Annual Pilgrimage to Our Patron Saint: Mary Chapin Carpenter: Everyday Magic, Day 944

“Show a little inspiration, show a little spark,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings in her song “The Hard Way.” Kelley Hunt, one of my beloveds and my songwriting partner, happily obliged her by summoning up the inspiration and spark to strap ourselves into my peanut-butter-colored car so we can once again worship at her feet and replenish our songwriting well.

This year we trekked to Wichita for a long day’s night to the Wabi Sabi (beautiful, decaying, and full of soul and vibrancy) Orpheum Theater to see  this shining soul sing some of the greatest songs we know, such as “Stones in the Road,” once the best songs I know of about America. Listen to it sometime, and hear what she says about all that’s on fire in our history and lives, including lines like these: “And now we drink our coffee on the run, we climb that ladder rung by rung/ We are the daughters and the sons, and here’s the line that’s missing.”

When Kelley and I write our own songs together, I like to think there’s always an invisible and palpable icon of Mary Chapin in the room, right on top of the purple piano where we compose music, occasionally nodding at us and always making eye contact. So many of our songs — such as “Love,” “You’ve Got to Be the Vessel,” and “Let it Rain,” — speak to some of the deep-river themes of hard-won love, healing, and courage flowing through MCC’s songs, such  as her song “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” and “Jubilee,” in which she sings:

And I can tell by the way you’re searching
For something you can’t even name
That you haven’t been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came

So it’s no wonder that we drive, drive, drive to be with MCC and her kick-ass, open-hearted band, including many bandmates she’s played with for decades. She’s someone I would leap over long highways and through 100-degree days to see, well, her and Bruce Springsteen, and you know what? This year, Mary Chapin ended her concert with a Springsteen song, “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” Sitting in an ancient theater with one of my best friends, witnessing this moment and many others together — like when she sang “This is Love” — my heart overflowed and my being exhaled in pure joy. As she sang, “The wrong things aren’t supposed to last,” and “You would’ve thought a miracle/ Was all that got us through,” I realized how some moments, maybe all if I was awake enough, are the miracles that get us through, leading us to do and be all the rights that do last.

Bonus song: You’ve got to hear “Jericho,”  a song that inspired Kelley to write a song and me to write a poem of the same name. Here is Kelley performing this live on Kansas Public Radio (and you can support Kelley writing even more amazing songs by supporting her Patreon campaign here), and here’s my poem:

Jericho

How long have you been lost? All your life?

Then you’re getting somewhere.

The walls don’t fall for those who think

they know where they are.

It takes music, low and from the bottom of pain,

like what I sang out in childbirth, each call

a plea to open and let the new one come through.

Or the sound of the handful of dirt the new widow releases

slowly quickly the long way to the top of the wooden casket

where a thousand hands hit the same drum at one moment.

Or the breaking laughter of a two-year-old running for the first time,

about to trip. Or the inhalation of surprise and verve on the cusp

orgasm in a cold room where all the blankets are kicked off.

Knowing the path has always been overrated

although washing the dishes and cleaning the counters helps.

Loving and looking for clues is all we have–the slant of the sun

across the dusty wooden floor, the ache of leaf toward earth,

the weary smile of the stranger who gives you his parking space.

When the big wind knocks you down, look carefully

for what’s ready: the horizon suddenly flashed by the brilliant

wings of an Indigo Bunting vanishing into the future

in a stand of cedar where you’ve always lived.

Jericho was never forgotten and never forgets.

His feet remember how to follow the outline of the city

ready to unmake itself into something better. Let yourself

stop trying to hold up all that weight. Come and sit

on this beautiful, cold ground. Be as lost as the rain

making its way, through the veins of the universe, home.

The Everyday Miracle of Rainbows: Everyday Magic, Day 904

I didn’t see my first rainbow until I was 12 on the day my newborn brother died. In the middle of our house stuffed with grieving relatives, my younger brother and I quietly sipped soup at the kitchen counter early that evening until I noticed something strange and beautiful in the backyard. Within seconds, all of us were outside, amazed by a perfect arc over our house while my grandmothers, first in Yiddish, then in English, hugged us and said this was the miracle God gave us after taking our brother.

Why I didn’t see a rainbow until I was 12 was because I wasn’t looking, not having imagined rainbows were possible in real life. Growing up in Brooklyn, then central New Jersey, there were also a lot of buildings, trees, houses, and shopping malls in the way.

After I married an rainbow whisperer, able to read the sky and aim us toward wherever the most likely rainbow is, I learned that rainbows, especially in areas of the country prone to late afternoon storms, can be everyday happenings. “Not rare but precious,” Ruth Gendler wrote about beauty in her book Notes on the Need for Beauty. Nothing could be truer of rainbows in summertime Kansas, where mountains and an excess of trees don’t get in the way.

How to see a rainbow? When the sun is nearing one horizon, and dark clouds fill the other horizon, look carefully at those dark clouds directly across from the sun. Although I’ve slept through many early morning rainbows, I do catch early evening ones. When our often southwest-to-northeast storms have moved past us, and the setting sun breaks through its western clouds, poof! There’s a rainbow somewhere.

Meteorologically, we know light , reflected, refracted and dispersed through water droplets, cooks up rainbows. Looking at the meaning gets more tricky although symbolism abounds bout light piercing darkness. After the flood, the crew, animals and humans, on Noah’s arc witnessed a helluva rainbow, which we can call a symbol of hope, miracles, redemption, new beginnings, and according to the tale and film Finian’s Rainbow, our heart’s deepest dreams coming true (check out Fred Astaire and Petula Clark singing “Look to the Rainbow”). Living in Kansas, we can never escape all manner of Wizard of Oz references (step outside of the state, and someone is bound to say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”).  But of course, we also claim one of the best rainbow songs and singers of all time — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by the ever-vibrant Judy Garland, who yearns to get the hell out of Kansas until she escapes. Then she yearns with all her being to be back under the rainbow.

Yesterday, walking into the Merc to buy a bunch of zucchini, one vibrant curve surprised me. As I stood at the entrance to the store in wonder, I pointed out the rainbow to a woman about to shop also. “Look like God has given us!” she said while starting to cry. “Yes,” I answered her. We both stared into the rainbow, taking many photos with our phones, which alerted would-be shoppers to stop and look up.

Driving home, it was rainbow slivers and half-arcs all the way until  a full rainbow, so vibrant and stunning that I couldn’t help but back myself up into the chigger-and-tick-filled tallgrass to take more photos. I remembered how the arc is just part of the full circle of a rainbow, which puts me in mind of a song Kelley Hunt and I wrote called “Miracle” with this chorus:

A round rainbow is called a glory.

What you survive in life is called a glory.

You never see the arc of it until after the storm.

To see the whole miracle, you have to hold on.

The workaday miracle is where you belong.

Last night’s rainbow, like the first rainbow I ever saw, soared over my home, reminding me again of the everyday miracles we’ve given, and also how we can never see the whole miracle until after the storm.

Why Would Anyone Leave Lawrence, Kansas?: Everyday Magic, Day 869

Last night I dreamed that we had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where our oldest son now lives, because Ken got a kick-ass job directing a nature center. As soon as we arrived at some friend’s house and brought in a suitcase, I started crying uncontrollably. Ken was sad too, and eventually, a friend from Lawrence showed up for a walk that ended up at the curb outside a Walgreens, where all three of us were very sad. I woke up thinking what I often think when anyone I know leaves Lawrence, Kansas, center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t mean to put down anyone’s decisions to live elsewhere and call it their own center of the universe, but there’s something about Kansas that got a hold of me a long time ago, and there’s no place I would rather live. Yes, there’s the politics, more despicable these days that the worst most of us could imagine. There’s the weather, sporting stretches of summer where the temperature barely falls below 90 and can top 100 for days, tempered by ice storms and sub-zero winters. There’s the chiggers, public enemy #1 for many of us who step into fields in summer. There’s also far too many conservative Christian Republicans for my taste, and slim chance of finding a real bagel, let alone a bialy. There’s rattlesnakes, cougars, and too many mosquitoes.

But there’s also this: the wind right now pouring through the Osage Orange around the porch. There’s people throughout the state who would, if your house caught fire or car broke down, show up to help build you a new house and trouble-shoot your car for hours. There’s pie to die for. There’s long and curvy roads as well as endless horizon roads where your own company is the tallgrass prairie, wind, sky and an occasional coyote. There’s a panoramic view of wild weather, the thrill of lightning striking all around you, the purple flash it ignites, and the very generic cialis drugs rare tornado that wakes us all up and sends us outside to watch (close to a basement of course). There’s our Free State history along with the history of the Kaw, Osage and many other tribal peoples so resonant in this land. There’s Castle Rock, the whole town of Lucas, wonderful neighborhoods in Wichita, amazing Vietnamese food in Goodland, and the best fried chicken in the universe in a St. Francis gas station.

In Lawrence especially, there’s long brunches at the Roost while sitting outside on Mass St., the most beautiful floor tiles I’ve ever seen at Kring’s, astonishing fabric at Sarah’s, and coconut cream pie at Ladybird after a great pizza at Limestone. There’s the river and our many walks across the Kaw alone or with big groups of friends. There’s swirls of goldfinch reflecting back the light, bluebirds and eagles in winter, and indigo bunting exploding from tree to tree to summer. There’s the gorgeous Snow Hall building on campus with Snow White lettering, and thousands of iris in spring down Jayhawk Drive. Of course, there’s basketball, fireworks, the old-fashioned Christmas parade, the Final Fridays when the streets fill up with art and a building in east Lawrence is flooded with blue lights. There’s Clinton Lake in kayaks while the moon rises, and the Baldwin Woods in early spring when the Spring Beauties appear. Mostly, though, there’s a sense of community and magic made of knowing many of us are in for the long haul and eventually, we’re run into each other at Liberty Hall and dance to the music of Kelley Hunt like there’s no tomorrow. There’s also tomorrow.

While I love visiting the places my work and kids have drawn me to in my life — amazing cities like Burlington, VT., Minneapolis, and Madison — along with the city I’m from, New York — it turns out that this place, battered by history and politics and once a microburst, is my place.

Why You Should Support the Best Work Of One of the Best Musicians: Everyday Magic, Day 788

Kelley and some of the musicians she recorded with in Nashville
Kelley and some of the musicians she recorded with in Nashville

Yesterday I listened to one of the most beautiful albums in my life: Kelley Hunt’s new studio album. How did I get so lucky? Because I co-wrote some of the songs on the album, Kelley called me up and said, “Want to come over and listen to the music?” Despite being home less than a day from Goddard (when I normally won’t leave the house unless there’s a Kansas tsunami), I was out the door and on Kelley’s couch that afternoon. What I heard was what heart and soul sound like when made into music. I laughed, I cried, I hummed all the way home.

Which is why I’m writing today to encourage you to support Kelley in her indiegogo campaign. Being a musician, or just about any artist these days, ranges from dubious to impossible when it comes to making a living. Kelley and her manager/husband Al have been dancing on that edge for years, putting out powerful music in the form of five critically-acclaimed CDs and international tours from Vancouver to North Carolina and back again, both solo and with the Kelley Hunt band.

Kelley and the McCrary Sisters
Kelley and the McCrary Sisters

Now they have a new CD, freshly recorded with the likes of the amazing McCrary sisters (legendary gospel singers) singing with her, plus Tony Harrell on accordion and B3, drummer/percussionist Bryan Owings, a kick-ass horn section and many more of the top musicians in Nashville. The album is recorded and mixed, and just needs to be mastered while Kelley and Al work with artists on the cover art.

“This is the best work I’ve ever done,” Kelley told me. Those of you who know her music can only imagine since her previous best work shines long after the CD or concert is done. Here is she performing on the Legendary Blues Cruise last year, and here she is singing “My Funny Valentine.” Kelley has also played dozens of benefits, helping people in this region and beyond over the years.

So I’m writing you to invite you with all my heart to give some of your love to Kelley’s campaign — right here. For a small amount, you can get your own copy of the CD, signed, sealed and delivered. For larger amounts, there are other great perks (even a concert with Kelley in your backyard if you wish). Please support one of our best musicians doing her best art.

Brave Voice’s Round Rainbow: Everyday Magic, Day 703

IMG_0328At Brave Voice last week, we sung a new song repeatedly, a signature tune for the week:

A round rainbow is called a glory.

What you survive in life is called a story.

You only see the arc of it after the storm.

To see the whole miracle, you have to hold on.

The workaday miracle is where you belong, where you belong.

The story of how this song came to be may be a pebble in the ocean of the story of where this song is going, now that it’s inscribed in the memories and hearts of all of us who took place. But the song came in a miniature miracle kind of way: several week ago, watching Kelley Hunt perform at the Dakota in Minneapolis  I couldn’t help thinking of one word repeatedly: miracle. It’s a miracle she gives us this life-lifting music, and it’s a miracle that so many of us who create in any form for 376920_10201106479481349_1759454154_na living/for a life find sustenance for our art in this culture. But we do, and it kept coming to me that this was a workaday miracle, the kind you help to unfold word by word, note by note.

On the way home from Minnesota, Ken took a photo of a round rainbow with the shadow of the plane in the center of it. I posted it on facebook, and past Brave Voice participant Sandy wrote that “a round rainbow is called a glory.” Both Kelley and I emailed back and forth about that line, the photo, and the idea of a new song that encompassed all this.

A day later, I was walking the dog when we both got tired. I sat on the gravel driveway with Shay, and I began singing quietly, not really paying attention to myself. Shay cocked his right ear and leaned in. Soon I realized, I was singing “A round rainbow is called a glory./ What you survive in life is called a story…” and the rest of the song. I soon went to Kelley’s house, sat with her at her kitchen table, and sang this. “I think it’s the chorus of a song,” I told her, but she told it would work beautifully as a little song. Within a few hours, she found/created several other parts, mostly comprised of stretching the word “glory” into beautiful arrangements. We decided this song would travel with us to Brave Voice, but once there, Kelley found some verses to grow this little song.

401952_10201113625019983_517343383_nOn Tuesday morning, Kelley led the group singing in three-part harmony to this little but mighty chant, and on Wednesday evening, we ended our performance with the fuller song, complete with breathtaking cello playing by Teresa (one of the BV partipants) before surprising everyone with the chorus they all knew by heart. The song itself became a round rainbow for all those present in that moment.

Singing this song with others all week, by myself while walking across the prairie at Brave Voice, and in my mind as I fell asleep many nights, I feel its power seeping into me with each repetition. The glory of the workaday miracle is where we belong.

Top photo by Ken Lassman; other photos of Brave Voice by Dianna Burrup.