SPRING: SEASONS BLEEDING INTO TIME

TIME TO BE HAPPY

It’s springtime and it’s time to be happy
Soon it will be Easter, the happiest day in the Christian calendar
And how can I not be happy with increasingly more daylight
Longer days and I can go on a walk at 5:30PM
And, in time, way north up here there will be little night
In fact, just a dim dusk which is what we call night in summer
That will make my accustomed indoor activity difficult
For how can I write music, read W. H. Auden
When my eyes are blinded by brilliant long day light
And I don’t feel the quiet dark indoors and maybe a candle-flame’s faint glow
Even in recording-studios they play only in red light
The buzzing bright florescent lights turned off and the soft, red light bulb
Glowing to set the mood and I have a red light bulb in my floor lamp-stand
When I practice, I turn on the red light bulb for mood
And light a candle to Sarasvati when I write poems
All that dims with the rising spring sunlight, bright days and
The candle-fire yields to the sun even as indoors yield to outdoors, and
Latin music makes more sense with its outside
Percussive soul and how many different drums and percussion go into one song
And group response chanting vocals because outdoors you can gather in groups
Salsa steps in the open air, and even the piano plays percussive syncopations
And it makes no sense for me to play a mambo all alone in my apartment
Or a güiro or claves punctuate your dance steps to a Bach fugue
Which it does make sense to play all alone in my apartment
Like Bach way up in the organ loft and the congregation sitting still, listening
I live in The Festival City and in summer we congregate by the hundreds
At Bluesfest, or Folkfest, or Symphony under the Stars
And the Mandolin Coffee Shop and Bookstore will soon open its patio
And it will still be hard to read W. H. Auden in the brilliant sunlight
When it is better to hike, bike, picknick or barbecue and even bonfires
Don’t really work in the perma-twilight we call night way north up here
Sitting indoors doesn’t make much sense;–as if there hasn’t been enough of
Sitting indoors, though one does become accustomed
And springtime is always a new exploration of life way north up here
As when, a teen, one by one, I discovered Beethoven’s only 9 symphonies
Sad to discover that Vivaldi didn’t sound like Beethoven
Trying to get over the mini-skirts in the halls between classes
Or at desks while I tried to concentrate and get algebra over with
And I would play around on the piano in my parents’ living room

MOSES, JOE ZAWINUL, ME AND MY MEMORIES

At 6 AM, before I went to bed, music and my memories floated in my mind
My headphones rendered Joe Zawinul’s “A Remark You Made” in amazing
Ecstasy—the live, orchestral version was all clashing, brassy harmonies, sax
And Jaco’s bass didn’t exactly play a soundtrack to memories in my mind’s
Slow wandering and resting—modulating between Joe’s so right harmonies,
And an afternoon at Almont Church Camp transport of tonal modes, moving
Me to holy moods lively, living memories, placing me playing Moses, as if
He had just descended from Mount Sinai and I held aloft two ceramic Tablets
Fabricated by Eric, fired in his own kiln with real Hebrew writing on them
And he wouldn’t let me smash them like the real Moses did and in a loud voice
I proclaimed the Commandments one by one as best I could remember them
On the sandy shore straggled with grass next the pond at Almont Church Camp
Man!  Those harmonies hit it!  Just guiding the tonal flow into the changes
Of Jaco’s heart-rending solo with the brass and sax of “A Remark You Made”
Ending a good night, musing, music, memories, me as Moses with the Tablets
Eric made and five or so children stood in a half-circle staring at who was it
Behind the white cotton beard, robe, standing there holding up two Tablets
Out of words and one of the five or so children guessed me to be that guy
Who sits on the porch afternoons listening to his Walkman, smoking cigars
Usually joined by a teen who didn’t quite fit in and later aspired to be a poet
And I dragged my attention away from the memory, sad that I’d abandoned
The stunning harmonies in “A Remark You Made” the sax, brass, Jaco’s bass
Fading in memories, back, half aware of the pleasant 6 AM before I fell asleep

DIATONIC DISORDER

It was such a kick, I couldn’t contain myself
“I’m going to quit school and go back into music!”
My girlfriend thought I was serious and it scared her
We had rendezvoused at The Backyard Bar in Newton Center
Subsequent to my performance on guitar at a Harvard variety night
I stayed in school and gigged through it in a couple bands
Playing way into the night at home, too, alone in my basement, most nights
My drive collapsed; my confidence broke subsequent to
My first bipolar disorder episode
“I’ve got you covered,” my partner assured my broken nerves
Subsequent to him asking me to sit in, and I got through Johnny B. Goode
We played in a band before my confidence was
Crushed, bravado broken
Before my psychotic episode eroded
The self we both knew
Bold, brash, commanding
Years subsequent, we talked, over a few days, about good times on my visit
Performed a couple simple songs we used to play at an open mike
He noticed me shaking, heard me fumble a few notes
Didn’t want to hear my narrative
The tragic episode bipolar wrote for me
Doesn’t want to hear about me weak,
Subsequent to the visit I was on jazz keyboard back home at an open mike
“How did it feel to be back onstage?” Brett asked
“Terrible!” I exploded and surprised Brett
“It was clean!” Brett protested to my collapse
But also said that he noticed me shake, subsequent to my asking him about it

Almost convulsing onstage at the keyboard
Did the audience notice?
As I started the song, I desperately wanted to stop
Run
Interruptus
But the song had to go on
The song I was in the middle of
The song I shook all the way through
All the interminable way through
Shaking
Agony

“I wanted you to solo some more,” my teacher said,
Subsequent to my performance
He didn’t know, didn’t notice.
I don’t play way into the night, anymore, alone, at home
Don’t feel like it
Don’t perform—can’t perform, looks like
Subsequent to diatonic disorder

OLD BUT NOT AN ELDER

I’m done phased out
There are only so many updates a hard drive can sustain
Before it’s time for a new model

It’s an odd feeling.
That it’s pretty much all behind me now
And that no one’s going to hire me

Despite my talents
With my age, my gender, my race, my desire to still contribute
Though it were charity to voluntarily yield my place

Get out of the way, voluntarily
Make room for new blood, young blood just starting out
Except I’m not feeling all that charitable

So it is mandated involuntarily
By the system, the machine, rage against the machine
And by the machine, we mean

That young HR professional
Snotnosed, snoot-nosed, or otherwise, who scans one’s Vita,
Or algorithm scanning keywords, number, gender, race

And I am sunk
It is deemed that it is all behind me now
I am old, but not an elder

It is deemed I am an archaism
Were my body’s accusation of age not sufficient for me to accept
With whatever grace or rage I can

And yet I keep going
Learn, study, write, compose, assimilate, with no eye to audition, application
No eye of future performance, career

But to pleasure myself
Onanist used to be the disdainful Biblical word for it all,
I once encountered in a poem by Walt Whitman

It is deemed the word is an archaism
A ghost of art past, haunting schools with rhyme, rhythm, meter, beats, feet
19th-Century poems, representational paintings, liturgical music

At my leisure
I learn, study, write poetry, compose music, pleasure myself
At my leisure and leisure is all I have now

When Wallace Stevens Won the Robert Frost Medal

Robert Frost is so far out there when we consider where poetry is now, my English professor almost decided not to include him in a course on Modern American Poets. In the Modern Period, Robert Frost’s poetry had rhyme, rhythm, beats, feat, and profound themes and sentiment. Since Frost, and in his own age, poetry typically has none of these. OK, maybe theme and sentiment at times. I checked out a journal as a possible place to publish my own poetry. In their guidelines for submissions, they said, “No rhyming poetry.” That’s where we are.

Art, generally speaking, doesn’t rhyme. Visual art doesn’t represent recognizable objects but abstractions; morphs into performance; has become so cerebral that it emulates bare theory. Music went through an atonal period epitomized by Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone system of atonality in which anything like melody or harmony is abandoned. Since then, harmony and melody stab at presence in compositions. Along with this general trend in art, abstract poetry finds a place, exemplified by the likes of Wallace Stevens. Abstract poetry is like atonal music. And, in fact, at least one modern composer set Whitman’s I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC to music. (Try finding him/her with Google if you can get past all the posts about Fame.)

Robert Frost was a retrenchment into poetic form that was slip, slipping away. Yet he is still a master poet. With rhyme and rhythm, maybe, indeed, despite rhyme and rhythm Frost’s preeminent place in literary history is firmly established. No course in Modern Poetry can omit Frost.

Beginning with Walt Whitman, poetry loosened the constraints of meter and rhyme. And despite my best efforts at appreciation, it appears to me that Wallace Stevens also loosens the constraint of meaning. In his life, Robert Frost won 4 Pulitzer Prizes, and was awarded 40 honorary degrees. Wallace Stevens won 1 Pulitzer Prize. I chuckle, no, sneer, when I think of Wallace Stevens winning the Robert Frost Medal in 1951.

But today, poetry is more like Wallace Stevens than it is like Robert Frost. Frost was a last gasp of poetic form. At one time, Frost said he would have sold his soul to modernism but for its sameness of sound. Themes created poetic variety for Frost. When one reads poets like Stevens, one can tire quickly of words that deconstruct meaning. Like reading a glossary without definitions. I know of a poet who wrote out in prose a poem about the murder of her parents, then cut it up–either physically or conceptually–and reassembled the story “abstractly.” If one has a story to tell, it is a lie to make it unintelligible in order for it to be art. Then art is a lie.

Whither art? We don’t know. Art must evolve become new;–all things new. We wouldn’t want a steady diet of Rembrandt only–even if it be Rembrandt. We want a new song to sing. But we also want to be able to sing the song.

JANUARY 20, 2021

There was a time when I had a song to sing
When verse and music rang with order and rhythm in writing and play
And now all I know is disorder, dismay, this loser presidential insurrection thing
Or whatever is the loser presidential crisis of the day

This military presence surrounding the Mall and people’s house
Where Carol and I strolled summoned by all those loser presidential lies
His drunk lemming loser acolytes genuflecting this louse
Off the cliff of reason, sunk deep in unsubstantiated mires where truth dies

And I write a song.  A good performance song on a platform upstaged
By a raucous tragicomedy loser presidential reality gong show
And piano tones I play ring hollow in an echo chamber enraged—
The riot’s cacophonic muse strings discord, a noose played by insurrectionist bow

I play the blues but hear only angry death metal
Melodic changes gift joys deliciously—those same joys seditiously supplanted
And an hour of peace with keyboard tones that ring gentle
In my heartfelt art is all that I ever want and wanted

PLOUGHMEN DIG NOT FOR ME

Businessmen do not drink my wine
The man in the suit has not bought a new car
From any profit he made off my dreams
Though dreams I have, have dreamed, dream

I’ve imbibed conventional wisdom’s grasp on the vitality of dreams
That dreams make a life out of otherwise existence
Aethereal dreams awaken into materiality, matter’s reality;–all real
Nobody can doubt the reality of a dream and live

One doesn’t dream in terms written by dollars and status
Defined in the lexicon legislated by ledger books
Businessmen withdraw from intangibles that weigh golden hopes
Dream reality resists materialism and yet materializes

Whole symphonies deconstruct as ones and zeros in a cloud somewhere
And Bach’s C-Moll Passacaglia is pulses of air
But digital scans and air differentials don’t explain to ears
The mystery that is a melody—even if construed through standing wave proportions

Sometimes my pen dreams in ink dots materializing on a musical staff
The keys on my piano reverberate beats my heart feels
Manifesting the immaterial into the physical world
While air waves question what they, themselves, are doing

At other times, words grow out of my consciousness
Planted in ink and tree pulp tending to a poem’s making
My pen glides across the blank, white sheet in dark lines
To become a dream of some distant reader in my mind: a virtual reality

Nobody pays me for my dreams.  No.
I grunt and sweat under a heavy timeclock on my back
No ploughman digs earth for me
I’ve dug my own footings on which the whole world is built for me

My grandmother told me I wasn’t very good at making money
When I was an impoverished grad student
Even now, I don’t make much money, nor have creditable prospects
Yet I’m good at making, dreaming, making dreams live

Making for me is as making money for businessmen
I’m good at living without much money, without much interest in making money
Dreams pay me more than dollars, when I have money
I lack really for nothing but dreams fulfill

THE WASTE THAT DESCENDS UPON ME

I can’t practice with Depakote in me

Playing over the same wrong notes I know better

Before my nightly dose, and it’s all a waste after the pills

It’s only been 6 months since my last med adjustment

It was all a waste for 27 years before my p-doc took me off olanzapine

And I couldn’t play my embarrassed way through a single song

Finish a Tai Ch’i form and someone in the studio noticed

Me wearing a Harvard sweatshirt and asked me

About it and why I couldn’t get it

Now the fog clears in the morning like sleeping off a drunk

And I get back to the piano and the new charts I’m learning

For the new band I’m forming I think I can play in as if my old chops

Were still there, when I could play Bach’s Toccata in D-Minor

And now I’m stumbling through Little Wing after my 10PM meds

The Depakote I can’t play under the influence of or operate heavy machinery

And it’s only rote scales which I need anyway

After my nightly dose, the waste that descends upon me and my practice sessions

I can’t play under the influence of Depakote

Only write

ALL THE LAWS WE CALL LINGUISTIC

The words of the Rig Veda are chanted

The revelation that the Rishis heard

Rhythmic hymns that Sarasvati granted

Written down as sacred text and word

The Rishis have been called visionaries

In more than one textbook that I have found

Writing from Eurocentric theories

Which teach that vision is more spiritual than sound

Sarasvati, Goddess of music,

Revealed Her wisdom through the sense of hearing

When all the laws that we call linguistic

Were melody and music and singing

DURGA PUJA

My laptop broke and tech support where I bought it wasn’t being helpful

So I called Hewlett-Packard on their direct tech support line

Of course, they routed my call to India, to a pleasant tech named Deepak

He apologized for the background noise on his end; the festival Durga Puja

Was being celebrated today this, the final of 10 days

I vaguely recalled Durga from a religion class 34 years ago

And I asked Deepak of he knew of the Goddess Sarasvati

She, the Goddess of music, learning, and language

I, a musician, scholar, and writer

Sarasvati gave India the Vedas, when religion was verse and verse, song

Deepak said he knew Sarasvati and She is the exact Goddess for a musician

I told Deepak I have a statuette of Sarasvati in my apartment

Across the miles and ocean, his soul touched mine, and tears welled up

In his eyes, Sarasvati is alive, and as he spoke, my statuette

Seemed to shine with an unearthly color and a strange light came over just my statuette

Only my eyes could see

Mother India, home of our western languages

Cradle of civilization unearthed at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa

Durga, the Mother who birthed all of creation

Mother to Sarasvati, not just a footnote in a religion class

Alive and real to him as is Jesus to me, his Durga Puja like my Christmas

He completed my service order and I wished him well

During the remainder of the Durga Puja Festival

Deepak said that he is sadly homebound due to COVID-19

And couldn’t celebrate with his family, and I

Don’t know if I can go without a computer for a week or so

I looked at my statuette of Sarasvati and the unearthly colors were gone

Previous Older Entries