The Time Comes on Humming Tracks (2007)
Copyright (C and P) 2007 Kate Isenberg (Three Roads Records, ASCAP). All songs written by Kate Isenberg. Buy this music.
1. Streetcar to Grace
What am I doing here? That's all I want to know. Where did I come from, and where should I go? Then my connection pulls into junction: a coming streetcar becomes a vision. Funny feeling, what I've been seeking-the right direction-may be distraction. I put my ear to the reed to hear what's true. I put my question to you to hear what's true. I put my feet to the street: here's what's true. I jump the streetcar to grace city. All roads lead to Rome. That doesn't mean that I can't imagine a million other paths. Every thought balloon is an escape route to the blue sky and to the gray truth. I put my ear to the reed to hear what's true. I put my question to you to hear what's true. I put my feet to the street: here's what's true. I jump the streetcar to grace city. Time's a fearless foe with whom to play a childish chicken game; wake yourself up from the dream before the years crush you in their wake. Aren't these the things they say to make you live a coward's way? Valor grows her hair all white and still goes out to play. How did I get here? I can't quite recall, on this streetcar, within these city walls. I think I may be lost: the first step to found. I'm on a streetcar, and grace is all around. I put my ear to the reed to hear what's true. I put my question to you to hear what's true. I put my feet to the street: here's what's true. I jump the streetcar to grace.
When I met you, I resolved I would not like you very much at all. You seemed like possible trouble that I did not need at all. How wise was I (so I told myself at the time). How wise. Not I, the lovesick fool who, chasing fireflies, catches empty hands. To be sure, you're bright, but no, not I. Thus steeled was I in my reserve; I stole a glance if only to observe the scars and sugar on your wings, and shadows subtler than any color. How blind was I, disliking. Trouble never shimmered half so fine. Is it possible that I could be a lovesick fool, chasing fireflies? Oh yes, said I, because in those lovely dark designs I saw a lot I recognized, and to my greatest surprise I realized: in some endearing lights, we are two of a kind. Possible trouble, in kind. How wise now, how wise am I? So, though this lovesick fool knows chasing fireflies catches empty hands or, dead upon a pin, a bow of colored dust, still I lust for fireflies.
She said, I never said I wanted to marry you, so what? What's the big deal? But it's a very big deal, because I like to make it complicated. Oh, my love, she said, it can be simple between us. It's obvious, she said, you feel at home in my bed. So what's the big deal? But it's a very big deal, because I like to make it complicated. Oh, my love, she said, it can be simple between us. I see a shade of a doubt, black on black: spot, get out. I see a shade of a fear, white on white: disappear. I see a shade of meaning, gray on gray. I'm leaning in to It can be simple between us. She said, What if it's true, I wanted to marry you? So what would be the big deal? But it's a very big deal, because I like to make it complicated. And oh, my love, if it can be simple between us...
It was a sunny day; the sky was bluer than any blue I'd seen in recent memory. But my memory was trained on a rainier refrain: that's the sound of the train that your love rode away. It goes, Oh, if you would only look up from your playbook, you would have seen me, standing at the depot, waving you home. I was waving you back home. In a city park green with spring, I pass a man who sells ice cream novelties from a cart with jingle bells. He says, Señorita, you look sad. Are you all right? Yes, fine, never mind April showers in my eyes. Yes, fine, never mind what's melting in my eyes. How could love go and leave me all alone, with only a jingle man to ask me how I am? His cart of sweets for sale and his song for loan remind me of your heart, and I turn to watch him go. On a train, thinking just how long your love has been away. A tall black man asks if I'm OK. His name is James. He shakes my hand like he won't let go, but then he gets off at his stop, and he waves me on alone. James, you look a little bit like love. You made me look up from my playbook and see you standing at the depot, waving me home. You were waving me back home. I can still see you standing there: James, a stranger, waving me all the way back home.
Celia, I haven't seen you in a long time, but I remember you saying, You're the best. And I was. I was. Celia, it's been so long since I wrote anything good. Possibility is only a plastic bead on a rosary. I could use some faith these strange days. Celia, the streetcar's silent of poetry now. I can almost hear you saying, Get it down, and the song will come. Wish I heard those tracks humming. Celia, I haven't seen you in a long time, but I remember you saying, You're the best, as you took your leave.
7. She Knows
If I should die by a fatal indecision and never make my mind up to tell her how it is, how I loved the way she stopped to savor flowers on the fences, make sure she knows. If I should blow away on a puff of long-windedness and never take a stand and tell her how it is, how I loved the way she interrupted my soliloquy and said, Action is the key, make sure she knows. If I dissolve into the fog after I leave her door and never solve the mystery of what I went there for, and how the traffic lights were greener for the love I felt for her, make sure she knows. Till then I fall on the sword of chivalry and never throw the glove down to win the king's lady. Conscience is a fearsome dragon worse than any foe. The fire's to my feet; she has to know. I think she knows. I'm sure she knows.
8. The Ghost Named Virtue
When I was a young man I went for a sailor, on a ship bound for untold lands. At night the crew would drink below deck, boasting of love lines crossing their hands. I'd cross my chest. One day the ship sailed past a strange island in the midst of a becalmed sea. Out on the reef I saw a strange woman. She seemed to sing just to me, among the crew the only man whose name was Virtue. She said, Why do you fear the water when that is most what you are made of? Why do you fear the breakers when you are broken now? I said, Tie me to the mast, the ocean's voice will be the death of me. Tie me to the mast; I'm going underneath the waves. Tie me to the mast, I'll be the death of me. Next day we docked in a new city, where the wine tasted of tallow and brine. Out on the street I passed a young woman with feet rough as reef and eyes green as sea. I took her sleeve. She said, Where to sailor? Haven't I seen you before? That's as it may be, but sailor's always wanting more. I said, Tie me to the post, tie me to the bed. She ran up ahead. I followed her down to the edge of the town, I followed her into the waves. On the seabed was a sunken ship. She tied me to the mast, and there I was lost. I do not fear the water, now; that is all that I am made of. I do not fear the breakers; I am broken now. She tied me to the mast; I died upon the mast. She tied me to the mast, the ocean's voice, among the crew the only ghost whose name is Virtue.
9. Coming Home
I'm coming home in seven days. It's been a long journey and I've learned traveling ways, like how to pack my bag and fit it all in. One thing's always sticking out: that's you, my friend. Is it just the days between, or is this really what it seems? I'm coming home in four days. Your last letter sent a smile to my face. It's the way you know me in this strange place makes me feel at home with home so far away. Is it just the miles between, or is this just the home it seems? I'm coming home the day after today. I called you from the beach. I couldn't wait to hear your voice say my name, and listen to I miss you glisten on the waves. Is it just the sea between, or is this just the tide it seems? I'm coming home today. I'll see you at the end of the jetway. I've changed, as have you, but I know that anywhere I go, I go with you. If it's not the hour between, then it's now our hour, it seems.
10. Don't Misunderstand
Did the idea of us come out of the blue like some ship of fools? God knows, if your heart were a harbor, then all the slips would be filled up. Don't misunderstand: my love is not a ship but the wide ocean. It's not my style to write my heart in the sky like some fighter plane trailing smoke behind. That kind of love looks as big as a house, till the wind comes and blows it all out. Don't misunderstand: my love is not a plane but a tailwind. The science books explain that what goes up comes down. What keeps me falling for you is a mystery that can't be pinned down. My greatest fear is falling flat on my face if I try to explain to you, but if an awkward tango with the truth is the best dance any song can do, don't misunderstand: my love is not a song, but I sing to you.
Gold Rush Town (2010)
Copyright (C and P) 2010 Kate Isenberg (Three Roads Records, ASCAP). All songs written by Kate Isenberg. Buy this music.
1. View of the Ocean
It's best that I did not see you today, because I looked too good for my own good, and I admit my intentions were just half true. I intended to press on you, in the space of an hour, all of the space that lay on the far side of the hour. And it's best that I did not see you today, because I have a lover too, and I know the world has other plans for me and you. But although this I'll own, our story is yet undone, and she must whirl us around before she sets us down. And all that I wanted of you was a tale with an end untold. All that I wanted of you was a tale untold. It's best that I did not see you today. Instead I picked up the family car, and I drove to the coast with my suddenly free hour. I took my time getting there, and I saw, along the road, the grass was blowing in the wind like fingers through its hair. And all that I wanted of you was a view from the Great Highway. All that I wanted of you was a great, great highway. It's best that I did not see you today, because I was reminded of you telling me that every song's heart holds the same poetry. And it's best that I did not see you today, because I finally reached the ocean, and I beheld the blue-green blend in harmony. And all that I wanted of you was a view of the ocean. All that I wanted of you was a view of the sea, and I guess, in the end, I did see you today.
2. Promiscuous Heart
Make her wear a skirt that hides her knees, comb her hair back, and tame the swarm of bees. And when her thoughts alight upon those lips, hold still her willful fingers in her lap. But I've got a promiscuous heart, an impetuous heart, a curious heart. And there's not a thing that I can do but mind her manners: believe that's what I do. Tell her: keep her poems to herself, return the rhyme and the meter to the shelf. I tell her: put those letters in the drawer, let that boy alone, not send him anymore. Lock her up inside with guilt on her head: as fruitless as to ask a puppy to play dead. The wisest of rules only makes her fool more. The wildest of roses grows by the prison door. Pin a scarlet letter to her chest: truth to advertise to all the rest. But no amount of shaming brings regret. As Hester loves her Pearl, so she loves her bed. She's my promiscuous heart, impetuous heart, curious, ambitious. And there's not a thing that I can do but mind her manners: believe that's what I do.
3. Seven-League Boots
I've got an eyelash, I've got a candle, I've got a horseshoe, I've got a mantle: it makes me invisible as I move into the magical. I know that I'm not the type of girl you're used to counting your lucky stars on, but you may find they were all moonshine, the kind that littered your skies, my darling. I know that I am not in your league, but I've got these seven-league boots. I've got a winning streak a mile long, I've got a knock on wood, I've got good luck, I've got a penny: it's more than enough to pay for all the wishes we'll make. I've got a dandelion I'm waiting to blow. Great expectations, I've got high hopes. I've got a prayer that's moving my feet. I know that I am not in your league, but I've got these seven-league boots.
4. She's Gone Serious
Did you hear our mystery girl today, and the big word she said in class? She didn't come with us after school to smoke cigarettes behind the wall. We saw her writing in a book, with a fancy pen, at the bus stop. Little Bill went to ask her what was up. She talked like a grown-up. She's gone serious; she has nixed the trickster once she was. In her diary, what does she have to say? Is it about us? She says she's documenting her life. We just laugh. Fifteen, we're going to live forever; we never worry about things like that. We don't know this girl: no makeup, but a face of someone whose shoulders hold the world, kinda sad, or we don't know what. Some of us sneaked up to her house. We peeked in through the window. She was lying flat on the carpet, staring at the ceiling, doing nothing. She's gone serious; she doesn't have the time of day for us. She says she's afraid of wasting her life. We just laugh. Fifteen, we're going to live forever; we never worry about things like that. She's gone! She's gone serious! (Worry--what, us?) We tried to forget about her. Then, one day, she came around. Little Bill held out a cigarette, brand new-and she turned it down! She told jokes to make us laugh-well, at least she tried. But she was hiding all of her big words in her diary, with her precious life. She's gone serious; she can never be the one she was to us. In her diary, she's got a lot to say, not a bit about us. She says she's afraid of wasting her life. We just laugh. Fifteen, we're going to live forever; we never worry about things like that.
5. Never Say Never
Over the city, I saw you coming. I felt the key turn in the lock. I heard the weight lift from your shoulders and turn into music as you walked. Thus dreaming, I can't imagine thinking you would never come, thinking you would never. Never say never. When we were children, we could do magic and turn into fish in the swimming pool. Now, when it's dark, you tell me a story, and when I awake I'll make you a fishing pole. Does telling make it so? If so, I am telling you. If so, I tell you: never say never. The waters may be still today, but doves are talking on the telephone wires, sending the message over the city, till we tell the spell of a summer day. Thus dreaming, I can imagine thinking you would come, thinking you will.
I washed the sheets today. The pillow hairs you left are washed away in the Laundromat. They go on spinning there, with someone else's clothes. They look so different, they look so strange. Because I could not help myself, I watched the cycle spin in the two machines, side by side. That's all we are: two loads spinning separately, trying to lose the stains of losing. Losing has no name, and still I want to call you sweetheart. Take this nameless thing from the middle of my sweet heart. Pillow hairs are thin strings to hang a song upon, and metaphors slim things; they get it wrong. My words are little more than shades of gloss without your lips, your lips I've lost. Losing has no words, and still I want to tell you, sweetheart. Take this wordless thing from the middle of my sweet heart. To lose you is not not to have you. To lose you is not not anything at all. It just is. If all that is left me of you is this hurt, you better believe I'm going to spin it long. If all I can do is to call you sweetheart, if all I can do is sing silence this song, don't believe I believe it's enough. Don't believe I believe I've said a word in a four-minute song about four years of us. This riff is not your kiss, this riff is not your hands, this riff is not what I miss, this riff is not a chance, this riff will never be your eyes, and this riff is not goodbye. Losing has no song, and still I want to sing you, sweetheart. Take this silent thing from the middle of my sweet heart.
Robin by my window, will you be my love? I have room in my life for a bird like you. The room is yours for the night, my head under your wing. When morning comes, we won't speak, but through the glass we fly.
8. Let It Be Small
Morning has broken, like an egg crushed under the weight of all the other days. You would not believe the freight. But before the dawn broke, the dew fell on the park, sparkling with newness and a feeling there is something left to do, so much left to do. But if it's small, let it be small; let it be almost nothing at all. Small will do; make do with small. New Year's: should old acquaintance be forgot, reacquaint myself with doing less than I had thought. Mind the space. Happy New Year is an old fool, dancing at a wake where others cry for what is gone. Cheers to what is here; cheers to what's still here. Cheers to being here. And if that's small, let it be small; let it be almost nothing at all. Small cheer, cheers to the small. Let us now praise famous men who won over the blankness of the page and made us wonder, Is there something left to say? Is there anything left to say? But who's brave? Is it the famous, or a no one who would dare to make a mark upon the page and to say something, say one thing? And if that's small, let it be small; let it be almost nothing at all. Cheers to the small. Cheers.
9. Kingpin of the Playground
Jimmy was my little boyfriend. We were 11. Going steady was the new trend; he'd not be left out. I never knew why Jimmy chose my brown hair and freckles. Could it be we ran the same speed in races at recess? I was the luckiest girl. Jimmy blew my tomboy world. Sing for Jim, once kingpin of the playground. Are you still the biggest fish in a small pond, or are you a middle-aged man with haunted eyes, boys on skateboards pass you by? Is there a soul in all the wide world who does not quake to look inside the dark locker, the dark heart of the fifth grade? I held on for my life to the thread of a brand name, and I made a shelf for my life on the heft of little Jimmy's name. He was the luckiest boy, and his youth, the shiniest of toys. The bell is tolling for Jim now; school's out. High school's coming soon, and the man you'll be swoops down. You can't fight that darkling bird, but you can fight your ugly duckling girl. One summer day before the sixth grade, Jimmy called to make his break. I could hear other boys on the line, cackling jackals. What had I done but give a damn? Unforgivable! For this, their gossip sicced me good, cruel and unusual. I'd turn those jackals' heads today, and I'd be laughing on my way. But to look in Jimmy's face, I'd quake, and I would match him pace for pace, and I would sing for Jim, once kingpin of the playground. See, you're still the biggest fish in this small pond. Summer days, I see you haunting the mini-mart, stealing gum or some unwanted little girl's heart. You were always fast, fast as a summer day. But you are slow, slow as shame, to fade away.
10. Fireflies Redux
When I met you, I resolved I would not like you very much at all. You seemed like possible trouble, possible trouble that I did not need at all. How wise was I: so I told myself at the time. How wise. Not I, the lovesick fool who, chasing fireflies, catches empty hands. To be sure, you're bright, but no, not I. Oh no, not I! Thus steeled was I in my reserve, I stole a glance if only to observe the scars and sugar on your wings, and shadows subtler than any color. How blind was I, disliking. Trouble never shimmered half so fine. Is it possible that I could be a lovesick fool, chasing fireflies? Oh yes, said I! Because in those lovely dark designs, I saw a lot I recognized, and to my greatest surprise, I realized: in some endearing light, we are two of a kind. Possible trouble, in kind. How wise now am I? So though this lovesick fool knows chasing fireflies catches empty hands or, dead upon a pin, a bow of colored dust, still I lust for fireflies!!!
11. Birthday Shade of Blue
I guess this means you're home alone on your birthday. A little bird tells me you're feeling a birthday shade of blue. Well, I see it's true. Well, well. It's a good thing that I found you. Hey, celebrate, it's your birthday! We'll go out and buy you a big cake. You'll say all the things you want to say. No need to hold back, it's your birthday. Say what you want: it's your birthday. Whatever you want, it's your birthday. This day comes but once a year. Who made such a silly rule? And if it seems too much to bear, then I declare: tomorrow will be another birthday for you. Hey, come on out, it's your birthday! No need to hide inside; you're famous. Have another drink. It's on us. No one's watching you now. Do what you want: it's your birthday. Whatever you want, it's your birthday. Whoever you want, it's your birthday. And many, many, many, many, many, many more.
12. Gold Rush Town
Time's the only currency I never overspend in this gold rush town. Time's the only poker hand I'd bet it all to win in this gold rush town. Time's the only home I can afford to own in this gold rush town. Like a pioneer, I traveled for years to make it here. I traveled the wilds, and, when I arrived, I brought a city in my mind. I brought a city in my mind, and there a city still abides. Time's the only lover I can tell forever in this gold rush town. Time's the only open mouth where I both live and drown in this gold rush town. Time's all the forgiveness that I have ever found in this gold rush town. Like the fog that holds the city at night, my love is blind. It clings to the brightest windowsill, where strings of lights repel the chill. And yet what glitters may be real, and so, my lover, I will. Time's the bus that gets me to the best is yet to come, somewhere in this gold rush town. And time is there collecting toll on each and every road. I'm getting old in this gold rush town. Time has jumped my claim to the vein of maybe someday in this gold rush town. A storyline divides me from the man on the street, with his cup of change. If he is deranged, well, so am I. I've got a city in my mind. I've got a city in my mind, and there I will abide. Time has washed the pastels into dirty watercolors in what's almost a ghost town now. But the roads are paved in gold, so I was always told about this gold rush town. Well, what do you know-the pavement does appear to glow when the rain comes down.