They brought him myrrh on a flaming salver and all he could do was say “This is something I would expect from a butcher or a carpenter, and the camera angles would never work, so bring me napalm or punji stakes that we have proven to work.” They brought him ripe oranges and the sweet meat of the pineapple, its juice dripping from his chin, and all he could do was tighten his grip on the AK-47 and dream of night on the edge of the jungle. They brought him Rodin, Matisse, Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake, but all he would see was Bosch and Goya, and then only by the light of fading candles. They brought him the String Quartet in A Major played on Strads and Guarnaris, but he wanted the retort of the howitzer the crump of the mortar, the screams of the child. They brought him his child wrapped in bandages missing fingers and toes, and all he wanted was the nursery, a newborn in swaddling, suckling her breast as he stroked her head and remembered the moment of her creation.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)
My uncle and I would sneak away from the seemingly endless party, no one wanted to attend and couldn’t leave. We go up to my room and turn on the radio. He’d want to look for the Senators game, but they’d left town and no radio could pull in Minneapolis anyway, but despite Killebrew, Arbitron sealed their fate and this was Yankees country as well. I try to pull in C H U M from across the lake. It played music the local DJs wouldn’t touch, in which never found their constrictive playlists, provided by dad’s pal, the local rack jobber come self-assumed all label A&R man. Still, Mel would listen with me until he was missed then try and sneak back to the party, while I listen Don into the night, hearing songs I have to hunt for at the record store, for one thing I knew was that it didn’t have a section marked Canadian Content Rule.
It is an ungainly beast and its cry, as much a bleat as a roar, can pierce the air and is never easily ignored. There are far larger to be found, and far more beautiful. Some have voices that melt anger incite passion, alleviate pain. Some sing in a register so low touch and hearing are merged. Even this beast has its smaller kin, gentler, if not ever soothing, happy to fill a room, not a universe. But the great beast has always known its place, held in the arms of and cradled informal procession, carried forward into battle by the so-called Ladies from Hell.
Three beers over two hours
and, giddy, I want to sing
along with the Irish house band
in my horribly off key voice,
just two choruses
of Irish Rover or Four Green Fields.
It’s beginning to snow outside
and it’s a four-block walk
to the Government Center station.
I suppose it would sober me up
but a couple of more songs
couldn’t hurt, I’ve got two hours
before the last train and we can
walk across the campus
through the tunnels
once we’re back in Cambridge.
I probably should have gone
with Coors or Bud Lite
but Guinness is, all said,
a meal in a glass.
I would stand now,
but my knees seem
comatose, so let’s sing
to Auld Robbie, a verse or two
of Scots Wa Hae, it’s damn
near Irish anyway
and from this seat
in the Black Rose
Cambridge is a world away.
First Published in Celt at Aberffraw (Wales, UK) 2000
They ebb and flow like tides down the half-empty street from venue to venue, many with that lost look of years in the desert, driven on by promised the land of honey notes, the mother’s milk of jazz. The event passes flap in the breeze created by their wake, some checking programs, their personal map to the festival. We stand on the corner watching humanity engage in the ritual we, after 14 years, have chosen now only to observe.
He sits, suited in black, with 88 keys at his command, and we fall silent. He opens the lock of joy, the lock of sadness, the lock of elation, the lock of tears, the lock of laughter, the lock of darkness, the lock of light, the lock of surprise, the lock of compassion, the lock of love, and we peer through each door, unable to enter fully unable to turn away. As we walk out, we know we have tasted Buddha’s promise truth and we go off in search of the 63,999 remaining Dharma doors.
What they simply cannot understand is what his take as a vinyl disc is a moment in a life, a memory encased, over which a dancing stylus bleeds dreams and a history of time is written on the back of its sleeve. They cannot grasp that music doesn’t fit neatly in your pocket, that your neck can grow tired from the weight of the headphones bringing voices and instruments to life. They want all of life portable, we only want to sit, to be anchored and watch the disc and our lives spin slowly around, in a musical kinhin.