Category Archives: Human Landscape

Is Working From Home a Feminist Issue?

I've worked in offices for small magazines, large media companies, and think tanks. So I know there's a lot about office culture that sucks: useless meetings, crackberries that ruin your precious out-of-the-office hours, and sometimes an assumption that whoever stays latest or arrives earliest is working hardest. In New York, there's competitive dressing. In DC, there are old-school dress codes, as if everyone were about to meet with a senator, any minute now! A lot of this is absurd. I'm a huge believer in flex time for office workers. There's nothing about the hours 9-7 that make them especially productive; a lot of us get more done in the evenings, or while fighting insomnia, or at sunrise. And the occasional guilt-free day of working from home is priceless: the quiet, the pajamas, the home-cooked lunch. For new parents, people with chronic health conditions, or people who serve as caretakers for sick or elderly relatives, having the ability to work from home at least some of the time can mean the difference between being able to hold down a job and being forced to quit. 

So I sympathize with those who are outraged over Marissa Mayer's decision to put the kibosh on work-from-home arrangements at Yahoo. It's insulting to employees to suggest that the only legitimate reason to stay home is "for the cable guy," and Mayer does sound like kind of a nightmare boss, counting the cars in the corporate parking lot at 5 pm. Because women tend to disproportionately handle child care and other domestic responsibilities, it is very likely that female employees will be especially affected by Yahoo's policy change. 

All that said, I'm not sure working from home is feminist nirvana.

I'm a freelance writer — a really lucky one, with a book project, an interesting editorial consulting gig, and frequent magazine assignments. I love what I do. But working from home is by far the hardest and least enjoyable part of my professional life. For one thing, it's lonely, isolating, and, at least in my case, challenging for my physical and emotional health. I often get so caught up in my indoor responsibilities that I forget to get fresh air, put on real clothing, take a walk, or talk to other human beings. At The Awl, Ken Layne pretty much nails what this can feel like. 

And here's the thing. For a woman, being stuck inside "the home" all day–a space traditionally coded as female, one that many women hold themselves to high standards to care for–can be especially stultifying. Here are some of the things I can do, in my home, when I'm supposed to be writing my book: Laundry. Emptying the dishwasher. Booking a hotel reservation for a friend's wedding. Cleaning the toilet. Shopping for and preparing a healthy, low-carb, high-protein dinner for my boyfriend and me. (This morning, I've already done several of these chores, and it's only 11 am.)

No one is forcing me to take sole responsibility for these tasks. If I don't do them when I'm "working from home," they will still get done. My boyfriend and I will split them up, or do them together. But here's the thing: It's really hard for me to be at home and ignore my domestic to-do list. I have a voice in my head telling me that until my apartment is neat, clean, and stocked with fresh food, it's perfectly okay to procrastinate on my real jobs, the ones for which I get paid: reporting, writing, and editing. After nearly three years of freelancing, I've learned that I shouldn't work from home more than one or two days per week. I now commute from Brooklyn into "the city" almost every morning, to work at the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. Yes: I voluntarily spend my days in midtown Manhattan, eat lunch at the ubiquitous Hale & Hearty Soups, and dodge tourists in the subway.

Granted, I don't have children yet. And if I'm still freelancing when I do, I know my flexible schedule will make parenthood much easier. Yet I have many freelancer female colleagues, a few years older than me, who admit that a big professional challenge is learning to turn off their mom selves and simply get to work (luckily, work they love). They are some of the people who helped me realize that even if you "work from home," you have to work outside your home often, and if that means scrimping for a babysitter, a coworking space, or a $104 monthy Metrocard, it's totally worth it, if you're privileged enough to be able to afford it. 

So here's my tentative conclusion. Flex-time is a feminist issue. Working from home full time? Maybe not so much. And here are some very definite feminist issues: Access to high-quality, affordable childcare. Paid sick leave, maternity leave, and paternity leave. Male partners who pull their weight at home. 

“Hipsturbia:” Actually Becoming Browner, Poorer, and Older

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 3.46.44 PM
map via Andrei Scheinkman and Timothy Wallace, The Huffington Post

Like a lot of other folks, I was amused by yesterday's Times style section piece proclaiming the birth of "Hipsturbia": a supposedly new cluster of affluent, creative-industry white people who have moved from Brooklyn to the lower Hudson River Valley after procreating, mostly to the suburbs of Irvington, Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, and Tarrytown. As Jess Grose (Irvington's finest) notes at Slate, upscale white families have been moving from the city to those particular towns for many, many decades. The changes are really around the margins; now those emigrants are arriving not only from Manhattan, but also from the gentrified neighborhoods of Brooklyn, which means they're bringing all the associated cultural tics with them, like foodie snobbery. (And trust me, Westchester County could use a few more interesting restaurants.)

If we look at actual data, however, we'll notice that American suburbs are not becoming hipper and younger, but are in fact becoming poorer (as young adults with economic means increasingly choose to live in cities), browner (as immigrants and African Americans are priced out of central urban neighborhoods), and grayer (as the suburban population ages). I grew up near the Times' "hipsturbia" in a gorgeous riverfront town that illustrates all these trends: Ossining, New York. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the town fathers dreamed of building commuter-friendly luxury condos to attract more Wall Street workers, while farmer's market types hoped developers would instead renovate our downtown's historic warehouses and loft spaces, to attract artists. We all argued a lot and screamed at each other, because we wanted our town to have a broader tax base and be more culturally vibrant. But very little downtown development of any sort ever happened, and the reasons why demonstrate why the Times piece is so facile. 

First, Ossining was experiencing a massive influx of immigration from rural Ecuador, along with some of the visible social challenges — such as day-laborers on the streets, and bilingualism in the public schools — associated with immigration. Second, with a socioeconomically-mixed population, a maximum-security prison, and one of Westchester County's few clusters of public housing, many affluent, white parents were never interested in moving to Ossining, because the public schools simply can't boast the stratospheric test scores that are typically a feature of more homogenous school systems.

Most of the towns mentioned in the Times story buck the grayer-browner-poorer trend exactly because they have been so uniformly affluent for so long that they are able to resist the demographic tides overtaking the majority of suburbs. They do so, in part, by deliberately excluding affordable housing. (Tarrytown is an exception, with a more diverse population. And it's a very charming town.) In other words, there is nothing remotely counter-cultural about these Brooklynites moving to these specific Westchester villages. They might wear cooler glasses, but they are following the well-trodden paths of the Baby Boomers and World War II veterans before them.

Are these denizens of "hipsturbia" among the first in a new wave of defectors to the suburbs, or are they outliers? It remains unclear. One of the big questions demographers have about Generation Y and Millenials is whether our much-noted preference for city life will persist as we age and reproduce. We don't have great numbers on this yet, but if many more families make the same choice the Times is noting–moving to heavily white suburbs–both cities and suburbs will miss a lot of opportunities to create more racially and socioeconomically-integrated communities, which are great for kids, great for schools, and (in my opinion) great for society. 

Inside My Interview with Bill Gates

Yesterday I got to meet and interview Bill Gates, along with five other writers and reporters. We sat around a conference table at a midtown Manhattan hotel. Gates, wearing a totally unassuming gray suit and sipping Diet Coke out of a glass bottle, was business like and to the point. His passion flared up a few times during the hour-long conversation. He vehemently pushed back against economist and blogger Tyler Cowen's suggestion that macroeconomic and population growth, as well as better roads and other infrastructure, could bring faster humanitarian relief to Africa than more direct health interventions like vaccinations or contraceptives, which the Gates Foundation funds. Discussing the bleak living conditions in the Central African Republic and Yemen, Gates said, "If you don't invest in health there, you're a cold-hearted bastard." In a rare personal comment, he discussed how one of his daugthers was moved by video footage of a child survivor of polio limping down a dirt road. "What did you do to help her?" she asked her dad — an insightful comment, since Gates said he feels growing concern about the survivors of once-deadly childhood diseases like malaria and polio, who often arrive at school with cognitive delays that make it difficult to learn. 

On education, I think a few of Gates' comments broke news. He hinted that his foundation may soon invest resources in alternate rankings of American colleges, saying the true metric for success in higher education should be whether a school accepts a student "with a combined SAT score of 600, and they got $100,000 jobs, and they're super happy." In response to several questions from yours truly, he also discussed standardized testing and teacher evaluation at length, particulary in non-traditional subjects such as art and music. Gates said he isn't sure if good tests can be created in the arts, and he called Florida's plan to move forward quickly with such non-traditional testing "crazy," as well as something that could create a popular backlash against education reform. 

In response to Jason Kottke, Gates briefly addressed his reputation as one of the world's most celebrated college drop-outs, and I thought his comments were interesting considering the backlash against college coming from Peter Thiel and some other Silicon Valley luminaries, who tend to imagine upper middle class kids and the Ivy League when they hear the words "higher education." First, Gates correctly pointed out that community colleges and four-year public universities make up "the heart and soul of education in America," and that those schools are currently operating under severe budget constraints, which hinder their ability to move the working poor into the middle class. Second, he said the number of successful tech entrepreneurs or programmers without a college degree is "a rounding error, that's why it's so mythic," and added that he had enjoyed college and "I'm just about as fake a drop out as you can get," since he loves lectures and left Harvard only to pursue the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to launch Microsoft.

Lastly, in response to Jacob Weisberg, Gates addressed the potential of MOOCs–massive online open courses–to transform higher education, saying such classes would not live up to their full potential unless they enroll more low-income students and provide some sort of counseling or support to guide students through completing the MOOC and ultimately attaining some sort of credential. Currently, most MOOCs are seeing drop-out rates of up to 80 percent, and are reaching a fairly privileged audience. 

Head on over to The Atlantic to read my full report.

2012: The Year in Review, Education and Beyond

Education story of the yearThe Chicago teachers' strike. American teacher unionism was founded in Chicago in the late 1890s, as female, largely Catholic elementary school teachers resisted centralization policies–standardized testing, a uniform curriculum, numeric teacher evaluations–pursued by a male, Protestant bureaucracy. So it was fitting that the loudest cry of protest against contemporary standards-and-accountability school reform emerged in the Windy City this September, as teachers resisted professional evaluation tied to student test scores, closures of neighborhood schools, and the expansion of the charter school sector. You can read my history of Chicago teacher unionism here.

The strike has had a few interesting results. First, it raised the profile of Chicago Teachers' Union leader Karen Lewis, who is a less compromising and more leftist figure than Randi Weingarten, president of the national American Federation of Teachers. Second, it brought to the public's attention the tension bewteen increasing test-score pressure on teachers and schools while cutting budgetary support for art, music, counseling, school psychologists, and the many other crucial, yet more holistic services schools provide. Third, it resulted in a compromise contract with both progressive and regressive features. More funding for social support services, especially in high-poverty schools, is a good thing. Continuing to backload teacher salaries and bonsues, though, will not make the profession more appealing to ambitious young people or career-changers. Yet it is encouraging that CTU agreed, at least in theory, to professional evaluations that include evidence of student learning. Now the devil will be in working out the details, particularly on what role standardized test scores will play, and how to evaluate teachers of currently non-tested subjects and grades, like art, music, PE, and kindergarten.

 

Magazines of the Year: Tomorrow and Jacobin.
 

Education research-finding of the year: Teachers matter, and not just for academics. A study by economists Raj Chetty, Jonah Rockoff, and John Friedman found that teachers who consistently improve their students' standardized test scores also help children avoid teenage pregnancy, get to college, and earn higher incomes. But there is a crucial caveat to this finding: The study was conducted in a low-stakes settingin other words, among teachers whose pay and evaluation were not tied to test scores. The researchers admitted in their paper that when tests do become high-stakes, there is an increased risk of score manipulation, which can occur either through teaching-to-the-test or outright cheating. In high-stakes settings, test scores become less reliable and, therefore, their link to better life outcomes for kids could be compromised.

 

Under-reported education trend of the year (and decade): Sociology used to be the academic discipline with the most influence over public education policy. Today that discipline is economics. On the upside, we now have more data about children's academic and life outcomes. On the downside, education policy-makers are paying less attention to aspects of children's lives that are more difficult or impossible to quantify, such as parental involvement and comfort with diversity.

 

New York restaurant of the year: Pok Pok. We only had the patience to wait in line for this place once, but it was so, so, so worth it. A close runner-up is Battersby, where I had two wonderful meals. Another year, another few reasons never to leave Brooklyn. 

 

Book of the year on How We Live NowTwilight of the Elites, by Chris HayesThis bracing book about "America after meritocracy" has implications for every area of policy-making, but is especially sharp at deconstructing myths we tell ourselves about education: that test scores measure aptitude and that elite schools serve the common good.

 

Education story to watch in 2013: The roll-out of the Common Core. Will the movement to implement shared national academic standards remain bipartisan, or will conservatives and Republicans increasingly turn against it? Will schools implement the Core faithfully, or will myths about the standards–like the false idea that they cut out fiction reading–persist?  

 

Albums of the year: "Break it Yourself," by Andrew Bird. "Sun," by Cat Power. "Channel Orange," by Frank Ocean. "The Idler Wheel…" by Fiona Apple. "Shields," by Grizzly Bear.

 

Education book of the year: My favorite was Saving the School, by Michael Brick.

 

A book to pounce on in 2013: The absolutely masterful Hope Against Hope, by Sarah Carr, the definitive account of education reform in post-Katrina New Orleans, told through the eyes of a student, a teacher, and a principal. A gripping narrative with deep historical and political ramifications. 

 

Cultural controversy of the year: The battle over the future of the New York Public Library's main branch, at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. Should this world-class research institution ship several million books to New Jersey, and open space for a lending library? Should architect Norman Foster, known for his glass additions to historic buildings, be let loose on this Beaux Arts masterpiece? I work there almost every day, and I still can't decide how I feel about it. 

 

TV Show of the Year: "Girls." Feminists are funny. 

 

#longreads of the year: This past spring, the magazine that launched my career, The American Prospect, experienced a terrifying brush with death. I'm so glad donors and subscribers have helped The Prospect continue its work, because under editor Kit Rachlis, it has published some amazing writing. Monica Potts' "Pressing on the Upward Way" is a compassionate, beautifully-constructed portrait of rural poverty in Eastern Kentucky. Equally stirring was Gabriel Arana's "My So-Called Ex-Gay Life," which not only told Gabe's personal story of surviving "ex-gay therapy," but also broke news by revealing how the psychiatrist who pushed to define homosexuality as a mental illness, Robert Spitzer, has come to regret and retract his previous work.

Documentary of the Year: "Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry," by Alison Klayman.

Personal Highlight of the Year: Pacific Street. With this guy.
Happy New Year, folks. 

The Death of the Urban Comprehensive High School?

Head to The Daily Beast to read my review of Michael Brook's new book, Saving the School, which does important work capturing this particular moment in national education reform, when so many urban neighborhood high schools are at risk of closure:

Brick, who worked for The New York Times, spent a year embedded at John H. Reagan High School in “the Two-Three,” a poor neighborhood on the eastside of Austin, Texas, known for tensions between black and Hispanic residents. Of the school’s approximately 700 students, 110 are teen parents, and only 22 are white. Over a third of Reagan students are classified as still learning the English language, and over 80 percent are so poor that the government pays for their school lunch. When a girl refuses to remove her hat during a school assembly, she is handcuffed and dragged out by the police. Military recruiters roam Reagan’s halls.     

Brick has done his homework on the history of American education, and he accurately assesses why schools like Reagan often appear to be such blighted places: less because their teachers are uniformly uncaring or their students unmotivated than because so many impoverished schools have become, over the past 30 years, increasingly cut off from the mainstream of American society, situated in neighborhoods victimized by white and middle-class flight; asked to compete with charter schools; and then left to educate a greater proportion of poor, special education, and non-English speaking students than the public school system at large. Reagan High is a good stand-in for the approximately 1,700 high schools across the country that are classified by the Obama administration as “persistently failing.” They are also sometimes known as “drop-out factories:” schools where more than half of the freshman class never graduates.

Read the whole piece.

Diverse Neighborhoods and the Charter School Movement

My colleague Sarah Garland has written a wonderful piece for The Atlantic about a local/federal/charter school partnership to racially and socioeconomically integrate the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta. Across the country, more and more charter school movement leaders are realizing that if charters serve only poor, black, and Latino families, they will limit their potential educational reach, and will leave themselves open to criticism that they are reifying the segregated nature of American public education. Here in New York, for example, Eva Moskowitz's controversial Success Academy charter network will soon open two new schools in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Cobble Hill, where many white and college-educated families live. An explicit goal of the schools is to attact a student body far more diverse than that of the typical "no excuses" charter school. In the process, charter advocates hope to increase the base of political support for charter school expansion.

But as Sarah writes, the successful Atlanta charter she reported on, Charles Drew, is not a "no excuses" or "strict discipline" type school. Unlike the Success Academies, Drew embraces progressive pedagogy and does not overtly obsess about discipline or testing:

Drew is not one of the "no-excuses" charter schools where young children march in formation through the hallways and teachers give out demerits when students don't maintain eye contact. At Drew, children wiggle and dance through the halls, hugging teachers as they pass and laughing with their friends. Standardized testing is a focus, but not the only focus. It's the sort of school that might attract suburban middle-class parents.

"We're trying to instill a sense that you're taking responsibility for your educational experience," says Don Doran, the principal at Drew. "It's hard to do that if you come out with a whole lot of rigidity."

I've visited a number of "no excuses" charter schools, and some of them do seem like very happy places, despite the emphasis on rules. That said, as I reported from Rhode Island last year, the "no excuses" model does present significant challenges for middle-class families, who tend to prefer less drilling and test-prep; more art, music, and extracurricular activities; and more opportunities for parents to get involved in shaping school policy. As the charter school movement looks to expand beyond the poorest zip codes, it will be interesting to see whether more charters end up looking like the progressive Community Roots in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and fewer like KIPP, a national network of "no excuses" schools.

That said, using progressive pedagogy and enrolling white-collar families does not guarantee that a charter school will attract broad-based political support. Community Roots, for example, experienced strong opposition to its proposal to open a new middle school, which the city eventually approved. The teachers' union and some neighborhood parents objected to the charter taking over space currently alotted to a traditional public school that serves a high proportion of special-needs students. These arguments over real estate and whether charter schools "cream" easier students to teach aren't going away, especially in the nation's most diverse and expensive cities. 

On That Baby-in-the-Briefcase Story and the 5 Real Policy Fixes Women (and Men) Need for Work-Life Balance

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Can women have it all? Probably not. Can anybody who isn't wildly wealthy "have it all?" I don't think so.

I have long admired Anne-Marie Slaughter as both a foreign policy intellectual and as a role-model for women. But I was filled with annoyance and dread as I read her Atlantic cover story, which, as Jessica Valenti notes, was rather problematically packaged. 

I'm annoyed because the problem of not being able to "have it all" is NOT about "the failures of feminism," but, in Slaughter's case–in which she left the State Department to return to her job as a tenured professor at Princeton–about the particularities of the Washington power structure and the intense expectations on high-up political appointees. I personally know both men and women who've struggled with the lifestyle of an appointee; indeed, no one seems to want to stay in these jobs for more than two years or so. I don't see why it's surprising that appointees often lose steam after a short time, since this kind of job isn't personally sustainable for the vast majority of people of either sex. A small number of individuals want to risk their personal relationships and private happiness for the sake of having an internationally important job. As Slaughter notes, more of the people willing to do so are men than women, because of the history of expectations on men to be breadwinners and women to be caregivers. Here I agree with Slaughter that we need to deploy technology in the service of changing workplace cultures to make them more flexible and family-friendly for both sexes. We should also acknowledge that working in the State Department or White House will always be intense and not suited for all people indefinitely. 

But I also felt dread. As a woman in my late twenties who is, in fact, incredibly privileged, I am sick of being told to approach my personal and professional future with anxiety and foreboding instead of optimism and activism. (Men are never expected to wring their hands in this way, though plenty of men I know struggle with the exact same work-life balance challenges.) I am sick of hearing about the failures of feminism when actually what we need to fix these problems for all families, across socioeconomic distinctions, is more feminism, not less. Such as:

2. Extended learning time at school, not just for more test-prep, but for art, music, sports, and other enrichment and supervision affluent kids get as a matter of course. This would help the school day better conform to parents' work day, which helps women (and men) work and parent (Slaughter also points this out)
3. A higher minimum wage and workplace representation in the service sector (especially helpful for single moms)
4. Paid family leave
5. More enlightened men – men who do chores! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest time-use study, men still do only about 25 percent of housework, 29 percent of food preparation and clean-up, and 33 percent of childcare.*
I'd like to see college-educated women and men who care about work-life balance devote some of their energy to advocating for the above proposals. We need to raise active support for these ideas among folks who are affluent enough to spend their way out of these problems, through nannies, private schools, housekeepers, and the like. 
*To answer commenter John Romano's question, the BLS stats show men still do more lawn-care, for example, than women. If outdoor and indoor chores are combined, men do about 40 percent of all "household activities." I'd only add that there is a minute-to-minute, day-to-day quality to food preparation, indoor clean-up, and childcare that "outdoor" housework lacks. Hat-tip to Doug Henwood for help analyzing the BLS numbers.

The Kids These Days, Pornography, and Pleasure

Sasha 2Sasha Grey, via her Twitter feed

Cuddle Party would exist in my personal ninth circle of hell. Nevertheless, the sex/relationships guru who came up with the concept, Reid Mihalko, made some interesting comments in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday that back up the ideas I was getting at in my critique of Katie Roiphe's Newsweek article on women, work, and S&M. 

In short: Greater interest in sadomasochism has less to do with economic trends and more to do with increased access to porn and erotica online. Mihalko spends a lot of time conducting workshops for college students, and he has found that many of them are exposed to really kinky stuff via the Internet, yet lack basic information on sexual health and pleasure, in part because they are graduates of abstinence-only sex-ed programs or received no sex education at all. He explains:

About 30 to 40 percent of what I do is lecturing at colleges. I do a lecture called "Sex Geek Chic," which is about using peer pressure in a positive way to encourage young adults to get their shit handled. If you don't know your STD status, if you don't know how to use a condom, if you're not savvy with consent and how to navigate your emotions in intimate relationships, you're uncool. …

There's an interesting dynamic going on among college students. A lot of them grew up with federally funded, abstinence-only education. But they also grew up with the Internet. So for visual learners, especially, they're getting their love-making cues from watching porn.

 Trying to learn how to be a better lover from porn is like trying to learn how to drive from watching "The Fast and the Furious."

Yes. I began high school in 1998, before pornography could be easily streamed online. It could be downloaded, but this took some real time and effort; guys I knew figured out how to do it, but if any of my female friends were experimenting with this in the late nineties and early aughts, we weren't talking about it openly with one another. (We were reading Anais Nin, though, don't get me wrong!) And way back when we were first hitting puberty in the mid-nineties, it was still scandalous and fascinating to get one's hands on an issue of Playboy.

Obviously, everything changed during my first few years of college–not just because my friends and I were getting older, but also because of technology. I don't want to be all old-ladyish at 27, but the last decade has seen a sort of epochal shift in how teenagers and young adults explore their sexuality. It used to be you had to go to an adult movie theater or the adult section of a video rental store or a sex club to watch other people getting it on; you had to actually interact with other human beings in those places and you risked getting "caught" by someone you knew. (A somewhat separate category of consumption would be the semi-ironic screening of retro porn movies on college campuses. Been there! And how prevalent was buying video pornography via the mail back in the day? I don't really know. Commenters?)

Now you can watch other people have sex anytime you want, for free, and in total privacy. This is a really significant development in the history of human sexuality, and I think its effects are both positive (less shyness about sex) and negative (more exposure to unrealistic, staged sex; more sexual outlets other than one's partner; and possibly more body anxiety as a result of comparing oneself to hundreds and thousands of other naked people).

Today it seems like we're having a constant, national conversation about porn and how it is changing our culture. Pornstars like Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey have achieved some modicum of mainstream respectability, and pornography is regularly opined upon in the kinds of publications nobody would be embarassed to read on the subway. Porn has gone mainstream before, as it did in the "Deep Throat" era. But the shock and moral panic is, for the most part, missing these days (pace Rick Santorum); the general assumption is that almost everyone over the age of 12 has seen video porn at least a few times.

In any case, Reid Mihalko is on to something about young people and kink, even though he also seems a bit kooky. I really love the site MakeLoveNotPorn, and would like to especially refer my younger friends and readers to it (make sure to click on the arrows to see all the tips!). A more comprehensive resource on these matters is ScarletTeen.

Remembering Adrienne Rich

Here are my two favorite verses from 1976's "Twenty-One Love Poems:"

I

Where in this city, screens flicker
with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,
victimized hirelings bending to the lash,
we also have to walk…if simply as we walk
through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties
of our own neighborhoods.
We need to grasp our lives inseparable
from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,
and the red begonia perilously flashing 
from a tenement sill six stories high,
or the long-legged young girls playing ball
in the junior highschool playground.
No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.

III

Since we're not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we're not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we'd live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren't born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.