Category Archives: Chicago

Evening with Eric Whitacre

Photo by Jonathan Cohon Copyright 2014

Elisabeth, Eric, me, and Lisa–Photo by Jonathan Cohon Copyright 2014

10:30 last night I drove back home in the snow from an incredible event with Eric Whitacre. So far exceeded any unconscious expectations I might have had, I was flying. It’s hard to pin down exactly why we were so thoroughly buzzed after. Everything lined up so perfectly it was one of those rare times when I felt in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, entirely content.

To recap: The latest snow—in one of the snowiest winters ever—held off for the drive in. I did not get turned around in Evanston, (which happens to me often). Easy parking in a covered lot a block away. Welcomed by new Virtual Choir friends, Elisabeth (and Jonathan), Darrell (and Penna), and Lisa at The Celtic Knot Pub in Evanston, where the food was good and the company was awesome!


Elisabeth, Lisa, Penna, Darrell and me–Photo by Jonathan Cohon Copyright 2014

At the urging of Darrell Polka, I read the most recent of my Eric Whitacre-Virtual Choir inspired poems to the group (see below). We then walked over to the Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University just as the snow was beginning to accumulate. Lovely dusting and reasonably warm (for these days). Beautiful space. Got to hear Eric rehearsing the Apollo Chorus singing his piece, Lux Aurumque, a conducting master class. Transcendent! He talked us through some of his creative process with such humor and warmth. Excellent questions asked in the Q & A with such thoughtful, vulnerable, insightful answers. We even all got to sing a few bars of a piece he is working on and then hear Lux Aurumque in entirety. Just soaked right into me!

Then the meet and greet (maybe as many as 700 of us). Eric is one of those rare people who can captivate an audience and also fully connect with individuals. He focused on each of us in turn, gracious and generous. Responsive, receiving, and…well, genuine. His energy and enthusiasm is just so contagious! I delivered the three poems to him, got a CD signed and photos taken (by Jonathan). Talked a minute or so and some whirlwind hugs. Floating…

When I first heard about Eric Whitacre coming nearby, I was recovering from major abdominal surgery and felt too vulnerable to go out on my own, certainly not drive and walk out in the slippery snow! Even though I wanted to meet my local Virtual Choir friends in real life, I didn’t plan on going. At some point, I decided to stop thinking about whether to go or not and just see if it all came together. Get out of my own way. I emailed for a ticket and that was good. Emailed the restaurant and they got back to me in an hour (yes, they had a gluten-free menu, very accommodating). And that was good. Parking was nearby. That was good. The weather was manageable and most of all I recovered. Walking the few minutes, even in snow was a piece of cake. That was good. Reassuring. As I said to Elisabeth, it all worked out. My job was to let it. Have you ever had that experience when you let go and allowed your life to come together?

Here are the poems, part of the ongoing collection inspired by Eric Whitacre and Virtual Choir.


Eric Whitacre: Godzilla Eats Las Vegas
(with Elvises)

There is music
takes itself so serious
and then

there is music
without a serious bone
that can sink in

to the dark places
and lighten
lift out of

and up
soaring without risk
of falling back.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2013


Cracked Open After Louise Penny

While listening to Arvo Pärt Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten,
Proms, 2010 on YouTube—posted by Eric Whitacre on Facebook

Not about fixing
the irreparably broken
but creating

the newborn form
to take its place
in memoriam,

to allow, not push or defend
deliberate shoots that spring up
through soil

even if not particularly fertile,
and shoots can grow
into something novel

and bloom someday
into something as yet
merely envisioned…

To take the risk
as if…

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2013


Subset of Virtual Choir

spend precious hours
on a seasonal short song

to sing into a camera and send?
Naked it feels
to risk a public

of being less than…

The charismatic man
behind the tune
calling for the tribe,

offering a vision,
a chance to gather
even in competition

some, not all, will win. Why?
To open the door and get inside,
sync with the rhythm,

learn music from intent repetition
and deliver the song
to the green dot and beyond.

Why, again why?
Because to live
is to risk, is to stretch

is to grow, is to know
possibility of
contentment within

even virtual achievement.
To be connected,
not alone, to belong

through trials, through song
Innate in the genes, to be together,
though apparently separate.

For the inspiration,
follow the inclination,
why do anything,

hit a ball with a bat,
throw or jump or run,
pull a bow across strings,

stroke a key or blow into a tube,
riff on a guitar or beat a drum
is to express being…human

being with virtual friends.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2013

You may also like previous posts with poems inspired by Eric Whitacre and Virtual Choir

Each Life Is Precious

Washington DC in March Margaret Dubay Mikus  Copyright 2004

  March Petals                                                                                              Margaret Dubay Mikus   Copyright 2004

I have been writing a poetic journal since 1995, begun just after healing from multiple sclerosis. In 1996 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, completing treatment (surgery, chemo, and radiation) in 1997. I kept writing, (by hand, in spiral notebooks), but I was unable to get all of the poems edited and entered into the computer. Time went on and I recovered, facing other challenges over the years, balancing being a mother and wife, running a household, with writing and creative projects. At some point I got back to the process of getting my poems in the computer, organizing them in “Books” of six months of writing each. But I never got all those poems from 1997-98 into my files.

A long time passed. My writing changed, getting better I hope, more streamlined, clearer perhaps. But I held onto the idea that I wanted the complete “set” of poems to access for any future projects. The poems, as is any journal, are like memory. What happened? Who was I then, what inspired me?

Every so often over the years, I pulled out the dusty spiral notebooks and made efforts to get caught up. This week I began again in earnest to get all the poems into usable form. Many of them are clearly for my own use only. This is often the case with writing. But some surprised me. Here is one story I came upon tonight.


Each Life Is Precious

I am grateful
for each and every
hair growing on my head,

for eyes that blink
and open wide, that cry
or crinkle,

for every breath drawn in,
for every cell sent oxygen,
for a full heart beating untended

in time to ancient rhythm.
I am grateful for every day,
every minute each a gift,

for feet and hands and lips,
for knees and elbows and hips,
for skin and nails and toes,

for ears and eyebrows,
neck and shoulders,

for back straight
and thighs strong.

All this awareness
this awakening,

dedicated to the one
who was struck by a lemon-colored cab

right before our shocked eyes,
so hard his shoes flew off,

hit so fast and terrible
the body collapsed and lay flat

like a balloon doll with the air let out
or a scarecrow without its stuffing.

In that second, one easy Friday night
the world changed color.

We drove on, as many others came to help, hospital nearby,
we went on in horror, my head cupped in hands,

but not helpless. I sent healing energy
to support the spirit

so recently jolted from physical reality.
I held his ethereal hand as he shook it off

and kept on traveling.
I rubbed my husband’s shoulders,

he massaged my neck and head,
we spoke in hushed reverent tones

and drove carefully home.
I honor the one who gave us this lesson:

All life, every sometimes grating minute
is precious, beyond any earthly measure.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1998

What I Learned (so far) from Falling

Saturday, Oct 15, a beautiful, clear, fall day, was the weekend after my husband, Stephen’s 60th birthday and we all gathered to celebrate. That afternoon his sister, Barbara, was flying back to Texas and his aunt, Dorothy, was flying back to Michigan. We met our two kids in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago for brunch before heading to O’Hare Airport. The first restaurant we tried had a wait of two hours, so we decided to walk to another place under a mile away. I was feeling good that day, walking briskly, and talking to my daughter’s boyfriend. Suddenly my feet were knocked from under me. We had stepped to one side to let a jogger pass and apparently my foot caught on a decorative stone that was sticking up around a tree in the sidewalk. With nothing to grab hold of I went flying and … well, the poem tells the story.

It is now 11 days later. I am still sore, but healing fast. Whatever I was going to do was mostly put on hold. What have I learned (again)? It all works out. Whatever life looks like, however messy and even painful, it all works out. I say this from a full awareness of ongoing challenges and sometimes dark days. But I am more and more aware that Life is mystery. Somehow with all that has gone on, I end up in the right place. What have you learned, maybe the hard way?


Hard Fall

The fall
not from grace
but from briskness,
momentum following
ordinary laws of physics.

One moment laughing,
walking, talking,
the next stumbling,
falling, sprawling
into the street

between the curb and
a new brown parked sedan.
From a good day (finally!)
to unbearable pain
embarrassment, shame.

Try to rise
try to dust off
try to see
to act normally

but not possible.
Halsted Street and buildings
melt into bright light,
few outlines remain
and the pain

takes over everything.
Not a head hit,
not bleeding,
scraped knees swelling
from inside pants

(material still intact!).
Left shoulder
hit cement curb and though
mind and will are strong as ever,

eyes close.
She retreats into the bubble
forming around her,
hard to stay with him
despite intense entreaties.

Ambulance gurney,
lying down she returns,
shock retreats.
Emergency room.
X-rays. Testing.

Telling the same story
of what happened 20 times.
More herself, joking even.
play inside her eyelids,

over and over she stumbles
and falls…and falls,
trying to rise on bruised knees.
Nothing broken,
healing begun immediately,

she remembers to take arnica
tablets to minimize bruising.
Also the best of it:
her left side hurt, not dominant right,
no blood or ragged gash to stitch,

help immediate.
Back not wrenched
face not scraped
teeth not chipped
hands not ripped

pants not torn
nor sweater, nor purse, nor coat,
bladder was empty,
her stomach had breakfast.
In some essential small corner

all is well.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2011

Parallels and Coming Full Circle

When the last election primaries began, I felt it was way past time for a woman president and that Hillary was the best chance. As things went on with politics as usual, I wavered. My daughter was an Obama supporter from the start. My husband had met Obama years before and was very impressed with his straight-talking and connection to people. When I read Barack Obama’s speech on race in The Chicago Tribune, I was blown away by his articulate sensitivity to such a complex and emotionally charged issue and that was that for me. I was won over.

My husband and I moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Chicago in 1976. He was just out of law school, with a new job in a law firm downtown. Chicago seemed like a place of great opportunities for both of us. We rented a small apartment in Lincoln Park, with a view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and our own sliver of Lake Michigan.

Lincoln Park in those days was an area in transition, with vacant buildings and dark, dank bars lining Clark Street, side streets of beautiful, old houses, and a few modern high-rises. Once or twice we found a drunk passed out on our front curb. The first time I went out by myself for an afternoon jog in the park, I was accosted by a young man with his pants down, wanting or offering sex. I was creeped out. The University of Michigan campus had not been such an innocent place in the early ‘70s, but I felt more intimidated and vulnerable in the big city. I learned to be wary and to wear my “city face.”

There were wonderful, cheap ethnic restaurants in walking distance. We often ate at a great Mexican dive (which was also a bowling alley) just north on Clark Street. I loved going to a place where the waiter asked if we wanted “the usual.” We could get anywhere in the city by bus, el, or walking. We parked our Ford Pinto on the street and rarely drove. It was a big, juicy, new world to explore. (Our first time walking down Broadway turned out to be the day of the Chicago Gay Pride Parade!)

I got a job right away in the immunology lab at Children’s Memorial Hospital. After a year, I applied to grad schools. The microbiology Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago offered me full tuition and a stipend. I accepted! I tried commuting from north to south Chicago. As it turned out, that year had record snow. One time in a blizzard, I was the last car allowed through before Lake Shore Drive was closed. My second year, we moved down into married student housing in Hyde Park, eventually buying a condo in a formerly elegant, corner building built in 1925 at 52nd and Greenwood that was being renovated after a fire.Along with our new neighbors we put a lot of sweat equity into that old building, creating our own community. It turns out that our former condo is a block down Greenwood Ave. from the Obama’s house, just the other side of Hyde Park Blvd. (We moved out before they moved in.) What a small world! Certainly there are many differences, but can you find all the parallels between Barack Obama and me?

Two poems to share today: one written before the election when the outcome was not certain, looking ahead. The other poem was written the morning after election day.


Post Election

When it is all done,
the excruciatingly long run,

when the votes are more or less counted,
everyone will say the outcome

was inevitable and talk
of momentum and this or that

mistake or shift or mis-quote
that turned the tide,

and no one will look to the stars
or karma or alignment of planets

to explain how the once unimaginable
happened to heal or to wound yet again.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2008


Post-Election Recounting:

Portrait of Barack Obama

The stars aligned
and all the planets
to make something possible
that had not been.

A courageous man stepped forward
as the chosen one.
He could move hearts
and erase doubt
with his silky tongue,
inspire hope where had been none.

And yes, change was coming.
Here was someone confident enough
to gather diverse opinion,
articulate and educated,
disciplined and real enough
to call out in the crumbling wildness

and hear resounding cries in answer.
Disaster averted at the brink of the abyss.
On the final day all who had been adversaries
included in the fold,
called together to change course,

to restore, to heal what was lost.
He took the high road
and that road took him to celebration.
And because he is who he is
at this prime moment,
and can gather and sow, reap and harvest

what he has sown, we all get
another chance to change,
to be the best in us.
What a gift!
Keep him safe, keep all around him safe.
Let him be gracefully shaped by
the experiences he has chosen.
He is tempered already in fire
seasoned by flame,
and found strong, able, and willing.

From the shadows he stepped into light
and like a meteor he rose
in plain, amazed sight
to dole out hope where was none,
to dole out hope with a generous hand.
A man of compelling vision.

And like for no other leader
the world rejoiced for one of their own
to have climbed to the mountaintop.
Not a messiah burdened by
weight of unrealistic expectation,
but a heartful man of clear vision.

Let him do the work he came for,
learn from inevitable mistakes,
grow further into his power unafraid,
acknowledging the whole of himself.
For within him lies all contradiction
laid open and resolved.
Let him go forward and
let us go forward in recognition.

A family man and
we are all included in
the embrace of that family.
All is not lost.
Roll up your sleeves,
let us begin.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2008