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Trough




There will be more
swells of grief that tug
me into their gray embrace,
and swirls of lament,
and great rollers of loss,
and rising waves of ache.
But for now,
the morning sun
slips low through the window
in a major key
and the cat finds a home
in my lap and purrs
and the tea in my cup
is warm and full of bright notes
and I’m here, in this
peace, in this sunlit
octave, I’m here.

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In the dark, we follow
the wail of live jazz
till at last we discover
the trio playing
on the street corner.

Not all invitations
to fall in love with life
are this easy to follow—
just turn the corner,
walk a few blocks,
then find a place to linger.

But tonight, the invitation
is so clear: to be led by the music
of the moment, to listen
with the silence inside.

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For your birthday, Johannes,
I listened to your first piano concerto,
my heart trembling like a tuning fork
as the ivory keys and nylon strings
conversed about tenebrous grief and loss.

No one hissed in the audience
the way they did when your concerto
debuted. In fact, in my kitchen,
I sighed. I gasped. I thanked you
for the turbulence. What a gift when our sorrow

meets a sister sorrow so beautiful
we forget our own story, our own name,
and we tender what’s left
of our aching hearts to the blooming dark
that even now opens around us, inside us.

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lyrics from "The Tide Is High" by John Holt, 1967
           
 
Something about the unsinkable reggae beat,
and in just three notes, I’m again my young self,
dancing alone in my bedroom,
singing as if I am one with the song,
as if it were written just for me,
 
I’m not the kind of girl
who gives up just like that, oh no, oh!
 
And singing it now on a Sunday afternoon,
I’m caught in a surprise riptide of joy
and start to lilt around the room,
though just moments ago I was weeping,
buried beneath the salt of worry,
 
but here I am, dancing alone,
hips rocking, my shoulders a rolling sea,
my voice surfing above the bright swell of trumpets.
 
The tide is high but I’m holding on.
 
Sometimes a song is a lifeline,
not because it pulls me out of the water,
but because it tosses me deeper in,
and I feel I’m no longer trapping myself
in a life the size of a teacup—
 
no, in this moment I am oceanic,
an Atlantic of joy, a Pacific of wonder
vast enough to hold everything,
and the tide is high
and all that salt only makes me more buoyant
as I play in the generous waves.

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That Song

I want to slip into the song

you sang, the one with verse

about loss. I want to hang

on its notes as if they were branches

I could swing from, want to climb

through its chorus, want to meet it

in its rests, want to offer it tea.

I want to ask the guitar

about your fingers, about

how they knew where

to find the melody. And how?

I want to speak with the loss itself,

want to ask it if it’s sure its lost,

want to offer it a map made of apples

and wings and moon.

I want to hear the silence after

the song, and then beg it, beg it,

to keep singing.

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Perhaps we stumbled

on the words, perhaps

we forgot a note,

forgot a bridge,

bumbled our entrances,

fumbled our parts,

but we sang, oh yes,

we sang into the low golden light

of summer, sang

because joy, because

harmony, sang because

lonely, because fear,

sang because, tears

spilling down our cheeks,

we could sing, oh friends,

before we said goodbye,

we could sing.

 

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All day the world improvises

a song for me—song of bickering robins

and whispering grass, bright chime

of a text and gravel trucks that grumble

on the highway as they pass.

 

The song I would sing for you, let it be

as spontaneous as the chattering

of the cat watching hummingbirds,

as sharp as the flap of the flag in the wind.

Let me not sing the same song I’ve sung before.

 

This is the time to sing it new, to sing

the song we didn’t know we were brave enough

to sing. This is the time to sing

the most honest song, thorn song,

green song, yelp of relentless shine.

 

This is the time to sing as if our lives

depend on it, sing the song

that comes out of attending.

Song of pushing through dirt.

Song we don’t know yet.

 

 

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Anthem

 

 

 

Today’s anthem is not

my chorus of curses

when the cat knocked

the glass of sauvignon blanc

into my open laptop.

It’s not the clashing swords

in the movie we watched

nor the sobbing

that shook me this morning

when I tried to speak of loss.

The anthem is not

the click of the door

nor the snap of the branch

beneath the Stellar’s jay

nor the soundless slide

of the moon.

Today’s anthem was the hum

I know you would have made

if you’d held me while I wept,

the waves of our breath

inviting us to wade

deeper in.

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            with gratitude for Dennis McNeil

Every night now as I make dinner in Colorado,

I listen to a tenor sing live from his back porch

in California near the coast.

While I chop onions and chard

and sip on sauvignon blanc,

he belts tunes from Oklahoma

and Phantom of the Opera,

patriotic songs and Frank Sinatra,

and I sing along, my small soprano lifted

by his generous voice that baptizes the room.

This is the world I believe in—

a world ringing with beauty.

A world where people share their gifts

with strangers, knowing our lives

depend on this.

Between songs, he toasts us with gin,

and smiles. I return his toast with wine.

This is the way we carry each other

through difficulties, one song at a time.

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Please pretty darlin’, do not cry.

            —Paul McCartney, “Golden Slumbers” adapted from Thomas Dekkers’ “Cradle Song”

 

 

And if the candle noticed

that I played the song six times,

it didn’t say anything.

 

And if the pan were aware

that I struggled to find a harmony,

it kept the failure to itself.

 

And if the kitchen noticed

that I continued to sing the song

long after the recording was done, well—

 

The onion did its best

to mask any tears

that no one was there to see.

 

And if once there was a way

to get back homeward, well,

perhaps, perhaps it will appear again.

 

 

 

*To listen, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbcvf8a5BwM

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