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Maggie Dubris reads from Brokedown Palace at the Bowery Poetry Club

Some writers shine and heal like saints. Maggie Dubris is one of them, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart. Over the years, I’ve met all sorts of people from all walks of life who love her writing, and that was very evident at the Bowery Poets Club last Sunday where there was a gathering to celebrate the publication of her new book, Brokedown Palace. Some in the audience were paramedics who had worked with Maggie out of Saint Clare’s Hospital in Hell’s Kitchen from the late 1980’s until her retirement in 2007, decades with economic recessions, an AIDS epidemic, and a Crack crisis. And this is what Brokedown Palace is about, the observations of a poet working on the mean streets of New York during a fearful time that called on some to be fearless and heal the best they could. The Bowery Poets Club was packed, and the affection too was very evident in the number of other writers and artists who showed up to celebrate without a jealous bone among them, a miracle in itself. I’m so happy I was there to capture this reading because it helped me understand that even in the worst of times—in times like these—there is joy and laughter in everything that happens—that is what this poet tells us, if we care to look. Enjoy.

1983 August

I drive my ambulance up Tenth Avenue,
through the drifting pink light.
A crimson sun twinkles into the Hudson as it sinks.
The road peels away beneath my wheels,
the windows rolled down
The summer air woven with cool strands of river,
winding against my bare arms.
A man runs out from the gas station at 55th Street
Shaking his fist and yelling as we pass.
“Liars! Liars! Give me my money!”

Poor fellow. He does this every night.
I hope it brings him some measure of comfort.
We’re on our way to a different gas station
Run by Korean men who neither read nor write English.
They can’t decipher the letters on the side of our ambulance
That identify us as the neighborhood welchers.
They smile and nod as they fill up our tanks,
and I sign with a great flourish
Not feeling the least bit guilty because, after all
Didn’t my very own paycheck
bounce last week at the check-cashing place?

Night deepens. We do a few calls, then drive to the riverside
Where the grass grows crazy tangled, and runaway teenagers
Live in the abandoned truck-trailers.
Dead cars rest in the wild place
between the highway and the water.
Lucy and I pull out the state-mandated extrication equipment
And begin to extricate parts from a freshly abandoned Chevy.
A mirror. Some hoses. Lug nuts. An accelerator chain.
All will have new life at St. Clare’s
The hospital of second chances and castaway dreams.

Brokedown Palace is published by Subpress and Furniture Press Books. You can check it out here:


with some of the old St. Clare paramedic team

with Sanjay Agnihotri. Photo by Amy Barone

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