“If you don’t have a song to sing
you’re okay you know how to get along humming . . .”
“Waltz (Better Than Fine)” — Fiona Apple
On the last day of the year, an Anna’s Hummingbird appeared, perching gently on the edge of a cut rose bush stem. I loved the way The Cornell Lab of Ornithology described them “no larger than a ping-pong ball and no heavier than a nickel . . .with their iridescent emerald feathers and sparkling rose-pink throats, they are more like flying jewelry than birds.” Their Anna photos also use a thorny perch and float on the edge of a twig.
“Anna’s Hummingbird was originally named Ornismya anna by René Primevère Lesson in 1829, based on specimens collected by Paolo-Émilio Botta and owned by the duke and duchess of Rivoli. Lesson regarded it as one of the most beautiful hummingbirds, on account of “the bright sparkle of a red cap of the richest amethyst…” on the male’s head, and so named it after the duchess of Rivoli, Anna de Belle Masséna. Gould (1861) placed it in a new genus, Calypte, for “not only the throat, but the entire head as glitteringly resplendent as if they had been dipped in molten metal”. Calypte is greek (Кαλυπτη) for covered or hood (Holloway 2003), a reference to the male’s iridescent crown. Males turn their head from side to side as they sing, flashing the brilliant iridescence as a signal to other hummingbirds.”
I leaned against our window into the garden and took a few photos as he visited the rosebush and feeder.
Waiting for the bus downtown in winter, a large building has a video screen with a film projected 30 feet wide. A dark field is suddenly lit by a spiraling flame. A tanned, beautiful face comes into view, green palms collar his neck, skirt his shirtless waist, and cuff his wrists. He is a fireknife dancer, twirling the machete-like nifo oti, or “tooth of death.” He brings the long flamed edge to his open mouth like a hot drink and taps it to the edge of his tongue where a brief lap of blue and orange ignites and smokes out like a bare-skinned dragon and I think, “yes, perhaps a trip to Hawaii.”
In the darkest time of the year, perhaps even, in our culture and our larger world, Bazan invites us to “admit your despair to safe people in your life this Christmas. Be a safe person for others. Feel better. Jesus Christ, you guys.” It’s an honest Christmas wish we could all find some truth and light in.
David Bazan has been remixing and remastering a lot of different things lately. His music. His workflow. His life. He’s been incorporating old songs and sensibilities into new endeavors, like releasing his first music video, embarking on a documentary about his “existential, artistic and family life,” and touring with a very unlikely holiday album collected from annual yuletide song releases, dating back to his Pedro the Lion days.
No matter the sound—from guitar strings to symphonics or synthesizer—nor the venue—whether it’s a house show or concert hall—one beautiful consistency remains in Bazan’s music: his raw, emotive vocal delivery of difficult topics, from faith to politics and all the human faults in between.
Walking around in an emotional ‘Haze,’ Dawn brings her new record to The Old Church on November 18 with collaborator Lauren O’Connell and openers The Native Sibling.
Haze is an emotional autopsy of confessions and conversations around the loss of relationships. It captures, as Dawn describes, both “that feeling of walking around in a haze” and “relates to the idea of being hazed: put through some strange and often cruel rite of passage.” As a daughter of missionaries, songs about her father and religion such as “Orchid” and “Amen” feature prominently on Haze. But these aren’t anti-religious anthems or angry breakup ballads. The 10 songs on Haze are melodic and precise—sharp words set to sweet hymnals ranging from sparse guitar and vocals to glittering synth ballads—as if to soften the scalpel she takes to her evangelical upbringing and poignant endings.
a piano in the woods
the milky way with a silhouette skirt of treeline
a blue satin ribbon holding the skull
of a ruby-throated hummingbird
a lone honeybee painted on a swatch
of Victorian floral wallpaper
vermilion, gold, periwinkle and jet
two orange and black tail feathers from a Northern Flicker
in a two-inch terracotta pot
three blue and green peacock feathers
in a wooden vase
snowflake obsidian and hematite
a small, coiled shell worn away to iridescent nacre
a pressed, beige, star-shaped flower
a grey stone with white spots shaped like a heart
a turtle carved in amber
a lichen branch
a tuft of dried seaweed
A miniature mahogany Buddha on a mirrored pedestal
a black pebble with a silver-winged dragonfly
signed, HANK on the bottom
gifted in apology for panhandling a dollar
a story about a crime lab for animals
legal and illegal global trade in wildlife
they are searching for evidence that will link human suspects
to animal victims
see: corporate farming, your dinner
“I’ve never drawn a chalk line around a butterfly,” he jokes
their paper wings ignite on headlamps
and metal filters
as we fly wingless,
day or night.
Algorithms and word clouds are good for poetry. This one is supposed to represent my most frequently used words on Facebook in the last year.
David at my center,
dark blue time to my left and pale blue thing to my right, years gone sideways.
Below me, the entire garden and found light in flowers and forest.
A wolf person producing water
underneath home goldfish, dolphins
a language dance, deep and large
and a word so small, I cannot interpret it.
Clinton / Sanders campaign
a paper cowboy picks freedom
country and world float above golden choice
people and change loom large in violet
with small and dark floating thoughts
feel good song,
drunk and pretty.
On Moorea Masa’s debut collaboration with J. Most, she moves into her R&B realm with a clean, crisp, almost symphonic song with plenty of room for fingersnaps, strings and sumptuous harmonies. Finding space to grow, listen now and stay tuned for more new sounds from Masa.
Every garden goes through its cycle of life. There’s the zenith of growth in summer, a gentle decline and falling away in autumn, a death or mere sleep in winter, and rebirth again in spring. So it has been for folk-soul singer Moorea Masa herself and her newly released track, “The Garden.”
Seeds of this song have been sown in various forms beginning with an acoustic performance set in a field of wildflowers as part of Chuck Johnson’s Humboldt Live Sessions in the fall of 2015 . . .
I think our cat is trying to communicate with us, but he is a fierce lover with a filthy mouth. Our fridge is covered in magnetic poetry. Nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositions, and articles all crammed into a word salad. Xander, our sweet, special, nervous OCD Bengal cat likes to pull down scraps of red and white words while we cook or watch tv. It’s often just the word of the day, but he does occasionally get ambitious in the middle of the night and I wake up to a confettied sentence on the floor just begging for sense to be made out of it.
He can’t help that his assistive device / sometime Ouija board is a mix of two magnetic themed sets—the Romance edition, and the Sex edition. Plus a few random cat words like MEOW. So we get oddly accurate things like “MEOW babe” “pussy voice said milk” or experimental poetics like, “please spray the bright.” Sometimes, straight up fuck poems such as, “finger her paradise world” or simple nonsense like “ready my beach.”
But the first of September arrived bringing cooler rainy weather with it, and as I packed my breakfast and lunch for work, Xander scratched off an extremely apt poem:
That night, I came home and lit candles early to fill the house with warm light and scent as I cooked and he delivered “candle dinner” in red, which was a bit eerie.
Today my mother had major abdominal surgery. We all texted and called and prayed and well-wished until later, I was relieved to hear her voice—groggy, but chuckling, telling me in small voice that she loved me. Wrung out with worry, I headed out to the garden at dusk for a late summer harvest of tomatoes. Xander meowed, fished three times, and softly commented, “empty our soul.”
Last week, I had a particularly strange dream. The image of the monstrous seashell building is still tumbling around on the ocean floor of my brain.
I know it was fueled in part by my neighbor. She was preparing to attend a beach wedding over the weekend and as I watered the garden at dusk, she called out over the fence to ask my opinion on the best dress of three. A mini fashion show ensued as she popped in and out the front door in short order, doing a quick pirouette each time. I suggested the comfortable stretchy number with the peacock feather pattern over the short cocktail dress or the thing with the trailing wrap skirt and bodice that would require stitching and extra boob support to make it work. Why make an outfit more complicated when you need to be comfortable near the ocean—because . . . sand, saltwater, and wind.
Later, she awaited her frantic friend whose son was getting married to arrive last minute to help prepare wedding favors—seashell ornaments. Piles of them. All of which needed a dab of hot glue, ribbons, and hole-punched tags with the bride and groom’s names attached. It would be a late night of of production for her and as it happens, for me as I slept.
In the dream, I rowed a small boat out into a wide canvas of ocean. There, I saw a large metal spike rising from a soft ripple of water and bubbles. I slipped into the water to swim towards it and grasped it with one hand, my legs floating behind in a gentle current. I touched the top of it, and found it sharp and tapered as a needle point blade.
Then I looked down into the ocean below and felt a strange wave of fear and nausea as I discovered what I was holding was a spire attached to an enormous building that went down for miles. It was shaped like a turrid shell, more specifically, Turris babylonia: the Babylon turrid or Tower Turrid. I could see endless windows spiraling into oblivion, casting golden whorls of light out of the black-green hulk of bone-metal. The windows were an inverted negative of the pattern on the elusive Scaphella junonia: the junonia shell, or Juno’s volute.
I battled two opposing instincts—swim down to see if there was more to the cityscape; or get back in my little red boat and find the nearest land. Somehow, my sense of the building was based on a faint memory from a previous dream. It did not feel like a livable, underwater Utopia, but a submerged and dark-tinged Atlantis. This seashell skyscraper was merely a glittering prison tower.
The morning after the wedding and my dream, I asked Terri how everything turned out.
“Oh, we were up ’til one in the morning,” she said stiffly, “but they turned out nice. Hold on, I’ll show you.” She ran back into the house to retrieve a sample.
She dangled a few shells on silver and gold ribbon between two fingers, one of them a Babylonia. The dream swam up and flooded me with remembrance.
Later, I read that people who attend beach weddings often receive seashell favors, bought in bulk from a craft store, just as these were. Sometimes, brides want that extra stagecraft to their ocean side ceremony and purchase cheap bags of foreign shells to scatter along the beach or create aisle runners. They often get left behind, run out with the tide, and wash back in to the minor annoyance of pros or the sheer delight of amateur shellers (yes, a name for people who collect seashells) depending on their knowledge of where the shells originated. But most people who buy them have the innocent intention of spreading them on local beaches so their children and grandchildren can go hunting and find a rare treasure—albeit, not a local creature that has fled its conical home. Shellers call these castaway orphans and refugees “Wedding Shells.” Still others want to rid themselves of their old beach comber collection with similar meaningful ceremonies that return them to the sea, even if it’s not the same water.
I look at some of my own collection on my nature altar, recalling the sandy coastlines and aquamarine water I dove in to collect them—even who I was with when I found them. California. Florida. Oregon. British Virgin Islands. Once, I opened a box on a dresser at an estate sale to find a small clutch of shells, which promptly went home with me. I wondered, where had they gone to find all these? What memories were attached to all these nature objects? Were any of my prizes wedding shells? Certainly not the brain coral or the banded tulip shell, not the dried urchin or the sand dollar—I found those in their native spaces.
And what of all those holey stones aka Faerie Stones, Hag Stones, or Witch’s Amulets I have a knack for finding? Or for them finding me. It is said that they offer protection by placing them on a nail near doorways. Faerie stones provide a window into other worlds as you gaze through the naturally made hole eroded by time and water, or clam-like shelled creatures called piddocks, known by the sweeter name, angelwings.
Piddock shells are divided into 2 or 3 sections, one of them with a pointed beak that contains a set of ridges or “teeth,” much like a grinding plate for spices. They slowly drill their elliptical shells into rocks, creating tubular burrows, rhythmically contracting the muscles attached to their wings, siphoning water and holding it in to create an expansive pressure, and extending a fleshy foot that grips the stone surface of their home to rotate the shell. As they grow, they enlarge their hole, carving out space to live in and protect themselves. They remain in their stonehouse hidey-hole their entire lives—5 to 10 years. Because of their foot and their siphon hose, they can never quite fully retract into their shell halves and close their wings. They are a mouth with teeth on the outside and feet on the inside! Those muscles fusing the wings together become weak, and the rest of the shell fragile, making it rare to find angelwings on the shore with both halves still intact.
But perhaps what I should be doing with the stones with holes in them drilled by nature to see through time with, is what the mystics did—thread them with a black cord and put them near the bed to ward off nightmares. Especially nightmares of buildings in the shape of a cutting shell rising above the water’s edge.
As the duo return to Portland to perform their love songs at a sold-out show on June 3 at the Aladdin Theater, Vortex chats with Jesca Hoop about the co-creation of an album of duets with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam.
Some love letters we keep to remind us we are loved. Others, we burn to forget that we were broken by another. But the inspiration behind Love Letter for Fire, a collaborative album between Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop was not to remember or to forget—it was to reinvent. In this case, a 13-track album full of love song duets.
Like most loving endeavors, it began simply and in earnest—Beam and Hoop were fans of each other’s music. Beam had always wanted to make a record like this one with a female partner as an homage to the classic duets he grew up hearing on the radio. He went through Hoop’s catalogue on iTunes and was struck by the album Kismet. Meanwhile, Hoop was finishing her fourth record at the time and had never co-written. Hoop admitted familiarity with Beam’s music “because it had cleaned my house many times,” she remarks. So after a proper amount of mutual admiration, Beam decided he wanted to get to know Hoop better and invited her on tour, and the album was subsequently written throughout 2014.