Son on shoulders,
Through the carnival crowd
I lift him
Wishing he could lift me
We could ascend under Mary’s umbrella
When the winds shift from the East to West
Together we’d jump into a chalk dream
Defended from venom
Defended from the hurt
Defended from the drugs
Needed to sort through this mess.
Red pills, blue pills, choices made
Let’s purple them together,
A much happier color for new shoes
I walk in
Son on shoulders.
I whisper to the ground:
I, too, am afraid of everyone.
I, too, feel them swallowing my soul.
Today, thought I just about made it
When the sand felt so soft under foot.
Surf as gentle as she has ever been
Kind, she tasted my toes, an offering.
The Bay as still as she has ever been
Called my heart ready, an offering.
So I swam, free style, each stroke
Reaching as far as it could, elbows high,
Until there was nothing left to reach for.
Stories tell of the peace felt the moment
Water rushes inside remaining voids
Releasing oxygen others need more.
Today, just about made it across the bay
When the bottom, littered with rocks
Called me its offering, gentle and kind.
So I swam until there was nothing left
Water rushed in like a baby yet born,
I closed my eyes, close enough to losing.
Are you awake?
I’m right here.
Are you awake?
I’ll watch you.
Today, swim with me,
Son, so close…
I am not losing you
This week’s song of the week finishes The National back-catalog with a response to the stunning melancholy of “About Today” formally released on the EP Cherry Tree, made more powerful in its live version on the Virginia EP. A conventional reading of the lyrics tell of a man next to his wife realizing he is losing her. An unconventional reading of the lyrics is more self-reflective, a man looking at himself so close to losing everything. Today, the 25th of May, both readings speak to me. My response, however, ends with the hopeful, yet pained voice of a Father, perhaps The Father, who watches over his Son, not yet ready to lose him. This cathartic poem has been brewing for some time, now, and at last finds its voice.
Original version, a powerful part of the film The Warrior:
This live version, however, rips my heart out every time:
Songwriters: Aaron Dessner / Matthew Berninger
You were far away
Didn’t ask you why
What could I say
I was far away
You just walked away
And I just watched you
What could I say
How close am I
To losing you
You just close your eyes
And I just watch you
How close am I
To losing you
Hey, are you awake
Yeah I’m right here
Well can I ask you
This morning, the rains practice their rhythms on the skylights
That had let the day inside all night long, but somehow a dream
Found me. Now with the rains I practice my craft of singing
Words over emotions and memories as they fall down to earth
Looking for a puddle to gather and be stomped in by a child
Who wants to see what mud splatters will say, dried on the wall.
The dream that found me had been sitting like a solitary soul
Somewhere on the broken landscape inside Thingvellir Rift
When the playful child god inhabited my solemn grey frame
And taught me how to play again with my children. Hiding
In a cave that stank of piss, lurking like a tiny monster to scare
The first youth who dared walk past my home, unsuspecting.
Too late, they had become suspecting of their playful father
Recalled from Tiger Wrestles and indoor basement camping
And out-seeked the hider. Before they became aware of fatigue
Sitting alone inside the stench of my own piss, I walked out.
This was not the dream. From behind the rift wall, a tectonic
Movement occurred inside, pulled apart 2 centimeters a year.
In the gap the ocean had filled, glacial melt so clear yet so cold
You could see the bottom 46 feet down, it looked like a hand
Could reach inside to pick the lucky coins now a part of earth’s
Slow history. Someday, tell the story of how God’s patient rip
Tore open the flesh so called perfect gods hid behind, aware
The fissures in the facade were cracking like broken porcelain.
In seconds, though, God wrapped his hand around my heart
Began to squeeze so hard to make me stop and listen to Him.
Look out across my broken landscapes, Son, and see beauty:
Each crack in the earth, the sharp uneven rocks, every weed
Awaits your naked feet. Be brave. I unbuttoned the costume
Seeing in front of me the first rock that looked stable enough.
I start to count them and stop
Not because there are too many
But because I cannot hold them
Accountable; the code sparkled
From their eternal glow calls
Me to be accountable to my life:
Precious. Let us look, son,
Out the window in quiet
Prayer for the loss, inexplicable,
That weighs down our hearts
Until sleep pardons us this day.
Tomorrow we can wake and run.
When the doll broke, shattered on the floor
What did she find inside the dusted shell?
Did daddy leave a note tucked away in the leg –
Some words that would remind her of a love
He promised would never fade like the linens
The doll wore everyday, no matter the occasion.
By the time she discovered it, would her heart be
Repaired well enough to beat a regular rhythm
When she saw his name or remembered his picture
Turned down on the dresser with the other dolls
Collected on his travels, now just dust-laden?
The good book talks about dust to dust, and this
Dust feels like the blood from his heart when it
Was admitted to the floor of a life left with crumbs
Of a plan, of a hope, of a stitched patchwork claim
Of promises long ago tossed in a barrel over the falls.
Now he walks down the path that had the better claim
Having blazed the trail back to that divergence
In the yellow wood. He stared down both again,
With a deep sigh, saw the trodden one and turned
Away from it, choosing instead the one his heart
Called him to take when he wasn’t listening, when
He thought its regular beat could not be trusted.
Image: Girl Accident Broken Doll by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger (German painter, 1814-1893)