Christmas Benediction

Christmas Benediction

Christmas Benediction

In 2012, four years before I had my screaming knees replaced, David Sperling and I waited in Chicago’s January cold outside the Metro. We came for a tribute to recently deceased Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States. The program, produced in collaboration with Young Chicago Authors, starred Matt Damon, an old friend of Zinn’s.

David graciously accepted my unlovely whining about waiting in the deep freeze, then bending one painful knee after another up the stairs to the balcony. We went for Matt Damon, but discovered a bigger star, Kevin Coval.

Coval is the creative director of Young Chicago Authors. In between MC’ing other performers, Kevin recited a poem that seeded his future book, A People’s History of Chicago.

I met Kevin a year later and sheepishly confessed I wished to be a writer. He invited me to write with the Young Chicago Authors on Saturday afternoons. It took two years for me to hop the Division bus to Milwaukee Avenue and climb the stairs to the free poetry writing workshop known as “Check the Method”. I thought I’d be an observer but found myself participating. 

Kevin’s work with young poets (who recite hard truths from the stages of “Louder Than a Bomb” poetry slams) made me realize I wouldn’t die if I wrote my own story out loud. And so I did.

I’m not a poet, but when I’m hungry for fresh writing, I slip into the Saturday workshop.  This fall, poet teacher Idris Goodwin joined Kevin Coval. Idris is the Director of The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. It was like the Super Bowl of creative writing. I’ve never been so intimidated in my life.

At the end of the six-week session, each writer showcased a poem generated from the class. I present this hour-long showcase as a gift to you. My poem appears below the video. 

Watch out! You’ll find it hard to catch your breath between poets.

Christmas Benediction

by Regan Burke

May all the lights be green

May the terriers be dancin & teasin

May the squirrels be jumpin in the trees ‘n

May the sweet ones be there.

May the scolds be elsewhere.

May the student be singing Butterfly

May the Rottweiler be lullabied

May Henry’s girlfriend be out of heat

May I be kind to the toothless athlete

May Dumpster Dan’s chicken bones be back in the bin

May the actress be wearing her jeweled Christmas pin

May old cowboy boots flirt with me

May squirrels exercise Henry

May sentient ones smell love

May viral loads rise above

Through the treeless branches to the heavens

May our enemies be unleavened

May we be serene

May all the lights be green

Shutdown Week 11: Wild Weekend

Shutdown Week 11: Wild Weekend

I’ve been cooped up so long that it didn’t even occur to me to put Saturday’s protest march in my calendar. When a friend texted me about it I thought, “Hm. Should I go? Not go?” I’m a chronic protester and the seventy degree partly sunny weather was perfect for a march. What held me back? Social distancing. Coronoavirus. Covid-19. Pandemic. Vulnerable. I recoiled from visions of the no-justice-no-peace viral load shouting into the air and landing on me.

But there was something more to my hesitancy. Something more basic, deeper than protecting my own health. I want to be in that number when the saints march in with the solution. One more march protesting the licensed execution of a black man by a white man fell short of that solution.

The block-long parade of peaceful protesters chanting and chugging past my building Saturday afternoon gave me reason to pause my podcasts, stretch my legs, grab a Ginger Ale, and take a look.

Why was the group so small?  Oh, well, back to the Axe Files for Ezra Klein and David Axelrod pointing out America’s polarization is driven by race. No solution there.

On my evening walk with Henry I wondered why the Rush Street restaurants with bustling shutdown take-out activity were suddenly shuttered. The couture Oak Street stores were boarded up again after spending the previous week removing the pandemic plywood in anticipation of opening for business. The smell of plywood and sounds of buzz saws and hammers filled the air as workers boarded up store after store. Were they really expecting looters from such a peaceful protest?

I turned on the TV. Mayor Lightfoot declared a nine p.m. to six a.m. curfew. Every major city in the country had erupted in violence all at once. Police cars were turned over and set on fire. State Street stores were smashed and looted. The city raised the Chicago River bridges to keep the danger from spilling into my neighborhood.

So I thought.

If Chicago erupted into a war zone Saturday night, Oak Street was the equivalent of Sherman’s March to the Sea. I entered the east end of the street early Sunday morning. A wide open empty U-Haul truck was smashed into a vintage storefront. Maurauders had ripped off the fresh plywood, broke through windows and looted every store. Collateral trash lined the streets and sidewalks. I fixated on a Versace shoe box strewn on the curb next to a disrobed

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Oak Street Chicago May 31, 2020

and de-limbed mannequin. A middle-aged man came along and kicked the box open. He had shoes hung with tags tucked under his arm. On the prowl for left-behinds from the professional thieves, he smiled like we were on a scavenger hunt together.

I stilled myself.  In the quiet, a quote from playwright Idris Goodwin, kept fluttering around my thoughts. “This is not the intermission. This is the stage.” Will I ever actually believe we’re on the same stage, an ensemble supporting the same story? The solution I seek stirs there.