the committee of clouds

The Committee of Clouds

I.
When I was woken by the ghost of my mother this morning,
my lips tasted unusually bitter and sarcastic.
‘Wake up,’ she said, ‘wake up,
the sunlight from here sure looks fantastic!’

And I whispered, in my head,
and wondered, ‘How can you tell?
Do ghosts have eyes, do you
retain your sense of sight as well?’

But this is all in my head, remember.
I did not want to argue with a ghost,
especially not my mother’s.

I followed her.

II.
When I became a ghost myself,
I remembered my father, too,
and we could’ve been a family,
a committee of clouds, if you will,
if not for his relentless drinking and
the consistent puffing of cigar smoke.

The drunken arguments, expressed
in unintelligible cinquains,
the sorry letters, the tears,
the carbocisteine chains.

And he coughed, the fool—

But father had his share
of sweetness, too; his friends
spy on us and ensure
our ruin.

III.
Still, my mother thought I was strong
(she was wrong).

She said that I had happy memories,
innocent, chaste, untouched
(my childhood was not that long).

And I rarely played with people,
but I played with fire,
and played with bees,
but if memories are what I need
to fight in states like these,

IV.
Then surely, I remember
breaking branches from the trees
to stir the hive.

Flowers cried.

I remember bees shaken,
in the honey-nest’s almost-fall,

drones and maggots,
queen and all.

— A. P.

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life after plath

Life After Plath

the stray look is the sweetest,
the averment unknowingly
waited for, priceless.

it’s a gift for the millionth mirror-trip wond’ring
if the hair could stand up to scrutiny; worth it
are walks again and speaking swoon.

it is the breath that richens pale
marble cheeks a-flutter and gives
the veins a rosy tint;
the smell of bitter tea with hints
of wildwood orchids.

that you pray for someone’s heart, and feel
the inching rapt tenderness: treasure this
along with every red beat unaware,
’til inhaled that final drop of vagrant sight

and exhaled the empty air.

— A. P.

Plover

…And if the sky seems to sing,
the clouds may have slept with melodies,
I feel them under my wings.

The air has taken paths
of least resistance, breaths
are sustenance for woodwinds, now,

My blood is song, my heart
goes out to you with every
little feather in the overdrive.

There’s fire under my shoulders, now,
and whirlwinds freshly made;
such delicate calamities.

Not one have lurked but claws
with branches’ dances stumped
and every step controlled.

The sky must stay the same:
I prayed for morning light,
and morning I became.

— A. P.

Five Poems for Mary Ann

Five Poems for Mary Ann

I.
Even the walls cannot hide
the sorriness in your velvet eyes
and the tears (although they’ve dried).
Someday, somewhere in this country we will meet—
a spinning globe contained in city streets
and waterfall, waterfall, stride,
tails (and never heads) decide.
Over my field-head, pray,
that this missive completely
takes me all away
and by land, my lips would be dry as yours,
my fervor, my core,
my cherie amour—

II.
Softly now,
whisper in my ear how much you love me;
whisper in my ear how much you loved me;
whisper in my ear.

III.
I miss you singing your Christmas carols,
with your tambourine made out of
discarded bottle crowns and coat hanger wire,
eyes blacks as crows,
voice cold as night—
I still remember the chill, Mary Ann,
in my solitude; oh, how blessed I am!

IV.
Isn’t it obvious
that I cannot keep my silence;
isn’t it obvious
that I cannot forever hold my peace?

— A. P.

for emma forever ago

How I Felt While I Was Listening To… Bon Iver – “For Emma, Forever Ago”

*Originally titled: On The Necessity Of Pain: Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’

I’d like to imagine that every poet, in the midst of all the writing and the pining and the bleeding, comes to a point where they ask themselves: do we really need the pain to write so beautifully?

For me, I can sometimes feel that there looms an unspoken romanticization of pain in every poetic community I have experienced. It may not be readily apparent at first, but as you immerse yourself in the lines and dive deeper into what appears to be happy trails of nonsuspect, you get a sense that yes… you’ve been here before. Of course, each experience would be artistically unique but when you read a lot, in essence, you practice. And with practice you tend to notice the small stuff. You notice the little details, even in the seemingly happiest of poems, tracing back their histories to a sudden break — to something that once caused intense anguish. Of course, there is also the exact opposite, wherein a body of work exudes too much pain that you’d think the concept of subtlety does not exist. I have read and written some of these myself because, I mean, who hasn’t, right?

The question is… is it beautiful? Maybe. Am I doing the world a service by creating these; am I contributing to the artistic world? I can almost anticipate someone responding that none of these questions should matter (just write!), and they would be right. But I ask anyway partly because I wanted what I write to matter and partly because I do not want to imagine pain as an “easy ticket” to beautiful writing.

I imagine that there is a trap, wherein you want to stay and be at home in this bittersweet state that suddenly enables you to write the most moving and compelling of choruses. Sometimes, I am afraid that I would choose to be with pain rather than without even if I can get out, merely because I find more beauty in it.

Is this how artists destroy themselves eventually?

Maybe.

Still, I prompted myself to find a body of work that would best represent this phenomenon in an inspiring and interesting light. I ended up choosing Bon Iver’s debut release, the enchanting “For Emma, Forever Ago.”

For Emma, for the most part, is a work inspired by depression.* It is a work by a man who has undergone a lot. Bon Iver a.k.a. Justin Vernon, in his long journey towards achieving this masterpiece, went through a series of heartbreaks, challenges to his physical health, and the existential pressure of mediocrity. On his way to a hunting cabin where he would eventually create the songs, he stopped at his parents’ house where he described what he felt as “claustrophobic” and “super-empty.” He has lost the spark that once inspired him to be a musician in the first place.

He spent three months in that faraway cabin in Wisconsin, mostly alone (his father would bring him beer and eggs and cheese from time to time). He hunted for his own food, and there was a time he traded venison in the nearby town just so he could repair one of the many guitars he brought with him. His mission was simple: to get away from society, to live simply, to feel how it feels to “not pay bills.” I would imagine that Vernon got so fed up with all the noise around him that he wanted nothing else more than to create music that he admits did not even contain words at first — just notes and melodies that his voice wails in his now widely-recognized falsetto. His stay in that cabin yielded 9 songs which served as the foundation of his rise to popularity as a musician.

Stray thought: if only I know how to hunt my own food I would totally try living like this.

Vernon is in pain, that’s for sure, you can hear it. He one day decided to face it with a sort of brave escapism that I could only dream of doing. I just realized that this is what I loved most about the story of For Emma’s conception.

The album opens with a track called “Flume.” We hear the sound of an acoustic guitar, and the only way I could describe it when I first heard it was that the strumming was content. It was a nostalgic sound, a sound that reminded me of simple times, of a man sitting on a bench, feeling the wind blow on his untroubled face. Just strumming, strumming, not for anything else but for the act of strumming itself.

Not long after, Vernon’s voice sings the album’s very first line:

“I am my mother’s only one. It’s enough.”

Right away one can feel that the singer is trying to convey his acceptance of the self. One can only guess if he was sincere or if he was just forcing himself to believe that he is, indeed, “enough,” but one thing is for sure: what you hear is a man at his most vulnerable. It is a music most intimate I can almost feel the icy winter of his cabin pressing on my skin, giving this light chill.

Track One: “Flume”

There is still as I’ve mentioned a sense of fulfillment here, yet at the same time I can feel a shadow of falseness and a certain lack of conviction. I’m not referring to “lack of conviction” with regard to the actual work and its artistic merit (it is a brilliant album), rather, I am talking about the “character” Vernon portrays. Does he really believe every word he says, or does he just blurt out these sometimes clichéd sentiments in the hopes of someday finally believing that they are true, that they are… applicable to his current plight? I don’t know. What I am sure of is that there, just beneath the surface of every song lurks a soul wanting. Yearning.

In fact, the album’s most popular song “Skinny Love” is in essence a song of pleading. Of begging. “Skinny Love” is perhaps the breaking of this veneer, this film that shrouds the album into a passable escape. “Come on, skinny love, just last the year…” Vernon begs.

After “Skinny Love,” the flow surrenders to a very solemn introduction of “The Wolves (Act I and II),” which promises that “Someday my pain, someday my pain will mark you….” Again, one can interpret this as a sincere warning, but as for me I can sense that the singer is just forcing himself, once more, to believe that his pain could matter… that his pain could “mark” someone.

I imagine that he does give up this notion finally when he drops the line “And the story’s all over.” From there the song builds up into a cacophony of voices singing the phrases “What might’ve been lost” and “Don’t bother me, don’t bother me” over and over, in different registers, while in the background a seemingly random explosion of percussion accentuates the apparent frustration of this creator in realizing that his pain… cannot actually mark anyone. Or at least not the one he wants marked — the only one that matters.

The album is like that, through and through. A sea of contentment, an endless stream of pleasantness that at times gives in to some of its quirks and marvelous contradictions. Another remarkable thing about it is that there are moments when I thought I should be surprised with its sudden turns, but, surprisingly, I wasn’t. At the time I have never experienced the marvel of Vernon’s work before but as I mentioned earlier I am familiar with the feeling that it is there. The pain he hides in the subtle cracks in his voice, the sharp sigh of the brass in the penultimate track “For Emma,” the acidic quality of the cymbal crashes, punctuating the rather basic landscape of winter in all its bitterness; it’s there. “For Emma, Forever Ago” created in me a familiar atmosphere of pain. Something totally new yet I could readily connect to.

When I asked a friend about the necessity of pain and its popularity as a subject, she answered that one reason why pain is so favored a subject is because heartbreak is “easily relatable.” Now, this makes sense and maybe the answers to my questions, to my fear of falling into the “trap,” are as simple as that, too. We want engagement, connection, relation, as a ton of platitudes already say.

It’s true that I may never come to a definite answer to the question of whether pain, as one personally feels it, is really necessary for the most moving and compelling writing. Of whether prolonged rumination is as easily unavoidable as it is enticing. Yet, Vernon’s music teaches us that there are ways to face and frame art wherein pain is not centrally showcased but crafted, woven and hidden among all the uncertainty, doubt, frustrations, and the eventual acceptance that inevitably comes with it.

I would also like to imagine that his second release, the self-titled “Bon Iver” actually carries the acceptance that closed “For Emma” and grows it into full-on hope. The sophomore effort has themes of re-emergence written all over it that one can safely consider it as a soundtrack to leaving that lonely winter cabin in Wisconsin.

I suppose there is just a certain beauty in pain that no other feeling could evoke or express. At some point, we all get the feeling that we have to forget everything behind for a while and just…. leave. Everyone needs a moment in their winter cabin, weaving verses and songs while snowflakes hover delicately across the window, while the fire reminds us of how warmth felt like. We can sow frustrations and curses through the air — eventually finding that we’re planting the very seeds of acceptance in our own time. Just remember that the closed door should not remain as closed forever. We could go back, stronger, with hope in our hearts. The unlocking of that door, of learning and having the patience and courage to face the challenges of belonging again, despite the very real promise of pain, is perhaps the only real point of it all.

“This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization. / It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away. / Your love will be / safe with me.”

*I cite For Emma, Forever Ago’s Wikipedia page as a reference.

First published on my Medium account.

”How I Felt While I was Listening To…” aims to be a regular feature of this blog, wherein I try to write about how I feel about a particular album. It is not meant to be a review, analysis, or critique but merely a way to share emotional responses to certain pieces of music and perhaps encourage others to give the album a listen, as well.*

Cheers,
A. P.

The Violet Royal Cat

The Meowniverse is a legendary realm entirely populated with cats. Every cat of every shape and every size can be found there, although the one that is probably most sought-after is the elusive Violet Royal Cat, one of her kind, said to be coated in vivaciously velvety violet fur. It has long been postulated that the Violet Royal Cat got her name because she actually rules the Meowniverse in her royal home, the Castle Cat, looking over the catlands on her tower throne made of bricks and sand and threads and dreams, decorated with periwinkle, with walls and banners encrusted with starshine.

It was said that the Violet Royal Cat exudes utmost grace and beauty and exhibits exceptional intelligence— so much so that she garnered unanimous favor from the Feline pantheon, which granted her virtual immortality by bestowing upon her 999×9^9 lives (most cats, and members of the Feline pantheon in particular, use a base-9 number system, or nonary). Which means prospective assassins must successfully kill her 999×9^9+1 times to actually accomplish their mission, if the Royalty’s death is their goal. It will never happen, because the Violet Royal Cat is trained in the ancient arts of ninjutsu, tae kwon do, judo, and Inter-meow-tional Diplomacy. It also speaks 46 languages, including Esperanto, French, Whale, Badger, and 28 dialects of cat including Urban Meow and Siouxsian Purr.

The Violet Royal Cat is guarded by her personal Royal Guard, the Beige Cloaks, 26 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was also often said that in her royal chambers in Castle Cat, the Cathartically Cacophonous Feline Philharmonic Orchestra almost always plays awesome cat music, together with the angelic purrings of the redoubtable MewMeow Choir. They only take breaks to feast, to litter, or if they feel the need to lick themselves.

Despite all the unsubstantiated “witness sightings,” the Violet Royal Cat remains a mystery, one that is probably best left to the imagination, as the Meowniverse is not exactly an easy place to get to.

— A. P.