to George Floyd

I took these photos on Easter Sunday, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since —

For many, Easter came today.

Easter Message 2021 Times Beach, Buffalo, NY #1

Easter Message 2021 Times Beach, Buffalo, NY #2

Easter Message 2021 Times Beach, Buffalo, NY #3
Easter Message 2021 Times Beach, Buffalo, NY #4
Easter Message 2021 Times Beach, Buffalo, NY #5
Easter Message 2021 Times Beach, Buffalo, NY #6

With gratitude to the anonymous rock painter who decided to leave this message on Easter Day. Times Beach area, and Wilkeson Point.

To say . . .

To say . . .

To say I miss you

        is not enough.

To say I’m lonely

        even when I’m not alone

         comes nowhere near

the way I feel. To say

         this room is not big enough

          to hold my pain

misrepresents space and containment.

There is more life to live,  I know that:

                  Life in another hue, without you, is vast and empty.

                  Like a desert,

                  It demands that I must be

Very attentive


Signs of


(Written two months after losing my 92 year old mother, who I could not be with at the end, because of COVID)

by: Mary Louise Hill (3/10/2021) photo by Phil Nicolai, taken the morning of 3/10/2021 in Buffalo, NY                                               


There are so many deaths going on now. Fast,

and furious. Great people are leaving us.

Seminal people are leaving us.

We are at a cusp,

and we’re being challenged to learn from this.

With every parting,

we’re being challenged to be accountable.


Imagine: the album written for late 2020

In honor of John Lennon’s 80th birthday, I listened to the album Imagine in its entirety. I remember when I bought a first issue edition, when I was 13. I adored this album, and listened to it, night and day.

Listening to it today inspired me to resurrect my blog, if only to say:

Listen to John Lennon’s Imagine today. The whole thing. Listen to it honestly, openly. My guess is that, no matter which political camp you live in, you will hear meaning in it. Especially as we approach November 3 in the United States. And in the two months afterwards. That could be heaven, or it could be hell.

Listen to John Lennon’s Imagine today. It has something to say to each of us.

Ode to the USPS

As Rachel Maddow and others have pointed out, the Post Office is so integral to the fabric of Democratic life that there is a line about it in the Constitution. What do people rely on the Post Office and Postal Services for. Hmmm. . . Let’s see:

1. Mail, of course. I know a few people, myself included, who still write letters and send cards. I’m telling you, it’s a lovely thing to find in your pile of junk mail: a card from your cousin, a letter from an old friend. If we really took the time to use the Post Office, we could tell people we haven’t seen since February that we’re thinking of them for just a few dollars. We could mail cards to shut ins. I have several elderly relatives in nursing facilities, and I know from my Mom’s experience that getting a card from a family member or old friend can be a highlight to their day.

Sure, there’s junk mail, but I get a heck of a lot of junk mail in my email and on Facebook. And I have blanket policy about it: I glance at it quickly, in case it’s actually offering something I need, but mostly I throw it out.

2. Bills. Some people, particularly the elderly and folks who don’t have easy, safe internet access, still get their bills through the mail. And then they mail the checks in to those that they owe. That trip to the Post Office to mail the payments may also fulfill other purposes too. Slow down the mail, those payments all become past due, and the diligent folks who dropped them in one of those remaining postal boxes gets charged late fees. Guess who benefits from that? Not you and me, friend. Big business does.

3. Tax Forms. Yes, although they made them available electronically, my College has also been sending their W2s out by mail, too, just to make sure we got them. I’ll bet many other companies still do that too. After all, companies still are legally required to do get those necessary tax forms to their employees by the end of January. Right? That deadline exists so we can pay our taxes, which some people still do by mail. Maybe getting rid of the Post Office, or crippling its functions, is a cloaked message that we don’t have to pay taxes anymore!

4. Prescriptions. Until she went into Memory Care, my mother received many of her prescriptions through the mail. Her insurance company required that she use that particular pharmaceutical service. If she used her local pharmacy, she was charged more.

5. Package Delivery.

6. Some people pay bills, including credit cards and utilities, at the Post Office. This is particularly true in rural areas.

7. Some people get money orders at the Post Office, so they can pay those bills, pay rent, or do any number of other transactions that won’t accept cash.

8. Passports: for my last passport, I got it all done, including the photo, at the Hertel Avenue Post Office in Buffalo.

9. Reasonably priced express shipping and tracking, both domestic and international.

10. Post Office boxes. We got a PO Box for my Mom after we sold her home, because we needed a safe, secure place to receive her mail.

11. Voting: I have, in some of the cities I’ve lived in, found voting registration materials at the Post Office, in the same place where they had Tax Forms. And of course, for those of us who need to get and submit absentee ballots, the Post Office is a necessary player. I have used absentee ballots, mostly when I lived overseas. My mother has used absentee ballots, too, as a shut-in. There’s nothing underhanded about them: they have always existed as a way to give each American citizen their Constitutional Right to vote.

My late former husband Bill (whose birthday is today – happy birthday, Bill!) was born in Manchester, England. Bill traveled all over the world, and sent post cards and packages from all over the world. He saw many postal systems, and he always said that the United States Post Office was the very best. Since I was with him most of the time, and I also lived abroad, I agree with him. The U.S. Post Office has always been efficient and user friendly. If Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Friends have their way with the Post Office in their ongoing attack on Democratic institutions, the United States ship of state will take a hit to the bow, and it may be a fatal one. I can’t hope but notice, too, when I list all of the services the Post Office provides, the folks who will suffer the most are the poor, the rural, and the elderly.

As Rachel Maddow says, we have the power to stop this. MAKE NOISE FRIENDS!! It is your Constitutional right to vote, not to mention to have a free, accessible postal service.

To all my fellow academics and students in Buffalo, New York

I’ve been a full-time academic in Buffalo, New York since 2005.  That’s when I joined Medaille College in a tenure-track position in English. The first 10 years of my academic life here, I went to Kleinhans Music Hall maybe three or four times a year. Maybe only once.  Always at least once.  The most important trip to Kleinhans, when you’re an academic in Buffalo, New York, is the one that comes around this time of the year: the graduation ceremonies.

Five years or six years ago, I moved into the Kleinhans neighborhood, so now a walk around Symphony Circle is a daily occurrence.  I go to concerts and events here more often now. When I’m working, I drive by this place at least twice every day. Still, that graduation day remains a unique and special experience of Kleinhans.

When I was out on my COVID constitutional today, part of my route went by Kleinhans. When I got to that block of Porter Avenue, I had a flashback to all those graduations. The nagging excitement, and the aggravation of it all.  It’s a rule: graduations in Buffalo must always be on the first beautiful Saturday of the year when I had absolutely no grading or class planning to do, and here I would be, having to spend the entire day watching students go absolutely insane.  So, I would always wait until the last minute, even though that meant the parking and traffic was abysmal.  Goddamn those narrow streets! Who planned these roads?  What’s the big deal with this traffic circle?  All of that aggravation, plus the tedium of it all.  I mean seriously: it’s a beautiful thing for the students, but faculty are generally an ornament.  We play games on our phones, read magazines inside our programs, take votes on which of our students is wearing the best shoes, count the number of Honors students, listen to the mistaken pronunciation of students’ names, anticipate the announcement of which faculty member would receive the coveted Brian Shero Award.  I won it once.  That was the year I actually didn’t make it to the graduation. I was in Spain.  The president of the College made an excuse for me: “she’s doing research abroad.”

Oh, there’s refreshments.  Groups of faculty always go to Allen Street during the two hour break between the Graduate Student ceremony and the Undergraduate Ceremony.  Most of us are pleasantly buzzed by the time of the insanity of that second event.  And the cookies afterwards.

Yeah, it’s just cookies, but traditionally, this has been my time to shake my students’ hands, give hugs, or just nods across the room, to say “congratulations” and wish a beautiful life.  It’s always so anticlimactic. Still, I’m always so grateful to have been there, for that event, not to mention for those four years of each students’ lives.  During those four years, I often witness the transformation from kid to adult.  It’s an awesome responsibility and an honor to be a college professor.  Especially at a small urban college, where my students are so diverse.  So many are first generation college students.  Just making it to Kleinhans probably seemed an impossibility for most of them when they first started. So when they saunter across that stage, and their parents are screaming, and they stop in the middle and do a jig, well, I applaud them.  Or when they rush across in sensible flats, shyly shake a couple hands, then hurry down the steps.  I applaud them.  Or when they’re wearing their best Sunday clothes, walking tall, feeling proud.  I applaud them. It’s an amazing sight to behold.

So today I was walking by Kleinhans.  And when I had this flashback. I started filming what I saw as I walked.  Today is so typical of the day I’d be required to be at Kleinhans.  But it’s pretty deserted.  You’ll notice there’s a group of kids meeting in the parking lot, in a perfectly spaced, socially distant circle.  They’ve been there every day this past week.  The other day, I saw a young woman, standing all alone in front of the building, dressed in her graduation gown. It blew in the wind as she took a selfie in front of Kleinhans.  I applauded from the sidewalk, but she didn’t see me.  She got in her car and drove away.

You’ll notice too that that Tai Chi place is for sale. And that community garden that is supposed to be Shakespeare’s Garden is awaiting someone to obsess over making sure all its blooms are Elizabethan.  It was beautiful a couple years ago.  Last year, not so much so.

I dedicate this to all of my colleagues, and to all of the students whose lives have been part of mine, in one way or another.


“I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.”  (Mike Pence, on why he didn’t wear a mask to the Mao Clinic.)

That’s me, walking down Summer

Street, headed for Richmond

Street, dressed for a pandemic,

only my eyes to see and be seen:

61 year old white woman eyes.

It’s one of those almost-Spring days, trees

Daring to blossom, sky clear blue,

Bright, but chilly enough to warrant

This coat, this hood, these gloves. The streets

Empty and wide, I feel like an explorer in a new land,

Pandemic land, where viruses can lurk anywhere,

even on daffodil petals.

Barely a block to go and I see

him, having just turned or crossed;

nevertheless, he’s bearing down

on me.  Hands deep in pockets, mask

high, just inches from his hood.

Only eyes to see and be seen:

30 – 40 year old black man eyes.

I recognize a fearful voice, mumbling

in the back of my head:

It’s time to cross, it says, though to cross

the road will take me out

of my way.  I resist it.  I maintain my course.

He’s about my height.  Not quite

as spare.  His mask is black, and

mine is white. As we approach each other

I recognize fear. Fear in his eyes.  Fear of

me. Fear of all the things he thinks I see

when I see a man who looks like him.

Fear of all the things he knows

a woman who looks like me has the power to do.


The things he fears frighten me, too; they repulse me.  I want to smile and say hello.


I summon up a smile, will it into my eyes

and face him, for those seconds it takes me

to pass him.  All I can see is his anxiety,

diminishing.  His eyes grow calm,

his shoulders slack, we share

a nod of gratitude, even

companionship, and then

we both continue on our way.




baba yaga’s journal april 23, 2020: the practice apocalypse

Every citizen of America, every citizen of the world, has one thing in common right now: We’re all watching, eyes wide open, as a major historical moment occurs. Yeah, we’re witnessing at least a paragraph in the future history books. It might even be a chapter.

Not only that, we’re being asked  to participate in this historical event.

As it looks right now, the monumental experience we’re going through is akin to the downfall of humanity.

Let’s examine that a little more closely – this historical moment reminds me an awful lot of a famous, historically predicted, future moment. To be specific: we’re going through something right now that is pretty similar to an apocalypse.  But we all know the world isn’t really going to end, so let’s think of it as a trial run for the real thing.  We’re being given the opportunity to practice that Biblical end-time, that meeting with our maker, that self-reckoning.  The question is: will we survive our little practice run?

Our Situation: There are two evil forces running amuck on our planet right now. Meanwhile, most of the world’s citizens are in isolation, and have minimal power to act against the evil forces among us.

Our choice is monumental: it’s a choice of the lesser evil.

On one side, we have the evil pandemic. COVID 19. One evil mutant: COVID’s as mutable as the Joker, as egalitarian as the Pope. Ultimately, we all deserve to die of COVID 19, and this mutant disease is leaving it up to us to choose if we die this way or not.

If we’re wise, and we feel it’s not quite time to die, we’ll work collectively. Otherwise, every trip to the get more popcorn and yeast will be a game of Russian roulette.

Meanwhile the other evil raging in the U.S. of A.  is our current administration: this collection of mostly men who are showing us what they are capable of doing.  They’re also showing us that they are willing to do it NOW, while we’re all stuck indoors, hiding from this random death squad that marches through our streets.

Essentially, it’s now the responsibility of each U. S. citizen to make a major decision.

As in all apocalyptic ventures, the choices are limited, and neither is totally appealing. The best choice is the one that allows you to be your best self, knowing that your best self is going to be flawed.  That’s part of the reckoning.  When the whole thing is over, will you be able to face your Maker, or even just yourself in the mirror, and say you did the thing you felt was most right, given the situation?

To do that, one must choose to respect the power of one of these evils, while saying “no” loud and clear to the other.

So, as I approach this practice apocalypse, I see  two options:

1.Stay inside now. Recognize that COVID is awesome and destructive, but also malleable.  It is the evil we can learn to live with, while the other only seeks to take away our liberty and even our lives.  If you believe this, listen to our governors and world leaders. Opting for Option 1 requires civic responsibility.  In fact, it embodies civic responsibility.  We’re staying inside for the greater community’s physical health.  That’s why staying inside also means making sure you are registered to vote, now. (The representatives of Option 2 will do everything they can to block your registration, but anyone staying inside MUST register to vote, soon.  Don’t wait.)  Then on Election Day, the Option One people will go out, as early as possible.  Masked and Socially Distant, Option One folks are asked to vote collectively to save this nation.  Though we may not be crazy about him, Biden comes closest to representing the principles this nation was founded on.  And his VP will be a woman.




2. Go out now. Choose MAGA; choose Trump.  Defy COVID. Picket. Demand all states be opened up for business. Save capitalism and the American way of life. Die for capitalism and the American way of life . . . One might argue, this shows civic responsibility, too, and it probably does, if you choose to privilege fiscal health over physical health. So, Option Two folks, vote for four more years of MAGA.  Hell, even though it seems inconsistent with the rest of this option, vote for Bernie. I love Bernie, but do you know what?  If you vote for him, there’s a damned good possibility that MAGA will win. Which means you have opted for Option Two.

Of course, there’s the “don’t choose” option, also known as the “don’t give a damn” or DGD option, which means you go spend your days wandering around Home Depot, thinking about the pergola you want to build but you know you’ll never get around to.  Sometimes you stay home and watch Netflix.  The DGD option also doesn’t require voting. If you think of voting on Election Day, you might do it, if the lines aren’t too long.  You also can decide on that day who you’re voting for, it’s a crapshoot after all, isn’t it?  And then you just accept whatever happens. It doesn’t impact your complacency one way or the other, after all.

But hey, guess what?  To take the DGD option on this dry-run may very well impact your complacency.  Seriously.  Apocolyptically. What if it’s not just a dry run? Get ready for that.



Keep playing along with me: One feature of being an eyewitness to apocalypse or any potential life-threatening event is that people go into shock.  And shock produces fatigue, even an inability to respond as one would like.  So, as we face this major decision, we must also maneuver our reaction to shock.

For many of us, we are watching in horror, with eyes wide open and unable to act.  Our limbs won’t move. We can barely press the buttons on the remote control. We sit in horror and watch the news unfold.

For some of us, we feel frozen now, but we’re beginning to practice taking action. We’ll ultimately do what we need to do when it’s the right time.

And some of us turn away. We can’t look, even though we recognize this terrible thing for what it is.  We watch old Seinfeld reruns.  Or the Lucy show, and all is as it should be.

And some of us recognize what this thing is, but lie to ourselves and others about it, because we just can’t believe such an insane thing could happen.  I mean really, would the president really take away all our civil liberties? Would he take away our retirement?  (It’s hard to believe this, but you’d better, because he would and he will. He’s already told us he will.)

And then there are those of us who don’t give a damn.  Who would love to see America burn. Those who defy the authorities requiring us to stay home.  Those who still believe the man occupying the White House is “one of them.” And in many ways, they are like the man in the White House. In one way they aren’t: he has a fuck-load of money, and they don’t.  And he has the power to take what little they are owed away from them.


Where you fall in these classifications is unclear to me. Even where I fall is unclear.  What matters, ultimately, is how we choose, when the final reckoning comes our way.

What matters is that we can say we did the best we could when we finally face our Maker on the final day, or simply face ourselves in the mirror, when this practice run is over.  And really, when it comes right down to it, that face that you encounter every day in the mirror is your Maker, and always will be.  Right up until the Judgement Day.



On this day, December 12, 43 years ago, my great Uncle Clem died.  I’m terrifically grateful to my Uncle Clem.

Clem, who died with the surname Doskey, was my paternal grandmother’s brother.  A sweet man, by all accounts.  He was three years younger than her, born 27 November 1896.   My grandmother always spoke of him adoringly.  I had the impression they were very close as children, and it would appear that closeness continued into their young adulthood.

My grandmother, who I knew as Harriet Hill, married Joe Hill in October of 1917. Some time after that, her beloved brother Clem met Joe’s sister Helen, and in 1922, they married.  Harriet and Joe had one son – my father.  Clem and Helen had a daughter, named Delma.  Delma was about as close to a sister as my father would ever have.

This story is a simple one to tell, for sure.  Or so it would seem.  Actually, this simple tale masks a far more complex set of relationships and lost names.

Clem was baptized Clement Dziedzikowski.  My grandmother had an equally Polish name at birth: Jadwiga Dziedzikowska.  They were two of the seven children of Jan Dziedzikowsi and Pelagia Szweda.  Berea, Ohio Census records show Jan and his family changing their names en masse, around 1900.  At that time, he simplified the last name to Doski.

This information was relatively easy for me to figure out.  Although she never told me any of this while she was alive, my grandmother left me the centennial yearbook for the church the family attended.  Both she and her sister Charlotte appear in a choir picture from the early 1900’s, and the picture is labeled with their real names.  Charlotte, notably, was originally Leokadia.

The bigger puzzle was my grandfather.  I always knew that our surname – Hill – was bogus. My mother had told me so, and she showed me a name – Golembiewski – that she had seen in an obituary once.  “The person who died was your father’s aunt on his father’s side.  So this must be your real name.”  For years, I accepted that as my true name.

Sometime during my 20’s, I wrote to St. Augustine’s Church in Cleveland, where my mother told me my grandparents married.  I asked for their marriage records.  I gave their marriage date, and the names Harriet Doskey and Joe Golembiewski.  The church wrote back to me saying that they had no one by that name getting married on that date, but they did have a Hatti Doski and Joseph Gurzinski.  I set this aside – I was in graduate school and, well, this was not the right name.

It wasn’t until about three decades later that I was introduced to Family Search and Ancestry, and I began poking around looking for my mysterious Polish ancestors.  The name Golembiewski yielded nothing.

Doski, and later Doskey, was more fruitful.  And this is where we get to my gratitude to Uncle Clem, and his wife Helen.  While my grandparents seemed set on erasing their true identity, Clem and Helen were not so inclined.  I found their marriage record. It was for Clement Dziedzikowski.  And Helen’s name – well, for the second time in my life, I encountered the name Gorzynski/Gurzenski.  Helen’s maiden name.

Within that same evening of research, I found Helen’s death certificate, and sure enough – her daughter gave Helen’s maiden name as Gorzynski.

I’d had it all along – my true family name.  But thanks to Clem and Helen, the evidence was secure.  Once I had that name, my quest to rectify our family name was nearly complete.

I would like to say Clem and Helen lived happily ever after, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case.  The were buried in different cemeteries, Helen with the Gorzynskis and Clem with the Doskeys.  They supposedly lived with their daughter when they got older, and my mother reports they didn’t seem all that happy.