Little Songs

April 20, 2012

One wintry morning, I gathered some musical friends and some glockenspiels, harmonicas, trombones, and banjos, to record an album of children’s songs and lullabies as a gift to my sister and my new nephew. I then traveled across the lands to Ohio and Indiana to add the musical talents of family members. It was great fun, and we thought it would be best to share our songs with babies and small children everywhere. And everyone else, too.


The people we pass.

June 8, 2011

We were pulling a massive wooden wardrobe, balanced precariously on a dolly, through the city. There’s no denying it—it looked silly. It felt silly. It also felt like the entire neighborhood was contributing to the progress of the move. After months of Craigslist-clicking in search of a wardrobe which was made from real wood, which wasn’t too expensive, and which came from someone in my neighborhood, I had discovered that these were nearly impossible criteria to meet. But now we were hauling the culmination of my efforts up the street.

“Wheel that right over here!” a woman called from her front porch. “Is that a dresser?” a small voice asked from the sidewalk where two girls were playing. “Do you want my help lifting that?” a very small boy asked with sincerity.

As the wardrobe stopped at friends’ houses along the way for breaks, and as it was carried quickly across the median of a busy street, and as it finally ended up situated nicely in my closet-less apartment to offer my clothes respite during daily dressing frenzies, I considered the difference of moving with cars or trucks: the wardrobe-hauling process simplified, but interactions with people along the driving path censored. The focus on the destination, insulated from the journey with walls. If the wardrobe had fit into the just-too-small car that we had initially attempted, then the woman who later recognized us as “the people who moved the wardrobe” likely wouldn’t have stopped to greet us. Our lives, compartmentalized within walls and containers, make our bodies barely visible to the people we pass. It isn’t easy to step outside of these boundaries. This was barely a glimpse.

Hello, city. Yes, I see you there.

I was walking out of Borders Bookstore with destination in mind when I was stopped short by a small mass impeding my path in the middle of the sidewalk. Glancing down to investigate the best strategy for overcoming this obstacle, I discovered it was a small child. Padded so thickly in fluffy winter clothing that it was difficult to imagine a person inside, he was struck still, head tilted upward and one arm raised with a woolen mitten dangling and spinning slowly from sleeve, the only sign of movement.

My eyes traced the invisible line stemming from small pointing finger to sky.  It was late afternoon, and I could remember an ancient intrigue of first realizing that the moon is often visible in the sky while the sun still shines. Something that most people know but rarely gaze up to see. But now the sky was shrouded in half-clouds and I didn’t see a moon.

Sidewalk squares ahead, the child’s parents finally realized their offspring was a slowly-sprouting statue on the Borders sidewalk, and they hollered back an encouragement for him to catch up. “Moon.” The sole word uttered from the mitten-toting keystone’s mouth. So I squinted at the sky as hard as my eyelids had strength, examined the slim connect-the-dots space between clouds, and slowly a tiny sliver of moon, hardly visible to an unsearching eye, came into focus.

Later that day, freed from the stilting child’s wonder, a friend flippantly mentioned how the child she babysits obsesses over the moon. It struck a chord that sounded to me like an important memory. But she jumped erratically to the next topic and talked on.

This is the difference between the experience and the retelling. Between the story and the summary. Between the taste and the food critic’s review. Between the friend’s nostalgic stories and the weekend spent visiting their childhood home. Between the discussion of love and its actual shoulder-popping-back-in-the-joint sensation: to get clobbered in the middle of the sidewalk by the sight of a hazy sliver of moon while everyone else walks by.

I stretched a latex glove over each hand and stared at the garbage can preparing for the dive.

I could read an eating disorder from its contents: the brand new jeans with the price tag still on them that were stuffed in like a lid to cover the leftover giant bottle of diet pills that had been emptied impulsively and heavily into a young girl’s stomach. I plunge my concern into the trash and stare at the fishing line until I feel something tug. My fingers lift out the dripping bottle. I play hot potato with the nurse who came to me wanting to know which kind of drugs were swimming through the girl’s bloodstream, neither of us wanting to own the pills or the bottle or the actions of a girl with mental health difficulties and a disfigured perception of herself.

Across the hall the man wearing the neck brace is breathing like a hard wind. He can’t breath, he can’t turn his head, and as his face grows red so does our urgency for someone to force air inside him. My sense of helplessness sizzles as the men from the ambulance walk him downstairs

past the drunk man who suggestively nods “Hey baby” my direction when only yesterday he greeted me sober with a “Good morning. I hope you’re doing well today.” Words of congratulation had floated about his 100 days clean, and I had only known him within those days. Here we stood at their end. His drooping eyes and red face comprised my flat sight of why he’s spent his life under bridges and what would easily sweep him there again.

The problems are always different, always varied, not always so urgently condensed into one day’s time. In every one there is a person’s eyes frantically searching, wondering, regressing, needing something something something.

bright you can see

I lost my checkbook. I lost a pile of papers that contained the only copies of my favorite poems I’ve been lately writing and rewriting and writing again. I’m mid-intentional-process of losing my often draining over-aptitude for detail which has seemed to result in the unforeseen and unfortunate consequence of being incapable of remembering wherewhenwhy I let items leave my hands. I lost the ability to read in bed before going to sleep without waking up hours later with a book squishing my face and the lights shining.

But as I rode my bike home from another day spent losing my energy and enthusiasm for work, I found two children playing along the side of the neighborhood street.

“Hi!” the small boy’s arm stretched high over his head waving little fingers feverishly at me as if I was my own parade riding the street for his entertainment. The little girl’s big eyes shouted,  “She’s pretty!”

Somehow those two words—if any way they had sounded my direction in the past—contained some of what I had lost. An unexpected catch-you-offguard comment restores the ability to see.

With these new eyes I saw the ugliest house that I daily pass and cringe at the clues that people actually live there. It looks like the road stretching up toward the sky to form this building’s concrete crumbling walls. Solid, square, closed, old, windowless, a looming blue-clad prison that someone calls home.

Today, on it’s block porch, four new pots containing plants and flowers. Beauty engulfed  under everything opposite of it.

A hint of something found.


May 21, 2009

In honor of the haze through which I’ve encountered today, I found a definition that best fits it from the website Definitions, where Jon Fried decided that he had better things to say about words than a dictionary. I agree. His run-on style is endearing.

Today’s word defined:

Sleep Deprived:

I need more sleep. I need more sleep. I am grouchy more and more of the time and cannot always concentrate on what is in front of me. I have less patience and take less pleasure in my routine in fact most days I take no pleasure in my routine although I love the moment I go to sleep I hate the clock reminding me that again I will not get enough sleep. I have things I like to do and things I need to do and things I am expected to do and things that I can’t not do, plus the dayjob, and now there my eyes were closed and I felt better then I was driving no not in a car I was driving myself and drifting in to other lanes and into oncoming cars and through lights and just by myself as I am with no sleep even around all the others I am by myself because there’s not enough sleep to be alive to them and no one is hurt as there is no collision but I don’t like it.

To further expand on my sleep deprivedness, here’s my extended definition:

Curled on the kitchen floor which is covered in dirty footprints and people banging pots and appliances around my head I could just pass out but the noise and the dirt and the fact that I have to be somewhere important in seventeen minutes. I’m waiting for the day to play although I forfeited it yesterday but it has to run its course while I sit unable to be really in it like going back in time to re-live a mistake but unable to do anything but again make the mistake the exact same way. And eyes clamped open like the terrible scene in a clockwork orange it feels like it looks like it feels.

soundless words

May 19, 2009

Saturday granted me a mandatory task: spend 5 hours in alone silence.

Saturday granted me the perfect placement for such a task: a strange, new spot on a lake surrounded by trees

dandelion sky

I set out to explore silently 5 hours.

Wondering through a cracked-open gate, I moved into an opening where brightly colored shapes sprouted to towering from the ground: an empty carnival. Rides stood eerily still as laughing kids and bustling crowds who once filled the space floated down ghosts in the beginning rain.

I entered the ancient tilt-a-whirl ride, pulled up the metal bar and sat in the car untilting, unwhirling, but curving to protect me from the rain. And me, giddy and giggling at the stillness of a ride most people move through quickly as rain tapped my feet.

I ran barefoot across a nearby field of white dandelions and collapsed in the middle so my sight contained only knee-high dandelions and sky.

I wondered into the woods and found a clearing furnished with carpet, chairs, lamps, a toaster oven, an old merry-go-round horse named Mike. And on the outskirts, an ironing board.

I climbed on a fallen tree dangling over a stream and wrote about everything. About my memory of years ago discovering an impressive treehouse in the woods behind my sister’s house and about my comrade during that exploration which contrasted my current aloneness.

I stepped into the cold stream and splashed all the way along its current to where it found the wide open lake. I was crazy-laughing as I and my clothes grew increasingly drenched and the stream restored became pure lake.

I sat by the lake on a log and read poetry out loud to the waves hitting the carcass of an enormously decaying fish.

After the 5 hours of silence ended, I re-met eight people who had similarly spent the same time in silence. I discovered that other people had stumbled across the same scenery I had; one had traveled almost exactly the same path as me.

And then I knew.

That we’re never as alone as we think we are. That things happen always with the power to change everything if only we were aware. That life at its most right involves a balancing between climbing inward and stretching out.

That the bare-bones potential of any day is that there’s always something new to explore and contemplate and say and create.

five hours

poetry by obliteration

May 14, 2009

obliterated poems
The Idea:
Cut the bindings off of books found at a used book store. Find poems in the pages by the process of obliteration. Put pages in the mail and send them all around the world. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I like the idea of transforming anything into poetry. Especially if it involves recycling beautifully aged words.

clinging onto words

May 12, 2009

Front-page news in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
The price of stamps increased two cents due to the fact that post offices have been hooked up in too many unsuccessful blind dates and are now suffering rejection from everyone.

The editorials inside offer an altogether different but related story:
Printed journalism has been stabbed in the stomach and watches while its stomach acids flow out the wound and slowly devour its skin.

What we can conclude from this:
People have secretly consented to an implied boycott on tangible information sources. They are pandemically forfeiting the writing skills they learned in kindergarten for the typing skills they learned in middle school (possibly because this is the only memory worth hanging onto from middle school).newspaper nostalgia

I’m a desperate romantic when it comes to words. I want familiar pages to wake up with me every morning and friendly packaged papers waiting faithfully for me next to the door when I come home. The internet keeps intruding on my affair with words and only offers a one-sided relationship in its place: it never waits for me and makes me do all the work.

I prefer words to come to me in containers that I can smudge with fingerprints. I have an overwhelming need to spill my milk on words, circle points of interest in them,  make origami out of them, carry them with me for a bus ride, rip out pieces of them to save or share, doodle on the spaces between them, use them as floor shields when I paint, roll them up and hit someone over the head with them, crumble them up if they make me angry, kiss them if they make me fall in love.
Or at least have all of these option available.

I suppose this lament stuffed inside a computer screen does little to help. The internet has that obnoxiously useful boyish charm that I can’t escape.

But letters and newspapers are irreplaceable. They constantly advocate for slower and more intentional movement through life. I support their cause.


May 5, 2009

Yesterday at the gym, a man turned the tv so it screamed its moving colors toward my face and he climbed onto the machine next to me. “I’m a tv man,” he declared as he began moving his legs but kept his eyes glued to the screen.

I’m a music person, I thought as I set my headphones to “drown it all out” mode and experimented with treadmill-running while closing my eyes. It didn’t work well.

I don’t care for being constantly bombarded with the top stories Wolf Blizter talks into the ground. As I over-heard Wolf and endless “experts” give their input on pirates, pandemics, killings, and the GOP (all the general newsworthy events made specific daily), it reminded me of a soap opera where they stretch out plots every day and nothing much changes.

morning news

I’ll admit that my possibly favorite part of morning is my venture onto the porch to search for where the newspaper landed. Then I have a brief love affair with its pages and a bowl of cereal.

I scan most of the stories in seconds because I know they have high potential to appear as topics of conversation later in the day. But the facts get too tedious. Where’s the imagery, the rhythm, the breath behind the words?

Maybe this is why I indulge in mandatory poetry breaks throughout each day. But it’s also why the editorials comprise the most worthwhile part of any newspaper.

I’ll take ideas over facts any day. And music. I can always take music.