Twelve Nights

by Harrison Lemke

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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.


released January 30, 2013

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




Harrison Lemke Austin, Texas

tape-hiss symphonies to God

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Track Name: A Stirring
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
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.
Track Name: TV Special
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!
Track Name: Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
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.
Track Name: Ghost of Christmas Past
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?
Track Name: Your Holiday Good Feelings Penitentiary
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.
Track Name: No Remembrance of Former Things
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.
Track Name: Regression Sickness Part I
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.
Track Name: Regression Sickness Part II
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.
Track Name: White Birds
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.