Darker Tenders

Look at me with darker tenders in your eyes,
and muddy heart will be dark wine:
Autumn and auburn, holly and shade.
O death, you will yet be jarred,
you will not shut the tasty way.

Now I must study how this invisible fraud
can chime true.

© 2015 by Chris Floyd

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Not in One Realm Only (Moscow Stations)

A primitive field recording (with some technical glitches and skips) of the Shinbone Brothers, Jasper and Hiram, captured at the Catweazle Club, Oxford, England, Sept. 10, 2015. According to archivists, this was only the second time the duo had ever played the song together, the first having been a rehearsal two hours before. Further research shows that “Jasper,” here singing harmony and playing lead guitar, sometimes recorded under the name “Jim Driscoll.” Hiram’s subsequent career, if any, has been lost to history.

At the request of a patron in the audience who said they couldn’t “understand all the mumbling,” below is a transcript of the introduction to the song. And the song.

Hiram: Like Matt said, we are the Shinbone Brothers, from Patton Hollow, Tennessee. This is my brother, Jasper — say howdy to the folks there, Jasper.

Jasper: Howdy!

Hiram: And my name is Hiram.

Jasper: You want this tuner?

Hiram: Naw, I don’t know how to sing in tune. So we’re going to do a song — eventually we’ll do a song — y’all ain’t got to go to the bathroom or anything, have you? — but this song is, like a lot of the old-timey songs we used to sing around the quilting bees and barn dances, this song is about the early 20th century modernist Russian poet — not the same one we sang about here last time, a couple of years ago — [but] Osip Mandelshtam. Now, I know y’all know who Osip Mandelshtam is, because this is a highly educated town, but he was a poet who saw himself in the line of people like Dante and Ovid, poets of exile, who ended up in really strange lands. So that one time me and Jasper did a barn dance — you remember that barn dance over at Lascassas, Jasper?

Jasper: I remember that barn dance, yeah.

Hiram: Anyway, we come out a little worse for wear, as the preacher said to the seamstress as he handed over his trousers. Anyway, I was counting on Jasper getting me home because I was a little bit out of it, but he’d gone off with somebody for some heavy conversation like he always does, so I wandered off, took a wrong turn, and ended up in Russia for a couple of years. So it so happened that it ended up that I walked some of those streets that Mandelshtam had walked and spent time down in the Moscow Metro, the Dantean underworld there. So this song is called “Moscow Stations.” …. I believe I’ve talked so long I don’t remember how it goes …

It was somewhere here that Mandelshtam came walking
A gray and greasy Pravda in his hands
Where Stalin decreed an end to execution
Now that all was well and cheerful in the land

How may we die? he asked, but knew the answer:
The secret shot, the night-blow to the skull
Your Dante torn away by confiscation
The stone gaze of the great Assyrian bull

Kievskaya, Savyolovskaya
Marking off the stations of the cross
Kurskaya, Lyubyanka
The gates swing open and the world is lost

We all know how to die, how should we live then?
He had this answer too, in a few clean lines:
Warm bread, sharp knife, some string to tie your bundles
When they make you drink down exile’s bitter wine

This wisdom was not his, it was much older
From that Roman poet trapped on the Black Sea shore
Where a decree forged like a horseshoe out of iron
Had cast him down and chained him to the floor

Smolenskaya, Belorusskaya,
Marking off the stations of the cross
Taganskaya, Rimskaya
The gates swing open and the world is lost

It was somewhere here that Mandelshtam was walking
Pacing out the rhythm of a poem
To be handed down from one Rome to another
Like an ancient, broken, ever-golden coin

Barrikadnaya, Arbatskaya
Marking off the stations of the cross
Kitai-gorod, Oxotny Ryad,
The gates swing open and the world is lost
The gates swing open and the world is lost

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She Stands at the Door

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In Praise of Boris Pasternak

A couple of items in praise of Boris Pasternak, who was born 125 years ago today. First, my translation of his poem from Doctor Zhivago, “Hamlet”:

A Version of Pasternak’s “Hamlet”

The hour is at hand: it calls the actor.
The crowd grows still as I step through the arch.
There’s the cue: an echo from the future.
I must come forth and give the fated speech.

A thousand eyes, in darkness, throng about me;
Like Roman swords, they’ll pierce me till I bleed.
O if it be Thy will, Abba, Father,
Then take the proffered cup away from me.

For I adore your rigorous conception,
And am content to play my given role.
But these new lines will scorch the throat that speaks them;
This once, I pray, remove me from the bill.

No: I see the acts have all been plotted;
The journey’s end already has been willed.
I’m alone, while the world drowns in falsehood.
Cross this stage, and you cross a killing field.

Next, a musical tribute, a song written a few years ago, recorded here as a rehearsal tape to give to a talented musician, Jim Driscoll, before we did a few songs at a local venue last year:

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The Endless Fight: Can’t Slay the Serpent

Old evils never die.  You think you’re got them whipped — but they spring up again, years or decades (or centuries) later, as virulent as ever.  This cursed 21st century has given ample proof of this, both at home and abroad: ancient ills returning with horrific force, old battles to be fought over and over again. This is also true for the “electrics in our brain,” of course, a pattern of the individual human psyche.

Anyway, here’s our good friends Velma and Pansy the Dancing Horse to tell us all about it. Take it away, folks!

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Trust and Dissolve

guardian dieties

Trust and Dissolve

I took up the Book of the Dead. Reading where it opened.
Who underlined these words, starred these strange passages?
I can’t remember my hand, or my eyes, straying here.
When was this? What did I want to say to myself?
“Know that the blood-drinking deities are meditational deities;
greet them as old friends, trust them and dissolve.”

Picture: Assyrian protective spirits, guarding against evil from any direction. British Museum.

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Shameful Times

Let’s be clear: the US government’s use of torture did not end with the Bush Administration (nor did it start with the Bush Administration); it goes on today, with the approval of Barack Obama, codified and “legalized” in official manuals. The public portions of these documents approve practices that any sane and humane person would classify as torture; however, as Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence testified to Congress, they also contain secret sections on other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which remain classified.

And yet here we are, having a national “debate” on whether or not torture “works” — as if its efficacy, not its inherent, shameful evil, is the main point. Obama has now sent his CIA Director out to defend “enhanced interrogation,” saying it “works,” and “saves lives.” Of course this isn’t true; armies of experts — and years of evidence — tell us that torture doesn’t work; it produces garbage intelligence which wastes time and resources. But what if it did “work”? So what? You know what else would “work”? Taking the child of a “terrorist suspect” and shooting him or her in the head, then telling the suspect you’ll kill another of his children unless he talks. Why don’t we do that as well, if it “works”? It is the exact same logic now being used by the Obama Administration and by all torture-lovers in the old Bush Gang who are all over the airwaves defending the commission of evil acts because they supposedly “work.”

It is hard to believe that America has reached this point, where torture is openly defended by the highest figures in the land, where Americans quiver in fear and happily give up their freedoms and their long-held ideals, their loudly professed morals, and let their government do anything — torture, drone-bomb villages and wedding parties, invade countries on false pretexts, strip-search its own citizens in airports, spy on their every communication, on and on — while the people stand by whimpering, “Do anything, anything you want, commit any crime, take away any liberty, but please please please keep us safe! We’re so scared!” This is what our big rough-tough John Wayne true-blue Americans have come to: a nation of mean-spirited cowards. To think that we have come so far, gone through so much, only to come to this. It’s a shameful, shameful time we live in.

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