We're digging ourselves out of the blue and making summer playlists to share with each other. If you have one, or want to make one, and write a little about it, send them to Meowmeowpowpowlit@gmail.com (Spotify or any platform, or just write the songs down)
Summer = Music + Sojourning
by: Joey Gould
When I left 17 years and 11 months of work as a produce clerk to finish my first book, The Acute Avian Heart (TAAH), the first thing I did was book a random hotel in the Berkshires for shower beers in a beige room before *ahem* Heading Into Nature. Since I’m a sorta bumbly person, I typed “mt greylock trail” into my phone & ended up on a weird dirt road on the side of the mt opposite the nature center, but randomness cuts both ways so the trail, mostly a tight set of switchbacks under tree cover, was named “Gould”. Probably not after me.
I sat in my car texting a friend in crisis (boy trouble + 30th birthday) while listening to “Bill Murray” by Phantogram:
Am I lonely?
I think of both art & astrology as avatars for our feelings. I felt & my friend felt change, unbelonging, hope, fear, movement, time, loneliness, friendship, solipsism, yearning. How could I say all that? It’s easier to send a link to the song, or the poem, or say I’m in my Pisces era.
I set out on the deserted, narrow 1.5 mile path. It was cool, even a bit dark under dense tree cover. A brutal summer mountainside downpour started when I reached the end of the trail about a half-mile from the summit. It poured the entire time as I descended. This is my luck & it makes a poet.
I flew on a whim to California to visit my glittershark friend July, who named it “Going West(hale)”. I wrote every afternoon in her small trailer parked in their driveway just off Telegraph in Oakland, where every night I’d fall asleep to the sounds of a restaurant on the other side of the fence. Each day served summer sun. We walked to restaurants with takeaway ice cream cones for dessert. I found a couple dark dives to daydrink my feelings in. When I remember this time fondly, I’m writing with earbuds in, t-shirt, hot sun, under a peak-season fig tree, unlearning trauma, chatting in a midnight kitchen with July, writing myself into a more whole person. When I remember realistically, I’m smoking butts outside the trailer, squinting at the sun, worried about drama & grief.
Back then I identified as a man, even while I wrote a series of poems called when i was a man. Practicing poetry is learning & admitting to one’s own obliviousness, often delighting in it.
July had written a poem, “American Literature”, on the occasion of my retirement--a monumental, incomparable gift, a tribute to many of the themes of TAAH: America, sojourning, desert highways, wrong turns. Brokenness yet joy. They wrote, “ you’ve gone West to find everything or me”; well shit, I found both. I love how it ends in haphazard misdirections & an em dash, as if the speaker jams on the breaks of a poemy car.
I don’t fall for much of America’s propaganda, but I do love driving. Driving : summer :: cuddling by the fire : winter.
July also introduced me to brat pop darlings HOLYCHILD. As huge a gift as any poem, tbh. A friend sends you a link & you end up unspooling a band’s entire catalog. It feels good to vibe on a frequency. To discover that the frequency is good. In this way, writing communities & writing partners break my heart open. When I put together a playlist of songs that would act as a soundtrack to the book, I put “Best Friends” by HOLYCHILD first because most of what I felt in the process of publishing TAAH was gratitude, gratitude that felt bottomless. For the kindnesses of July & my editor Eileen & my mother &
I have the best friends
So much felt possible. I quit my stifling retail job, took the summer to travel, finished my book, & got it to print. And praised, I praised how much my friends teach me. When the sun hits you while yr swimming it’s brighter but uncomfy, like yr too close to god. Like July in July.
We made fig jam with July’s cat, too. The photo is blurry because I was too excited to calm my fragile nerves.
Early-2000s: I was working 5a-2p in a produce department, often driving there straight from a concert in Boston. The first time I saw Isis live was at about 1:30 AM back when you could smoke indoors (yuck). The Middle East Upstairs was not the most cozy venue when smoke filled & I nearly passed out, but they were tremendous & 27’s Maria Christopher came out to sing her part in “Weight”. I wanted to invoke its texture like a wadi filling in the dry expanse of Maktesh Ramon, the methodical build to crescendo like the ten years it took me to write TAAH. Listen: the rising tide, the beginning of the flood.
My first tattoo, interlocking hummingbirds, was the cover image from 27’s ep from the edge of the wing. On Christmas eve one year they played Upstairs & baked vegan cookies to share. “Easy Trigger” is a perfectly unhurried song.
In the late nineties I chipped one of my front teeth in an honestly pretty unexpected mosh pit the night Far played at Espresso Bar in Worcester, opening for Incubus on the S.C.I.E.N.C.E. tour. Jeremiah, my sister’s dreadlock-wearing, straight-edge high school boyfriend, introduced me to Tin Cans with Strings to You, featuring Jonah Matranga’s plaintive & puissant vocals, along with an indie/screamo aesthetic in both music & cover art. The crayon art relating counter-culture lyrics.
None of my ivy-bound high school friends liked them. Ha! “What I’ve Wanted to Say” seemed like an obvious early playlist choice.
I wish for you what I wish for me.
Yes. This gives us (both I and you) permission to appreciate & curate our own experiences. Yes. Matranga is a charismatic, lovely person, who still does house shows & will sit on the floor at the Worcester Palladium to play an acoustic aftershow. When I think about art with a loving, moral center I think of him.
OKAY BUT THERE’S A BOOK & it starts in the hot summer desert, it starts in wandering like the liberated mimitzrayim Jews of the bible. “Obedear” by Purity Ring sounds like sojourning. The album Shrines rightfully appears often in the playlist.
As a trans NB I have felt a spectrum of genders that my poems should honor faithfully if I’m to record any sort of poetic truth. Not that the poetry must be true, but that the speaker should inhabit the gender I felt them in at the time. I feel like I have dude poems (like the one where the speaker operates a chop saw while drinking High Life) but also gurlesque-inspired poems (like the one where the speaker watches a robin feed its chicks with their queer crush).
I was an egg when I put together TAAH & a hatchling when I held my first copy.
Anyway, the Young Judaea tour guide wouldn’t let us sleep on the way to Kineret, & he originally spoke a couple of the lines in “Devarim”. I equipped my headphones & put PJ Harvey’s Is This Desire? in my cassette player to help me fall asleep.
The last tweak I made to TAAH was swapping the places of the first two poems. “Devarim” properly jumped to first, with its promise of agency, promise of love met with kindness, because that’s a center of poetry.
Not the center, a center: like Gaiman’s Dreaming, Poetry has several hearts. The Judaean desert contains (comprises?) one of my hearts. I return to it often because of its significance to my faith that FSU Hillel Chaplain, Gary Bean, called “paradoxical Judaism”.
At least one of mine is in the marshland of Broadmoor Audubon sanctuary in Natick, MA. It’s the place where I saw a blackbird fight a heron. Sanctuary. There’s a long, accessible boardwalk, a frog pond,
A lot of the poems in TAAH use Broadmoor & its birds. Here’s a photo of me there:
I am asking myself whether this is a summer playlist. My defense is two things:
First, that I have played all of these songs too loud with my windows down. A hurricane took out power once & all I could think to do was drive around listening to A Camp, side project of Nina Persson (The Cardigans). I assert that “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ghost” pairs well with downed trees, impromptu four-way stop intersections, & the candlelit decision to eat an entire quart of ice cream that will otherwise melt.
Second, that summer moments form much of the viscera of the book: driving, birdwatching, the construction zone outside Jenn’s house when we 45’d every piece of decking, & rappelling through the back doors of a burnt out van on a 115-degree day.
That van really happened. We hiked through the desert for a week with a roll of TP & heavy red jerrycans. There was a 60 degree difference between daytime & nighttime & the stars were, in the words of Chino Moreno, “much than more”. I met a scorpion & only sunburned once, but brutally, when I forgot to reapply sunscreen while swimming in Kineret.
September 2009: a frost warning. I nearly fell asleep in the tutoring office before speeding west on the Mass Pike to my stepfather Frank’s house. I was listening on repeat to the saddest song I had on hand, Sufjan Stevens’s “Casimir Pulaski Day”. A song about cancer, a night about cancer.
My mother & I had been switching off as Frank’s night nurses for a week, & I hadn’t slept in my bed since he was lucid. The last unfragmented thing I remember him telling me was that infidelity is in many ways the deepest kind of love. “It says, I would destroy my life for you”. I didn’t argue. I could have said that the sneaking isn’t the destroying part, but once a man’s hair falls out he’s entitled to some level of deference in the time he has left.
When I got to the house he was still breathing a couple times a minute, so I said hi & then I sat down on the couch to watch a sci-trash tv program about The Most Dangerous Explosions in the Universe. Number two was Long Gamma Ray Bursts. The host introduced a trained marksman to demonstrate the power of a LGRB by shooting a watermelon, then the show went to commercial. There was a moth buzzing close to the ceiling fan & I climbed over Frank’s uncomfortable beige leather couch to catch it & send it through the sunroom door out to the deck that we built together in his first summer of retirement.
I went to the kitchen for a glass of water as the show came back with #1: THE BIG BANG. Obvious choice but I looked at Frank on the hospital bed & he wasn’t breathing. A succession of phone calls, hospice procedures, I collapsed in the front yard at one point while my friend Julie told me about butterflies. I called out from both jobs then went to sleep in a wave of grief mixed with intense relief, for his suffering, which radiated on all of us as his loving caretakers, was over. I got up in the morning, went for coffee in the sun that was too bright. I thought I should make a new darker one or just use the moon for a while. I turned the key,
All the glory that the Lord has made
Our fabulous blog team