The Face I Can’t Erase

I’ve wanted to take back
so much more than

the night.
Not in the mood

for making up
prayers. Mnemonic

games go only so far. Silent
letters tickle ankles,

stretch walks beyond midnight
mile markers. This is personal—

trombones kill
the recitation calm.

Day 2,948

To shout “my socks
are wet” inside a crowded church

before it all begins
is to believe

in the beauty of echoes
as they become prayer.

Polite Emily Dickinson Flies*

Riding the rails through
an afternoon comes
easier than staying

put face
to face with imminent
death. Or not. To those

gone but not
gone, she says
these tracks are her prayer.

* From Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur

On this Day in 1995: A Prose Poem?

Warning: Sentimentality Ahead

In honor of the 15th anniversary of Trace’s official release today, I decided to listen to the entire album while walking along the West Bank of the Mississippi River. I walked from downtown Minneapolis to the river and along the pedestrian path—which hovers between the river and the Great River Road (Highway 61)—to the Broadway Bridge in the time it takes to listen to all the songs through “Too Early.” “Mystifies Me” played as I turned back and started heading south. I did make a brief detour on a trail that loops to the water’s edge for “Out of the Picture.” With the band members residing all along the Mississippi River at the time the album was recorded, from the Minneapolis area to the Saint Louis area to (temporarily) New Orleans, I have always associated the album with the river.

Trace may have been released 15 years ago today, but I’ll never forget hearing the songs for the first time on a leaked tape cassette that was circulating in early 1995 and the first time I saw the band play at the 7th Street Entry on a warm June night. I stood in the front row and have done my best to maintain that position ever since. When I listen to those songs, I feel as if they’ve been around my whole life. “Sounds like 1963” indeed. Isn’t that the definition of classic?

No collection of songs has had such a presence in my life. I believe that generations down the road, or up the river, will listen to Trace (on whatever contraption is prevalent at the time) and become just as enchanted with the songs’ beauty, sadness, grit, and wisdom. Trace is a best friend, a classic, a poem, a prayer. And “the rhythm of the river will remain.”

In the Ars Poetica Series

To beg, borrow, or steal
for this, to swing in an inked
playground, to live life 

as a prayer opening
into another garden’s bloom,
to identify the shape 

of a tiny island
now succumbed to a wetlands
birthright, to be willing 

to start over
each morning
is what remains.

Prayer (Day 324)

When I look at the moon, I believe in God
in phases. Because he who rapes the body no
longer rapes thought, I said, “no.” 

When I look at the moon, I believe in God in pauses
revealed in shadow giving consent to light. 

When a new moon gives back
the whole sky, I’ll begin
to believe this body is mine.