Monthly Archives: October 2013

The time I wrote a sultry french song about cats.

L'Histoire-colorSince everyone knows that les chats noirs are french, it will come as no surprise that, upon adopting two chats noirs, I spoke to them primarily in French. They have failed to appear impressed by this, responding chiefly to effusive praise in whatever language. Elles sont des chats, après tout.

Still, when my partner Justin composed a tune last year that clearly needed French lyrics, what I sang was a sultry little tune in praise of les mademoiselles. I was inclined to apologize for this, until the song became a crowd favorite. (In my beyond-blog life, I’m a singer/songwriter.) Which is why the song’s released now, with all its Black-Cat Love. (Cheers, you great crowds, you.)

So, presenting – for Halloween 2013 – a song about black cats.

Get your french on, pet a cat, and eat candy. You’re welcome. 

Here’s to les chats, de toutes les couleurs.

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The silence of being IN IT.

writing from inside the shitI recently taught a series of creative writing workshops for at-risk youth in the midwest. They’re new to writing, so part of our work involved writing list-poems in which each line began, “They say,” and “I’m afraid that.” The point was to identify what others might see when they look at us, and then experiment with giving voice to what’s underneath. Most of my students admitted this was terrifying.


So I was ecstatic about Donald Glover’s instagrammed messages, which came out a couple days before our last workshop. Here was a popular comedian, writer, musician, and actor, handwriting an impromptu “list poem” — going public with a detailed list of fears that read much like the penciled lines in my students’ notebooks.

donald glover noteSo for our last meeting, I projected all of his photos. The students said it made them feel less alone, less stupid. We discussed how, in appropriate contexts, there can be power and bravery – and ownership – in vulnerability.  I’d already told my own story: depression, violence, loss of faith. So here was another witness, saying, “It’s hard. Not ‘back then.’ Right now.” It was liberating. The students lit up. By the end, some were reading aloud:

“I’m afraid of how the world revolves around me when I’m awake.”

And another:

“I’m afraid my dad will never know about my accomplishments.”

Lying is lying. But as Adrienne Rich wrote, silence lies, too. By revealing difficult experiences only once they’re behind us, we leave unspoken the all-too-human sense of thick, dripping failure — relegating the worst of our experience to a vast silence. That’s why I love Donald Glover’s posts, and the myriad responses to it. It’s why I’m drawn to narratives in which the only hope lies in that they’re still being written. And since you should go read it, it’s why NPR’s Linda Holmes totally nailed the significance of currency in dealing artistically – and often publicly – with our demons.

I’m not advocating for some gross overspill of the deeply personal into inappropriate (and perhaps dangerous) contexts. I am advocating for the power of poetry, music, and art in general to speak dangerously: to give voice to the deeply human, to immediate terror. I’m advocating for its capacity to bear what we’ve deemed heretical.

From Holmes’ NPR article, October 29, 2013:

“It’s very sterile and very misleading to hear about battles only from people who either have already won or at least have already experienced the stability of intermediate victories. It presents a false sense of how hard those battles are. It understates the perilous sense of being in the middle of them. It understates how scary they are…

“there’s no substitute, really, for the necessary honesty that comes with currency. “

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either way

“all affairs…
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not…

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.”

Wasliwa Szymborska

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(A Leaf Story) (for October)

The tree cuts off the green blood to its branches. The leaves speak first of rationing what little blood is left. Committees are elected to determine who dies first. But that night the leaves grow nervous. Each one lies awake in secret, sucking its branch dry. In the morning, they’re all sorry and anemic. They’re paling into red or into yellow. Maybe orange. Maybe purple. They watch each other drying out, penitent, lightheaded.

They pass out into darkness, into a dream of floating, floating.

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“And there’s Jesus and Mary,
the wine and the water,
til you wake up one day
and you can’t believe either
And a hymn shapes itself
in your mouth but you say
‘well it’s over now; I guess
it’s over.'”


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(Paris Shaking)

Shepherds of our silence, give yourselves to other men. You struck the rock with your staffs, and where the water flowed (if it did) we shuddered thinking it might wash over us, take something of us with it. Not just the sin or stain of having been in the presence of the human but the human in us too, the bones and sinews, muscle, blood that made us tangible in a world gone prostrate (and then lax) before your heaven.
In the streets of Paris we walked with mouths agape as if in some dream, considered all the bodies tailored, hustled, swarmed into those buildings and their mundane jobs their mundane lives, or is the bread and wine enough to make their streets a dream for them, too? But of course I’m swayed by Émile Zola’s tale, the alley of Pont Neuf, a suffocating sympathy for Mlle. Raquin.
And then there are the things we’ve put into the future: how we wait for life to start once such and such has happened, some Life/Career Exam that’s either make-believe or silent (the same things). It never speaks Arrival.
So you shepherds, here are these bodies, these brains with their vignettes motives beats and fatal blessings, nowWhether the molecular manifestations of some need, disease, abuse, or holy will, they are a middle finger to your herding, your safe-shoring. If only in their waking, eating, waiting out the end they are a panting at the back of you: a cumulative shaking.

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Your silence will not protect you.


I’ve been reading a great deal of Audre Lorde for my work over at Ploughshares. Like Adrienne Rich (whose quote serves as the tagline for Louder Please), she’s a model for placing art in the service of socio-cultural improvement.

When I read her work, it’s like a voice at the back of me:

say it. say it. say it. 

Lately,  my saying has been in the form of songs, pshares blogs, and applications for god knows what activities, all of which could push forward the issues and research I care about. I feel as if I’ve got a hand in everything, prodding the flesh of possible stories. Meanwhile, I find something like refuge in Lorde and Rich, for their emphases on voice, on word, on pressing the damned world into syntax. Not for the purpose of condensing or constraining what can’t be accommodated by language, but for the purpose of the pressing. For the very sensation of limitation.

And dear god, to do what I can. “To roll the thunder of the voice out from the ribs and throat, / To make the people rage, weep, hate, desire with” myself.

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

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