Twelve Men


Imagine a river, winter-hungry, teeth of stone and ice, thawing,



its way up the river bank. It was only 2 feet deep on January 20.

Now it’s 22 feet of water,


Imagine a mine. Can you? A honeycomb of weaknesses built by hollowing out veins of rich coal. Hard coal. Anthracite. Galleries as wide as a church where the arteries are wide. Narrowing down to — just barely — the width of your chest where the black blood thins. Paths (they call them man-ways) sprawl in a drunken spree through eons of rock.

Imagine the men. Miners all, who because that’s what they are, go by other titles: the foreman, the topper, the electrician, the motorman, the laborer. Rip off the masks they wear in grey and grainy pictures of aging men, remembering.

See rock men, hacking their way to the underbelly of the swollen Susquehanna. Six feet under the torrent, then a few feet, then 19 inches. The law said give the river 35 feet. Thirty-five feet of earth insurance against the weight of the surging stew of winter water and ice, now as tall as a two-story building.

“If that river comes (down on us), we’ll be drowned like rats,” said Herman Zelonis.

Gene Ostrowski had nightmares about his bedroom ceiling cracking and falling on him and his young son as they slept together in the same bed.

They worked in the River Slope Mine, which followed a rich seam called the Pittston bed. As it neared the water, it lifted and rose some 50 feet to kiss the lip of the river before diving and deepening again.

“I no more than put my foot in the place and looked up, than the roof gave way. It sounded like thunder. Water poured down like Niagara Falls.”

That’s Assistant Foreman Jack Williams who was 62 on January 22, 1959.

Eighty-one miners reported for work at 7 a.m.

Seventy four were trapped.

Sixty two escaped.

In the darkness, lost. The way in is not the way out — the water has taken it from you. Squeeze through shafts, run up slopes, dig through rubble. Avoid the water nibbling first at your toes, then it will hang its heavy weight on your calves, your knees, your thighs. Sucks you down.

SIxty-two escaped.

Twelve did not.


The damnation of water gushing and gnawing soon quelled all hope of air pockets. The very next day the search for the living was called off. The bodies of the dead were never found.

The damnation of water rammed through barrier pillars and ripped through roofs, swallowing men first, then the demon trespasser took this mine, and ravaged other mines linked by tunnels and shafts until it took 7,000 jobs. A different sort of devastation.

The damnation of water created a whirlpool on the surface of the river, wider than a baseball diamond, and chewed into the river bank — a malevolent Milky Way that spun to drain the river dry.

To stopper the hole, they twisted the rail line that ran on the riverbank to deliver  “dozens of mine cars, tons of boulders, truck loads of coal waste, and hundreds of bales of wood shavings and hay.”

It yawned.

On Friday January 23rd, they rolled 60 monster “coal hopper (train) cars — fifty-ton behemoths called gondolas into the void.” Fifty feet long and 25 tons each.

The hole welcomed them and asked for more. The giant cars bobbed like Lego bricks and danced slowly into the hole. “That car would just keep going around a circle, down, down and zoom she’d disappear,” said George Gushanas, who supervised the campaign at the site of the breach.

And still it drank.

More debris, more fill, telephone poles and copper wire, hundreds of loads of breaker rock. (30-40 dump trucks ceaselessly feeding the beast.)

“Finally (on Saturday night) the whirlpool stopped.”

But the seeping and the creeping of the water underground did not. The waters slowed but the roll call of closed mines lengthened.

Those 12 men were already dead, but now Pittston mining itself was drowning, dying. All those jobs. (All that money.)

So a dam was built. They pushed the river out of the way to see its tender broken bed.

With 1,200 cubic feet of concrete and 26,000 yards of sand, they choked the treachery of the river, but ever-yawning catacombs of blame remained.


The morass of greed out-monsters the river, which spent itself in caverns and crevices, and was finally tamed by the hand of man.

All while the hands of men — these hands? those hands? — embrace the greed.

The leprous greed reaches and stinks and spreads. The system of mining in Pittson and beyond was a cocktail of greed. Sip,sip, swallowgulpguzzle. Drink and drink and drink and always the thirst for more.

Blame the greed of companies, the company men, the men they bought.They sliced and diced the labor laws and found new ways to lease the work to others, shedding responsibility and reaping more profits.

Blame the greed of the union, the union men who took bribes, who were mobsters, who became rich. A union president who was a bank president, who was secretly part owner of the Knox Mine Company, which owned this mine.

Shall we blame the miners, too? So many mining disasters before this one, a rich seam of death. Owners and managers point out to countless investigators that miners know the risks. It is a dangerous business, after all. And the investigators swallow it.

But this one? Here’s the harsh truth:

“Federal and state investigators had discovered the illegal mining (too close to the river) months before. They informed officials at the Knox Mine Company, but the mining continued. Finally on January 13 the federal government inspector ordered all work stopped. Yet on that date, Knox supervisors allowed the night shift to take 13 additional cars of coal. The rupture occurred at the precise spot of the last shift’s digging.”

Yet, no one, after layers of investigations, inquests and indictments, was ever found criminally negligent for the deaths of twelve men.

The miners paid with their lives, just because they wanted to get the rich coal that ran on and on, under the river. They knew, and mined, just because they were hungry for fatter paychecks …to buy their kids …


Twelve of them: Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, Scottish and Slovak. The rich immigrant stew that lived and died in the mines.


Samuel Altieri

John Baloga

Benjamin Boyar

Francis Burns

Charles Featherman

Joseph Gizenski

Dominick Kaveliskie

Frank Orlowski

Eugene Ostrowski, who had nightmares sleeping with his young son

William Sinclair

Daniel Stefanides

Herman Zelonis, who foretold his own death “dying like rats”

The list of names is on a memorial on the grounds of what used to be — 54 years ago — a church in Port Griffith, a suburb of Pittston. It says “Near here….”

The small stone that marks the site is nearly lost, hidden this July in a peaceful meadow, off a rail trail, beyond a locked gate, with the sluggish Susquehanna innocently lazing nearby.


A footnote? Poets usually thieve like magpies, but you should know:

It took three Wolenskys, Robert, Nicole and Kenneth to write the books these quotes are from: The Knox Mine Disaster and Voices of The Knox Mine Disaster. Both published by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Of men, mice and us

Gathered around the stage door of the Longacre Theatre at about 4:24, people waited.

Summer, but the usual sticky smells of midtown Manhattan were wafted away by a gentle puffing breeze that ruffled flags.

4:32, more waiting.

A stage door guard had already erected crowd barriers on the sidewalk. Those folks who had captured the squashed front row were stationary. The rest of the crowd churned as people pushed to gain a better spot. Some of the most aggressive — all elbows — were short young women.

Instructions were shouted from one family member in the rear to a young teenage boy in the front: “Nathan, just get Chris’ or Jim’s signature. No one else.”

James Franco and Chris O’Dowd were starring in Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck’s mythic masterpiece. They did a great job, translating the great sadness in the work to lodge in our hearts. That sadness lingered, like a toothache.

But hey, this is New York and what a typical New York thing to do: Spy a crowd and join it even before you know its reason.

Some less well-known actors emerged to cheers, but the old guy and the black guy just waved and went on their way, to blend into the human flood. Ordinary. Gifted.

Across the street, the matinee crowd for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder was also letting out. I checked this out: that’s the show which won this year’s Tony for Best Musical, and it also won 3 other Tonys and 6 Tony nominations.

Our play won less of those plaudits. No outright Tonys and only 2 nominations. But what did it have in abundance? Celebrity!!

So there were, oh, about 300 people (and me) crowded round this stage door. Across the street, only a handful waited by that stage door. And actors there came and went, unknown. Gifted.

Nathan called to his mom: “Go over and get a picture of Bryce Pinkham. There’s no crowd there. This is crazy.”

Too true, Nathan.

Our door has opened several times, causing the crowd to surge. Four NYC cops show up, shaking hands with the stage door guardian, and that’s a sign that the crowd understands and there’s a bit more jostling for a good spot.

The door opens again. “It’s Jim!” shouts those near enough to see. This time the surge threatens the crowd barrier. And yes, it’s him, who, unsmiling, devotes a good 45 minutes to the devotion of his fans and others —like me — along for the ride. Bless him.

The surge holds aloft either a cell phone or a program.

Hands outstretched.

That image stays with me. Walking down 8th Avenue, I suddenly know what those reaching hands suggested.

Famine-starved humans reaching up to a food truck, their hunger evident in their taut, anxious, even angry faces. And those hands.

And the surge on 48th Street — what is our hunger?


Singing Lessons

Rita Andreopolous was the kind of person who didn’t sing much. She could usually manage to lift her voice when she was at church — for one of the older hymns that she was familiar with. Sometimes, too, by herself, driving to the office, if there were some Beatles playing she might find herself humming along. But usually, she knew that she had no voice, and kept quiet.

She was the manager of a branch of a local 2-year college in northeast Pennsylvania. She felt the work that she did was important, and she did it well: Creating class schedules; hiring faculty, approving time cards; checking expenses; recruiting new students. There was a small office staff of four, and the full-time faculty of eleven, and then the ever-rotating adjunct faculty of 20 or so.

And the students. An odd assortment of late-teens and twenties, rising up to some 40- and 50-year-olds. They had the most amazing array of backgrounds, and it must be said, excuses for not paying bills or not attending classes.

Most of the time, they were just names on the page, and Mrs. Andreopolous was happy to keep it that way. No one guessed at the fierce fondness she had for all her strange brood of chicks. She didn’t engage them in long conversations, unless they came to her, seeking forgiveness for those bills or absences. Her demeanor during these conversations was what it always was: attentive, cool and efficient. A sort of academic nurse taking temperatures, and meting out sturdy advice that was respected in the strange way of these students, but rarely followed. For these interviews, she somehow gathered her passion into a dense ball — rather like the golf ball whose elastic is wound tightly to give the ball its propulsion. She used her devotion to empty herself of herself and simply listened. Her usually bird-like demeanor stilled. She had a strict purpose: To nudge this person towards the better life that Rita imagined — hoped — waited for them at the completion of even one course of study.

Her devotion to the cause of self-improvement had all the selfless courage of that first crocus that will bloom despite the snow. Luckily she survived because she sheltered from the withering winds of cynicism by never displaying this impossible optimism.

If she was one of many who supported these students’ early efforts, so much the better. But she was driven by the thought that for many of these “road not traveled” types, they were alone. Her specialty was a gift of seeing how to overcome the practical obstacles that lay low their unspoken hopes. Leave it for the faculty to rev their engines with the courses, it was, she thought, her job to get their seats in the seats. It was for those isolated souls that she worked. She helped them to learn the rules of the road for adult life, and how to follow them.

She had won the approval of her small staff with her efficiency. These days a lot is said about leadership, no one much mentions the priceless ability to not stand in the way and just let people do their best. And though the staff rarely noticed it, her quiet strength greased the wheels for the whole small machine.

For many of her students those sessions with her were just one of many conversations with authority. For a forever unknown number, she gave life to that restless pearl buried underneath the hundred suffocating blankets of ordinary lives. Some even remembered her. Her advice, when followed, changed lives. How she gave it, the words she used — her voice — was not.

Not Written By Robots, Not Read By Robots

“I admire their (CNN) commitment to cover all sides of the story just in case one of them happens to be accurate.”
                   Barack Obama, White House Correspondents Dinner, April 27, 2013

This zinger is a hoot. After I laughed, it made me think.

Accuracy. One of the holy of holies. Let’s add two more: Balance. Fairness.

It’s in the bones of most journalists to strive for those objectives. Yet that their absence is a commonplace criticism of journalism these days.

How is it possible that journalists striving to achieve accurate, fair and balanced reporting manage to create journalism that is said to be neither accurate, fair nor balanced?

Let’s dismiss out of hand reporters who don’t seek these journalistic virtues. They tarnish us all, but they are a dead end, in so many ways.

Let’s start the investigation with those factual errors in reporting that can bite even good reporters in the ass.These errors multiply in this fast and furious news environment, and certainly do serious damage to our credibility.

This damage has far-reaching consequences, since it fuels complaints about accuracy and fairness, even when those complaints are unfounded. It gives credence to all the complainers since if journalists clearly got these facts wrong, they might not have other things right either.

Back in the day when Walter Cronkite gave us the news, there weren’t many accusations of this sort. In fact, he was seen to be the national arbiter of what was true. Even when, in hindsight, we can see that he was not as accurate, fair or balanced as viewers believed.

In those halcyon days, journalistic lack of accuracy or fairness or balance wasn’t the all-too-common excuse – especially of politicians – for information made public that made them uncomfortable.

In fact, it wasn’t until the media began its relentless pursuit of the elusive truth about our involvement in Viet Nam that politicians began to resort to what has now become a well-practiced evasion. A modern day equivalent of shooting the messenger: That the story is inaccurate, that the reporter is biased.

As reporters reported what they saw, the people whose interests were not served by that reporting realized that the best defense is a good offense and rather than attempt to counter those reports, they just ran an end run around them and claimed the reports weren’t true.

And it widened beyond pols. As reporters reported stories that didn’t sit right with folks of one political/religious persuasion or another, those who felt that their “side” was not respected in the story — for example, that the reporting was insufficiently patriotic — could also take refuge in the charge that the reporting was unbalanced or unfair or inaccurate.

Now, everybody’s doing it.

And while I acknowledge that a completely unbiased reporter might be hard to come by, it is true that reporters are generally trained to aim for a lack of bias. Do they always achieve it? Certainly not. But I’m thinking that they achieve it a lot more often than they are given credit for these days. The truth is, there are lots of stories that are a routine part of the job for most reporters and they just don’t have a dog in the fight. That’s good.

How about we shift our focus away from the accuracy of the announcer/writer, and focus a minute on the reader/watcher?

Have we neglected to investigate the accuracy of the reader/watcher’s perception? In other words: Does the complainer have a dog in the fight? If s/he does, can they be trusted to be unbiased? So, is the president the best judge of the accuracy of a story?

Perception is a quagmire. Just look at most trial proceedings. Some of those witnesses may be lying, of course, but some really believe in what they’re saying. Many of the people imprisoned for a crime they did not commit are found guilty on the basis of the perception of the eyewitness/es. Then DNA testing finds them not guilty.

We trust ourselves. We know (we think) what we saw/heard.

In other words, we, the perceivers, judge some story as accurate or inaccurate, but that judgment is suspect. We are trapped inside the world that we know.

That’s as much true for me, a journalist, as for the layman or woman. If I — a diehard liberal — sit down to watch a debate between two candidates, it’s pretty obvious to me that my opinion of the outcome is biased. As would the opinion of my fellow watcher on the other side of the political fence.

If I were to write something about that debate, I would have to decide: Am I writing this as a journalist or as a partisan? In fact, that decision is made by a reporter working with an editor well before I watch the debate. Part of my preparation for the debate would be research into each side’s hopes for the debate and a whole lot more. When I watch it, I watch it differently.

The foundation of modern journalism is NOT that journalists don’t have an opinion, but it is that they don’t indulge in that opinion when they are reporting on a story. This is the attempt, not always successful, to be unbiased. (As an aside, I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had in the past few years watching debates. Away from my responsibilities in the newsroom I can root for whomever I wish!)

And even though I’m trained to find the neutral ground, it’s fair to question if I could accurately cover a real hot-button issue for me, like an anti-abortion demonstration.

The truth of the coverage depends a lot on where you stand. The closer to your passions an event or issue is, the more likely you are to see neutral coverage as unfair to your side.

Let’s get local.

If there’s a school board that’s handling a very tight budget and facing cuts, the open forum comments of the public will be viewed differently if you’re a teacher in the school district who might lose his job, or if you’re a parent of a third grader facing a long commute if a school is closed, or if you’re on a fixed income and you’re afraid that school taxes could be one of the things that might force you out of the home that you’ve lived in for 40 years.

In this case, the reporter following the story is not likely to be involved in the story. S/he is likely to be too young to have kids in the school district, and too poor to own a home. She does her due diligence, sums up the debate as best she can in whatever space is allocated to this story.

The next day (or that evening if the story is posted to the web) there’s a strong backlash. Many of those folks are angry, and their response leaves the hard-working reporter mystified.

Many people comment that the story is inaccurate.

Of course it could be, or it could just be that the readers/watchers have their own passionately held viewpoints and are looking to read about the meeting that they attended. The meeting where the “other” side said stupid things, and where “their” side said smart things.

I suggest that some of the less-than-flattering opinions that many folks have about journalists/journalism is fed by these perceptions. With the growth of the “reporting” universe, it’s possible to view the world solely from your own vantage point. Dearly held perceptions are now so ingrained in the culture that civil discourse has almost disappeared, replaced by talking-head inanities, infotainment on the evening news and the screaming vitriol of genuinely partisan faux-journalists.

It’s not just the financial woes of journalism institutions that endanger the craft, it’s this seeping perception that unless you report my world my way, you’re neither accurate, fair nor balanced. When, really, it’s the essential job of journalists to report the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be.

A Tempest in Sullivan County

A Tempest in Sullivan County

Ice clouds spit and hiss/
the bald bird is upside down.
Tuesday strode, proud and helpless
into days of summer longing.
Winter’s grief waits to be born in
some swank Hoboken apartment —

rose-colored caress as his lips drink her musky sigh —
Hear their yesterdays, part.
Sun stalks the room,
too soon melts the moment.
Surprise! The child dies from the hunter’s bullet:
Why guns? Why not never, not one, ever.

The black cat of fate
sings its sweetest lullaby, and flies, late
to mother’s mourning, purring.
Sure, Meg will write and sit and think

and life will crush and maim, and maul.
Gentle bullet, why not slow your time and fail
to pierce the air, the wall, the
sleeping torso.

Cold, the wail of silence,
humming after the blast.
Rip, spit, smack.

Fool’s Gold

We’ve had years and years of the bean-counters’ metrics: declining advertising, declining circulation, declining profits. And, as an industry, we swallow more and more of this bitter medicine. Every year managers at all levels receive the newest set of measurable goals knowing these goals are not only not achievable but they are, really, poison to a very sick industry. Remember how they use to use bloodletting as the panacea for all ills?

We’ve been trained to ask for the leeches, when we are already weak and should be fed, not drained.

It seems to me that we in the news business — in ALL areas, not just the newsroom — have let “them” tell us who we are, and what we do. We have let them decide what the markers of success are.

Well, it’s April 1st. Time to play the fool no more.

We have been almost inchoate as we try to articulate what it is we do and what is its value. We haven’t had the counter-proposition to their neat columns of figures that spell gloom and doom. It’s true that some, like the oracle of Omaha, are turning the received wisdom about newspapers, especially, on its head. Once Warren Buffet says there’s value in newspapers, legions of bean-counters check their figures and wonder what does he know that I don’t?

Certainly I can’t profess to know what Buffet knows, but I’m guessing that most newspapers — most news organizations  — have some intelligence to offer on what is valuable about them. Only no one has ever asked.

It’s time — as Hamlet suggests — to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.

It’s time to find a new way to measure the inherent value of our news organizations and not just settle for the way “they” want to define us.

It’s time to ask ourselves: What is our value?

I suggest we turn their metric world on its head, and invent our own measure in something called qualitative metrics. For many readers, that term is an oxymoron. But in the wide world out there, academics, especially in the social sciences, have discovered its use as a tool for solving really knotty problems, finding answers to the why of things, not just the what.

It’s soft-tissue information, blood and muscle to add to the bones of the already existing quantitative metrics to come up with a better understanding of a problem. It’s talking to people, individually, to gain their varied perspectives. Most of the time those personal perspectives can agree on some points and will diverge on others. It’s up to the questioner to gather the information and make the best sense of it that he/she can.

So I’m saying that it’s time we took the time to ask each person in our newsrooms that central question: What is our value?

Each news organization, in any media, can define its questions to ask, its qualitative metrics for itself, though as this ripens we’ll begin to see similarities across the whole landscape. I also insist that this process is NOT just for newsrooms. The value of a news organization is broader than that.

It is, after all, one of our unique qualities that — in order for the former owners to make the profits they could make from these news engines — they harnessed the divergent energies of three powerful horses — newsrooms, advertising and circulation — and somehow saw how they could pull together.

Qualitative metrics to measure the value of a new organization must, in fact, break through the walls that have separated news and advertising and circulation. Not to sell our souls but to save them. The measure of our value lies in the combination of our roles.

For me, of course, the heart of the news business is always the newsroom — a room full of storytellers. It’s time to unleash the storytellers to tell our story. Not as one person’s notions, or hopes or blind ambition, but with those notions, hopes and blind ambitions united and made powerful.

I imagine this starting in newsrooms, since that’s where I’ve lived my “news” life. But something similar should happen in the news organizations sister departments

So, in a newsroom. Give the very top guy/gal — and it should be the very top — a week, a month, whatever to talk to each of his/her employees. It will vary according to the size of the newsroom.

And even if you have the money to do so, don’t hire consultants to do this.

Hire instead someone to help the top editor do his or her usual job for the length of time it will take to get this done.

Top editors for too long have been stolen by the bean counters and the management team. It’s time for the management team to recognize that the solution for the current crises/mess lies outside the mahogany ghetto and in the rank and file of the people who do the work.

(I say this with all due respect. I have myself inhabited the mahogany ghetto and it seems a fine place to do the job that the yet more senior level managers ask for. I ask now, that those yet-more-senior managers, relinquish their death grip on the intelligence that inhabits most mahogany ghettos and let them be agents for inquiry.)

The best consultant usually gets those “best” insights from talking with the factory floor or the grassroots or whomever is at the coal face DOING the work. It would be a great exercise for the top guy or gal to have these conversations just for the revelations they might garner from their own people.

I’d suggest a predetermined set of questions to be asked; developed by each newsroom to find out the answer, for that newsroom: What is our value?

The questions that I’m thinking of — to start the discussion:
Why do you work in a newsroom?
Why do you work in this newsroom?
Is there anything about your job that you’re passionate about?
What do you think is our value? Or, why do we matter?

Sure some reporters are in a particular newsroom because it’s a stepping stone to another. Some copy editors are in newsroom because it’s the job they’ve been doing for so long they can’t figure out what else to do. Some clerks are there simply to pay the bills.

But if each discussion is an individual one, the interviewer should ask enough to find how this person fits his or her own value into the larger value story.

The next step is hard for me to dictate, since it should arise from these conversations. But at the very least, that editor should be able to enunciate the answer to “What is our value?”

He or she should be able to make it smart, thorough and meaningful, even to a room full of bean counters. It should be both abstract and concrete and talk about big issues and small ones.

Some of the insights gained in these interactions would reflect the very real interactions that each person in the newsroom has with the outside world. It’s not just the editor who gets stopped in the produce aisle to have a reader comment on something he or she likes or doesn’t like about the way something was handled. The interactions that each person in the newsroom has with the world OUTSIDE the newsroom has affected each of those people and their view of their job. It’s an invisible yeast that floats in through the windows like those yeastie beasties that helped to create Belgian beer.

After all, most people work hard in most newsrooms. They WANT their work to matter to the readers. Those reader opinions are the slow drip of water that smooths away rock. Clerks talk to readers about listings, weddings, and all matter of “small” stuff that readers find incredibly important. Reporters talk to movers and shakers all the time whose opinions about the coverage of themselves probably isn’t worth much, but their opinions of the news coverage in a broader context is valuable in a different way.

And on and on it goes. A cornucopia of insights just beneath the surface, which simultaneously can offer the value of the paper to the people to whom it matters, and a new way of doing things that increases that value.

There are benefits to these conversation that multiply as I’m thinking about this, even without the the grand prize that I’m touting.

There may be new ways of doing the newsroom’s job that could arise from these conversations, from simple (but very valuable) work flow improvements to what does and doesn’t go in the newspaper (or on air) and what goes on the website (and why).

At the very least, morale would improve immeasurably. Most editors get cocooned from their staffs even when they don’t want to. There’s so much to do in a day that talking to the rank and file is a sometime thing.

It also needs to be the top guy or gal since news organizations — like almost all other organizations — hire from outside and the result is, most leadership teams are NOT familiar with all the grassroots mechanisms that create the paper.

Intimate identification with the people and their work is the spark for the fire. No consultant, no matter how gifted, can piece the mosaic of the whole newsroom together the way the editor can.

No one is better suited to put the pieces together in a way that gets at the heart of what is THIS newsroom’s value.

There are next steps and next steps. Most should be identified by the people in each news organization.

If it were possible to marry the conclusions of the news department with those of the ad and circulation departments, what treasure might be revealed? What mistakes and missteps might be overturned?

And going further into a still more fuzzy future, perhaps there are different sorts of surveys for readers/users of the products. Maybe there’s a way that the trio of leaders from each of the departments go out as a team and hold the same conversations with people outside of the news organizations.

Or, there might be a way to marry up these sort of qualitative findings with the quantitative metrics that are already routinely gathered and mostly left to gather dust since those metrics don’t answer the fundamental questions.

What is our value? How do we strengthen it?

How we set our sights beyond the dreary profit and loss?

It’s time to stop wasting our energy mining for pyrite, and pan, instead for gold.

Turning, home

Given, you were, to the small green west,
a hundred years ago almost.
Out of time, for me, at least.

Another world before all those world
wars, even before your war had
become civil. But the train

(goodbye), it would have been steam, took you
away south from that story to
another. Here’s the great port,

more bustle than you had ever seen.
Huge it is yet too shallow for
that endless ship, a lighter

ferries you across the bay — your own
Styxx.  Away, from your beloved
land. Lost. Rejected. So was

a terrible beauty miscarried.
The tears that swelled from the last sighs
of land became the swollen

seas, the gray-green baptism of woe.
Borne off to the new Babylon,
far beyond the Isles of the

Blessed, west, more west; exiled from the
Castle of Want, alone, condemned
to the Dungeon of Plenty.

Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

Another bead on a family necklace
that already strung across the bruised sea,
not-so-sweet sixteen, to meet your sister
in New York.  Fear on quiet fear until
her outstretched arms. And you brought the next, a
cousin, to kitchens where you worked below
the American soil where you took no
root, no pleasure. No Irish need apply.

It was not, never home. Dispossessed of
your entitled future, farms and cows and
rock walls and turf and gentle rain and Crough
Patrick. Dragged away by that dear land’s drowned
dreams. No room, even in the stable, which
was always the old house when the new one
was built. The farm’s generations went back
from house, to stable, to sty to henhouse.

Ever more decrepit. Forced away, homesick
homelove homelostlonging only for the
home, which made you go, which now you knew did
not love you and now you cannot tell love
from fear from hate from fear from love. And all
your days spent in the big, white ship seasick
and sick of the sea and churning ever
away. So many people, all foreign.

None from your fields. Days above the freezing
north Atlantic frozen too some part of
you. Forevertobeheld in the grip
of this great conflict. Birthing, just like your
country, a grim war. Armed camps held at bay.

Ich am of Irlonde
And of the holy londe
Of Irlonde.
Goode sire, praye ich thee
for of sainte charitee,
com and dance with me
In Irlonde.

the farm girl
who set out,
who were you
when you came
into the
maw of the
tall gray east?

And there was the circling wind.
Blowing past, to futures,
the swirl and spiral,
crumbs on the water,
the whirlwind,
birds nesting at sea.
The wild geese calling to the Pilgrim soul,
nestling wrestling.

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

She studied, became a hairdresser, proud and stubborn, never easy, married Frank McGuire, who worked on the subway. The old gold watchbroken, lies in its ornate ivory case: From Frank to Kathleen 9-5-38.

She had children, some lived. Some died. He died, too. I am the last child born to live, the only daughter, named Margaret for her mother, Margaret Kelly.

In the end, even Margaret leaves Swinford, coming to America to follow her long-ago children who all came to America to have strange lives and stranger children. But by then Margaret was deaf and found it hard to hear female voices.

Et clamor meus ad te veniat.

Frank sang: “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen.”
He never did, did he? But his sweat and
yours paid for the journey I took with you
back to Swinford, when it was still where your

family, my family lived. No boat
this time, a plane lands in Shannon,
and so we take the train, the

train, not steam anymore back and back.
The white stark cottage, the wet green
land, the faces that you know,

the faces that you don’t remember
that you don’t. That I never will.
Home. And not home any more.

And once more, she will go. Back again,
in her knotted sheets, her roiled
mind. The rosary gathers

dust, the children only tall strangers.
No restraints of love or place can
hold you back.  Back, to those fields,

to tend to
those cows, to
lay claim. To
forge anew the
self you lost.

Kathleen Kelly, mother mine, may you rest in peace.