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Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.

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Poetry

seasons 

The babe looks up

and doesn’t know.

The child sees the

sunshine and believes all.

The boy runs ahead

and ignores the peril.

The girl sees the future

but keeps her hope.

The woman knows better

and carries on.

The old man rests

and finds peace.


 copyright 2017, joseph e bird

 

Brace against the cold.

Dolly Sods 1 (small)

It was a grey day, fitting for a place like Dolly Sods.

It’s not easy to get there.
It’s not easy to climb over the rocks.
It’s not easy to stand there, braced against the cold wind, and take in the views.

The best things in life are seldom easy.


Dolly Sods Wilderness is part of the Monongahela National Forest in north-central West Virginia.

the gentle assault

sunday afternoon
at the home on top of the hill,
the first of two.
trying to make small talk
with the neighbor we never really knew.
but he can’t speak
and the effort is unrewarding
for any of us.

down the hall
we smile at the new faces,
say hello to the old.
the old man who used to
believe he owned the home
and offered help to visitors
now sits and mumbles to himself
and stares ahead.

our friend is awake
but looks so frail.
she remembers and talks
though all is not clear.
we offer snacks and she says
put them in the drawer
which is now full of unopened
packages and soft drinks.
thanks for coming,
and we leave.

we drive two hours
to the top of a mountain
where these homes always seem to be.
an alarm whistles and never stops.
down the hall a man screams
and screams
and screams
ignored by all because
nothing can be done.

my brother asks for a cola
which we have brought,
and applesauce and pudding.
on the other side of the curtain
a football game is in double overtime.
a man in bed watches,
his son sits in his wheelchair.
a lady also sits in a wheelchair
not knowing if she belongs there.
and down the hall the man screams.

it’s an hour before supper
and meds are being distributed
and laundry dropped off
and cleaning, always cleaning
of the spills on the floor.
we leave the room and pass doorways
where sounds and smells and sights
we don’t want to experience
gently assault.

through the over-sized door
and into the courtyard
that is seldom used
because in this courtyard
you can’t light a cigarette.
there are plants and flowers
and hummingbirds and sculptures
and the quiet hum of the air conditioners.
there are no smells no desperate souls no screams.
a breeze blows in from the mountains
and there is peace and
we pray and give thanks
for all that is good.


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

 

the secret hidden

close your eyes
so you don’t see
the browning leaves
or the yellow ones
that have fallen

and

cover your ears
so you don’t hear
the dry grass
or the leaves crunch
beneath your feet

and

ignore the scents
of the pumpkins
and spice
that sing of
the last days of harvest

and

feel the warmth
of another summer day
that burns the skin
and brings forth sweat
so late in its glory

and

dream again
of all that is possible
and what you can do
and who you can love
in this gift of a day

and

think little
of the secret
hidden in the breeze
from the mountains
which portends the future

and

worry not
of the chill that will be
or the winds that will howl
for today it is warm
and that is enough

 


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

The cabaret was quiet, except for the drilling in the wall.

Remember when you used to sit and listen to music with your headphones on, the 12″ x 12″ album cover in your hands as you went track to track? You’d be mesmerized by the cover art. You’d study the liner notes. You’d follow along if the lyrics were printed on the cover. After a few days, you’d know every song by heart.

No. Most of you don’t remember because that was before your time.

But back to our story.

The festival was over. The boys were planning for a fall.

Something’s up. Then we’re introduced to the ringleader.

He was standing in the doorway, looking like the Jack of Hearts.

Back in the golden age of vinyl, songs didn’t have be under three minutes. And everyone knew that serious music, serious songs, ran at least five minutes. Those were the songs you never wanted to end. American Pie comes to mind.  Chicago’s Ballet for a Girl from Buchannon ran a glorious thirteen minutes.

Backstage the girls were playing five card stud by the stairs.
Lily drew two queens, she was hoping for a third to match her pair.

It was always best if you were alone. Total absorption into the music.

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine.

If you wanted to hear a track again, you’d have to wait. You can’t (or shouldn’t) pick up the tone arm and place the stylus in the same groove that had just played. You’d risk distorting the vinyl and degrading the sound quality. You had to let the grooves cool.

Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town.

You had to let the grooves cool.

You couldn’t wait to play the song again, but you had to. Made you want to hear it that much more.

The hanging judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined.
The drilling in the wall kept up, but no one seemed to pay it any mind.

And those songs would tell a story as good as anything you ever read in a book. No music videos, you had to paint the scene in your head. You were the casting agent, the set and costume designer, the director. It was all yours. You just had to follow along.

The story I’ve been telling is a Bob Dylan classic, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, more than eight minutes long.  It had hidden in my memory until it came up on my Pandora station during a four-hour trip yesterday. It’s a great driving song.

I won’t tell you what happens.  If you want to know, click the link below. But wait until you can listen without distraction.  It’s just better that way.

She was thinking about her father, who she very rarely saw.
She was thinking about Rosemary, she was thinking about the law.
But most of all, she was thinking about the Jack of Hearts.

 

 

When Clara met Harry.

My old school.  No, not my class.  I’m old, but not that old.

I spent half of my first grade year at the old Central School, which was an elementary school by then. In the photo above, it was the high school in my little town of St. Albans, West Virginia.

Freshmen Nuts, the banner says. Kids being kids, trying to be outrageous for their class photo. Front and center is Sarah Wilson, dressed like a baby with her baby bottle.  The others I can’t really figure out. Behind Sarah is someone in what used to be called a “dunce” hat, which was sometimes used to humiliate misbehaving students. Oh, the psychological carnage inflicted in those days.  To left of the dunce, a student is very proud of whatever he (she?) is holding. Wish I could see it. I’ll bet it’s good.

Then there’s the fiddle player. Kind of looks like a girl to me. She’s holding the fiddle comfortably, knowingly, as if it’s more than just a prop. Like she’d be tearing into Turkey in the Straw at the square dance on Saturday night with her guitar playing father and banjo picking brother.  Her friends would think she’s odd and make fun of her.  Then, in her senior year, a new family from Huntington would move to town to help build the railroad. The oldest son, Harry, is Clara’s age. (Yes, her name is Clara. How do I know that? I’m a writer. I think Clara suits her.) The other kids don’t want much to do with Harry because he’s new and he comes from money. And then there’s Harry’s good looks. He’s just intimidating. Except Clara doesn’t care. He’s the new outsider. She’s been an outsider as long as she can remember.

There’s something about Clara. You can see it in the photo. Harry sees it. She’s no-nonsense. Straightforward. Not afraid to speak her mind.

“You play the violin very well,” he says.

“It’s a fiddle.”

“Yes, of course. I took piano lessons when I was young. Learned a little Brahms. Some Liszt.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you ever play any classical music?”

“I’m a fiddle player. I don’t care much about those guys.”

“Uh-huh.”

On the platform behind her, her father plays the first three chords of the next song.

“Got to go.”

She turns to take her place, fiddle under her chin.  She looks back.

“Can you dance?”

Before he can answer, she’s ripping off the intro to the next song, smiling at Harry.

.

Then again, it’s entirely possible that the person in the photo is a guy. But that’s another story.

 

Savannah

new york

you want to be
where the lights are so bright

where life lives on
through the night

and songs fill your heart
with delight

oh Savananh
is that where you’ve gone
my Savannah
i’ll see you at dawn

carolina

i know the sand
and the beaches call for you

the warm sunshine
and soft breezes, too

a time to reflect
and renew

oh Savananh
is that where you’ve gone
my Savannah
i’ll see you at dawn

i’ll pack my bags and be on my way
drive all night and into the day
grab some coffee, put gas in the car
if i could find out where you are

california

where dreamers go to find
what might be

and watch the sun set
by the sea

leave their troubles behind
and be free

oh Savananh
is that where you’ve gone
my Savannah
i’ll see you at dawn

i’ll pack my bags and be on my way
drive all night and into the day
grab some coffee, put gas in the car
if i could find out where you are


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

How to win a Nobel Prize for Literature

In the early 1960s Bob Dylan heard Robert Johnson for the first time.

“From the first note the vibrations from the loudspeaker made my hair stand up. The stabbing sounds from the guitar could almost break a window. When Johnson started singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor.”

In his book, Chronicles, Volume One, Dylan comes across not as a musical genius, but as a man who was always doubting, always searching, always trying, always learning. When the music of Robert Johnson shook his soul, he needed to know why. Dylan had this to say:

“I started meditating on the construction of the verses, seeing how different they were from Woody’s [folksinger Woody Guthrie]. Johnson’s words made my nerves quiver like piano wires.”

Of course there is some measure of genius in Dylan, but it wouldn’t have come forth had he just sat back and waited for inspiration. But he didn’t have to be told that creativity involves hard work, because part of the reward of being creative, is in the toil it takes to create.

“I copied Johnson’s words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction – themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease.”

And this:

“I didn’t have any of these dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them.”

And look where it took him.

 

one more moment

rain sunset 1 for web

In this time
just after dawn
I can smell the dew
lifted from the grass
by the early morning sun
as the birds call
to one another
and the cool air
moves across my face.

My coffee is never better
and the peace never so serene
and the problems so far away
in this time just after dawn.

Time is limited
and there are
words to write and
songs to sing and
work to do and
people to see so
I have to move
from here
and get about
the business
of getting about.

Even the robins will
fall silent
and the wind
will be still
and the grass
will dry
in the heat
of the day.

And the pavement
will burn
as the trucks
roll past
and the heels
will click
in the heat
of the day.

So one more
moment
in this time
just after dawn.


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

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