Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Tuesday Poem: "If I Could Tell You" by W.H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,

If we should stumble when musicians play,

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,

Because I love you more than I can say,

If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,

There must be reason why the leaves decay;

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,

The vision seriously intends to stay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,

And the brooks and soldiers run away;

Will Time say nothing but I told you so?

If I could tell you I would let you know. 

by W.H. Auden

For more information about the poet, W.H. Auden, see:

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Tuesday Poem: "Anne Sexton’s Last Letter to God" by Tracey Herd

This is the last letter I will write
sitting at my kitchen table

with the blue coffee mug

at my elbow and the pot

roasting each bean to perfection:

faraway continents

in my cluttered suburban kitchen.

The sun is sharp through the blinds,

crisscrossing the kitchen’s

clean tiles with yellow and white.

I walk a knife-edge of light.

This is the last letter I will write.

I have been a witch, clothed in rags

and shrieking. I have borrowed

the wings of angels and given them back:

a poor fit, and yes, like Icarus

I had no sense and didn’t much like

falling back to earth. I have had lovers

by the dozen, some poets and others

and a faithful husband that I left

in the end. I have written painfully evocative

letters from Europe and many poems,

but this is the last letter I will write.

God is in your typewriter, the old priest said
and I wanted a father so badly, that for months

I believed him, transfixed by small miracles

and clutching my golden crucifix

on my knees by the empty bed. Lately

I have given a few well-received readings

in my high heels and my favourite red dress,

the posters that displayed me in defiant pose.

I was always dramatic with my husky voice,

my fingers curled around a cigarette

and the ending always upbeat.

I have just lunched with an old friend

saying goodbye and something

‘she couldn’t quite catch’.

Now I have locked the front door behind me,

squinting a little as autumn spills down

from the skies and the trees. Here

is a small miracle and I am walking away.

I wrap my mother’s fur coat

tightly around me, although I have

no need of its warmth today. The sun

is a cat stroking my neck, winding itself

contently around my long slender legs.

I pause by the garage door to admire

the autumn leaves in their 
sourball colours.

A drink is in order. A double.

A toast to old friends, to those

on the other end of the phone and to those

who for one reason or another

have abandoned me. I pull the car door

closed and turn the key.

This, God, is 
my journey.
I have cut the lines

between us: no more tantrums.

No more poems. I am not

your daughter, your mother, your lover.

No more letters then, from me to you, God

and it amuses me to think of your

impotent displeasure as I settle myself

comfortably into the driver’s seat.

by Tracey Herd

For more information about poet, Tracey Herd, see:

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Tuesday Poem: "Taxi" by Simon Sweetman

he’s in the back of the
car, as usual, and i’m
his taxi driver.
my son asks me
if the day he was born
was the best day of
my life.
and i say “yes.
of course”.
“what about when
you and mum got
he quizzed.
“second. nearly as good.
can’t have one without the

he nods. and i didn’t go on
to tell him that the third best day
of my life was when he had
just turned two – and we were
driving to hawke’s bay
for christmas. he and his
mother asleep.
and i had the ipod connected
to the car stereo. and i had made
a playlist.
the theme from the tv show ‘taxi’
on a loop. (so that i didn’t have to
keep pressing play, or find
the repeat function – instead
i had the same track loaded
30 or 40 times…)
bob james’ perfect fender rhodes
instrumental – with
ralph macdonald on percussion and
idris muhammad on drums. sounds like
eric gale’s guitar slow-burning in the
lava-lamp glow.
i was their taxi driver. i’d look
to the left. then to the back-left.
that music from my childhood guiding
the way.
it was like i was the yellow-cab in a time-loop
(a new york minute?) driving over (and over)
the queensboro bridge.
checking my buckled passengers.
seven o’clock.
nine o’clock.
resting. their beautiful
faces. those wondrous souls.
all fire. all glitter and gold.
first and second.
(first equal of course!)
And the music my mantra, my
meditation, taking me back to the
friday nights when we’d wait
for dad to come home with the
fish’n’chips, when we’d laugh
at louie’s anger and jim’s madness
and the weird and silly and wonderful
me and my brother and my
mum and dad were maybe
at our closest watching m*a*s*h and family
ties, blackadder, the young ones, cheers,
married with children (and a few others).
definitely taxi!
but here i was…
driving the white lines with this
music that was taking me back
and taking me back as i was edging
ever-forward…in the yellow-cab of my
whimsy. nostalgia.
and so much more than that.
(does there need to be more than that
though? those two things are so
beautiful, so joyous and sad all at once,
they’ve helped me along in so many ways
through so many ways…)
profound beauty all wrapped
up in that slick and lovely groove.
people would maybe call a song
like that ‘soulless’ – to me it’s the very
embodiment of soul…
and so it rolled on and on
and i did too.
checking their faces. me
elated. the calmest i’d been
in an age. or more.
and i was never
bobby wheeler.
i was their alex reiger.
but i was
better than alex reiger.
because they didn’t just
have me. i had them.
and we had the music.
even if it was only
me listening…
that was the third-best-day
of my life.
and if i whispered that
it was the best,
well, that was only
because they were
and i
was their taxi.

by Simon Sweetman

Simon Sweetman doing an erudite poet impression
with lots of old books behind him. Photographer unknown.

Simon Sweetman is a podcast host, journalist and poet. He blogs every day at offthetracks.co.nz. When he’s not doing that he reads books, watches horror movies, walks the dog and photographs road cones – though not all at once. He has a brand new book of poems available called The Death of Music Journalism.

The Death of Music Journalism is available now in all good bookshops, as they say, or go direct to: https://thecubapress.nz/shop/the-death-of-music-journalism/

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Tuesday Poem: "Detox Mansion" a song by Warren Zevon

Well, I'm gone to Detox Mansion
Way down on Last Breath Farm
I've been rakin' leaves with Liza
Me and Liz clean up the yard

Left my home in Music City
In the back of a limousine
Now I'm doin' my own laundry
And I'm gettin' those clothes clean

Growin' fond of Detox Mansion
And this quiet life I lead
But I'm dying to tell my story
For all my friends to read
Well, it's tough to be somebody
And it's hard to keep from fallin' apart
Up here on Rehab Mountain
We gonna learn these things by heart

Well, I'm gone to Detox Mansion
Way down on Last Breath Farm
I've been rakin' leaves with Liza
Me and Liz clean up the yard

What goes on in Detox Mansion
Outside the rubber room
We get therapy and lectures
We play golf in the afternoon

Well, it's tough to be somebody
And it's hard not to fall apart
Way up on Rehab Mountain
We gonna learn these things by heart

by Jorge Calderón & Warren Zevon


NOTE: Warren Zevon was an outlier on the California rock music scene in the early to mid-70s when the scene was dominated by radio-friendly soft rock by singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne. Zevon brought a literacy to his songs that very few were attempting in an era when acts like The Eagles were in the ascendancy.

Zevon struggled with alcoholism and drugs like many other artists and he may have been a lot more commercially successful had he been able to rein in his demons. But the flip side may have been that those demons that plagued him also made him stand out as one of America's great, and to some degree unsung, songwriters.

He was no stranger to self-mockery as he demonstrates with great aplomb in this song. I often wonder if Liz Taylor and Liza Minnelli knew that they were name-checked in this song.

For more information about songwriter, Warren Zevon, see:

Photo Credit: Elias Stein/Getty Images