Category Archives: poetry

The Dream Is Dead. Long Live the Dream.

by Bree Ervin

Follow the rules.
Stay in school.
Color inside the lines.
Do your homework.
Get good grades.
Keep going.
Go to college.
Get a degree.


Work hard.
Make a good impression.
Pay your dues.
Climb the ladder.
Keep working.
And working.
Don’t take vacation.
Don’t get sick.
Just work.


the secret they never told us…
is that the dream
they said to dream
the dream about
following the rules
and getting our just
was never a dream
for the workers.
Just a carrot they dangled
an illusion
a lie
to keep us
in line.

The dream…
The American Dream
where we all
work hard
and get rich
or at least
get middle class
isn’t for us
it’s against us.

Follow the rules.
Don’t think for yourself.
Stay in school.
Learn what we want you to learn.
Color inside the lines.
Stay inside the lines.
Do your homework.
Practice your busy work.
Get good grades.
Prove you can fit in.
Show us your stamina.
Keep going.
Give us more.
Go to college.
Pay us for your work papers.
Get a degree.
Get some debt. A lot of debt.


Get a job!
Start at the bottom.
Work hard.
Give us 200%, we’ll pay you our minimum.
Make a good impression.
Play by our rules.
Pay your dues.
Give us extra hours for free.
Climb the ladder.
Do more for less than your co-workers.
Keep working.
Show us your stamina.
And working.
Give us more.
Don’t take vacation.
Show us you want it.
Don’t get sick.
Don’t show weakness.
Just work.
Live to work… That’s how you


What they forget
to say is
hardly anyone
got to the top
by climbing
the ladder.
Most of them
got handed the keys.
Or invented their own.
So if the dream
isn’t earned
by punching in
working hard
why don’t they
teach us
to create

it’s hard
to pull yourself up
by your bootstraps
when you
don’t have any

if you know
how to make
your own
you won’t
need to work
to earn them.

they need you.

those bootstraps
they used
to pull themselves up
were always
were always


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, poetry


By Bree Ervin

have you ever noticed
the way
our actions
reflect our fears
reflect our actions
create their fears…

like the way that
who are afraid
of gay marriage
being imposed
on them
seem to think
they have the
to impose
straight marriage
on the world.

like the way that
who are afraid
of women
taking over
seem to think
they have the
to exert
over women.

like the way that
white people
who cross the road
because they are
of black people
walking toward them
seem to think
they have the
to make
black people
feel afraid
for being black
in public.

most of the time
most of the people
who act
in charge
who are
to let go
of the whip
don’t seem to
what they are
most afraid of
is themselves.

perhaps instead of
our fear
on others
we should
the Golden Rule
and not
in ways that
make us afraid
that others will
treat us
as we treat them.

if you are
afraid that
your power
will be turned
against you
by the people
you are
holding down
what would happen
if you used
your power to
lift them up


Filed under Naive idealism, poetry

Who Am I – Or, The Words That Woke Me Up.

Yesterday Don Gonyea delivered a piece on NPR about Bob Dylan. He talked about these previously unreleased songs and bites from the cutting room floor of the recording studio. He’d given them a listen and was struck by one in particular.

“Like a Rolling Stone” was, it turns out, originally recorded as a waltz. It didn’t work. Clearly.

The next day, back in the studio, they gave it another go. This time Al Kooper, a guitarist, slid over to the Hammond Organ and started noodling around on it.

The first full take of the song with the organ it became The Take, the hit that we’ve all heard and love.

But… Dylan didn’t realize it then. They kept trying, take after take – never quite getting it perfect.

Finally, at the end of another long day of recording, they realized they had it all along.

That first full cut with Al Kooper on organ, in the words of Don Gonyea, “Wasn’t perfect, but it was right.”

Those words sat with me all day. They filled me up. I tweeted them, sharing them with my artist and writer friends as a loving reminder to know when to put the editing pen, the eraser, the perfectionist away.

Perfection is not the goal.

I finished reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking in the wee hours last night.

There was so much awesome in that book, I cannot recommend it enough.

I ran out of sticky tabs.


The art of asking

Ask… Accept… Receive… Give Back. Keep the gift moving.

It’s funny because I bought the book right when it came out – it still has the signing ticket for the Amanda Palmer night at Tattered Cover that I missed.

I bought it because I thought I needed the book then, but I was busy and in the middle of a million things and so the book sat on my shelf unread until this week when I realized – I really did need to read it. I needed to learn.

How to ask.

How to accept.

How to receive.

I’m glad I did, because aside from all the stated reasons to read it, it also reminded me to be brave, to make art, to do the work and “make the things.”

This morning I was woken at 5am by words. Words that would not quit. Words that swirled and poked and demanded to be written down.

I snuck, naked and shivering, to my desk and turned on a flashlight, afraid that too much light would scare the words away.

I jotted. I shivered. I noodled.

Eventually I got a sweater.

I got the words down.

They aren’t perfect, but I think I got them right.

Who am I?
Or, The Words That Woke Me.

by Bree Ervin
(With thanks to Don Gonyea and Amanda F’ing Palmer.)

I’ve been told that I can’t sing.
This rhythm thing is not for me.
Can’t hit the note
Can’t hold the tone
The harmony strings me up and strands me.
I whisper softly, under breath,
afraid to make myself be heard,
afraid that I will be too clear.

For a decade,
even more,
I’ve been tangled
in trepidation.
Because, who am I
who am I
to sing
to shout
to raise up my voice?

My teacher said I couldn’t paint.
This artistry is not for me.
Can’t keep my lines straight
Can’t color in place
I scratch and scribble out my doodles,
afraid to let myself be seen,
afraid that I am too explicit.

For a lifetime,
more or less,
I’ve been caught up
in this mess.
Because, who am I
who am I
to illustrate
to delineate
to let myself become unveiled?

I have heard that I can’t act.
This stage craft thing is not for me.
Can’t emote from yonder stage
Can’t fake laughter or squeeze out tears
I shy away from hot spotlights,
afraid to be caught in a scene,
afraid that I will be revealed.

For a decade,
give or take,
I’ve been boxed in
lost in
Because who am I
who am I
to speak
to play
to perform my stories openly?

I am not so good at carving.
The sculpting trade is not for me.
Can’t whittle wood
Can’t chip at stone
I peel back my secrets in isolation,
afraid to see myself reflected,
afraid that I am too transparent.

For too long now,
just about,
I’ve been cornered
in despair.
Because who am I
who am I
to shape
to polish
to show my inner world stripped bare?

I have never been a dancer.
This moving art is not for me.
Can’t keep the beat
Can’t bend and sway
I twirl my feelings deep inside,
afraid to let myself go free,
afraid that I am just too disclosed.

For years now,
on and on,
I’ve been tied up
in this panic.
Because who am I
who am I
to move,
to lead,
to strut my powers unescorted?

I’ve tried my hand at poetry
stringing words
jumbling the storyline
underneath devices.
and traps
to catch The Muse
and make her
make me
do the work.

For a year now,
more or less,
I’ve been stuck here,
in my seat.
Because who am I
who am I
to tell
to share
to claim this truth?

But I’ve been told I have a way with words.
This writing thing might be for me.
A natural bard
A wordsmith sure
And yet the stories grab me in the dark,
afraid to be too understood,
afraid that I can’t make real art.

So I’ve been silent,
in this chair,
sitting here,
year after year,
wondering just how I could,
reach out to you,
and be heard.
Because who am I
who am I
to touch you
to tell you,
who am I
who am I
to ask you
to need you,
who am I
who am I
to turn on the light?


Filed under poetry

Songs for an Insomniac

Welcome to my insomnia.

I’d love to tell you what’s going on, but I can’t make sense of it myself.

Something about feeling overwhelmed, over valued and somehow simultaneously under appreciated. Or, appreciated for all the wrong things, or not valued for the right ones…

Being lost.

Needing a hand, but not knowing what hand, or how to ask.

Something about fear, and loneliness.

Something about seeing where I want to be, where I want to go – but not knowing how to start, where to start, how to get there from here…

Something about feeling so strong, and yet so powerless.

Something about finding balance – not forcing it, just feeling it and accepting it.

Something about standing on the precipice. Looking over the edge and screwing up the courage to take the leap.

Something about love – so much love and joy and not knowing how to share it.

Something about gratitude, spilling over, for everything I have and everything I am and…

Since I don’t make sense, since the world doesn’t make sense, let’s just listen to some music together.

Thanks for being.

Sending love. So much love.


Filed under poetry

Things My Husband Does

Things My Husband Does
by Bree Ervin

colorado railroad

Bridges and Railroads

There is a quote, by Heywood Broun, that goes something like this,
“Men build bridges and throw railroads across deserts,
and yet
they contend
that the job of sewing on a button is beyond them.
they don’t have to sew buttons.”

The first time I heard this quote,
I thought to myself,
That is why my mother refused to teach me how to sew.
So that I would be free for the important work of building bridges
with my words.”

And then,
I met my husband.
Not only does he build bridges, and decks, and houses…
He also sews.

When we had our first child together,
I panicked.
Completely undone by the squiggly, needy, whiny, clingy little beast I had just birthed.
It was my husband who wrapped his arms around me,
calmed my raging nerves
and taught me
how to change a diaper,
how to rock our baby girl to sleep,
who gave me back the words to lullabies long forgotten.

It is my husband who cleans the bathrooms.
He cooks half the meals.
Does half the dishes, sometimes more.

My husband takes out the trash and mows the lawn.
Mostly because he likes lawns,
and I do not.

My husband taught me how to load a dishwasher.
And that it needs a special kind of soap.

My husband likes to catch fish on the weekend.
He lets me cook them up.
Not because I’m a woman,
but because my Zen is in the kitchen.

My husband listens when I’m sad,
he lets me scream when I get angry,
he laughs at my bad jokes.
I only have bad jokes.

My husband isn’t afraid to admit,
he cries with me at sappy movies.

When morning comes, he wakes me up with tea and kisses.
He says my brain is beautiful.
My body too.
Strong enough to swing a hammer, climb a mountain or build new life.
Supple enough to snuggle.

My husband confuses people.
With his sometimes pigtails and his weekend skirts.

They think he must be soft,
despite his big truck and his carpenter’s hands.

My husband grins at their discomfort,
confident enough in himself to do the things
that any human can.

My husband knows there’s no real difference.
It’s just yesterday’s opinions
once again.

Because the truth
my husband shows our children
is that building bridges
and railroads
isn’t much different
from sewing.

Seamsters needed! Apply within!

Seamsters needed! Apply within!


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, poetry, Rant

Accidents and Interruptions

A goodnight poem for my daughters. And for you.

Interruptions and Accidents
From Bree Ervin

Hey kid,

Sorry that the dog interrupted the end of the song.

But, that’s life. It’s all just interruptions and accidents.

That’s how I met your dad, you know.

Sheer dumb luck.

Just two people spinning their way through the world.

Done trying to please others, just learning to take care of ourselves for a change.

I happened to overhear him in that crowded bar on that busy night. Happened to have a spare second to look up and see him, to catch his eye, and his breath.

You were an accident too. Sort of. I mean, we wanted you, but, we’d stopped trying.

Notice a theme.

Stop trying, and the good stuff, it just… comes.

Accidental blessings.

And those interruptions, they’re mostly good too.

Think about all the times you were about to say something, something you’d regret, only someone interrupted you before the words came out, the words you’d never be able to take back…

Or think about those interruptions that swerved the conversation down a new windy road, opening your eyes to a whole new world of awesome possibility…

And tonight, when the dog interrupted your song, it was just to give you a kiss, to snuggle up and make sure you knew he loved you so much he couldn’t stand to be apart for one more single moment.

Heck, even he was an accident.

We weren’t supposed to get a dog.

We shouldn’t have been there that day.

But we were.

And he was.

And that’s how life goes – accidents and interruptions.

Serendipity followed by frustration, until we open our eyes and see the new door that opened when we stopped looking.

Tell the world what you want, but don’t be so strict in telling it how to get there, leave it room to wiggle and it will surprise you with its wonders.

Open your eyes so you can see the array of possibilities hiding behind every storm front that rolls through.

Listen, not with your ears, but with your heart. Open yourself to the kindness of others.

Feel your way through the tricky spots, let your fingers find the holds that will pull you up the face of your toughest challenges. Trust your intuition – it will guide you through the other side.

Smell the crackle of passion in the air, like lightning, flashing through your senses almost too fast to catch, but you can catch it, you can follow it, you can chase it down and tame it.

Taste every drop of bitter sweet that life has to offer. Roll it around on your tongue and savor it. We can’t enjoy the sweetness unless we know what bitter tastes like.

This world, it’s yours.

To have and to hold.

In sickness and in health.

For better or for worse.

Till death do you part.

Enjoy it. Every inch. Every nook, every crannie.

Take risks.


Interrupt when it’s important.

Don’t feel bad about the accidents. They too have their purpose.

Assume good intention.

Be open.

And remember the song, when it all feels too big, too much, too heavy to carry…

Just, “Let it go, let it go – ‘cause it’s smaller than you know. It’s no bigger than a pebble lying on the gravel road. Let it go, let it go, got to leave it all behind you, give the sun a chance to find you, let it go…”

Find the awesome in the adversity.

Find the awesome in the adversity.


Filed under Kids, poetry