For Erin. October 30th, 2012
We drive into the storm from the west, at eighty miles an hour. My vision swims out the window through the current of horizontally speeding flakes to the swath of land beyond the road shoulder. There the snow falls unhurriedly and vertically, settling onto the fingertips of skinny trees. I stuff my feet beneath my thighs to keep warm and watch the pines scrape through the low-lying clouds. I feel the sensation of combing my own mental mist and untangling neural pathways, like brushing my hair before bed.
"The DUTY of an artist is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," an audience member tells me after the last show of the tour. He is tall and authoritative with a gray ponytail and burning coal eyes. He holds a glass of red wine that swells dangerously close to the rim when emphasizing the word 'duty.' He puts his other hand on my shoulder and repeats the quote, slower this time.
"I believe that!" I yelp after he's done. "And I am dead serious." I wish I had a glass of wine to swell on the word 'dead,' but I don't, so I put my hand on his shoulder and hunch toward him, dipping my forehead down and widening my eyes for effect. We are in a grid lock of seriousness. "that's exactly what I believe, Sir."
"Well that's what you're doing." He said. "That's just what you're doing." He pivots on one heel and marches off.
I am definitely trying my damnedest, anyway. That is my wish. To make beautiful sounds for the brokenhearted and sudden shouts for the suburbanites.
We pull into the drive. I'm surprised we made it without chains. The house is cold, left in a hurry. We unpack very little in the storm. Just the instruments, the pillows. The unfinished adobe floors are slabs of ice underfoot. I sit momentarily on the sofa and chuckle at my cloud breaths before finding a flannel and building a fire. Last I was here the fecundity of summer swallowed the property, now under a down comforter of snow. Tips of green can be seen poking through, so this might be the first storm of the season. Last I was here the hummingbirds flew in through the french doors, now tightly shut and secured with a chair against the canyon winds. The morning glories, which in August bound the balcony lattice with heart leafed vines and white bell flowers, are scraggly skeletons of leafless stalks that rattle and shiver.
I gather more twigs for the fire, break them and add them to the growing flame. The snap echoes off the cold stone hearth and bounces around the house. It will take days to heat up in here. I slurp some soup and lose my thoughts in a rocking chair, planning to gather and cut more wood tomorrow, dig the potatoes and carrots up, plant garlic in the empty cavities. Soon its better to absorb the heat with bare skin, though you don't wander a foot from the fire. I brush through more thoughts, braid my hair so it doesn't tangle in my sleep.
Soon Dustin will return from Alaska and resume his bike building enterprise in the garage, and Erin will come back after the holidays and assemble her potter's studio. Chris and I plan to get the darkroom up and running this week, and the house will ring with the sounds of craftsmanship. People feel sorry for us because we don't have smart phones or ipads, because we don't have the internet here. But they don't know the satisfaction of owning your own time, your own destiny. The television newscaster said to me, "It must be a tough life" right before going on air. His niece is a musician, or something. His suit is ironed crisply and his pale skin is peachly powdered, and the seconds count down 'til the cameras are aimed at his big toothy smile. it's true that I don't know him, but I'm certain that he's never dusted the snow off a kale plant, swept the amaranth seeds from under the vase at table center, layed the potter's plates beneath candlelight and served a steaming meal grown for pennies. pennies.
My band-mate just chuckles at his remark, interjects -- "Oh, no. You misunderstand, sir. We are blessed."
In the middle of the night I wake up and peer out from the quilts at the silver glow seeping from the windows, washing the house in liquid blue light. I listen to the hushed conversations of collapsing coals and settling ash, rising up to the loft from the main room. My skin stings with cold but my core is warm.
I think of it again - comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. If I could somehow dim the hypnotizing screen, tear away the plastic wrap, and do like Dorothea Lange did! Make like Sebastião Salgado! Depict the faces of folk who support the system. Folks that own their poverty proudly, resisting the self pity. Always resisting the self pity. The delivery truck driver kneeling on the ice coated asphalt, putting on his chains with his shoulders hunched against the gusts of passing semis; the immigrant picker reaching for peaches; the night cook scraping a grill in a diner off interstate 70. I fall asleep thinking of it, how to make songs to shake the sleep-walkers, rattle them like morning glory bones.
I wake up to the thud of snow slipping from tree boughs, dollops of melting whipped cream plopping on the ground. I dump the suitcases filled with tour mementos on the living room floor-- wooden plates from a farmer's market in Salt Lake City, incense from Sedona, a pipe an Argentine oil painter gifted me in Los Angeles. Nobody knew what kind of bone it was made from. A finger, maybe? A toe?
The floor crumbles in places because for six months there has been no money for the sealer. My snow boots track in wet globs of snow that melt and loosen more patches, which turn to mud. I don't mind a dirt floor, I would rather make another record. And I have. I'll sell the tour van to print it. "I don't suffer for my creativity, Sir, I live for it." That's what I wish I'd told the newscaster.
And I'm not the only one. The front pocket of my suitcase is stuffed with a dozen or more traded records from other bands, just like mine, traveling the country in spite of the depression, making just enough to eat and travel, softening the edges from the lives of the lonely, the lovers, the drunken laborers collapsed into themselves on a bar stool. Softening the edges with song. Song and a deeply centered joy. Like the heat in my core under the quilts.
It radiates from the face on a cold Colorado night, then slips out the chimney with the last wisps of smoke.