Just in case you wandered by here unaware, this blog has migrated back to it’s original home at jazzandpoetry.com as of yesterday. Come on by the new/old space and say hello. Sorry for the confusion, but I just couldn’t see a reason to keep two separate blogs anymore.
What I didn’t know when I wrote the blog “Fire” was that roughly 16.5 hours later Gabrielle would leave her body to rest on this earth and the fire she shared in the hearts of the many people she touched in her time on this planet. It’s been over a week now and I still haven’t found the words to express how that felt or what it meant to have a friend like her in my life, but I’m going to make an attempt.
What I did know that night was that we had exchanged text messages about 8 hours earlier and she insisted I wait to send her tracks from the demo she challenged me to create until I had the final polished CD to mail her. I knew I was up against a deadline when I’d left her in Austin at the ER at midnight January 9. However, she said with a ;), she knew I was excited, but it would be worth the wait. I wonder if she knew she would be gone, but had already heard the melodies drifting into her dreams the same way I felt her fire that day spinning my world through a barrage of phone calls into a new direction.
I met Gabrielle in the swirl of the Seattle Poetry scene. Before she was multimediagrl she was the mothership on my email and chat lists. When I left Seattle to tour with Poetry Alive! Gabrielle jumped on board the Slam committee with Allison Durazzi and Paula Friedrich to make my dream of a National Poetry Slam in Seattle become a reality. She was always the one with the fire to get things done.
Unlike my older relatives who have left this world, Gabrielle was someone I actually lived with in the crazy condo on First Hill lovingly referred to as the Purple Palace. I don’t share space well with other people, as anyone who has lived with me can tell you, but we had a lot of fun together. The summer of 1998 we went out nearly every night I was in town. Always dressed in something that sparkled, we’d find our way to the OK Hotel first to finish painting our nails with glitter over one of Raymond Kempe’s Bloody Marys and watch who came in before it was too crowded to see anything but the performers lit up on stage. We shared a passion for cheering on our favorite musicians and poets. We also shared scars from loving those who knew how to use, but not how to feed, a muse. Cat O’Sullivan and Ciro Viamontes joined us in the healing process that summer which culminated in spending an entire day building a sweat lodge in order to cleanse ourselves of baggage. That’s powerful medicine that can only be explained through experience.
Even after I sold the Purple Palace to move to Asheville, NC we kept in contact regularly. I kept up to date with the National Slam community vicariously through her. She would brainstorm career moves with me as she left Seattle to return to Buffalo and eventually relocated to the heart of her Slam Family in Austin.
Where ever my wounded heart feared to tread she would boldly go to make things right. We shared the heartache of flying across the country to make real a long distance relationship only to discover the girlfriend at home. We also shared the belief that the creative work was more important that the failed attempt at true love and at least one of us could salvage that at times. She was better at doing that even to the end with the most recent musician/roommate to turn my world upside down. When everything stopped working, Gabrielle was there encouraging each of us back on our feet toward success rather than self destruction. Conveniently, she only had to deal with one of us in town visiting her at a time.
Most importantly, she had a great sense of the big picture. My last days visiting with her included being the sounding board. She was mapping out a master plan for providing a thriving framework for the tribes of artists she so dearly loved. It leaves me feeling that she didn’t so much leave us behind. She simply needed to escape the body worn down by living enough for three people each day so that her spirit could stretch to reach us all.
Known for hosting the Erotica Slam at Nationals in her sequined dress with bunny ears, Bunny Up became Gabrielle’s code when the pain was bad. In her last days, the widespread love of her extended family became obvious in the bunnification of facebook profile pictures. When she left us, the network of all that love suddenly felt like a fragile spider’s web in a wind storm. She laid out the road map though and gave us the code. Bunny Up. Love something, even if you have to start with learning to love yourself.
See the flames alight in my hands
radiating out from my heart
holding Gabrielle’s words
singing the song of creation?
Hop to it,
lift up your head
open your mouth
I love you,
p.s. In the mid 1990’s I was fortunate to spend a few years singing with Shades of Praise. I’ve had a version of “Fire (shut up in my bones)” that our director Cora Jackson taught us in my head this evening. I couldn’t find that for you to hear, but I can recommend her first album to you here: Original Praise.
Here are a few other things I found along the way to share:
Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Jeremiah 29:10-11, “This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Diving into darkest days
wind whistles cold songs
footing becomes treacherous
slowing the wanderer.
Smoke is all that remains
of dead wood warmth
clinging like memory
to scarred skin.
In the hollow of the heart
find embers that still glow
to kindle inner fire
until sun returns.
After a couple of whirlwind months of bringing Poetry Alive! to schools in various states I caught a ride with the Screaming Js caravan to the Doo-Nanny in Seale, AL. We arrived at 6am Friday and while the sleepers slept I covered J.P.’s big green van with magnetic poetry. There is something cleansing about having a few hours of silence to yourself with nothing but birdsong for inspiration as you pull random words from a bag and try to make sense of them.
I saved one small box for Screaming Jake’s church of the dead which was raised quickly once the sleeper’s awoke. I didn’t take pictures of the poetry on the church, so that will have to remain a memory in the thoughts of those who had a chance to explore it for that moment in time.
After all the magnets were placed, J.P. & I put the finishing touches on the backstage “Green Room” which gave me the perfect place to hide out while practicing or watch the world from above while typing. Then it was our turn to go exploring.
That night we ventured downtown for the Possum Trot auction & a delicious boil of shrimp, sausage, corn & potatoes. I heard the whole life story of some locals enchanted by the glimmer of bubbles & regretted not having a single dollar on me to bid on the amazing art going at bargain prices. We danced to Screaming Jake’s juke joint piano playing until the sweat streamed off our faces and then loaded up to howl to the moon from the stage with whatever song bubbled up. The best thing about that night was reaching the point when we were all playing…no longer performing.
When you perform for a living, the stress of the work often can take the fun out of it. Especially when folks assume that because it looks like you’re having fun that you’re willing to entertain them for free. They miss the part where you’ve spent six hours balancing artistic egos in a car and another six setting up the stage & equipment & magic that makes it all look and sound so fun knowing that when it’s all done and you’re exhausted it will be time to take it all down and move on to the next job.
Friday night was a night for the artists to play and after a sound night’s sleep we woke slowly to the drizzly grey day of the Doo or Boo-Nanny since it was also Halloween. We mostly kept to the caves we built for ourselves as the locals came in to view the Doo. I sold a few poems off the wall and gave away more while taking some time to stare at the sky and listen to others do the work. Finally when the rain let up Jenny Greer & the Screaming Js took the stage for the lighting of the Doo-Nanny to an impromptu rendition of Burning Ring of Fire. That was the spark that set the music in motion with non-stop boogie until at 1:30am. As if in a daze, we finally abandoned the lights of the stage realizing it was cold enough that we should gather close by the bonfires for ghost stories, tall tales & more sing-alongs led by the ever shining Jenny.
The full moon lit the village and made mystery of the mist rising off the lake in the wee hours as we each found a spot to burrow against the chill before dawn. The next day bloomed bright and beautiful and I finally found time to explore Butch Anthony’s Museum of Wonder. That alone is worth a visit to Seale, AL any time of the year. After a little time to myself for practice we packed up & hit the road again.
Finally, I now have a few days to spend at home & want nothing more than to continue to sing, dance, play, & make art. Do the Doo.
Like Aesop’s fabled raven
dropping stones to raise the water
media piles words under the surface
raising the level of consciousness.
Oh happy fools who plug ears
resisting the weight of worry
reserving senses for heaven’s rain
more precious than stoney accusations.
Has America’s thirst for news
grown so insatiable and needy
it will gorge on half formed thoughts
rather than filter the feed for truths?