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PoetrySnaps! Rosemarie Dombrowski: Requiem for a Caregiver

Courtesy Rosemarie Dombrowski

In the latest installment of KNAU's series PoetrySnaps! we meet Rosemarie Dombrowski. She is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix and a full-time caregiver to her adult son with non-verbal autism. Dombroski's mission is to bring poetry to vulnerable populations as a means of healing through her nonprofit project Revisionary Arts.
Today, Rosemarie Dombrowski talks about the power of therapeutic poetry and shares her poem Requiem for a Caregiver.

A heads-up to listeners: this segment references suicide.

Rosemarie Dombrowski:

We use poetry as a portal for discussing illness, trauma, death and dying, for processing emotions that maybe we have ignored for many years of our lives, and also for processing the present and giving people in the community a minute to be seen and heard and express themselves. So, it’s a beautiful process. It gives me so much purpose to see people expressing themselves, finding themselves, moving through tragedy, grief and trauma through poetry. I’m going to gift it to as many people as I can.

When I work with veterans I typically can’t believe how quickly they get comfortable and how willing they are to share. To know that you might be one of the only recipients outside of their close group of friends or their family members to have heard these stories, I think it’s extraordinarily therapeutic for them.

I used to also work with the Arizona Caregivers Coalition. That’s the perspective that I come from; a lot of medical trauma and 24/7 caregiving for 24 years. Our truth and our pain ultimately produces something profound. It just does. And that’s what I think poetry is; it’s profound insights, revelations, and it’s supposed to move people. It’s supposed to move people. It’s ok if it makes you feel uncomfortable or sad.

Requiem for a Caregiver

Oh Mary, permit me this grace,/this crossing over,/although I am ugly,/submerged in my own past/and my own madness.

~Anne Sexton


It’s all been a sham.
Thousands of hours and barely any learning—
the m & m’s and the bubbles,
the Pavlovian tricks that never worked.
We tried to pass.
We passed
as long as we could.
We never passed at all.


I used to think that writing about suicide
was gratuitous, but now I see
a different kind of note in the river,
a different face in the mirror.
When Anne was released
from the mental hospital,
her mother had her portrait painted.
It doesn’t matter how much
we talk about feminism,
it’s only the women who lose
their lives when they give birth.


I’m fingering the pages,
cutting out the heads of women
from old magazines—Ladies
Home Journal. Harper's Bazaar.
I realize we’re all scraps of paper,
littering the carpet like headstones.
In my dream, I’m cutting you
out of my body with scissors,
pasting you onto the cover of a zine.
I collage another woman’s face

into the photo of you in your crib.
Maybe if someone else had claimed you,
we could’ve survived this.

About the poet:

Rosemarie Dombrowski is the first Poet Laureate of Phoenix and a professor at Arizona State University. She is the founder of Revisionary Arts, a nonprofit that facilitates healing through poetry. Dombrowski is the recipient of an Arts Hero award and the Arizona Humanities Outstanding speaker award. She is the mother and full-time caregiver of an adult son with nonverbal Autism and biomedical disorders.

About the host:

Steven Law is the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps! He is a poet, essayist, storyteller, and the author of Polished, a collection of poems about exploring the Colorado Plateau by foot and by raft.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

PoetrySnaps! runs the first and third Friday of each month.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.