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A little dreamy ode to the simple life, here’s my song for week 33 of #songaweek2016. With Nathan Bloom on harmonica. Would’ve loved to add more instruments and fill it out a bit, but it was an extra busy week with a real live gig and kids going back to school. (That toddly baby in the picture is now a tall, soccer-playing fourth grader!)

There would be raspberries in our little yard
the sun would shine all the time
except when the rain came to help our garden grow
then we’d be snug inside

could every day be like a holiday?
could this be happily? (ever after)

We’d keep some chickens in a little coop
we’d thank them for the eggs
maybe a baby, maybe two
toddling on wobbly legs

some nights there might be tears on our pillows
some dreams just won’t come true
but all these broken parts of our hearts
make spaces for the light and air and rivers to flow through

out on our front porch we’d pass the evening hours
watching the branches sway
We’d smile at neighbors and strangers passing by
until we call it a day

 

For most of my life I’ve lived hundreds of miles and multiple states away from my grandparents, and for most of my life I’ve gotten back to see them about once a year. A relationship kept like that, in one-year snapshots, has a different sense of time and life passing. One year I’m a mousy elementary-school kid watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons and eating Honey Nut Cheerios with my cousins at Grammy‘s coffee table. Three visits (years) later, I’m an awkward junior-higher playing Grammy a song on the baby grand piano in that same living room. Click ahead a few more frames, and I’m a newlywed bringing my new husband to see the one constant physical place I’ve had in my life, Grammy’s house.

Then there are children to show her, my tiny branches from the family tree. They snuggle on her lap, then toddle on the floor, and they begin their own year-by-year memories of their great-grandmother, the only great-grandparent on my side of the family who they will remember. The other three died before my children could know them.

For many of the years past, Grammy has felt like the unchanging one, solid, always there, happy to see me, excited about all of the changes happening in my life. And always, every time since I showed her the first poem I wrote in junior high, asking me, “are you still writing? Are you still singing?”

In more recent years, Grammy has changed more noticeably. She remembers less, confuses the generations (my son is my brother, her grandchildren are her children . . .), talks more about the farm she grew up on, wonders where her parents are, can’t walk so well, doesn’t feel like eating . . . is generally growing out of life, “not long for this world,” as the old books used to put it. And still, each year when I visit, nearly the first thing out of her mouth when she sees me is “are you still writing? Are you still singing?”

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And so I sing for her, and for my mother, for myself, for my children, because we are all not long for this world. We are all and each of us touched by every year, every age, but never held in its grasp. Always moving on . . .

Here’s my song for week 32 of #songaweek2016:

Fertile soil brittle seed
Tender shoot luscious fruit
Fading flower falling leaves
Grieving ground resting roots

This is happening
These seasons turning to years
These years laying down marks
Uneraseable
Furrows plowed in flesh
Memories scattered like stars on the night sky of my mind

Every age may touch me
None will keep its grasp on me
I go on I go on I go on and on
Till I lay me down at last
In the great one’s arms

 

Trouble

Oh this one was fun to make! My amazing daughter Luthien, with her dad’s help, worked out a cello part and recorded her first-ever cello track. And then Nathan threw in all those sweet guitar tracks, in just a few hours! Visions of a family band are most certainly dancing in my head.

Here’s my song for week 31 of #songaweek2016:

 

All truth and life and beauty has a dark side, and without facing it, without naming the despicable and the frightening and the pain and cruelty, truth/life/beauty get stalled and stunted.

At least that’s what I think this song I wrote for week 30 of #songaweek2016 is sort of about . . .

the big bad world gonna eat you up
he be knocking at your door, knocking at your door
he gonna drag you out by your pant leg cuff
and swallow you down to his stony core
sweet dreams be yours, and peaceful sleep
and pray the lord your soul to keep

we’re little pigs living high on the hog
we be working for the man, burning up the dinosaurs
we got a chicken boiling in every pot
we be living off the spoils of our soldier ant farm wars
milk and honey always kept on tap
till cows and colonies collapse

miss universe wears a space-time scarf
she stabbing craters with stilettos, sucking stars like cigarettes
cold shoulders encasing an icy heart
you can see forever through the black holes in her dress
maps get lost and wells run dry
beauty queens and saviours die

Oh I wish you all could have been there last Friday night! Music in the garden at my parents’ house in Minnesota. It was a hot and sticky evening but we had so much fun. My dad used his phone to record Nathan and me and my parents’ neighbor Earl playing the song I wrote for week 29 of #songaweek2016.

Wish we had also recorded a song we did later, with us three plus friend Kirk on accordion and brother-in-love Micah on a second guitar – Purple Rain by Prince. Bet you’ve never heard Purple Rain with accordion before!

Driving down the street with my out-of-state plates
feeling newly out of place
looking at the flowers in my old front yard
and remembering my life lived in that space
home is not a dead-end road
the road home leads you back or leads you on

Places I’ve lived, people I’ve known
everything’s changed, everyone’s grown
how was this ever everything,
how can I ever go home?

Running through the park on my middle-aged legs
going faster than before
stopping for a drink at the Mineral Springs
where the legend says the healing waters pour
home is not a stagnant pool
the river home will take you where it will

Places I’ve lived, people I’ve known
everyone’s changed, everything’s grown
how was this ever everything
how can I ever go home?

the sun still comes up, the dogs still bark
the kids still play in the same old parks
the old men still park themselves out front
but they’re not the same old men

Sleeping tonight in my old bedroom
where the shadows know my name
praying for peace with a jaded tongue
dreaming with the heart of a child I’ll never tame
home is not a prison cell
the doors of home can open either way

Places we’ve lived, people we’ve known
we have all changed, we have all grown
how can anything be everything,
how can we ever go home?

For week 28 of #songaweek2016, I called on Stephen Crane – well, his poetry – for a little help. Here’s a poem of his that I set to music.

Once, I knew a fine song,
— It is true, believe me —
It was all of birds,
And I held them in a basket;
When I opened the wicket,
Heavens! They all flew away.
I cried, “Come back, little thoughts!”
But they only laughed.
They flew on
Until they were as sand
Thrown between me and the sky.

(published 1896, public domain)

Turn to Love

Week 27 of #songaweek2016 was a horrific one in US news. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, shot and killed by police officers. Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, shot and killed by a sniper at a protest against Sterling’s and Castile’s treatment by police.

All seven of these men, real people, with complex lives and stories, each with a constellation of people who loved them, people who depended on them, people who knew them as the human beings they were. The ones who took their lives, I believe, didn’t see past the color of their skin or the uniforms they wore.

I spent a day trying to write a song in light of these events. Nothing was working out. Then I came across a quote from Jeff Hood, organizer of the Dallas protest, and the song almost wrote itself. Interestingly, the quote originally appeared in this article, but didn’t survive the article’s updates since July 8th, the day I read it. I had copied the text and saved it in the course of working on the song, so here it is:

[The Rev. Jeff] Hood, one of the organizers, said he spent hours searching for his wife as chaos unfolded in the streets.
“Ultimately, I spent those three hours talking to people, asking the question, ‘Why? Why? Why is this happening? The only answer I know now, and the only answer I knew then, was turn to love, we’ve got to turn to love, we’ve got to stop shooting.”

Everything is broken everything is bleeding
everyone is crying out for relief
everything is shaken everything is shattered
everyone is deeply aching for peace

turn and return eternally
internally externally
turn to love

this is nothing new, no this is just the latest
page in a story we’re weary of
where fear and hate and greed gain strength and gather speed
and take aim at the suffering body of love

give it all your heart and give it all your mind
soul, strength, voice, eyes, ears, hands and feet
be patient with your neighbor show mercy to the stranger
be brave in generosity

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