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Poetry Moment: Nicole Santalucia and 'Notes from the Commonwealth'

Poet Nicole Santalucia

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Notes from the Commonwealth” by Nicole Santalucia.

Nicole Santalucia is the author of three books of poetry, including The Book of Dirt, from which today’s poem is drawn. Santalucia teaches at Shippensburg University and has led poetry workshops throughout central Pennsylvania, at Cumberland County Prison, public libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs, nursing homes, and elsewhere.

About the backstory of today’s poem, Santalucia shared this with me: “The lack of laws and protections for my LGBTQ community was a catalyst for the poem.” She also shared recent news that makes today’s poem more ironic and, sadly, ever timely. In January of this year, a GOP-led majority of the Chambersburg council voted to repeal a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that had passed only four months prior. This act has made Chambersburg the first municipality in Pennsylvania to ever revoke a law designed to ensure its citizens’ civil rights. “Notes from the Commonwealth” sees the poet-speaker reckoning with how to find safety in the town where she and her wife live, amidst the onslaught of the “news” and the violence directly inflicted upon them.


Notes from the Commonwealth

The cuts on my heels sting
from walking barefoot through news headlines.

Just yesterday, I fell in love. I fell on the sidewalk.
I fell into a pile of jackknives.

I’ve been soaking my feet
in a bucket of rocks for fifteen years.

My arms and legs and feet wrapped in gauze.
Layers of skin, wads of crumpled dollar bills, newspapers,

toilet paper tucked into my sleeves and socks—
I mean, I held my wife’s hand when we went for a walk

and someone threw rocks at us, then someone else threw glass,
then a soda can, then a styrofoam cup full of ice.

It was a Sunday morning. No, a Tuesday.
It was a Friday when we pretended to hold hands.

We dreamed that nothing could cut us apart—
not the knives, not the news, not the gravel.

It was a Wednesday. The traffic was slower than usual—
at the crosswalk we waited for the light.

We waited for all of the light, but we were looking
down instead of up. We were looking for a softer,

silent rock or a saint or a rabbi.
We searched the cracks in the road and found dust.

We picked up handfuls of soot and worshipped
the street corner. In this town wind and rocks

and arms and feet fight like red-tailed hawks;
every time we hold hands, prayer happens.

That was “Notes from the Commonwealth” by Nicole Santalucia.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with us today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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