Tag Archives: cities

14. See the World, Part 2

A lot of people proudly claim to love the city they live in, or the one they’re originally from. In general, I am not one of those people – and having lived a lot of places across America, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to make that visceral connection. Yes, I’ve appreciated the history, architecture, planning, flora, and fauna of physical places. There is something about the way a place smells, the way its natural element presents themselves both visually and orally, its latitude, altitude and distance from large bodies of water, the way the stars (including the sun) are arrayed at specific geographic locations, that make each village, hamlet, town, city, and metropolis different and unique.

I understand a deep and abiding connection with land. I’m of Swiss, German, and Irish stock. That connection is part of my heritage, part of my cultural consciousness. I recognize this, in part, because when I traveled to Bern Canton in Switzerland, where my paternal grandmother’s family originated, I recognized a landscape I had never before seen, experienced a “homecoming” if you will, a sense of deep understanding when I walked down narrow city streets, crossed Alpine meadows, and stared up at snow-covered Alps. I’ve not really had that experience anywhere else; I’ve not traveled to Strasbourg, Germany, Cork, Ireland, or any other family originating points for comparison. I’ve had other physical memory of places: for example, I was born at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. Watching a movie about Jack Kevorkian almost 45 years later, I felt a physical sensation of recognition when they showed scenes at the hospital. I’ve also felt a sense of loss, rather than belonging, when happening by former addresses in Ohio, California, Boston, Memphis, Seattle, and New Orleans.

But that doesn’t seem to me what people feel when they say, for example, that they “love New York”. Maybe it’s a PART of it, sure, but I don’t believe just connection to a physical place is the whole of it. That’s like saying that the physical act of sex is the whole of loving a person.

There are a number of factors that tie us, directly or indirectly, to a place’s physicality. Logistics, convenience, knowing where things are, having the interstate system memorized, understanding and appreciating landmarks necessary for navigation, social interaction, and safety – these are indirect physical attributes of a place. But honestly, I’ve accumulated systems encompassing these factors for most of the places I’ve ever lived. Yeah, some places are better, or easier, or faster, in terms of their layout and features. But usually some part of that set compensates for other parts. It all balances out, in the end.

The rest of what makes a place a place, though, is its people. The actual individual people who live and work in a city. The infrastructure supporting those people – the education, culture, spirituality, politics, diversity, and so on. And that infrastructure affects still another set of indirect factors contributing to love: security, privacy, safety. Those things are indeed derived from a place’s people, not its physical attributes.

I’ve liked and loved a lot of people, wherever I’ve lived. And whether they were natives or transplants to those locations, a lot of what they were was the result of how they grew into or adapted to those locations. Some of those people, if you moved them somewhere else, would not have been so lovable or likable. Others that I didn’t really appreciate where they were, might have become MORE interesting. I’m definitely not sure that if you took everyone I loved across the world and put them all in the same physical location, that they would either get along, thrive, or survive relationship with me.

Have I been different people, in each place I’ve lived? Sometimes, sure. It’s a social necessity to adapt, to conform to certain norms in order to establish each two-way definition of equality required to affect communication between people. Are these mere externals? I’m again not sure. Like when you move where a different language is spoken, you have to learn to think in that language to really absorb it, sometimes the energy of a place, by changing the way you do things (e.g., travel, shop, eat, split indoor v. outdoor time, entertain yourself or others), can change who you are – or at least who you THINK you are.

The point is that where I’m at in my life, right now, what attracts me to a city, a physical place – other than its striking physical beauty, particularly if its a geographical experience I’ve not had before – is less WHAT I can experience there, as much as WHO I experience it with. And the presence or absence of that connection (including the presence or absence of the possibility of connection) is what makes a place alive, to me. To find the right balance, to seek beauty that is alive, and life that I find beautiful: that is the quest, right?

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Something about a city on a river

There’s something about a city on a river:
it could be near the ocean’s coast
stuck like a tick on the business end
of the delta,
or somewhere upstream
where the supply ships send
their soldiers, sorghum and saltpeter
for distribution
to the land-locked plains beyond.

There’s something about a city on a river:
it has less in common with
its inland neighbors,
though mere minutes down the road,
than with far-flung places
on the map that likewise
play corpuscle to some continental vein,
bringing back a tired
and worn out nation’s blood
to its life source.

There’s something about a city on a river,
especially one that finds the sea:
it tends to mix its metaphors
like the colors and creeds of its visitors,
who seek to strike a balance
between old and new,
the known and strange,
finding in diversity a strength
that land-bound armies
cannot know.

There’s something about a city on a river:
evolving with the ebb and flow
of tides beyond mankind’s control;
and those who make their homes there
find a way to bend and shape,
to seek and touch a truth
that in a desert well
or hidden lake
one only gets a taste.

09 APR 2013

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No point in calling it

No point in calling it a cryin’ shame
Suffering in darkness for want of a flame
New boss or old boss, pretty much the same
Only thing different is a brand new name

No point in wallowing in might have beens
Pretending enemies are long lost friends
One signal receives, and the other sends
The means still leave their mark on how it ends

Float me down river, on to New Orleans
Fix me a plate of dirty rice and beans
What water doesn’t wash away, it cleans
How it works out in the end depends upon the means

27 DEC 2006

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Blues for Elijiah/Fallen Angels

For some reason, sitting out under the carport this morning in the rain made me think of a period during 1991 when I wrote about 30 songs in the course of 36 hours. It was a very strange Peter Gabriel meets Van Morrison kind of weekend … just me, the computer terminal and the digital piano.

Blues for Elijiah

Ravenous, we turned our backs on civilized pursuits
in suits of woven rags and skins, exposed to elemental change;
No human chatter breaking forth, no spewing after-thoughts
of imperfect internal combustion.

Blinded by the word of the immortal beast of broadcast,
scarlet-eyed, star-struck, in cathode-ray imposed myopia,
we foolishly believed that we had found the new Messiah
and we called to him by name, Blessed Technology.

Cloven-hooved, through clover fields, we chased the dream inconceivable
Thinking we could make believe and make it more believable

Turn away from your television
Turn away from your radio
There are more things in Earth and Heaven
Than you’ll ever know

Words are only words if they hold no other meaning
Symbolized interpretation of an unseen imagery:
The silence shouts out deafening; cover up your ears
or you might hear something important.

Hungry now, and rooting through the leftovers of history,
power ties no longer bind, yet cut off circulation.
Do you still believe that you have found the reasons for your presence?
Do you still hold fast to dreams that have no meaning?

Turn away from your newspaper
Turn away from your bulletin board
There are so many things escaping your attention
There are more rivers left to ford

With all your money, can you still pay attention?
Will all your bridges tumble into the sea?
With how much credit can you purchase my affection?
Will you be frightened if I love you for free?

Turn away from your television
Turn away from your radio
Listen to the music playing out in the courtyard
They’re playing verses you should know

Turn away from your radio
Turn away from your magazine
There are things happening that are much more important
There are still wonders you’ve not seen

26 JUL 91

Fallen Angels

A monster’s out walking the streets tonight
Devouring the city, cobblestone by cobblestone
A soul without mercy; and you know
pity is a lonely word, small and forgettable

Silent in mute screaming agony
Following the gutters down and out to the sea;
otherwise, without purpose, directionless,
void of apparent course.

Searching for fallen angels
Fitting them with dragons’ wings
‘Cause if this play falls on its face
We’ll have to think of something

The monster in his guise, so human,
licks his lips, mastiff-inspired,
the scent of life, animal
caged words, primitive and sophisticated.

Alone in schizophrenic company
Following the sound of life around the corner;
no intentions, only expectations
of disappointment in the shadows

Searching for fallen angels
Fitting them with dragons’ scales
‘Cause we’ll need more cannon fodder
When self-preserving instinct fails

A monster is stalking the city tonight
Devouring the pavement like lines
on a printed page, without mercy or pity,
which are lonely words, small and
easily forgotten

Searching for fallen angels
Fitting them with dragons’ hearts
‘Cause we’ll need all our energy
Once the floor show starts.

26 JUL 91

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An Hour Gone Past Midnight

An hour gone past midnight;
the songbirds try out new trills:
sparrow, robin, mockingbird,
wren, finch and whip-or-whill

all whistle at their favorite tunes
now that the traffic’s pace
has slowed to stopping. The pale moon
reflects in pools of fallen rain

left from the evening storm,
their mirror surfaces broken
by the floating corpses of termites
caught out during their swarm
tonight, seeking wood and water.

Across the street a houselamp shines
against a window’s lattice bars;
and locked inside, these neighbors sit
illuminated by the eerie glow
of a brand new fifty-eight inch god.

That’s a light you can’t hide under a barrel,
I think, then listen to the birds, again.
I like not knowing what tonight’s program is.

Surprise me, oh great universe
with what is yet to be
for the unknown is never worse
than dull monotony
Let loose the new, and strange and wild
I will not be depressed;
No matter how you show yourself
Likely I’ll be impressed.
It’s all been done, the cynics say,
there is no more unique;
but I must strongly disagree
when I hear each day speak.
The words may be the same, it’s true,
strung out in well-known ways,
in sentences and paragraphs
like yesterday’s displays
but each word, if you pay it mind
is different from the rest;
it lives for just a moment,
then it fades in silence, death.
Behind these brief, temporal sounds
an underlying hum
continues on; it shakes the ground
like a low-pounding drum
The heartbeat stays the same,
only the synopation varies —
the flitting words that scat around
seeming so ordinary.

A half hour gone past one o’clock
and all the birds, asleep.
Like me, they’ve done their exercise
and now have jobs to keep.

The locusts and the crickets now
come out, and take their turn;
another unwrit manuscript
I think worthwhile to learn.

19 MAY 2004

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Town and Country


I would to some far-flung county go
except for the threat of winter snow
and loss of things to occupy
these tangent thoughts that fill my mind

for in some quiet, rural place
where you know every name, and face,
behind the greetings and the prayers
lurks something else, and it waits there

until you find some cause to fight
against the old, established right
and question how the world was made
and kept to just that shape and grade.

And then, the rugged space and wild
you need now more than when a child
right there in reach, or just outside
becomes a threatening divide

that separates you from what else
exists beyond your cupboard shelves,
and beckons, using memory’s tools,
demanding more from kings, and fools.

There in the vast expanse that rings
you in, one morning, a bird sings
a melancholy tune of woe
and in an instant, you must go.


I would to some great city fly,
save for the noise and lighted sky
and little time for the small things
that feed the soul with songs to sing,

for in some bustling, roaring throng,
the questions, whether right or wrong
get shuffled off behind the door
or left like scuff-marks on the floor

removed, in time, by faster dreams
ill-built, botched jobs split at the seams
constructed not with love, but greed
and satisfaction guaranteed.

And then, when you require a breath
the bar stools clear, a pall of death
descends, and you find you’re in trouble
having pierced some happy bubble.

Far too much this, too little that:
your hair is wrong, your car. Your hat
is last year’s fashion, out of style;
the line forms left, stay single file.

Safe in your homes, tucked warm and dry,
a murmured hum your lullaby,
Despite the drama, and the arts,
you’ve got to leave; a longing starts.

06 MAY 2004

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