A book by Maggie Dubris
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?
The photos above were all taken in the 1980s in New York City. They show me and some of my partners having coffee on the midnight shift, goofing around with the president, treating a bloody patient with no gloves in the mid-eighties, and posing for a shot when I first got hired with the ladies of St. Clare's. We had more female medics and EMTs than any garage in the city.
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 are some excerpts:
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.
Wednesday, April 13, 6pm
Howl! Happening Gallery, 6 E. 1st St (between 1st and 2nd)
reading from BrokeDown Palace & showing videos.
Sunday, May 15, 3pm
Local Knowledge Series
Swift Hibernian Lounge, 34 E. 4th St (between 2nd and 3rd)
reading from BrokeDown Palace
more details to come!
This will be a rotating series of images from my days on the ambulance at St. Clare's.