Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Leonard Cohen Interview

Just came across this interview of Leonard Cohen. Speaks deeply to me at the moment.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Begin Again

I want to blaze 
to streak across the night sky
in flame in glorious incandescence 
white-hot and fearless I want 
to dance until I'm breathless with
sweat rolling down my back between
my breasts into my eyes
I want to laugh
until I cry
and cry
until I empty out become
a small brown husk 
weightless and bouyant
in a wild wind
I want to sing too loud
stay up all night talking
watch the sun rise
on mystery 
and awe
and endless possibility  I
want to touch 
that sweet raw wound
where the music coils
and recoils I want to touch
and be touched
and there
until my skin burns 
and the world folds into itself 
like velvet origami and
the sky collapses
and I fall to earth
to begin again. 


© 2011 Tessa Murphy McKay


Friday, August 12, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight

Many many many years ago, I ran away from home and found myself in a small town in the high desert in an old mining town that had become a haven for artists and hippies. I was nineteen. When I arrived there, nobody knew who I was, and the rules that had defined my life no longer applied. I had no idea what I was doing, I had nobody telling me what to do, and I literally had no no idea what was going to happen next. It was terrible and wonderful and the person I became there is the me I respect.  When I was 22 or so, I left.  I loved the place but I had my whole life ahead of me.  Many of the people there had come to hide, and I didn't want to hide.

Turns out there are lots of ways to hide. You can hide in a small town in the desert, or in your dreams, or other people's dreams, or in "what the world expects." You can hide without anyone, including yourself, noticing that some important part of you is no longer present. Recently I've discovered you can hide especially well in the past, and in regret.

I have no idea what comes next in my life, where I'm headed or what I'm going to do but I'm tired of hiding. The last time I found myself in this place, I was 19. And I was terrified. That's probably a good thing to remember.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sisters of Mercy

So much going on in my life these days, most of it invisible to the naked eye. This song speaks to me right now.

"Sisters Of Mercy"

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who've been travelling so long.
Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
Well I've been where you're hanging, I think I can see how you're pinned:
When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned.

Well they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them.
They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem.
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.

When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon.
Don't turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon.
And you won't make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night:
We weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right,
We weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right. 

-- Leonard Cohen

Friday, July 29, 2011

Still Fighting, Maybe

Last night John asked me if I was thinking of giving up. I told him I was pretty sure I had already given up. He pointed out that I still made soap, and was still trying to launch my incense. I explained that the alternative is for me to crawl inside my head and live there. I have a vivid imagination, so that's a lot more doable than it might sound. He insists that until I do actually crawl inside my head for good, I'm still fighting. So okay. I'm still fighting. Doesn't sound much like fighting to me. Sounds kind of wimpy. 

I'm perfectly fine as long as I don't actually think about my life. Usually I'm a lot better at doing that than I have been lately. 

You Were Once Wild

You were once wild. Don't let them tame you!  -- Isadora Duncan 

Over and over again in my life, change comes sneaking up on me. Sometimes I welcome it with open arms. Most times I do not. Rather than face an uncertain future, I let my fear lead me around and around in an ever tightening circle of misery and doubt and free-floating angst. You'd think that after 54 years, I'd have figured out that the future is always uncertain, and that avoidance only postpones the inevitable, and postpones it painfully. You'd think I'd learn that the harder I fight, the more brutal the change. But no. Every time, the same paralysis, indecision, and self-inflicted agony. I'm amazed, sometimes, that I've had any kind of life at all, and done any of the things I've done. I've done them by letting my dreams and aspirations germinate just beneath the surface of my consciousness until they're coiled to spring at the first opportunity, propelling me forward too fast for the fear to kick in.  
Change is knocking at my life again. And knocking. And knocking. And it must be a doozy this time because it's been knocking louder and louder for years, and my fear is so big, it's drowning everything else out. I think it's going to hurt this time. I think it's going to hurt a lot.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Poem #12

At some point in my twenties, I began numbering my shorter poems. I was probably being artsy fartsy. I wrote this after a long hard no good awful winter in eastern Washington, in an eighty year old house without insulation or much in the way of heating.


Upside down
the world looks very green
and wide   The moon
is full
of empty promises
as you swing sideways
into my horizon.  Too early
for certainty   Winter
took so long
but upside
a corner of your shoulder
is prophecy of spring.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This is a poem written in my twenties to someone I knew for a very short while. I met him in the lobby of the apartment building we both lived in. We bonded over our mutual loathing of the building's manager. I'd known him for about two months when he went in for an operation to remove his brain tumor. He hadn't lived in Seattle very long and I think I was his only friend. After the operation, I went to visit him in the hospital, where I met his parents. The doctors told him that they'd gotten all but ten percent of the cancer. What they didn't tell him, but told his parents, was that that ten percent was spread throughout his brain and that he had six months to live.

The day his parents told him, a couple of days after he'd gotten out of the hospital, I came home from work and found them sitting in the lobby. He'd kicked them out of his apartment. They told me he wouldn't speak to them. My god, they were so lost! Their pain was just hanging there like a fog in the air around them. I found myself telling them that I'd go talk to him.

The hallway to his apartment is still vivid in my memory. I really didn't know him that well, I had no idea what I could say that his parents couldn't, or, for that matter, why I had volunteered to act as mediator. I remember very carefully not thinking about what I was doing. There just isn't anything in life that prepares most of us for these kind of moments. Sometimes there's nothing to do but move through what we find before us.

I remember knocking on his door, and saying "It's okay, it's me." The door opened, and he let me in and the expression on my face must have been the right one because then he was shaking with his head buried in my neck and I was holding him as tight as I could.

We talked. Mostly he talked and I listened, and eventually I went back to the lobby and told his parents he was okay and would talk to them again. They went to his apartment and I went to mine and shortly after that, they took him home with them and I never saw him again. And shortly after that I moved to another building. 

Sometimes I believe in fate and sometimes I don't. When I do, I think that life threw us together because nobody should have to go through that kind of pain alone. When I don't, I think that if you open yourself to other people, and to whatever life throws you, then sooner or later you're going to find yourself in that kind of situation.


After the flesh, the bone, 
the ivory talisman bound in nerve and muscle
the jigsaw puzzle piece
lifted from your skull. Your life, naked
and pulsing beneath the surgeon's blade. 

Today the battlefield is clear, your enemy defined, 
where all too often scars remain concealed,
tumors camouflaged in forms 
the x-ray doesn't  register, our battles
blind and blundering, obscure adversaries 
dealing subtle wounds we wrap in words
and bind with ambiguity.  I want to goad you into rage tonight, 
want you to bellow and stomp 
and shake your fist at fate, command you 
not to acquiesce so easily to accident 
and random aberration. Command you 
Don't surrender!

Instead I hold you,  
shuddering, against my throat
where skin and bone become a gauntlet
thrown in the face of all our random enemies, 
and reach for the necessary syllable, 
the talisman to lead you through
victorious and whole 
to a country where the battlefield is silent
the puzzle solved
and words like win or lose, live or die
no longer matter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

To Live Outside the Law

To live outside the law, you must be honest.-- Bob Dylan

This quote ran through my head endlessly during my twenties, and then sort of lost relevance. I'm thinking of making it my motto to see where that takes me.

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. -- Shakespeare

In my twenties I lived in a town where people often had adjectives attached to their name, as in Sicilian Sam, or One-legged Al, or Bisbee Bob. Usually,* we did this to differentiate between people who had the same name, like Michael. We had a lot of Michaels. We had Bartender Michael, and English Michael, and Skinny Michael, and Bluegrass Michael, and Little Michael and probably one or two more than I don't remember right now. Just to be clear, Little Michael was smart and talented and well-liked, just shorter than average. 

One night, while Little Michael was working behind the counter at the sandwich shop, a drunk wandered in off the street looking for a fight. English Michael was at the counter ordering a cup of coffee. The drunk clearly thought he'd found an easy target, and he might have if someone else had been behind the counter, but when he started to take a swing -- before anyone else could react or had even fully grasped what was happening -- Little Michael had dived across the counter and pinned the guy to the ground. 

After that, everybody referred to him as Scorpio Michael.

*Usually but not always. As far as I can recall, we only had one Sam, Bob, or Al. I have no idea why they got their own adjective. Sometimes people just make no sense.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rainy Days and Sundays...

Didn't sleep much at all last night. Watching the hours slip by on a digital clock is singularly dissatisfying. I threw the covers off and pulled them up over me again and again and tried not to disturb the cat sleeping on my feet. I  finally fell asleep at daylight. When I woke up, it was raining and the cat was gone. It's raining still. Days like these, I wander around unable to concentrate, awash in regret and vague longings, with fantasies of running away to somewhere with sun and laughter and endless possibility.

It's All in the Details

Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is. --  Mahatma Gandhi 

For years I've thought of myself as a 60's/70's dirty hippie-pinko bleeding heart liberal, but today I had an epiphany. Yes, I was, in fact, a dirty hippie, but no, I did not get my politics from the sixties. I got them from my grandfather and from the Sisters of the Holy Names. 

My grandfather immigrated here from Ireland, belonged to a Union, lived through the depression, thought that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the best president ever, and that America was the greatest country on earth, largely because of Roosevelt and largely because of the way people pulled together (his words) during that depression. 

The Sisters were certainly not conservative but weren't exactly rabid liberals either. They were, though, firmly of the compassionate, love thy neighbor, judge not, suffer the little children, God is Love school of Christianity.

So, you see, even though I appear to be a 60's hippie-pinko-bleeding-heart liberal, I'm really an FDR Democrat taught by nuns. 

Details. It's all in the details.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Memory of Things Gone

The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician.
 -- Louis Armstrong

Poets too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In France They Kiss on Mainstreet

The first Joni Mitchell album I got was "Hissing of Summer Lawns." It was a revelation. The lyrics were written on the back of the album and I studied them like poetry. Studied might not be the right word, actually. Inhaled, decoded, dissected.

Thirty-five years later, it's still a revelation. She creates images, vignettes, really, and uses them to cradle the emotion. She uses metaphor like paint, or film.  Powerful and passionate. I forgot how much influence she had on my own poetry.

Now that I think about it, that was the same summer I discovered "Songs from a Room."  Funny, it didn't seem that fateful at the time.

In France They Kiss on Mainstreet
by Joni Mitchell

My darling dime store thief
In the War of Independence
Rock 'n' roll rang sweet as victory
Under neon signs
A girl was in bloom
And a woman was fading
In a suburban room
I said take me to the dance
Do you want to dance?
I love to dance
And I told him
They don't take chances
They seem so removed from romance
They've been broken in churches & schools
And molded to middle class circumstance
And we were rollin'
Rock 'n' rollin'

The dance halls and cafes
Feel so wild you could break somebody's heart
Just doing the latest dance craze
Gail and Louise
In those push up brassieres
Tight dresses and rhinestone rings
Drinking up the band's beers
Young love was kissing under bridges
Kissing in cars
Kissing in cafes
And we were walking down Main Street
Kisses like bright flags hung on holidays
In France they kiss on Main Street
Amour, mama, not cheap display
And we were rollin'
Rock 'n' rollin'

In the pinball arcade
With his head full of pool hall pitches
And songs from the hit parade
He'd be singing "Bye, Bye, Love"
While he's racking up his free play
Let those rock 'n' roll choir boys
Come and carry us away
Sometimes Chickie had the car
Or Ron had a car
Or Lead Foot Melvin with his hotwire head
We'd all go looking for a party
Looking to raise Jesus up from the dead
And I'd be kissing in the back seat
Thrilling to the Brando-like things that he said
And we'd be rollin'
Rock 'n' rolling

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This weekend I went to Alaska to help spread my mom-in-law's ashes..  The last time I went to Alaska was 9 years ago. To help spread my dad-in-law's ashes.  I know it's not Alaska's fault, but I'm beginning to take a serious dislike to that state.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.  -- Leonard Cohen

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Hour before Dinner

Whenever we visited John's parents (and probably when we didn't) right around an hour before dinner, one of them would ask the other "What would you say to a wee bit of Scotch?" The other would answer, "Hello, wee bit of Scotch."

This is not the kind of thing you think you're going to miss when they're gone.  Just something to keep in mind.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Songs from a Room

A friend of mine told me her father had made a list of everything he'd ever wanted to do before he died, and that he was systematically going through and doing everything on the list one by one. I thought that was a wonderful idea, started to think about what I'd put on my list, and immediately hit a snag.

I'm pretty sure sleeping with Leonard Cohen is one of the goals on my list that just isn't going to happen. I believe this may be yet another instance in which the phrase "You can do anything you want to if you want to bad enough" is exposed as one of the more profoundly cruel untruths our parents tell us as we're growing up.

Nonetheless, sleeping with Leonard Cohen (well, not sleeping, exactly, but I'd settle for that. Hell, neither of us is as young as we once were.) is something I've wanted to do ever since the summer I was 19 and discovered his album, Songs from a Room. Before that I hadn't been aware he was a songwriter. I'd read Suzanne in a poetry anthology. Freshman English. Modern Literature. We were supposed to be studying the poem on the opposite page, but I fell in love with Suzanne and I wrote a paper about that poem instead. I got an A-. In case you were wondering.

And then, maybe a year later, I found Songs from a Room.

People talk about the song or the book or the teacher who changed their life, and sometimes they mean it and sometimes they don't, but that album... that album... that album gave voice to the world inside my head. Inside my heart. Inside my dreams.

That album spoke for me. Spoke of me. Made real the world I had created from songs and poems and memoirs. Magazine articles. Pictures. Overheard conversations. Listening to those songs was like listening to myself. I played it every day, all summer long. That Fall I ran away from home.

In truth, looking back 40 years on, I didn't really want to sleep with Leonard Cohen (which is probably just as well). In truth, I wanted to be Leonard Cohen. Failing that I wanted to be Suzanne. Failing that, I wanted to be Marianne.

How many women, I wonder, have slept with how many men who were really only stand-ins for the person they wanted to be?

I am at a turning point in my life. I am more than halfway through, even counting the longevity of my ancestors. I am not the person I was hoping to become. I have not achieved the things I hoped to achieve. I have no idea how realistic my ambitions were or how valid my self-disappointment is. I am well aware I don't think like other people, don't hold the same standards, and am no kind of reliable judge in these matters. I have come to understand that I started out far more wounded than I realized at the time and that I may owe Leonard Cohen an even greater debt of gratitude than I thought.

Because of him, I got some wild adventures and some very satisfying sex, at least one great poem, and lots of great stories. And I got a small sip of a world that was already slipping away before it disappeared for good.

Sometimes I think if I just try hard enough (and want it enough) I could recreate it. Sometimes I feel it as an ache somewhere in the vicinity of my rib cage. Always I am grateful that I got that taste, and those memories.

And if I never became Leonard Cohen (speaking metaphorically, of course), I know that I was sometimes Suzanne, a Sister of Mercy more often than was probably wise, and maybe even somebody's Marianne.

Sleeping with Leonard Cohen was never the point. It was just the dream I used to launch my life.