Monthly Archives: January 2014

Symphony

In between and among
hard things and hard places,
when its dark under the covers
and cold,
you strive so hard,
ivy leaves growing up and down
against scratchy brick walls,
to feel the light and see the light
and still be the light.
Red lipstick falling down my face.
Eyes turned blue.
Freckles burned on my skin
and plumb blush stained.
A symphony of sadness.

City walls being torn down
are nothing to these walls.
Concrete so thick
an air raid wouldn’t even
cause all souls
to hide in basements.
There’s no light there.
The wailing warning
simply an instrument
in the back of the orchestra.

Still sounds
rumbling sounds
quiet sounds
sounds that rattle your bed frame
and rattle you
right out of bed.
All part of this greater symphony.

The conductor.
Now that’s a story.
Who may he be…
Some pain loving demon
charged with drawing blood?
A God who can bear to see us
hurt so greatly?
A friendly prankster
pawning us out in this game?

A cacophonous symphony.
Wailing and churning
and rattling and yearning
for the light.
We play our instruments
for this light,
to bring the sun
to shine.

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Took this a few years back while walking the streets of New Orleans and stumbling among interesting folk and beautiful sights.

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New book day

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Yes, this is my year with Kerouac, but I admit, I’m gonna cheat on Kerouac for a few weeks and read Stoner by John Williams. I can’t remember where I heard about this novel, a friend must have recommended months ago, so I mentioned it to my mother and she gave it to me for Christmas.

I haven’t read one of those novels that you just dive right into, become a part of the characters, and literally can’t put down the book, for a while. I don’t know if this will be one of those novels or not, but I think Stoner is becoming a new classic and I’m eager to learn from Williams what makes a new American classic.

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Hobo dreams

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I’VE NEVER HITCHHIKED BUT once when I was driving home from Washington, DC to Oak Ridge, North Carolina I took the back way and pulled off the highway in Buena Vista, Virginia to look for a gas station, a bathroom and a bite to eat.

IMG_3274Two or three miles down a two lane windy road beside a creek I found a Shell gas station with a Burger King. I filled up the jeep and got a vegie burger, yes, Burger King is the only fast food joint on the east coast that carries vegie burgers, and I walked across the street to this swinging bridge. I think it may have been an old railroad pass, or maybe if I remember it correctly, when I walked across those wooden boards suspended high above the creek, it lead to a railway.

It was all so green. Evergreen trees. Other trees. Bright green trees with bright green leaves. That’s how I remember it. That spot has become one of my favorites. I’ve gone back there a few times.

When I finished my meal and headed back to the jeep, a gang of four or five kids, some folks my age, actually called over to me and asked where I was headed. Said they were camping a few miles up the road just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They had walked down here to the gas station to pick a 24 pack of cheap beer and now heading back to their campsite. They wanted a ride.

I turned them away, blaming my full car. Which was true. My back seat and trunk area was full. I probably could have moved it around, or even taken them two at a time, someone sitting on another’s lap in the front seat next to me. But they were strangers. I should have done it though. I’ve always regretted that.

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Next time, if I’m ever asked for a ride and the person or persons look reputable and unharming, I’ll surely say yes. That would make for a great story.

Footwalking freedom. These kids were reviving the hobo dream. Kerouac talked about “footwalking freedom” in “the Vanishing American Hobo” from Lonesome Traveler.

“There’s nothing nobler than to put up with a few inconveniences like snakes and dust for the sake of absolute freedom.”

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When I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, I dressed up as a hobo for Halloween. I wore muddy old baggy pants. A torn flannel shirt. I had the classic hobo stick with a bandanna full of stuff slung over my shoulder. I think I may have even rubbed mud on my face or drawn on a scruffy beard with my mother’s eyeliner. I know, a bit weird, right. But HEY! That’s because the American Hobo, in all his glory, is still to this day idolized by kids, young and old, who dream about traveling the country, road trips with friendly strangers, this sense of complete freedom and extraction from worldly desires. This footwalking freedom.

 

“Benjamin Franklin was like a hobo in Pennsylvania; he walked through Philly with three big rolls under hi arms and a Massachusetts halfpenny on his hat. John Muir was a hobo who went off into the mountains with a pocketful of dried bread, which he soaked in creeks.”

But for me, now, that hobo dream is far gone. Hobos are only out in the wilderness, because that’s where the freedom is.

Here in the city, it’s all bums. Instead of dreaming about walking and sleeping for days among the red wood trees, it traipsing around city streets, face craned up to the sky. It’s still beautiful though, for me. Sunshine, rain, snowflakes, dust. City parks, city blocks, bums on stoops shaking cups at you outside your store. I guess it’s hard to see the beauty in that though. These city bums don’t have it well off at all. In these cold winter months the government opens up extra homeless shelters and something called warming buses to try to keep them freezing. I don’t like calling them bums; it’s offensive. Just homeless folks who are down on their luck.

These folks are nothing like the cherished, honored hobos that Kerouac spoke of. Einstein and Beethoven. Johnny Appleseed.

Those are more like folks such as Chris McCandless, West Virginia hicks, even some salty mountain bikers. The kids that had asked me for a ride with them and their beer just back up the mountain road. Wandering spirits. Dreamers just passing through.

Both these hobo dreamers and the city bums. As Kerouac wrote: Le passant. “He who passes through.”

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Flowers

Flower petals falling fast
where do they go when they tumble down
to decompose in the earth’s dust
and become once again
flowers that grow toward the sun…

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I’VE ONLY EVER GOTTEN FLOWERS THREE TIMES IN MY LIFE.

Once they were from my father.

It was back in Pennsylvania, right outside of Philly with our backyard growing into a wooded mountain with birdwatching trails, the brick farmhouse with dark blue faded shutters and that large wooden picnic table. My father must have been out of town on a business trip and because of that was missing my first day of school. I was starting kindergarten. Daddy’s little girl, all grown up.

I wore a denim skirt, high white socks with ruffles at the end, and brand new Keds. My mother had curled my hair (yes, at age five my mom would curl my soft brown shoulder length hair) and it was gathered at the crown of my head in a pink bow. I looked adorable.

A big white basket arrived with a dozen or so white daisies and a little white stuffed bear with a cute bear face and cute bear ears. I was thrilled. We left it on the kitchenette table in front of the window for days so the daisies could soak in the sun. I carried that bear with me to school as a token of having a daddy who cared.

The second time was from a man, but back then we we’re still just kids, for my 16th birthday.

I had a crush on this kid for a good while. I remember him being strong. Dark hair, darker eyes, but had such a sweet spark and life to them. And that smile. It just made me giggle.

We had been friends for years, since 6th grade at least. We started talking online, as all kids did back in those days. Hello. You’ve got mail. We talked. We flirted. It was all in good fun. Back then I don’t think I had even kissed a boy before. Maybe I had that summer. I forget how old I was when that first happened.

It was my birthday and I think my family was leaving in a day or two for my Uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. My birthday is November 27th so it always falls close to Thanksgiving. Birthday presents and a big turkey leg. I think he stopped by my house one evening and dropped off a card and a bundle of red roses. They were beautiful. And it was so so sweet. Why a few days later when he asked me out I said no, I have no idea. Maybe if they had been daises…

And the third time.

It makes me cringe a little. Makes the back of my neck tense up and puts anger in my face muscles. I think it was a single flower in a vase. A red rose. Just one.

It had been Christmas Day and the doorbell rings and it was a florist lady that my mother knew from church and she had a delivery for me. A flower with a card with my name on it. I wish I remembered what that card said. I’d laugh at its bitter insincerity now. I did not appreciate his gesture at the time either, because that was after it had all gone down, for the first time.

It was a surprise though. And flowers that are a surprise still make you tingly inside, even if you don’t love the person. It is fascinating how flowers can make you feel a certain way.

Now with a smile on my face I wonder why is it that woman so love to receive flowers? Maybe every father gets his little girl flowers and a teddy bear once in her life when she’s little and innocent, before broken hearts and trying to please, and from then on it’s something she always desired because to her it means she is loved.

My favorite flowers
lined the light sunwashed side of a
coffee shop at the shore,
Black Eyed Susan’s with a few
daises scattered among them.

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Photograph

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Rosaryville State Park, Maryland

“And I realize that no matter where I am, whether in a little room full of thought, or in this endless universe of stars and mountains, it’s all in my mind. There’s no need for solitude. So love life for what it is…” -Alone On a Mountaintop, Lonesome Traveler

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Over the FM dial

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KEROUAC WAS INTO JAZZ. HE DUG IT HARD and I bet he loved that good ol’ southern blues beat as well. Seems like in On the Road whenever Kerouac mentioned drinking in bars, there was always music. He always mentioned the music.

“Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety – leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother’s woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days… Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonious Monk and madder Gillespie … Here were the children of the American bop night.” – On the Road

Now I don’t know much about this jazz bebop stuff, I can sure appreciate it and I love to hear those horns wail, I just don’t know squat about it. But I do know something about bluegrass and folk. The way the fiddles melt in with the banjo and get picked up by the bass drum drum drumming in the background to set the beat, toes tapping, legs tapping, next thing you know your up on your feet hoppin’ around and wiggling your hips and throwing up your arms like a crazy person. And there’s the simple quiet folk that seems to be the heart of the matter. And the swayin’ blues that started it all of.

We got Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Waylon Jennings. Woody Guthrie of course. Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, guys like Peete Seeger and the Foggy Mountain Boys. New stuff too. The Milk Carton Kids, Old Crow, David Wax. It’s all good stuff.

I’ve had the pleasure over the past few years to host a radio show and share these tunes with the world over the FM dial. A little local college station just outside of DC. College Park radio WFMU 88.1FM. Inside of a worn down dining hall up the stairs and in a smelly little radio room with bookshelves 14 feet high full of outlandish and bizarre records. My co-host and I taglined our show “Folk, bluegrass and worthwhile country” because we all know how bad country can be. And we prided ourselves on our expansive flannel shirt collection, so we always came wearing flannel.

The sound boards are big and crowded with buttons and numbers and dials. Never knew how to properly work the thing. The transmitter switch was my favorite thing in that little musty studio room. It was on the right side on some big tall box and it lit up a blue light when it was switched up to the on position. Below it someone had written and taped up instructions and no lie they said “I am getting old and cranky. If the blue light does NOT come one, give me a stern tap. – Switch”.

My second favorite part of the radio show experience was the big soft microphones that hung down on these silver crane-like mechanism. I felt so professional and important talking in to them. I never knew about such thing as a radio voice until the last time I did the show. I definitely talk different and sound different when on the air. My voice gets deeper and more serious and I crack ironic jokes like it’s my job.

Music. I should listen to more jazz.

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Is there any beat left?

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Jack’s essay New York Scenes from Lonesome Traveler…

… there’s only one way to find out.

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Photograph

Roosevelt Island, Potomac River, Washington, DC

Roosevelt Island, Potomac River, Washington, DC

“After all this kind of fanfare, and even more, I came to a point where I needed solitude…”
-Alone on a Mountaintop, Lonesome Traveler

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Harmonica things

Broken bread. Bookshelves lined.
Cracked brick wall beside the stair.
What are the things that make up a home,
make up a life. Egg beaters
and a painted pot.

My grandmother’s things
have made a place in my kitchen,
in my life. Her blue and white teacups.
Her handwritten recipes
neatly tucked behind plastic pages
in a white book that simply says RECIPES
on the bind.
I keep it in my bedroom
to keep it safe,
rather than the kitchen.

Just under the RECIPE book
there’s an old harmonica
speckled with rust
still shiny on the brim
and it reads MARINE BAND
with an engraving of a man.
It goes from 1 to 10, ten notes, ten keys…
know nothing about harmonicas.
Maybe that man knows something.
My grandfather must have.
It also reads M. Hohner in fancy pretty script.
Made in Germany, on the back, and
the dates 1873, 1871, 1881, and 1876…
wonder what those mean.
I think this was my grandfather’s,
the one I never met.
I haven’t met any of my grandfathers.
Can’t touch my lips to the steel
because of the rust
and the dust and there’s little cobwebs inside.

My father’s old globe
on its wooden stand
with its golden spindle,
it spins southeast.
Only southeast.
It sits now
next to my desk.
Makes my room look wise
and traveled.
My room has been nowhere.
When I was a kid
we’d play that game where you spin
the globe reeeeeeeaaallll fast
and then touch your finger tip
to the bridge of the equator
the Tropic of Capricorn,
the bumps and valleys and dips of mountainous
ranges from sea to sea.
And you’d stop it. Wherever.
Wherever it landed that was where
you had to move. It was part of that fairytale
of moving
and growing up
and falling in love.
Wonder why it ended with falling in love.
What ever came next?

And where is my mother, missing me
from a train ride away.
Her dark brown hair
dark deep eyes.
So much of her in me.
Where will I place all of her things…

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A love letter to Kerouac

MY DEAR JACK,

You will always be there for me. Your eyes dark and frozen in glimpses of still and silent mostly grayscale photographs timeless in how much wisdom and struggle I know are behind those solid eyes and I can, I can feel the sadness too.

But Jack, you can’t break my heart, can’t make me cry, can’t reach out to push me away, can’t lie to me, can’t outrun me, can’t tell me things to try to helplessly impress me…

You belong among the Big Sur mountains, among the pine needles of the evergreen trees fresh and those fallen. You are there among the golden and gray sunset in the harbor in San Fran. You’re here somewhere too. Your thoughts lining the shelves of my room, memories bound together sewn with some of my own.

I can lustfully daydream about your gentle touch the brush of the back of your hand against my cheek. You would have been a sweet, sweet heartbreaking lover. Those dark eyes, your rare smile.

You passed away many years before I was born, but I love your writing. It speaks through me. I live through it. I have never been so drawn to something before, never been so inspired and moved to act and pick up a knapsack to just GO to the woods. Not looking back.

Like a field of fresh black-eyed susan’s, a warm cable-knit scarf bundled around my neck, a hot cup of tea with biscuits and sweet marmalade still warm, you remind me of good things.

Jack. Mr Kerouac. These are my love letters to your writing, to who you were everyday of your life from the famous to the fallen, the what was then that can’t ever be now and to all you stood for and carry on to be.

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