Wednesday, December 04, 2002


The great songwriter Billy Joe Shaver stood on a stage a few years ago, hesitating. He looked a little lost, and started - and then stopped - the show-opening opening chords on his guitar. He stood, still, on the stage. With the audience watching, his teenage son, Eddy, quietly wrapped his arms around Billy Joe from behind, and pushed his father’s hands through the first motions of the song. Billy Joe started again, the band started again, and everything was okay again.

This is as good a time as any to deal with subjects like loss and renewal. It’s almost the anniversary of Townes Van Zandt’s death (Jan. 1, 1997, age 52), and Doug Sahm’s death (Nov. 18, 1999, age 57) is still raw in our minds. Remember, too, for a moment, the world detours of some of the other musicians we lost too soon: Lefty Frizzell (July 19, 1975, age 47), Walter Hyatt (May 11, 1996, age 46), Jimmie Rodgers (May 26, 1933, age 35), Stevie Ray Vaughan (Aug. 27, 1990, age 35), Milton Brown (April 18, 1936, age 33), Janis Joplin (Oct. 4, 1970, age 27), Selena Quintanilla Perez (March 31, 1995, age 23), Buddy Holly (Feb. 3, 1959, age 22).

We don’t need to dwell on the prospect of loss. We do need to remind ourselves from time to time to appreciate moments, to appreciate the introspection necessary for so much of what we call creativity, and to appreciate the moments we share in renewal.

My father played in a state championship high school band, which led to gigs in Kansas City and at the State Fair of Texas. He quit playing to raise a family and got back into music when the kids grew up, or close to it. He didn’t get his first paying gig until he was 50. He traveled around Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana with various bands playing fiddle, bass, piano, steel guitar, and rhythm guitar until he was almost 75. His bands appeared on local TV 13 times. Today, nearing 80, he spends his spare time in the slow process of building a new fiddle, because he enjoys music and he enjoys working with his hands.

Early on, my mother taught me to love words, and eventually I shared my father’s love for music.

It would be too dramatic to say we should approach every moment like Eddy Shaver quietly wrapping his arms around his father to keep the music going. But it’s not too dramatic, nor too cliched, to remind us all that we should cherish the moment. Respect it and savor it. Reach out and touch it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002


hugging G’s hollow skin

the person she is, is missing
inside parchment skin
once illuminated from the inside
(rational insticts,
strong order)

she paints flat angels crying
in her cold apartment

she once fell asleep
in a bottle of absinthe
(symmetry leads
to limitation(s)
physicists in cold labs
slow light to 38 mph;
atoms lose themselves)

time as wind
blowing dreams away
until she ends insane
on Haight downhill from Ashbury,
going to Hell
to find lost souls

Monday, December 02, 2002


Today, I keep distracting myself. Reading a few pages of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” because it makes me feel clean. Straightening up the home office, throwing out some meaningless dust. Listening to a little bit of this CD and a little bit of that one. Just letting my mind wander.

I imagine that time isn't a river. Instead, each of us is a river, and what flows in us – what makes us who we are – is what flows in the river. I imagine time as inert land, with each of us flowing through it. This may not be a new idea, but it’s new to me. I'm still working out the details, like plants and seasons and wind and the other things that move over and in the land, and like erosion of the mountains and the river banks. (Sometimes details don’t matter; sometimes details are all that matter.)

I listen to a gritty CD by somebody named Heather Eatman. The CD is called Real; we are supposed to believe she is angry. She is, after all, a striking young woman in a mini-skirt, fish-net stockings, and boots. Probably a tattoo somewhere on that body. I listen to Gary Myrick’s first acoustic CD, Waltz of the Scarecrow King; the music is moody, introspective. Myrick sings of the ghost of Elvis flying above us throwing rose petals and little cheeseburgers, urging us to rock on. I listen to Sarah Lynn Fisher’s piano and high soprano on her seven-song demo CD, Thank You for Your Time; she is 18, and sings, “I don’t know how to love someone without rendering myself undone completely.”

Today, I suppose I am coming to terms, again, with a muse. Realizing – accepting – that I can’t even listen to meaningful music without remembering a moment long ago, it seems, in a smoke-choked bar – 600 legal toxins writhe in light beamed toward a small, dirty stage – when I knew the world in a glance. When, in a single moment, I touched all souls.

The muse, in the stage lights, was singing about a dream of drowning in herself. I felt connected to her, even before she looked at me. She called my name, in a quiet radiance I felt as much as heard over the sounds of voices and slow-moving ceiling fans. In the audience were: the self-absorbed, hoping to conquer the world; the lost, hoping to be accepted by the world; the insane, hoping to collide with the world; the seekers, hoping to come to terms with the world. I felt a need to hold the lost, the insane, and the seekers, one after the other. To explore each story. I saw flashing red and blue lights, and heard the annoying scream of a siren pass by. And I listened to the song.

I imagine the sun shining on the surface of time, and the moon reflecting. I imagine seeds that turn to plants that grow on time’s surface, like notions that bloom and eventually die. Earth turns, and rivers run. Rivers find their own way before pouring into the sea.

Today, I distract myself with a muse. Learning that what people say isn’t who she is. She is deeper; she is sweet and determined, flowing over stones. Of the dozen muses, she is, perhaps, song. Or, if that is too simple, she is remembrance. Or fate, flowing over me.

Sunday, December 01, 2002


a photograph of a cactus,
a tall, majestic, trident-like symbol
of life in the desert, backlit by sun,
competing with lesser plants
for the same light and moisture

I long for poets’ rants, sharp raised voices rolling heavily off the tongue against one another that I may ignore in some kind of cluttered, arty scene where our families choose us . . .

. . . rants from people who visit bookstores to see if they still exist on cluttered, dusty shelves where we accept the inevitable, where god is between the pages, where god is in the voices.

fleeing artists, returning years later to embrace the darkness of contemplation without compromise