Chicago Stories

By M. Padgen-Michna

For Arianna

She drifted on a sea of dreams
wearing a new purple backpack,
carrying a fistful
of pink pencils:
Ready for first grade,
for all the firsts,
for all of her tomorrows.
But Arianna was a princess
in a strange country
where babies take a bullet
while they sleep
on Grandma’s daybed.
August 2011, 5:44 a.m.,
a bullet whistles through the dawn,
its silver flash breaks a window
and rips into her body.

For Janari

A dreamer with plans:
Basketball in hand,
calling himself ‘young Curry’
after his favorite star,
a path of straight As
on his way to fourth grade
and to a waiting world.
He had a backup plan,
a practical vision
for a nine-year-old:
To rebuild a community
with safe places
“for the kids,” he said.
On a summer day,
he answered the call of friends
to come out and play
in front of his home.
In the waning afternoon,
a stray bullet stopped him,
… one of six children
gone to guns
in the summer of 2020.

The Families

Swaying reeds
in an unmarked battlefield,
the women move
in a dance of grief,
their children caught
in the crossfire,
and they cry,
… why there is no peace
for their children.
They will march,
their voices ringing
through the streets,
“Save our Children.”
And somewhere else,
other voices raise their chant,
“Guns don’t kill; people kill.”
Our Children
The words fly back and forth
and nothing changes.
Nine years later …
how many children gone?
Is anyone keeping count?
Families count the one
they loved.
And the bullets fly
like falling stars
through the days and nights
in Chicago,
taking our children with them.


In memory of Arianna
Chicago Child Homicide Victim 2011
Chicago Child Homicide Victim 2020
and all of the children gone to gun violence.


From the Author

Reading of Arianna’s death hit me hard as I shopped for supplies for grandchildren starting school. I wrote the poem and read it at a Poets for Peace event. Nothing has changed! I decided to continue work on the poem and share it.

A journalist for Chicago suburban newspapers and The Chicago Tribune, I was always a “closet poet,” more comfortable with a notebook and pen, asking questions and telling someone’s story. I did that for 15 years, wrote for several charities, and served on the board of the Illinois Women’ s Press Association. I met amazing people and earned a few awards.

I worked with a friend to start a writing group and returned to the page with poetry. My family is raised. I am widowed and retired. My two grandchildren are now in high school, and I think of those lost children and their families.

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