I sing a shattered song of someone else’s youth the melody forgotten the words faded into odd syllables heard in my dreams. The coyote stands at the edge of a gully staring at me and wondering why I slip from the hogan through the hole punched in the back wall slinking away in the encroaching dark. The priest, his saffron robes pulled tight around his legs in the morning chill, stares as I run my hands across the giant brass bell feeling its resonance. I hear the dirge as sleep nips at the edge of my consciousness grabbing the frayed margins of life
Bob Dylan is, to the best of my knowledge, the only songwriter to successfully rhyme outrageous and contagious, which doesn’t explain why I knew I could never be a successful songwriter in this life.
The explanation is far simpler, it was when Leonard Cohen served me tea and apricots, said he hated the river even living in Montreal and said I should pack off to Florida or California if I wanted oranges, though he said, if I ever visited China, if I’d see where their oranges came from.
We’re all older now, Leonard is dead and even Bob admits he’s not sure he’s younger now, but he says, Bob that is, that I need to get over keeping up with the Joneses, because in the final analysis, we are all Jones at the end.
He would be the first to admit that he hated most things avant-garde particularly when it applied to either art or music. It was simply a matter of being in the moment, and he knew you could not be ahead of time for there was only the moment in which you were in.
It wasn’t until I hit middle age, which on my scale will allow me to live past 100, that I discovered that cats are Celtic deep in their hearts. Our cat, she who adopted me and forced her then owner to marry me, like it or not, was in love with the tin whistle and the uilleann pipes playing had her in my lap, unmoving. But she had her Buddhist side as well, sitting zazen for hours, longer if accompanied by shakuhachi flutes. She said that cats were discerning, were connoisseurs of music loved cello, viola and violin but barely tolerated the bass. It was why, she said, all the great composers wrote for the higher strings. And, she would add, as for dogs, well they loved country music most, reason enough for pity.
It’s jazz, it’s a club, but there what once was is no more, there are no ashtrays on the table, overflowing early into the second set, no cloud of cigarette smoke descending from the too dark ceiling. There is no recognizable odor of a freshly lit Gaulloise, in the trembling fingers of a young man trying to look cool, trying not to cough on each inhalation, in the calm fingers of a young woman who you know speaks the fluent French of her homeland. It is none of those things but it is jazz, it is a club and in this city, now, it must suffice.
On very dreary days I like to drive through the cemetery meandering among the stones until I find a freshly dug grave. I stop, under the vigilant eye of the caretaker and carefully place a cassette of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances or Smetana’s Die Moldau into the player. As the melodies spill forth I hope they lift the spirit of the resting, bringing them a moment of unabashed joy, a memory to carry into an eternity, a lingering riff, sweet as the juice of the strawberry trickling down the chin, a chocolate slowly melting on the tongue. Night will come soon enough bringing a darkness in which they can see their dreams take form and seep away to mingle in the void.
First appeared in Aura Literary Arts Review Vol. 26, No. 1 (2000) and reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006)
It should be the stories behind the stories that get told. We have to blame the songwriters I suppose, telling only the part of the story they choose, leaving us to sit and wonder, no answers, forthcoming. We all know what happened to Billie Joe and the damned Talahatchee Bridge, but how did Becky Thompson snare the brother and for that matter, why Tupelo? And Mr. Jones, how does he know what’s happening and not know what it is, and why in the hell is he so thin? But Suzanne, she was a real piece of work, always with the river, but ask all you want and she won’t say what river it is and Jesus says, simply, come back later, you’re not a sailor yet.