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Brokedown Palace

 

                               

 

                                A book by Maggie Dubris

For 24 years, I was a 911 paramedic at St. Clare’s, a small hospital in Hell’s Kitchen. I worked during the dawn of AIDS, the influx of crack, and the most violent years the city has experienced. My hospital had the highest percentage of homeless patients in the city in the 1980s. In 1985 we established the first AIDS unit on the east coast.

Broke-Down Palace is the story of the city as seen through the lens of one poor, unsupervised institution. It begins in 1934 with the founding of the hospital by a penniless Irish nun in the depths of the Great Depression, and follows the course of its existence until 2007, when it was shut down, flipped a few times, and turned into luxury condos.

The book is structured as a series of linked poems; a memory palace. In addition to exploring the story of the hospital, I am interested in what happens to memories. What becomes a part of history, and what doesn't? If I took part in historical events, e.g. the AIDS plague, the attack on the World Trade Center, can I turn the historical narrative into one that actually reflects my experiences?

 

Maggie Dubris is the author of In The Dust Zone (Centre-Ville Books 2010), Skels (Soft Skull, 2004) and Weep Not, My Wanton (Black Sparrow Press, 2002). BrokeDown Palace is her newest work. Here's an excerpt:

 

THE MEMORY PALACE

 

My dad is losing his memories. 

He sits on the couch all afternoon 

staring at his calendar. Wishing. 

Wishing he knew what day it is 

what he was supposed to do.

Wishing he knew what yesterday held. All those hours.

They’re not on the paper. That’s the problem.

What does this big sad world have to do 

with a square on a calendar, or a number 

that has no connection with yesterday. 

Numbers. Squares. Names from mixed-up old gods. 

The poets say time is a river.

But I’m a poet. And I say time is an ocean, riddled 

with whirlpools. Salty and violent. Drowning

everything around. Then, spitting me

soaked and ragged, into the sea. 

To be drawn down again.

 

I’m trying to remember. There’s a trick

as old as the month-names. The method of Loci. 

The memory palace. I am building my palace

in a crumbling hospital called St. Clares 

on 52nd Street, Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, USA. 

Continent, North America. Planet earth. 

You need to use a building you know well.

I grew up there. 25 years. Half my life. In every room

I place a moment. Or two. Or thirty-one. It’s my palace.

Full of whirlpools. Set down on paper. 

Today. Before it’s gone.

readings

 

Here's a video of a reading I did for the Sparkle Street Social and Athletic Club series at the Howl Gallery in New York City. The series is hosted by Mike DiCapite and Ted Baron. I come on midway through the video, and read for twenty minutes.

I was recently interviewed for the Sholem's Bias Podcast by author/physician Zachary Sholem Berger. I talk about the book, read a poem from it, and talk about working 911 in the 1980s and 90s.

 

This will be a rotating series of images from my days on the ambulance at St. Clare's.