Night Moves

The sound wandered in at night
as my eyelids were giving up
their fight for life,
that 90’s lull, a dull lullaby
which filtered through cracked bedroom
doors and puffed up the night
with nostalgia for something
I’d never heard before.

Dad used to sit on the bed,
one leg propped, and turn on
the stereo, the only music that
ever filled that shotgun cavern
of ours. The smoke that spilled
out of his room would make
the whole house moan like
a séance to the gods of cheap pickups.

The bluesman gave the tonic
and the shadows in the wood
skipped around with the joy
of an 8 to 5
with 2 sick days.
It was the last call, and Dad
was always ready to fill himself
with anything he could coax
out of that cassette.

And he and Pat had a long talk,
and they always agreed that working
2 hours overtime was worth
2 kids and an overdue light bill.
It was the sound of calloused hands that
made the blues not seem sad anymore.

I lay there in my four-post, two-sheet
bed and listened, and tried
to snatch pieces of my Dad
out of the chords that trailed
out of his bedroom.

-W.B. Hurst

[P.S. – This has been published on a poetry blog called Asphodel Madness! Click here to check it out!]


Cat on a Slab of Cement in the Fall

Leaves mount and rise against the stern
of my vessel. The days tumble
by as my compatriots sink into the soil.

A tail, my rudder, rests in a coil
around me. The ramparts crumble
against the crunch of their crisp spears.

My shield wilts and my helmet
presses into my skull. My battle cries
return to my ears unheard.

A host of the dead gird
my refuge, leering without eyes.
Autumn betrayed my company, my peace.

Note: This is inspired by a true story of a cat stranded in the middle of a yard of leaves. He just seemed so resolute against danger I couldn’t help but enshrine him in verse.


The Negative in the Positive

Why is it that one would find it necessary to compose poetry? It’s just prose laid out in lines and made to rhyme (in a very forced way, one could add). It’s an art form that won’t stand up to the modern age of loud music, rap, and the shot glass version of a news story that is so popular today. Poetry will go the way of classical music, only being enjoyable to a few people who have devoted their lives to understanding it (and who are probably out of touch with everyday people anyway). While I can’t provide a rebuttal to all of these solutions (I’ll save some of them for a later date), I can try to give poetry’s use, and necessity, in my own life.

Poetry is for me a way to formulate problems. Notice I have mentioned nothing about solutions. Solutions are not a necessary part of a poem; if a poem decides to simply pose a problem without a solution, it is not then discarded. Poetry is a way for me to take the problems that arise in life, especially the ones that seem unresolvable and decide to languish in my brain for hours on end, and force them into an organization. If my life presents me with a problem that I have found unresolvable, or that disturbs me to my core, I can take that problem and enclose it in this progression of verse.

To put it simply, I can take this conundrum and say to it, “I know that you have drilled and pounded my brain to mush, and I know you don’t have an answer right now. So I’m going to give you an end by forcing you to get yourself organized (however loosely), and I’m going to resolve you by putting a period at the end of you (in most cases).”

Thus I am left with my problem in capsule-form, something that I can swallow. The truth is that, as humans, we have more problems than we will ever have solutions for. If I were to let these problems fester without ever trying to put them to bed, I would have strung myself up by a wire by now. But can’t this outlook on life make one seem rather “negative”? How do I get out of total pessimism after I’ve admitted that I’m drowning in problems?

One can find in poetry a different reaction to “positive” and “negative” poems, and I would say that they’re not as different in content as some would argue. If one views poetry in the way I’ve presented, then one finds that “negative” poetry (See Charles Bukowski’s Hell is a lonely place) is poetry that merely presents the problem as it stands, but admits that the solution to this problem is not readily at hand. “Positive” poetry (See John Donne’s Holy Sonnet X) is poetry that presents the problem AND solution, but presents them as concomitant in some sense.

So we see that while the results may be different, something “positive” will always include something “negative,” if only inasmuch as it is a response to this negativeness.

Positivity does not deny that the negative exists. It merely presents a response to the fact of the negative. The true positive cannot exist without a truly manifest negative.

I seem to have gone the long way round to get to this, but this is the best defense I can give of my art form and the necessity of its existence, at least in my own life. So give yourself a little breathing room and don’t let those problems get you down.

Through Christ,
Ben


Slats

The sun slid down
the screendoor sky, casting
orange over the brush.
Noah had already trudged
home, leaving Jacob
to decide the fate
of the August evening.

He walked along the path
marking the tobacco from
the corn; stands of old stalks
stood against the horizon,
slightly higher than his
head and older
than he could imagine.

Shoved between sheets
of trees, the corn crib
leaned with the wilting
clouds; Jacob marched
through the clods, ground
beneath his boots.

Yards off from the crib
a voice perked his ears,
rising from the husks,
sliding through the slats, and
dragging bits of earth
with it to the pine canopy.

Jacob crept closer, winding
like a strand of kudzu,
through the black-
berry briars.
The sound rapped softly
against the leaves.
The first word he snatched
out of the air hung
like frost on a pine needle,
“son.”

Curiosity awoke, his slow-eyed dog
and he pressed his ear
against the crib wall
to catch all he could.

“mercy on me
my family. Let my son
know love
let ‘im feel
fear of th’ Lord.
Help me a good father
good husband
to Milly.
water outta rock
in the wilderness”

He pushed down the stalks
of dead corn as he headed home.
He watched Pa eat and wash up
and send them all off to bed
like he’d done each night before.
He lay awake that night, until
the crickets stopped creaking.
The smell of dry husks
made him think of God
still listening between
the slats of a father’s cry.

-W.B. Hurst


Flying with a Mangum (and a Magnum)

This journey is a tightrope over a pit filled with schoolchildren and racehorses. There’s a balancing act, a fire breather, and a bearded lady. There aren’t many ways to describe Neutral Milk Hotel’s music, but a circus always springs to mind when “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1” switches on. Jeff Mangum, lead singer and bandleader of Neutral, has always seemed out of step with the mainstream music industry. Just as well, though, since if he’d gone any further in he might not have been able to surprise the indie world in the way that he did.

Mangum, born in Louisiana at the dawn of the 1970’s, previously played in groups such as Synthetic Flying Machine and Olivia Tremor Control. In 1991, he joined up with buddies Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss to form what would become Neutral Milk Hotel. This, however, would not be the definitive lineup the band would take, since recording sessions were often initiated wherever Mangum found inspiration and a microphone. His backup members often consisted of who was available at the time, and the work of Hart and Doss only consisted of a few efforts in the early 90’s. While he released the LP On Avery Island in 1996, his critically acclaimed work would not come until 1998, with the release of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Jeff Mangum (2nd from Left) Holding an Angel

The album throws so many loops that it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what genre you’re listening to. At first it can seem like folk, maybe even freak folk, and then “Holland, 1945” hits and you’re back in rock ’n’ roll land. Here’s a few samplings of the lyrical content of this kaleidoscope:

“The only girl I’ve ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening, 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone
Now she’s a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames
On empty rings around the sun
All sing to say my dream has come”
-“Holland, 1945”: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

“Goldaline my dear
We will fold and freeze together
Far away from here
There is sun and spring and green forever
But now we move to feel
For ourselves inside some stranger’s stomach
Place your body here
Let your skin begin to blend itself with mine”
-“Oh Comely”: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Now you might be asking yourself, “What kind of inspiration would a man need to be writing these outlandish lyrics?” Let’s here from Jeff on this, “…it ended up being a reference to Anne Frank, too. A lot of the songs on this record are about Anne Frank.”

You heard that right. Anne Frank. After a while of wrestling with the idea, the careful listener begins to connect the dots between Mangum’s reading of The Diary of a Young Girl and the creation of Aeroplane.

Discussing the writing process, Jeff claimed:

“…typically there are little fragments of specific words and images swimming around in my mind, and then at some point, I’ll sit down with the guitar and everything will fall into place. It’s like your brain is a drain with a bunch of words and images dropping into it, swirling around. The drain is stopped up, but you can feel these things dropping into it. Then at some point, someone comes along and pulls the plug out of the drain…”

After a year of touring to support this album, Jeff went on an indefinite hiatus from performing and recording that has lasted ten years. While he has appeared sporadically on stage with a few acts headlined by his closest friends, no one has seen a resurgence of the pre-Aeroplane Mangum since. So, either Mr. Mangum is one of the most innovative and interesting artists of the past 20 years or he’s the most insane. Whichever is true, the legions of Indie fans who view this album as their own Sgt. Pepper will not let him go into obscurity without a fight.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Here’s a bit from Mangum himself. See what you think!

References:

1. Marci Fierman, “Pitchfork: Interviews: Neutral Milk Hotel,” Pitchfork, http://pitchfork.com/features/interviews/5847-neutral-milk-hotel/.

1. Mike McGonigal, “orange twin,” Puncture, http://www.orangetwin.com/nmh_puncture3.html.


Why Won’t Google Give Me Relevant Information

Looks like the webmasters at Google have done it again. It seems that even the most innocuous interrogatives can give you the strangest Google suggestions. Take this, for example:

The Horror!

Now, if this isn’t the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, then I don’t know what could top it. Just attempting to wrap your mind around the meaning for all of this could leave with a mental hangover. If this strangeness wasn’t horrible enough, the suggestion three lines below it is just as bad:

Pakistanis?

The world is full of cruel people, it seems. Folks, don’t drink and google.


Indie Jesus!

https://i1.wp.com/www.dobi.nu/yourscenesucks/indiejesus/scene.jpg

Indie people have recently come to my attention as the “new hippie,” though you could never get away with calling them that to their face. Well, along with the rest of Indie culture, we now have a savior for these mountain men, one who “doesn’t take no crap from the man.” While Indie Jesus may have kept his sacrosanct sandals and beard, he has been given a +1 Sweater Vest of Truth to replace his simple, white robes, and the addition of a vintage belt assures Him that He’ll be accepted at the next Pitchfork staff meeting.

I wonder if He stays up nights listening to Bon Iver? Now all we need is Hipster Paul of Tarsus.