Tag Archives: subconscious

Welcome to the Undertown

Undertown (n): Like the bottom part of the wave that actually moves all the water (and can do all the damage), that beneath the surface pulls you in and gives you an appreciation of the ocean, the undertown is that part of any place that provides a glimpse into its true meaning — beyond the lip service, hypocrisy, glib acceptance speeches and polished recordings. The undertown is where you find the literal and figurative prisons of a place, its dark secrets and hidden longings. You find what a place truly wants to be, and people willing to stand up and do what is necessary to make it happen.

In a musical context, the Undertown is what doesn’t get played on the radio. Music that doesn’t have a face on MTV, VH1 or CMT. It’s music with a connection to personal roots, an absolute absence of disposable music – reverence and relevance where it is due, and iconoclasm where it is required. Bluegrass, folk, Appalachia, Western swing, hillbilly, hick, redneck, rural, Bakersfield, Austin, midwestern, plains, poor, downtrodden, spiritual music. The music that represents the America you don’t see except out your front window, if you bother to look. The America that doesn’t require (or for that matter, appreciate) reality programming.

The Undertown is then, more or less, a battleground. A place where a war is constantly raging; not of flesh and blood, though that too may be consumed in the struggle. No, it is a battleground of the spirit. What is the struggle? In the words of e.e. cummings, “to be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

For many years, I have been a citizen of Undertown. That experience has resulted in a number of different poems and songs, like this:

Late at night it slows a little:
that slow burn right down the middle,
turning progress upside down
and into the sad streets of undertown;

Where nothing’s likely brewing,
and the only thing worth doing
is to swim or else you’ll drown
beneath the current in the undertown;

You think I’m joking? Look around.
Welcome again to undertown.

There is no use in speaking
out against the darkness leaking
into everything that’s found
its way here to the heart of undertown,

and no sure way of knowing,
not much of a good thing going
when they shut the sidewalks down
and turn the lights out here in undertown;

It’s hard to find your way around
Here after dark in undertown.

Outside there’s the sound of thunder;
how long will it last, I wonder?
’til the lost have become found
and take the road that leads from undertown

where there’s no light left burning
to prove that the world’s still turning
any way but straight and down
to bury itself here in undertown.

It may sound funny, but I’ve found
just one way out of undertown.

07 FEB 2007

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The Eyes

Watch the eyes: they reflect scars
that long since faded from the flesh
still mark the hard survivor’s face
with phantom traces, and though less
pronounced with each new moment’s span
can in some lights, and moods, reveal
the inner content of the heart
that needs no words to speak its pain.

Watch the eyes: in caverns not
so deep or treacherous, the lives
of countless treasure-seeking men
have been cut short, or been sold cheap,
their worth exchanged for one more breath,
a single ray of hopeful light,
the trickle of a hidden stream
to quench some secret, speechless thirst.

Watch the eyes: they can reveal
some lost agenda of the damned
that waits in infinite repose
for hapless fools to seek its depth,
and for an instant, finding bliss,
to think it some eternal shore
where ships with ancient tattered sails
find moorage from the wrathful storm.

Watch the eyes: their surface shines
with the mad heart’s reflected wish,
and can reveal to those who look
what purpose drives the mind to live.

24 AUG 2005

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in the undertown around the middle
earthen jars the senseless struggle:
i shall be released from this
before the current pulls me

undertown, around the rooting rockets way
before the dawn of timing, when
our cultured throats scream out so that
the horse-drawn whispers drawl
their quiet haunting innuendos.

in the undertown beside the river
runs the hiding seeking slumber:
i shall be awakened from this
just before the nightmare finds me

undertown, beneath the covered bridges burnt
before the gods of ego’s altar, when
our cultured pearls slide out so that
the tenderloin potential plays
its game of spattered caulking.

in the undertown below the wasteland
roving scarlet head supporters speak:
i shall not believe in this
until the dream has drowned its dead in

undertown, before subtle shaded sadness swells
its mottled cracking smile, and then
our cultured throats slide slow so that
the sword-clamped teeth can grasp
their severed thoughts’ aboutness.


for Memphis

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The Giant Squid

Beware the Kraken, great beast of the seas
that brings grown sailors as one to their knees;
it strikes without warning at things afloat
and makes kindling from the grandest of boats.

Its tentacles latch to our darkest dreams,
and wretch our bright ship’s planks loose at the seams;
the craft that we trust our treasures to keep,
it pulls from the surface down to the deep.

The crest of its beak fills our hearts with gloom
when it surfaces; and its cold mad eye
looks upon us and sneers, as if to say,

“You neglect me and my kind to your doom.”
At such times, even the warm sunlit sky
brings no comfort or happiness our way.

08 MAR 2003

for Live Journal user sara_wolfe

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