Gabriel Kahane

by Gabriel Kahane

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released 15 September 2008

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Track Name: Durrants
Our hotel room was too small
For our luggage and our arguments
So we left them in the hall
And went to bed. Went straight to bed.

When we wept in that cafe
Trembling hands and whispered palliates
All the people stared to say Your transgression. Our transgression.

And we’re holding a love that’s passed
In a drawer under last year’s stale cigarettes
One that burned up the photograph
We lived in.

Took me to a house of green
Asked me, do you know how much it means?
I tried hard to squint and see
But felt nothing. I felt nothing.

In the morning on the street
She suggested we try one last thing
Maybe at some great museum
A connection. Our connection.

And we stared at the love that’s passed
Onto white walls of Sargent portraits
And remembered the photograph
We lived in.
Track Name: North Adams
Blacked out window panes
All rotten teeth as I drive by
in my new car
I got a discount rate.

A thousand little towns
All peeling paint and furtive eyes
A single store
Maybe I can buy a shirt.

Oh Taconic Parkway
You great vein of New England
You taught us how to get upstate
While old Manhattan's sinking
As the sky it darkened
Got a dose of Northern sadness
Rolled up all the windows
And we talked into the blackness.

I am five years old
We walk in wooded tunnels
Father, he and I
In coats an extra size
And right out there he
told me stories he had dreamed
Of wizards and of ghosts
and in our too big coats.

Autumn crunched loud in our ears
Frozen nozes winded eyes
New England disappeared.
Autumn crunched loud in our ears
Oh I swear I heard it say
I believe I heard them say

Oh small symmetry of
homes in New England
You brought us from a long sleep
while History was blinking,
As the sky it darkened
Got a dose of American sadness
Rolled up all the windows
And we talked into the blackness.

There among the trees
A cow sat patiently
And memorized some lines of
Dickenson’s “I Died for Beauty”
Oh Great Parkway
Truth is on your shoulder
If it’s mossy if it’s bare
You’ll find the beauty there

Oh small symmetry of
Rain in New England
You peeled off all the summer heat
And left us some for drinking,

As the sky it darkened
Got a dose of Northern sadness
Rolled up all the windows
And we stared into the blackness.
Track Name: Rochester (featuring Sam Amidon)
a nine month winter
in the station wagon
driven to grade school
and seattle fashion

the t-shirts we wore
hung near the linoleum
which, though polished,
scattered ashes in the classroom.

they would not talk to you
said they could see through you
and you swallowed hard
and scanned the street for cars
to take you home

over the river
and bright-eyed freedom
bridges were taller
and you could see them

and drowning sorrows
in bowls of golden grahams
birds out the window
while you ran through the plan

they would not talk to you
said they could see through you
and you swallowed hard
and scanned the street for cars
to take you home

you chose a wednesday
no logic sideways
one day to find you
an assembly fridays

but that grey morning
i was cutting class
and saw you balancing
like gymnastics

you and my stomach
they fell together
my eyes were burning
was it the weather?

and then that silver splash
and a sea of sirens
lights on the water
had all gone red

i would not talk to you
i pretended i could see through you
and watched you swallow hard
and scan the street for cars
to take you home
Track Name: Slow Down (featuring Sufjan Stevens)
Tarpaulined sailboats and sportscars are splayed on Everyone’s plot of suburban green rayon
This is the stuff that philosophers prey on,
Dreaming.

She left New York to uncover a feeling
Deep in a forest she comes to a clearing
Where spiders and frogs climb down from the ceiling
She slows down.

The scene on the sidewalk is grassy green terror
Everyone smiles as the summer gets fairer
She can’t shake the skin off this neon unbearable sky.

She slows down. And sees
Soldiers smoking cigarettes
Making bombs and placing bets
Telling tales of girls who slept beside them at home
In the clearing she takes of her skirt and her flip flops Wades in the water it grazes her kneetops
Floats on her back looking up at the blue drops of sky

She slows down.

She falls asleep on the creek and the stillness
The spiders and frogs and the clearing bear witness
To words dropped like pearls on the water and notice
Just how deep they go

Slow down.
Track Name: Side Streets
The porches on the side streets all remind him of those nights: a sky, black sky. Chased off the roofs of fancy hotels, where they gave fake names, ghost names. Then they’d slink back to bars for drink and reverie and they’d sing, how they’d sing,

“Oh it’s been a long time such a very long time
oh it’s been a long time such a very long time.”

He dares himself to walk down to the cemetery walls alone. There in the graveyard are granite stones bearing broken names, ghost names, and a cheap cross that’s wrapped in plastic, stopping the rain that falls— how it falls!

“Oh it’s been a long time such a very long time oh it’s been a long time such a very long time.”

He spent the night in the shade of lindens rotten underground, but soft. And though he scares himself bad he stays until the first morning light.

***

The long walk home in the dead of dawn; no breeze, cloudless sky. There by the door he sees some children dancing in the street for joy, and he smiles. And they’d sing, how they’d sing.

“Oh it’s been a long time such a very long time oh it’s been a long time such a very long time.”

And now it’s gone away.
The thinking keeps him up all through the night. He writes it down: a song, ghost song.
Track Name: Underberg
Underberg has fallen down.
They’ve carted the last brick out to a junkyard town.
She put her head on my shoulder
Sighed a sob that said we’re older
And Underberg has fallen down.

Brick by brick and stone by stone they razed.
And ghosts of teenage love and lust escaped
Soon it’ll be but a hole
Off a sidewalk way too wide
We watched Underberg drown
And it drowned til it died.

On the day of the demolition
I showed up at her place half past nine
With cardboard cups full of coffee in tears
And the foreman began to eulogize
A building is never so lonely
As when it hits the ground
And Underberg has fallen down.

In high school we would steal inside at night.
And make out by the glow of a traffic light
When we tired of touching she would
Turn to me and say:
You know they’ll tear down this building
some bitter, some bitter black day.

I want to watch them tear down that building with you Then watch them watch you tear me down too.

The first time I saw her was nineteen ninety-three
Some punk rock shirt and acid-washed jeans
Standing front of a building
With a sign of hand-painted words:
Kitchen Supplies by Samuel Underberg

And Underberg has fallen down.
Track Name: 7 Middagh
Benji and Carson
As the bombs began to fall on London
Were down by the Brooklyn Bridge
Drinking a toast to the moments
They had written that day.

Wystan was wrestling
over interesting passages in Henry James
In which it said
The commentator and the man are not the same.

They drank in the bar
and wrote in the parlour.

They could not hear the bombs
In the Northern Heights
They were too far away
to see those fearsome lights
but they felt them.

Gypsy did striptease
While the editor was fed up with her habits
Always naked to breakfast.
And cooked up a cocktail
that was two parts whiskey
One part benzedrine tablets.
They drank in the bar
and wrote in the parlour.

They could not hear the bombs
In the Northern Heights
They were too far away
to see those fearsome lights
but they felt them.

And their dreams were bright colored brilliant.
The kind of dreams where
poems by Wilfred Owen could be read in reverse,
and spare the seed of Europe one by one.

And glasses of sherry
were not necessary to make the days more manageable
with London calling them cowards.

They could not hear the bombs
In the Northern Heights
They were too far away
to see those fearsome lights
but they felt them.

But modern's a stillbirth
that was born before it died
in 1939
or was it '45?
And we've been attending
the longest saddest funeral
in history
without even knowing.
Track Name: The Faithful
And when the day recedes
Into the distant hollows of your mind,
You will survey the damage done and
look to cranes as specters in the sky.

She used to dream of disaster and
Her mouth grew thick with the taste of fire and fuel
She got so sick of feeling bored;
An emperor’s child with not a lot to do.

But oh it explodes on a Thursday
In crimson and black.
Emptied the roads for the last time
The weeds will grow back.

Back when the boys played ball on Houston,
shirtless, handsome, sweat like wine
She stood and stared and felt ashamed
But she couldn’t unhook her gazing green eye.

Cause I’m a girl who stands by god
And I won’t be won by temptation
I don’t give in to tenderness
Though I long for kiss in a station.

But oh it explodes on a Thursday
She’s down on her back.
She couldn’t have chosen a worse way
A different attack.

She thinks that hospitals and heaven
in the right light look the same.
The walls are white with miles of quiet
and everything’s cool cause the dead don’t know pain.
Track Name: Twice in the Night
I spent the night in the Bronx
Staring at the spines of leather bound books.
One was called Infectious Diseases
The other one was the Kama Sutra.

I got up twice in the night
But I could not find The bathroom.
The wood was warm on my bare feet.
And in the morning we were business-like, polite.

I took the train from the tip of the island,
way back home. There were women hoisting
Glorious shopping bags full of gifts.

When we got stuck underground,
the conductor read to us from Rumi,
and also other poems
He had fashioned for himself.

When I got home I took off all my clothes
and tried to cry in front of the mirror.
But nothing came.
So I stepped into the shower
And let the water beat down the drain.
Track Name: Villanelles (featuring Chris Thile)
I carried you up second avenue
Looking at couples and sidewalk cafes
And lonely men wandering home in the haze
I carried you up the way

I pictured you sitting on your stoop
Spilling your coffee on villanelles
And cursing yourself you began to yell
How clumsy the things that I do

You said
I miss your dumb warm body
I don’t know what that means
but I think that it’s lovely

We bought each other hardback books
Inscribed them with ice cream that dripped while we ate But petrified by your writerly looks
I simply wrote

XO

Love, Gabe

That night you drew me oh so close
And gave me some grade school innocence
Kisses on the kneecap and nose and shoulder
You whispered in my ear no words
Traced them instead upon my back
I have to go away for a while
A trip to that side of the track.

And so I’ll miss your dumb warm body.
Track Name: Keene
Small town
New Hampshire
The edge of the air is cold
I found the answers here.

We watched
Her mother
The deadweight of her smile
And prayed she’d find her peace.

The bronze inside her eye
Begets another time
When she still had a dress
To hang her hopes on

Our bed
Held secrets
A window to what might be
And so we built a fort.

The dread
Of leaving
Our children at the yard
That they might not make friends.

Our daughter’s shining eye
Suggests another time
When she will have a dress
To hang her hopes on

We climbed up a shallow mountain,
catch a glimpse of God.
She thought that we might have found him
When we reached the top.

We drove
six hours
And wished we were still up there.
She knows
I love her
and that’s why she gets scared
the fear of growing old.

The blue inside her eye
Screams, yes this is our time
She’s wearing out the dress we hang our hopes on.