Interview with Gloria Mindock, Author of Whiteness of Bone: Poetry as Witness

In this space, usually reserved for issues of refugees in Sicily , I tackle a  twin topic: that of organized killing and slaughter worldwide in repressive countries with brutal regimes.  Poet, Writer and Activist Gloria Mindock answers some of my questions about her latest collection of poems, The Whiteness of Bone, which focuses on systematic killing as a worldwide  modern scourge.  Not coincidentally, brutal regimes and all that goes with them are often just one of the reasons people flee their country of origin, their home. Her newest poetry collection, The Whiteness of Bone, tackles this subject matter.


MR:Your collection of poems, Blood Soaked Dresses stunned me with its stark portrayals of how banal evil really is. It reminded me so much of Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between us. In that collection you focused on the legacy of violence, oppression, terror and death in El Salvador. In the Whiteness of Bone you cast your net wider and speak of human tragedies in the world at large. Tell me a bit about how this collection came to be, and what your preoccupations were when you were writing these poems.


GM:After Blood Soaked Dresses was published, I continued to write about the atrocities. The slaughter of the innocents was happening in so many countries. I knew I had to continue to be a voice for those who could not speak. I felt the world was silent and ignoring what was going on. I was not about to ignore it, so I kept writing about it. Finally, I had enough poems that I felt good about and put them into a manuscript, Whiteness of Bone. I am so excited and honored that Glass Lyre Press published this work.


MR:Andrey Gritsman, so astutely called the poems in this collection “a long weapon piercing human conscience.” In fact, once one reads these poems, it would be difficult if not impossible to perceive what is going on in the world at a distance, since the human essence is so very vivid: you do not hold the reader at arms length—in fact, you are speaking directly to the reader when you write, in the poem “Don’t”

Don’t tell me my writing is too graphic

for you as you sit in your nice apartment,

enjoying the day, sleeping peacefully at night.

You can do this, they can’t.

MR:Who are your readers? What effect do you think or hope these poems have on awareness of political, military and social violence in the world? 

GM:Besides friends and others in the writing community, I am hoping I can reach those that feel like I do and want to wake up the world to these killings. Some people have said to me that it is difficult to read some of my poetry at times. It should be. This means I am doing my job as a writer, as an activist. Right now, the world is falling a part and it is over greed, money, power, religion, oil, land etc… I am hoping people will read more on what is happening and get involved. Voices need to be heard. The slaughter has to stop.


MR:Your prose poem “Random Thoughts About a Boy” touched me deeply. What came to mind was the little Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, found face down on a beach while trying to flee his war torn country. That was a graphic and gut wrenching visual provided to us by worldwide news, the image of which I will never forget. What you do with words here, is also so evocative, one can imagine children everywhere who are either lose their lives’ or who take the lives of others, as is the case with children being conscripted into war. If killing is learned, how can it be unlearned?

GM:Killing is learned and it can be changed, starting with the adults and parents not teaching their children to hate by watching what comes out of their mouths and demonstrating the actions of peace and caring for others. Change can happen if responsibility is taken.  For some people, it is rooted from one generation to another. People have to be willing to change, work at it to stop the cycle. Strapping bombs on children, or giving them a gun and teaching them to shoot is , clearly, not the answer.


MR:In your poem “Shrapnel” hope feels lost. You write: No matter how hard we try, we can’t attach ourselves back to solace. then further, you write: The vine stays, the debris adds up, and the angel laughs— truthfully, as fine a line as I have ever read. So fine, in fact, I copied that line into my journal. while so much poetry has an ineffable quality, explain to me, if indeed you can, what you mean by that line. Do you really believe there is no longer a place or room for solace.

GM:The line means the vine to heaven stays but the debris of the killings adds up. No one is going to climb the vine but it is there if you do. The angel laughs because no one climbs it. She is cynical and feels there is no hope for this world. I feel the same way lately because the slaughter is getting worse. Evil is getting worse. Again, the world stands by and does nothing to put a stop to it. I believe in comforting and helping the innocents in these countries but I can’t do this alone. I feel alone in this calling at times so where is the solace? There are a few out there speaking up like I do but not enough. I will never lose hope and my love for mankind but I am human. I want to shake the world up and put a stop to all this killing. If enough people say stop, I believe it all can change.

MR:You do not shy away from the graphic, which is just one of the things that give your poems their great power. In Maria’s Uncle, Maria holds her uncles guts in her hands, then tries to push them back in. Her lips actually touch them. Such a stark and stomach churning image, but it is the last two stanzas that move me the most:

Now Maria travels the world, speaking about the dead, telling the

world it is hopeless, that no one is capable of a quiet tongue. 

With outstretched hands, she handed everyone a flower, said:

you must water it to live, but if not, the depths of hell will assign you a seat.

This poem both expresses despair that is unending and then hope. Is Maria a composite or a real person? Are you expressing here the stubborn hope in the face of unspeakable tragedy? 

GM:Maria is a real person who fled El Salvador in the 1980’s. She escaped at age nine. She laid in a pit by her mother who was dead and faked her death so she would not get shot. The trauma and PTSD this young girl suffered was heart breaking. I had a translator when speaking with her. In the book is a poem called “Maria” which I wrote for her. I have no idea what happened to her but hopefully, she still is alive and living here in the United States.

I decided to use Maria in many of my poems and made her into a saint- like figure. To show everyone, that there is always hope in this world.


MR:We can only imagine some of the locations of the poems that you write about, since you are not explicit and do not name names of the countries. As a poet, this appeals to me greatly—because while each tragedy is unique in its own way, oftern the effects, the loss of life and other horrific vagaries of war are the same. Was this lack of specification intentional on your part? If so, why?

GM:  I did not name the countries because there are so many of them. There are only so many ways to kill a human and so many countries slaughter in the same way. How many different ways can you use a machete, shoot a person, rape, chop up, and torture? It all is horrific. I don’t need to name the countries because it is everywhere. This world is becoming a cruel place. Towards the end of the book, I do mention a few countries.

MR:The last poem in the book “Orchestra” brings it all home to me. You give the reader something of yourself, which is brilliant:

I don’t think you understand who I am—

Bohemian girl, who never sleeps…

Can I speak to you about my poetry?

Listen, you will hear new words

coming from my voice.

MR:Who is Gloria, the writer, the poet, the activist?

GM:I am someone who believes in helping others, speaking up;  being a voice for others.

I am a protestor, a warm-hearted person who cares about the world and how people treat each other. I will never understand all the mass killings.

I write on many different subjects and write poetry, plays, and flash fiction. Not all of my work is about the atrocities.

One of my biggest gripes is  that many people don’t care about what is happening in the world because it does not directly affect them. These are the people I am trying to reach, to wake up. I want people to say “enough”.

I have always helped people in so many ways. I work in addictions and have for close to 36years. It is not easy some day working with people who are suffering and addicted to drugs,  but I love it—it is very rewarding.

MR:You are so active and present on the poetry scene both in the US and abroad. Your press Červená Barva Press has published poetry from writers the world over. What is the philosophy behind the press?

GM:Červená Barva’s mission is to publish poetry, fiction, plays, and translations from all over the world. The press tries to bridge gaps between countries. To name a few, we have published writers from: New Zealand, Australia, Poland, Northern Iraq, Canada, Romania, Asia, South Korea, Czech Republic, England, Argentina, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, and many more.

I have more countries to reach. We have so much to learn from what is written in other countries. Failure to read work from other countries make a person’s view rather  narrow You will never grow as a person or writer if you don’t expand your view. Translations were once difficult to find , but more presses are publishing translations. This makes me really happy.

Oh my, I have so many influences–here are  just some of them: Neruda, Agosin, Allegra, Milosz, Amichai, Hikmet, Celan, Vallejo, Dugan, Radnoti, Alberti, Zagajewski, Lorca, Herbert, and really a ton more, mostly foreign.. These are the writers I read over and over again.

MR:What would you like people to know about the power of poetry as witness?

GM:The poetry of witness can make you aware, not let you feel alone, can help action to proceed, can make people think, cry, and is so  powerful. It  grabs at your heart.


MR: Well said. Thank you , Gloria!


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Carpe Noctem Interview with Michelle Reale: Birds of Sicily

Very grateful to poet extraordinaire Nicole Rollender for proving a platform on her blog for me to talk about my collection Birds of Sicily!




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Still Opposing Refugees the Right to Safety and Peace? Better Check Yourself…

…because up close and personal, THIS is the reality, this is the face, (one of many) of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.   Still oppose refugees right to cross borders ?  If you can ,. you are cold , hard and shiny plastic ,for sure. And I hope your society, and your country never burns under your feet.  What a way to come into the world, right?  This infant boy and his twin brother , along with their mother braved a 3o hour, arduous journey, some of it in the pitch black of night, for a safe shore.  Fifteen rubber boats (unbelievably) and one made of wood were rescued in the Mediterranean.  Thousands were rescued.

Compassion is in play here, thankfully, but the naysayers, the bigots and the ill-informed cannot be far behind. The harsh truth is that the 30 hour  journey, treacherous as it was, will not be the end of a life full of instability, fear, and an intense longing for a land and a home that, for all intents and purposes no longer exists.  The refugee escapes one set of unbearable circumstances for another.  But , at the very least, the ground is no longer burning under their feet.

The face of this tiny infant , a mere 5 days old, and others like him will haunt me.


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The Blogger Has a Website…Finally!

We write to be read and to connect…

…So, I went ahead and made myself a website!

All aspects of my writing are presented at:

In addition to this blog, I hope that you will also keep up with me there, too!


Bird on finger

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Times of Sicily podcast review of Birds of Sicily: poems.

Mark Spano had reviewed my collection Birds of Sicily in podcast format for the Times of Sicily.  I am grateful for his sensitive reading and his deep  understanding of these poems that seek to explicate the immigrant experience.




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Keep the Focus on Refugees, Please.


People are priorities.



Harumbe and refugees

Cristina Mazzoni and Michelle Reale: Birds of Sicily in Art and Spoken Word

With heartfelt thanks to my friend and amazing artist Cristina Mazzoni (MCM arts), here are her wonderful watercolors of a variety of birds found in Sicily as the backdrop for my reading of Birds of Sicily, the title poem from my collection of the same name.

I love when collaboration takes place like this so effortlessly.  Every single day I look forward to Cristina’s amazing artwork, often representations of the natural world, paired with exquisite poetry from all of the poetic giants the world over. When she approached me about the idea for this little “movie” I felt so honored—she is such a huge talent and I am humbled.  Her birds are so real in their rendering, so soulful and free.

My collection of poems, Birds of Sicily uses the metaphor of migratory and birds of flight to tell, in poems, the story of a man, my grandfather who fled Sicily and feared vendetta for his entire life.

If I juxtapose this with the refugees of today, I can see even in flight one is not free.  It is hard to shake the chains of hatred, resentment and displacement, often what they find in most of the places in which they land.

Birds , to a certain extent can be free, because they have wings that can lift, propel and keep them in flight.  But they are also caged, hunted and susceptible to many things that can harm them when they are out of their habitat.

In that way, humans — refugees, are like birds, too. Under great duress they flee for better , higher ground, but can never really know, ahead of time, what they will find

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Lego Migrants: A chance to teach compassion in the wake of a humanitarian crisis.

“Children are like wet cement whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
  — Haim Ginott, Child psychologist


“Lego Migrants” Alberto Tanasi

As surprising as it sounds, I have never given any deep thought to how children living in Sicily (and of course, other places) are attempting to grasp the migrant/refugee crisis, a crises of such epic proportions that  parents, teachers and others must surely be in frequent conversation on the topic.    Of course they must be influenced by the many vivid images on  television news and print media.   In fact, a child in Sicily is likely to see and encounter the very people who are the ground zero victims of the humanitarian crisis.    What are these children  to make of it?  How do they process what they see and what they hear?  And because of the natural law of growing up, they will not be small forever.   How we talk to them of and about the crisis matters. It matters what they hear.  A perfect time to ground them in compassion and caring. To bring them out of themselves enough to be aware of the things going on around them.  Too young?  They already “know”.  And what they “know” will need to be nuanced and mediated.


On a popular Italian-American site the other day, readers were responding to an article about how some refugees had been assigned a chef to cook for them.  Since I have encountered many refugees in Sicily, I can attest to the fact that the food they are given is not only unpalatable to them, but is given in small amounts. Pasta is the staple dish and their bodies are not used to the starch , nor the lack of calories.   Food is incredibly important to our well-being, and the food of where we come from can often be the only comfort we have if we need to travel far from home—if in fact, we are fortunate enough to be able to shop and cook for ourselves.  The comments on the site lacked an understanding and compassion of the migrants and refugees so much so that the sentiments expressed bordered on fascism.  Cruel and horrific.  “If they don’t like the food, why don’t they just swim back to where they came from!”  Most all others cruelly  missed the point entirely: “What?! They don’t like Italian food? It’s the best cuisine in the world!”  

These thoughts predominate a lot of talk about migrants and refugees.  This generation is listening. How we mediate and explain,with intelligence and compassion,  will influence how this crisis of epic proportions will be handled in the future, by the very children who are now watching in unfold in ways both dramatic and chaotic.

My friend Davide’s son, quite poignantly, filled a little Lego boat with Lego migrants.  One wonders what he was thinking when he made it.  But, he did in fact make it.  He’s just a  little boy in Sicily.  With the crisis unfolding all around him.



Birds of Sicily: poems that explicate the immigration experience

I guai della pigniata sabe sol’ o cucchiao

(The troubles deep in the pot are known only by the spoon—Sicilian proverb)




This collection explicates the cycle of immigration of a man who fled Sicily and feared vendetta for his entire life.  The rough terrain of Sicily, both literally and figuratively figures prominently. The vagaries of displacement, adjustment, abandonment and the politics of place , juxtaposed with the migratory patterns of birds can be found in these poems.   It is a timeless issue in a world that is ever on the move.



 Bird the island with the naked eye and you come upon the rare, the accidental, the vulnerable, the extirpated.  The island didn’t give them anything then.  Beaks, sharp as the points of knives, strike before being struck.  It is our way, they might say. By mountain, by sea.

 O mare, O mare!

 Nature has a passion for erasure, subjugation, for keeping the powerful unbowed.  For survival, while feeding yourself with one hand, you deny your mother’s love, look askance at your father’s sad smile, with a fierce, but quiet disdain.   There now, do not worry.  Walk the sun baked estate with impunity.

Thank you for your support!



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The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others

Albert Schweitzer

If one pays close attention, the traveller or more specifically the tourist in Sicily will see “need” at every turn.  The evidence of poverty , homelessness  and the displacement of refugees to those enjoying a  vacation  is an “inconvenient truth” , with most people choosing , whether consciously or subconsciously , to ignore what, in reality, cannot and should not be denied.

homeless in Sicily

I am not much of a tourist. In fact, I never have been. The place where I love to dwell, literally and figuratively, is in everyday life.   I have a friend that used to joke that I was a true member of the often-castigated “hoi polloi”. I am proud of that. In general, I am not interested in seeing whatever is in a guidebook and I am quite certain that no matter where I have found myself in the world, I have missed things that are deemed by the venerable guide books (that people clutch like the Bible) a “must see.” Honestly, I have never really cared about such things.

For the past 4 years I have been lucky enough to lead my students to Sicily each March, which is the travel component of my class, “This Sea is Not My Home: Immigration, Migration and Social Justice in the Sicilian Context.” As you can glean from the title, what started out as class that on the vagaries of immigration, migration and refugees, has slowly morphed into examining the realities of not only migration as a worldwide movement and phenomenon, but, perhaps more importantly, the lives’ of refugees themselves. The people, not just the geopolitical situation.  


I have staunchly defended (and still do) the rights of people to migrate from one place to another, most particularly for reasons  that people seek asylum. I could also reason the cruel irony of how protected merchandise is and how easy it is to cross borders ($$$$$) though masses of people are seen as a scourge. I have had to listen to Sicilians and Sicilian-Americans, often with fingers in my face trying to tell me how bad the situation is for Sicilians in their own country. I sympathized—how could I not— but my particular focus was on refugees into the country, not those suffering from a decimated economy resulting in an  unemployment rate so high , the first time I was told what it was, I though I had misheard. But, in fact, I would have to be cold, hard, shiny plastic not to care. ,

I care

Last week my students and I helped out at a Catholic Relief Agency one evening. The students were tasked to shop during the day for the food in the open market. On the menu was fruit salad, green salad and chicken stew. We washed and chopped and the wonderful men and women at the agency did the actual cooking. But my students and I portioned the food out. And we served. We served a hungry, possibly homeless (at least some of them) and grateful bunch of people. Among a group of perhaps 45 there was a family with two young boys. There were approximately 4 refugees that I could easily identify. The others were Sicilian.

To think of them now ties my heart up in knots.   I have listened to, read and discussed the situation in Sicily with people I deeply trust there: friends, advocates, cultural mediators and educators, all on the front lines , involved and passionate.   I have come to the conclusion that at least one of the reasons that  many are opposed to the  influx and presence of the refugees is that many  themselves are also suffering—and they perceive (not accurately) that their jobs, or at least the possibility of employment will be taken from them.   How can you possibly convince those with that mindset otherwise? It is hard to be compassionate in the face of your own fear and suffering.

What I know is that in that room when the bell was struck for the Our Father before the eating of the meal, everyone in the room stood and there was utter silence. There was respect, too, that everyone in the room had for one another: young, old, black, white, immigrant and refugee.  In that moment, everyone was connected somehow, and our differences did not matter.


With each plate I set before someone who was waiting to eat,  I said “buon appetito”. Every single person responded, warmly, with a smile and a “grazie.” This is not to fetishize those in need—far from it, but I see poverty of every kind as a sort of equalizer—it reduces us to the essence of our humanity—and it elevates us too, when we lend a hand, in any way, to help alleviate it.

When we passed out the fruit cups, the two young boys very carefully enunciated “thank you” to me in English.   I replied in kind. The mother looked up at me and asked, in a bit of an embarrassed way, if I could maybe find a cup of fruit with more oranges.   “The boys really love oranges,” she said


The reality of having to bring your children to a social service agency in order to feed them, hit me in a very vulnerable place. While intellectually, I know this a sad, but common occurrence, I’d never faced it so up close.  It felt personal  Most people who will read this blog post will be very far from such an experience.  I looked at those kids and I felt my face flush.  Time seemed to stop for just a moment.

I will continue to seek and narrate the voices of refugees in Sicily—I am committed to this work. Sicily is , a complicated but wonderful place, and  my eyes are now more open to the need everywhere. It is not like taking sides: refugees need very particular help, being such a vulnerable and at risk population. The homeless , poverty stricken , the addicted, the forgotten,  need help and compassion, too. Compassion for everyone can go a long way.

At the end of the evening, one man came up to my students and jovially observed , “You can’t understand me and I can’t understand you, but yet, here we are together!”

After all, hunger in the belly hurts us all in exactly the same way.


Silhouette of stick people on hillside and sunset in background

Hunger in the Belly Feels the Same to Us All: Feeding the Needy in Sicily

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