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Michael Penn- On Your Way


After midnight, my street sounds like the ocean. It’s low tide, but rolling in, resin under five–no–six lights which make the constellation of a sailboat, an oak connecting the dots.

I have a secret no one knows, and I have a green bottle from which I drink it up, in which I’ve written it on a scroll of paper and tucked it in like it is a child who I want to sleep soundly. It is also a message I want everyone to know, but only if one person finds it when it washes up on the shore and will speak it for me.

You hear those stories of a halfway deflated balloon tied with a note. You hear those stories of a new grave over which someone has begged for and received a sign. You hear stories of someone letting everything go to some force that doesn’t possess its own will and yet retrieving an answer.

This is the sort of waiting I do for you to respond to my pulse, how it happens quickly underneath my skin, how it is blue, how it moves by triumphant billowing force and yet creeps with the wheel-rust of train cars filled with stowaways who don’t care where they end up and must hide among the boxes of other people’s belongings, people who are moving but won’t transport their own lamps.

I am trying to sleep, and I am traveling the sounds of my street as if they are some other method of how to return to you: routeless like the ocean, strict as a train’s track. Six not five through the blinds. When a car passes, I imagine it is as unoccupied as I am when I roll over and your whole being exists in the arm or the leg that comes with me.

MP4: Michael Penn- On Your Way

posted by holly

How To Dress Well- Say My Name Or Say Whatever

heartsplat copy

Formerly a seven franchise chain, The Near Nothing Museum has only one remaining location. It’s worth the ticket ($12.34) and the drive out of your way for the Room of Latitude and Longitude where crossword cut-outs dangle from the ceiling, the clues grazing the top of your head and where blank squares spread the walls and you can reach all the way from 34 across to 59 down, a clue no one has yet solved. You can climb inside all the black squares, but I won’t ruin all the surprises therein. Inside one of the squares, familiar poems are communicated via sense of smell. Plath’s “The Moon and the Yew Tree” smelled mostly of a basement, which initially confused this reviewer, but made sense once the scent began to turn sheet-white, a shade that flaps and hisses at the wind or at loneliness, if there is a difference. One of Shakespeare’s sonnets (#130) smelled like rain, lipstick, old copper, and formaldehyde–which is astonishing in its ability to please and can be purchased along with the elixirs of other poems as a perfumes in the gift shop (prices vary according to meter.)

Also worth a look is the broken heart, which you can hold gently in your hands, or, as most visitors seem to prefer, toss at the wall which presumably once was white but has been painted over in cathartic splatter. Like an inverse Oscar Wilde’s tomb, people have come to pay a different respect.

The less adventurous can take communion from an intoxicated bear. The travel-weary are free to nap in front of a live audience who are encouraged to participate in the sound effects of dreams.

Most notable and the main attraction, the reason people veer off the desert highway (please have a full tank of gas and a spare dispenser in the trunk, plenty of water and snacks–all of which can be fulfilled at the turn by a shop with no attendant; pay in the drop box) is the Near Nothing Man. You must give up all your possessions to visit with him. He will return your heart when you leave, but it will have been altered  (for most it will continue to perform all physiological functions.) This reviewer had no trouble afterward with its beating and response to stimuli. However, she had a deeper understanding of not-knowing the answer to 59 Down, left with the scent of Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind” pulsing on her wrist (licorice, star-pointed lilies, wet moss), and a print of her heart’s reaction to the wall, that car-wreck stop and the explosion of retraced paths, first in the frantic, slow seconds when brakes could have been applied, then the minutes when an alternate route could have been taken, hours of steady stretches of open road, days of waiting just to get somewhere, until the womb-beginning before the heart is actually a heart and therefore doesn’t yet have its singular desire to get so near everything.


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posted by holly.

Bright Eyes- Land Locked Blues


My hands hover over a Ouija board. Our hands are almost touching. Our hands are listening to plastic. I’ve begun to decode the contradicting last sentences you said to me, parsing them into Ouija language, spelling our names over and over again, then just our initials, then just yes or no, then sun and moon. I understand the message, but I don’t know if I am communicating with a living human or a departed ghost when the oracle moves to the bottom of the board and you say, “I swear I’m not making this move.”


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Milk Carton Kids- Michigan



Yesterday an email came through, but it wasn’t you. It was a deal on flowers, which never come when you actually want to send someone flowers. But I clicked anyway and chose a bouquet of white dendrobium orchids for $69.99 plus a vase, plus a charge to ship them, plus a tax, and I almost sent them to myself but I didn’t know what to write on the card. Then, I thought about receiving them: Oh, you shouldn’t have.

Then I thought about where I would put them, if I would even give them water. So, I didn’t send them. It wouldn’t be fair to the flowers. And still, I’m hoping they come today or maybe tomorrow with a card that says something perfect, instructions on how to care for them: give them water, but do not drown them. Place them in the sun for four hours a day, and tuck them into bed when their eyes get sleepy. Don’t touch them too much. When they wither make a maze with their stems and walk through it until you’re in the center of a spiral and then blow them like candles. Wish for nothing.


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Buy the album, Prologue: Prologue - The Milk Carton Kids

posted by holly.


DeVotchKa- How It All Ends


In the future we have a pack of dogs, all of whom know how not to get cactus spurs stuck in their paws. They nose scorpions around in the dirt, but one of them gets bitten. His nose grows three times its size, and he turns out fine. We let him sleep in the bed after that, even though you hate it, even though you say you can’t breathe with both of us in there, even though you say this is the reason you wanted a life where you can go anywhere and be with anyone anytime you want, and anytime you see a woman you desire, you can take her to bed where you can breathe because after breakfast, it’s over, and permanently new.

You order room service as a courtesy: 2 oranges juices, yogurt, and berries, a muffin you won’t eat. “I don’t eat breakfast,” she says. (The ones who do don’t yet know yet how to conceal their expectations.) She uses her fingers as a comb, proving how disentangled she is, how unprepared she was. She is in your shirt, half-buttoned, and has artfully arranged the berries in the shape of a heart in your empty bowl.

In the future, your real life, the berries are always there in a basket in the fridge; you know where they are. You don’t have to order them. Dogs circle in hopes for a gift from gravity. I hang the beginnings of your sentences out to dry in the beige sun. The ends of your sentences rinse and spin in my heart, which I’ve arranged in your empty bowl in whatever shape they take.  I let the wind advertise the part about how you love me, and I wash the other part someone else has dirtied.


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posted by holly.


John Cage- 4’33”

Go to a place of worship that is not your own, pray to your God and see if theirs will answer. Tie a yellow string in between two cans. Put one face down on the ground and scream into the other and see if all the earth voices–the bassoons and the tubas and the old oboes come poking out their sleepy gold ears and long swallowing necks. Dive into the coldest body of water you can find and have a conversation that sounds like you’re being strangled and see if anyone offers you air there. Get to the top of a tree and see if you can convince those tiny birdbone limbs to let you keep a nest. Now you see how silly it is to keep talking to someone who won’t talk back. You aren’t wrong about the silence. The silence is permanent, but it is not your obstacle. It is your teacher. Stop talking to it, and start listening.


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posted by holly, who is sorry for the silence and didn’t realize anyone was listening.

Sufjan Stevens- Justice Delivers Its Gift

for my dad, protector of imagination, setter of hooks

Among the lures and hooks and webs of fishing line in my grandfather’s old tackle box was an amber prescription bottle, the label removed, that was sealed so tight that neither my eight-year-old nor my twenty-something-year-old hands could open it. Coiled inside was something vermicular, dark and slimy, clearly dead, if it had lived at all. And if it had lived, it would have surely been a creature to both seek and avoid–the two battling and primary aims of childhood exploration. It was the prospect of slime that made it such a desirable object to my brother and I when we were barefoot on the dock situated on the salt marsh of Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, hopping up and down encouraging my father to hook and bait our fishing poles faster. My father, who insisted on at least unloading the car first and had hinted that he’d prefer a nap, would systematically untangle the lines he’d untangled the prior summer before packing the box away. We would beg him to open the bottle and reveal its contents, but he would just mumble that it was some sort of special bait Papa had bought. “But, it’s irresistible to fish!” he would add enthusiastically. My brother cried out in disbelief at our father’s obliviousness, “Then let’s use it!”

“Nah,” Dad would say,  “we’ve got some of Mom’s fried chicken.”

When I was six, I would help Papa read. He was beginning to forget words, and I was helping to teach them back to him. On Saturdays, my father would take us kids to pick him up. We would go to McDonalds for Happy Meals and Papa would turn to me and say, “well, isn’t this a nice restaurant?”  Papa wandered off a few times a month, and got lost until a neighbor or a kind stranger would help him home or call my father to come get him. This never registered as abnormal to me. It was that he could sit in a plastic booth eating a Filet-O-Fish and perceive  that he was in an actual restaurant that frightened me, which turned quickly into aggrevation. “Papa! This isn’t a restaurant,” I would admonish him, “it’s McDonald’s!” He would nod, bewildered, and dip a fry in a puddle of ketchup.

A few years ago, as adults, Alex and I decided to open the bottle. It had rolled around the bottom of the tackle box among the little weights and lures and in our imaginations our entire lives and now my little brother was six feet and four inches tall and his hands were big enough.

“Whatever is in here,” Alex said gravely, “we won’t tell Dad.”

I nodded. It was as if we were about to unleash the very serpent that might tempt us into evil. The irresistibility of this bait was not limited to the feeble willpower of fish; it had caught us. He twisted the top right off, the sword in the hands of the right person at the right time. There, inside the bottle, was a black blob that smelled like rubber, if rubber could die.

“What should we do now?” my brother asked.

We poured the contents of the bottle into the salt marsh where it sank, blackness into blackness. It was a non-moment. In fact, it was a moment in its lack of being a moment. I allowed myself, briefly, the luxury of hoping that the water would come alive in a frenzy of fish, attracting bigger fish with fins that sliced through the surface of the water, but we settled for watching our grandfather’s magic bait dissolve until we were staring into the water made dark by our own shadows.

In his last years, my grandfather began to save treasures: shiny balls of aluminum foil, stacks of Styrofoam containers taller than me, piles of plastic forks, and a large cardboard box of identical Christmas ornaments: felt-covered Santas holding  small gifts wrapped in green and white gingham. Had anyone ever thought to unwrap the gifts? I asked. My father, preoccupied with cleaning, looked up briefly and said, “probably not, but don’t do it,” and went back to scrubbing the fireplace. I sneaked into the kitchen and pulled the box off of the countertop. There were probably twenty-five Santas inside. I chose one by carefully inserting my finger into the gold loop of string at the crown of his head and pulled it out of the box. I picked gently at the folds of the cloth until the glue gave and unwrapped the gift: a square of white crumbly Styrofoam. Maybe, I thought, only one of them had a real gift inside: a tiny gold ring or a silver coin, or some unimaginable prize. I just needed to find the magic one. I opened another and another until I was no longer careful with them. I ripped at the Santas frantically, panicking at the possibility that the whole box of them was a hoax, and there was such evil in the world that someone had wrapped a block of the same packing material used for new toys in bright gingham and a bow, glued it to the hands of Santa Claus and left it like bait for a hungry little girl who will believe anything but that sometimes, the greatest gift is the lie.


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Sufjan Stevens’s Christmas box set, Silver and Gold  is magic: Silver & Gold - Sufjan Stevens

posted by holly.

Old Crow Medicine Show- Ain’t It Enough

for Dave

Once there was a story that only ended and never had a chance. Once there was a plot in which nothing happened. Once a story had every word in every language in it and nobody died or broke up or fell in love to begin with. Once there was a story that catalogued the breakfasts of painters but was written backwards so most people thought it was a tragedy and threw eggs at the page. Once there was a comedy that had no characters, only settings. In that story, a cloud narrated by changing shapes many times as it moved across the earth, and then it disappeared.  No one laughed, even those that got the joke. But they applauded, a loud prayer of hands thundering back.


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posted by holly.

XTC- The Ugly Underneath

When he said it, she put her middle finger in the inner corner of her right eye to soothe that sting that occurs there when you’ve meant to correct but in turn been corrected, when you feel shamed: that needle-thin stab right where your eyeball rounds off and leaves a tiny pink triangle exposed without skin. Other than the navel, it is the most sacred place on the human body. (The most profane being not the genitalia as some Christians and Muslims and Texans would have you believe, but the elbow, that angular bone designed to abet sloth, indecency at the dinner table, ambivalence and ownership of space. Think of this next time someone crowds you and your elbows react like a threatened blowfish–although the only thing you’re truly in danger of is adhering to the belief that someone can possibly be in your way, that you have a way to begin with. The next time you bump your funny bone consider it an admonition.)

Her finger caught a tear just in time. She pretends so often that her eyelashes get in the way of her eyes that all she has to do now is pull down the visor mirror in her passenger seat and say, “eyelash” and he will look back at the road while she tries to pull down the skin of her face and pull out the evidence, save her mascara, keep herself intact, keep herself from becoming a person that reveals everything without becoming a person that walks around with ninety-degree elbows, and yet still appear to be a person who can handle the truth.

MP3: XTC- The Ugly Underneath

posted by holly.

Kishi Bashi- I Am the Antichrist to You

I heard this song at a restaurant called White Tiger while waiting for sriracha tacos to- go. We were late for a football game. I had taken half a little blue pill that made the world slightly lopsided and cocked like a rabbit with a lazy ear and a perplexing question. The walls were covered in art made by elementary school students. My favorite was called “Elemental Crazyness” and featured a tornado challenging an erupting volcano, a tsunami taking out the stars. And, inexplicably, a peace symbol in the midst of it all.

I wanted to keep this painting. I wanted it on my wall in a room with nothing else in it except a chair to sit in. But how can you ask to price of the art of a fifth grader, especially one who seems to understand balance in the way it truly exists–a fight between two equal chaoses?

I wish I could wash my eyes of everything they have seen and start with this painting–and then see everything after as Elemental Crazyness. I can be the girl running with the cage and you get to be freedom.


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Buy the album 151A: 151A - Kishi Bashi

posted by holly