On Mexico City & Mourning


Tomorrow The Washington Post will publish my review of Francisco Goldman’s new book The Interior Circuit. (It’s already available online here.) Like his previous work, it is beautifully written, brutally honest, and original. Part memoir, part chronicle, the book paints a vivid picture of Mexico City, while also exploring the enduring grief — and love — Goldman feels for his wife more than five years after her death.

There was much I wanted to say that didn’t fit into a 900-word review, including the following lines from the poet Edward Hirsch’s forthcoming book about the death of his son (excerpted in a recent New Yorker article):

I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night
The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief
I did not know I would struggle
Through a ragged underbrush
Without an upward path.

Hirsch later ends the section:

Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders
That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.

Ultimately, The Interior Circuit is about Goldman, the families of some 100,000+ Mexicans who have died in drug war-related violence during the last eight years, and anyone else left “carrying a bag of cement.”

Hirsch’s lines and Goldman’s book especially resonate with me this week as I mourn the death of my friend and mentor Michael B. Katz. Michael would have been one of the first people with whom I shared my review and, always supportive, I think he would have liked it. He also would have appreciated the book: As an urban historian he would have been interested in reading about el monstruoso DF, a city he visited once, decades ago; and as a person of tremendous compassion he would have felt for Goldman, and appreciated the openness with which The Interior Circuit discusses loss and essential aspects of the human experience.

I would like to write more about Michael in the future, but I can’t now. It’s still too raw, too surreal. For now, I am left “carrying a bag of cement.”

Although Hirsch and Goldman don’t offer any easy answers or solutions, they do offer some perspective: I am but one of hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues, students, and readers mourning Michael. At a time like this, that offers some comfort, and that may be the most for which anyone coping with the death of a loved one can hope.

Michael and I, August 2013

Michael and I, Oquossoc, Maine, August 2013.


Links to obituaries, remembrances, and tributes to Michael, which I will periodically update:

Tom Sugrue (via Penn Press)
Elaine Simon & Mark Stern (Penn Urban Studies)
Mike Rose
Sherman Dorn
Philadelphia Inquirer
The Daily Pennsylvanian
The New York Times
Boston Globe (excerpt of NYT)
Julian Zelizer (Video from CSPAN/AHA2015)
Karen Tani (via Legal History Blog)


Updated: links to some of Michael’s presentations, interviews, and articles:


On The Price of Citizenship, House of Our Own Bookstore (Philly)/BookTV, April 25, 2001 
On The Price of Citizenship: Redefining the Welfare State
, UC-Santa Barbara, November 11, 2002
On One Nation Divisible, UC-Berkeley, comment by Robert Reich, April 16, 2008
On Why Don’t American Cities Burn?, New America Foundation, Washington, DC, comment by Devin Fergus, February 17, 2012
On Why Don’t American Cities Burn?, Penn-IUR, comments by Tom Sugrue & Walter Licht, February 29, 2012
On Why Don’t American Cities Burn?
, The City Talks Lecture, Victoria, BC, November 8, 2012


Immigration in the Philadelphia Region,” Radio Times, WHYY Philadelphia, December 1, 2008
Food stamp cuts,” Radio Times, WHYY Philadelphia, October 31, 2013
The Undeserving Poor,” The Tavis Smiley Show, fall 2013
A New Look at ‘The Undeserving Poor’,” The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC, November 25, 2013
Poverty and the Social Safety Net,” The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC, March 24, 2014


Borders and Bootstraps,”  Winter 2013
Public Education as Welfare,” Spring 2012
The Existential Problem of Urban Studies,” Fall 2010 (sub req)
The Death of Beatrice: Reflections on Old Age in America,” Winter 2010 (sub req)
The Death of ‘Shorty’,” Winter 2009
What is an American City?,” Summer 2009 (sub req)
Why Aren’t U.S. Cities Burning?,” Summer 2007

The Biological Inferiority of the Undeserving Poor,” January 8, 2014
On Rewriting The Undeserving Poor,” October 2, 2013
Where’s the Violence?,” November 7, 2011

How America Abandoned its ‘Undeserving’ Poor,” December 21, 2013

Bloomberg, Champion of the Poor,” November 5, 2013

Oxford University Press Blog
The legacy of the War on Poverty, 50 years later,” January 8, 2014

On his book Why Don’t American Cities Burn?,” February 6, 2012


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