up and live.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Chi-Town's Chinatown

Chicago's Chinatown
Saddle up, friends. Today is Chinese New Year and the first day of the Year of the Horse. In honor of this day, I'm sharing some pics of Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood. These pics were taken this past summer, in July or August 2013, on an ordinary weekday in Chinatown. No celebratory firecrackers or dragon dancers, no bad luck spirits needing chasing away, no festivals of lovely lit lanterns. Just Chicago people going about their day in one of the city's better-known south-side neighborhoods.

Summer's day on the streets of Chicago's Chinatown
Looking north on Wentworth Avenue
Of course, it would be great to have some pictures of the firecracking fun going on in Chicago's Chinatown today. But as with every Chinese New Year in Chicago, it's just simply too cold for a street party. It's for this reason I was thrilled to witness a Chinese New Year celebration in Melbourne, Australia, a few years ago. Winter in Chicago is summer in Melbourne. And the summer I was in Melbourne was a genuine scorcher. In honor of the new year, Melbourne's Chinatown was filled with smoke and drumbeats and dancing dragons and swathes of red. It was so much fun, I nearly forgot I was sweating like a horse the whole time...or like an ox (2009's animal, thank you very much). If you'd like a glimpse of what Chinese New Year celebrations look like in warm-weather climates, check out my post on A Melbourne Chinese New Year. Otherwise, enjoy these pics of Chicago's own Chinatown.

The World Is A Commonwealth
Meet me by the peacock

Cannibal cat
All together now...
Fruits for sale
Street watchers
Your lunch
Vegetables for sale
Entering Wentworth's Chinatown, sponsored by McDonald's
Saluting hometown heroes
Looking north, red line el tracks running along


Church guard

Emperor's Choice
The Pui Tak Center, Chinatown, Chicago

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ice Town, U.S.A.

First off, apologies to any of you who came to this post expecting a tribute to Ben Wyatt, former boy mayor, teenage ice clown, and human disaster on Parks and Rec. I'm a big fan of the show too, so I'll understand your disappointment.

Earlier this week my city got sucked into the grips of a vortex. A polar vortex to be exact. You may have heard about it, and yes, it was as scary as it sounds. Temperatures in Chicago dipped 10 to 15 degrees below 0 on Monday, with the wind chill at 30 to 40 degrees below 0. What's more, this post-apocalyptic phase was preceded by bombardments of snowfall for hours on end beginning on New Year's Eve. Happy 2014, Chicago!!

Snow on State St., downtown Chicago
The Chicago River, Jan. 8, 2014
Chicagoans are truly tough people--among the toughest I know. And the long, hard winters we have to endure are a big factor in the resilience and strength of the people here. It's extremely rare for this city to shut down over anything--so you know things must have been bad this week for the city and suburban schools to close for a couple days along with a number of city offices and businesses. (By contrast, I've been in other towns and cities--cough, Carbondale, IL, cough--that shut down when they get half an inch of snow, and I've seen friends in warmer parts of the U.S. and in Ireland and the U.K. freak out on Facebook over a full inch of snow and 30 degree Fahrenheit temps. Wow.)

Snow-covered sidewalk, State St.

Sit yourself the snow. An outdoor bench in downtown Chicago.
Probably ditched for a cab. In front of Harold Washington Library.
A friend of mine from Ireland/England was in town with his fiancee in the midst of this Chiberian weather, bravely driving all the way from Ohio on Sunday. Needless to say, it was too cold for them to do much sightseeing. The city went into deep freeze mode, and everyone here went into temporary hibernation, the only safe and sensible thing to do in such truly dangerous weather. God help those people in the region with no homes and those animals living outside.

No kidding.

Stay alive.
On Wednesday I managed to meet up with my friends downtown. It was 10 to 15 degrees that day, but in the wake of the polar vortex it felt almost tropical. I wandered around for as long as I could outside downtown and snapped a few pictures. These shots aren't as impressive as many of the ones you can see online of Chicago trapped in ice--for those kind of pics, go here and here--but if you think I was gonna go traipsing around the lakefront in below zero temps just for a photo then you're crazier than the people who did go traipsing around the lakefront in below zero temps just for a photo this week. Like these people:

Chicago on Jan. 6, 2014, pic by Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune.
In the last couple days, life has returned to usual in Chicago. As I write this, it's somewhere in the mid-30s at 10 PM. That's more in line with what we're used to in this part of world in January. Yes, it's still cold--the kind of cold where you can see your breath when you exhale, but those are breaths of relief.


Falling ice.

Potential headache.

Watch out.

Safety first.
Evening icicles.
State Street, going north.
State Street, going south.
Where there's smoke, there's heat.
Shadow on ice.
With my friend Stephen, warming up.

Bundled up by a fire.