some advent songs

by Harrison Lemke

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eight new songs and a Christmas carol from december 2016


released November 8, 2017




Harrison Lemke Austin, Texas

tape-hiss symphonies to God

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Track Name: principalities & powers
The barge pushes out to where the black black water slaps against the hull
too fast, too loud, too eagerly for the cold that throbs against our skulls,
but in here, in the warm red room, i could almost fall asleep
and your voice becomes a violin playing playing tunelessly
and it comforts me as lights tear holes in my vision and send a shock through me
like another world struggling to break through.
Another world is struggling to break through.

From the deck, crawling up from the water, we see technicolor shapes,
magic treasure, signs & wonders: a dragon rising from the lake;
the virgin mother with stars all around her; a unicorn; a candy cane; santa and his reindeer;
a castle with turrets jeweled and gold towering up through the dark
with a wounded king and lance-and-cup procession, waiting for someone pure of heart —
not you, and not me, but someone —
Track Name: upstairs song
I recall:
we're in the upstairs room after supper, all together, perfectly dark except for a chink of light from the door and the smeary TV glow and the one red eye of the Nintendo on the floor. And I am lying on my grandparents' king-size bed, eyes fastened on the skylight overhead — the bright music, the happy screaming, and a great black hole in the middle of the ceiling —

and the wind
presses up against the window
to have a look at us.
And the wind
presses up against the window
to have a look at us

and the snow
We are gonna die
Track Name: bedroom song
Back home,
a guest in your old room.
It still keeps all its secrets,
only now, it keeps them from you.
Toy animal brigade
on the old shelf.
Kitschy pictures you didn't choose
that mean nothing to anyone else.

Pace and brush your teeth
in the old hall.
Mandala of photographs
on the old wall:
folks your parents knew —
nobody to you —
the dead in all their numbers.

Climb in bed and face the wall
the way you used to do
and mutter your prayers
as if by mistake.
Wink at the lamplight
under the door
that burns on forever,
forever, just in case
in case the end
should come.
Track Name: gold, incense, myrrh
You stay in a motel this year
in a poor part of town, nowhere near
the house in sparkling finery.
Get there late, leave early
bearing dreadful cold respectful gifts —
wireless headsets, jars of cake mix —
in the gloom of the afternoon.

Clear your head out in the cold.
You've been lost since you were nine years old.
And the sky gets cluttered up with stars
and other cryptic intimations
and the circuitous side-streets cross themselves
like superstitious old relations
til you lose you lose you lose
you lose your patience.
Track Name: glenview estates
You miss a turn-off, miss the mark:
everything looks different in the dark.
Take off your shoes on the threshold.
How it all shines! Cathedral gold

all the way up to the vaulted ceiling, too high
to be touched by human hands
still smelling of dirty dishwater
and aching from the day's demands.

In a felted old dress, you feel like a fool
in front of people you haven't seen since high school.
You would've thought you wouldn't care
but you see your ghost in the window and have to fix her hair.

And you wonder what it means that you can envy people
whose lives you'd surely hate.
Passing around blurry ultrasounds,
playgroups and the PTA.
Track Name: the afterparty
When the last person leaves and the silence rushes in,
it's hard and sudden like a blast of wind.
Tip the dirty dishes into the sink.
Take a sip of someone's watered-down drink

and deflate, deflate
onto whatever furniture will hold you,
let it enfold you.

In the suicidal dark after a 5-o'clock sunset,
still so many hours to kill before you go to bed.
You miss the people you're standing right beside.
Eighty years of longing, then we die.

Things we set our hearts on
all parading dumbly toward us to be born
with a fanfare of music,
with acclamations,
with decorations,
all arriving cold and stillborn
to be mourned a space
and then replaced
Track Name: cosmic death blues
It’s the kind of bitter evening
that demands an explanation,
so you bundle up and leave the house
against your doctor’s recommendation.
Broken glass and plastic wrap
in the gravel-speckled snow:
there’s nothing worthless
but thinking makes it so.

Space walled up like murder victims
in disused retail buildings;
naked broken mannequins,
hands raised in absolution;
flapping scraps of ads for things
we wanted long ago:
there’s nothing worthless
but we have called it so.

Steal into the graveyard
through an adjoining city park,
say a prayer for people sleeping
in the earth so cold and dark.
Names no one remembers
and names that you well know:
there’s nothing worthless
but thinking makes it so.
Track Name: venite adoremus Dominum
In the weatherproof panes, the reflected room
stands like a ruined temple amid the snow.
The glowing plastic Christ in the yard across the way
blazes in the chest of your ghost.

A child is shivering in the cold.
We must bring him silver and gold.

Stumble out from the stifling heat of the house.
The wind nearly knocks you to your knees.
It picks up with a frenzied intensity —
rips the breath from your mouth, your heart skips a beat —
demanding recompense or something.

A child is shivering in the cold.
We must bring him silver and gold.