LIKE DANNY RAND’S IRON FIST

Esteem is non-transferable
Maybe a life of ambition has netted accomplishments which are admired
And you’re proud of what you’ve amounted to,
Honors, awards, and achievements amassed and acquired in college
You list them in an early resumé but not in maturity,
Their merit fades like ability with age, fading skillsets
And the memory of what you once were, once could do is not the same
As the ability itself and proficiency, even if at one time
It was your own, was who you are, what you are, were
One can measure age by abilities one has lost
Maybe we have rested on our esteem too long,
Taking credit instead for actual ability

—Then there may be other considerations—

But respect from mastery of a discipline is a non-transferable asset
That status of my Harvard degree in religion and culture doesn’t translate
Onto the dance floor from the digital keyboard of my piano to listeners
It’s the actuality of tonal rhythm my technique must generate.
Into every new world an expansive soul is summoned because it is new
Esteem cannot be imported but must be earned afresh as Danny Rand
Fought the mythic dragon and earned by his own efforts The Iron Fist
Contending to master arts of new disciplines in answer to wisdom’s howl
The expansive soul’s ventures grow comfortable in unfamiliar realms
Didn’t Leonardo’s poetry, inventions, astronomy, and architecture color
The brushstrokes of the Mona Lisa?  And Newton wrote theology;
Bach taught Latin; Einstein played the violin; not cowering before
The daunting other, the ignominy of beginning, the risk of failed esteem
And my Kung Fu master was going to ask me to leave his studio
Because I wasn’t getting it.  Much later, he made me star in videos
He filmed for newcomers as promos at his New Year’s celebration
And another student and I were teaching assistants when we brought him
To Harvard phys-ed and packed the gym.  At the Chinese Cultural Center
One of the senior students watched me and made signs, as his English
Wasn’t good, imitating my awkward beginnings there and how I am now
The nobility of my experiences with behavior health sciences,
Contending with the fog of a mind touched with fire, sedated by meds
Swimming through barely functioning, losing excellences I once knew
Or my 26 years clean and sober and serenity’s radical recast of success
Now I awaken nude in incompetence, wishing for nobility to transfer
Into a world that never knew me before,
Who I was, what I was, what I could do
Only my performance in this iteration of identity

TUNNEL EXIT

It’s hard to find words for joy
And who wants to read happy poems?
Poetry begins in a pang
And sings the still, sad song of humanity
But I’m done with sad
This growing blithe spirit of mine
Hail to me my blithe spirit
“O friends, no more these sad tones
“Let us instead strike up more pleasing and more joyful ones!”
But what would those joyful tones be?
I don’t know, standing here bathed in light
Just at the tunnel exit, the darkness behind me
The interminable tunnel, the darkness when you’re in it
And I’ve been in it so long, so interminably long
Don’t we coalesce in misery together like an overcast sky
This amassing thunder-cloud with its strike of God-shock
That Götterfunken Schiller revealed; Beethoven immortalized
This confrontation with misery, this visit with trauma
This release, these successive explosions of what is not
Moksha, the liberation of which the Indic speak
There is no sunshine like just after the thunder-storm
Inspiring the shepherd’s hymn of thanksgiving
I can enjoy in golden moments, enjoy playing the keys, the music
I act effortlessly at times, have drive
Not compel a soporific lethargy to get it done
The tunnel behind me reaches back in misery
Back, behind the blithe light in which I now stand
At the tunnel exit
And today I am happy, happy at this moment I want

I CAN’T PRACTICE TONIGHT

My own car is parked across town at my partner’s place
I can’t practice my keyboards tonight
Making music is a far cry from nowhere, now
In this scattered mind driven to alarmed glances out the window
Every ten minutes by anxiety from the 911 call
I made again only three days ago, and three days before that
In broad daylight the first time, and then at 4AM the second time
I was still up, reading, when they vandalized my friend’s pickup truck
They attached a charger to his battery the first time with obvious intent
Same guys, same truck, same hollering obscenities at 3AM, loud hip-hop
Blaring in the parking lot from the apartment that lets him in
We glared eye-to-eye while I walked from the doorway to my own car
Next day, and I don’t know how it would have turned out
Had it come to other than eye contact, watching my every move
It isn’t just my dimmed apartment lights
—I don’t think he knows which window is mine—
It’s more my alarmed glance out the window at every clamor
Thump, car-door shut, every yell from the parking lot, or scream
My mobile phone always within reach, my scattered nerves
—I don’t want another Night on Bald Mountain—
My own car parked across town tonight, at my partner’s place
I can’t practice my keyboards tonight

I WOULDN’T SAY REGRET

Staring absently, the waitress
Demurred to evoke words
In reply to what he thought jocose
Signifying his accidental dissonance in most anything not
Music
At the piano
A good part of the day
Notes singing out a pentatonic sequence
Which were the scales’ iteration of their name
In every key
“It’s fun!” he exclaimed
While I sat on the couch that afternoon visit
Not even a song to me or most anybody
It’s why he’s so good
I mean good
Why his accidental dissonance, maybe, in most anything not
Music

He likes to check out music stores
Why wouldn’t he?
“Listen to this lick; it modulates!” he exclaimed,
After he caught my attention
Playing the baby-grand piano upon asking my permission
In the music store I worked at back then
That day we met, that time
When two roads diverged before me
And I took a different road
Than the one we were both traveling by, then

The crowd wasn’t really listening
At the Grand Hotel’s Cupola Bar on Mackinac Island
Chit-chat, chit, chatter, chitter-chatter
Where we renewed our old friendship
It looked to me like the thrill is gone
Nor, I suppose, on the cruise ships how he makes his living now

Everybody’s got to make a buck

Prone to cults, his harmonic dissonance in everything not
Music,
Almost lost him his parents when he was 20 something
Rethinking the Christian cult’s imperative to renounce his family forever
He narrowly escaped
Now I’ve lost him to Q-Anon
Fortunately, he’s not prone to violence
If we stick to music, we can still talk
He recently sent me some interesting altered blues changes
I’m learning them on my new digital B3 organ copy
I’m going to send him a recording when I’ve got the changes down
I can still talk about music with him, though I fear I’ve lost him
But I always knew him to be out there
Scherzoid in most anything not
Music

WE ALL SEE THE SAME MOON

He had a Kawai baby grand piano in his living room
It wasn’t a Bosendorfer, Steinway, or Yamaha
But he had a baby grand and my roommate a long time ago
Had an inherited Steinway with real ivory keys, she let me play it
Play way into the night, a nurse now, and a music school graduate
With her inherited Steinway, and he is a psychologist with his Kawai
Laura Rain played Blues on Whyte in Edmonton, and
The Edmonton Bluesfest; I heard she played Buddy Guy’s
I first heard Monkey Junk at the Salmon Arm Folk and Roots Festival
Playing on a side stage; Taj Mahal headlined on the mainstage
My sister had a Taj Mahal album in the ‘70’s; and Monkey Junk
Can fill a moderate concert hall and they’ll always work in Canada
My friend the psychologist got a friend of his to cast his wedding rings
And having lived in Southwest Florida for decades could always get gigs
He wouldn’t be able to fill a concert hall, but there weren’t any, anyways
Just the symphony hall, and I heard B. B. King play there, once
And I’m a Swedenborgian minister of a small, aging, dwindling church
An accomplished piano player in Nashville asks me spiritual questions
And critiques recordings of my original music free of charge
He plays cruise ships and exclusive summer resort hotel bars, solo,
With an illustrious past, having performed with industry giants,
Making a living in an undependable business.  We’re all making a living.
And there’s a place for art in life, however life ends up construed
Whatever life is called, or identity defined, be it by a career, aspiration
Passion or calling, writing on a business card, how others know you
Like my friend with the Kawai, or his friend who cast his wedding rings
Or the music graduate with her inherited Steinway, who is a nurse
B. B. King, Taj Mahal, Monkey Junk, Laura Rain, my musical friends,
My musical inclinations, the thousands I spent on instruments
I, a Swedenborgian minister at a small, aging, dwindling church,
Still happy, contented with my life, contented with my inclinations
And their manifestation, my pay, the recognition of my peers, my friends,
My musical instruments and their exercise, my career, my attainments,
Those I yet pursue in these advanced years, the lingering dreams I cherish
The moderate drive moving my intentions through happy reflections

RESTING MY INCLINATIONS

I am resting my inclinations, my aging body
No longer responsive to my inclinations
As my youthful body was
Whenever I wanted to do pretty much anything
Be it lifting heavy rocks on the construction site
Or playfully leaping from boulder to boulder
In a modern art fountain set on the ground of the Harvard campus
Now I want to play my B3, but I can’t
My finger joints are sore, my muscles ache from last night
When the kick playing reached my physical capacity
I had to stop
And now I have to rest, rest my inclinations, restore my body
I may be able to play tonight, want to put in at least some practice time
Maybe, though, not till tomorrow; I have to rest now and I can’t play
My body is no longer responsive to my inclinations
As when I was younger, effortlessly, and everything was effortless
Careless, insouciant, fun, indifferent to consequences I would pay later

THERE’S NO AUDIENCE FOR A POET

It’s a rush to play your piano and make music
Even if you’re all alone at home, whether you’re composing or reading
The music itself that you’re making is rewarding to hear
Like listening to your iPod only your wholeness is making
Making the sound you are hearing
But even more so, is performing to an audience
And maybe some people are up dancing
And you watch a girl’s body moving to your beat
And you can change the way she moves when you change the beat
You feel the vibe redouble, performing
And you and the audience are in the moment together, Dionysian
A kick you don’t get from poetry
There’s no audience for a poet
Sure, you can go to slams, open mikes
But maybe you’re shy, or shake in public
So you write your thankless poems in private
And on a good day, maybe read them over to yourself
Or post them online and wait for likes, which is an audience of sorts
Crave publication
Which you fancy will be the validation of your words
An audience of sorts
And on a bad day, maybe corral someone to read or listen
You’re lonely: you won’t cave to trends
Because the poetry that matters, the poets that matter
Found their own voice, write in their own voice
I would write in deconstruction if I thought that it mattered
And I’m lonely
But it’s better than being someone else’s voice

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

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