A music project. Poems to return in a day or so.
Tag Archives: music
Remember how sick that session was?
We all walked out the door saying that was one sick session.
No idea now who played. No idea now what we started with.
I must have had a red guitar but which one?
I must have played my heart out but I don’t remember.
You were there. You’re shaking your head but you must have been.
If you don’t remember it I’ll try to remind you. Remember?
You offered me a smoke and I turned it down because no filter.
I smoked Winstons back then. Haven’t smoked in what now, a decade?
You say you never smoked? I could have sworn you offered me a Camel.
I know we started with a standard — maybe “Stella By Starlight?”
I don’t even recall how that goes now. You swear you never smoked?
I don’t touch my guitar anymore either. Maybe I never did?
The room I recall was full of smoke. Maybe it’s all in my head?
That sick session I rely on to remind me of who I was — did it happen?
Did I ever play at all? The room had gray walls and a ceiling fan.
Did it happen to me? I can just see five or six shadows intent on music.
Was it on TV? Everything is, you know. We were wailing, I promise.
No cutting, not us. We wove and bobbed and it worked, it just worked.
Did it happen? Did we play together? Everything used to just work back then.
A song is playing loudly
in the neighborhood, a song
you can’t stand hearing,
another person’s favorite song.
You worship at the altar of curation.
You can’t fathom why
they can’t use earbuds
to keep their atrocious taste to themselves,
dammit. This is America. You have
the right to be unbothered by
the presence of others. You have the right
not to find out who is who
through their music. Their food smells
good, though. If it were over here
you’d try it. But the music — the music’s
all wrong. It ought to be unheard,
and while we’re at it, they’re pretty loud
themselves. Too loud. This is America.
You have the right to call someone
and get them to do something about this.
You have the right not to know
one damn thing about the people
who lives up the damn block.
That’s why you bought the earbuds
in the first place. That’s the whole point
of a curated playlist. That’s the reason they invented
noise cancellation. You have the right
never to hear another voice as long as you live.
Born sheltered under country,
opera for a roof, walled in by popular crooners
on a street where Lawrence Welk might live.
Only dug the classical wing of that house
now and then. I preferred to take that
small: string quartets, solo guitar.
Later, rock music compacted me,
helped me fit better into tight rooms
full of other people.
Later, I felt funk as earthquake
cracking a back wall I thought
would be too thick to fall. I was wrong.
Jazz, though: jazz kicked open a locked door
in a stone wall in the little rock room,
got me past the classics to the open air.
I had to leave the house I grew up in
to grow up. It took flamenco palmas
to lock the door behind me, Afrobeat
to help me turn the corner
into the broad boulevard
headed out of town;
there has been so much more since
I cannot name. I’ve lived
in so many places since then
that I can listen to anything now
and not go home again because
I know so much of what the world looks like.
The guitars my country of old men loves to hear
support the binary my country of old men adores.
They must have either six or twelve strings,
must be either acoustic or electric.
My country of old men mostly loves only songs
that are played on guitars. If there are
mandolins or banjos in the song they must be
there only as adjunct to guitars. Ukuleles
have their place among the acceptable
for their chiming and their cute faces; they look like
infant guitars to the old men and who would take
such candy from babies? They’ll surely outgrow them.
A bass guitar is acceptable; this is why it is called
a guitar. Any other instrument with strings
is inferior to guitar and should be at best
relegated to guitar support, say the old men
of my country. This is why no one around here
recognizes any kind of cuatro or knows what a saz is,
why no one has ever heard a vihuela, a charango,
a guitarra de Lisboa.
Those who play such dangerous instruments
keep to themselves around here for fear of
my country of old men. You have to spin the dials
a long time on secret radios to hear any of them played.
It’s as if the old men
know this would be
a different country if everyone
heard those sounds.
I wrote my first poem
when I was almost too young
and marked by that
went on to write only poems
for an entire lifetime;
that was music to me.
It was always music I sought
in words, how they butted up
to song, slope of one line into
another, beat of syllables
against my teeth and tongue.
When deep in later life
I touched my first guitar
I thought of all those poems
and as my fingers built chords
I recognized what was happening;
it was the same.
All of that is vanishing now.
The need to play is slipping
from me. I sit and think
of my dusty guitar
on the far wall. I sit
and think about the dust
on the seams of this poem.
There’s fantastic music,
clouds of it in fact,
still playing clearly
none of it
for me to play.
If you look like you should be in a band,
you should be in a band.
You may already be in a band, or maybe
you are in camouflage, in disguise as a member
of a band. If someone asks if you’re in a band,
whether or not you are
you’d better be able to tell them
the name — and if they ask what you play,
you’d better say you are a vocalist —
unless you play something?
Do you play something, play well enough
to be able to comfort the eagerness of the questioner?
They’re going to ask you if there’s anything your band does
they might have heard. Shrug it off; be modest.
Be the band member you’d wished you had met at fifteen,
the one too cool to boast. Be the one who answers
all questions and maybe you give an autograph,
a hard to read scribble on a stray napkin.
After the encounter, get back in your car.
Write a damn song, would you? The band is depending on you.
If you aren’t in a band,
you know where to start.
Exhausted by the pressure
to keep up with the news
I chose instead to listen
to the birds and squirrels
cheating each other out of
hanging feed and stray seeds.
I drew no relief from that so instead
I went to the park and lay on the grass
as far from all other beings as I could
but still the clouds warred above me
and struck out the sun.
Back home I opened a novel
and the words danced and wrestled
so fiercely I could not follow them
where they were going.
I opened a blank book
to try and tame my own words.
There were only a few at first
which soon enough followed the others
into the tangled woods where I lost them.
There was a guitar on the wall.
There were my hands out on the ends of my arms.
There was something to do now
that I didn’t need to understand.
There I was, inside a badly played song
with all the room I needed there to breathe.
When the architect passes
you still have the building.
When the musician passes
you still have the music.
When the person passes
you have what you remember —
when Fats Domino passed,
when Little Richard passed,
I remember how their hands
looked on the keys.
I remember how I knew
from watching them that the piano
was not for me. I remember
how it might have been my path
in another life. I remember
my own long years of lessons
and how I struggled. When
I heard of their passages,
I fell back into those struggles
and recalled the flash of sequins
from one, the explosive chords;
the strong steady rain of notes
from the other, the sideways smile.
But it’s not about me today.
It’s about gratitude and about
new holes in the air
around the building.
A hard lesson
from my guitar tonight:
my left hand’s become
a bald-faced lie
at which my
right hand cringes,
but it does not demand
A body divided against itself
I grind my teeth
and pick up the guitar again,
ask it at last to tell me
anything about what’s true?
I manage a chord, a small
simple chord, struck weakly but precisely;
start to recall, now,
what I know will actually heal
a damaged body; the willingness
to go through pain on the way
to the body’s rightful music.
I try again. I listen,
grind, chase the truth.
the car radio
I don’t recognize.
near every food cart
you don’t know and like already?
trait to assume
should only hold
your favorite scents
and sounds —
to hell with your earbuds:
let the world in,
A guitar neck just feels
like more of my nerve-drunk hand.
The strings burn graves
into my dead fingertips.
The volume knob turned too far
spikes my fear of exposure.
If I sound insecure to others
about how it feels to play,
it is because these raging nerves
are what I know of my hands lately,
and lately my guitar is where they go
to fail and (soon enough) to die.
The pain on the day after:
history informing the future.
Music comes from
the place between those things.
All my apologies flow
from how every broken arpeggio
climbs a ladder leading
to a day when I will have to stop
all of this, or when I am
at last stopped.
Till then, though?
Till then, I am yours.
From the stage all he clearly sees
is the faces in the first few rows;
beyond that visual fuzz, sightline distortion
as thick as what’s pealing from the amps.
He knows, as well as he knows himself,
that there are kids in that crowd miming air guitar
to every riff he releases, and as he always does
he asks himself: what do I do here?
Do I play what I played on the original,
the same tired run that used to make me glow
the first thousand times I played it? Do I play that
because a thousand or more kids here tonight
have stood before a thousand or more mirrors practicing,
practicing to play it exactly right? Or instead
do I play it the way I can play it now, gifting them all
a liquid swarm of stingers unlike anything they’ve heard
from me before? Do I risk or relax; do I do what’s expected,
or do I stretch it out before them all
and wait for astonishment,
for indifference, for the whispers that might follow?
He hangs for a bar or two between fear and art
then plunges his hand down across the strings,
imagining a sea of mirrors before him,
unseen in the raging darkness.
For at least one moment,
nothing remains of pain
or worry for me
after hearing each string of a guitar
tuned to a unison with
the fretted previous string —
all ache resolves
when the tones
lock into each other
so that one cannot tell
two strings are sounding —
it will not stay in tune
forever, I know; but even
this one moment is long enough —
a sustained note of hope that things
can be set right, that there is
a way to do that, an art or science
or both, that just works —
that up until the moment
the string breaks,
it can be well played.
My brain pummels me to sleep
and drills me awake with
“Rocky Top” playing on loop
of a band (what the hell
was their name?)
that used to play at
the Depot Lounge
on Tuesday nights
over forty years ago
and once again it’s
time for that virus of
that ties a regret stone
to each ankle — stones
torn no doubt
from the summit
of Rocky Top
I shall drown soon enough
in past happenings
(what in hell were the names
of all the hellions
from back then?
Not even sure of my own)
The Depot Lounge
was where I learned
the extent of my drowning skills
No amount of Rocky Top
could keep me afloat back then
and it’s not helping now
I’m sinking fast listening to
a song of Tennessee
(as is the whole country
as is the whole world
but I digress –)
What in hell was the name
of the band that would set up
in the front by the bar
on Tuesday nights
under the projection screen
(was it even the Depot Lounge
or a different local bar?
There were so many
I have lost the names for them all)
They’d play Rocky Top
Home sweet home to me
and all us Yankees would sing along
In a downward spiral
I sing Rocky Top
Good Old Rocky Top
Had me a girl once
Half Bear, other half Cat
What was the name of that band
and the name of that girl
or any other from then
or anyone from then
Who was I back then
but another drunk
circling the drain
I wish I was in Rocky Top
Rocky Top home to me
but it wasn’t and in my head
there is no place like home
and horror and all the music
of the past can’t hold me up
I should put a hole in my head
and let this out
What was the name
of that band
I don’t blame them
for being forgotten
I wish I was in Rocky Top
I could hold on to the edge of this pit
while singing dumbly along
until I could stand no more
let go and swirl away
Vanish like that band has done
once the song was done