Song of the Week: The National “Mistaken for Strangers” and a response: Porcelain Doll-man

This week I have spent all the time I have for music listening to The National’s Boxer, getting to know that album in a way I hadn’t. Much like taking the time to read through the “back catalogs” of other writers has enriched my life with a deeper understanding of their writing and stories, so has this process of really listening to music again like I used to when, as a kid, one album would often be on repeat and the details emerged and inspired. Out of this experience, writing emerged in my life. I wanted to put together my own words to help me say the things I didn’t know how or have the confidence to speak, feeling only courage to construct poetry out of this human I felt inside who defied expectations and demands from the world around me. This journey, figuring out the place this person fits and allowing him the stage I usually reserve for the quick-witted costumed version of me whose schtick has worn as thin as the garb he grabs from the green room of life to don for an audience forced to listen to the words he pulls from a script he knows so well he doesn’t realize they were never his words to begin with. That version of me feels like a stranger, but the version who now emerges is the one mistaken for a stranger by friends. A response poem to “Mistaken by Strangers”

Porcelain Doll-Man

I see myself in a picture,
Looking far away, looking removed,
And I want to run away from everything
They asked me to do,

or just sledge-
hammer the flawed porcelain doll-man
standing on the stage singing words
so well he doesn’t realize, like Monkee’s,
they are genuine words of other people who
need me in make-up to don the costume hung
in the closet of life’s green room
and speak for them.

I see myself in a picture,
Looking far away, looking removed,
And I begin to make up something to believe
I pin something on my sleeve to seem genuine

a medal, a badge,
some rank indicator of success that pins
me to a thing greater than me, sitting behind
in the green room showered, un-costumed,
flipping two quarters, one for each eye,
while the porcelain cracks
expose a seam the spirit can
slip through and haunt the crowd.

I see myself in a picture,
Looking far away, removed,
And I mistake myself for a stranger
Under these stage lights

fading the doll’s clothes,
I strip.
I strip the old man’s blindfold
so he can see where he walked,
ambling casually among strangers with gin
and tonic in hand, numbing them
with his meaningless wit
protected, protecting, protect.

I see myself in a picture,
far away, removed
And pick up the frame and feel its weight in
my throwing hand

hearing the voice,
that Monkee voice echo back
from the audience, laughing
and jump out naked on stage
mistaken for a stranger
by my own friends
hoping that my angel didn’t
give up watching over me

I see myself in a picture
I look far away, I am removed.
It falls to the stage as fast
As the porcelain doll, shattering.

Written by: Matt Berninger, Scott Devendorf
[Verse]
You have to do it running
But you do everything that they ask you to
Cause you don’t mind seeing yourself in a picture
As long as you look far away
As long as you look removed

[Bridge]
Showered and blue-blazered
Fill yourself with quarters
Showered and blue-blazered
Fill yourself with quarters

[Chorus]
You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
When you pass them at night
Under the silvery, silvery Citibank lights
Arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under

Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over
Surprise, surprise, they wouldn’t wanna watch
Another un-innocent, elegant fall
Into the un-magnificent lives of adults

[Verse]
Make up something to believe in your heart of hearts
So you have something to wear on your sleeve of sleeves
So you swear you just saw a feathery woman
Carry a blindfolded man through the streets

[Bridge]
Showered and blue-blazered
Fill yourself with quarters
Showered and blue-blazered
Fill yourself with quarters

[Chorus]
You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
When you pass them at night
Under the silvery, silvery Citibank lights
Arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under

You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
When you pass them at night
Under the silvery, silvery Citibank lights
Arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under

Porcelain Doll-man

Tonight, I write about how sometimes we have to shatter everything to find the pieces that matter most.

I see myself in a picture,
Looking far away, looking removed,
And I want to run away from everything
They asked me to do,

or just sledge-
hammer the flawed porcelain doll-man
standing on the stage singing words
so well he doesn’t realize, like Monkee’s,
they are genuine words of other people who
need me in make-up to don the costume hung
in the closet of life’s green room
and speak for them.

I see myself in a picture,
Looking far away, looking removed,
And I begin to make up something to believe
I pin something on my sleeve to seem genuine

a medal, a badge,
some rank indicator of success that pins
me to a thing greater than me, sitting behind
in the green room showered, un-costumed,
flipping two quarters, one for each eye,
while the porcelain cracks
expose a seam the spirit can
slip through and haunt the crowd.

I see myself in a picture,
Looking far away, removed,
And I mistake myself for a stranger
Under these stage lights

fading the doll’s clothes,
I strip.
I strip the old man’s blindfold
so he can see where he walked,
ambling casually among strangers with gin
and tonic in hand, numbing them
with his meaningless wit
protected, protecting, protect.

I see myself in a picture,
far away, removed
And pick up the frame and feel its weight in
my throwing hand

hearing the voice,
that Monkee voice echo back
from the audience, laughing
and jump out naked on stage
mistaken for a stranger
by my own friends
hoping that my angel didn’t
give up watching over me

I see myself in a picture
I look far away, I am removed.
It falls to the stage as fast
As the porcelain doll, shattering.