Harrison Lemke Austin, Texas

tape hiss symphonies to God

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Track Name: What Have You Done to Your Hair?
Fume off into the darkness with a curse caught in your teeth.
Hurry from the thrall of the window lights
into the damp and dirty streets.
And edge around the cars parked in the road.
And act as if you had somewhere to go.

You could be out for drinks in the city glow
with a buzzing in your head.
You could've brought the TV to your room
and not have gotten out of bed.
But you're stuck in central Oregon instead
with a head all full of things you maybe shouldn't have said.

Little cousins with their video games
and cartoon marathons,
and aunts who fix you with a pitying eye
when they ask how you've been getting on,
and, "What have you done to your hair?",
and, "Is that really such a good thing to wear?"

Punch the button at the crosswalk
to give the blinking light something to do;
it's past midnight, and everyone's in bed by now
but the porch light will be left on for you,
and one standing lamp in the living room,
and the lights on the Christmas tree,
pointedly, pointedly.
Track Name: Living Room Song
You opened the door for me
and said you'd make me something to eat
and i hugged my knees in your armchair
and i stared at the wall.
I could hear you in the kitchen,
bumping into things.
Maybe it's not such a lousy world after all.
Maybe it's not such a lousy world after all.

I pretend that i'm asleep
because i'm scared you'll make me leave
and you turn out the lights
and you disappear at the end of the hall.
And the Christmas tree glows blearily
like a nightlight by my head;
maybe it's not such a rotten holiday after all.
Maybe it's not such a rotten holiday after all.
Track Name: Another Advent Song
And the oil rainbows shine in the carpark floodlights,
and the engines sigh and the pavement listens all night,
and the live-oaks shake like they're dying when the sun gets up to leave,
and the sky is thinly covered like a dusty TV screen

and I am tired of waiting for you.
And I am tired of waiting for you.

And friends get sick — though so far mostly friends of friends —
and everything happens
and nothing happens again
and the end is near
and the end's been near for quite some time,
for my whole life.
And the end is near
and the end's been near for quite some time,
for my whole life.

And I am tired of waiting for you.
And I am tired of waiting for you.
And I am tired of waiting for you.
And are you tired of waiting for me too?
Track Name: Snow
Snow fell:
in it, we could —
said that we would —
never did.
Track Name: Idyll No. 3
Shiver in your coat
on a side street of your new neighborhood.
The better part of three months here
and still it doesn't feel any good.

And there's no one here to talk to
and nothing you'd know how to say;
the feeling racks you like a fever
and then it goes away.

Rainbow lights like spirits
guard the gardens and the doors,
versus packing tape, unopened mail,
takeout boxes on the floor

and the way that other people's lives
seem to tie up into bows:
Oklahoma gameday glow
through the curtains of the windows.
Track Name: Hotel Bathtub Madonna and Child
They're calling you home
so you turn off the phone
and just let it lie dead
in the center console of the rental car
and drive a hundred miles west
to the oceanside,
check in to a Shiloh Inn there
a half-mile from the shoreline.
But there's a paper bag caught
in the Oregon grape
by the hotel wall, and you're wondering
is this all a big mistake.

You head down to the water,
fists balled in your sleeves,
hood drawn against the wet wind,
just looking for some peace.
The cold fog burns your skin
and the cold air hurts your teeth;
still, your heart gets light
mounting the last rise.
But the ocean and the sky
put up a unified front,
one blinding wall of white,
a real inscrutable one.

Burst through the door.
Throw your coat on the floor.
Sit a minute on the bedspread,
faint queasy scent of cigarettes.
You run yourself a bath;
you fumble with the fixtures,
fingers too numb
to properly gauge the temperature,
and with your glasses off
you could almost swear you see
the outline of the Virgin & Child
in the mildew on the ceiling tile.
The bathwater slides
like hot defeat over you,
and you stare up at the stain
and say a sour little word or two.
Track Name: Magnificat
You set the radio to scan
but even the classical music station is stuck on the Magnificat.
You start to look around for a turnabout
but the sky is dark as Judgment Day and your nerve gives out.

Your grandfather will fuss about the car.
Your grandmother will fuss about the fuss you put everyone through.
Your aunt will make too much of a show in your defense.
Your uncle won't even look up from the football game to greet you.

(One foot wants to turn and run.
One foot wants to stomp and tell everyone they're wrong.)
Track Name: Guest Room Song
I suddenly woke up.
Didn't know where I was.
Stared up at the ceiling,
let it steady itself,
began to place myself:
it's the dead of night
on the longest night

I went to the window,
saw nothing but snow,
and a few pairs of headlights
moving gentle and slow, like
mothering hands
smoothing the white expanse

I was awake at the moment
the course of things shifted.
I felt everything turning.
I felt everything lifted.
I turned it over and over,
I could not get over —
O Blessed Assurance,
Jesus is mine!
O Blessed Assurance,
all will be well,
Track Name: E. 10th
Thread some red string through your hair in the mirror.
Get buzzed downstairs by some friends of yours.
Walk up East 10th in the fog and the drizzle.
Pass by your namesake in the cathedral doors.

People look through you, and talk like they don't know you.
Stare into the wood grain til your vision swirls.
The bar lights in the bottles like the billion golden haloes
of the martyrs and the saints
whose prayers keep the world in being.
Track Name: Vacation Blues
No one's how you remember them to be.
No one's how you remember them to be.
They do things you've never seen them do
and break when you don't want them to;
no, no one's how you remember them to be.

Nothing ever goes how you expect.
Nothing ever goes how you expect.
Things you planned for months on end
all lose the plot and stop making sense;
no, nothing ever goes how you expect.

And nothing ever lasts quite like it should.
Nothing ever lasts quite like it should.
Two whole weeks is a long long time,
but soon there's a sinking in your stomach and you're laying out your ties.
No, nothing ever lasts quite like it should.
Nothing ever lasts quite like it should.
Track Name: Song for a Friend
I see you sometimes at a holiday.
We never say quite what we need to say.
And the hour gets late and lonely,
and I wish that you could stay,
and I make up stupid questions
so you'll forget to go away.

And i think of you.
Do you think of me too?

I still have the mysteries you loaned to me.
You still haven't given back my old CDs.
And I still keep all your letters
in a box below the bed.
These things hold us together:
a hundred fragile little threads.

If I think of you,
will you think of me too?
If I think of you,
will you think of me too?
Track Name: Holiday in Bermuda
we wake up in a blazing sea of sheets so white and cool
with the burden on our shoulders all but gone.
we make friends with the bartenders in the fake grass huts by the shore,
full of hope and charity like glowing golden icons.

and we are as the angels in heaven,
without family or friends.

forget about those old churches and black-and-white movies,
we’ve got rum and coke and pay-per-view TV.
forget about Bing and Frank and Nat and gaudy Christmas trees,
every day’s a holiday if you want it to be.

rip up the past like a band-aid,
see the new skin underneath.

Bacardi, your baby-soft skin, and a view through to annihilation.
Bacardi, your soft white skin, and a blue view of annihilation.
Track Name: Port Townsend, Dusk or Just Before It
My blood is tapping out a Morse-code message
against the collar of my coat.
And the thought of one more day with you in a cozy bed-and-breakfast
brings the bile to my throat.
A cold black Christmas spent with you and only you,
nobody here to save us from ourselves.
The soft yielding sand; the grey endless view;
you picking up seashells.
You picking up seashells
from the ground.
Track Name: Futility Blues
Did you remember to bear them in mind?
Did you remember to bear them in mind?
All the big books that you read
that sent such shivers down your spine:
Did you remember to bear them in mind?

Was there any point to all of this?
Was there any point to all of this?
All the pleasures of the flesh
that crumpled up like a paper cup in your fist:
was there any point to all of this?

What was all of it for?
What was all of it for?
All the lovers with the whole world in their kisses
who you don't see anymore:
oh, what was all of it for?

What are you going to do?
What are you going to do
with all the endless reels of things that you
and you alone bore witness to:
what are you going to do?

Will it all just come to nothing in the end?
Will it all just come to nothing in the end?
All the sore thumbs, and the loose strands,
and the mysteries that burned you when you held them in your hand:
were they all just worse than nothing in the end?
Were they all just worse than nothing in the end?
Track Name: Coeur d'Alene 12/24/98
Pad across the frigid floor
in your bare feet, and run a glass of water.
The lit up numbers on the microwave
say it's still Christmas Eve for twenty minutes longer.
A week back home in Idaho
among cousins' faces, strange-and-yet-familiar,
and drinks and games and films that end the same old ways:
it's all as it was, but there's no way to account for
the time that passed through everyone,
too much of it to name or even make sense of,
the hopes and fears of all the years
chasing a clarity that never seems to come.

Is it just, hold
until the end?

Pad downstairs to the double bed
where your cousin is already softly sleeping
and pull the covers up around your head
and shake, and stare up at the ceiling

and hold
until the end.
Track Name: Technicolor Nativity
Raise up our best feelings as an oblation,
put up decorations on the lawn,
doll up all the house-fronts like Greek virgins for the killing,
and put some sentimental music on.

Little silver stars up in the firmament;
below, a technicolor pantheon:
Santa and his reindeer and Holy Mother Mary
and the child whom all existence waits upon.

Should the strength of our wishes falter -
should our traditions fail,
our paychecks bounce,
our families fall apart -
at least he's out there in the yard somewhere,
not in our houses yet, but not so very far.
Track Name: (Leaving Midnight Mass)
there were hymns and prayers at midnight;
i got lost in the houndstooth pattern of a dress
and fumbled at my prayers distracted like a child
and dreamed of my name in script across a record sleeve

and a priest waved a blessing over us.
and a priest waved his blessing over us.

and in the car home i am spread out in the backseat
and flickering radio songs roll their way over us
and that dim northern city winked its lights at us

and the world waved a blessing over us.
and the world waved its blessing over us.
and the world waved
and we waved back.