Here’s the thing: sometimes I’m terribly jealous of musicians. Sometimes I think it’s true that poetry reaches towards song, and sometimes I wonder if it’s true that poetry just can’t quite get there. There’s something about song, about the music, about the timbre of a voice and the swell of sound behind it, some power that can bring a person to their knees or feet or toes. There are words, yes, but there’s something about the sound behind them, the way a voice bends and breaks around them.
The words are a wick. The music’s a match.
And sometimes I can bury the jealousy, but other times? Other times I hear a song and I think, Well, hell. I think, That’s exactly it. I think, I’ve been trying for ten damn years to write a poem that can do what this song did to and for me in four minutes and twenty-eight seconds.
And then I feel a kind of awe I rarely feel, this rush of appreciation about what it means to be human, what it means to be able to communicate, though that’s an ugly word for what it is. It’s more than a clunky word like that. It’s a blood-thrumming moment of heart-stopping, heart-stabbing realization: yes, yes, this is what I want to say, and you’re saying it too. It’s Dickinson’s frog finally being answered in the bog, finally being seen and, more importantly, heard. It’s a sudden rush of appreciation of the us-ness of it all — how we are all human, we are all feeling, we are all trying and we are all speaking. It’s a moment in which a moment becomes a building, a place where listener lives with the speaker and, if only for a moment, sits in the same space with someone who knows, exactly, exactly. And then I remember it again: what this thing we call poetry is supposed to do. What this thing we call language is supposed to do. Why I started writing. Why I keep writing. Why all of us do what all of us do, why our tongues keep moving, why we keep moving towards and away from each other.
I’m writing about this now because I had this experience yesterday. I spent Monday going through poem after poem, looking for the right ones to read at the Monday Night Poetry and Music series in Charleston. I noticed that, poem after poem, I was moving towards the same goal, trying to build the same home for the same tangled family of feelings. During my drive back to Statesboro, I popped in a new CD — Brandi Carlile’s Give Up the Ghost – and then I heard it: the song that was everything I’d wanted to say.
I’ll admit it: I listened to it three times in a row, glad and grateful each time to sit with her spell for a spell, hearing someone finally do exactly what I’ve wanted to do.
Here’s a live recording of “Before It Breaks,” which really actually may be more like it than the studio version.
And don’t worry, folks — I’ll be back to the laser cats soon.