Monday, December 29, 2014

Writing Prompt: Somber Grey

After reading a poem by my good friend and poet, Bethany Carrington, I was struck by the imagery of the falling snow, the grey skies, the quiet comfort of driving through the country with a friend.

Then, as this poem sat on my brain while I whittled away the moments of my day while listening to the random mix of the following songs, a story began to take shape.  The story is half-formed, and the only similarity it has with my friend's poem is the image of the greyness.  While her poem is comforting, this character's life is disconcerting.  She is traveling where she does not wish to go.  The snow, for her, is a compression, something that binds her wings, prevents her (or at least delays her) from the freedom she seeks.  This character's name is Somber Grey.

I have attached here the songs that were playing as the "soundtrack" to this movie - or poem cycle - or prose-poems - whatever you want to call it.  I just call them "notes" but I offer them now to whomever would like to flesh out the story a bit.  I've given just the briefest glimpse into characters.  I invite others to take and embellish (or even change completely) as they see fit.

Somber Grey

Arcade Fire – Half Light I

Her name is Summer Grey.  She’s 16 years old but hasn’t started driving yet.  She has “changed” her name to Somber Grey, because that’s more in line with how she feels.

Tenth Avenue North – Times

Scene of driving through the wintry landscape.  Somber in the back seat with her younger brothers, 14 and 8 years old.   We see this through her headphones, we see them talking, the younger bouncing up and down in his seat, obviously irritating the older brother.  We also see the mom in the passenger seat, her head leaning against the window.   There is a tension between her and the father.  If they speak, it is terse and brief.

Thelonious Monk – In a Walled Bed

Driving up to the to the house - they're spending Christmas with family who live in a suburb outside 
of Chicago.  She hardly knows them, but her parents keep in close contact.  Since it is a long drive, the plan is to sleep over the night at the house and drive home in the morning, something of which Somber Grey is less than thrilled.

The Cure – It’s Over

meeting her cousins – all of them are younger, one boy in between the ages of her two brothers, and one girl, around 5 or 6

Nina Presson – Black Winged Bird

Meeting her grandfather, who lives with the aunt and uncle, because he cannot live on his own.   He’s not very mobile, mainly sits in the chair, and is generally curmudgeonly.

Thenewno2 – Shelter

During the waning afternoon, the cousins and her brothers want her to go outside and play with them in the snow.  She doesn’t want to.  They go out to have fun.

Talking Heads – I’m Not in Love

(don't know what happens here)

Wailin’ Jennys – Storm Comin’

Somber walks into the kitchen, sees her father and her aunt. Her father’s back is toward her at the door, and her aunt is standing behind her father.  Somber can barely see her around the wide expanse of his back and shoulders.  The aunt, sensing someone has come into the room, looks around the shoulder to see Somber, and then turns away, wiping tears from her eyes. 
Somber’s dad turns around to see her.  His face is stern, like stone.  He walks past her,  brusquely, toward the other room.

Third Day – Movin’ on Up

Somber goes out of the room and gets her brothers and cousins together to go out for a snowball fight and sliding on the ice that has blanketed the street.  This is a joyous scene, full of fun that only kids can have, rambunctiously bumping around in the ice and snow.   Somber is determined to have some sort of fun in this scene.  This is the only time we actually see her smile, and she has a beautiful smile.  Even though she has forced some happiness into this day, still, she is happy for this brief moment.  

Beltuner – Tikai Chaj

Aunt sets the table, and this scene is one in which all the adults are trying their best to have a “normal”  Christmas dinner.  The aunt and the mom move around each other, helping each other bring in the dishes, yet they move as though they are two boxers in the ring, circling each other, waiting for an opening to take a jab.

Keane – Sea Fog

Granpa takes call from either old army buddy or from a prodigal son.  Image of him laughing, for the first time that day.

“river rolls the stone and it’s rolling me” is the line that really makes Somber Grey feel a part of this house, just like the apple that was embedded in the shell of Gregor Samsa in “The Metamorphosis” that’s how she feels here : like a stone embedded in the walls, and if she stays, eventually she will rot the entire foundation.

Ricardo Arjona – Piel Pecado

(again, don't know what happens here)

Wailin’ Jennys – Bird Song

opening presents

?? - Auld Triangle   (by the way I don't know the artist to this version.  The Pogues do an excellent version, and even Brendan Behan - the poet who wrote it - sings it a-capella, which is grand.  However, this version is more melodic than the other two versions, and better fits the tone that I envision for this scene.  It's more mellow, more somnambulent . . .)

While everybody is winding down – the kids playing with their presents, and the parents sharing drinks, Somber steps out again into the night.  She looks up into the cloud-covered sky as though looking for stars, almost willing them to break through the clouds to shine a little light, however slight, down onto this street.

Wailin’ Jennys – Asleep at Last

Somber looks in on her brothers and boy cousins, who have finally crashed.  She watches her youngest brother, still restless, even in his sleep.   That boy never stops moving.   She goes back into the room she will share with the girl cousin.  She watches her breathing.  We see Somber watch the girl and in this scene we get a glimpse of Somber in the future, when she will be a mother, carefully watching over her children as they sleep, and then, and only then, she will be able to rest, knowing that the children are safe.

Tears for Fears – Song of Sorrow

Somber has a dream, and in the dream we suddenly are bathed in color.  As the rest of the scenes have been shadowy, either grey or sepia-toned, this scene is a bright splash of various incandescent colors, almost like Technicolor films.  She dreams of flying through the bright blue sky, over clouds that are flecked with gold light, reflecting and shining.  She dips down through open fields, emerald grass, flanked by trees of kaleidoscopic colors, rotating and vibrating.  Everything is alive, everything is moving.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Morning – breakfast – strangely, things are lighter today, happier.   Somber’s mom  and dad seem to have reconciled something.   His hand lightly on her waist, with a gentleness we have not seen before.  Even the two women seem to have a better relationship.  Somber’s uncle seems to be more relaxed, and Grandpa is still blissfully happy, still talking about his old army stories that he had recounted with his old army buddy the night before.

Wailin’ Jennys – The Last Goodbye

Driving away - the mood in the car has changed.  Or maybe it hasn't.   You tell me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Verble at the Counter: Why "Fairytale of New York" is the best Christmas song . . .

This song has enchanted me for years, not just because it's a perfect piece of music, but because of what it means on a more spiritual scale

It's all about taking second chances and failing.  It's about relationships that start with dreams and fantasies that come crashing to the ground.  It's about our addictions, our inabilities, our disabilities, our fortitudes, our desires, our misplaced intentions.

It reminds me of a sort of anti-Song of Solomon.  That book of the Bible is a call-and-response between two lovers, in their bedchambers, out in the streets, even wandering through the fields.  All through that book there is a chorus of singers encouraging the lovers, cheering them on.  It's almost like a Greek play.

This song takes that literary device and turns it on its head.  The two lovers are long past redemption, yet they feel trapped by each other.   They despise each other because they remind each other persistently of their failure.   The chorus (The boys of the NYPD choir) are singing on in the background, not cheering them on, just spinning the world on its normal way.  The world continues without us.

Yet, it's Christmas Day, and the bells are ringing out, and these two can not hear it.  The bells are there, the day has come, yet they are so numb to the advent of the Saviour and the King that it's just a dead refrain.  They are lost in the despair of being alone together.

That's what I love about this Christmas song: because it shows us who we are as humans.  It shows us of what we miss in the full experience of life and the full experience of what this day truly means.

So . . . Happy Christmas everyone!  Have yourselves some cheer, celebrate the birth of God wrapped in human skin, and my prayer is that you never wind up like Shane MacGowan!  ;-)

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me,
Won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They've got cars
Big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on the corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing 'Galway Bay'
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Living there almost dead
On a drip in that bed

You scum bag
You maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God
It's our last

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing 'Galway Bay'
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

I could have been someone
Well, so could anyone
You took my dreams
From me when I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing 'Galway Bay'
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

Song performed by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan

Monday, December 22, 2014

Poem of the Day: Tom Traubert's Blues by Tom Waits

Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)

Tom Waits

Wasted and wounded, it ain't what the moon did, I've got what I paid for now
See you tomorrow, hey Frank, can I borrow a couple of bucks from you
To go waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You'll go waltzing Mathilda with me

I'm an innocent victim of a blinded alley
And I'm tired of all these soldiers here
No one speaks English, and everything's broken, and my Stacys are soaking wet
To go waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You'll go waltzing Mathilda with me

Now the dogs are barking and the taxi cab's parking
A lot they can do for me
I begged you to stab me, you tore my shirt open,
And I'm down on my knees tonight
Old Bushmill's I staggered, you'd bury the dagger
In your silhouette window light go
To go waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You'll go waltzing Mathilda with me

Now I lost my Saint Christopher now that I've kissed her
And the one-armed bandit knows
And the maverick Chinamen, and the cold-blooded signs,
And the girls down by the strip-tease shows, go
Waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You'll go waltzing Mathilda with me

No, I don't want your sympathy, the fugitives say
That the streets aren't for dreaming now
And manslaughter dragnets and the ghosts that sell memories,
They want a piece of the action anyhow
Go waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You'll go waltzing Mathilda with me

And you can ask any sailor, and the keys from the jailor,
And the old men in wheelchairs know
And Mathilda's the defendant, she killed about a hundred,
And she follows wherever you may go
Waltzing Mathilda, waltzing Mathilda,
You'll go waltzing Mathilda with me

And it's a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace,
And a wound that will never heal
No prima donna, the perfume is on an
Old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey
And goodnight to the street sweepers, the night watchmen flame keepers
And goodnight to Mathilda, too

Overread at Table 3: Notes from Underground Revisited


and then people are always asking why does God allow bad things to happen to good people and good things to happen to bad people and truly truly truly I say to you people! people! you don’t really understand and it’s gonna sound harsh and it’s gonna be harsh for you to hear but the simple truth simply stated is this:

it ain’t about good or bad.

not even a bit.

it’s about salvation.

yeah yeah now I know you’re all p’o’ed because you want to wear your salvation like a big ol’ football jersey to show the world that you play for the wining team, but it’s not about that either.   You accept Jesus, you’re saved.  BAM! You’re going to Heaven.  Hallelujah and all that jazz.

You being good is your football jersey.   Not your acceptance.  You waving that flag shows that you obey Him and by being happy by obeying Him, that let’s OTHER people want to wear that jersey and BAM! they come to Christ.

Now, all this stuff about bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people, that has nothing to do with your salvation, your relationship with God, and what you have to do with the gifts that He gives you.  All that other stuff is a direct result of what other people are doing with THEIR salvation (or lack of it), their relationship (or lack of it) with God, and what THEY are doing (or not) with the gifts that He has given them.

So, when it comes down to why does the good/bad etc happen, well, I kinda summarize it like this:

That’s life.

Life is shit.

Shit happens.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Poem of the Day: America 2014

America 2014

America I have given you 44 years and you are nothing.
America I’ve got 28 cents in my savings account and a nineteen-hundred-dollar a month mortgage.
America you ring with joy at watching the smiling faces of the moneyed lenders
tell me to make my pledge to NPR in my will.
America when I’m gone I will leave you nothing but the stain in my underwear.

America please let the border kids stay.
They came crawling through the desert on their knees, or by clinging to
to the hard rails of the Beast, rumbling through the furnace of a merciless Chihuahuan summer.
Now you keep them in dog cages in McAllen, and AM Hate Radio Fearmongers call these children
                                call them
                                call them
                drug mules
                                call them
                                call them
                a flood.

America I still have not told you what Uncle Ronnie did to Archbishop Romero.

I took my son to a hospital to get a two-second x-ray of his hand to find out
why he’s only five-foot-three at the age of 14, and you
sent me a bill for two-thousand-six-hundred-eighty-three-dollars and fifty-one-cents.

America these are the same hospitals that
dump decrepit old white women out of moving cars in front of run-down clinics in Los Angeles.
These are the same hospitals that send the uninsured into the streets of Galveston
with tumors on their spine malignant enough to paralyze arms.
The same hospitals, dear America, that let Anna Brown die in a jail cell in St Louis,
when the emergency room could have stopped that blood clot from reaching her heart
with some aspirin and a tiny dose of humanity.

America I’m not naming names, but
Israel – really?
Saudi Arabia – really?
Are these the two allies you want when you try to call yourself a Christian nation?

America I choke myself silly, laughing daily at your absurdities,
that you wear like baubles around your fingers that dig
deep into my pockets and pull out my sensibilities.

America you are your governors stump speeches in your Baptist megachurches.
America you are the fading glacier of the Sierra Nevada
America you are the algae bloom in Lake Erie.
                Toledo can’t drink the water any more, turn ‘em over, they’re done.

America you are a hornet’s nest that kills pregnant women.
Your pets take selfies and then their owners fight over the copyright.
You let your husbands shoot their estranged wives in the face with a shotgun in
the early morning
in the parking lot of high schools
in your suburban suites.

America your factories have been converted into Ikeas,
America I think you have run out of ideas.
You are just not funny any more, and I want to cancel my subscription.

America do you hear me banging on my pot and my pan?
America can you see me through the stained-blood window in the mist of the dirty rain?

America will you please let me know the time and date when you plan to
blow the lid off the top of the last mountain?
I wanna take a picture, upload it to Instagram,
tell everyone: this wasn’t a wimper –

this baby went out with a bang. 


Poem of the day: What the Businessman Said by Allison Cobb

the business
man I shook
hands with
drinking local
whiskey at the
party Christmas
winter I mean non
religious for the
group where
his wife
donates her
hours bought
just bought
an old Victorian cheaper
than a Craftsman in
one of Portland’s
oldest best said
cost the cost
of doing
business one
cost of
business all of
life of costs
a cost the business
man made
exercise machines
in China for
the bodies of
to sweat upon
the muscles heart
and blood vessels
the lungs he said
they never
even counted
costs the labor
lives so cheap it was
the metal minerals
the plastic
parts they had
to calculate the labor
lives so
cheap they didn’t
even count

Copyright © 2014 by Allison Cobb. Used with permission of the author.

About This Poem

“The ‘Craftsman’ style of architecture grew out of the British Arts and Crafts Movement, which was a reaction against the Industrial Revolution’s devaluing of workers and individual craft. It also was a reaction against the opulence of Victorian style—and aimed at making well-designed homes available for the middle class.”
—Allison Cobb

Monday, December 8, 2014

Overheard at the Counter: Mrs. Gherulous tells about getting gas at 6am

I was getting almost done pumping gas, it was dark and I was the only person there, then an old shady car park to pump gas… then the guy tells me.. excuse me mem do you have any spare change for coffee… I can’t tell you how many things went in to my head but for some reason I was not afraid and I told this guy… go inside and get what you need…

So he did and got coffee I told him get some bread… so he did and I when inside and I pay for his food, as we were leaving he thank me several times and he said I do good deeds to other people 2 when I can… I told them not to worry about it and I told him to have a bless day and I don’t remember exactly what I said but was on this lines: God is with you pray when you can…

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Overheard at Table 5: My Dad and the Dishwasher

"So my dad was putting all the dishes in the dishwasher and they still had all this crap stuck to 'em and I says 'Dad you know you gotta clean 'em off first' and my dad says, 'Why the hell I gotta clean 'em off first it's a dishWASHER not a dishwasher-UPPER-AFTER' and I tell him, That's just the way it works you gotta clean 'em off first.'

"So he says 'Well then that just means it's not doing it just we oughta just fire the damn thing.'  and that's my dad's answer to everything - if it ain't working, fire it.  So that's why I just told mom that dad wants to fire the dishwasher."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Poem of the Day: When the earth holds nothing

When the earth holds nothing
for you,
Life is full of empty boxes
        left on dusty shelves
in detached garages with tilted doors.

Walk down these streets,
stricken with
the silence brought on
by the oppressive weight of indecision.

Your dreams have fled,
in search of someone else's
night sky.

The trees drop their limbs
in a sullen hush,
and not even the neighbor's
dogs have the
strength to bark at
these days.

Purple sky

you turn and walk back
toward the garage.

Time to dust off those damn
time to straighten up that tilted door,
time to fill those boxes

with your words.

If the world holds nothing for you,
let the world know that
at the very least,
you hold something for the world.

MR 2014-1202