Category: Poems

You are What You Read

By Nance Broderzen ©June 13, 2008

A Costa Rican artist, Guillermo Vargas, starved a dog to death
in a gallery in Nicaragua.
“You are what you read,” he glued in wide kibble letters
on the wall behind the dog,
the dog chained in the middle of the gallery,
a bowl of kibble just out of his reach

Vargas named the dog, Natividad,
after a man in recent headlines, killed by guard dogs.
Natividad the dog, diseased and starving
died after just one day of display.

Vargas’ ploy blasted all over the globe
via internet. Millions upon millions signing petitions
denouncing him. “He is no artist. He should not be
allowed to ever display again!”

I actually rolled my eyes and refused to give it any attention
at first, didn’t want to give Vargas a morsel,
but he was everywhere, kept coming into my inbox
or front paging my favorite blogs,
so I signed, with the herd
two-million five-hundred-fifty-one-thousand two-hundred-fifteen to-date on the petition I signed.
There are more petitions.

I signed, thinking, “Vargas should be chained in a gallery
and starved to death, himself!
This installation is not worthy of anything.”
Gut, heart response,
immediate response.

I knew nothing of dogs in Costa Rica.
Nothing of dogs in Nicaragua.
As I began to watch petition signatures multiply,
with a growing haunting in my gut;
Had I betrayed a brother artist, Vargas?
I don’t know anything about his world!
So I spent about twenty-three hours studying the status of dogs
in Costa Rica, the U.S., and Nicaragua.

Costa Ricans love animals so much
they refuse to follow the U.S. Model
of what they call “Kill Shelters.”
Three to four-million dogs and cats, half who go in,
are euthanized in the U.S. shelters annually.
Costa Rica pushes sterilization.
Several altruistic teams are dedicated and seeing some results
but where dog populations drop, cat populations grow wild,
like in Los Angeles,
with stray dogs all but eliminated since the 80s,
I had to trap 15 cats in the 90s, who were multiplying under
the building I managed, and drive them
one by one, to the “kill shelter.”
Believe me—a heart wrenching task.

In Nicaragua, they use poisoning or club dogs to death,
no laws protecting animals,
four dogs to every human in some neighborhoods.
Say fifty humans live on your city block;
imagine 200 dogs running wild and free
starving, diseased,
adults paying emaciated children to catch emaciated wild dogs,
adults clubbing them to death on street corners.
Here in the U.S., they euthanize behind closed doors,
in Costa Rica they have more vets per capita than any other nation
with dreams to gain control by sterilization alone.

And I think of this artist, Vargas, from Costa Rica
he goes to Nicaragua where they
poison and club dogs daily,
where they starve guard-dogs half to death to make them meaner.
Vargas hires some experienced kids to catch a very sick one,
and chains the dog, too sick to eat anyway
just out of reach of food,
writes, “you are what you read,” in kibble on the wall.

We are food.
The man Natividad was attacked by dogs as prey.
We are food.
We can feed the poor, the feral.
No one attempted to feed Natividad the dog;
no visitor stepped forward
It takes longer than a day to starve to death
but Natividad died a day later.

And we, by the millions condemn the artist, the messenger,
ignore the message; ignore the millions of dogs euthanized
in the “Kill Shelters” of the West,
the millions of dogs starving in Nicaragua;

I paraphrase from a U.S. field worker writing of Nicaragua:

“unbelievably skinny with ribs and hipbones sticking out, almost grotesquely in some cases…no owners …no families…no particular people to take care of them. None receive veterinary care of any kind…they scavenge food wherever they can…in garbage, from the forest…fruits, insects, and carrion…”

It takes time to peek under the rug of reality—
took me twenty-three hours to see that Natividad, the dog,
died on the cross at that Nicaraguan gallery
for all the feral dogs and cats of the world;
All the millions hidden and dying
in the “kill shelters” of the Western world,
all starving, diseased, then poisoned and clubbed dogs
dying in the third world,
and for the millions of litters born every day into
a humanized civilization where they suffer and starve,
where natural predators who keep the balance
are mostly endangered, mostly destroyed.

I was part of the herd when I signed,
but now I am wolf or wild-cat
in danger of human rage against me,
I fear what they’ll do to me, think of me
as I praise the artist the herd abhors,
fear almost to the point of censoring myself from writing that I
praise Natividad the martyr, the savior of cats and dogs,
praise Vargas, whether Judas or God,
for trying to show the truth to the Art patronizing elite
of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
They are food, we are food; we the well-fed,
signing petitions that critique esthetics,
while holding our kibble just out of reach.



A Long Sentence

Today, on my Sweet 16 sobriety date, I am reflecting on a poem I wrote during the throws of my addictions 20 years ago. I had a dream last night that showed me it doesn’t matter how much time you have. Six days, 6 years, 16 years are all call for total celebration. But the further away you move, the more abstract the early struggle becomes, until it can almost dissolve completely. Therefore, I treasure having this tiny piece of writing to remind me what I’ve left so far behind. And believe me, it wants me to forget. It wants me back…

I returned it to its original name, after friends encouraged me to change the title to “The Elephant of Wisdom,” because I like the play on words, like being sentenced to prison, that most people probably won’t get but I recall really worked for me at the time that I wrote it.

A Long Sentence

(c)1996 Nance Broderzen

Living in the blockage of her own true, stuck being, she tries hard to change, rearrange, let go, flow to the new horizon that promises love and joy and freedom, beckoning with an eerie call of peace and laughter to her deeper innermost soul of strength and beauty calling, calling from the deep dark depth of her being for light, pure light and laughter as she hesitates and resists the power within and hangs on to the tears and germs and stiff control of her body, her personality, her ego who has the power now and refuses to relinquish it, feigning protection in his smug, hard core of false promises and immediate impulsive gratification and addictive desires of the flesh and quick fix mentality, all for his own sake and sense of control, seducing and making false promises which she lets herself believe again and again, even though the truth screams out in its soft, sensual voice of gut instincts all to easily ignored or confused or mistaken for deadly dishonest madness by the one in control who loves his power above everything else, loves his true madness, his monotony, his unconsciousness and automatic movement from extreme to extreme to extreme of false glory and psychic sleep, spirit resting in a blur of resentment at the failure to act, failure to move to a life of real experience untouched by fear, as the fear always takes hold with both hands and strangles all efforts outward into relief and nurture, damming the thoughts of alternative action and keeping the self contained, locked up behind the bars of awesome fear-filled warnings to stay put and escape only by means of mind dams, sucking in quick and easy substance to quiet the rage and anger of imprisonment and keep everything nice and tidy, soothing the pain of physical abuse with ideas of another and yet another indulgence into escapism as the ego trap revolves around his own little self and he feels his power, gloating as the true self is gagged and tied up, incapacitated to move out into the fresh air and jungle of rich growth and possibilities, opportunities, tigers of fear and elephants of wisdom, rainfall of tears and mountain springs of cleansing and rejuvenation out of focus and out of reach, so it seems, for ego knows and warns and presages the pain of going there, reminding her that it’s hard to transform, hard to undo the damage done, hard to detoxify and demand a new way of life, hard to be empty and breathe simple air, drink simple water, eat simple fruits and vegetables and grains with no jolt to the system, no escape from that empty well that can never be filled, he coaxes as she tries and loses it again, unable to pull herself out of his well when she’s bombarded by his passionate warnings and longings to hold her in his arms, hold her in his grasp she finally sees and takes a stand, listening ever so deeply to her heart and gut and groin and soul, allowing the jungle to be what it is, allowing herself to be what she is, who she is, hearing finally and believing the empty well is not a well at all, but a spring of joy and laughter, real and tangible, artfully glowing, ready to fill her in ways never felt, fill her with true energy and creative practice, spontaneity and love, sweet, sweet love of the richness of her soul ready to be freed, ready to be human, ready to move her through the jungle safely as it leads her to the fruits and fulfillment, towering playfully over tigers, in the elephant of wisdom.

Madly Releasing

Bubbles of madness
rising out of the brain
make her feel sane
bubbles of sadness
rising out of her heart
into her brain
they rise and pop
into the night
into the light
but when she pours them
into things
she’s crazy happy

The Whisper of Deeper Neurons

Her spirit talks softly
Sends electric vibrations through
the heart
the solar plexus
but the brain’s myriad neurons
rattle with blood and every organ
drowning deeper neurons out
cravings shout over them
rationalizations multiply
contradictions — stress crescendo
into high volume, like phones ringing
she feeds what she can
forgetting to stop
and listen
to heartbeats
to breath


She went back
to the culture that defeated all others
the baddest, meanest, cruelest culture
that killed, castrated and enslaved the rest
She went back
and found them
looked at you and saw how they
made you one of them
made her one of them
She went forward
without them
without you

Another Flight

In the dark night
under a new moon
the pendulum clock ticks steady
cars whoosh by when lights change
the battery operated clock clicks off beat
her heart beats soundless
alone in her apartment
she tried again to find love
after work
a blind date
at a juice bar
where he thought they clicked
as she planned her escape
to here
surrounded by books that
have beginnings and endings
open to discussion and interpretation
intellectual banter
of which he had none
with him
she heard his drama
saw herself in it
felt a beginning
that would never end
unless she fled
into the moonless night

Where I am. Where I’m from.


Novelist seeking representation

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 818.551.1696

Los Angeles

Four years ago:

I recently read the book, Writing to Save the World, by Mary Pipher (because of course, this is what I aim to do), and in it she suggests her readers write an I Am From poem.  She presented hers and I fell in love with it.  She also suggested starting a writers’ group that meets monthly to share new work.  Since I was planning to start a teen-novel involving patriarchy, the divine feminine and contemporary culture, I decided to create the group. I pulled some writer friends together and we named our group High Moon, where we get together one Monday night a month to howl our work at the moon!  I suggested everyone write the I Am From poem for our first meeting and will share mine here, as it’s just about the best “about me” thing I could ever present.  It’s deeply personal, but I’m at a place where I have nothing to hide and have no shame.  I wrote a haiku last week which reads:


Psychologists say
Our secrets are what shame us
So many secrets

I was thinking at the time, how I’ve been told by family, friends and the media that I need to hide so many things to be attractive to the opposite sex and to the world –my age, that I’m a recovered alcoholic, a recovered chain smoker, that I’ve done some psychotherapy (with excellent results, I might add), that I came down with nocturnal epilepsy when I was 36 and have suffered some 55+ grand mal seizures in my sleep — each like a major car-crash and I have no idea when nor if one may hit again*, that I have a pet python named Draco – a living symbol of the divine feminine – who is a cuddle snake despite public opinion that snakes are evil — all these things society would have me be ashamed of, things that make me unattractive to a man — things I should hide.  But really, this is not the kind of man I want to be with — not the society I want to please, so I’m not playing that shame game any more and I don’t care what anyone thinks or says.  A few days ago I ran across this quote and knew immediately that this is exactly where I’m at:

“You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.  When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality”  –FLONDA SCOTT MAXWELL

I am indeed fierce with reality and on this note, I share where I am From.  I would like to share it as a spoken-word piece some day soon, but at this point I can’t get through it with out a lot of tears — tears of nostalgia and tears of how far I have come:


© Nance Broderzen 8/25/13

 I am from the Baltic Sea, from ancient Vikings,

from Frisia, Schleswig Holstein, Gross Wittensee, Shoenhagen,

the Isle of Föar, where the ancients carved a rock with my family shield and sir name

carved it with  Leewer Duad üüs  Slaaw.

Better to die than live as a slave.

I am from Omas and Opas over seas,

from lovers in the land of opportunity,

from Anna and Theo a.k.a. Ann and Ted

I am from one Nazi Opa and many anti-Nazis,

from bombed children in bomb shelters filled with screaming babies,

from children forced to heil Hitler in class.

I am from hungry children, from a butchered and roasted pet goat named Butza Butz.

I am from a romance and a long boat trip across the Atlantic,

from a promised farm that died with the heart attack that killed Unkle Jack,

that attacked Theo’s heart, killed his dream,

I am from the Gottlieb’s nanny and housekeeper

from under their wing with a job opportunity that taught a farmer

to type-set the local newspaper as he learned the language he was type-setting.

I am from “children should be seen and not heard,”

“Ve spanked dem vhen dey were too young to remember.”

“Ve control dem mit our eyes”

I am from red meat and potatoes, rolladen, frickasaien and rump roast,

half a cow in the deep freeze and saving egg cartons for local farm eggs.

I am from the forest and the creek, dark moss and ant wars.

from bridges over the Mississippi and drives in the country in a Ford Fairlane,

from corn fields, cattle and hog farm stenches, and prairie grass

from brownies, girl scouts, badges and camping —

thriving chartreuse weeds crawling on tree filled forests, nettles and mosquitoes,

sand castles on sand bars, sand castles on the shore of trailer park lakes.

–hiking the hills, sleeping under stars, lashing logs into tree houses and singing.

I am from a Libra and a Cancer,

from second hand smoke, cigars, pipes, Winstons and colon cancer.

I am from death too early,

from hospital visits and heart break,

uncertainty and chaos,

from “I read in a magazine dat children are raised by da time dey are 7.

You are 13 and 14. I am done.”

I am from rock quarry swimming, PBRs, Marlboro’s, whiskey –hashish and pot.

–from MDA, cocaine and joints laced with opium.

I am from Laramie, Wyoming, thin air, mountains, pale green ranch lands, and building more and more red blood vessels.

From Vedauwoo boulders piled into mountains with

keggers in cold mountain streams, magic mushrooms and cauldrons of elk stew.

I am from Santa Barbara and high insanity in the

most beautiful weather with no extremes,

nestled between Mountains and the Pacific where there’s no bourgeoisie.

I am from the Iowa City campus, a return to the heartland, and a liberal arts degree,

from Greyhound bus rides to Des Moines for a love I had little in common with.

I am from seeing every inch of Iowa and Nebraska, in a Renault Alliance lemon and rent-a-cars,

a giant lake and prairies of wild flowers, fields upon fields of mono-crops.

I am from Chicago, Rush Street and The Snuggery,

from suicide thoughts followed by an unplanned near-death experience that made me realize

“I want to live.”

I am from the Pacific Ocean and Pasadena,

Venice Beach and the yet to be developed canals,

from a psycho fiance, psychotherapy and leaving a psycho fiance.

I am from movie locations all over Los Angeles leasing lighting,

from fleeing the rat race to write in Toluca Lake,

from a screen-play that didn’t sell and an actor husband who couldn’t find work,

from raising a step-daughter as my own and loving her like blood.

I am from an anxiety attack and more psychotherapy, grand mal seizures, AA and WFS.

I am from heavy drinking and sobriety, heavy drinking and sobriety,

alcoholism and sobriety

from leaving a love who couldn’t stop drinking

because I couldn’t watch another man die.

I am from the Downtown Artwalk, Burningman and Soulon,

from bringing Divine Feminine energy to the people via a Royal python named Draco

after getting over my own irrational fear of snakes that I didn’t understand.

–from vegan potlucks and a raw vegan diet,

from chelating heavy metals out of my body and brain healing a disease modern medicine doesn’t cure,

from years of sobriety, books piled high on pre-patriarchal culture and a bookcase beyond physics.

I am from a shift in consciousness, a new voice rising,

a voice for the environment, for our grand children’s’ children,

a voice for the animals who do not speak our tongue.

I am from Gaia,

from death and rebirth and death and rebirth again and again and again,

from the spiral that is all there is,


I am from a warming planet in crisis.

I am on the battleground, planting seeds with my pen,

scattering them onto its blood-drenched soil.

Better to die in battle than live as a slave.

Leewer Duad üüs  Slaaw.

*Update: After a two year process of chelating heavy metals out of my body, begun in 2011, had my last seizure in August 2012, and am now several years seizure free! Someday I shall write some memoir on this, and perhaps some essays.