“Pocketknife”

Pocketknife

Sunday afternoon –
a grandmother removes
a tiny green package
from her bedside table
and drops it gently
into his eager hands.

The boy rubs the inside
of his short index finger
along the glossy green paper
and leans his young frame
against her marigold dress,
while he slips his finger
under the crease
to loosen the tape.
In respect for
this unexpected gift
he does not tear the paper,
but slides the battered case
out of its tight wrapping.

He opens it wordlessly,
his grandmother looking away,
and into his hands falls
a rusty pocketknife
with a handle of worn wood,
delicately carved by
the blade of another,
deeproot stained by years of use,
and scratched onto one side –
the initials of her father,
whom he had never met
but had always known.

“Insomnia”

When I was twelve I had insomnia –
a crippling sense of anticipation
for something that would never come.

Every night,
the cautious evening crept into the house
and the water in the pipes would settle,
and the air conditioner would choke itself
in an aluminum rattle –
the vents exhaling their last cool breath
the dust sinking silver against the windows.
I would lie in the dark
restless as the moonlight,
and strangled by the hands of patience.

Sometimes at 2 a.m.
my father, still awake in his tiny office,
would hear my pacing,
slip wordless into my room
and put “Blood on the Tracks” on the old stereo –
Bob Dylan crooning soft and desperate
about losing his wife.
I didn’t understand the words,
but I think I always understood the sound,
the inexorable fear of emptiness.

Now, sitting at the desk,
breathless,
I realize
sometimes the empty spaces
weigh as much as the movements.

Update: My Friend Rachel is an Award Winning Composer and My Poems Get to Tag Along

Way back in December of 2008, I wrote this blog post about how my friend Rachel Fogarty had used two of my old poems as text for a song cycle she was composing. It was a surprise, and I was honored that she’d think enough of them to set them to music; then later equally honored to hear them performed at a recital in April of last year.

Rachel sent me an email last night to give me another piece of great news — her song cycle won a national competition and will be premiered in Boston with the Boston Metro Opera for their 1st Annual Contemporary AmericanaFest in May! Details are here and here.

Rachel is immensely talented and I’ve always been humbled by her dedication — I’m so happy to see her being recognized and happy to be a small part of it.

For those wondering, the two poems in question are below.

Continue reading Update: My Friend Rachel is an Award Winning Composer and My Poems Get to Tag Along

My Friend Rachel is SO Much More Talented Than I Could Hope To Be (or, two little poems set to music)

I received an amazing surprise from my dear friend Rachel Fogarty this weekend — she’s secretly been setting some of my poetry to music for a composition competition in San Francisco.  She and Kevin (earmuff pioneer, lover of tom grooves, equally amazing musician) showed up at our Christmas Open House this weekend with a release form and an embarrassed smile as she asked me to sign it — like I wasn’t going to be completely flattered that she had even THOUGHT of doing something like this.

Rachel’s graduate recital a few years ago was revelatory — having never heard her compositions before, I was totally floored at her talent and surprised that I hadn’t realized it sooner. It’s an honor that she’d even want to use my old dusty poems for her work.

Words and links to MP3 below. Continue reading My Friend Rachel is SO Much More Talented Than I Could Hope To Be (or, two little poems set to music)

We Sought Out Weakness With Our Fists

We Sought Out Weakness With Our Fists

I was a little boy
bright blue shorts and bony knees 
for the first time away from my mother —
a week at summer camp.
Every morning I wrote her long, detailed letters
hiding the fact that I was a severed heart, an anxious bird,
and in my head I ceaselessly counted the days until the week would end.

Monday. Tuesday. Four more nights. Now halfway there.

That boy singled me out on the first night
as if he heard my secret countdown
above the uncontrollable murmur of assembly.
His yellow tank top and thrift store shoes betrayed him
and he was old enough to know
that we saw him in trailer-width rooms,
learning to ride his bike on gravel driveways,
playing with the toys we had discarded.
And he saw me for what I was —
a boy who stood back from doorways, never made fists,
a choir boy, her lipstick perpetually on my cheek.

Wednesday. The day after the day after tomorrow. Thursday. One more day and last assembly.

In that final night we gathered in the gymnasium for a farewell dance where
he found me in the dark, slid up from behind and grabbed my collar,
and twisted my lanyard like a noose around my slender neck,
my stomach knotted like the nylon cord as he corked it tighter.
And he laughed at me:
a long loud rattling presentation
and his eyes scanned the room for those who would laugh along.

And as his pupils raced I balled my fingers into a tight fist,
my palms sweaty, my bitten crags of fingernails
buzzing against flesh
and I went for his mouth
a frustrated flailing of my right arm towards his lip
and my knuckles connected with the sinews of his jaw,
the sound louder than I expected,
the force of my swing passing through his teeth and gums and tongue
and into the twist of his neck and out into nothing, throwing my my feet off balance
his eyes jarred and shuttered out of instinct, and he reached for me
jaw hanging open
breath sucked tight behind his crooked teeth
cracked lips shiny with crimson spit
he clutched my shoulder to steady me
and his hands were fists familiar and practiced
forced three times into my stomach
just below my ribs,
the breath thrust from my lungs
and I fell to the gym floor gasping for air,
gasping for forgiveness from the counselors
who were now running towards him,
were wrapping their hands around the tension in his wrists.

We were spilling with possibility —
me down there genuflecting for breath, balling my fists,
and he up there being pulled away,
his heart like a knife
looking for something small and fearful and easy to cut open,
for real weakness to expose, for real blood to draw forth
and carry him into the arms of those other kids
whether out of fear, or respect, or honor.

I opened my throat
and let the stale gymnasium soak my lungs —
my knuckles still tingled with the memory of his jaw,
my frustration seeped steadily into pride.

Tomorrow, just tomorrow. Just wait until tomorrow.

April: Cruelest Month? Hardly.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

– “The Wasteland”
T.S. Eliot

So, yeah, it’s been kind of stale here on the blog for a few days. Life trumps blogging, and life has been a little, well, larger than life the past few weeks.

First off, April started off cruel. Two weeks ago, after 5 solid days of rain, ye olde Briggs family home basement flooded for the first time in a few years. It’s a helpless feeling to walk into your house and find half of your carpet soaked with mud water, seeping up through a crack that conveniently runs through the middle of your foundation. While we took the step to proactively put indoor/outdoor carpet in the basement a few years ago, we had yet to test it’s effectiveness, so we spent essentially an entire weekend second guessing ourselves and deconstructing the sub-level of our house, spreading baking soda, renting a carpet cleaner, rolling wet carpet back, buying mops, and later buying stiff brushes and getting on our hands and knees to scrape up the aforementioned (now-crusted) baking soda. Honestly, the weekend was a bit spirit breaking — we found ourselves in a swampy house, more ready than ever to move, but still unsure of my career situation. And I ended the weekend angrier than ever about the 18 months I’ve seemingly wasted with an employer I have no interest in working for.

Things changed, though. If I were to make a top ten list, April 2008 is probably the second best month of my life–putting it just behind September 2006, and just ahead of June 1999 (wich is incidentally also the last time I vomited).

I must have banked some serious karma, because the week of my birthday was a complete 180 from the weeks before. On Monday, I was contacted for an interview. On Tuesday at 3:30, I want to that interview. And at 4:45, I walked out of that interview with a job offer. I checked on my other options, and on Wednesday I accepted, Thursday I turned in my notice, and Friday I left work at 2:30 to go drink Woodchuck and eat a weekend’s worth of junk food in celebration of my birthday.

My new job is almost exactly what I was hoping to find, and I can’t wait to start. First day is a week from Monday.

But that’s not the only reason that April 2008 is keeping it real.

  1. On Thursday of last week, after turning in my notice and putting our basement back together I get an e-mail that alerts me to the fact that ELVIS COSTELLO WILL BE AT GRIMEY’S ON APRIL 24 TO SIGN RECORDS. Which means that in a week from today, I’ll meet one of my favorite artists of all time.
  2. Grimey’s Record Store Day celebration is this Saturday, which I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. (Come buy records from us!)
  3. The aforementioned new R.E.M. album, which, after living with it for a few weeks, I can say with confidence is at least 90.9% good, and more like 45.4% great / 45.5% good.
  4. Going to see the New Pornographers and Okkervil River tomorrow, which means that I’ll be seeing Okkervil for the first time, and (hopefully) having the opportunity to pine over my Indie Rock Girlfriend once again.
  5. New Elvis record and the Elvis show next week.
  6. An end of month backpacking trip.
  7. Preparation for the big Left Coast Vacation next month, which I can’t wait for.

So yeah, full respect to the genius of T.S. Eliot, but the first line of “The Wasteland” definitely does not apply to me right now. Life is good. Great moments are moving through me, and I’m taking hold of some of them.

Rediscovering Old Work

Going back through some old work today for a point of reference on some new writing I’m doing. I’m stumbling across things I have little to no recollection of writing.

In late 2003, Avenues were working on what would eventually become our EP, These Years Come To Rest. I had a very vivid idea of what I wanted our next recorded work to be about, and this came from a very real and personal place, but I struggled more than I would have liked in the actual writing of that concept. I’ve got pages upon pages of freewriting– hours spent blankly scrawling whatever came to mind. Looking back today, I’m surprised to see how effective this practice was — even writing “nonsense” with no self-editing, in retrospect, was laying all the concepts out on the table. I had more than enough material here to seam together a complete narrative.

The piece below is the most surprising to me — it’s almost structured enough that I’d consider it a finished work, and a pretty succinct summary of exactly what was going on in my head in those days immediately after graduating college. It’s a bit stream of consciousness (typically not my thing), but I guess that’s kind of the point here.

*******

November Eighteenth Two Thousand Three. A Crisis of Beliefs.

I looked back. everything was close to me. interstate lines and hotel rooms. a morning met too soon. I set things down, couldn’t keep them in. a flood that sweeps from within. There’s light in a window miles away. you are there, I think. shifting light without me. I knew the first day. things would end this way. salt and sea. we’d drift apart. I believed. the bus stop. your last request. words secular and sweet seeping from my breath. my fingers trace. every word refers to you.

this might have been what I wanted. a hundred nights. a river wide. a parting scene. parked cars and gasoline. I waited for something to come, something to stalk up from behind and take me. something to mean. anything to believe. something that gives. a silent ending to relive. a year to regret.

I looked back. I didn’t breathe. you still hold a part of me. you still hold a part of me. you still hold a part of me. a hotel room, a night or two. eleven hundred days full of you.