Twelve Nights

by Harrison Lemke

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1.
02:39
Supper is past, presents litter the floor, torn paper crowds the tree. The kids are all upstairs playing Nintendo or downstairs watching TV. Last pieces of pie are now settling sluggishly; a dying fire spills stifling heat. Tree-lights fan out under half-open eyelids heavy & ready for sleep. But lo! without warning through smalltalk & TV drone & some syrupy radio tune an emptiness descending like an angel on frigid wings lucid & piercing & true and we find ourselves stirred. And in dim sleepy satedness some holy Missingness awakens at the center of everything, for though we ate all we wanted and got what we asked for, we're wanting. More pointed and painful now with nothing interposing, we're wanting.
2.
01:58
The streets are all iced over now, no going home tonight. Break out the eggnog and last year's fruitcake, the kind that no one liked. And if the conversation's superficial, just tune in to a TV special. Stop for a breather in an upstairs bathroom, you're gonna make it out alive. Change the sheets on the bed in the guest room, everything's gonna be alright. And if your blood pressure's hitting at uncomfortable levels just sit back and watch that TV special. Put the best silverware out on the table, ignore the passive slights. Chatter away about the PTA, plug in all the lights. And if the conversation turns too personal, just glue yourself to that TV special!
3.
On Monday night you make your way past bullying variegate store displays of jeweled disembodied hands and headless mannequins all cooly disaffected wearing turtlenecks & cocktail dresses; the best time of the year's arrived, drunk from its own party. From speakers spill soft-focus croons in doorways framing glittering rooms, cheerily false promises in every wavering note. On Tuesday night you make the calls; weren't sure you could face them all, the grandmothers and aunts intent on smothering you alive with manicures & meals & sweets, domestic spaces all replete with figurines & mistletoe and exhaustingly good cheer. It felt good to be taken care of, but now no one's taking care of you no more. On Wednesday night you genuflect unconvinced of its usefulness while hymns & prayers & litanies fall on your tired ears. You feel a bit embarrassed by the simple souls, their faces childlike dumbly bowed and cowed by Hell and swayed by Holiness. "Oh Holy Child, Oh Holy Mother," oh wholly indifferent Holy Other, no prayer can reach, no sigh can move his strange and careless hand. It felt nice to be taken care of, but you don't feel that way anymore.
4.
In the dark you steal from the room, let the sting of the air sit on your skin, stare into distant displays of holiday garlands on other people's balconies joined by flits of warm glowing faces like the unwanted spirits of some half-remembered dream seen from the other side of soundproof glass. In the cold you wait for the touch of irresistible stimuli to work some magic change, wait for a bit of good cheer to come stumble your way & take some pity on you, to spill through this gloomy winter haze - but emotion averts you, and loneliness grips you, why can't you just feel the way you're supposed to, why can't it just feel the way it should?
5.
You put up your lattice of little lights on green strings like barbed wire to keep the feelings in, but without the freeze on the window latches they scratch and scrape their weary way out anyway. You've filled this space with distant relations, their kids & little pets and porcelain decorations, wrapped gifts & shiny ornaments to make things fit, but you just have trouble breathing when they're more than you can bear and the feeling finds no respite in the swampy southern air because the things you miss all left in search of better climes some time ago, and certainly wouldn't be caught dead in these halves of afternoons with friends that you now barely even know.
6.
In the front-room half-asleep. Fireworks speak out in the street, Punctuate the senseless clamor. Drunkards yell in slack-jawed grammar. The smoke turns south, the smoke turns north, the smoke wreathes 'round the upper floors. Flares foretell the glory coming - oh ecstasy! An end to something. The fumbling race resuscitates old schemes to make the crooked straight; some untried thing to put some hope in, a beginning or an end to something. In the front-room fast-asleep. Lamppost fizzles in the street. At three or four the lawn chairs fold; the new year is already old.
7.
Lights blear in the awnings ornamented lawns from every angle yawning; sickly neon flowers, perennially blooming hyperreal intrusions. Past selves litter the hallway, linger in the stairway, chase us from the driveway. Things we called forgotten, disappointing habits disinterred & rotten, optimistic progress we thought we'd made but wrongly.
8.
The radio won't tune. Ghosts of voices filter through. Their garbled words don't reach us. The engine won't warm up. Ice runs in our blood. Cold air cuts right through us. Silent night, holy night: oh Savior come and find us. We're over here with fraying seams and we've forgotten how to dream; oh God oh God, sustain us.
9.
02:06
Wake up and the power's out, strong wind scatters leaves about. Last remaining schooldays canceled, curl up against the cold. Longest night, the snow descending, flock of white birds smothering, pale redeemers leaving nothing, all erased, all born anew.

about

All the gloomy excess, quiet hope, shameless materialism & overwrought religious significance of Christmas tackled feebly in twelve days' worth (give or take) of original songs. Hastily scribbled into a Staples-brand steno pad, lustily caterwauled over basic chords, and recorded in sparse arrangements on a 4-track tape recorder deep in the 70-degree heart of Texas.

credits

released January 30, 2013

Songs written, produced & performed by Harrison Lemke.
Art by Erica Speegle & Harrison Lemke.

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Harrison Lemke Austin, Texas

tape-hiss symphonies to God

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