Celebrate Your Writer Friends

I am celebrating my friend Oonah Joslin’s recent book launch for her new book of poetry, Three Pounds of Cells. The Morpeth launch happened last week and the link to buy Oonah’s book is now available. Click on the image below to get your copy. Curling up with a good book of poetry can’t be beat as we slip into the cold weather season.

Three Pounds of Cells front cover

Celebrating my writer friends who find success and have work to share is one of the joys of being part of the writing community. If you have a recent publication, please feel free to put a link in the comments below.

Happy Monday, everyone.

New York or Minnesota – Can I Have Both Please?

Having grown up in Minnesota and staying here to create a rich and full life with my partner Mick, kids Shawn and Abby, daughter-in-law Beka, granddaughter Camille, and a circle of amazing friends, you might think that I’m all set. Content. Rooted.

And I am all those things. But my life-long love affair with New York City has never waned, not from the time I was 10. I chose to write a report on New York in fifth grade, when we were assigned our first term paper about a place. I wrote to the New York Chamber of Commerce as part of my research and they sent me a fat manilla envelope of brochures. The brochures arrived after my term paper was due, but I kept them for a long time. Later, when I was 13 or 14, my parents drove from Minnesota to New York one summer. We stayed on the outskirts of the city, took a train into Grand Central Station, hopped on a tour bus. We didn’t stay nearly as long as I wanted, but we did see an awful lot in two days. I remember how hot and humid it was, how my mom was not so thrilled about the steps up inside the Statue of Liberty. But none of that mattered; I was smitten. Yes, there is noise, traffic, crowds, and harsh conditions for those who have nothing. This is life in a large city, any large city. There is still much to love and this is my list.

I love the old buildings juxtaposed with new, how St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street offers sanctuary in a stunning building only steps away from the rush of Penn Station, how The Halal Guys seem to be on every street corner in Manhattan, the soft light on the High Line in late afternoon, music performed (with suggested donations of course) in the subways, having drinks in Bryant Park, the surprise of a full moon between buildings while walking up 7th Avenue after dark, the kindness of people who will help a visitor get on the correct subway line if asked, and the multitude of Irish pubs where it’s easy to get a table and a drink. I love the pigeons who sit on every statue and light pole, the way workmen at job sites laugh with each other in the middle of the day, the lines of all kinds of people getting coffee together in the morning, bike messengers who defy death to weave through traffic in Times Square, men in business suits on motorized scooters at rush hour, how the seemingly impossible traffic snarls eventually untangle. I love seeing families on the subway, listening to the assortment of languages heard on the street, tasting foods from as many different shops and restaurants as possible, stepping into small bookstores with books crammed into every inch of space. I love having lunch at a place with tables outside so I can watch everything around me. I love being in a city where there are so many, many choices.

My most recent visit was just last week, when my friend Luann and I spent a few days running around Manhattan with a little foray into Brooklyn. Our favorite thing was a food tour of Greenwich Village, where we sampled pizza, olive oil, quinoa salad, melanzana, cannoli, cheese, chocolate chip cookies, and more. We also visited the Tenement Museum, where we did a tour that taught us about the history of the building and showed us some restored apartments. As always, the time flew by and it seemed like I had to go home too soon.

But I’ll be back. I’m hanging on to my Metro card for the next time.

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On Not Celebrating Columbus Day

Today’s Federal holiday had a cartoon moment in this morning’s newspaper – Hi and Lois, in which Dot, a little girl who is learning about Christopher Columbus, says to her dad, “Columbus thought he was in India when he landed in the New World?” Her dad says, “That’s right.” And she responds with, “So we celebrate his mistake with a holiday?” And her dad says, “Anything to get a day off.”

Dot pretty much summed up how I feel about Columbus Day. But I have another Columbus Day story that my son Shawn provided for us when he was in grade school. He was assigned, in fifth or sixth grade, to draw something that depicted Columbus in the New World. He chose to draw Columbus chopping the hands off some New World natives. The teacher flunked him on that assignment – gave him a great big zero for a score.

One of the things Mick and I have tried to teach our kids is that debate is a good thing. Debate is how we learn. And not all history is accurately presented all of the time. Columbus is a good example. There are historical references to Columbus’s brutal treatment of natives that include chopping off hands for not having enough gold (here’s one of those references:  http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-christopher-columbus). Since Mick and I were well aware of other ways to tell the story of Columbus in the New World, we asked to meet with the teacher to talk about Shawn’s assignment.

We got exactly nowhere. The teacher was not open to discussion that Columbus’s story was not all wonderful, that he had done things to mar his image as an explorer. She refused to give Shawn partial credit for understanding the story beyond the classroom lesson. And perhaps that was her right to force Shawn to stick to what she taught rather than going beyond her simple lessons.

But I don’t really believe that. I was disappointed in her inability to engage my son in a conversation that would have expanded on a history lesson. Don’t we want children to question things? The Columbus story we were taught as children, the way Columbus Day is still a holiday, and the way we are discouraged from adding to the standard narratives even in the face of fact is not designed to encourage thoughtful consideration of what Columbus’s actions actually meant. There has been plenty of discussion about this since Shawn was in grade school and I’m pretty sure other families have bumped into similar issues with homework and history lessons.

If you’re interested, here is more information on Columbus Day and the controversy around it from the Constitution Daily: http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2016/10/why-columbus-day-isnt-really-a-national-holiday/

As for me, this is just another Monday, albeit one without mail delivery.

Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

One Minnesota Writer on Break Today

It’s a beautiful fall day here in the Twin Cities. I’m on break today, but want to share the latest issue of Gyroscope Review, which came out on Saturday. My co-editor Constance Brewer and I are delighted with the poets who submitted work for this issue, our first themed one. Welcome to the fall issue of Gyroscope Review, The “Honor” IssueThe link will take you to Gyroscope Review‘s page of issues current and past, with two different versions depending on whether you wish to read on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device.  Enjoy!


Our Soggy Autumn and Finding Hope

It’s been a gray several days until today; many inches of rain in the rain gauge, although we are lucky at our house. Last Wednesday, over seven inches of rain fell just to the north of us in a few hours. I drove home from the Edina library in that storm, muttering to myself, “Please don’t hail,” since I just got my car back from the body shop for hail damage repair. Lightning flickered constantly, like a bad light bulb, and Highway 100 had at least two spots where pooled water could have quickly turned dangerous. But I made it home, completely soaked from my 30-second dash to the car after the reading I attended, and felt grateful. To the south of us, floods are displacing many as rivers rise, spill over banks, meander into small towns and over highways. All this wetness feels like spring.

Yet here we are at the start of autumn. The birds are constantly emptying the bird feeders in our yard. The fruit on our crabapple tree has turned orange-red, its smaller crabapples irresistible to robins and migrating cedar waxwings. The waxwings have arrived right on schedule to gorge themselves in preparation for their long flight. The robins have been here all along, but they, too, must be getting ready to go. Our tree is a noisy, lofty restaurant. Sometimes, I watch this scene from our bedroom window just after I’ve opened the curtains and am entranced.

Through our kitchen window, there is a perfect view of our neighbor’s old apple tree which has been dead for years. He never cut it down, just trimmed the bulk of the top away. Its trunk and a few sturdy limbs remain. The dead tree has become a woodpecker neighborhood, with several perfectly round holes in desirable areas. The resident woodpeckers sometimes stop at our deck, check out the cedar planks, make our dogs lose their minds. They aren’t the only life to move to the dead tree. I recently noticed the lichen that has made patterns all over the old bark, as if a painter took a pallet knife and slathered on goops of oil paint that will not dry for years.

Soon the juncos will come through, too, on their migration. They are my favorites with their dark eyes and round white bellies. I love watching them hop around on the ground, their movements quick, lively.

When did I become this person who knows the seasons by the birds in the yard? Not that I mind. It’s far more soothing than this election season with its flood of campaign ads, far less bitter and polarizing than a candidates’ debate. Even though I was disappointed in my neighbor’s refusal to remove the dead tree, that is so minor compared to all the arguing over immigration, policing, race, religious differences, taxes, and rights. The thing about my neighbor’s tree is that it has had time to become a home for other creatures. Its demise is to the benefit of the woodpeckers and lichen and perhaps something else I haven’t noticed yet. I keep thinking there’s a lesson there. I keep wanting to draw a peaceful analogy, but am not sure there is one that would be of use in getting people to stop shouting.

Maybe the sun that has broken through today will relieve some of the floods to the south. Maybe we’ll see something that will lift our hearts a little before tonight’s debate between Clinton and Trump makes us feel like we’re drowning in reactionary verbosity. Maybe this soft light of autumn is good at illuminating hope.

Let’s leave the curtains open for that.


All photos by kcmickelson 2016.

Poetry and Art Goings-On


Over the summer, I edited a poetry book for my friend Oonah Joslin. Oonah is a poet in Morpeth, Northumberland. Her first book, Three Pounds of Cells, is due out this fall from The Linnet’s Wings Press. The 45 poems in this collection are a delightful exploration of how we perceive our world, a search for the source of the light and the music. The poems touch on Oonah’s childhood, travels, faith, love, loss, and her life-long affair with the sea. They sparkle with shifting colors, move to their own beat. The book will be available directly from The Linnet’s Wings within the next few weeks.

And, for any readers in the north of England, Oonah will have a book launch for Three Pounds of Cells in Morpeth on October 18 at the Sour Grapes Wine Bar at 7:30 p.m., and another in Newcastle on November 17 at STANZA, details TBA.  I’m really excited about the November event because I’ll be there to support Oonah’s work. I can’t wait to hear her read and to hang out with her for a few days beforehand.





In other news, I have a new poem in the fall 2016 poets’ chapbook from The Linnet’s Wings, There’s Magic in the Pictures. My work appears alongside such wonderful poets as Bill West, Pippa Little, RK Biswass, Jeff Jeppesen, AJ Huffman, and many others. There’s Magic in the Pictures is available now from The Linnet’s Wings.







screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-36-41-pmMany of you know that I’m an editor at Gyroscope Review, a quarterly digital poetry journal. Our fall issue is scheduled to release October 1. Information and links will be available at our website, www.gyroscopereview.com. This issue will include work submitted for our first themed call for submissions, which was on the broader meaning of honor.

Speaking of Gyroscope Review, my co-editor there, Constance Brewer, has three poems of her own that recently appeared in the Tipton Journal #31. Her thoughtful and smart poems are worth a look.






And, finally, something not poetry-related: for those of you in the Minneapolis area, the Minneapolis art gang Rogue Citizen has an opening this Thursday from 6-10 p.m. at Pop-Out Gallery, 2014 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis. Get ready for a massive amount of new work that will made your eyes pop out in an awesome kind of way. Oh, and you’ll get to meet my son, the artist Dalsen. Yeah, I’m kind of proud.





Enjoy these busy fall days!

Urban Wildlife and Paying Attention

On Saturday morning, Mick and I worked in the garden. We cut back the massive squash vines, harvested tomatoes, dug out the spent basil, picked a few peppers, cut the grass. Squirrels and rabbits have been rampant this year, and they’ve often helped themselves to whatever food we are growing before we can get to it. This year, we are also growing some decorative gourds and the squirrels love them. We found half-eaten gourds all over the yard. Mick noticed one squirrel with its head in a gourd much like a little kid eating a big watermelon.

We decided that we weren’t going to try to save the gourds. The squirrels seem to prefer them over the other things in the garden, so maybe that isn’t so terrible. Maybe that will allow us to harvest the butternut squash and tomatoes with less competition. And we all have to eat, man and squirrel and rabbit.

In the afternoon, a hawk perched on our recently pruned lilac. We both watched to see if he would swoop into the squash patch to snatch up some small creature. He sat for quite a few minutes, tilting and turning his head in all directions, long enough for me to take his picture. Then he flew low over the yard, veered around our birch trees, and was gone.

I often see hawks around near the tall grasses along the freeways, notice them sitting atop light poles, their shapes distinct against the sky. They seldom stop in our yard where there are people and dogs and lawnmowers and wind chimes and less room to maneuver. When they do visit, we feel lucky and somehow honored. Their focus on what is around them reminds me that paying attention is a gift to be used well.

Happy Monday. May you notice and honor what is right in front of you today.



State Fair Days

Before summer looks for its suitcase and packs up to leave for the other side of the earth, and before all the kids in Minnesota are back to fidgeting in classrooms, there is the Minnesota State Fair. Twelve days of deep-fried food on sticks, plastic cups of beer, vendors who hawk ShamWow towels and magnetic bracelets and dubious foot-soaking solutions and one-0f-a-kind neck scarves and patio furniture made from recycled plastic milk jugs, dog shows, animal barns with horses and cows and pigs and sheep and llamas, new tractors and trailers and RVs and outdoor fireplaces, seed art in the likenesses of famous people (especially, this year, Prince), local bands, Grandstand shows with not-local bands, daily fireworks. It can be expensive. It can be too hot, too greasy, too crowded. Or, it can be a glorious mingling of people who just want to have fun.

Whatever you might think of it, it clearly marks the end of summer’s more relaxed days.


Not bad to be greeted by a little music upon arrival around 8:30 in the morning.


The Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater from Minneapolis put on a little show.

Cows, cows, cows.


No seed shall go to waste, nor shall Prince be forgotten.


Llama, llama!


A fine day at the Fair.

And may all of you have a fine Labor Day. Onward to fall!


August Blooms, Garden Zen

At the end of August in Minnesota, our garden is bursting with color. That we have this sanctuary in the midst of an urban area never fails to make me grateful. Gardens are full of little miracles. Enjoy today’s slideshow.

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Food for Thought and Thoughts on Food

The hint of fall was unmistakeable this past weekend. A chill permeated early morning and evening, yellow and rust-colored flowers bloomed in our garden, Saturday’s rain prompted me to buy firewood. And I thought about cooking.

I think about food a lot, where it comes from, how it’s prepared, how it varies across cultures, and how we share it. I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, slowly over the summer, digesting his stories about the origins of specific meals he prepared. And, now that fruits and vegetables are plentiful and gorgeous as they erupt from the garden, I’m constantly thinking about what to prepare and share.

Mick and I have done a lot of our shopping at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market this year. On Sunday, it beckoned again, the stalls filled with large colorful peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, corn, squash, herbs, potatoes, brussels sprouts. It took discipline to fill our bags only with what we needed. The bumpy squash and smooth red slicing tomatoes begged to be touched. Juicy melons sliced open to offer fragrant deeply-hued flesh tempted everyone who passed by.

We brought a list for a Sunday supper that we planned on sharing with friends, but our first purchase was a bunch of deep orange carrots that would be eaten later in the week. We purchased chicken from one farmer; corn, cucumbers, and a miniature melon from another; cilantro and mint from another; red onions from yet another. Folk music wafted around the market from a single vocalist/guitarist who set up behind a salsa table. I watched a young couple take their baby and his carseat off a stroller frame so they could squeeze an entire box of roma tomatoes into the cargo spot on the bottom, then put the baby and seat back on the frame. The baby was quiet and happy the entire time. We walked past an egg farmer who advertised vegetarian-fed chickens that were free-range; I wondered how a chicken that got to wander around where grubs and insects were free for the pecking is considered vegetarian. Perhaps I need to brush up on what free-range means. People strolled by with glorious bouquets of flowers – purples, yellows, reds – to grace tables at home. We noticed the donut vendors were nearly out of donuts by 10:00 a.m.

Once we had wandered through the entire market and our shopping was done, Mick and I headed out. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up what the farmers’ market didn’t have: yogurt, naan, ginger, sesame seeds, soy sauce.

Back at home, I relished being in the kitchen on an oddly cool August afternoon. To spend a few hours hanging out preparing food is one of my favorite things. The chicken thighs we bought were already packed and frozen for transport, so those went right into a water bath to thaw. While the chicken hung out in water, I made chutney in my food processor: cilantro and mint from the farmers market, lemon juice, fresh ginger, a jalapeño from our own garden, plain yogurt. The chutney would go with the naan that we planned on tossing onto the grill for a few minutes after the chicken was cooked.

I cut up a small watermelon. The cool red fruit would balance the heat from the marinade that I was planning for the chicken: yogurt, lemon juice, paprika, garlic, jalapeños, cumin, salt, ginger, coriander. Mid-afternoon, the thawed chicken thighs and marinade went into a gallon-size resealable bag and into the refrigerator. I thought about the woman from whom we bought the chicken. Like me, she was a middle-aged white woman. Not like me, she raised chickens, let them run in a pasture in the sunshine. She had calloused hands, gray hair, smile wrinkles around her eyes. I wondered what a life spent raising chickens would feel like.

Next came the salad prep. I washed, peeled, seeded, and sliced a couple of long narrow cucumbers and thought about the farmer who sold them. He made me think of a skinny Jerry Garcia and was delighted that I chose his cukes. He seemed to have been a small-scale farmer for a long time, from before it became popular with hipsters and foodies to buy fresh food at weekend farmers’ markets. Mick, who was standing behind me when I bought the cucumbers, could not walk away from that particular farm stand without buying some sweet corn from the other guy who was working there. He, too, had that old hippie happy-to-be-here demeanor; he beamed at everyone to whom he handed a bag of corn.

When I reached for the red onions that were going in the salad with the cucumbers, I thought about that farmer, too. She was a young Hmong woman whose family’s produce included many varieties of onions and peppers and herbs. I wondered if she actually tended those plants or if her parents and grandparents were the ones who worked the agrarian magic. She was quiet and kind as we completed our transaction. I finished slicing the red onions and tossed them together with the cucumbers. At dinner time, I would dress them with a mixture of rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh grated ginger, and black pepper, and then toss toasted sesame seeds into the salad.




At the beginning of the evening, our friends arrived for Sunday supper. We put the spice-infused chicken on the grill, cooked some basmati rice, cracked open a few beers. Outside in the waning light, we caught up with each other. Smoke rose from the grill and we could hear the occasional sizzle as the chicken cooked. When the food was ready and we gathered around the table, I kept thinking about all the people truly involved in this meal from the farmers and their helpers to the people who organize the farmers’ market to us, who planned and cooked this meal with what was available. And I felt so grateful that this is what my life looks like: healthy food, a table to hold it, and people with whom to share it.

After dinner, we had a fire outside. We sat around, roasted marshmallows, had a sip of whiskey. The warmth of the evening was not from the weather; it was the food, the fire, the whiskey, and the friendship. It was the perfect Sunday late-summer kind of night.