A Safer Space – A Valentine’s Poem for My Wife

February 14, 2020

 

This safer space

Where you can breath

Where you can open

Where your back is watched

 

The complexity of existence

Is far from a straight line

No pretty rom com

With a beginning middle and end

As “Here Comes the Bride” plays into the amber sunset

The wounds are real

As are the secrets they conceal

Each stripe a mark of resilience 

What to do with each lived tale

Waiting to be remembered as a lost epithet

 

This safer space

Where you can breath

Where you can open

Where your back is watched

 

Let our bond become a fortress

Where truths be told

And where hearts are bold

A lush garden of ever-growing trees

And where sadness only rests her feet

The beaming face our child

An old photo of grandmother passed

A husband’s holding hand

Proof of a great embrace of love

And chance to finally smell the air so sweet

 

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This safer space

Where you can breath

Where you can open

Where your back is watched

A Dad Love Supreme

May 11, 2017

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There’s a scene in the 2016 film La La Land (Yes, I’ve seen it twice. Wanna make it three times?) where Seb (played by Feminist Ryan Gosling) is trying to explain jazz to Mia (played by Superbad Emma Stone). Mia, like many folks, thinks of jazz as the boring background music you hear in elevators and therapists’ offices. (Just think of the musical bowel movement that is Kenny G.) Seb wants her to know that real jazz is far from boring. In the scene, set in front of a bebop quintet, he explains that jazz is built on tension and conflict, as each musician struggles to express him or herself, to make a solo musical statement, then come back to the melody in a blissful synergy.

I grew up on jazz music. My mom played saxophone and hung out with Louis Armstrong when she was a teenager. Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is woven into my DNA. I could go on, but I’ll just say I saw Miles Davis play live twice and last year got to hang out at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan for a Christian McBride show. I deeply love jazz, so, say what you will about the honky-ness of La La Land, Feminist Ryan Gossling got it right.

Meditations on jazz have been common for the two and half years I’ve been home with Cozy. I’ve had time to think about that moment of soloing and then coming back in to the group right on the beat. There’s bliss in that moment. It’s some type of metaphor. The tenor sax is screaming and the bassist is waiting for the eternal return and suddenly the sum is greater than the parts. There’s some wisdom there for our little trio and the world.

There are lots of new emotions associated with parenthood. It’s genre where divas and rockstars are definitely not needed. I’ve written about the intense fear that is constant. (As I write this I realize I should make sure my daughter is still breathing.) There’s another emotion that is pure jazz bliss, the eternal return.

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Cozy has been in daycare for seven months now, two days a week, Thursdays and Fridays. Those two days each week I try to cram as much soloing in as I can. Some of it is “work” related, including some legislative work down in Salem,  Oregon’s capital. If I have some time, I’ll go to my favorite local bar and have a beer and commandeer the jukebox. Any stay-at-home parent will tell you that this time is vital. But our Cozy is never far from my mind. “I wonder what she’s doing right now? Painting? Napping? Having a secret meeting of the Minnie Mouse Club under the slide?”

So here’s the thing. I’ll pick her up at around 5 pm and the walk up to the daycare, an old church the Black Panthers occupied in the 1960s, is like waking up on Christmas morning every damn time. The anticipation feels like an endorphin rush as I approach the door. Sometimes I sneak in quietly. I don’t want to surprise her, I just want to watch her at play at the end of the day. And that moment she sees me, bam! Everything else stops.

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“Daddy!” she’ll scream. “You came back!” sometimes she’ll say. My own abandonment issues aside, I want her to know I will always come back. I will always come back just for this moment; the moment where there are only two people in the world, my daughter and I. It’s like we are suspended in a purple cloud of happiness. Sometimes I hang out for a little sociological observation. I’ll watch other parents in the same moment. Last week I saw a dad close to tears as his toddler threw herself into his arms.

This must be a universal truth, how parents feel when reunited with their children. It might even be true that Donald Trump could have actually felt that way about his children (before they were old enough to talk about how he would date them). Right-wing and left-wing, anarchists and cops, jazz fans and everyone else with a child has had that moment. As smooth jazz stylist Sting once, during the Cold War, sang, “I hope the Russians love their children too.”

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There’s another great movie scene, the opening sequence in Love Actually (2003). It’s a series of real life shots of people meeting their loved ones in an airport terminal. Boyfriends and girlfriends, grown children and their grandparents, long separated siblings. It’s one of the most powerful things ever captured on film. Actors could never recreate that emotion. Director Richard Curtis had his film crew at Heathrow Airport for a week capturing countless reunions. I remember the audience in tears and the movie hadn’t even really started yet. I know that when I see my dad after a year (or more) apart, in that instance there are no political divisions, just love.

We are so divided right now. We are soloing in our echo chambers. Some of it seems like avant garde shrieking, music to the maker, but baffling to others. (All love to Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders.) I wonder when we will get back to the melody, when the chorus of “A Love Supreme” returns to anchor us in our common place in the cosmos. I’ve been wondering if that parent-child reunion might be the lure. That moment. How do we bottle that moment for the world?

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Probably a better jazz film than La La Land is the recent John Coltrane documentary, Chasing Trane. Coltrane was on a spiritual quest through his music, continually pushing boundaries, trying to connect harmonically with God. Just before he died, at only age 40, in 1967 from liver cancer, he was soloing for hours, literally, trying to find transcendence, a musical offering of complete submission to an ultimate reality. His short quest still captivates the world. As I was driving home from the theater I realized what he was going for, that moment of pure love. I have it every Thursday and Friday around 5 pm.

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The Bebop of Love

February 14, 2017

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A Little Valentines Jazz for My Wife

When love walks in the room

It sounds like chaos

Boplicity

Sheets of sound

Bibbity bop badang dang

 

The first time I saw you I heard trumpets

Louis Armstrong

Heralding the arrival of a saint

Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks filled the room

Bap bap bap bap BAM

 

The horns swirled around my head

The beat was in your hips

I was caught in a madness

Focusing on the drums instead of the bass

Badum baDUM, badum baDum

 

The hard bop can chew you up

Pull you in for the frenzy

Then break your bones

Many will fall off the stand

And retreat to familiar standards

Tooty toot toot yeah yeah yeah

 

I hung in for the ascension

Riding the form to the next stage

Out of the manic comes the spiritual

The combo in complete tonal harmony

Trilla la lee Trilla la la Om

 

Our band became a trio

Finding the groove

A duo backing a soloist

And then coming back in right on time

Dat dat tss bom bom tss

 

Your softness

Your hardness

Your art

Like Miles on a Saturday night

Tee tee tee teeeee

 

You took me from Big Band

to sketches of Spain

with a Cumbia breakdown

Keeping the swing in your hips

Chi chi chi chi cha

 

But the mediations were there all along

A love supreme

Badum baDUM, badum baDum

A love supreme

Badum baDUM, badum baDum

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Here’s last year’s poem: The Song of the Sirens

Dad Love, Pt. 3 – Death and U2

April 29, 2015

Today I’m thinking about how much my life has changed in 30 years. April 29, 1985 was the best day in my life. It was my last day of college classes at Emory University. I was going to be graduating with a double degree in Sociology and Political Science and then heading off to Europe (and Live Aid) before starting grad school in the fall. It was No Business As Usual Day, a national day to protest Reagan’s arms race and I had organized a major teach-in on campus. It was the beginning of my relationship with my first girlfriend, a cool Danish-American freshman named Starla. I was 21.

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But the thing made it the best day ever is the fact that it was the day I played on stage with U2 at the Omni in front of 18,000 people. It’s a long story. I knew Bono from my time in Dublin so everybody thought it was a set up. I just helped him out in a pinch when his “Anybody can be a rockstar” bit on the Unforgettable Fire tour stumbled. They guy he pulled up on stage couldn’t play a guitar. He looked at me in a panic and asked, “Randy, can you do this?” So I played Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” in my hometown with the greatest band on earth. It was the moment every rock fan fantasizes about; to be pulled out of the crowd to join the band and looking back at the masses screaming for you. It was pure rock and roll bliss.

It didn’t hold a candle to the day Cozy was born.

I pretend to understand my brain, but it’s a complete mystery how I could love this kid more each day. From the second I first heard her heartbeat to the moment a few minutes ago when I gave her some smushed up prunes to help her poop, it’s been a unwavering incline of Dad Love. She’s an 8-month-old love factory. Sometimes she presses her forehead against mine and I feel like she is transmitting everything that is good in the universe into me. Bono never did that.

It’s weird to have a fully formed human completely dependent on us. Maybe that’s the evolutionary thing. Like by the time she’s 16 and doesn’t really need us for food and shelter, I won’t give a rat’s ass about her. But at the moment, I can’t seem to get her out of my head. Sure, there are little bits where I groan. Like when she wakes up at 7 am with a big smile on her face, pulling my hair to get the day started. (I thought one of the perks of being unemployed was getting to sleep in!) Or when I’ve done everything I can think of and she’s still crying and I just want to go make a Jack & Coke. But even then I’m madly in love with her.

So that’s where the fear of death comes in. Not mine, hers. There’s just so much horror in the world. There was a story in the local news recently about a 7-month-old boy who died when the baby-sitter purposely cracked his skull. Turn it off. Or the story last year of the Intel worker whose 6-month-old died when he forgot she was in the car at work. Too much to handle.

When Cozy was a newborn, we were watching the 1996 film Trainspotting. I wanted to share Ewan McGreggor man-crush with Andrea. I forgot about the scene where the women with the baby is so strung out on heroin that she neglects her kid in the crib. When she sobers up, the baby is dead. I just turned the film off at that point.

I think about driving and some asshole talking on his or her cell phone runs a red-light and plows into us. In the worst version of that is the car on fire and I can’t get Cozy out of the car seat. This is the shit you think about when you are a parent. I used to think about what band is coming to town. Now I just want to know if my sleeping child is breathing.

When I was a teenager, there was a fad of dead baby jokes. Why did the dead baby cross the road? It was stapled to a chicken. Stupid shit like that. We had a substitute teacher named Mrs. Neely, an older woman. Word got out if you told her a dead baby joke, she would flip out. We would just mutter “dead baby” when she walked into the room to see her squirm. I understand now that she must have lost a child and the guilt I carry haunts me. When people talk about “innocent children,” we were not innocent. We were little sociopaths. I can’t imagine what that must be like and I live in constant fear that it is a very real possibility.

This love is not rational and I guess the fear that goes along with it is not rational either. I’ve known people who have lost children and I don’t understand how it wouldn’t transform you. I think they are heroes for just sticking around. If something happened to Cozy, I think I would just be tempted to say, “Check please! I’m done.”

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But this isn’t meant to be a bummer blog post; just a commentary on how intense a parent’s love for his or her child can be. I just stare at her in disbelief. How did I help make something so perfect? Yeah, playing with U2 was pretty epic. But not nearly as epic as when my I see my lopsided smile on my daughter’s face. That truly rocks.

Note: Using a cell-phone while driving in Oregon is a Class C violation and the penalty can be as high as $500. Hang up and drive, asshole. ORS 811.507

Dad Love, Part 1

Dad Love, Part 2