Technicolor Nativity

by Harrison Lemke

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1.
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 street. Edge around the cars parked in the road and walk as if you've got 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 shouldn't have said and 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.
2.
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 Shilo 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 at the fixtures, fingers too numb to gauge the temperature. And with your glasses off you could almost swear you see the outline of the Virgin and Child in the mildew on the ceiling tile. And the bathwater slides hot like defeat over you, and you stare up at the stain and say a sour little word or two.
3.
Magnificat 02:19
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.
4.
Kitchen Song 02:26
You opened the door for me and said you'd make me something to eat. 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. I pretend that I'm asleep because I'm scared you'll make me leave. You turn out the lights and you disappear at the end of the hall. The Christmas tree glows blearily like a nightlight by my head. Maybe it's not such a rotten holiday after all.
5.
Mall Song 02:48
The city is hiding in a long grey cloak of rain and the store's inviting, so you duck inside. There's a mannequin wearing the sweater you're wearing, but somehow raised and glorified. It's not bad to be wanted, if only for something you have. No, it's not half as bad as it seems. The lethean glow of windows decked from head to toe like dreaming someone else's dream. Crystal perfume bottles like rare exotic jewels glowing with a light almost their own; neat little boxed up kitchenaids all singing praises to the secret they would tell you if you'd only take them home — at an infinite distance they flutter like angels around it, casting their crowns in the sea that surrounds it: money! money! money!
6.
E. 10th 01:48
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.
7.
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 is 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 baby-soft skin and a view clear through to annihilation.
8.
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.
9.
We sip our coffee, we sit and stare outside the cafe in the open air, but my eyes can't meet your eyes or focus on the day. The holiday is merry and bright but down here in the four-o-clock light it's just thin souls and salted streets and falling eyelids and flesh poor flesh fails us. flesh poor flesh fails us.
10.
Stay in a hotel 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.
11.
I wandered through the aisles of infinite appliances like I had a gaping hole in my head, past washing machines and dryers with glowing dials and bubble cockpits, and I longed to curl up inside of their immaculate silver wombs waiting for you to come and get me. I dreamt of a cup of the purest richest blackest coffee springing forth from the side of an ingenious machine, and I dreamt of the cleansing power of the world's first steam-machine-and-vacuum and drifted off before a host of softly singing LCDs waiting for you to come and get me.
12.
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. 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.
13.
Lift 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.
14.
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 five-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.
15.
Pad across the frigid tile 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 amid 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 wearisome to name, or chart, or sum; the hopes and fears of all the years chasing a clarity that never seems to come. Is it just hold hold on 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 on until the end.
16.
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 lips. Your heart skips a beat, demanding recompense or something. A child is shivering in the cold. We must bring him silver and gold.

about

Are you weary? Are you downtrodden? Are you drowning in Christmas kitsch? Are you sick of candied nuts? Are you sick of hearing that song? Are you sick of ricocheting like a pinball from sign to empty sign in vain search of whatever they signify? Are you pretty certain you left the oven on, and will return in a few days to the smoldering wreckage of your house, your neighborhood, your entire city, to be known forevermore as the person who did what no tornado could, and leveled Columbus in a single night? Are you wondering where the money is going to come from? Are you wondering if there's a point to all of this? If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you may be in the appropriate mental state for these sixteen songs about doomed vacations, overbearing aunts, household gods, money! money! money! and the object of all human desire.

credits

released December 13, 2019

All songs written by Harrison Lemke, over the course of several years but mainly in the month of December, and recorded, sometimes with the help of friends, over a similarly long time.

Credits:
Harrison Lemke - guitars, bass, vocals, ukulele, harmonica, keyboards, percussion, glockenspiel.
Jared Evans - electric guitar (1, 4, 5, 12, 16).
Andy Elizalde - bass (1).
Magdalene Hobbs - backing vocals (3).
Mac Meador - casiotone (15).

et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt

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Harrison Lemke Austin, Texas

tape-hiss symphonies to God

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