Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Author: James Brush (page 1 of 130)

The Scariest Book I Ever Read

The Fellowship of the Ring is probably the scariest book I’ve ever read. Not because the book is particularly scary—it isn’t—but because the first time I tried to read it, back when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I was home sick. I’d been home from school reading it most of the day and fell asleep somewhere after the chapter “Fog on the Barrow Downs.”

That night I had terrible fever dreams in which I kept dreaming and re-dreaming the scenes in which the Hobbits are hunted by the barrow wights. These were fever dreams and so very real, immediate, and hard to wake from. When I did wake, I was scared and sweaty and when I went back to sleep, the dreams would pick up where I left off or start over, and never once did Tom Bombadil show up to rescue me as he did the Hobbits in the books.

Eventually morning came, and I was freaked out enough that I put the book aside, not to be read again until late in my freshman year of high school. When I finally did read it, I made sure that I had time to read a few chapters beyond “Barrow Downs” before going to sleep. I still do this when I reread Fellowship of the Ring, and I must admit that when the movie came out in 2001, I was a bit relieved that the scene had been cut. Still, it’s among my favorite books.

I was thinking about this the other night when I was feverish and starting to have strange dreams. I finally woke and started thinking about that night of Tolkien inspired fever dreams and that led to thinking about books and the ones that have stuck with me over the years. Not always (but mostly) favorites but important for the way they affected me or made me see or understand things differently. Or maybe just because I liked them so much.

Strangely, the next morning one of my friends tagged me on Facebook with a meme to share just such a list. So, here ’tis:

Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
The House at Pooh Corner – AA Milne
Thirty Seconds over Tokyo – Ted Lawson
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
Childhood’s End – Arthur C Clarke
Blue Highways – William Least Heat-Moon
Dark and Like a Web – Nic Sebastian
VALIS – Philip K Dick
Roughing It – Mark Twain
The Sibley Guide to Birds – David Allen Sibley

I’m supposed to tag nine others but I’m not. Play along if you like.

On Reading for The Poetry Storehouse

Recently, I spent some time learning and reading poems from some other poets whose work I admire. I found the poems at The Poetry Storehouse (where a few of mine can be found too) a site created by Nic Sebastian and dedicated to bringing poetry off the page and into new venues. There’s a bunch of work licensed under the creative commons license, and it’s all available for remix–audio, video, whatever–so long as it’s for noncommercial use.

So, I went and did some looking and read the following poems:

A Ghazal On Birth Of The Buddha: Bardo 3
 by Uma Gowrishankar
Skimming by Janeen Rastall
Horses by Kristine Ong Muslim
my days are flocks of starlings by Nic Sebastian

I recorded a couple last spring and again, this was a cool thing to do. It is one thing to read a poem, even read it over and over again to oneself, but to say the words, over and over and then to hear yourself say them and then to say them again (the repetitions required to get a satisfactory reading) is to go farther into the poem than you might have imagined was possible. Suddenly, you start to see the things between the lines and letters. Sometimes, you stop in your tracks mid-read and realize you have to start over. That’s a good thing.

In each case, I started by just recording the lines in my classroom while I have it to myself during lunchtime. But with each subsequent reading, I found myself feeling the poems more as the speaker rather than an outside reader. I suppose it must be a bit like this for an actor learning a character, moving from reader to this other self that exists in the lines of the poem.

I don’t know if this is how poetry reading should be done, but it makes sense to me to think of a poem as something that is said or told as if letting the audience in on some secret rather than recited or pronounced (in the sense of pronouncement). When I read to my students, this approach seems to work best for them. They actually listen.

The best thing about this is that by the end, when I sit back and listen, I feel like I’ve come to understand the poem in a way I hadn’t before. As if now, I’ve really walked that mile in the other’s shoes. This came about most especially when I was working on Gowrishankar’s poem. It’s one thing to get the idea of reincarnation of the soul as an outsider, but reading the poem aloud and then listening to it helped me feel it in a more personal way.

So, thank you to Nic for creating the Storehouse and to the poets who’ve posted their work for others like me to experiment with. And if you’re reading this, consider paying a visit and listening or watching what’s been done, and perhaps even add your own contribution.

Ordinary Night

It was ordinary:
the hill, the town,
the sky, a wisp
of cloud against
the stars. Ordinary
as methane rain
on Titan or the dry
encroaching ice
on the windswept
Martian poles.
Common as each
flower in this field
around my feet,
each one a star
to mirror constellations
above my blood-filled
head. The window
lights in town
click off, a chorus
of everyday amens,
whispered in the holy
darkness of the night.

Magpie Tales #234

One More Saturday Night (The Dead @ RFK: 6.24.95)

Back in the early ‘90s, I always taped the Grateful Dead Hour at midnight on KGSR. Didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, come 11:45, I was home to record it. I had never seen the Dead live, but I loved to hear their live sound. One Saturday night around April of ’95, some friends were over listening with me and while we were enjoying a particularly good “Fire on the Mountain,” I was hit with an overwhelming sense that I had to see the Dead. Now. Jerry just wasn’t going to around much longer.

Since they hadn’t played in Texas since the ’70’s, I knew we’d have to travel, and while four of us planned to go, two dropped out (“Next time,” they both said) and so it was that on June 21, 1995, R (who was not yet my wife) and I set out a little before midnight for Washington, DC where they would be playing RFK Stadium that coming Saturday. We had dry cereal, peanut butter, bread, a gas station card and a few bucks between us to get there.

We spent Thursday night in Knoxville and on Friday rolled into Washington where we planned to stay with an old high school buddy who was, incidentally, the person who introduced me to the Dead. We saw the sights and even visited the house in Springfield where I lived when I was a kid in the late ‘70s. And then, on Saturday night, we saw the Dead. Bob Dylan opened and underwhelmed as he tends to do, but when the Grateful Dead came out and opened with “Jack Straw” I had one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-here moments. Quite simply, I had arrived at the promised land.

Longtime Deadheads pan these latter shows. Jerry was fading, and it was obvious to the band’s most dedicated followers that something was off, but for us, this first-and-only Dead show was magic. I have never been to any show before or since where I felt compelled to pay such close attention and where I was willing and able to just let the music carry me away.

The setlist included some of my favorites and some that I’ve come to love since then (h/t dead.net):

Jack Straw
Althea
Little Red Rooster
Friend of the Devil
El Paso
So Many Roads
Promised Land

Iko! Iko!
Way to Go Home
Saint of Circumstance –>
New Speedway Boogie –>
That Would Be Something –>
Drums –>
Space –>
The Days Between
One More Saturday Night

Black Muddy River

I’ll never forget the energy and excitement of “Iko! Iko!” or the way Bruce Hornsby ran away with “Promised Land” or how they put the boogie back into “New Speedway Boogie.” Most of all, though, I’ll always remember the way Jerry sang “Days Between,” a real favorite of mine. It’s not on any of their official releases and was written only a year or two earlier, but it’s one of the best Dead songs ever, dark and longing, beautiful and terrifying. Jerry poured what little was left of himself into that strange, cryptic song and held the audience captive all the while.

Who knew it would be the last time they would play “Friend of the Devil” and “That Would Be Something” and “Days Between”? And what an unusual portent it was for them to close with the first “Black Muddy River” in almost 4 years. In fact, a few weeks later, it was one of the last songs Jerry would sing with the band, allegedly altering the lyric from “black muddy river” to “last muddy river,” an interesting change in a song about the realization that there are more days behind than ahead of the aging singer who now at the end must face his failures. It’s a song that aches in its beauty and that night, hearing them close with it, there was a certain finality we felt even if we didn’t quite understand.

And that was it. Just another Saturday night in Washington, DC. We hung around Sunday and drove straight through to Austin on Monday. A month and a half later, Jerry Garcia died. It was August 9, and we were at Lollapalooza. My other favorite band, Sonic Youth, was headlining and as the moon rose over South Park Meadows (before it was paved and turned into a strip mall), they closed with a new song, an epic trippy-sounding psychedelic punk jam, called “The Diamond Sea” that Thurston Moore introduced simply by saying, “This is for Garcia.” It was gorgeous, and a fitting tribute.

As the years passed, I’ve always wanted to hear our Dead show again and a few years ago, I downloaded it from the Internet Archive where a generous taper had uploaded it. I’ve been listening to it and enjoying it all over again. Perhaps not surprisingly, the things I remembered most clearly come through as powerfully as they did in person.

It was a wonderful moment in a strange and wild time. A beautiful time in which anything was possible and nothing seemed more important than racing across the country to see a band play on a Saturday night. A few months later, I quit the freelance film life and started a “regular” job to save money for grad school, and so that trip and that show seem kind of like a last hurrah for me in a lot of ways. It was an ending but a beginning too, as they usually are.

I’ll never know what I heard in that Grateful Dead Hour solo, and I’ve lost the tape anyway, but there was something there… a single note or a phrase maybe, something deep that spoke of the ephemeral nature of music and art and beauty and even life itself when you get right down to it. Life’s fleeting moments, experience and wisdom, gathered into song and then blown out on the wind like smoke in the air, flames on a mountaintop, those “headless horsemen vanishing with wild and lonely cries.” All that in one little bit of music that called us across the country to hear something glorious that was itself fading into darkness.

Summer Vacation

On the Bike Trail

Runaway

Listen: She dreamt the sky
and settled a few strange feet
above this shattered axeland.
She floated there for ages
and pilgrims came and rubbed
their names with clumsy fingers
in the dirt. Their names vanished
like the rolling highway scenery
outside your half-down window,
like your tears drying in the wind
as you fled from town to town.

Magpie Tales #219 | Sunday Whirl #160

drizzlegray
among rain lilies
a mockingbird

walking as slow
as greyhounds allow
I watch the sun
set behind the oaks

A Place Without a Postcard–Free for Kindle Today

A Place Without a PostcardJust a quick announcement: my 2003 novel A Place Without a Postcard is available as a free download in the kindle store today (5-2-14). I hope you’ll check it out and share it with any friends you think might be interested. Thank you, and enjoy.

(The paperback is also reduced to $10.99, though I don’t know how long that will last.)

To Call the Goddess

The old man lost faith in rain,
stopped praying, whispered soft,
I’ve had enough. I give.

How many poems can you give,
brother, to call the goddess of the rain?
A shadow in a sheep’s clothes, soft

wings flutter, a sound so soft
you stop the car, pull over and give
a listen to the whistle of a train.

To hear the rain fall soft again? I’ll give.

Quickly #30: Respond | PAD 2014 #30: Calling it a day

Miz Quickly’s prompt was to respond to a poem you like. I wanted to end the month with another tritina, a form I stumbled upon a few weeks ago, and so I decided to use three words (rain, soft, give) from Dave Bonta’s “Springy,” which is part of his 3verses series.

And that makes 31 poems for National Poetry Writing Month. I didn’t plan to do it. I just wrote one or two and then kept going. And then it was the 15th, and now here we are. Thank you to Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides Daily, NaPoWriMo, Magpie Tales, Miz Quickly, and the soon to be defunct We Write Poems (why do so many prompt sites/poetry communities close up after NaPoWriMo? Is it just too much?) for the prompts and inspiration. And be sure to check out Red Wolf Poems, a sequel to We Write Poems that starts tomorrow.

Thank you also to all of you who have stopped by to read and comment on my poems. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

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