Tag Archives: desperation

A Prayer for Kurtis Cummings

Say a prayer for old Kurtis Cummings:
went out in his rowboat and got lost out at sea.
Left his wife and two young children
waiting standing at communion with the Reverend Jerry Lee.

Picked up his old shotgun and his pea coat from the Navy,
walked out by the back door and left his extra key;
left a note for Molly, said “I’ll meet you at the service.
Give my best to Deacon Jones and the Reverend Jerry Lee.”

Kurtis stood out back,
and when he heard that they were leaving,
reached into his pocket for a shell.
No one heard the echo of the shot until that evening,
when the papers found they had a tale to tell:
“Reverend Lee says Kurtis C. is bound for hell.
Widow’s lawyer says it’s probably just as well.”

Say a prayer for old Kurtis Cummings:
went out in his garden and got turned out to seed.
Left his young wife and a thriving business
filling the collection plate for the Reverend Jerry Lee.

Picked up his old hat and the old shotgun from the corner,
slipped out through the back hall and gently closed the screen.
Left a note for Molly, said “I’ll see you when it’s over;
give my love to ma and pa and Reverend Jerry Lee.”

Kurtis slipped out back
and when he heard them at the table,
tossed into the breech another round.
No one felt the echo of the shock until much later,
when the papers printed up what they had found:
“Widow cries as Kurtis C. goes in the ground;
and the Reverend Lee has disappeared from town.”

Say a prayer for old Kurtis Cummings:
went out for a drive and got turned underneath the wheel.
Left his wife and two young children
waiting on their first communion with the Reverend Jerry Lee.

Standing waiting on communion with the Reverend Jerry Lee.

for Kurt Cobain

14 MAY 1994

A Prayer for Kurtis Cummings (demo)

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At the Lakeshore

Thoreau spoke of a quiet desperation:
a sad affliction borne by other men,
whose lives are filled up, not so much with silence
but with a never-ending dulling din,

the calling card of progress and its engines,
whose pulse and throb churn on into the night
and rob the world of any moment’s stillness.
With engineering, we would prove it right

that idle hands seek evil, free from working;
that contemplation breeds unrest and doubt;
that in a second’s peace, there is a lurking
malaise so foul that noise must drive it out.

What genius, to encourage entertainments
that thrive on a cacophony of sound
and into pensive hours, inject such vigor
that even philosophic minds are bound

to see in growing deafness, evolution;
amidst the constant murmur of machines
to hear a mantra granting absolution;
and find in silence only the obscene.

As if truth is transmitted by loudspeaker
not needing other volumes first turned down,
instead of lapping, quiet at the shoreline
where we must either learn to swim, or drown.

Lake Catherine, Arkansas
29 OCT 2006

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You Can Come Home

One winter’s night a number of years ago in Boston, I was huddled in my small studio apartment on Boylston Street near Berklee College of Music. It was a cold December evening, and as I recall I was broke and in fact sitting in the dark because the electric bill had not been paid. I did have a battery operated radio, however, and a squeaky and somewhat effective radiator in the corner, as well as a number of cigarette butts with a few drags on them. In other words, not rock bottom, but pretty near the shoals.

I was listening to some late-night Grateful Dead program (I think syndicated, but who knows now), and they were playing “deep” cuts. In the midst of my depressingly cold scene came a hauntingly beautiful song — probably one of the most beautiful songs, in terms of sheer lyricism and fragility, that I had ever heard. It was I Will Take You Home, words by John Perry Barlow and music by Brent Mydland.

I have heard this song only once; that evening, and never again. But as soon as it finished on the radio, I picked up my guitar and wrote the following song.

When all the sad Romeos you call companions
have found their way back to the night;
and all your engagements for debutante stages
aren’t coming as fast as they might;
when the crowd you enamored decides you’re a scam
and finds some other queen for your throne,
and you’re trying not to weep, trying to sleep, trying so hard
to forget that you’re sleeping alone,

when your circle of friends fades to lines on the mirror
that tell you the years have gone by,
and your social connections just send their condolences
(sorry, they just can’t stop by);
when the world outside your side of which you’re so petrified
just might be nothing at all,
I’ll be around when there’s nobody else you can call.

When you’ve played Cleopatra and Anthony’s gone,
and your lovers have found other roles;
when the rest of the blessed have begun to confess
they’ve no need for your broken down soul;
when your audience turns from compassion to apathy,
leaving the theater bare,
and you’re trying not to weep, trying to sleep, trying so hard
to forget that there’s nobody there;

when you’re shunned like a leper by all the pretenders
you thought were your very best friends;
and the children you’ve raised turn their backs on you,
leaving you to wander alone ’til your end;
when you’re old and turned gray, and they take you away
’cause you can’t seem to find your way home,
I’ll be around when you don’t want to be all alone.

When all your imagined battalions of Galahads
fade back into the mist,
and you find your influence has faded to nothing
and you’re not so hard to resist;
when those princes on horseback find some other maidens
to seek out and rescue from pain,
and you’re trying not to weep, trying to sleep, trying so hard
to pretend that it’s all still the same;

when the dreams you were promised turn out to be nightmares,
and all of your hopes turn to tears;
when your vanity fades and you pull down the shades
and think back on the faraway years;
when you’re lost in the night, and even the cold moonlight
has left you, and you’re all alone —
I’ll be around when you need me to take you back home.

You can come on home.


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Dividing Up the Blame

Wind blowing through a courtyard
Shattered windows turn their broken eyes on me
Blind, can’t see the street because I’m crying
for my soul is in the gutter, trying to find release

Is there something on that wall?
Looks like some writing on it, it says
Just six more hours until the dawn
Then you can crawl back where you came from

Some sin, something I can’t remember
Memory’s the enemy shot down on these streets of love
Lost, in the battle, in the fighting
for my soul, an empty victory in a war that does not cease

Is that someone up ahead?
Looks like a friend of mine, who said
“You won’t stay warm without the wine,”
and passed right back into oblivion

Oh won’t you give me something for the pain
I can’t stand another night out in the rain
Please don’t call it charity, but help me just the same
While I’m waiting for the jury who are out right now
Dividing up the blame.

Spending my time searching for nothing
To add it to the nothing that I own
Spending my last dime on a bottle
So I won’t spend this night alone

Wind, blowing cold against my body
Shuttered windows turn their sunken eyes on me
Blind, seeing nothing but the nothing
in my soul, an empty shadow where an angel used to be

Is that something up ahead?
Looks like a fire burning.
Pull up a chair and throw it in
It’s six more hours until the morning

Oh won’t you give me something for the pain
I can’t stand another night out in the rain
Please don’t call it charity, but help me just the same
While I’m waiting for the jury, who are out right now
Dividing up the blame.

You say I’m guilty
I say you’re guilty
We’re all guilty
If no one’s guilty.


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Pleasure City

Canto I:

Next stop, the driver said, smiling through cracked wicked lips,
Pleasure City – we huddled, prenatal, wondering –
even in the suburbs the legends grew,
spread by the Party Planners,
the malcontent underbelly of the American Experience,
bastard step-children of the rotted family tree,
planted by righteous Puritan hands,
unsoiled by the burst and bloody entrails they tilled into the New Land.

A mystic angel sang guitar, played his words,
inspired by the big wheels (big wheels),
the bus across the wilderness of naked earth.
No flies on my shit, he sang,
no vultures preparing for the feast,
vomiting cold logic on the corpse of the American Dream.
Pleasure City – last stop on the long, hot road,
sun-drenched with memories long forgotten,
hands that played their songs of construction,
the leather blood-letters,
as buried in the sand as siblings of Antigone.

Ah, but Pleasure City – cool and hot, wet and parched dry!

Old lady in the back, azure-domed, triumphant,
proclaims that she has seen its better days,
the frontier of the experience.
The driver calls her forward,
gives her the crown preserved for Christian martyrs,
kicks her in the teeth and laughs.
He is not amused, for we laugh with him,
unknowingly blind and mute,
another shipment of Other-Worlders seeking to feel again,
to walk the streets of Paradise.

Samerica, we smiled and stepped from the bus platform.

Canto II:

It was another long hot world away, our nesting places –
lofty crags for eagles perched on tenement windows –
waiting longing for something anything sweet release from boredom,
enemy of life itself.
The television man appeared one sunny hurt-swept Afternoon –
like maggots on the corpse of dawn we clung to this:
the dream of Pleasure City.
Escape, escape from this into God knows what else there is…
special deals free food and lodging,
the party bus to Paradise.

Am I the ninety-ninth caller?

The embodiment of Pepsodent living greets us.
We smile back,
our jaundiced grins exposing rotted Lifestyles.
This is our Destination.

Under the cold hard moon of desolation we cross the tundra,
mutant wildebeests on wheels of fire,
our gaudy polyester lives unfolded,
wrinkling in gorilla-proof encasements.
Across the lifeless plain our lifeless souls greet new days;
hopeful, hopeless wanderers,
the Happy Hunting Ground defiled by technology.
The radiation clings to our bones,
the remnants of a nuclear yard sale.

The bus driver’s azure robes are caked with dust
from roads where tires collapsed.
The Conestoga, pleasure-bound, rolls into Paradise.

Canto III:

The doors swung open with a burst of unexpected energy.
A thousand colored suns eliminated our shadows, our doubt –
Ezekiel’s wheel had fallen, spinning,
where the fortune tellers shuffled after every deal,
the faces of divination no longer Egyptian.
The sun does not set upon the horizon,
but lingers, mocking while void of sleep,
drenched in the cool, hard sweat of Anticipation,
we rub our heads for luck (heads without a sensible hair).

Outside, in the blaring light of midnight,
a jester expelled from Caligula’s court salutes us with a sneer.
He complains of pains, of hunger, of thirst –
wants we have satisfied with endless rolls of change,
while hand and foot courtiers slip us watered Scotch,
stale biscuits and gravy.
The driver laughs, throws our lingering clown a “piece of eight.”
Coin of the realm, worth five dollars inside.
It is not edible, for the jester cannot enter the court.
He laughs and throws it away, cursing lady luck.

“Samerica,” he cries, his throat hoarse with fervent whispers,
“Your addiction to Horatio Alger is complete,
your opium pipe is a machine,
the Tree of Knowledge where fruits are matched.
Apples or oranges,
the difference being small change to a small fortune.”

Canto IV:

Bridegrooms no longer hesitant, we re-enter the honeymoon suite.
The floorplan is memorized, our tour guide is unnecessary.
Stepping like ancient warriors on velvet carpets of fortune,
we weave our way through the rabble, the riff-raff.
Heads turn with frank stares, ruby eyes filled with avarice and pain.

The Holy Rollers have entered the chamber.

Foolish and reckless,
then conservative,
we take our turn at the table,
feeding on the adrenaline like baptismal liquids.
The numbers before our eyes:
first, Hymn 40, then Hymn 13.
The priest speaks gravely,
intoning ancient symbols that reveal we will not see the gates at dawn.
The azure-domed Madame from the bus swoons, star-struck.
She has come from the far pavilion.
Men in togas, she proclaims,
announce the King shall dance tonight.
The bus driver laughs.

The King is Dead,
but Long Live the King,
and cash me in.

Like Egyptian cities of the dead, the Path of Ramses,
the Suburbs of Osiris,
we will name our streets after our gods.

Canto V:

In the blackened cathedral we sit huddled.
The King will speak, his emissary has taken the stage.
His mistresses,
the golden-tressed and nubile peacocks of the night
have begun the rite of initiation.
The drums have begun to sound,
the trumpets herald the coming of the New Christ.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall be Entertained.
Blessed are the weary and forlorn, for they shall be Amused.
Blessed are the chosen ones, the Holy Rollers,
for they shall receive Complimentary Champagne.”

Almost before it has begun, the stage is once again deserted.
A flash of white sequins, the smell of hot light sweat.
The sonic boom from pelvic thrusts, of gymnastic exhibitions,
is overwhelming.
Quickly, the onlookers are ushered out into the cold hard sweet wet night,
into the lighted halls and corridors.
The service is completed here, for the bells are still ringing.
Flashing lights and sirens scream their homage
to the gods we have created.

Canto VI:

Two lovers bend their obsessed wills in anguish,
the Paradise of Pleasure City fuels their passions,
their deep despair.
In rooms where once The Voice
held the attention of the molls and saps,
the final moments of ecstasy seep through pale gold curtains
as daylight robs writhing forms of their dignity.

The bottle empty as their thoughts and wallets,
they wince as its shattered fragments
draw their watered blood across the cold tile.
Visions of Hitchcock’s motel run with the crimson water
as it slips away.

It was to be a new beginning,
Lady Luck and Prince Valiant embarking,
heading to the New Crusade –
after cleaning out the Golden Nugget.

Canto VII:

The neon hourglass fills our eyes;
there is no time remaining for us.
Our sins have not been washed away.

Like Eve and Adam thrust from the gates while forced to watch
the life within the garden, we are returned to the dust from which we came.
The desert moon mocks our retreat.

Pleasure City, the bus driver exclaims.
It is but temporary Paradise,
this golden oasis on the face of destruction.

But Pleasure City – cool and hot, wet and parched dry!

Across the painted desert we wing silent, droning miles;
the tenements and caves from which we crawled
intone their homing beacon cries.
In the back of the bus,
we cross the desert,
spent as useless lovers,
the emptiness of our copulation
reflected in our gaunt souls.

Summer 1990

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