Tag Archives: music

Words And Guitar

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 
outside somewhere;

none of it 
is meant
for me to play.


You Should Be In A Band

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.


A Learning Process

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.


Passages

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
nonetheless imagining

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.

The building’s
still standing.

The music’s
still playing.


Guitar Lesson

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
the truth.

A body divided against itself
cannot sing.

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,

correct myself,
grind, chase the truth.


Scanning

Endlessly scanning
the car radio
seeking music
I don’t recognize.
 
Roll the window down
near every food cart
trying to guess what
they’re serving.
 
People ask why
I would ever want to do these things.
Why listen to music
you don’t know and like already?
 
Why allow the smell
of something foreign in?
Such an all-American
trait to assume
 
that the air around you
should only hold
your favorite scents
and sounds —
 
and while we’re at it,
to hell with your earbuds:
let the world in,
you cowards.

Neuropathy Blues

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.


Let It Rock

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.


Tuning

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.


Rocky Top

My brain pummels me to sleep
and drills me awake with

“Rocky Top” playing on loop

Reminds me 
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

damnable nostalgia 
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 
in Massachusetts

(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


Cold Guitar

She’s on your mind

as you struggle
into the club

with your gear,
coming in from cold

that will bust your guitar’s finish
wide open into something like

a road map if the case
is opened too soon.

There you sit with a beer
staring at the case,

thinking of songs for her
you haven’t written

that you promised yourself
you’d write, and now

would be the perfect time for it
if only it would warm up.

Then again, there’s tomorrow
to consider, and spring eventually,

and the right song takes time
and heat and more time; and 

the thought of her is receding now,
the previous urgency diminishing

even as the time comes
to pull the guitar gingerly out

and play your songs for strangers,
songs you wrote for her

in warmer days. Songs
you are selling, if you can,

to anyone who will listen.


I Have No Metal

I have no metal.
I have no funk.
Lost my folk, my jazz,
almighty punk.

I sat my guitar back
in its case.
Laid the strap 
over its dimmed face.

Easy now. The down.
The slide. 
Rest the music.
Close the eyes.

I know one song
from start to end
and here it is.
I recommend

you play it slow
and soft to start.
Crescendo till
it breaks a heart.

Need not be yours,
need not be mine.
Just count it off
just one more time.

I have no metal
and crashed my punk.
My funk and jazz
have run to junk.

I have no song
to offer here.
Close the door.
Disappear.


Three Chords And

Massively revised from 2008, 2015.  Original title, “It’s The ‘Spangled’ That We Love About That Song.”

once you were a chucked salt berry
a fogerty full of sloppy chords
a skip to my lou reed

then you got all slippery
with your own clean sauce

tossed out your faded paper bag

of dark wanderings
bought your commercial anthem
from the fluorescent aisle

come back to your game desire
come slaphappy sharp
to the war against plastic

you used to have
a mouth full of splinters

honored dingbat and idiot

and all those
who broke the social charm
with a fart

you were gas monster
huffer of free roaches
smoker of the right goddamn herbs

who feared not death
when it came through charred fences
borne on tornado cellar blown open

you were the scent
of acorn porridge

delta mysterious

that devil in the crossroads
still valued
your willing ass

you used to not be such a freak for safety
you used to not be
such a doom escape

children
hate you more
now that you’re safer

not a scrap
of care left
for your tradition

we love some of you still
even with your
crystal fraud hippie faking

and your
wall street loving
gutterpunk

bite me
or better yet 
infect yourself

be the sick fuck we loved to love
no matter how bad
you made us feel


In The Club

Pretense of
black turtlenecks
and sunglasses.
A cult of jazz dogs
barking assent
to massed noise,
dense mist
of scramble
and note salad.
Deep analysis and
bullshit among the 
gold… 

meanwhile
the musicians smoke
in the back alley
between sets,

and talk
of baseball.


Chastisement Jazz

Morning ride radio.

Bird 
decorating air,
Mingus
opening depths,
Trane
rarefying light, 
Monk 
coming at existence from
guru angles, and 
Blakey
socking in a
pulse. 

News reports: 
bodies on 
street corners,
in mosques,
churches, and temples…

then back to
music standing
up to death — 
all the players having known 
such casual killings
in their time, too.

How dare I claim
to be so broken
that there is nothing left
for me to say?