Which came first?  The falling from the sky
or the longing to return to it?

You lifting yourself toward me,
all heated skin and beyond, that look of ravage haunt
and need and the briefest sighting of you spirit bared.
You told me you dreamt of this moment between us and
woke from the dreaming in a terror. Your eyes caving
like the lightning field the moment before the strike.

I sleep with the light on. Even still,
my body does not claim itself to ease in full dark,
the gathers in the corners, the closed bedroom door.
My father’s only perpetual complaint, all my life:
Dora, turn the damn light off before you fall asleep.
So vehement that my middle brother used to pull the gripped book
from my fingers in my deepest sleep and set it on the bedside table
before he himself turned the light off and walked down the long
hallway, alone, in the breathing dark.

Which came first? The outcast or the belonging?
Stones skimming lake water in concentric circles
or the one hawk above watching it from the broader view?

He told me once, some stupid Friday wild-hair night
that Ray Carver might have written about,
me running pool tables against League shooters
who stared at my ass after I took their money:
McQuaid, your face has the look of a wound.
And then he stood there, long arms hanging at his sides,
unmoving across the distance between us until I placed,
gently, the pool cue on the green felt, my hands ribbed
with cobalt chalk like outward veins, and I walked out,
stood in the parking lot alone, dragon breathing bone cold,
looking at the January snow reflecting all that blue back up.

Which came first: The light we carried within us
or the darkness that birthed us?

You told me once: Children born in lightning are beyond us all,
their faces always turned upward to the sky, beyond us.
Match pop and flare; your face illuminated.
And you, yourself, looking upward.

©2014 Dora E. McQuaid

Originally published in Gargoyle Literary Journal #64, 2016. Now available.
With my great gratitude to Editor Richard Peabody, for another inclusion in the long-running maverick Gargoyle Magazine.

All peace to each one of you.

Martin Luther King, Junior

January 15 1929 – April 4 1968

I’m standing below the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, which is marked by the wreath above me. Dr. King was shot standing on the second-floor balcony outside of his room at The Lorraine Hotel, in Memphis, Tennessee, the day after his last speech, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. The Lorraine Hotel later became the the National Civil Rights Museum, which I have visited twice. During both visits, I  was repeatedly moved to tears by the injustice of separation and the grace, courage and conviction of the people who have risen up to peacefully confront those injustices and demand the dignity and freedom of all people.

As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. – Dr. King

This quote, and the inspiration and example of peaceful resistance and change that Dr. King offered in his brief but powerful life, have both been guiding forces for many years in my own work to address the injustices of pandemic violence, reminding me that we always get to choose our responses to the injustices we face. My hope is that we land on love and peace and justice in our choosing.

All peace to each one of you as we honor Dr. King today.



Photos from my ongoing speaking and book tour with my book, the scorched earth, continue to come in.

Here is one of me taking the stage at the Andrew Carnegie Music Hall and Library in Pittsburgh for the benefit event for Crisis Center North, a key program in the greater Pittsburg area that offers services for survivors of both domestic and sexual violence, on Thursday October 28 2015.

Here is one of me with an event attendee during the book signing at the Carnegie following my speech.

The book singings are always my favorite part of any event for the opportunity they give me to visit with people and hear their stories.

My gratitude to the entire staff of Crisis Center North, especially Executive Director Grace Coleman, for the honor of joining them and for their generous support of my efforts since 2000, to Verizon for their generous corporate sponsorship of the evening, to Geoff Crowe of Alicia Photography for these photos from the evening and to everyone who joined us for the three events I did that night.

All peace to each one of you.




I am on tour with my recently released Expanded, Second Edition of my book, the scorched earth, and am currently in State College, PA, preparing for two speeches during the week ahead, one at Penn State and one in front of my image in the Inspiration Mural just off of Penn State’s University Park Campus, where I taught for many years after completing both my undergraduate and graduate degrees there. My image in this widely celebrated mural of artist Michael Pilato’s and the Public Art Academy replaced the image of former football coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky in June 2012 following his many felony convictions as a child sexual predator.

Yesterday was the first time in over three years that I went to see my image in the mural since Michael Pilato painted it into the seat where Jerry Sandusky’s image once was.

I was brought to tears by the hundreds of handprints surrounding my image, handprints of survivors of sexual violence who chose to be counted as survivors in this block-long mural. There were no words for this moment, realizing again as I stood there and tried to take in the handprints of every size and shape that sometimes our voices truly can make a positive difference in the lives of others. And even if that difference is made for only one person, I’m honored to have the opportunity to live as I do, with poetry and advocacy on behalf of survivors of violence leading me forward.

Love and grace to each one of you today, especially every survivor who bravely chose to be counted in the mural. You are all an inspiration to me.

All peace to each one of you.

My image in the Inspirations Mural, wearing the blue ribbon in honor of survivors of childhood sexual violence. Near Penn State.

My hand, reaching for my own hand painted in the Inspirations Mural, where my image replaced that of Jerry Sandusky. My gratitude to my dear friend, Dawn McKee, for these photos and for her many years of support of my efforts.

I am excited to announce that I will be serving as Keynote Speaker for Crisis Center North’s Annual Celebration, with generous corporate sponsorship of Verizon’s Hopeline.

Details here: 10 28 15 MCQUAID CCN POSTER

Wednesday, October 28, 2015, 6:00 – 10:00 pm

Andrew Carnegie Music Hall, Carnegie, PA

In honor of October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Crisis Center North’s 37 years of providing services to victims of both domestic and sexual violence in the greater Pittsburgh area, I will be joining Crisis Center North for a full evening of three events on October 28th.

Tickets for this event are available as VIP and General Admission at www.crisiscenternorth.org.

  • VIP tickets are $75 and limited to the first 30 individuals. The VIP tickets will give you an opportunity to interact with me, Dora McQuaid, prior to my presentation, a pre-event reception and a gift to remember the evening and reserved parking, as well as inclusion in the book signing and refreshments during it. Doors for the VIP event open at 6 PM.
  • General attendance tickets are $50 and include my Keynote presentation and book signing event, with refreshments during it. Doors will open at 6:45 for General Admission tickets.

North Allegheny High School String Quartet will be performing during Ms. McQuaid’s book signing. Food will be catered by Stephen’s Kitchen.  

Domestic violence is everyone’s business! Since 1978, Crisis Center North has provided assistance to victims of domestic violence through a variety of confidential resources and services. Each year, the Center provides free empowerment counseling and advocacy to nearly 2,000 adults, teens, and child victims of domestic violence in the northern and western communities of Allegheny County. Crisis Center North also provides nearly 20,000 community members and students with educational programming regarding the dynamics of domestic violence. The Center’s services are free of charge and provided to individuals regardless of race, age, gender, disability, economic status, or sexual orientation. For more information, please visit www.crisiscenternorth.org.

Verizon’s Hopeline, which provides free cell phones and service to victims of domestic violence in the US, has requested sole sponsorship of this event in honor of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Through Hopeline, Verizon collects no-longer-used wireless phones, batteries, chargers and accessories in any condition, from any service provider and turn them into financial support for domestic violence awareness and prevention initiatives. Verizon also donates wireless phones through the HopeLine program, complete with service and data, to domestic violence shelters and non-profit organizations for use by victims and survivors. Since 2001, HopeLine has collected more than 11.4 million phones, donated more than $29 million in cash grants, and provided more than 190,000 phones with wireless service and data to domestic violence organizations nationwide.

Please join me, Dora, in Pittsburgh during my Pennsylvania book and speaking tour in October as we celebrate the 37 years of Crisis Center North’s groundbreaking work serving survivors as they rebuild their lives.  A book signing with my collection of poems, the scorched earth, will be part of this event.

Details and tickets available at:


Please also see the Pittsburgh Post Gazette article, Dora McQuaid, advocate for domestic violence victims, to speak at Crisis Center North from Monday October 19, 2015 about this Keynote Speech event.

And, as always, thank you for your support of my efforts to address the violence that far too many of us experience.





Connect with Dora on Facebook

Connect with Dora on Linkedin


 Now shipping!

the scorched earth

Order copies here

the scorched earth spoken by Dora E. McQuaid


Comments or questions are welcome.

* indicates required field


Dora’s efforts to use her voice as an means of activism and advocacy, social and political engagement and individual and collective empowerment and healing are funded, in part, by her readers. This website provides a wide array of resources to support visitors in exploring and living into their truths, and the support offered in return has allowed Dora to maintain this website as a community-driven, advertising-free space for over sixteen years. If you find that this website offers you inspiration or support, information or resources that benefit you or your community or you appreciate Dora’s voice and efforts, please consider making a contribution to keep her work and art alive. Thank you.
All peace to you.