John Moutoussamy House, 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place

by Lee Bee

An excerpt from Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side

John Moutoussamy was the first black architect to make partner at a majority white Chicago architecture firm. His Johnson Publishing Building on South Michigan Avenue is still the only downtown skyscraper designed by a black person.

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John Moutoussamy House, 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place
Architect Moutoussamy designed this elegant one-story home for himself and his family

Lesser known is the refined modernist home Moutoussamy designed for himself, his wife, and three children at 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place in the South Side’s Chatham community. Built in 1954, the blonde-brick residence is elegant in its simplicity; the home and its integrated garage greet the street as a single rectangular piece.

The Moutoussamy House is part of a notable cluster of modernist houses that were built in Chatham as the neighborhood became a prime spot for solidly middle-class and well-off African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.

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LEE BEY is a photographer, writer, lecturer, and consultant who documents and interprets the built environment—and the often complex political, social, and racial forces that shape spaces and places. His writing on architecture and urban design has been featured in ArchitectChicago magazine, Architectural Record, and many news outlets. His photography has appeared in Chicago ArchitectOld-House JournalCITE, and in international design publications, including Bauwelt and Modulør. A former Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic, Bey is also a senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and served as deputy chief of staff for urban planning under former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.

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From SOUTHERN EXPOSURE: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side. Text and photographs copyright © 2019 by Lee Bey. Foreword copyright © 2019 by Amanda Williams. Published 2019 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern University Press gratefully acknowledges the support of the the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

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“Fou diumenge passat” / “Last Sunday”

By J.V. Foix

Translated from the Catalan by Lawrence Venuti

From Daybook 1918: Early Fragments

 

Fou diumenge passat, a les tres de la tarda, sobre el pont del passeig, que un embriac occí una dona per amor d’una rosa que l’homicida abandonà damunt el toll de sang. Ja el diumenge abans hom havia assenyalat un fet idèntic al mateix indret i a la mateixa hora. Pressento per a avui un crim equivalent. Em cal, doncs, advertir el taverner i avisar la policia. Però, Déu meu, i si fos jo l’assassí? Vet ací el meu got vessant de vi, el carmí dels teus llavis, del teu si, del teu sexe, reflectit dins la tèrbola beguda roja. Aboqueu més vi, Rafel!, són dos quarts de tres; al pont del passeig hi ha una dona amb una rosa a la mà i el meu coltell és fi com l’aresta d’un estel.

 

black dot

 

Last Sunday, at three in the afternoon, on the bridge over the boulevard, a drunken man killed a woman for the love of a rose which the murderer abandoned in the pool of blood. The previous Sunday, in fact, someone had noted that an identical act would occur at the same place and the same time. I have the foreboding that an equivalent crime will be committed today. I must therefore warn the owner of the taverna and notify the police. But, my God, what if I am the assassin? Here before me stands a glass brimming with wine, the carmine of your lips, your nipples, your sex, reflected in the turbid red drink. Pour out my wine, Rafael! It is half past two. On the bridge over the boulevard stands a woman with a rose in her hand, and my knife is as sharp as the edge of a star.

 

 

daybook-1918J. V. FOIX (1893–1987) was an influential poet, essayist, journalist, and figure in Catalan letters. He was active in the Catalan nationalist movement and instrumental in introducing the modernist avant-gardes into Catalonia. His poetry is distinguished by an experimentalism that synthesizes medieval literary traditions with modern tendencies like surrealism.

LAWRENCE VENUTI, a professor of English at Temple University, is a translation theorist and historian as well as a translator from Italian, French, and Catalan. He is the author, editor, or translator of twenty-five books, including The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation, The Translation Studies Reader, and Antonia Pozzi’s Breath: Poems and Letters.

English translation, introduction, notes, and selection of texts copyright © 2019 by
Lawrence Venuti. Published 2019 by Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved.

“The Star”

by Reginald Harris

Her closet is a universe
made for trying on
the brightly colored dresses,
a standing field of flowers
wider than the cramped stamp
of dirt behind the house.

Ignored every day starched white,
reached back into a past
still laced with big band music,
rationed cigarettes, Chanel No. 5,

Stepped into shoes and grew to
adolescence, the clock clock clock
of heels Time racing down the hall
to when he too would be tall, cool,
desirable—an adult—just like
Lena Horne.

How could they not love him as
he made his grand entrance, posed,
placed a trembling hand on narrow hip,

waited breathlessly, sure of their applause?

reggie HReginald Harris, the director of library and outreach services for Poets House, won the 2012 Cave Canem / Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize for Autogeography. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a recipient of Individual Artist awards for poetry and fiction from the Maryland State Arts Council, and his debut collection 10 Tongues: Poems was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and the ForeWord Book of the Year. He is an associate editor for Lambda Literary Review and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

 

autogeographyFrom Autogeography: Poems. Copyright © 2013 by Reginald Harris. Published 2013 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change.

“I Don’t Think for a Second That We Won’t Survive This”

By Abdul Ali

 

She starts running. I call cheater as she
gains on me, wobbling uncontrollably.
That bloody fruit in my chest sags low.

I want to tell her. My palm sweats through
a manilla envelope holding court papers;
I blow an invisible donut hole.

My chest is a flat worn-out mattress. Her eyes,
A blurry river— promises to cry for me when I’m gone
But I remind her I ain’t going nowhere!

Time loses seconds; I make a silly face to break the gravity.
I pick her up and we’re flying. Her arms stretch across the sky
With crayola lines of fleshy pinks and browns.

Her body grows small, reversing time as she runs down the hall,
A little rocket, shooting towards light where karate, jump rope,
The sound of her feet beating the swollen ground,

Her learning ancient colored girl chants
Let’s get the rhythm of the hot dog

The air thins, my thoughts lift me to outer space,
I don’t worry
I mouth something to the gods

And I don’t think for a second that we won’t survive this.

 

 

abdul ali_by Mig Dooley
Abdul Ali. Photo by Mig Dooley

ABDUL ALI is the author of Trouble Sleeping (2015), winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize selected by poet Fanny Howe. His poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Gargoyle, A Gathering of the TribesNational Public RadioThe Washington Post magazine, New Contrast (South Africa), Poets Lore, on the websites of the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, and in the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems about Washington DC (2009), among other publications. He has received grants, awards, and fellowships from the DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities, American University, College Language Association, and the Mt. Vernon Poetry Festival at George Washington University. He has taught writing at Towson University, Goucher College, and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins University.

furious-flowerFrom Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry. Edited by Joanne V. Gabbin and Lauren K. Alleyne; foreword by Rita Dove. Copyright © 2020 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. Published 2020. All rights reserved. “I Don’t Think for a Second That We Won’t Survive This” previously appeared in A Gathering the Tribes magazine. Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

 

 

 

 

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change.

“HAPPY?”

by Vievee Francis

List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, / home of the happy.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie”

 

HAPPY?

I would not say so. Rather, settled
in this moment where no axe falls.

And one might wonder why
not happy in such an idyllic place—

with more trees than might be named
and the blooms ever blooming

in a heat seemingly ceaseless
as the red-throated woodpeckers,

as the tree frogs mating endlessly
on the same limbs a black bear might

loll from, indolent and berry-full.
You have heard me say, Nature

will have its way. That we build
only way stations. I was proud.

I thought I understood, but
now I have come to this ridge,

which wrests its toll: my sleep
grows longer, my dreams follow

into my days. I have begun to name
the birds by their feathering, their calls

and clamor: nightjar, flicker, plover, shrike.
Before the mountain I knew the incinerated

cities. I knew another South. But that
was before I was another. The one

I am becoming as roots reclaim
this soil, as what is felled takes on

a form it could not have imagined,
whose seeds had always rested below

like a sorrow of banjoes.

 

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Vievee Francis. Photo by Eli Burakian

VIEVEE FRANCIS is the author of Blue-Tail Fly, Horse in the Dark, and Forest Primeval, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. She is an associate professor at Dartmouth College and an associate editor for Callaloo.

 

 

 

From Forest Primeval: Poems. ©2016 by Vievee Francis. Published 2016 by TriQuarterly/
Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change.

from “The Akhmatova Journals”

Lydia Chukovskaya was an author and passionate defender of Russian letters and human rights. Her books include the frequently studied Sofia Petrovna and To the Memory of Childhood. In 1987, in the twilight of the Soviet Union, she published the intimate diaries she’d kept of her close friendship with the great poet Anna Akhmatova.

The poet was born on June 23, 1889 on the contemporary calendar, and we’re marking her birthday with a passage from Chukovskaya’s journal, one of the many books on our backlist about or including Akhmatova. She’ll also make an appearance in this fall’s The Soviet Writers’ Union and Its Leaders: Identity and Authority under Stalin by Carol Any in our Studies in Russian Literature and Theory series.

Her assertion here that she read Ulysses four times in a single winter to “get to grips with” the novel is an unforgettable anecdote of her remarkable tenacity.akhm01

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akhm_jacketExcerpted from The Akhmatova Journals: Volume 1: 1938-1941 by Lydia Chukovskaya published in English by Northwestern University Press in 2002.

A Juneteenth review of “neckbone: visual verses” by avery r. young

On Juneteenth 2019, Northwestern University Press was proud to publish neckbone: visual verses by avery r. young. On the first anniversary of the collection’s release, we’re pleased to re-blog a review of the book by Chicago poet Mike Puican, which first appeared in Another Chicago Magazine on May 11.

neckbone cover

avery r. young’s neckbone: visual verses is a challenging, wildly creative book. Gorgeously printed as an art book—hardback cover, full color, larger trim size—it features photos of young’s artwork, mostly collages that combine text and visuals. In his artist’s statement, young says that the pieces in this book required performance and/or some level of physicality beyond poetry’s usual ink, paper, and language. The physicality of these verses is palpable.

Young’s work brilliantly moves beyond the limits of either language or visuals to evoke a deeper, more visceral audience response. He does it to illuminate the experience of black life “navigating through a grid of whiteness.” The subject matter ranges from scathing, thought-provoking attacks on racism, past and present, to deeply personal details of growing up on Chicago’s West Side. Even the materials he uses connect with black life. Along with paint, ink, tape, paper, cardboard and plastic, young employs hairdressing oil, Kool-Aid, an African American Barbie doll, chicken grease, and synthetic hair to create the works of art reproduced in neckbone.

The significance of the book’s title is made clear in the piece “titletrac(k)” where a rope has a discussion with a neck. The rope says, “yo body will do it to u. I jus(t) res(t) round trachea.” neckbone is a disturbing double entendre referring not only to the soul food staple but also to the part of the body that was encircled by the lynching rope.

averyAs defiant as this work is, a surprising amount of humor runs through it. In one piece, he creates a Drug Facts insert for a skin lightening product that, instead of drug facts, describes a crush the speaker had on a boy (Kwaku) in school. Under “Inactive Ingredients,” he lists various times he met Kwaku, including a moment alone in a locker room when Kwaku drops his towel while talking to him about James Baldwin. The “Directions” are listed as follows, “1. Wash face. 2. Rub on skinRite. 3. Let sit. DO NOT wipe off. 4. Help Kwaku with his Statistics homework.”

In another, he shows a restaurant receipt that, in place of the food items ordered, is a description of an argument at the speaker’s home. Reading down the receipt, we learn about a confrontation between someone who ate all the neckbones from a pot on the stove and the irate cook who stole twenty dollars from that person’s wallet to cover the cost of the food.

A phony test for a Black Studies course asks students to rank the reasons why “You will no longer be hosting the family reunion.” The choices hilariously unveil the problems a family has with a successful relative who seems to have forgotten her roots. One of the seven choices reads:

You mad Mama brushed Chloe’s hair down and pulled it into a ponytail. Yes, Chloe is your child, but you reminding everybody about what you pay for and who owes you what, is disrespectful, at best. 1. You forget them checks cut to get you through Yale. 2. You forget Daddy gave you the down payment on that condo. (All that money and you living on top of people, like Wilona and them did on Good Times). And 3. You forget you still owe me and Junior for the check we ran down to the lawyer office to get you out of Cook County. Solicitation of prostitution was the case they gave you. Lady Marmalade.

neckboneThe dialect, personal experiences, family interactions, and incidents of racism have not been cushioned or interpreted for a non-black audience. Early in the book, someone in a writing workshop says to him, “first you have to create this code & then We will follow suit.” He responds with, “summa us don’t need a “t” to say wallah-mellon or DECODER: not necessarily fo(r) de NON-BLACK folk readin dis book.”

He follows this with a one-page “Grammar Glossary,” a scholarly, tongue-in-cheek aid for deciphering his idiosyncratic code (which this white reader found helpful). Young ends many of his pieces with an exclamatory, “blk!” The glossary defines it as, “blk = 1. Black as in a color. 2. Black as in the people. . . .”

This collection bristles with a work-in-progress energy. From page to page, there are cross-outs, handwriting in the margins, and editorial notes as though everything is continually in the process of being reworked and rethought.

One electrifying example of how that approach aids young’s expressiveness is a thirty-two-page sequence that begins with a handwritten note addressed to a child who was beaten up. Each subsequent page then reworks what came before with cross-outs and additions as though the author is trying to uncover his subject. After a few pages, the text centers on Billie Holiday. It starts with a dream of her appearing on the TV show, Soul Train (which first aired twelve years after her death).

As the pages progress, the story moves from Holiday not being able to properly lip-sync her songs on Soul Train, to the lips of a neighbor who attempted to rape her when she was eleven, to nuns who had her soak in a mustard bath for a back-room abortion, to her teen life in a brothel, to her ability to fight as she beat a white man who extinguished his cigarette on her arm. There’s even a collage that includes her revoked New York cabaret license (revoked due to a drug conviction).

All this culminates at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, during which, while pinning a gardenia to her hair, she accidentally pierces the side of her head and bleeds for the remainder of the performance. Young’s piece ends with a paragraph that is mostly crossed out. The few, jarring words remain are, “a song spose to have a blood nobody can see on de blk.”

The crossed-out words are still readable. They give fragments of the singer’s hard-scrabble life—the rape, the abortion, the fights, the racism, the drugs. Through Young’s work-in-progress approach, we develop a deep appreciation of the complex life of Billie Holiday. All this leads to her triumphant Carnegie Hall concert in which she wows the audience through three encores as she bleeds, literally and figuratively, in a way that “nobody can see.”

Young uses his command of language, materials, and space to tell heartbreaking stories of young people who’ve been victims of violence. In the piece “June 4, 2012,” three narrow poems appear side by side. In the first poem, the speaker tells of seeing a drug dealer on the street three years after he taught that boy poetry in the seventh grade. The next poem repeats the first poem, but continues with an account of a two-year-old boy with his arms out who runs to the dealer as the dealer calls him “lil man.” The third poem repeats the second but adds that the dealer then kisses the little boy on his forehead as he tells the speaker that he remembers something from his poetry class, that “ery boy shud see him father read.”

By repeating the poem, then adding unexpected details, young challenges the reader to examine the stereotype of someone dealing drugs on the street. We see that person, still a boy himself, as a father who shows love to his son and a student who remembers advice from his teacher. We see him as complicated and individual.

This is followed on the next page by a collage of paper, ink, acrylic paint, Vaseline and thread. It depicts a memorial flyer for the same young man, showing him in his graduation regalia. The speaker tells of sitting in a back pew of the funeral when, in the middle of the preacher’s eulogy, the “lil man” who is now older, stands up, walks to the casket, and gives his father a kiss on the forehead. Young ends with, “ery boy shd see him father breve.” The statement of the utter waste of a human life could hardly be made more strongly.

The determination to expose and overturn expectations runs through the core of neckbone. This is especially on display as the speaker reflects on growing up black, gay and disabled. He recounts a number of sometimes humorous, often disturbing, incidents while coming to terms with his sexual orientation. They include bullying from those in his neighborhood, along with well-intentioned but clueless advice from family members.

In a masterful poem called “thirteen,” the speaker describes the effects of many surgeries and treatments he underwent for a crippling illness and how for five years he celebrated his birthdays in one hospital or another. The poem begins at the speaker’s thirteenth birthday and describes the events and interactions that occur each month until his next birthday. Finally, when he turns fourteen, he announces that there will be no more surgeries. His cousins tell him, “yo gonna be walkin wif yo crook(id) club feet till u cant walk no mo.” He declares that he’s going to find a discotech and dance. Because, he says, “u cant breve if u cant dance . . .” Despite the obstacles, he continually finds ways to embrace his identity and celebrate the person he is.

Whether fearlessly calling out acts of racism, humanizing the effects of senseless violence, or describing dysfunctional yet loving stories of family life, young’s shapeshifting work overflows with boundless creativity, the determination to say the truth, and, above all, a restless, infectious spirit. neckbone is a wild, go-anywhere ride that welcomes all readers, black and non-black, to climb in, buckle up, and hang on tight.

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Puican Author Photo (1)Mike Puican’s debut book of poetry, Central Air, will be released by Northwestern Press this August. He has had poems in PoetryMichigan Quarterly Review, and New England Review among others, and he won the 2004 Tia Chucha Press Chapbook Contest for his chapbook, 30 Seconds. Mike was a member of the 1996 Chicago Slam Team, and is a long-time board member of the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago. Currently, he teaches poetry to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals at the Federal Metropolitan Correctional Center and St. Leonard’s House.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change.

Announcing the 2020-2021 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellows

The University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, Cornell University Press, the Ohio State University Press, University of Chicago Press, Northwestern University Press, and the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) today announce the recipients of the 2020-2021 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowships.

These fellowships are generously funded by a four-year, $1,205,000 grant awarded to the University of Washington Press from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the continued development and expansion of the pipeline program designed to diversify academic publishing by offering apprenticeships in acquisitions departments. This second grant builds on the success of the initial 2016 grant from the Mellon Foundation, which funded the first cross-press initiative of its kind in the United States to address the marked lack of diversity in the academic publishing industry.

Please join us in welcoming the 2020-2021 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellows:

Jason Alley joins the University of Washington Press after having served as a visiting assistant professor at Beloit College. Originally from greater Los Angeles, he received his BA in film from the University of California, Berkeley and his MA and PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He brings several years of nonprofit work experience to the table, including stints at Project Inform, a HIV treatment education and advocacy organization, and the Pacific Film Archive, a cinematheque and research center based at the University of California, Berkeley. A fervent believer in good writing across a range of nonfiction genres, Jason’s scholarly interests include anthropology, American studies, visual culture, and feminist and queer studies.

Erika Barrios joins the MIT Press from Northwestern University, where she just completed her BA in English literature. At Northwestern, she worked as a research assistant to digitize the journal Mandorla: Nueva Escritura de las Américas for Open Door Archive. She graduates as an alumna of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, having written her honors thesis on the use of language technology in contemporary US Latinx poetry. Her research interests include twentieth- and twenty-first-century poetry and poetics, digital humanities, hemispheric American literature, and literary responses to neoliberalism.

Rebecca Brutus joins the University of Chicago Press after graduating in May from Ithaca College, where she majored in writing and minored in theater studies and women’s and gender studies. At Ithaca she served as senior nonfiction editor of the literary magazine Stillwater and as a tutor in the Writing Center. She worked for the Ithaca College Library and as a writing and social media intern at Buffalo Street Books. She was also involved with ZAP, a student-run volunteer program that organized panels to educate the campus community about diversity-related issues. Her enthusiasm for university press publishing was cemented during an internship in the marketing department at Cornell University Press.

Joe Fitzgibbon joins the Ohio State University Press with a professional background in academic copyediting and proofreading of both books and journals. He received his BA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and MA from the College of William & Mary, where he wrote a thesis on the federalization of US immigration policy in the antebellum period. He currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin, and spends his free time reading and managing the Wisconsin Sting sled hockey team.

Allegra Martschenko joins Cornell University Press after working as a sales intern at Princeton University Press. She has also worked in the world of children’s book publishing, managing social media for a small press. She is a recent graduate of Princeton University’s School of Architecture, with minors in urban studies and creative writing. Her interests include speculative fiction (especially the work of Laini Taylor), video games, and painting.

Iván Pérez-Zayas joins Northwestern University Press after working as a college professor and journalist. He received his BA in public communications and MA in English literature from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He has published book and film reviews and co-edited a book of short stories and poems by young Puerto Rican writers, including some of his own work. In 2018, Editorial Disonante published his first poetry chapbook, Para restarse. He is currently writing a dissertation on twentieth- and twenty-first-century Latin American comics, especially those that depict the everyday lives of their characters and explore issues of race, gender and sexuality, to complete his PhD in Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University.

 

 

Once you “see” dragonflies, your world will change.

The following is an excerpt from Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History, written by Cindy Crosby and illustrated by Peggy Macnamara

In my mailbox is a birthday card from my brother Chris. I open the envelope and shake out a wooden bookmark etched with the image of a dragonfly’s wing. I’m touched. But not entirely surprised. To see anything dragonfly-related prompts my family to think of me. This connection to dragonflies has come about gradually over the past fifteen years—so gradually that some days I’m not quite sure how it all happened. But there it is. Dragonflies and my life are intertwined.

That day, I had returned from Florida, where I celebrated my birthday with my husband, adult children, and six assorted grandkids under age eight. It was the perfect week. Beach, pool, family cookouts, more beach time. Southern dragonflies buzzed through the landscape, many new to me. Interesting shorebirds. Exotic flowers in tropical colors. I felt happy. At peace. Rested.

Then, as our vacation was about to end, my phone vibrated. I saw there was a message from my doctor’s office. Opened it.

The word stared up at me.

Malignant.

Before I’d left home, I’d had a few tests. The doctor who did the first test, and then the second, was reassuring. I’ve done thousands of these biopsies! This one doesn’t look problematic. But of course we won’t know until the tests come back.

And now they had.

“There is no reason to write a book unless the process of imagining it changes one’s life forever,” asserted Richard Manning in his opening chapter of Grassland. This diagnosis dropped into a life molded and shaped by the rhythms of dragonflies. From April to the end of October, I’m restless whenever I’m indoors, wondering what I’m missing by not being outside. The life of the skies and the watery underworld of creeks and ponds have me in their grip; I don’t want to ever feel it loosen.

Chasing DragonfliesDragonflies have become a part of my identity. They’ve been a solace through my cancer diagnosis and my recovery as I watched them fly through my backyard, where I was relegated to a lawn chair in the midst of writing this book and unable to chase them. Dragonflies were also an introduction to hundreds of kind and interesting people, many willing to share their passion for dragonflies and Odonates by phone and email and by my side in the field, mentoring a willing learner like myself. Dragonflies are my nemesis too, the cause of frittering away hundreds of hours of time that might have better been spent earning a paycheck. Or so some people might think.

Once you “see” dragonflies, your world will change. Every backyard barbeque, each walk along a river, or time spent weeding a garden—suddenly, you notice—they are everywhere! So many aloft. So many fluttering in the grasses, skimming ponds, hovering around traffic lights. Each one a bit of unique insect art.

In An Obsession with Butterflies, author Sharman Apt Russell says that adding butterflies to your life is like adding another dimension: “All this existed before, has always existed, but you were unaware. You didn’t see.” Russell’s butterflies have been my dragonflies.

Dragonflies say “mystery” to me.

There is so much we don’t know about the order Odonata. So much to learn. Dragonflies live most of their lives under the surface of the water. One fine day, they pull themselves out, split their old “skins,” and, changeling-like, become something beautiful, colorful, and new. Grow wings. Take to the air. Their brief lives are over before you can blink. Or so it seems. As Kobayashi Issa, the Japanese haiku poet, wrote:

Days are short—the
dragonfly’s life
fleeting, as well

The first half of my life, I had a lot of pat answers to some of life’s most difficult questions. The second half of my life I live knowing some answers are going to be in short supply. Cancer, with its shattering shock waves and mysteries, reinforced this realization. The dragonflies, with their ancient lineage and predictable lives—yet shot through with mystery and the unknown—echo this enigma. Their lives are tenuous, as our lives are. Dragonflies move between water and air, transforming themselves, all while prone to the whims of weather and the vagaries of the next frog, bird, or other predator waiting to snatch them from life.

And yet, for hundreds of millions of years, they have been evolutionary survivors.

As I write these words, a pandemic is sweeping the globe. Illinois families are sheltering in place to avoid becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. We’re unable to go about the normal rhythms of our days. Workplaces, nature centers, houses of worship, schools—all are closed. My husband, Jeff, and I drive to our daughter’s house and talk to the kids from our car, while they stand on the porch. I teach my classes online. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty reign.

And yet. Temperatures warm. The month of April arrives. My crocus and daffodils bloom. I stand on the back porch and scan the skies. Although my life and millions of other lives are in complete disarray, the dragonflies are unaffected. The first migrants will arrive any day. Their rhythms of life go on. I find comfort in this. We don’t know how this global pandemic will end. But there is solace in the rhythms of the natural world.

 

Cindy-Crosby-tallgrass-prairieCINDY CROSBY is the author of The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction (Northwestern University Press, 2017). She is a natural history instructor in the Chicago region who coordinates dragonfly monitoring programs at the Morton Arboretum and Nachusa Grasslands, a Nature Conservancy site.

Nikky Finney’s “HOTBED 224”

 

 

nikky-finneyNIKKY FINNEY is the author of five books of poetry, including Head Off & Split (NU Press, 2011), winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. She is the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina. Finney has received the Art for Change Fellowship from the Ford Foundation and currently serves as an ambassador for the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Art for Justice Project.

ALRONDA URIBE is a National Scholastic Gold Key Winner, 2018 Urban Word Slam Poetry Champion, and DreamYard Bronx Poetry Project member.

From Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry: Poems & Artifacts. Copyright © 2020 by Northwestern University Press.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change.