Friday, March 10, 2017

Bill Cushing on Not Driving and Words & Images by Kerfe Roig

When Bill Cushing sent me his essay on not driving in Puerto Rico, I said that I would save it until we really needed it with all the winter weather.  I didn't realize that I would be publishing Bill's essay on March 10!

Bill Cushing

I hail from New York City, which is famous for aggressive drivers, but I’ve also lived in Virginia, Maryland, and Florida long enough to have come to understand driving conditions in those places. I’m now in Los Angeles, so perhaps the less said about driving, the better. Like every other major city, Angelino drivers have their own “idiosyncrasies,” some maddening. For instance, while New Yorkers approach driving as a sort of high-speed version of “almost” bumper cars consisting of near misses and acrobatic lane-changes, L. A. drivers have a problem with anyone being in front of them—even if such a move makes sense.
Still, whenever the topic of lousy driving comes up—as it does, my reply stays consistent: “No matter how bad it is here, it’s worse in Puerto Rico.”
I spent three years on the island but foreswore driving pretty quickly. First, I really didn’t need to, living close enough to work to walk or ride a bike. Moreover, the island’s publico transit system works pretty well for getting about as long as one isn’t in a hurry, which nobody there ever is. Puerto Rico is one place where the maƱana attitude thrives; I believe the national motto must be “tranquillo.” In fact, I quickly came to the notion that if watches weren’t jewelry, Puerto Ricans would have no practical reason to wear one.
Getting back to the issue of driving—or more specifically NOT driving, I decided to forego the practice for two reasons: to keep my sanity and to avoid psychosis.
Puerto Ricans drive as if immortal; I saw acts defying reason, sense, and sanity, for example watching one guy drive down a main street backwards for almost a mile—on a main road no less. Then there was the morning I saw somebody on the shoulder of an expressway, this butt sticking out in the potential path of oncoming traffic, shuffling paperwork in the backseat—all while only 20 feet from the relative safety of an exit off ramp.
I even watched police cars pull stunts that made me think, “You know, that has got to be against some law—if not a municipal one, at least one of common sense.”
Of course, that attribute (common sense, that is) is rarely prevalent on the road anywhere, so it makes sense that it was lacking here, but it was so absent that I decided that driving was something I didn’t need to bother with, and after about three months, the only time I drove was when it was absolutely needed—such as moving or entertaining visitors. Otherwise, I got along nicely without having to use that option.
Once, after declining to drive, my father-in-law told me that I had to drive.
“Oh,” I replied, “I need to be a homicidal maniac, do I? No thanks.”
Still, I did put up with all the maddening circumstances and drove until the day I actually beat my neighbor to work by walking. That became the deciding factor. Later, a coworker, hearing I had given up cars, asked, “Don’t you know how to drive here?”
“Of course I do,” I replied. “You close your eyes, jam on the gas, randomly twist the wheel, and honk the horn constantly. I just choose not to.”
One of my favorite conversations took place when my wife’s son would tease me, as a gringo, for not being able to dance. It became something of a mantra: white guys have no sense of rhythm and can’t dance very well. I took it in stride, but then I saw a real opening for a parry. After months on the island, I asked him, “David, since you guys are so good at dancing, how come you can’t seem to friggin’ drive? It’s pretty much the same thing.”
He had no comeback for that.

And I continued to not drive.

I'll follow Bill's essay with some new words and images by Kerfe Roig.  She is currently a non-driver as she lives in New York City, but her poem is inspired by Nina Simone.

Wild wind and dancing stories (a shovel poem for Nina Simone)

Unlimited, let
spiral breath entangle me,
let my essence fly
in levitation, away,
fiercely overflowing with
the fullness of you.

For who, what, are we?
a sum or a mixture?  Are
wings born of creatures
dancing?  Or patched from parts of
stories left hanging in the
fragments of the wind?

Come ride on the wind
of turning.  The current is
opening toward the
threshold of desire.  The wind
hears our confession.  Air:  so
foolish, hungry, wild.

end phrases taken from “Wild is the Wind” by Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin

I'll start with Nina Simone's version of "Wild is the Wind":

I've been listening to a lot of Larry Young lately.  He happens to be one of the many jazz musicians born in the 1930s.  Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but his album Lawrence of Newark is as timely as ever.

"Sunshine Fly Away" opens the album:

The next cut is "Khalid of Space Part Two -- Welcome":

"Alive" features James Blood Ulmer who has performed in Montgomery County recently:

I'll finish with "Hello Your Quietness (Islands)":

Did you hear the cello in some of the songs?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Toula Merkouris, Carl "Papa" Palmer, Karen O'Leary, and Angelee Deodhar

Walking around outside reminds me that it's not quite spring yet, but we are getting closer and closer!  Since this semester has been a busy one, making this blog-zine a weekly event, I am going to post the work of three poets tonight.

The first is Canadian poet Toula Merkouris whose poem "Walking Amongst Time" received an honorable mention in our Thelma's Prize contest (Winter 2015/6).  Since last year, Toula has written a children's book, Darla Dilly Don't Be Silly.  This book should be out any day.

Pigtails, Pinafores, and Pumps

I can remember sitting in the auditorium listening to the MAN speak about life
the road less travelled
and choice.

I can still feel humming in my chest
the vibrations of a train approaching the station
the wind caressing the loose tendrils of my hair
picking up speed, the sound thunders in my ears
whipping my hair in every direction until
my tightly woven plaits hang free
finally, the frenzy subsides and
I can see two ribbons lying at my feet.

I can remember thinking of the sound curtains make as they swish together over the stage
like an owl swooping through midnight's embrace
with a mouse's tail dangling from its tightly clenched talons
a veritable feast
Looking down I can still see one perfectly formed drop of blood
staining the front of my crisp white button-down shirt
dreams lying like collateral damage on the side of a highway
don't worry!
perfectly camouflageable by the ruffles of my pinafore
The weight of expectations worn
with a wink and a smile and a thank you ma'am
Let's talk about glass ceilings
and butterfly wings beating against Mason jars.

I can remember seeing multihued stars exploding like DISNEY fireworks from behind
rubbing the sleep out of the corner of my eye
using the palm of my hand, none too gently
the shock of midday sun on alabaster skin
I try to stand
like a colt with legs splayed out beneath it
in four different directions.
Numbness: its expiration date is long past.
I take a deep breath,
Thank you transplant surgeon
Did you know the Doctor blew up the lungs of the very lovely lady who signed her card in exactly the right place before
stapling them shut?

Now I can go on my way to the honey tree
with long legs striding along confidently
a barely perceptible shock of crimson seen from the underside of my brand new Louboutin shoes
The hot sun at my back
I look down
See how I tower over the shadow lying in front of me?
Do you see the barely perceptible yellow chalk outline around the contours of my distorted form?
I see it
it doesn't matter which way I turn
it doesn't matter how much it rains;
Like when my daughter thought it would be a good idea to use permanent marker to play connect the dots on my bedroom wall. Such a lovely pattern.
I jump and click my heels together
Looking for a way home.

Next is Carl "Papa" Palmer with "Mommy's Dance."  

Mommy’s Dance

Watching her in the kitchen
as she does dishes at the sink
oldies playing loud on the radio

Kate Smith White Cliffs of Dover
Patti Page Tennessee Waltz
Doris Day Whatever Will Be Will Be

She sings smiles into her sponge microphone
How Much Is That Doggie In The Window
dressed in her bibbed apron evening gown
swaying with her dashing dishtowel partner

Sashaying the linoleum ballroom floor
to big band music Glenn Miller playing
back ground for At Last with Etta James

Twirls while opening drawers cabinet doors
wipes the cupboard counter crooning
Yes Sir That’s my Baby by Count Basie

Gives a deep curtsy to her damp string mop
soft shoes to Bye Bye Blackbird exits stage
right to that place in my heart for Mommy

Carl "Papa" Palmer of Old Mill Road in Ridgeway, VA now lives in University Place, WA. He is retired military, retired FAA and now just plain retired without wristwatch or alarm clock. Carl, president of The Tacoma Writers Club, is a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee.      MOTTO: Long Weekends Forever

I'll conclude with Karen O'Leary's poem enhanced by Angelee Deodhar's visual.  This is the URL for the image

Tonight I'll play some of the songs that Carl "Papa" Palmer mentions.

Here is Etta James' version of "At Last":

Or you may prefer the Glenn Miller Orchestra's version:

Do you know Patti Page's "Tennessee Waltz"?

She also sang "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?"

I'll finish with "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" by Count Basie.  Oscar Peterson is on piano.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sergio Ortiz Returns

Let's start with Sergio's poem inspired by Etta Jones.

Walking in the Limbo of Words

the lighthouse of the indefinite
trafficking voices of absence,
skeleton walls smuggle freedom.

My country: a poem under an illegal shade.
A sun full of cameras rides
my skin like ghosts
who claim what is rightfully theirs. 

I lead the echoes of my flight
to a heart masked 
as theatrical delirium,
my wrinkled memoir  
slow dancing to Etta Jones’s,
I found a dream, that I could speak to. 
A dream that I can call my own.  
At last I touch your lips 

with my revolutionary blood
and leave my confession 
on your cinnamon eyes.

With No Punctuation 

You insist on dealing with my silence
by making sure no one rises to my defense

Between the lips of your vulva 
scented flowers
open locks
on doors that listen 
to what belongs to me

No endless
no monsters
nothing of the low note
by my voice

To be able to sing
with amazement
with no punctuation 
or alarm

Reparations to Eros

May silence never ride 
on the dormant back of a heron. 

May it leave a homeopathic drop of luck 
on the waters of my trembling body.

May my skin bear no resemblance
to the unshakable epidermis 
of a frozen pachyderm.  

I must confess, I am in debt
to a slave driver's arms.
Tasted his fruit, 
but could not distinguish 
sour from sweet.

Black Salt

You fall beyond your sap / abated remembrance / vile fear of tears // In you my heart / a circle of fire / black salt on the river banks of your Himalaya // And I am shipwrecked / confused tangle of dreams that mocks the cacophonous memory of water.

A Thousand Darknesses
In memory of the Holocaust Victims and Celan

We went to Mirabeau Bridge
and paid your promise.

The hours passed
on the Seine, our lives

increasingly smaller 
grew confident

thinking a suicide chose 
the side of the Tower

where nothing ends up falling.
We threw our coins in the water.

No Country for the Elderly
The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song
Sailing to Byzantium
By William Butler Yeasts

I set the rain on fire, lacerated the sun
with my straight razor
so I could part company with time.
I'm saving my abysses
to scamper away from the cold
so as not to be disgusted with death.

This country is no place for the elderly,
the ridiculous collections of antiquated scores,
birds bebopping jazz melodies on the autumnal tree
of sensory music that ignores everything.

Teenagers standing on God's sacred fire
turn to me and say…
Stick to being the teacher
of your wrinkled breath.

Of course, I must start with some Etta Jones.  Here is her "Don't Go to Strangers":

Her "I'll Be Seeing You" also features her long-time love, the tenor saxophonist Houston Person:

Let's play some vibes.  My husband made a request for some Jason Marsalis.  Here is his "The Man With Two Left Feet":

Another song of his is "Offbeat Personality":

Back to the papers!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tad Richards and Sheikha A.

Tonight Tad Richards combines two of my favorite things: jazz and weather imagery.  The poem below is from his collaboration with visual artist Nancy Ostrovsky.  It's also part of a series "about a young woman, the daughter of a modestly successful jazz musician, who has left her husband and is trying to figure out who she is, mostly using jazz as a conduit to her inner self." This time the jazz musicians whom Tad invokes in this poem are men born in the 1930s: Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, and Lee Morgan. 


A front of warm air reached our region
around noon today. During
the afternoon, it will ooze on in,
probe with sticky, eighty degree fingers,
so that, she supposes, she could drive
in and out between yesterday’s clammy cold
and the oozing certainty of muggy heat,
like a county with local option on daylight saving,
or the sound from her rain-drenched speakers,
a few bars of Hank Mobley’s reassuring bebop,
then silence. She imagines the missing solo,
how Wynton Kelly might have picked it up,
brought it to where the sound kicks in again.
Lee Morgan is a harder read. Lost,
she moves inside to the weather channel.
The front is squatting now, threatening 
impossibly heavy storms—or did he say
possibly heavy storms? A guy calls,
she met him last week. He just wants 
to make sure she has candles on hand.
Hurricane lanterns are better. She asks him if
he could fill in the missing parts of a Hank Mobley solo.
Sure, he says. How about Lee Morgan?
Sure, he says. Him too.
No, you couldn’t, she says.

To read other poems in Tad's series, see these links:

I also want to add two poems that Sheikha A., a poet from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, has sent me.  Her first poem "Swaying Crows" reminds me of all the crows I see in my neighborhood these days: flying, perching in trees, even strutting down the street with the kids.

Swaying Crows

This afternoon, crows opened
their mouths to pigeons:
a debate on lost seasons.

It wasn’t long until a murder crowded
the neighbour’s sill drowning out
the sun from warming the water bowl.

In my city, leaves have yet to see
the gloriously transparent 
red visit for a coating.

The poor leaves know just one colour:
when smoke from roaring motors
plough their roots, these leaves know

just one way to bloom. Crows have
(always) the vision of a surly lover.
Voices that have been told

they’re too loud for an evening
with the stars. How leaves hatch
neglect intelligently

while crows sing
like refrain just grew a rose.

Sheikha A.'s poem about rain fits in well with Tad's.


The books are in their shelves.
My mind wired to the tunes

of reluctance refusing to leave
the clouds. The earth edging.

Winter’s feet have not learnt
to walk on sand. The bickering 

of rain heavy within the sky.
My pages are drier than fruits

hanging by their thin stems.
Some of us have freed.
Some of us in flight.

I grow obscurer in your gaze.
The rain loses core – 

falls like a sad song
on hollowing roofs.

Last week I played a few by Lee Morgan, so I will just play this one (relatively) early song "You Go To My Head":

Hank Mobley and Wynton Kelly play with Art Blakey and Paul Chambers on "Soul Station":

Here Mobley plays with Morgan (and a few others) on "All The Things You Are":

Kelly and Mobley perform "On a Clear Day" in Baltimore:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Welcome to Jackie Chou!

Photo by Metro96

It's been wonderful to see all of the new contributors to The Song Is... this fall/winter.  Tonight I am posting California poet Jackie Chou's piece about not driving.

Riding the Pumpkin Colored Carriage

The night approaches
As I stand by the bus bench
Gazing at every oncoming large vehicle
With hopeful eyes and extended neck
Thinking, is that the one, the 266?
Only to realize, when it gets closer
That it is another bus or a truck

I am used to this kind of night
The Los Angeles city bus
My prized mode of transportation
Takes me to pivotal occasions
Then disappears into its station
Leaving no trace of my whereabouts

After twenty minutes
The blinking lights of the 266
Finally appear from a visible distance
I wave at it with all smiles
Like a beauty queen in a parade
Forgetting the wait
The cold I have endured

I climb up its rubbery stairs
A willing bride ascending the altar
Tapping my pass and thanking the driver
It has been almost twenty years
Since the Driver Safety Department
Revoked my license
For an extensive psych history

I was not always this gracious
In my twenties I drove a pure white Ford Escort
Had a father who put a twenty dollar bill
On the ironing board every other day
For gas and maintenance

With the convenience of a car
I went to every party I knew about
In delicate dresses and three inch heels
Not the coarse clothes and sneakers
I now wear to walk between bus stops
But still, I yelled at my father
And threw furniture out the window

My father passed away in 2003
I never got my license back
I am still walking and taking the bus
Only to go where I have to go
Not where I feel like going
And becoming humbler

More appreciative everyday

Jackie Chou studied Creative Writing at USC.  She writes poetry in an attempt to construct meaning out of everyday experiences, to defy ordinary perceptions, and as an alternative to “ranting” to friends on Facebook.  She attends writing workshops and has been published locally. 

Last weekend my husband and I saw an excellent documentary on Lee Morgan: "I Called Him Morgan."  Although I've posted his music before, I am going to include a few more songs tonight.  Enjoy!  I'll try to look for something from his California albums although I have to post "Search for the New Land."

"Something Cute" was the next cut on Charisma:

I'll finish with "Absolutions," which is live from the Lighthouse in California: