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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Patricia Monaghan

Dancing with Liberty
(Madison, Wisconsin, February 19, 2011)

My friend called to say, “I’m waiting
at the top of State,” but I was across
the square, so I kept walking with the crowd
past the media stands where a few angry
men screamed through bullhorns while
we answered the call: Show me what
Democracy looks like, singing back over
and over, This is what Democracy
looks like, the marchers slowing to let
parents with strollers cross to the Capital,
past the costumed onlookers, past the sax
player giving us “Solidarity Forever,”
past the Harley-jacketed family, past
“Queers from Chicago” with raised fists,
Show me what Democracy looks like—
This is what Democracy looks like—
but at the top of State, amid thousands
of marchers, my friend and I could not
find each other, so I called and told her,
“Look for the man dressed as Liberty,”
and cut through the crowd to stand
beside a young black man in green silk
and a plastic-foam Lady Liberty crown—
Show me what Democracy looks like
This is what Democracy looks like—
and he told me he was from Milwaukee,
and that his mother was a teacher,
and I told him I was from Alaska
and my father was in the service,
and all the while music was pounding
out from the Capital steps, and after
a few minutes we were dancing to
Michael Jackson, swaying and pumping
our arms, Show me what Democracy
looks like—This is what Democracy
looks like—and somehow, my friend
never did find me, and none of us
who are hoping for justice know
whether we will find it, now or soon
or never, but what the heck, my friends,
isn’t this what Democracy looks like:
each of us, all of us, dancing with Liberty?
Patricia Monaghan, the co-founder of the Black Earth Institute, passed away on November 11, 2012. She was a Pushcart Award–winning poet and scholar with many publications focused on the sacred woman of history. She was an educator and activist whose visions from her writings were then formed into networks and organizations to realize these visions. The Black Earth Institute is such an organization that reflects her commitments to spirituality, society and the earth. She loved and valued the lands of Ireland and her home in the Driftless area of Wisconsin. There in Wisconsin with her husband, Michael McDermott, she maintained a huge organic garden, vineyard, orchard and elements of a place for Celtic spirituality. There she cleared land, canned, cooked, made wine and hosted many conferences including the annual retreats of BEI. She was known for the added benefit of the crafted menus as well as her intellectual and artistic contributions. Ireland was a second home and the source of inspiration and many books. Her next book, Sanctuary, poems about places in Ireland and Wisconsin touched by her personally, will be launched at AWP in March. The poem, “Dancing With Liberty,” draws from personal experience with the massive demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, in support of labor rights in spring of 2011. For more information see or the Black Earth Institute website at Donations to continue her work may be sent to Black Earth Institute, PO Box 424, Black Earth, Wisconsin, 53515.


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