Jam Session —  History Rhymes:  Black Lives Lost, PT. 4

Jam Session — History Rhymes: Black Lives Lost, PT. 4

When we asked Cornelius Eady about Black History Month, he responded by sending us a cycle of songs / poems. Eight in all, Eady named the cycle “History Rhymes,” after the famous Mark Twain quote, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Performed by the Cornelius Eady Trio, this cycle commemorates the injustices and wrongful deaths of many Black Americans. Riff has shared CE Trio’s songs dedicated to Emmett Till, Korynn Gaines, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, many others unfairly incarcerated, and millions ignored and forgotten by America looking the other way. Today’s post, “Turpentine,” looks at the many folks killed during the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 along “Black Wall Street.” Learn more here.

“In addition to being a major poet, Eady is among the most prolific and important contemporary American songwriters. Whether he is working with his eponymous trio, featuring top-rate guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu, or accompanying himself on guitar or dulcimer, Eady is incessantly writing memorable songs that are tailored to our troubling times.” —  John Freeman, The Museum of Americana.

Cornelius Eady TRIO

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

Cornelius Eady so well captures the spirit of RIFF–and especially the topic of “Jam Session”–taking us beyond poetry, beyond music, and into that hallowed place of meaning.

(Eady’s music is) in the vein of Taj Mahal when he’s at his metaphysical best, Keb’ Mo’ when he’s most squarely located at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, or Eric Bibb when he’s at his most soulfully transcendent.” — Joe Francis Doerr

Says Cornelius Eady:

“on old maps, all of the places left unexplored were often marked as ‘parts unknown’ (or ‘here be monsters’). A song for a year [2020] where the term ‘Never seen this before’ has been said far too often…”

Turpentine

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

I could see planes
Circling in mid-air
They hummed, darted
And dipped low

I could hear something
Falling down like hail
Falling down on the roofs

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

Down East Archer St
The Old Mid-way Hotel
Was burning,
Burning from its top

I saw a dozen planes
Maybe more
Darting here and there
Like a crazy flock of birds

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

The flames rose and
Licked its lips
Black Tulsa
Burned down from the top

Greenwood folks was running
With a hell hound on its trail
Had a bark like a
Tommy gun

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

Here’s a postcard
Of a black corpse on fire
Of a black church
Charred to
Pennies.

Black folk shouldn’t get rich
Shouldn’t talk back
Shouldn’t brush
A white woman’s hand

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

I could see planes
Circling in mid air
I knew too well
Where they came from

I wondered, where is the fire dept ?
Why won’t they let the Red Cross in?
Why are the cops standing
With the mob?

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
I paused and waited
For a chance to run
As flames around me
Belched and roared

The planes kept raining
Greenwood straight to hell
And hell was icy cold.

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls.

 

Listen to “turpentine” here.

Twilig(so

parts unknown

 Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Hide yourself
‘hind the Misery Tree.
Milishy man looking
For you and me.

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Like a poem
That can’t find a rhyme
Like a murder
That ain’t a crime

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

President called up his Goons
Said their time
Is coming soon

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Up jumped Karen to
Call the Police
Shoot the protestors
Give ‘em peace

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Hush now, baby,
Hear that sound?
New Jim Crow flying
From Town to town

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Virus come
To sweep you away
Boss man says
That’s OK.

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Meet me by
The misery tree
Wave good bye
To what used to be

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

 

Listen to “parts unknown” here.

 

Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady: Vocal;

Charlie Rauh: Acoustic Guitar & Electric Bass;

Lisa Liu: Electric Piano & Guitar.

Arranged by Rauh & Liu.

“Turpentine” — Engineer & Mix: Tom Gardner.

“Parts Unknown” mixed by Charlie Rau.

 

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady 

Jam Session —  History Rhymes:  Black Lives Lost, PT. 3

Jam Session — History Rhymes: Black Lives Lost, PT. 3

When we asked Cornelius Eady about Black History Month, he responded by sending us a cycle of songs / poems. Eight in all, Eady named the cycle “History Rhymes,” after the famous Mark Twain quote, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Performed by the Cornelius Eady Trio, this cycle commemorates the injustices and wrongful deaths of many Black Americans. We have been sharing two a week the entire month of February. This, our third installment, begins with a song dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bland; the second recalls the “scary,” but transformational year of 2020 in America.

“In addition to being a major poet, Eady is among the most prolific and important contemporary American songwriters. Whether he is working with his eponymous trio, featuring top-rate guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu, or accompanying himself on guitar or dulcimer, Eady is incessantly writing memorable songs that are tailored to our troubling times.” —  John Freeman, The Museum of Americana.

Cornelius Eady TRIO

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

Cornelius Eady so well captures the spirit of RIFF–and especially the topic of “Jam Session”–taking us beyond poetry, beyond music, and into that hallowed place of meaning.

(Eady’s music is) in the vein of Taj Mahal when he’s at his metaphysical best, Keb’ Mo’ when he’s most squarely located at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, or Eric Bibb when he’s at his most soulfully transcendent.” — Joe Francis Doerr  

Says Cornelius Eady:

“[Haint is] A re-recording of a single first recorded with Rough Magic. Sandra Bland, a black woman, was stopped for a broken tail light in Texas. She died three days later, hanged in her cell. She was arrested for asking ‘Why should I?’ when the cop ordered her to put out her cigarette while still sitting in her car. Another cop, commenting on the story on a cable news show, said while the story was sad, her arrest was justified, since talking back to the cop proved she was arrogant.”

      Learn more about Sandra Bland here. 

“Walt Whitman was lying on his sick bed in Camden, NJ, and a biographer, about to leave, and noticing this hoped he’d be feeling better soon. Whitman replied, ‘It is clouded now, hopefully, it’ll pass by.’ A good way, I think, to wind up 2020, a very scary year.”

Haint  (TRIO VERSION)

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

 

I got this ache in my heart

The state of Texas is my host

I got this hole in my soul

The State of Texas made me a ghost

 

And my ghost howls

Woe

 

Now I’m a wandering spirit

My body swings in my cell

When they cut this poor gal down

Who’ll know how I got here?

 

And my ghost howls

Woe

 

Maybe I died by my own hand

Maybe I died by hands unknown

Maybe I was dead

The moment I talked back

Maybe I was dead

‘fore I was born

 

And my ghost howls

Woe

 

Damn the cop

Who damned my black skin

Damn the judge

Who agreed with him

My name’s Sandra Bland

I should be alive

Sass back in Texas

You commit “suicide”

 

And my ghost howls

Woe.

  

Listen to “Haint” here.

Twilig(so

It’ll Pass By

 Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

 “It is clouded now, possibly, it’ll pass by”

                        -Walt Whitman’s last words

                         To biographer Sadakichi Hartmann

 

 

It’s clouded now, but it’ll pass by

All those years

All that blood and tears

It’s clouded now, but it’ll pass by

 

You think you’re down

You’re tougher than the dirt

You think you’re out

You’re stronger than the hurt.

 

You think you’re lost

But your feet’s on the ground

That fog they taught you

Won’t stick around

 

Tried to shoot you down

The buckshot missed your wing

They ain’t got nothing

Can stop the song you sing

 

Hey, America

We’re waiting on you

Say, America

What you gonna do?

 

All those years

All that blood and tears.

 

 

 

Listen to “It’ll Pass by” here.

 

Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady: Vocal;

Charlie Rauh: Acoustic Guitar, Electric Bass, Drums, & Percussion;

Lisa Liu: Electric Piano, Electric Organ, Elect & Acoustic Guitar;

Concetta Abbate: Violin.

Arranged by Rauh & Liu.

“Haint” mixed by Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu. 

Concetta Abbate, String Arrangement.

“It’ll Pass By” mixed by Lisa Liu.

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady 

Jam Session —  History Rhymes:  Black Lives Lost, PT. 2

Jam Session — History Rhymes: Black Lives Lost, PT. 2

When we asked Cornelius Eady about Black History Month, he responded by sending us a cycle of songs / poems. Eight in all, Eady named the cycle “History Rhymes,” after the famous Mark Twain quote, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Performed by the Cornelius Eady Trio, this cycle commemorates the injustices and wrongful deaths of many Black Americans. We will share two a week over the month of February. This is our second installment.

“In addition to being a major poet, Eady is among the most prolific and important contemporary American songwriters. Whether he is working with his eponymous trio, featuring top-rate guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu, or accompanying himself on guitar or dulcimer, Eady is incessantly writing memorable songs that are tailored to our troubling times.” —  John Freeman, The Museum of Americana.

Cornelius Eady TRIO

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

Cornelius Eady so well captures the spirit of RIFF–and especially the topic of “Jam Session”–taking us beyond poetry, beyond music, and into that hallowed place of meaning.

(Eady’s music is) in the vein of Taj Mahal when he’s at his metaphysical best, Keb’ Mo’ when he’s most squarely located at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, or Eric Bibb when he’s at his most soulfully transcendent.” — Joe Francis Doerr

Says Cornelius Eady:

“[‘TWILIGHT IS THE HOUR’ is] A re-recording of a song first recorded by my old band, Rough Magic. Soon after Trayvon’s murder I attended a poetry reading in Bryant Park; all the poets who read there had a poem about him, or the world that allowed this to happen. It was dusk, and the slow glow of the mercury lamps reminded me of fireflies . . . “

(Read the tragic story of Trayvon Martin’s shooting here.)

About ‘Razor Blade’: “A song that started out as my version of a prison work song, until we found out Lisa Liu once spent a summer playing keyboards in a funk band . . . “

Twilight Is The Hour

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

The lamps in Bryant Park glow like fireflies

Duende floats under the trees.

A group of poets sing the blues

To fill in the space where you ought to be

 

Twilight is the hour of the Motherless Child

Another man gone, gone down that lonesome mile.

Twilight is the hour.

 

There’s a tongue we use to let things go

There’s a song that we shake at danger.

There’s a way to wash a body down,

Even if he’s a stranger.

 

Twilight is the hour of the Motherless Child

Another man gone, gone down that lonesome mile

Twilight is the hour.

 

There are words we use to follow a hearse,

A prayer to un-jumble the mad universe.

The poets breathe Trayvon into the wind.

It could happen to you like it happened to him.

 

 It could happen to you like it happened to him.

Listen to “Twilight is the hour” here.

Twilig(so

Razor Blade 

 Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

Capt. tossed me in a box car

Filled it with razor blades

Capt. locked me in a box car

Filled with razor blades

Walked out the next morning

 With a trim and a shave.

 

 Capt. took the fever blanket

 Laid out my dying bed

 Capt. took the fever blanket

 Laid out my dying bed

 Looked so disappointed

 When I raised my vaccinated head.

 

 Nothing ever seem to go

 The Capt.’s way

 Nothing ever seem to go

 The Capt.’s way

 Every time he close the book

 I write another page.

 

Please don’t tell the Capt.

He ain’t ever gonna win

Please don’t tell the Capt.

He ain’t ever gonna win

 

Gets tall as a wall

Look at him fall in the wind.

 

 

 

Listen to “Razor blade” here.

 

Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady: Vocal;

Charlie Rauh: Acoustic Guitar & Electric Bass;

Lisa Liu: Electric Piano & Guitar.

Arranged by Rauh & Liu.

“Twilight is the Hour” mixed by Charlie Rauh.

“Razor Blade” mixed by Lisa Liu.

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady 

Jam Session —  History Rhymes:  Black Lives Lost, PT. 1

Jam Session — History Rhymes: Black Lives Lost, PT. 1

When we asked Cornelius Eady about Black History Month, he responded by sending us a cycle of songs / poems. Eight in all, Eady named the cycle “History Rhymes,” after the famous Mark Twain quote, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Performed by the Cornelius Eady Trio, this cycle commemorates the injustices and wrongful deaths of many Black Americans. We will share two a week over the month of February.

Cornelius Eady TRIO

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

Cornelius Eady so well captures the spirit of RIFF–and especially the topic of “Jam Session”–taking us beyond poetry, beyond music, and into that hallowed place of meaning.

(Eady’s music is) in the vein of Taj Mahal when he’s at his metaphysical best, Keb’ Mo’ when he’s most squarely located at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, or Eric Bibb when he’s at his most soulfully transcendent.” — Joe Francis Doerr

As Cornelius says, the first song, “Mississippi Summer,” came into being as “An imagining of the last car ride of Emmett TilL.” 

(Read the tragic story of Emmett Till’s murder here.)

The next song, “The dead mother,” is dedicated to korryn gaines.

(Read about the shooting of korryn gaines and her son in her home here.)

MISSISSIPPI SUMMER

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

You don’t think it’ll happen

til it happens to you.

You thought what you said meant nothin,

But those tires are comin’ for you.

Mississippi Summer

Chicago boy wakes up in surprise

Mississippi Summer

Now you’re the apple of these old boys eyes.

 

This is the way we make a point

This is how a point gets made

They pull you out a nice, warm bed

And toss you in a watery grave.

Mississippi Summer

They’ve been searching for you for days

Mississippi Summer

Cash you out as the debt gets paid.

 

Now they got you in

The back of the car

They’re laughing and you know you’re the joke

Won’t stop as you start to cry

Won’t stop as your bones get broke

Mississippi Summer

One-way trip under a murderous sky

Mississippi Summer

Rattler’s hunt and the hoot owls fly.

 

This is the way we make a point

When a White gal takes offense

Dirty Negro thinks he’s white

Dirty Negro ain’t got no sense

Mississippi Summer

Emmitt Till won’t see the sun

Mississippi Summer

On the bus to see the way things’ done.

 

Headlights spears on an empty road

Whiskey and hate on their breath

How many miles til the deal goes down?

How many minutes til a dead boy drowns?

Mississippi Summer

Off to meet

Who you’re ’posed to be

The last Mississippi Summer

In D-I-X-I-E.


Listen to “Mississippi Summer” here.

The Dead Mother

 Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

They shot me

For a question

While I held

My child

 

Like a dog

That you put down

When she barks

Too wild

 

My black skin

Was resisting

In a cop’s mad eye

 

They shot me

For impatience

While I held my kid

 

Like a monster

From a swamp

Rising from the Id

 

Surrounded

Defiant

Look at what they did

 

My soul and

Gunpowder

Rising in the air

 

My assumptions

And my boy

Lying wounded there

 

My black skin

Was poison

Was a losing hand

 

Oh people

Good people

See what they have done

 

Smashed my home

And took my breath

And stole me from my son

 

Took my name

And misspelled it

As the crazy one

 

Bring a sharp axe

To the mountain

Tear that mountain down

 

Scream my name out

Like a siren

Though every street in town

 

Don’t bury me

Plant my story

Like a seed in the ground. 

 

Listen to “The Dead Mother” here.

Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady: Vocal;

Charlie Rauh: Acoustic Guitar & Electric Bass;

Lisa Liu: Electric Piano & Guitar.

Arranged by Rauh & Liu.

Mixed by Charlie Rauh.

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady 

Jam Session: 2020 NYE with the Cornelius Eady Trio

Jam Session: 2020 NYE with the Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady offered this wonderful piece to RIFF just before Thanksgiving. Happily, we share it now as we look back and also forward. Many of us found 2020 to be a trying year, and, yet, as we move into 2021, even with “sharks circling the raft,” we still have a lot for which to be thankful. Challenges always force us to grow, whether we want to or not. The poetry of this song brings so much to heart, opening us to a New Year with readiness to face the future.

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

How to be Thankful

I had read once, in some dim interview, a long time ago, that Bob Dylan had written one of his great early songs, either “Masters of War” or “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” in a hurry.  This was around 1963 or 64, the Cold War was heating up in real fast, and that was impacting his writing: get it done now, or you might not have another chance.

Maybe I got the details wrong, but I do remember the urgency of his answer, and this song of mine, “Thanks,” was probably written from the same sense of the days ticking down towards something unpleasant, in this case, the Corona virus.

This was at the height of the first round; in the Spring of 2020, when the beds in New York were filling up, the refrigerator trucks were pulling up at the hospital loading docks for the overflow of bodies, the streets were bare, terms like “rush hour” were almost quaint, and everyone was guessing and mainly getting it wrong; you didn’t need to wear a mask: you did need to wear a mask; it was only sweeping away the old like a Darwin Broom; it was plucking kids from the rest of their youth.

What I noticed at a certain point was the arrival of text and phone calls from people I hadn’t seen for a long while—just to hear your voice, just to catch up, just to know if you were still vertical.

And it occurred to me, for the first time—our apartment in New York is only a mile or so away from the World Trade Center—that this might be something that could drift quietly into our door and lives, and detonate everything. “Thanks” was one of a series of songs I wound up calling “Pandemic Folk Song,” mainly written between mid-March and August, recorded remotely with my Folk Trio—myself, with guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu. The first four stanzas were for my wife—just in case. The others are for what came through the phone and WiFi.

As Joni Mitchell (and William Bell) wrote, you don’t (miss) know what you’ve got (your water) till (the well) it’s gone (runs dry). Or as Woody Guthrie wrote as the dust bowl rolled towards your town like an angry, drunken fist, it’s probably good manners to turn to the person you’re about to die with and say, “So long, it’s been good to know you.” Just so they won’t leave this world wondering.

 

Thanks

        Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

If we don’t make it out of this one,

If the clouds burst and sweeps us away

If the game gets called on count of darkness

And the clocks run down today

 

If it’s high noon at the honeymoon

If sooner or later is here

In case it was missed between our kiss

Or said out of shout of your ears

 

Thank you, baby

Thank you friend

Some things come and go

Some things never end

 

It’s the bottom of the ninth

And two men out,

The sharks are circling the raft,

Me and you, we had a good ol’ time

We put some pins on the map

 

So if the Devil is calling the tune

And world is learning the dance,

A tip to the hand that pulled me along

When the odds weren’t even a chance

 

Thank you baby

Thank you, friend

Some things come and go

Some things never end

 

The cold flames that still hold a spark

The errors and regrets

The pal that grew up away from your eyes,

The grown up you never met.

 

The restless souls you could not hold

But left a spark in you,

The wonder ifs, and Auld Lang Syne

Time to get a message through:

Thank you baby,

Thank you, friend

Some things come and go

Some things never end

 

The phone rings, the text bell dings

It’s old so-and so

You haven’t seen hide nor hair

For 30 years

They just have to let you know.

 

A long-distance toast before we’re a ghost

Before things turn severe

If you die before they wake

They just have to make it clear:

 

Thank you, baby,

Thank you, friend

Some things come and go

Some things never end.

Listen to  THANKS here

CE: Vocal; Charlie Rauh & Lisa Liu: Acoustic Guitars; Erik Alvar; Electric Bass. Arranged by Rauh & Liu. Mixed by Lisa Liu.

 

LIFE Coach: A Literary Exchange Between NICK CARBÓ and RICK MOODY

LIFE Coach: A Literary Exchange Between NICK CARBÓ and RICK MOODY

This stirring exchange between two gifted wordsmiths, one a poet and the other a novelist, shows how the power of language can easily usher a centuries-old epistolary style into the digital age with intimacy and grace. 

Rick Moody to his FaceBook friends — June 9, 2019: 

As some of you know, I operate occasionally as Rick Moody, Life Coach. My theory is that those who have sometimes botched life are in the best position to celebrate those who are doing a better job. As it happens, I need some new letters to answer. I have run out of letters. So if you’re in need, send me a letter here. My only caveat is that I REALLY think long and hard about this stuff, so sometimes it takes me a while to reply. But I attempt to answer every single request, in some fashion. 

Hey Rick, 

Here’s my letter to life coach: 

Three straight months earlier this year in the hospital, along the way a five-day coma because of renal failure, also amputation of remaining leg, then MRSA infection. Back home now and doing four-hour dialysis three times a week (Tue-Thu-Sat). Occasional incontinence, fatigue most of the day. Diabetic neuropathy–a constant pain in hands. 

So when do you say it’s time to stop all this? As a writer I’ve flirted with all that Thanatos crap and find that writers are so self-centered that they can’t see what’s just about to hit them. 

So, life coach, is life worth it at this stage?

Nick

June 9, 2019 

Hey Nick,

I’m putting you in front of the line. Count on an answer. I want you to know herewith, in public, how much love and respect I have for you and your work. I am so sorry for the suffering. Your note is immensely poignant and powerful, and I will answer in kind.

More soon,

Rick

July 1, 2019

First, as I have said elsewhere, I want to say how much I love your work, your moving, cranky, funny, profound, uplifting, tragicomic, hilarious, beautiful, human work.

My experience of your work, at first—which must have been around or between your books El Grupo MacDonald’s and Secret Asian Man, when I knew you and your then-wife, Denise—was that you were part of a group of poets, who, for me, revolutionized American poetry. In this group I would also put Campbell McGrath, and Cathy Bowmanand Dean Young, and Hal Sirowitz, etc. Wherein an accessible poetics was mixed with humor, and a sense of experiment; a kind of dense dissatisfaction and melancholy hovered around the edges, too, an indictment of Americana that was welcome, even as Americana was sort of the incubator of the work. 

I think you were the first person in the nineties I knew who was online as much as I was in those days, and I had a sense, through you and your cultural critique, that poetry was going to become a thing online.

Your work and Denise’s work and the work of these others made poetry an endeavor that all readers could delight in, and it was in every medium, in every container, and it didn’t require training in hazardous materials. There didn’t need to be a secret language, or an insider code that only the really academic writers were allowed to crack. 

I didn’t relate to the academic poetry, but I related to yours, I could locate the feelings, the melancholy celebration of it. And now that I am in a family of Asian American writers, it is even nearer to me, your model and its influence.

I love your work, and because of it, I have always loved you, from afar, as your fellow toiler in the depths, as a fellow writer who traffics (at least some of the time) in the comic. If there is a thing that lasts and endures beyond all the suffering you have been dealing with recently, it is the legacy of your work, which, however oblivious you were to the coming storm (and, as you note in your letter, this is the common lot of writers), the work is there, and it is rich in figures and metaphors andbeautiful turns of phrase, and wherever you are now that work is still kindling something in me, and I’m sure it will ever be thus.

This morning I just punched you up on the Poetry Foundation web site, and there are bunch of good pieces to be found there. This link is for the people who need to know: Nick Carbo. “Little Brown Brother,” with its welcome indictment of Hollywood war machinery, is especially excellent.

But I also really loved “For My Friend Who Complains He Can’t Dance and Has a Severe Case of Writer’s Block.”

The first line, Then, take this tambourine / Inside the sheep barnis electrifying, so deep, so right at the heart of what we are doing when we attempt to speak to writing, to the act of it. To me sheep barnas an image is just very unexpected and satisfying.

In a way you are making a case for the way writing is disseminatory, the sheep being an image of dissemination in, for example, the parables of Jesus of Nazareth, though the use of barnmakes of the shepherding business a more modern one, one in which ownership of property is a feature of the enterprise.  

We could also speak to the image of the tambourine” in this line as relating to Dylan’s song of the same, which some people think was about Gene Clark, the singer in the Byrds, who only played the tambourine in the band, and whose words were always so full of melancholy hues:

“Nowhere is/There warmth to be found/Among those/Afraid of losing their ground.

When Clark was asked to comment on “Eight Miles High” being banned because of drug references, he made a comment about poetry having more layers in it than that, and that is true of your poetry as well. From the sheep barn you go to the “anaconda’s intestines” (and both are incredibly interesting poetical words—I think “anaconda” is a ditrochee, and “intestine” is an amphibrach), and from there across a sprawl of great and imaginative images, including Kahlo’s hair, Garcia Lorca’s leather shoes, Chaucer’s liver, Anne Sexton’s face, etc.

The poem finishes with the lovely couplet: “Never feed your towel to the alligator, because he will eat you and eat you and eat you.” The loss of the towel, it seems to me, leaves the friend naked, where one often is after writing, and then the repetition of “eat you” burlesques the Frost of “Stopping by Woods.” Somehow the alligator also reminds me of J. M. Dent’s There’s an Alligator Under My Bed, which is itself a variant on Jung’s famous injunction about the lion in the basement, and how all of us will have to encounter the lion in the basement at some point, if we are to grow, and accordingly all the ages of humankind, of maturation, are there in the poem.

If “For My Friend” is about how to achieve an end to writer’s block (and also an injunction to dance) it is beautiful because it is a gift, and right now it is a gift for all, because anyone can read this poem online.

But it is a gift that is achieved through a pile up of highly imaginative and oblique images. How is the “river insect’s neon calligraphy” secret? What is the certified blue turtle? I could work on these images as I have worked on others above, but what I would amass is a system of allusions that say, in effect, that dance and language are one, and that writer’s block is resolved in nakedness and in facing one’s fears, and in the simple amassing of images, even images that are not rhetorical, but are automatic in the surrealist sense.

Everything about this gift of yours is wonderful, is funny, and humane, and sympathetic, and never is the advice condescending; on the contrary, one confronts the possibility that the poem is autobiographical, too, and that the gift is to Nick Carbó, or that he is a co-recipient, that the reminder is to the author of the poem about the matter of poetry, but the great force of the gift is simply in its status as gift, and as poem as simple item of exchange between friends.

A poem, in this matter, is a thing right at hand, that we might give to those we love, in times of need.

You ask me, Nick Carbó, author of these lines, if it is worth persisting, materially, when faced with the very significant amount of suffering that you are confronting, and my first response to this is simply that if I could take from you your suffering, I would. That is, the fact of your request, and the place of your request, a public setting, brings out this intense wish to want to shield you from what you are going through, the repetitions of it, and the apparent boundlessness of it.

I mean, it’s not possible to read your note and not feel tremendous sympathy and compassion, even in the obvious conundrum that your suffering is of such a cast that it’s beyond my experience, personally, and probably beyond the experience of what many people who read your note have felt. But, despite all the trouble in the world (and there sure is a lot of trouble these days), the feeling surges forth, and that is the feeling in which one cares deeply for a friend in a bad time 

A couple thousand miles are separating us right now, I think (I’m in Providence, Rhode Island, this morning, parked in front of a UPS store, and it’s raining torrents.) And our stories are pretty different, in that you were raised in the East, and in languages that I mostly don’t know, but in a moment of crisis little of that matters. Certainly it doesn’t matter to me right now, and it doesn’t matter in part because of the ache and clarity of your voice. Which means that language, and writing, can still do things. 

Here are some things I have seen this week.

I saw an extra large skunk in the backyard, over by the beech tree, and I had to run my son in the door as fast as I could get him, and told him not to look back. And I saw an oriole hightailing it over to the neighbors’ bird feeder, the next morning, so bright it was almost in neon. I watched a brass band play an “extinction protest” in Boston the other day. I picked up my son’s birthday cake at the grocery store on Sunday morning. It was one of those big flat ones, and the bakery lady was really laughing about how well the cake came out, what with its strange wish list of icons: astronauts, dogs, and vegetables (!). In this spot in Providence, where I’m parked, it used to be kind of desolate, when I lived here in the early eighties. But now it’s got a lot of Mexican food, and the UPS store, and a breakfast café joint called Olga’s. I can see the cars streaking along the overpass on I-95. Those people are on their urgent business, otherwise why drive in heavy rain.  

I offer this list, dear Nick, to tell you that there are still possible, even in your darkest hours, perceptions, of just the kind you store up in the poem I’ve quoted above, that are the signs that a person was there, an observer who saw, and felt, and believed, and made a mark. I am sure there are a lot of times now when you feel otherwise, when writing is the last thing you can do, but you wrote me your letter, and I have seen, in these last months, that even when you were in the most trouble, you still managed to get out a few lines. And in every one of these cases, Nick, I have felt the familiar warmth and wisdom of your voice, as I do here.  

“…the world should be arrayed in such a way that mercy is possible, likely…”

I would never be the one, ever, to tell a person that he has to stay here on earth, if he doesn’t want to stay. And having had the disease of depression, as I have, I know that sometimes people leave–they have to leave–because leaving is less painful than staying. I respect this decision, and I still feel grief. We probably both know any number of writers for whom this has been the case. I think the world should be arrayed in such a way that mercy is possible, likely, easy to come by—a mercy that we extend, for example, to our pets, when their suffering is great, but which we deny our human friends, or else we tie them up in unnecessary knots. I hope that when my suffering is great that a friend will say to me that it is okay to feel like going, that it is okay to relinquish this place and these associations, and this material self, and to go, and there doesn’t need to be regret about doing so. I think all these things, Nick, and I’m sure I would only feel these things more if I were in your position. 

But I can think all these things and still want the world to have Nick Carbó in it, still want his voice and world view, still want the sound of his tambourine, and his recollections and perceptions, and not just the work, but the potential for more work, and I don’t think that this is a selfish feeling, or a feeling that you are obliged to entertain, or at least I really hope that you do not feel in any way obliged, because that is not the way I am trying to formulate my line of reasoning here.  

Rather I am trying to give you a sense of what others of us may think, what our love feels like, and the untapped potential for you, and your essence, your Being, in the world, even if in pain and badly compromised, and in and out of the hospital in Corpus Christi.

Even in your incredibly difficult state, as the letter shows, there is still language, and still the framing up of some beautiful edifice of words, there are still the glassy shards of your critique of this tragicomic world, and your situation within it, and I can still feel it, even out front of the UPS store, from 2,000 miles away. And if you feel you have to go and there is no other way to deal with what you have in front of you, I will respect that decision, and still grieve, but if you want to know why bother to hang on, I can think of a hundred reasons, and then a hundred more, and each one is a poem, and it doesn’t matter if it has two words in it, or if you have to have it read back to you because you can’t read very well, or whether you have to dictate it into your phone, it doesn’t matter. 

Those one-hundred poems, which are one-hundred reasons, and the hundred more, will be glorious, and they will be even more glorious for your having hung on just a bit longer to make them, for your having written what you wrote in your letter, and then hung on a bit longer to make a few more scribbles, of whatever kind, hieroglyphs, film poems, chalk marks on paving stones, crosshatchings on the arm of a wheelchair, or whatever it has to be, from whatever state of consciousness, if you want to hang on, to see what there is to be seen from where you are, then I think that is beautiful and has a sort of electrifying power to it, like it comes from the place of urgency that isn’t known to all of us waiting in line at the UPS Store or at Starbucks, how you are in your place of reckoning. 

You are brave, and you are a good man, and your journey has been exemplary, and you have made the world better, and not just for writers from the Philippines, or for Asian writers, or for Asian American writers, though you have certainly done that in a way that should be the envy of all, but you have made American literature better, and world literature better, and I won’t ever forget that, and as your life coach, today, I say take a few notes, from wherever you are, we will all be happy to read them, ever your happy audience, and then tomorrow you can reassess again, at which point I will be delighted to repeat the above, if it helps.  

With love and respect,  

Rick Moody 

July 2, 2019 

Hey Nick,

I’m sure hoping that I didn’t send something that hurt your feelings in any way, because I was trying 100% to do the opposite. If you hate it, and want me not to publish, I can…

More soon,

Rick

July 3, 2019

Hey Rick,

I thought / felt it was awesome! You earned your “Life Coach” badge with this one, and I’m honored you put much thought into this.

Publish right away!

Had appointments all week with docs and labs so could not respond sooner. Let me insert my own reference with Kazantzakis’ last scene of the movie version of Zorba the Greek where Alan Bates turns to Anthony Quinn and says “teach me to dance.” So along the desolate seashore we hear the bouzouki strings of the Theodorakis song and they dance. Quinn responds to Bates “I have so much to tell you—I’ve never loved a man more than you.” It can happen with two straight guys and your letter shows that loving spirit which, in the end, one can only dance to.

For a guy that has had his lower legs and two feet amputated, I ask you to teach me to dance. I have a great imagination.
Thanks deeply,

Nick

Ricky Moody

Ricky Moody

Author and Life Coach, RICK MOODY, is best known for his 1994 novel The Ice Storm, which was made into an acclaimed film directed by Ang Lee. His latest book is The Long Accomplishment. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, the Aga Kahn Award from the Paris Review, and many other honors.