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No Song for the Sidewalk

When I was growing up there were a few people who sang very memorable songs.  Probably I should not call them “songs” because they weren’t always musical, but I don’t know what to call them otherwise.  Sy Serber had a particular jokey way of talking about the books about werewolves in his living room — there was one book that said you became a werewolf by urinating in a circle and standing in the circle — and the way he would share that was his song. His son Ross knew all the different kinds of fireworks — m80, pineapple, blockbuster — and could (and would) reel them off like a patter song.  Mrs. Calahan would walk the neighborhood in her bathrobe pushing a shopping cart.  Now we would call her an alcoholic, and she had to numb out certain parts of her brain to access the streaming flow of divine light she expressed in her song, which is what I’ll call it, because, as I said, I don’t know what else.

Now since all these people are long gone, their songs function as maps to a neighborhood, which is also long gone, not just for me, although it is for me, but in truth.

Where I live now there are not long summer days, and you don’t wait around on the street corner until 9:30 at night in late June, trying to hold on to something that you can’t quite think or hear.  But the song gives me a place to go back to in my body.  I’m not kidding when I say it takes me back there in my body — my actual eyes cry actual water when I try to remember it.  Maybe that was the late summer day’s song, reaching out through time, making me cry. Not sure!  Not sure.

Obviously a trouble with songs that you hear in your mind is you can’t just hear them when you want to.  Unheard melodies are sweeter than heard ones, but they’re harder to sing, or perhaps just harder to hear.  Not sure!

When I started writing this I thought it was about how particular songs are like particular houses or particular people.  You can return to them at different times in your life.  And within each one there is a piece of yourself hidden that you can get back by going there.  If you want, if you’re “lucky”, if it works out that way.

But now I realize that I am not thinking deeply enough about this — not even close. Because the real songs are the words, and each step you take wandering further from the words, but you can always go back and see how they’ve change, how you’ve changed.  “When”.

“I”

“Was”

“Growing”

“Up.”

All worth returning to.  All changed utterly.  All holding a piece of my heart.   All home to new people living in them now, trying to live, like all of us.  All occupying space where we could build something else some day, and whose to say that wouldn’t be a good thing?

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