Category Archives: creative pieces

Lyrics to a Concept Album with No Music

1.
And when there’s a path you follow it.
And when there’s a question you ask it.
And when you need to stand and yell at someone
you do it.

Be the strength that everyone knows you have.

And when you need to dance you ask whomever’s around,

extend the hand and turn and take a bow,

demure and daring, your face the expression of all
that’s in your heart
and radiates out
across the void
between your face and the face of your chosen star.

Twinkle at them

messages of

joys
to be shared

if only
a person’s
to dare.

2.
A stone and plaster circle
mud caked on your jeans,
extended and extended like a ripple from your knee,
the walls I want to build.

The walls I want to build
not to lock behind the scenes
reveal the ones who come upon my baby ‘fore she screams;
an empty field defended.

An empty field defended
and walls that can’t be hopped
prepare yourself to treat yourself and tell them when to stop;
stand your ground,

persisting and resisting,
stand your ground.

3.
But place many gates in your walls, my love
and invite the others in.
Be welcoming and exciting.
And take the pleasures of a host.

See the moment,
eat the moment,
each and every moment, for what it can
and what it can’t
be:

the best-of-all that’s possible,
and if not that, then
an improvement,

just an improvement,

an extension of yourself
that stretches way beyond the walls
and comes upon a valley
where the river lies
open to us all
to swim and take a drink
and if not that,
then
what’s an improvement?

4.
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
make your music
make your music
make your music
start

Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
make your music
make your music
make your music
start

Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
make your music
make your music
make your music
start

Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around.
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
Remember through it’s only through
Remember through it’s only through
Remember through it’s only through
communion when we dance around
and make your music
make your music
make your music
start.

5.
Can you be kind?
Can you realize?
That not all of them
need to be let in.

Stretch beyond yourself;
Exit through your walls
and sometimes
return to me when you’re ready.

You are safe
to exceed
because I am always
already here,
ready to defend,
ready to defend,
whenever you need me.

But keep,
I shall not do,
nor would you want me to.

The path
always leads
away out there,
and what we’ve said,
what we’ve agreed to,
is that there’s this,
the thing to do,
when there’s a path,
you damn well follow it,
that’s what you do,
you damn well follow it.

The Museum of Unfinished Novels: Track One

Welcome to the Museum of Unfinished Novels. Founded in 1953, the Museum of Unfinished Novels preserves for all time abandoned acts of human creativity.

Our tour begins in the East Hall, but before you exit the lobby, we suggest you approach the exhibit directly below the crest of the golden dome, where you can reflect on the unfinished novel of Annie Jarvis.

With each minuscule letter painstakingly etched into the floor in 1982 by Calcedonia Siracusa, a Sicilian marble carver who donated her time to the museum in exchange for a season pass to the Palermo Opera House, this unfinished novel by Annie Jarvis is only missing its last punctuation mark. At 8,231 printed pages, Jarvis’ novel stands as the longest unfinished novel in our collection.

If you’ve made your way to the carving, you’ll notice a selection of handheld magnifying glasses at your feet. Take a moment to kneel and retrieve one, and then spend some time examining the artwork etched into the floor. You wouldn’t want to come to the Museum of Unfinished Novels and bypass the incredible vertigo known to overcome our visitors as they read Miss Jarvis’s odious and amateurish prose as its been captured by Miss Siracusa, each letterform carved into the hard white marble with such uncanny precision and craftsmanship as to contradict the ineptitude of Miss Jarvis’ talent.

Now stand and look at the whole of it again. Note the way the text twists in and over itself, almost as if it were a tangle of hard-covered wires. Realize for a moment not only how meticulously Miss Siracusa has carved each curlicue so as to make it flow miraculously into the following letter, but also how many individual words — 2,912,358 to be exact — Miss Siracusa was able to fit inside that twelve-foot circle of marble. Take another moment and allow yourself to experience real and true awe at the achievement of this humble Sicilian marble carver, and realize that within her achievement lies the opposite of everything this museum stands for.

[Seven seconds of silence]

You may now pause the tour until you enter the East Hall.

[Full stop]

Welcome to the East Hall!

Donated in 1939 by Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Katz, the East Hall holds artifacts from both our permanent collection and our seasonal exhibits. If you choose to peruse our permanent collection, please skip to TRACK TWO. If you choose to explore our seasonal exhibit, [different voice] SOPHOMORE SLUMP: THE ART OF THE ONLY SENTENCE [/different voice], please select TRACK FIVE.

Done Made Said Thought

I listen to a lot of music. I listen to jazz, rap, rock and roll, big band, reggae, 80s hair metal, 70s funk, 50s pop, etc. Over the past few months I’ve listened to albums from a country-tinged folk singer name Todd Snider, as well as to Jay Z’s newest album, 4:44, as well as to some of this year’s Phish tour, to a Grateful Dead concert from May, 1977, and to a Dead & Company concert from June, 2017. I eagerly pressed play on a pre-released single from Iron & Wine’s next album and tried to revisit my somewhat-meh opinion of Tupac Shakur’s rhythm and flow.

But the only real piece of music I’ve been excited by in the past six months is the latest album from the Canadian band, Do Make Say Think.

I shouldn’t say I’m excited by the actual music yet. I’ve had the album for maybe five days, and I’ve only listened to it maybe twice (maybe three times) all the way through, so I’m not quite capable of rendering a true song by song evaluation.

What excites me is that there’s any music from Do Make Say Think at all. They haven’t made an album in eight years, and they are, without a doubt, my favorite band.

~~

Here’s how I listen to music (when I’m alone enough to really listen to it anyway).

First, music is almost always on when I’m driving. Sometimes I listen to Vermont Public Radio, but less and less so now that Donald Trump is President. Once in a great-great while, I’ll listen to a podcast. But for the most part, if I’m in the car, I have music playing.

Unfortunately, now that I’m the father of a very chatty four-year-old, the car is no longer the best place to listen to music.

I listen to music if I have to walk to work. I live about a half mile from the school where I teach. Depending on the transportation needs of the day, sometimes I have to walk to work and sometimes I have to drive. If I walk, I’ll often put on my headphones and try to zero in on two or three songs from a single album by whatever artist. The walk gives me about eight to ten minutes of solid listening time. I can focus on the music, listen to the lyrics (if there are any), all while subconsciously hoping that, at some point, the songs will make me move to the beat.

I also listen to music when I’m mowing the lawn. I do this (if I’m being good) about once every five or six days. With the size and shape of my lawn, the amount of lawn furniture I have to remove, and the number of toys I have to throw back onto my neighbor’s lawn, this activity, without fail, takes me roughly 45 minutes to accomplish. That is the length of most studio albums, and one half of a live set, so I can lock in, fade my mind into the music, and mow on.

Lastly, I listen to music when I’m writing.

Here’s the thing though. When I’m doing any of those other things — driving, walking, mowing — I can listen to virtually anything: rap, rock, jazz, jam, whatever. But when I’m writing, I can only listen to one thing. And that’s Do Make Say Think.

I don’t write to Do Make Say Think exclusively. But the music I write to exclusively came to me by way of Do Make Say Think.

(That’s not exactly true; I sometimes listen to music by Frank Zappa, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Jerry Garcia, Blind Faith, Charles Mingus, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, The Jazz Mandolin Project, Jimmy McGriff, Trey Anastasio, and others; but it also is true in that Do Make Say Think [and its ilk] is the only music who ever makes it exclusively into a writing session — if Jimmy McGriff is there, Miles Davis is too, but if Do Make Say Think is there, everyone else often is not; regardless…)

I don’t know how to describe the music of Do Make Say Think, but the first thing I’ll say is that it is music without lyrics. When I am writing, the last thing I want is someone else’s words in my head, and so all of my writing is done to music without lyrics.

But “music without lyrics” is a broad description. It contains most of the movements to most of the symphonies, almost all of jazz, a good percentage of funk, a large portion of Jerry Garcia’s ouvre, and whatever kind of high-quality 70s porn music that Jimmy McGriff plays.

So the second thing I would say about Do Make Say Think’s music is that, despite the lack of lyrics, the music fits perfectly with the song titles. For example, the song I’m listening to right now is “Her Eyes on the Horizon,” and it contains a soft yet hopeful melody that later dissolves into the sad, tender combination of keyboards and horns. It then fades back, through a beautiful sunrise of a bass tone, into an energetic and yet still early daylight seeming kind of rock melody, supported by a fast-paced set of jazz influenced double drums, dual guitars, and a beautiful, absolutely beautiful sounding electric bass. The melody rises into a set of exclamatory punction marks that repeat over and over before descending into a fading acoustic guitar and bass. The whole movement takes eight minutes and 20 seconds.

A statue from Grand Bank, Newfoundland

The music provides a narrative arc that fits nicely with the thematic possiblities of its title (“Her Eyes on the Horizon”). As you listen to it, you can imagine a sad and forlorn woman in a coastal seatown standing atop a widow’s walk, watching the watery horizon for her son to come home. You can imagine her standing high in the night, leaning over, her arms resting on the metal railing jutting over her bedroom window. Clouds block the starlight above her, casting the night in somber dark.

In time with the music, with her eyes on the horizon, the woman thinks about the way she raised her son, about the love she has for him. Then, with the shift in the music, the sadness of his absence overcomes her, and she can no longer look for him. She turns, wraps her long warm nightgown tighter, and begins her long cold walk back to the attic door, but then something in the music causes her to turn around, to look one more time, and there it is, coming over the horizon like a sunbeam, a sail! a sail!.

She races to the railing to see it better, to prove to herself that she’s not mistaken, and as she runs, she sees herself running to him on the dock, sweeping him into her arms, collapsing them both to their knees, hugging him so tight that all of his hard-nosed sailor friends search the docks for the all-encompassing love of their own mothers.

The boat comes closer, comes closer, and with a break in the clouds, the starlight confirms it: he’s home!

She leaps down the stairs, each bouncing step like an exclamatory punctuation mark on the sentence repeating in her head, “He’s home! He’s home! He’s home!”

But then…she reaches the downstairs floor. The door is just a few feet in front of her. She stops herself, the sentence slowly changing from He’s home! He’s home!” to “He’s home? He’s home.”

She remembers how difficult he can be when he first comes off the sea, how inside of himself he seems, detached from the love they once shared, happy to be home but still distant. It won’t be like she imagined it. It never is. She takes a breath, opens the door, and steps out.

The next song on the album is called “As Far As The Eye Can See.” It starts with nature sounds, a heat bug drone, crickets and birds, an electric guitar, a light metallic rattle like the links on a dog leash, a dominant bass line, and now drums, steady and light, a second guitar, a second set of drums, all of it adding to itself, no instrument repeating another yet all of them meeting at exactly the right points, a quiet dialogue consisting of many minds moving in the same direction and coming at it from different angles, covering all the possibilities in a sweeping democratic crowd as far as the eye can see before collapsing into a single point out of which all of them explode and from which we are introduced almost one by one back to all of the interested parties.

It’s amazing music. When I put it on for my brother, he called it “movie music.” I think he meant it in a derogatory way, but I also think he’s right: like a well-made movie, every song by Do Make Say Think is capable of taking its listener on a journey.

But what I love about it is that, when it comes to writing, when it comes to focusing on how to manipulate the words on the screen rather than the words in my head, it maintains — across every song and within every moment — the sense of a connected narrative, keeping the sensations I depend on for writing moving in the same direction and in the same way: forward, with meaning. You don’t have to be listening to it for this to happen. It just needs to be there, playing, moving you ever on, like the verb you always am.

Do Make Say Think is the only band I’ve listened to that is capable of making me feel this way each and every time I listen to it. It may not be for everyone, but I truly do feel that it is for me.

So to them, I just want to say: thank you. Thank you for helping me do, make, say, and think better than I could on my own.

Nora’s Story (The Remix)

After my daughter went to bed last night, I decided to write a second draft of her story. Enjoy!

The Lila-takers drive down the center of a well-lit road at midnight. Closed shops line the sidewalk, and streetlights illuminate small patches of drunken fog. The passenger sticks his head out of the window like a dog with its tongue lolling. He looks up: the streetlights block the stars. A man stands dead center in the bed of the pickup, a baseball bat hanging at his side, as if the truck were his chariot and the baseball bat his faith.

Mice scatter along the curbs. A police car hides in an alley, and its officers, waiting for speedsters, watch the Lila-takers pass. They exchange a look, and turn their eyes to their coffee cups, ashamed of what they’ve become. The driver puts the car in reverse, and with headlights off, the police back farther into the alley.

Lila celebrates the success of her cat’s eye surgery with her cousins. They dance to pop music and drink sparkling lemonade. As she twirls beneath the ceiling fan in the living room with her cousin Maddie, she doesn’t know there are such things in the world as Lila-takers.

A second car, a deep purple, refurbished sedan, pulls out of a sidestreet and alongside the pickup; the drivers don’t acknowledge each other. In the passenger seat of the sedan, a woman with long purple hair and small purple sunglasses stares straight ahead, her right hand curled around the doorhandle, tensed and ready. The sedan and the truck drive on, together, a motorcycle now pulling up fast behind them, its overweight driver dressed in baggy black, her rounded black helmet hiding her identity, a baseball bat strapped to the side of the gas tank. She revs the engine, pulls along the other side of the truck, and all three vehicles exit the city.

Lila’s cousin, Caleb, takes her onto the patio to look at the stars. Out here in the country, the stars sing to her, a choir of light calling her to attention: look up!, they sing, look up! Caleb taps her shoulder. She turns, and she follows his finger up toward the North Star. It feels like home, calling her forward, calling her upward — ascend!, ascend! She takes a step.

The Lila-takers turn down a long dirt road, their headlights like scarecrows crawling across the night. A bump lurches the truck upwards, its wheels caroming off the ground, exposing its shocks. The man in the center of the bed bends his knees, adjusts his balance; his feet don’t move. He taps the baseball bat against his thigh, always hitting the same space just above his knee, a dead-eyed tap with no logic or rhythm, a slow motion twitch, deliberate in intent, illogic in manner. The truck rolls on; the sedan and motorcycle follow.

The edge of the wood surprises her. Caleb calls out somewhere behind her, a distant voice in the darkness. She looks over her shoulder. The house lights hurt her eyes, and she shields them with her hand. Caleb calls out again, and she sees him, his silohuette on the edge of the patio, calling toward the other side of the lawn, unaware of where she might be. She turns back to the wood. Above her head, the stars shimmer through the shadows of the branches, sing to her through the blanket of black leaves. Caleb calls out again. She takes another step, not caring how she got here.

The Lila-takers stand at the end of the driveway, their engines quiet, their headlights off, their baseball bats in hand. The overweight woman dressed all in black pulls a coiled rope from the saddle of her motorcycle and walks toward the house. The man who’d stood in the center of the truck nods to the others, and they fan out behind her, all except him: the last line of defense.

Lila reaches her hand toward the next limb and pulls herself higher into the tree. The North Star doesn’t come any closer, but the stars sing stronger now, each individual melody sung in harmony with its neighbors, and behind it all, the crackling white noise of the North Star, calling her with its intelligence. Her hands and feet find the limbs without her having to give them her attention. Her head dodges around this branch, her shoulders swoop under that branch, her path twists around the trunk. She climbs with the ease of an experienced roofman ascending a ladder, unconscious and trusting, up and up and up.

Her cousins cower in the corner. The man who stood in the bed of the truck enters the living room. His eyes scan the work of his Lila-takers: the overthrown sofa, the smashed window in the patio door, the plants ripped from their pots and thrown against the wall, the overturned cat tree. One of them, the oldest one, glances toward the patio door, looks back at him to make sure he sees, and glances back at the patio door. The man turns and walks across the back of the living room, over the smashed glass of the mounted television, and out the door. He looks up into the night sky. The North Star. He calls out to his crew and charges north across the lawn. This one will not get away.

Her head pushes through the canopy, and she pulls herself into the crown of the tree. She finds her balance, one foot on the tallest nub of the trunk, the other resting gently on the middle of the highest, youngest branch. She feels the tree surging beneath her feet, pushing her higher and higher still, each moment struggling to channel its energy into, through, and beyond its tallest nub, its highest young branch, its Lila. Her arms outstretched, she feels the entire Earth cycle itself into, through, and beyond her, surging up one side of her body, cresting out of the crown of her head, then splashing back into her and surging down the other side of her body, back into, through, and beyond the roots of the tree, surging out through the dark soil and back into the oceans, where it dissipates into a crackling cloud before coming back together on the other side of the waters with so much tremendous force that it thunders through the continental shelf, over the desert, under the mountains, back into the soil, up the roots of the tree, into her right foot, and back out of her head, cresting over and over in waves, pushing her, pushing, until she finally looks down and sees that the tree is far beneath her, and she’s riding upwards on an umbrella of light. She turns her eyes heavenward, and sails toward the North Star: ascend, ascend, ascend.

The Lila-takers stand at the bottom of the tree, their bats at their side. “Fine,” says the man who stood in the bed of the pickup. He turns toward the house. “If we can’t take her, let’s take her dog.”

Nora’s First Published Fiction

My four-year-old daughter and I are seated at my desk. She’s curled up in a comfortable chair with a warm blanket on top of her. I’m at the keyboard. We’ve decided to write a story together,

“What should it be called?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“I should name it The Doggy Who Was Lost in the Forest.”

“That sounds good,” I say. “So how does it begin?”

“Okay. I’m just writing in the letters here.” She scratches with a red marker on a piece of paper she’s holding. The paper is on a clipboard. “There,” she says. “I’ve got it dad.

“Beginning that day,” she continues, “everybody was at the celebration. We were all there, except Lila. She was always coming for dinners, but this day, she was all lost. But her dog was also lost in the forest. She knowed nothing to do, but she knowed a friend.  But all that day, it grew dark. And everybody in the world happened to be scared, except Lila. It was so dark and so stormy. She saw a creature called the Lila-taker, and that monster, her name was that because she wanted to take every kid whose name was Lila in the city. And it grew darker, and darker, and darker. All that day — once a year, every year they would all gather around the Lila tree to taste…”

“Don’t start telling the story of Trolls,” I say.

“It’s a little like,” she answers. “They wanted to taste true happiness.”

“No, not like Trolls. We’re not gonna tell the Trolls story. Let’s back up. So it grew darker and darker… Maybe you want to talk about her dog.”

“I don’t know how to make up any dog parts.”

“So what’s the dog’s name?”

“John,” she answers. “Yeah, I like this. You ask me questions about the dog, and then I’ll do it. Okay?”

“Okay. John is lost in the woods. What does he see?”

“He doesn’t see anything. He’s dead.”

“He’s dead?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Okaaaaay,” I say. “Tell me about the kitty that you mentioned at dinnertime.”

“Ask me questions about it.”

“What’s the kitty’s name?” I ask.

“Mmmm…Stuart.”

“And where is Stuart?” I ask.

“At home.”

“What’s he doing?”

“Sleeping.”

“How does he figure into the story?”

“What does that mean?” she says.

“Well, you have Lila lost in the woods…”

“Lila’s not lost in the woods. She’s at the celebration.”

“Oh, right,” I answer. “Okay…soooo…you have Lila at the celebration, her dog is lost in the woods, and Stuart is sleeping at home, and there are Lila-takers….where are the Lila-takers?”

“In the truck.”

“In a truck?”

“In a truck with dogs.”

“Okay,” I say. “So what does Lila want?”

“Umm…a party.”

“But she’s at a party.”

“No,” she corrects me, “She’s at a celebration.”

“Who else is at the celebration?”

“Um…Lila’s parents, her cousins, Jayden…um…Maddie and Caleb.”

“And those are her cousins?” I ask.

“And Caleb, yeah.”

“What are they celebrating?”

“Don’t know exactly how to tell you this. Hmmm. A kitty.”

“Stuart?”

“They’re celebrating Stuart,” she says.

“Okay. So, you’ve Lila celebrating…is Stuart her kitty?”

“Stuart is Lila’s kitty.”

“And where are the Lila-takers?”

“I told you!,” she says. “In a truck! I already told you. Did you not know that?”

“I forgot. Sorry. So what happens in the story?”

“So the Lila-takers, they’re in a phone patch.”

“A phone patch?”

“Uh-huh. So they’re inside a phone.”

“Okay,” I say.

“And they all deserve to hug. To eat, to taste, and hug.”

“Is this Trolls again?”

“Nooooo!”

“Okay, so what happens next?”

“They all…want…lots of Lilas, but there’s only just one Lila.”

“And then what?” I ask.

“Because…they…they…I mean…want Lilas and they really like Lilas.”

“So what do they do about it?”

“They kind of just hug. Do what do about what?”

“So we have the Lila-takers, Lila…”

“Monsters.”

“Aren’t the Lila-takers monsters?” I ask.

“There are monster Lila-takers and there are human Lila-takers. And dada?”

“Yep.”

“What did I just say?”

“You said…um…we have Lila-takers that are monsters and that are not monsters…”

“Daddy?”

“Yeah.”

“Can we write a song too?”

“Sure.”

“Right now?”

“Sure.”

“That was the whole story. That’s a long story right? Now we can write a song, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Um…I don’t…” She stands up and climbs onto my lap. “Dad, you have to erase all of that.”

“No.”

“You have to! I didn’t mean that! It wasn’t in the story! Daddy, no!”

And that was the end of that.

 

Haikus #9 – #15

#9
married bickering
“stop killing each other, guys”
two years old, but knows

#10
mama dives headfirst
long legs and slender torso
she pops: “did I splash?”

#11
we vacuum the house
spider webs sucked down the hose
‘rachnid tilt-a-whirl

#12
ninety-degree day
find me a place with AC
we’re museum bound

#13
eleven red fools
sharing their bankrupt ideas
three hours, no hope

#14
Thursday afternoon
the river is cold and fresh
not a bad workday

#15
she lets go the kite
middle-aged man gives it chase
the string lifts: bye kite