Prairie Musicians; Just Friends

Uploaded by PrairiePublicBcast on 20.07.2012

[playing cool jazz]
The mother whose son was in an accident
with holes in his underwear.
I was pretty good once,
I'd forgotten how long it takes to get your lip back in shape.
(woman) This program is funded by
the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund
with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota
on November 4th, 2008,
and by the members of Prairie Public.
"All Hallows Eve"
There won't be weather like this again till spring, we say,
a dozen mowers roaring through the neighborhood.
It's autumn's last nice day,
and now, all who've been condemned
we meekly wait for tomorrow's icy plunge to winter
here at last.
How we love it.
what else is there as interesting to talk about?
Even though of us who get away to someplace warm
will check the weather channel every day for news of home--
something we'll be able to share and gloat about.
Cold front's due tomorrow, bristling with wind,
the threat of rain and even snow,
all those years when it's been worse by now, far worse--
like the one when they had to cancel Halloween.
Just so, we wait,
hopes rising and falling like our furnace thermostats.
How we love what we know we can count on.
Not long now and it will really start getting bad.
[tempo slows]
¦ ¦
The winter windchills plunge today,
rekindling survivor's pride--
as if we too are pioneers,
preserving claims at any price.
Prairie grass and clouds are what we have
instead of postcard scenery.
The land, like us, is hard to read
rewarding only patient eyes.
We've learned to count on better days to come,
the ones we know won't last,
somehow content we'll never find
another place to love like this.
[playing cool jazz]
"Holes in His Underwear."
"For God's sake," his mother always told him,
never go out with holes in your underwear.
What if you were in an accident?"
She was a good and dutiful mother,
and could be proud he was always equipped
with the best Fruit of the Loom,
spotless, bleached, even starched.
But then he went off to college and began to forget
everything she had labored so long to teach him.
Then one day, he was in a terrible car wreck.
When the surgeons gathered in the Emergency Room,
they were amazed to find
that not only was his underwear in shreds,
he hadn't washed behind his ears or brushed his teeth.
This would be a case for the medical journals.
His poor mother was bereft.
How could she face the rest of her life
with the knowledge she'd failed him so miserably?
It was right there in the AP press release,
her name, the mother whose son was in an accident
with holes in his underwear.
We call ourselves Just Friends,
poetry and jazz.
Sometimes it's jazz and poetry,
it depends on the night.
It depends on who types up the...
Anyway, I'm Dave Ferreira, and you are...
I'm Mark Vinz. I'm Bill Law.
And you're the poet.
I'm the poet.
And what do you do?
Well, I'm the bass player.
I have the best job of the whole group,
because I just get to come along for the ride.
About a million years ago,
when we started playing our occasional gigs,
I had the opportunity to hear Mark's poetry for the first time
and had become a Mark's poetry junkie.
Well, I've become a junkie of jazz with these two guys.
Well, what's fun about it,
first of all it's very approachable poetry.
It's about real-life stuff.
And Mark has a real love for jazz and is a jazz aficionado.
I found, in reading your poems and listening to your poems,
that they were very musical, very lyrical, very rhythmic,
so that was the fun part.
One thing, you were talking about accessibility.
I think that's really important in poems
because a lot of people are really afraid of poems
and it's usually because they don't really know what poems are
because they've had bad experiences.
I guess that's what I think
most poets are trying to do
is find a level of accessibility
that we're not going to try
to be obscure on purpose.
Some do, but...
Some do with music too.
Yeah, this is true, I never thought of that.
We're working, you mentioned the blues
and so we've done the blues and there's kind of the humor,
and then there's the growing up growing pains
and maybe family incidents and the one dealing
with loss of memory and so on; it gets very deep.
My original favorite piece was "Sleeping In."
At the time we were starting to do that,
my kids were sort of going through that stage
and I think you can hear the sounds
and smell the sounds of summer and cut lawns,
and hear the sounds of dogs barking and people working,
and your son or daughter
who you can't get out of bed for the life of you,
and it's so, even remembering back further,
when you were that character. (all) Yes.
You know, you were that character
and just the immediacy of all the sounds and smells,
and that one really lit it up for me;
that was really a beauty. (Mark) That's great, yeah.
[playing in slow dance tempo]
"Sleeping Till Noon."
Upstairs my daughter lies swaddled in her bedsheets
like an Eastern princess.
Good sleeping weather last night,
any summer night is good for her.
Lawnmowers, barking dogs, phone calls,
the man next door scraping paint to raucous music,
none of it matters to her,
and I won't wake her either,
not for anything less than the Second Coming.
Not till noon anyway.
That's when my father's voice takes over,
I can't help it.
When I grew up, certain things were always held sacred,
long-distance calls, cleaning your plate,
getting up at a "decent hour."
but let's face it--
I don't sleep so well anymore,
no matter what my intentions.
Sunlight shakes me like
there's something urgent I've forgotten.
Alarm clocks follow me into every room.
So sleep well, daughter,
sleep well for both of us on this fine summer morning.
I'll take the phone off the hook,
go outside and speak to birds and garbage trucks,
and when we meet on the stairs, it will be with guilty smiles.
Here's one thing, at least,
I haven't managed to forget.
Good morning daughter.
And yes, indeed, it was.
[playing jazz blues]
"Brother Blues;" this is for James L. White.
These are the messages for today--
bills to pay and promises,
A phone call just to say you're dying--
whatever it is we're too old to call temporary anymore.
Listen to the ways our bodies fail us,
surely as wallpaper peels or faucets drip.
You've gone out and bought the sensible warm hat
and look just like the paper boy you once were.
But each door on your route tides another bad account--
the ones who never pay, the ones who say
it's not so rough, could be worse.
So what shall we call it today?
An old jazz tune from some dim honky tonk?
Let's call it that.
Walk out into winter looking for a good all-night cafe,
and eat too much again,
and wish we still could smoke cigarettes.
Crowd of wanderers is fine tonight--
the old white beard in filthy gabardine
who dusts his seat until the napkin frays,
The gray man in the crazy wig who's tired man, tired.
The streets move by us offering light:
a little wine, imported beer,
a little Jesus for your soul, soul, soul...
Whatever you need they almost have it here.
Until it's time to say goodbye and go back home.
You wonder how it got so late,
and think about what pills to take
perhaps a letter home to say the weather's getting worse,
and then it starts again--
the message for today is
broken mufflers cruising every street.
So turn up the radio a bit--
an old piano tune you've heard someplace before.
You close your eyes and hum along.
And the faucet drips and the snow comes down,
just as you hoped it would.
The other favorite poem from the beginning
was the piece for David because anybody who knows David,
especially David, let's say 25 or 30 years ago,
he was pretty intense.
Not that David's not intense now,
but that really encapsulates who David is,
the guy that I knew and loved from a million years ago.
And that's priceless; to know a person that well.
For many years we played tennis Friday afternoons
and David would always drive.
And sometimes those were pretty exciting rides! [laughs]
What are you doing now? What are you...!
So that's how the poem came about.
I have a tendency to talk to drivers.
But we always got there in one piece.
We got there.
Who knew a Datsun could go on two wheels!
[all laugh]
[playing in lively rhythm]
"Blues for David"
They're all out today, every last blessed one of them:
in their shaggy, draggy pickdown trucks
their shiny-whiney stuckups,
their beet-red beet-bought Buicks!
Rag tops bus stops
sleek cats wagon brats
4-wheelers big dealers
lane-jumping tire-squealers
Smoke belchers Racquel Welchers
Heavy Chevies, (bevies, bevies)
lost anglers road manglers
syncopated dare danglers
retirees conspirees
town cruisers weavy boozers
red heads flat beds
lead-footed soon-be-deads
and they're waiting they're waiting
you KNOW their waiting
waiting just for you!
[playing the blues]
"Blues in B-flat"
How was I to know my roommates
wouldn't let me keep that trumpet?
It sounded like such a good idea, and only 25 bucks
from this guy I met in a bar.
We'd each had a few beers, and when we got to talking,
he brought the case out from under the table.
The horn was an old-timer,
a little dented, but not too bad.
Just like the one I had in junior high.
We played a couple of riffs, and we talked some more.
He could have been good you know, if he'd kept up with it.
But school got in the way,
his job, now he needed 25 bucks
for a bus ticket to get back home.
Wouldn't be a kick for me to play again?
I was pretty good once, wasn't I?
I'd forgotten how long it takes to get your lip back in shape.
I'd forgotten the four of us in that little house,
with midterms coming up.
Every place I tried to practice was the wrong place.
It got so bad I had to sit in my closet with the door closed
and an old sock stuffed in the bell of the horn.
But even that wasn't enough for my roommates.
How foolish and inconsiderate could I be, anyway,
not to mention my crimes against music.
So I took that trumpet back to the bar one night
and waited until this guy came over and asked me
what I had in the case.
Turns out he'd been a trumpet player, too, once upon a time--
Couldn't stop fingering those valves.
I could see in his eyes I had him.
25 bucks was the easy part.
I should have gotten more.
I should've known better, too.
A few nights later, when I happened to go back to the bar,
there he was in the corner booth,
talking to this other guy,
with the trumpet on the table between them.
I left before he saw me,
and I never went back to that place again.
When I was a kid,
my parents tried to talk me into playing something practical,
like the piano, but of course, I didn't pay any attention.
There was something about that shiny trumpet
that wouldn't let go of me--
something secret, something grand.
Even now I have to wonder
about that 25-dollar trumpet in the bar.
It wouldn't surprise me one bit
to find out it's still making the circuit, week by week.
After all, there are still a lot of us around.
There's always a student in poetry courses
that say are song lyrics poems?
I think generally no, but I mean, there's some,
if they can stand by themselves.
But I think that was the big-- I tried writing song lyrics
and I'm terrible, terrible at it.
But to find David to make my poems, in a sense, into lyrics,
not really, but to give them that form, that embodiment,
has really been exciting for me.
I find myself in my writing
paying a lot more attention to sounds.
I find myself writing a piece on purpose
that's a blues piece
for example, with those kinds of rhythms.
And again, that's stuff that I've learned from you guys.
So it really carries over.
But it's such a kick for me because when you're working
with people in another medium in the case of music,
you hear your own work so totally differently.
And I can't tell you how much I've learned from these two.
Being someone who wishes he could be a musician
but never could, what a kick it is for me.
That's that 25-dollar trumpet, right?
That's that 25-dollar trumpet that I probably
should have kept. Yeah, well.
"Memory Care Unit"
"I don't know where I'm supposed to be," she says,
beginning her rosary of wringing hands.
If past is prologue,
then tomorrow is the day that never comes.
Myrtle simply babbles,
fiercely carpet sweeping clean wood floors
while Alma's off again to find the sister
she knows is waiting somewhere just beyond closed doors.
Jean's the cheerful one,
proud to remember piano tunes across the years,
but not the face she talked to last.
"Where are you from?" she asks,
and then replies, "that's good" to every answer.
Enter here a world of women alone so long
they gather round each other, transfixed
by the flicker of something almost familiar,
as if whispers alone can hold them up.
"Where am I supposed to be?" she asks,
trusting me for any answer.
I take her hand and we recite those necessary names again:
mother, son, right here, right now, and always.
"Any Day Now"
Like so many of their generation,
my parents learned to live by what they had to give up.
Long after they could afford it,
they still couldn't bring themselves
to buy something not on sale.
My father tore his paper napkins in two
and saved half for another meal.
My mother was an expert on every off brand
on the grocery shelves.
And all those retirement trips they never took
right up until the cancer robbed my father of everything,
his voice fading into phone static,
still promising that visit,
the one they were going to make any day now.
Lately, I hear that voice more and more often,
and there's the dream that sometimes comes it,
the one where my father and I are listening to baseball
on the kitchen table radio, scarcely speaking,
even when something exciting happens.
But that's alright, not because it's free,
but because there's always the chance
we'll say something important to each other.
How I wish we understood that, both of us back then,
saving our pennies and somehow squandering all the rest.
[playing in slow tempo]
A week before the 4th and they're popping
all over the neighborhood--
The little ones are all that are legal now,
the ones we used to call ladyfingers,
the ones we wouldn't be caught dead with.
"You'll put an eye out," my grandmother said every day.
She was certain of it.
I hated to disappoint her, but that's what I did best--
blowing her jar lids 30 feet in the air,
blowing up my model planes,
vegetables from the garden, dolls and toy cars,
grasshoppers, garter snakes.
"Your cousin lost his finger," Grandma said,
but I knew that was from a blasting cap, not a firecracker.
My cousin told me he couldn't figure out what it was,
so he thought he'd take it apart,
then it went off, and he was sitting there
staring at the place his finger used to be.
I used to dream about missing eyes or fingers,
that legion of wounded boys
who didn't listen to their grandmothers.
Even now, I have that dream sometimes--
there must be a lot of us who do.
Tell me, Grandma says,
what are you going to do
when you've spent all your money on fireworks?
What are you going to do
when you've blown everything up?
(woman) This program is funded by
the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,
with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota
on Nov. 4th, 2008,
and by the members of Prairie Public.