Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kiss me like you mean it

I made a major breakthrough tonight in a longstanding writing project and felt like celebrating...

Honey baby won't you cuddle near
Let sweet mama whisper in your ear
I'm wild about that thing, it makes me laugh and sing
Give it to me papa, I'm wild about that thing

Do it easy honey, don't get rough
From you papa I can't get enough 
I'm wild about that thing, Sweet joy it always bring
Everybody knows it, I'm wild about that thing

Please don't hold it baby when I cry
Give me every bit of it or else I'll die
I'm wild about that thing jada ging ging ging
All the time I'm crying I'm wild about that thing
All the time I'm crying, I'm wild about that thing

What's a matter papa, please don't stall
Don't you know I love it and I want it all
I'm wild about that thing, just give my bell a ring
You pressed my button, I'm wild about that thing

If you want to satisfy my soul,
Come on and rock me with a steady roll
I'm wild about that thing, gee I like your ting-a-ling
Kiss me like you mean it, I'm wild about that thing

Come on turn the lights down low
When you say you're ready I say let's go
I'm wild about that thing, I'm wild about that thing
Come on and make me feel it, I'm wild about that thing

I'm wild about it when you hold me tight
Let me linger in your arms all night
I'm wild about that thing, my passions got the fling
Come on hear me cryin, I'm wild about that thing.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Lady of the Crossroads

The lady of the crossroads
Stepped out into traffic
Pushed a kid to safety
Quickly genuflected
Then she met her maker on the hood of a 66 Corvette
Never hesitated; no sign of regret

Madonna of the schoolyard
Impossible to equal
A carrot and a cudgel
No chance of a sequel
The sisters said she died before she ever knew man's love
In that state of purity so treasured up above
St. Mary of the crossroads
The lady of the crossroads

The subdivision's patron saint
A 20th century martyr
She died without the faintest taint
Before time or trouble got her

Woman in a doorway
Hair done up in curlers
Gazing at the traffic
Smoking Camel filters
Expressionless she watches as the grisly scene unfolds
Silently she turns away and lets the door slammed closed
The lady of the crossroads
St. Mary of the crossroads

The subdivision's patron saint
A 20th century martyr
Laid down her life without complaint
Before time or trouble got her

Walking down the highway
Girls in summer dresses
Bobbie pins and hair spray
Holding back their tresses
And they dream of lace and kisses
A husband for a wife
Little lambs scampering
Towards the butcher's knife
St. Mary of the crossroads
The lady of the crossroads

For Mary B. Lewis

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Grandma's Hands

I look down at the keyboard and see my grandmother's hands, her large, gnarled, knobby hands.  This was a woman who could crochet doilies out of the finest linen thread, following the patterns in her head; a woman who spent every days cooking, cleaning, canning, tending her garden, harvesting her trees and beating her youngest son with her always busy, utterly capable hands. She would send him out to cut a switch and, if he brought back a switch that was too small, she would beat him with it and send him back out to cut another.

He said she hated him, that she worshiped his brother L.E. but hated him, said it often, especially when his manic-depression swung towards the dark end of the spectrum. His sisters proclaimed that she was a saint, the sweetest mama ever. I only knew two of his five sisters, Bobbie and Idelle. Bobbie's name was Margaret, but dad called her Bobbie when he was little and it stuck.. Each took me aside when I was a kid, completely unbidden, to tell me they knew what he said about their mother, but it was untrue and/or exaggerated. I remembering wondering, where did that come from.

What do we know of another's past, even our parents'? Stories told years after the fact by my emotionally broken father, refuted by his sisters, both of whom had a dog in the fight. We all have a version of our life that we project and defend. We tailor our narrative to put ourselves in the best possible light. What is truth, asked Pilate.

It's easier to maintain your own version of events if you keep moving like Smitty did. Whenever his present began to reek of his past, he hit the road.  From Alabama to the war, back to the south and then on to another war, back to the south again and then out to California with the law at his heels, on to Oregon, back to California and then off to Illinois. It was in Illinois that the massive abuse he had done to his body caught up with him. He got sick a few years after they arrived and never regained enough health and vigor to make another move. He had lived in California and Oregon, two of the most beautiful places on the planet. He loved the beach, loved to swim in the ocean and was good at it. He loved the forests and rivers and trees (mostly from the windshield of his car.) He loved the hustle and speed of Los Angeles and had worked all over the U.S. And, he spent the last 20 years of his life far from the ocean or mountains, stuck in a tiny, dying Southern Illinois town where the rivers are brown and the horizon is flat. Small town life has its charms; I live in a small town. But, this was a railroad town that the railroad had left behind, a town that had been drying up for at least a decade and completely died shortly they arrived, a bitter, ugly, racially divided, economically depressed, crystal and heroin infested town. This is where my parents spent the last twenty years of their lives.

I barely knew my grandmother, only met her a handful of times as a child and once as an adult after she had her stroke. I remember her as a steely woman, straight as a ramrod, her steel gray hair pinned to her head with mean looking metal bobbie pins. She belonged to an obscure religious sect that forbid her from cutting her hair. I once traveled to her house with my aunt Idelle while the rest of the family stayed in Arkansas. One night, as we were getting ready for bed, I saw my grandmother with her hair down. It dropped past her knees, gray as ashes and straight as a string. It was one of the scariest things I ever saw in my life.

But, I remember her hands, her big, strong, busy hands. They never hit me, but they never caressed me either.

My dad carried a lot of pain, a lot of damage, for which he blamed his mother.  I lived with his emotional scars, so I tended to believe him. Maybe she did hate him, what do I know?  But, Idelle and Bobbie clearly worshiped him.  Idelle was a bit of a wild child, his sibling soul-mate.  Bobbie was named after her mother, emulated her upright style, followed her religion, and kept herself pure for the lord. Bobbie "ain't never been married or nuthin," my dad used to say, emphasizing the last two words with a wicked grin. But, where grandma was grim, Bobbie was bright and funny, always quick with a laugh and a hug and something good to eat.  She doted on her brother and Smitty never failed to make her laugh. That was his gift, and we all loved him for it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Worker Bees

I wrote a recommendation for a young friend several years ago and she got the job she was applying for. As she went off to toil in the fields of administration I told her, "move on from this; don't look up when you're 30 and find yourself in the same place doing this same job."

She recently turned 30, looked up, and found herself in the same place doing the same job. She has learned, grown, developed some mad skills in these last five or six  years. She has never been afraid of work, that girl. She is a doer, she gets things done.  She's like me in that respect.  I've never been what they call a "process person" in bullshit corporate-speak.  I've always been results oriented; I like to get shit done.  I like to do my work right and do it well, but I would much prefer to actually accomplish something than to sit around talking about it.

For reasons I've never been able to fathom, those of us who actually get the work done never seem to rise through the ranks. For some mad reason, getting shit done doesn't earn the respect or rewards one would think.  Bullshit rises.  And so it goes.

My young friend is just beginning to run up against that wall. She's smart, skilled, hard-working, dedicated, but it doesn't get her very far. Women like her should be running the world; the world would be a better place for it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hesitation Blues

"Why didn't you ever copyright any of these tunes way back when?"

“I can tell you why we didn’t copyright ‘em. We didn’t copyright ‘em for, that is, for a great reason, not only me but a’many others. Why the publishers thought that could buy anything they wanted for fifteen, twenty dollars.  Well the fact was that at that particular time, that sporting houses were all over the country and you could go in any town, if you was a good piano player, just as soon as you hit town, you had ten jobs waiting for you. So we all made a lot of money and ten or fifteen or twenty or a hundred dollars didn’t mean very much to us during those days. I’d really like to see those days back again, I’m telling you the truth. They were wonderful days. So the publishers, we didn’t give ‘em anything. So they decided, we know a way to get ‘em, so they, a lot of publishers would come out with tunes, our melodies, and they would steal them. But we kept them for our private material. That is, to battle each other in battles of music. Battles of music is old. Ages old. And of course if we had the best material, we was considered one of the best men. And of course, the best player always had the best jobs and the best jobs always meant plenty money.  When I made a hundred dollars a day I thought I had small day. And now, today, if I make ten, I think I’ve got a great day. That’s how that was. Is they any other information you’d like to ask?”

Jelly Roll Morton to Alan Lomax, 1938

Sunday, February 2, 2014

White Horse

Kung Hei Fat Choi. It's the year of the Horse, an animal of speed, strength, nobility, loyalty and beauty.  the Horse is an auspicious sign in Chinese Astrology. The only caution I read is that horses have a tendency to bolt, so one should guard against impulsivity during the Year of the Horse.  But, what do I know from Chinese Astrology? Or, from horses for that matter.

When I was about 10 or 11, a girl on my street kept two ponies in her suburban back yard. There wasn't enough room for one, let alone two, but she had them anyway. She occasionally  let me ride the gentler of the two. Shen made the mistake of letting me ride the feistier one once, but it threw me off ass over tea kettle within five minutes.  No of course we weren't wearing helmets. That was the only time I ever spent with a live horse. But, I once had a deep, mystical experience with a mythic horse.

Sequoia and I went to England in 1991? 92? I can't quite remember. We flew to London and stayed there a few days, then rented a car and headed to Glastonbury for a big festival. This was well before the days of Travel Advisor and we hadn't planned the trip very carefully. We somehow managed to drive a car out of London, which ranks among the most absolutely terrifying experiences of my life, got to Oxford by mid-day and spent the afternoon wandering through town. We headed south in the late afternoon.  As we were tooling along on the wrong side of the goddammed road, we spotted a sign for the White Horse of Uffington. Dating to something like 1,000 BC, this stylized image of a horse was cut from the turf, revealing the chalk white hillside underneath. No-one knows why it's there or what it signified, but it may have been created to honor the Celtic horse goddess Epona.

It was quite late in the day when we got up to the parking area and the place was deserted. The White Horse is a few miles from the main road, on the same site as the bald hill top where St. George reputedly killed a dragon and near an iron age hill fort surrounded by an ancient ditch. All are surrounded by acres and acres of pastureland and flocks of sheep grazed among the monuments. Long green swaths of new-mown grass lay in rows. The midsummer light lingered warm and windless, and we had no place in particular to be, so we piled a bed of grass in the field, pulled out our sleeping bags and slept under the stars, like my Celtic ancestors.

I'm a notoriously bad sleeper, especially when I'm camping, but I drifted off immediately and effortlessly into a deep and dreamless sleep and woke at first light, warm, happy, burrowed deep into my bed of grass. That's what The Horse signifies for me. Bring it on.