Ugly music can be beautiful. A simple song can kindle a complex memory. A living creature gave its skin to that drum.
This is one of the first poems in NOT A LOT OF REASONS TO SING, BUT ENOUGH. Like everything in the book, it’s written in-character. I feel like I always have to add that caveat, since so much spoken word is driven by first-person, poet-as-voice-as-poet approaches (which I don’t think is a good thing or a bad thing; just one approach), and this book definitely doesn’t do that.
Kind of a table-setting piece for the book, a way to do some exposition without just a big info-dump. Beyond the narrative function of the piece, though, it’s also about the importance of… not just art and culture in general, but more specifically: spaces for art and culture to live. So much of this book goes back to the idea of the open mic, the poetry slam, the concert, the mural, the party, the dance, etc. and the role(s) that those spaces play in resisting, disrupting, and dismantling authoritarian impulses, in both the society and the individual.
Thanks again to Button Poetry for releasing all these videos. If you liked this one, the newly updated “poetry” page on this website has a list of some of my most popular pieces, followed by a list of other poems from this book.
This is also the last video of 2022. You can find a 2022 recap post featuring some “in case you missed it” highlights here. Thanks for watching/reading.
The full text:
ALL THE PEOPLE I WANT TO SAY I TOLD YOU SO TO ARE DEAD
There was a band used to come around the village,
every bright season; all rode in one wagon pulled
by a bunch of those big, nasty walking birds. They
had built their own instruments—different drums
mostly, but a flute or two as well, plus a kind of
bullhorn what could project a singer’s bark a ways.
They would perform songs, tell stories, act out
little plays; none of it was very good, but it was
always nice to have a reason to be around the fire
together, to laugh, eat good food, and carry on.
When the band stopped coming, it was like when
the Oneways stopped coming, all over again. I
guess that isn’t quite right—it was like that to me,
but most people didn’t seem to notice. How do you
not notice that dread, hanging in the air like a cloud
of mosquitoes? The lack of bites, I guess. The lack
of music is a kind of music, just not quite as loud,
I guess. We don’t all dread the same, like we don’t
all dream the same, I guess. But the band stopped
coming; bright season after bright season passed,
and the thing about big, world-shattering changes
is that not all that much really changes. A hundred
thousand people catch a plague but it’s not so bad
here. A hundred thousand people drown but our
village is a day’s ride from the nearest river.
A tyrant seizes power, but what’s it matter he’s
hoarding something we don’t have, won’t miss,
anyway? The band stopped coming. They weren’t
that good anyway. Tried to remember something
to my friends, my family, myself: a band has value
apart from their talent. Ugly music can be beautiful.
A simple song can kindle a complex memory. A
living creature gave its skin to that drum. That song
we heard here was heard there too, and that means
something. I seem to remember that meaning
something? What was it? The walking birds. Nasty
varmints. Haven’t seen one now in so many years.
I don’t know any songs. Can’t make a drum; someone
took away all the skin (and what lived inside it), a
while back. I don’t miss the band, or the birds—the
bright season was always hard; but now, with no
music, it’s just bright: a blank, frantic whiteness
spilled across the sky, spilling under my front door,
spilling through the windows, spilling through the
holes in my moth-eaten blanket. Like a scream—