September 7, 1999
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212
I don’t have the kind of temperament that burns out young – I’m a late bloomer. I hope to be painting when I’m 90 years old. – Alex Colville
I’m sitting here by the lake on the edge of Toronto but I’m thinking of the river on the edge of Ohio. How many days until we meet there?
I’m thinking of some words to a song that Karin and I recorded a few autumns back but never performed or played for anyone. I’m surprised that I can remember it so clearly. I’m tossing you these words like the first handful of yellow leaves I saw on the ground the other afternoon in Ottawa.
Come every frail September
with its flush of naked fire
there’s a child that I remember
(like an almost imperceptible change in the weather)
she left me standing far away
back somewhere on a different day
Was it you that said
with a needle and thread
I could mend the tear in the world
stitch it up like a ruffian’s face
dance under clouds of diaphanous lace
while the moon grows round
in her hand-me-down crown
full of ghosts out of our past
HEY ALL YOU SLEEPWALKERS
the dreams they seldom last until September
it’s no ordinary world
she’s no ordinary girl
(This may make no sense at all without the music. Maybe we’ll give it a maiden run at Coney.)
The clouds up here above the lake are wispy and silk-spun and plain as day are the silhouettes of two angels, their arms outstretched as if reading secret maps as they fly face down across the sky above the lake. Plain as day right here in Canada. What next?
A dark honey-skinned couple. She’s wearing a white shroud and holding a wrapped baby. They pause by the fountain and he asks if I’ll take their picture. I approach them with my Midwestern grin. Her nose is pierced with a small but intricate piece of gold jewelry. She says nothing, but smiles once. I frame them in front of the fountain and freeze a moment of their lives for them.
I heard something the other day in a song on the radio about what we end up with. Two dates on a tombstone and a tiny dash between them. The tiny dash in the marble between the two dates is your gift to yourself and the world.
I think of my life and the days I feel like my only gift is to make a mess of things–my only calling to be a failure. And I sit here and I think, “I have to try harder. I have to do better. I have to get closer and go deeper. I have to help you and you have to help me. We don’t have a choice. The tiny dash in the marble between the two dates is everything.”
These confounded clouds. Now there’s a different angel, face down across the sky with billowing hair above the lake and two arms raising a long trumpet to her lips (this is such a cliché) but there she is plain as the dying day anyway. I know you won’t believe me but the clouds up here are purple and lavender and lilac this evening and entertaining angels unaware. And in the time it takes to write the words down it’s all a lie because now the clouds are all becoming medieval with ancient orange and the sky behind is Maxfield Parrish hushed turquoise. And I’m not joking, a white clipper ship appears on the water with seven sails and families of blackbirds slowly circling as if somebody is pulling all the strings grinning and we’re supposed to just sit back and watch the show in disbelief.
Maybe we’re not supposed to try harder. Maybe we’re just meant to be together. There are moments when I can only hope so. One day we’ll be humming our songs in real time living what we can’t put into words.
Down by the river we’ll reconcile.
Over the Rhine
Coney Island Moonlight Gardens
Saturday, September 11, 1999
Special guest: Niki Buehrig formerly of Plow On Boy
Tickets $10 at Ticketmaster outlets or $12 at the door
All ages welcome.