In the Beginning

In the beginning was the word 
You say, Which word
And I start to speak in tongues
Words ignite me
Then escape me
If I’m honest 

In the beginning was the explosion 
And the universe gets bigger every day 
I hope it’s progress 
It feels like distance 
If I’m honest 

In the beginning was the word 
You say, Which word?
I want it to be love 
I’m still deciding 
It’s still expanding 
If I’m honest 

In the beginning was the darkness 
Was the emptiness,
the vacuum,
and the void 
Sounds relaxing 
and enticing 
If I’m honest 

In the beginning was the light 
And as I write, it casts a shadow across the page 
I am not hiding 
I am not lying 
If I’m honest 

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

Call a Quiet Friend  

There are shouldered picket signs  
There are settled picket fences  

There’s a steeple with a painting of a window  

The evangelist museum  
is praising Billy Graham and Billy Sunday  

There’s a tiger without teeth  
There’s an alabaster Jesus  

There’s a grandmother who wants to live forever  

There’s a blue line 
on a flag  
on a cross 
on a sticker 
on a bumper  

I’ll call a quiet friend  

And sit until 
they hear me listen  

There’s a picture of my father  
at the age his father was  
when he was at the age his father was  

In a clipping from the news  
feeding compost  
though the paper’s out of print  

A midwestern middle manager  
in the middle of her life  
in the middle of a song that needs a bridge  

And a well-dressed pamphleteer  
Offering recalls on the poison he’s been peddling  

I’ll call a quiet friend  

And sit until 
they hear me listen 

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

All in All 

And the weekend only opens up door  
For the voices that were crowded out before  

Seething on their cushions in their cars  
Speeding and not getting very far  

On the screen and out the windshield, all in all  

I’ve been counting down from forty half my life  
Forty hours like forty days like forty nights   

Sending out a raven and a dove  
Waiting for payday and a judge   

Can we dance inside the empty all in all?  

Each wave will wave hello and then goodbye  
A mirror and a magnet every tide  

If you haven’t brought the harvest in by now  
You’ll be clawing at the pavement with a plough  

Whether rooted or uprooted, all in all  

There are mirrors that reflect you as you are  
They’ll return your light and not ignore your dark  

They reflect you even when you look away  
The incarnate, avatar, the anime  

When a mirror sees a mirror, all in all   

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

Welcome 

The mat said, Welcome  
without discretion 
to me, the rent man at the door  

My note said, Notice  
in bold italics 
I halfway hid it 'neath the rug  

Because I just worked there  
Don’t shoot the messenger  

Back at the office  
I got her message  
Her voice so quiet it was loud  

She asked for two weeks  
like it was mercy  
but it was time not mine to give  

Because I just worked there  
Don’t kill the courier  

Air conditioner  
Water heater  
Washer dryer  
Rats in the cellar  
Furnace rattle  
Trash disposal  
Spitting shower head  
Leaky faucet  
Crisis toilet  
Flooded basement  

I had the standard list  
of things my boss would fix  

And it would take 
more than maintenance  
to fix this. 

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

My Place   

Last when we slept    
with the window open   

I could hear the blood    
calling from the garden, Love   

I could hear the blood    
calling for its kin   
calling for its killer   
I don’t have a brother, Love   

We wanted a house   
safe from the wild   
country   

We wanted a house   
safe from the wild   
city   

Someone's trying to teach me my place 

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

Break Faith 

When the clouds are thick as concrete  
I’m not sure the coffee helps  

Running from a time bomb  
Spirit like a bloody nose  

Some force spins me out  
Leaves me in shallows  

Some force locks me out  
Knocking on the windows  

I will not break faith with my awakened heart  

If I am a mansion  
Why am I sleeping in a tent? 

I keep diagraming purpose  
Gotta get my meaning meant  

Some force spins me out   
Leaves me in shallows   

Some force locks me out   
Knocking on the windows  

I will not break faith with my awakened heart  

When I see my kids  
in a moment when they’re really kids  
I forget myself on purpose  
Throw my coldness to the wind 

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

The Smallest Farm 

Anyway, I’m headed for the smallest farm  

I can’t relive the first half of my life  
I swim a current I can’t turn off  
All the pain that I have caused  
All the teeth that I have fled  

I cast out demons and more rush in  
I dress their wounds and listen to them  
Break bread  
We have what we need  
We break bread  
We have what we need  

I heard a priest quote a scientist  
Said the big bang might be reversed  
This might all return to one  
I might be whole  
I might snap back to the all in all  

Anyway, I’m headed for the smallest farm  

I’m going nowhere, like Wendell Berry  
Linford Detweiler, and Joe Henry  
My brand is my stupid name  
I love my dad  
I got it from him  

Another odyssey ends at home  
Bury my ego in Ohio  
Underground, where the railroad ran  
North to the country I was born to  
I long to return

From the album, Scatter and Reform 

 

Empty Cathedral 

When I left the twelve steps 
I thought I was a few a steps ahead of them 
And when I left my sick religion 
I thought that I could add through division 

I always longed to sing loud in an empty cathedral 
Where the walls just reverberate 
Now that the bodies don’t block the sound 
But who’ll tell my story, alone on the right side of history 

When I cut ties with my family 
It felt like I was free to live forever 
And when I saw their worst, I smirked 
And then I fled forward, staring backward 

I always longed to sing loud in the empty cathedral 
Where the walls just reverberate 
Now that the bodies don’t block the sound 
But who’ll tell my story, alone on the right side of history 

I live my life in ever-widening circles 
Around the spire 
In a thousand years, I still won’t know 
If I’m a falcon, storm, or song 

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

Starlings 

See the smoke cloud of starlings 
rising on the horizon 
Feel the fever to join them  
to find one word to attach 
to each darting bird 

Their joy and their grieving 
Scatter and then reform 
Returning in joy and in grieving 
Scatter and then reform 

See the flat grid of farmland 
Cut again and again by their wings 
Watch the fireworks in reverse 
Sparks pulled back to their centers 

Returning 
In joy and in grieving 
Scatter and them reform 
Returning in joy and in grieving 
Scatter and then reform

From the album, Scatter and Reform

 

Careful 

Careful
You’re about to get an earful 
Or even get a mouthful 
And wouldn’t that suck? 

You’re not 
The only story at the bus stop 
The only one who needs a day off 
You’re the loud one on the phone 

I know 
I’m the one who’s got the headphones 
With the monologue of my own 
But it’s the one that I chose 

I’m not 
Trying to keep you within earshot 
So I’m applying earblock 
To hear myself think 

Take me 
Where I can think clearly 
And maybe 
I won’t mind my mind 

This city 
Where everybody sits near me 
And I’m learning how to sit beside myself 

Tell me 
Who’s the tallest in your family 
Who’s carrying a baby 
Who’s carrying grief 
Me, I was an ocean in my past life 
I don’t know why I look away 
When people wave

At the Knees

If you would come and destroy my life again 
I heard a watchman on my wall say 
it’d be the best thing that could happen 

Healer, heal me 
Or cut me off at the knees 
I’ve been dry-tongued 
And I’ve needed space between 
Basement floors and my feet 
Fly me, come raise me 

I sold my wallet when I sold my last cent 
I’ll sell my pockets, my checkbook 
And come be your notebook:  I’m desperate

Healer, heal me  
Or cut me off at the knees  
I’ve been dry-tongued  
And I’ve needed space between  
Basement floors and my feet  
Fly me, come raise me 

If you would come and destroy my life again  
I heard a watchman on my wall say  
it’d be the best thing that could happen 

From Asher Lev's Commas in the Ground

 

These Watershed Whispers 

Asher Lev’s ears are ringing 
Like an alarm in a museum 
At his mouth, dams are brimming 
Splitting logs make cracks that free him 
And his mother is a dry branch 
Lying brittle on her bed 
He sees her turn her swirling sockets 
To barter solace for her dread 

Have you ever had a song that you could not bring to words 
Though the silence calls a fog that won’t be pierced? 
Have you ever spoken words in a tongue he will not hear 
To be blown away to no one’s listening ear? 

These are the streets I live in 
These are the songs I wear 
These are the portraits I paint 
Do you care? 

So he stares at cold white canvasses 
A physician on her hall 
Mother doctor? Mother patient? 
Branches burn or branches fall 

Have you ever had a song that you could not bring to words 
Though the silence calls a fog that won’t be pierced? 
Have you ever spoken words in a tongue he will not hear 
To be blown away to no one’s listening ear? 

These are the streets I live in 
These are the songs I wear 
These are the portraits I paint 
Do you care? 

I am a moving toward 
I am a grasping grip 
I am a question about 
I am a question about  

From Asher Lev's Commas in the Ground

 

Every Atom 

Christmas and the New Year bring you here 
Sun and sky get cloud and cataract 
The blackened ice, the barren ground 
It’s the Midwest in its midlife crisis 

The season’s dead or it needs mouth to mouth 
Ugly words like Janu-February 
Light comes late and dark’s on time 
Or early 

Maybe we could light a fire here 
The sky’s not sick. It’s sleeping. 
Maybe call upon a theory here 
from grade school on a lab stool 
Page ten, scribbled in red pen: 
Every atom has the tendency to come together when it’s cold 

The wind and its charisma make me shake 
Maybe it knows something 
If you’re moving, you’re not freezing 
Would you dance? 

If the water’s frozen over, we should skate 
Slash our speed on glassy ice 
And outline all your angels in the snow 
Or your shadow

Maybe we could light a fire here 
The sky’s not sick. It’s sleeping. 
Maybe call upon a theory here 
from grade school on a lab stool 
Page ten, scribbled in red pen: 
Every atom has the tendency to come together when it’s cold

From Asher Lev's Commas in the Ground 

 

Love, It's December

I spent November begging the sky 
To split a periwinkle eye 
And I spent October waiting for my 
Indian summer to die 

And now it’s December 
Which means that it’s winter 
Which means that the air’s clean 
Which means that there’s healing 
Which means that with six days left till Christmas 

I can tell you the old thing 
Like it’s a new thing 
That the wise kings 
Took all their treasure out the desert 
To follow the brightest star they could see 

There’s all of this paper and nothing to wrap 
Except my arms around you in closed eye contact 
It’s head to hand combat just to avoid that 
I want you cheek against my chest

But Love, it’s December 
Which means that it’s winter 
Which means that the air’s clean 
Which means that there’s healing 
Which means that with six days left till Christmas 

I can tell you the old thing 
Like it’s a new thing 
That the shepherds left all their sheep and 
Left all their sense and 
Followed the smallest staff in heaven 

Can I tell the old thing 
Like it’s a new thing 
They couldn’t find fresh hay 
To lay out as carpet 
For the birthing of God's blood 
For the birthing of everything’s forgiven 

From Asher Lev's Commas in the Ground 

 

All of Canada

Maybe soon, if I remember
We can brave the northern winter
We can take the 401 up east
Give me my keys
I don't know my father's mother
But I know a northern winter
She's buried somewhere under there
There somewhere
I don't know my mother's sister
I don't have to
I still miss her
Are you hiding somewhere in these cells?

I went through all of Canada
Answer me this: Are you your weather?
Sandy said spring is in the mail
Tell me in French if you remember
Do you remember?

King Coupa, Paul, and Danielle
Haven't been in touch since high school
I still see their shadows on my wall
When I write, I always write you
Even when I'm trying not to
Can I even spell your new last name?

I went through all of Canada 
Answer me this: Are you your weather? 
Sandy said spring is in the mail 
Tell me in French if you remember 
Do you remember?

Si j'ai tombé sous la glace
Est-ce qu'il y a quelqu'un qui reste?
Parce que mes patins ne nous aidons plus maintenant

I went through all of Canada

From Asher Lev's Why the Hand Has Five Fingers: No More, No Less

 

Power Play

Son, you're on a power play
You need to take your shot
And you need to get a man around the net
If your eyes are open, open every door you've got
You can know the knobs I turned and where they led

So telescope the ceiling sky  
and know the space is vast 
Like every hard-thought question you will pose 
And tell a slip-skate, sandbox sucking kid, 
"I got your nose."  
And let him say, "That's fine. I got your eye."

Son, you're on a power play
Anything you need
I'll be watching from the stands
Even if she leaves

This would be a mobile phone
I'm calling from Madrid
Tired of seeing spreadsheets in my bed
Gaudi dies and still the city tries to raise his spires
Building Barcelona from his head

Son, you're on a power play 
Anything you need 
I'll be watching from the stands 
Even if she leaves

From Asher Lev's Why the Hand Has Five Fingers: No More, No Less


Motor City Mud

Pray your way through Detroit detours
Tour along the lake
Love is like that
Head for heartland
Hang around the bowels

You say that all the snow is turning into Motor City mud
And every dirty tire is turning all the sidewalks into sludge
But you're not walking
You are driving home

If the music hurts your ears
Then maybe turn it off
But if the music helps you hear
Then blow the speakers up

You say that all the snow is turning into Motor City mud 
And every dirty tire is turning all the sidewalks into sludge 
But you're not walking 
You are driving home

You say that all the snow is turning into Motor City mud  
But I think it's a way to call us to the people that we love

From Asher Lev's Why the Hand Has Five Fingers: No More, No Less

 

The Borders, The Lakes 

Thursday morning, ninth of May 
You're a motherland away 
And I'm trying to find rhymes 
And all I find's the truth 

That you're hurting 
That your chest aches 
And you've not yet heard me say 
How I feel here in this city 
Cincinnati, far away 

Will you go on a day 
When I've not yet found a way 
Across the borders 
Across the lakes 
To the room where you lay 

I will lift my voice to the wind 
To carry it to you 
And tomorrow, wind will lift me 
And I will be there, too 

I will ask that when you breathe it 
The wind will heal your lungs 
I will ask that when you hear it 
You'll feel me in my song 

Please don't go at a time  
When I've not yet crossed the miles 
Crossed the borders 
Crossed the lakes  
To the room where you lay 

Precious woman, at my mother's birth 
And beside her at my birth 

Do not go on a day  
When I've not yet found a way  
Found a way to the room where you lay 

From Asher Lev's Why the Hand Has Five Fingers: No More, No Less 

 

The Great Revival

The truth in every Christian song I wrote 
Was a hacking at an itching at the bottom of my throat 
And it was true I got the medicine from you 
But I know I got the sickness from you, too 

You and your parking spot prayers 
You and your bedroom altars 

Jesus gave his mother to his friend 
As an answer to the emptiness you feel when heaven ends
And I think you did the opposite for me 
You tried give me Jesus long before I knew my need

You and your Hillsong music 
You and your night table books 
You and your if-God’s-willings 
You and your Jesus coming
You and your study bibles 
You and are the great revival

Iona 
I owe
Iona

From Asher Lev's Why the Hand Has Five Fingers: No More, No Less